American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

 Crossword Tournament

In the News

Source: Stamford Advocate
Date: March 17, 2002
Byline: Michael Howerton

Puzzlers hope clues spell success

STAMFORD -- The contestants, some dressed in crossword-print sweaters, wearing crossword-puzzle earrings and crossword hats, hunched over their puzzles yesterday, shoulder to shoulder in a Marriott conference room.

Boxes of No. 2 pencils and piles of pencil shavings sat on tables against the wall. The only audible noise was pencils scribbling on paper, but the room sounded like minds churning.

Between each puzzle, players at the 25th annual American Crossword Tournament filled the hotel lobby and hallways, comparing notes, checking answers and reliving the fight to find the right word.

"Did you get 'pion' and 'Roxie' in the upper corner?" Tom Daily asked Francis Knipe as they left the room at the same time after finishing a puzzle. Knipe, 61, of Torrance, Calif., said he also had gotten those words. Their agreement made both feel a little more confident.

The clue, a subatomic particle, led to pion. Roxie was the answer for the clue: a Ginger Rogers role, murderous hart. Rogers starred in the movie "Roxie Hart."

Daily, 47, of New Haven, said the nine years he has competed in the crossword puzzle competition have taught him a few things.

"I've learned I'm not as good at it as I am when I do them by myself," he said. "You try not to think about the other players. You can't let them rattle you."

The second crossword puzzle yesterday left players groaning and scratching their heads. Many of the answers played on a variation of Roman numerals. For instance, one clue asked the players to find a phrase for something you have with 100 stovetops. Nine spaces. Knipe, at his second tournament, explained he came up with the answer 400 burners, but that didn't work until he found another way of phrasing it: CD burners.

"It was very clever," he said "It was a difficult puzzle, but if you get into the rhythm of it and find the theme, it all falls into place. But if you can't figure out the theme, you're screwed."

The tournament drew about 450 players from 35 states, Canada and Europe to the Stamford Marriott for three days of puzzles. After a few warm-up games Friday night, the competitors sharpened their pencils yesterday for the competition.

The participants tried their skills on six crosswords yesterday. They will begin again at 9 a.m. today. The puzzles are scored according to speed and accuracy. Three finalists from each skill level will face off at 11 a.m. today. The public is invited to watch the finals.

In the tournament's 25-year history, three men have captured 17 of the titles. Women won the first two years, but then were shut out by men until last year, when Ellen Ripstein won the tournament.

The grand prize is worth $1,500, with other first prizes for various division winners. The basic registration fee was $110.

Will Shortz, editor of The New York Times crossword puzzle and director of the annual Stamford tournament, said: "Crossword puzzles are what they do in the kitchen, in bed at night, or on the train to work," he said. "A crossword tournament is a contradiction. That's the attraction of it. It's a chance to come together and see how you stack up against others in what is usually a solitary activity."

Shortz, a former Stamford resident, said the key to crossword success is a flexible mind. In recent years, crossword writers have moved to puzzles that are based on puns, wit and word deception, no longer as much on arcane or bookish knowledge, he said.

"You have to be able to see the two or three ways words can be interpreted," Shortz said. "You have to be a good speller and know a little bit of everything."

Ripstein, 49, of New York City, said she was frustrated yesterday that she used the wrong word on one of the puzzles. The defending champion said she probably ruined her chances for a repeat title.

"I made a bad mistake," Ripstein said. "I was too attached to my crossing word and I kept checking the other words, but not that one. It was a stupid mistake. I'm kicking myself."

Like many of the players, tournament rookie Fred Bothwell, 63, from Georgetown, Texas, said he completes The New York Times crossword every day at home and came to Stamford to see how he compared to the best.

"I try to solve puzzles for the same reason I don't ask directions when I'm driving," he said. "I like to think it through and find the answer myself. There is a breed of puzzle solvers who just write as fast as they can and they're done. But most of us have to think. There's no way you can compete to win against them, so you compete against yourself."

"It's definitely the World Series of crosswords," said Ellen Harland, 67, of Falls Church, Va. "It's fascinating to me that so many people get together for what is usually a solitary pastime. It's such an uncommon common interest."

Adau Noti, 23, a New York City resident, said his first time at the tournament was a little humbling.

"The last one was brutal," he said. "I heard about the tournament last year, and I thought I was pretty good at crossword. But today, I've learned that I'm not so good at crossword. I'm trying hard to ignore the people next to me who are amazingly good."

Prem Sharma, 30, of Norwalk, said his first time at the competition was overwhelming, but encouraging.

"I came to see how I stack up," he said. "I felt I was pretty competitive, except for the speed part. I finished the puzzles in the time limit so I'm pretty happy."

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