Date: February 28, 2009
Byline: Victor Whitman
'Mr. Puzzle' heads to 32nd crossword tournament
WOODRIDGE — Jay Kasofsky is a puzzling person, but not in the odd sense of the word. He's phenomenal at crosswords.
Sitting at his kitchen table in Woodridge, he scribbles solutions to Monday's New York Times puzzle until he quickly reaches the end.
Kasofsky is in training.
He'll be off to Brooklyn this weekend for a national crossword puzzle competition. He's been to all 31 of them, the only person who has never missed a tournament.
He zips along, row by row, without blinking. He boldly letters the squares with a red pen, his temples never throbbing in frustration, his hand never stopping for terror of filling in the wrong answer.
Although the Monday Times puzzle is, for crossword aficionados, pretty easy, crossword-challenged people would be amazed at how fast he finishes.
Within five minutes, he's filling in the last box: 65 across, "Talks like Don Corleone."
He writes "rasps" and blows out some air.
"There it is," he says.
Kasofsky, 68, a retired history teacher from Fallsburg High School, says his puzzling days go back to age 15, when an English teacher recommended he do crosswords to improve his vocabulary.
Modestly, he confesses he draws on a reservoir of tricks to solve puzzles, lots of words get repeated and it always doesn't go this fast. "Saturday can take me over an hour, depending on what they are doing," he said. "Sometimes they are on a level I am not understanding."
Kasofsky will bring his puzzling best to the tournament. New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz created the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in 1978. It's the nation's oldest and largest tournament and the subject of the 2006 documentary "Wordplay." (Kasofsky was filmed competing, but the footage wound up on the cutting room floor.)
Since the movie, the tournament has grown so much it had to be moved from the Marriott in Stamford, Conn., its home for 30 years, to the larger Marriott Brooklyn Bridge. Last year, 699 competitors from all over the country, including an ex-New Yorker who flies from Paris, competed. Kasofsky is the only one who has come to them all.
"He is Mr. Puzzle," said Helene Hovanek, the tournament's coordinator.
Kasofsky admits he's not the fastest around. In 1979, he finished sixth, his best result. He proudly keeps the plaque in his living room.
And so, Fallsburg's puzzle man will soon embark on his 32nd tournament. With apologies to him, we close with a challenge:
What is "a tip" of a tail, six letters?
(Find the answer by reading the final two words of the second paragraph.)