Date: February 28, 2008
Byline: Meredith Deliso
Borough prepares for wonderful wordplay - American Crossword Puzzle Tournament coming to Brooklyn
After 30 years in Stamford, Conn., the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is coming to Brooklyn.
Packed crowds and record attendances were too much for the traditional venue to handle, and when the tournament directors were shopping around for a bigger venue to host the New York City Marathon of crossword puzzle tournaments, it found the ideal location at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott, located in Brooklyn Heights at 333 Adams Street.
"We're excited about being in New York City," said Will Shortz, founder and director of the tournament, which will be held from February 29 to March 2. "We spent months and months looking at venues. The best spot was the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott."
Though in a great location easily accessible by public transportation, the best part about the Marriott is its capacity, with one of the largest ballrooms in the New York State area, to hold the tournament's crowd of puzzle competitors, and those who like to watch.
In 2005, 467 competitors made their way to Stamford for the competition. Compare that to last year's tournament, which saw 698 competitors, and more than a hundred additional spectators. This year is looking at similar numbers, with almost 600 people registered less than two weeks before the event.
The chief reason for the increase in popularity is attributed to the 2006 documentary "Wordplay," which followed contestants at the 2005 competition and included interviews with crossword aficionados such as Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton.
"After ['Wordplay'] came out, a lot of people were enthralled by the tournament," said tournament coordinator Helene Hovanec. "It wasn't so much that we had more competitors; we had so many more people coming to the hotel for the event. We literally outgrew the [Stamford Marriott]."
With the Brooklyn Marriott, the competition will be held in the main ballroom, one of the largest in the area, and with 5,000 more square feet than both rooms at the Stamford Marriott combined. If all goes well this year, they're expected to remain in Brooklyn, which, said Borough President Marty Markowitz, is "home to the very best crossword competitors out there — including my wife Jamie, who can tackle the New York Times puzzle with the best of them.
"I welcome the American Crosswords Tournament and its hundreds of participants to the 'big time' after 30 years in Connecticut. If the clue for '1 across' is 'the best place in the world to hold a crossword tournament' — the only correct answer is 'Brooklyn!'"
Kicking off this year's competition is night of wining and dining, and a Brooklyn-themed team crossword competition, with the puzzle by Eric Berlin, on Friday, February 29.
Over the course of the weekend, competitors participate in seven timed rounds of play, with each round consisting of puzzles varying in sizes and difficulty level. The top three solvers, based on accuracy and speed, then compete in the final, sudden death round on March 2, where the top in the game compete to solve a daily-sized puzzle in under 15 minutes, standing at the board with headphones on to drown out any distractions.
For the past three years, the winner of that round, going home with the grand prize of $5,000 (a far cry from the first contest's $250 grand prize in 1978), has been Tyler Hinman. Other prizes are also awarded based on skill level, including rookies, in various age and geographical divisions. Contestants this year are coming from all across the United States, as well as Canada, France, Switzerland and the Dominican Republic.
"The event is serious and lighthearted at the same time," said Shortz, who is also the editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle. "It's almost a contradiction because you do crossword puzzles by yourself, so it's a little odd to do [them] with hundreds of people, yet that is the appeal of the event. This is the one time a year to do this."
In addition to the competition, the weekend will also feature guest speakers, informal word games and a screening of "Wordploy," a mockumentary of the film which brought the competition much exposure.
With the opportunity to meet other puzzle enthusiasts and judges, who represent the top, the tournament becomes a who's who of the puzzling world.
"When people are into fashion, they know the games, if it's Armani of Donna Karan, they'll know who it is" said Hovanec, a Brooklyn Heights resident who in her profession makes puzzle books for children. "It's the same thing here."
For those who can't make it out to the competition, or want to see how they would stack up without paying the $275 entry fee, you can take part in the tournament online on the weekend of the tournament or any time after, or by mail upon completion of the tournament for $20. Your puzzles will be judged and you'd be given a ranking in every event in which you were eligible.
Of course, nothing beats the competition itself, where a solitary pursuit, done on the subway or at the table with a cup of coffee, becomes much more than that.
"If you really like puzzles, there's nothing else that's anything remotely like it," promises Hovanec.
The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament will be held at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott (333 Adams Street) from Feb. 29 to March 2. Registration is available up until the competition. Entry charges range from $275 (entry to all events plus the awards luncheon) to $30 as a spectator to the Sunday Playoffs. For more information, including the complete schedule, go to http://www.crosswordtournament.com.