Behind the Scenes at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament
I didn’t finish last!! It’s good
to have goals; especially obtainable ones.
Competing in my first ever
Puzzle Tournament, I had no clue what to expect. I do not construct puzzles.
I am not a member of the “Cru”. I do not lurk in the
forum. I do not worship
Will Shortz. (Although, I do *curse* him at times when I am solving a real
toughie). I do not have any crossword attire. I am an outsider because I have a
very full life! (Insert first grumble here from fellow participants: ”My life is
I convinced my neighbor and friend, Carole, to
accompany me to the not so lovely
Stamford, CT for the
American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. When we entered the hotel lobby,
everyone’s heads and noses were in a crossword. There wasn’t a lot of
conversation but certainly a lot of scribbling. I started chatting and taking
photos to document my experience. One of the first greetings received was a
snarl from Sherry to the tune of “WHO are you and why are you taking pictures
and where will these be?” I felt a little dismayed by the run-on sentence. I
thought to myself “OK, good speller, not so good grammarian."
Things improved when we met judge
Fleming, who could carry on a good conversation. There was even a small
world story as we learned he went to school with a friend of Carole's. We
soon met Jim of the artistic headgear and we knew
there were some other social people that participated in this solitary pursuit.
Raymond was very helpful in giving the scoop on the regulars and how the weekend
would progress. I found him to be one of the most astute people I met over the
weekend. I was laughing over my goal of not coming in last and he said, “Imagine
all the millions of solvers around the world. The fact that you are here in this
small number means you are already pretty good. So, you should feel good just
about being here.” Jerry (AKA Superman),
Laura, and Deb were
all helpful and good weekend buddies. Laura was working on a paper for a
Sociology class and isn’t embroiled in the world of puzzling either. So, I had
another outsider with which to discuss the phenomenon of the event. She was
charged with the college assignment of joining in a group and being as much a
part as possible. She will be submitting her paper for a grade soon and I will
put a link here for those interested.
I was excited to meet Helene when I went through
registration as I was really charged for the weekend events. I was a bit
disappointed to learn that my “occupation” was listed incorrectly. (My
forms said "Primate Caregiver and
Bikini Model", but they listed it as
"Caregiver".) I was made to sound as if I changed bedpans. Bless. Also,
non-participant Carole ("Museum Board Member and Corporate Officer") was
not even listed in the roster. Helene was far too busy to have this
pointed out or make any corrections. I felt a
25 point deduction was in order
myself. We busied ourselves in the bar until time for the evening group games.
Planning as many events and parties as I have, I would like to offer my
suggestion for a smoother, more fun evening next year. (Insert grumble #2 here:
“the evening was just fine as it was - what does
she know?") The wine and cheese
event should have been from 7-8 o’clock or so. People could mingle and chat then
move on to the group games. I have never been to any trade show or event and
certainly would not host one myself where a
wine and cheese reception didn’t
start until 10 o’clock. I felt some social tuning was in order there.
(Insert grumble #3 here: “People were still registering so the evening’s events
were planned late on purpose.” However, it seemed half of the participants did
not register until Saturday morning from the number of name tags still on the
Dick and Eric took Carole and me in their game group and helped us with the hard
clues. It was a lot of fun trying to figure out how their minds were working and
how ours didn’t seem to do so! Eric is actually a real brainiac and came
in 57th overall.
Mike’s (the crossword puzzle editor for the
Wall Street Journal)
quickly-constructed puzzle was solved by all participants. He was great to talk
to and had a good sense of humor. I even got his autograph for a friend and he
was most gracious. I tried to get Uber Shortz’ autograph that same evening, but
was unsuccessful. Will was a great emcee and the event was well-organized.
(After 28 years, all the kinks should be worked out, right?) However, I felt he
was a bit short (har har) one on one.
