Date: February 4, 2009
Byline: Daniel Listwa
Crossword king stumps the master to win $1,000
WEST ORANGE, NJ — With bated breath, West Orange resident Andrew Silikovitz waited by the phone.
It was Dec. 12 and the Game Show Network's "Stump the Master" was on. Ken Jennings, famous for the longest winning streak on "Jeopardy!," filled the screen as he chose a category.
He selected "Famous Games." Silikovitz gripped the phone a little tighter; it was finally his chance to try to ask Jennings a question that would stump him.
If he could baffle Jennings, Silikovitz would receive $1,000. Phone in hand, he posed the conundrum.
In the studio a few thousand miles away, a hush fell over the audience as Jennings searched his brain for the answer. In the depths of his mind, filled with trivia knowledge that had helped him win millions of dollars on game shows before, the answer to the question began to form.
The answer was three words, and Jennings got the first two instantly. The third, however, did not come so easily. A few seconds passed and he said the final word. However, it was wrong, and Silikovitz walked away with $1,000 and the knowledge that he had defeated the master.
The game show, which first aired last October, is a live program where trivia champ Jennings attempts to answer questions sent in by viewers online.
The best questions submitted are put into four categories. When Jennings chooses a category, the viewer who submitted the question reads it live, over the phone. If Jennings is unable to answer the question, the viewer wins $1,000.
Silikovitz's question was born from his love of crossword puzzles: "In which American newspaper did the modern crossword puzzle debut in 1913?" Jennings had a general idea of what the correct answer was, as he responded the New York Globe. The right answer was the New York World.
Silikovitz thought it would be a good question as "someone who knows crossword puzzles would know the answer."
And Silikovitz is definitely someone who knows crossword puzzles. He has been doing them since he was 13.
"I started doing the ones in The Star-Ledger which are easier than The New York Times crossword puzzles. After a little while I moved on to The New York Times, which gets harder every day of the week," Silikovitz said.
Now, he has moved on from the crossword puzzles in newspapers and usually completes books of them while he is watching TV or on the internet. He also enjoys Sudoku, which he finds a different kind of challenge.
Besides being fun, Silikovitz said doing crossword puzzles "is a good way to improve your vocabulary and increase your knowledge of people, places, current events and pop culture."
For many years, Silikovitz has shown off his skills in the American Crossword tournament, a competition between the fastest puzzle solvers dating back to 1978.
Although Silikovitz usually competes in the tournament, which for the last few years has been held in Brooklyn, he was not able to last year because of the rising costs. He was there in 2006, which was the year Ken Jennings competed in the competition.
"Stump the Master" is not the first TV game show in which Silikovitz has appeared. In 2000, he was a contestant on "Who wants to be a Millionaire?"
Although he did not make it to the "hot seat," which is the part where a contestant answer questions of rising difficulty in order to win up to $1 million, he did make it to the qualifying round directly before the "hot seat."
Trivia has always been a passion for Silikovitz, who has passed the qualifying tests for a number of game shows including "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune."
He said most of his trivia knowledge comes from everyday experience, which he has an uncanny knack for remembering. Also, he said he picked up a lot of information from doing crossword puzzles and playing Trivial Pursuit, a game he loved when he was younger.
As of now, Silikovitz, who works as a Torah reader at Temple Shomrei Emunah in Montclair, has yet to receive the money he won from "Stump the Master." But he is already thinking about what he will do with it.
He is sure, though, that he will use the $25 dollar gift certificate to the movie theater, which he received for having his question chosen, to see more films and continue to build his trivia knowledge.