Date: April 6, 2007
Ground Zero For Word Play
What's the Palio without Siena, the Masters without Augusta, the Kentucky Derby without Churchill Downs?
What's the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament without the Stamford Marriott Hotel?
Some contests lose their soul when they lose their customary spot. That could happen with the crossword tournament when it moves next year from the place where it began 30 years ago.
The Stamford Marriott will be abandoned for a larger Marriott in New York. The 2005 movie "Wordplay" has made the tournament so popular that nearly 1,000 people now attend.
The Stamford Marriott plays a starring role in the film. Says puzzle creator Merl Reagle as the hotel marquee flashes on the screen, "It's almost like going home."
"You know how your parents always live in one place for an eon?" Mr. Reagle asks. "Well, the Marriott in Stamford has been the place where it's always been held." Even one of the puzzles in the movie is named after the city.
"After 28 years, the Stamford Marriott is a very special place," said Will Shortz, the tournament's creator. "There are so many wonderful memories tied up in this hotel that it's a great place to walk into," he says in a voiceover as a woman dressed in crossword-puzzle pajamas glides across the hotel's salmon-colored carpet.
Tearing the tournament from its long-loved pink rooms will be heartbreaking to many of those who have faithfully attended for three decades, through defeat and even death. In the movie's most emotional scene, a woman says she lost her husband to a heart attack just after a competition. But he had been so proud of her winning the tournament in its second year that "I would not stop coming back."
The place is haunted, pleasantly, with memories, she said.
To take the tournament out of the town where hopefuls like Tyler Hinman, at 22 the youngest three-time winner, have become legends is like taking the Red Sox out of Fenway Park. The Stamford Marriott without its yearly homecoming will be like empty squares on a grid, begging to be filled by the best word players in the country. And the contest may be in danger of losing the intimacy that has made it so beloved.