Date: March 14, 2013
Byline: The Item of Millburn and Short Hills
Millburn Township resident is a top crossword puzzler
Longtime township resident Malcolm MacKinnon received the third place trophy in the Senior Division of the 36th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament held in the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott hotel March 8-10.
After receiving a trophy in the Senior Division of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament March 10, township resident Malcolm MacKinnon, right, chats with Will Shortz, Crossword Puzzle Editor of the New York Times and Puzzle Master of NPR who founded the event, the nation's oldest and largest crossword competition.
MacKinnon first entered the competition in 1995, shortly after his retirement from Prudential Insurance.
He has competed in each year since 1995 and is the only local resident to compete on a regular basis.
During the tournament, best known for the 2006 movie "WordPlay," contestants solve seven crosswords of varying difficulty and are scored based on accuracy and speed.
Each year's champion is determined in a playoff between the top three contestants who solve an eighth puzzle on giant grids in front of a cheering audience.
This year, 573 puzzlers participated.
"Some of the contestants can complete a regular-size puzzle in less than 3 minutes," MacKinnon said. "I don't try for that kind of speed. I concentrate on accuracy. There is a scoring bonus for a perfect puzzle-one that is completed within the time limit and has no mistakes. This year I was able to complete 5 of the 7 puzzles perfectly."
MacKinnon first attended the competition in 1995. He noted the number of entrants is much higher now than it was when he first attended the competition, but the friendliness is still there.
Although she is not a solver herself, MacKinnon said in recent years his wife, Betty, has accompanied him to the tournaments in recent years and the couple has made friends they enjoy seeing each year.
MacKinnon did crosswords occasionally during his career as an actuary and computer executive, but didn't start solving regularly until his retirement.
"I go to the New York Times website each day and solve that day's puzzle against the clock," he said. "The computer tells me how my solving time compares with that of all of the others who solved that puzzle against the clock.
"I've found crosswords to be an excellent hobby for my retirement years," he added. "Of course, the highlight of those years is the arrival and development of our five wonderful grandchildren. I don't know if any of them will become crossword competitors, but I am already enjoying 'Words With Friends' on my iPhone with the two oldest."