From a sociological point of view, I found the weekend fascinating. I like to
study people’s personalities and viewpoints. I find it interesting that a large
group of people can come together with a common interest and be such diverse
individuals. I found several groups of people in attendance. There were the
die-hards with no sense of humor. The competition was
their life and facetious
comments were not registered. This group was hard to relate to as I am
amused and laugh most of the day. There were the college crew “youngsters” who
seemed to be having a great time. There was the group of individuals who were
very helpful and nice. We also had the group of slightly older females that were
simply mean. They had the look that Queen Elizabeth does so well. You know the
one; where it seems as if she has smelled something foul. They turned this look
on everything and everyone. Several others mentioned the same thing so I knew I
wasn’t the only one getting “the look”. Their social skills were lacking. Carole
and I were trying to figure out why they were so bitter and what their lives
were like. Many of the participants throughout all the groups were
constructors and had published puzzles. I was on another level as I
am pink robe-wearing, coffee-drinking morning-solver only!
Having studied Textiles and History of Costume (which is pretty nerdy in its own
right), I was very interested in the crossword attire. I tried to document with
photos the vests, shirts, hats and even pajamas that some
in the crowd wore. Many people made their own items
which I found pretty creative.
Saturday morning dawned with snow outside, but excitement brewing inside.
Everyone was ready to begin! Again, not knowing what to expect, I found the
people seated around me very helpful. Thank you Teri, Michael, Eric, Peter and
Jarvis! Each officials was introduced prior to starting the competition. The
officials had penned their own introductions, which Will read. I found the
oddest one to be, “I just found out this week I have been divorced for 3
months.” Those around me couldn’t decide to applaud or hold the clapping out of
respect!!! Ladies beware!!!!! Judge on the prowl!
I loved the yellow cardboard partitions we erected around us each round. It was
to thwart cheating. I found it strange that cheating would even occur. However,
on puzzle #1, when the time was called and we were asked to turn our papers
over, I saw an older woman several spots down the table from me continue writing
in two answers. I thought that was really sad. I didn’t see the point in that as
she was only cheating
herself. I was a bit deflated when I saw her do that as I thought the
competition was really for the “best
of the best”. To me, that means being smart, quick, honest, true and a good
I must impart a note to the vendors here, too. I excel at shopping and can find
something to buy pretty much anywhere. So, of course I went to check out the
offerings in the ballroom on Saturday. I was disappointed over the motto used
for the mugs, totes and t-shirts: "Crossword people see things in black and white".
Can that *sound* any more boring? My world is bright Technicolor, heavy on the
pink! I eschewed the purchase of a t-shirt. I feel the merchandise could be made
a bit more interesting. I understand the literal description of a grid being
black and white, but at least the merchandise could at least have had “..make
better lovers"…added. Or “make better pencil chewers”.
After a grueling day of six rounds, I met Carole in the bar for champagne and a
bit of ACC tournament
excitement. I had missed the day’s games and couldn’t wait to catch up on
scores. (My fellow
cruciverbalists did not seem to share my interest in the latest sports
scores. Maybe they had
Blackberrys.) What a jam-packed day it was.
We still had dinner and the Crossword Idol to go! Twelve acts competed in the
Crossword Idol competition on Saturday evening. Perhaps it was a few too many. I
felt a bit like I was back at Girl Scout camp and at times, church music camp.
However, we made it through a few wrong notes and a dropped
baton. I wish I had
danced the hula.
Sunday started early with everyone crowding into the lobby to see the posted
rankings. I was thrilled to discover I was not last, nor close to it! With round
7 and the finals still to come, the top solvers couldn’t rest on their laurels
yet. The oddest show of group action came in the “A” finals. A veteran solver
whizzed through the puzzle and indicated he was finished by saying "done". He
Tyler and Trip, the two youngsters still scribbling away. Once he realized
he had left a corner blank, he took his headphones off, slammed them to the
stage and heavily strode to the edge of the stage and sat down in a huff. I
found that in very poor taste. He was terribly frustrated with himself over his
costly mistake. (It was the single most
spectacular failure in 28 years of
Dumb ass.) But, he was being a bad sport. His actions could have been
disturbing to the two still competing. Not to mention he looked like a 5 year
old. I participate in road racing. I
have made silly mistakes that have cost points and/or places in races. I have
seen others do the same on the track. For the most part, we all act professional
and maintain a sportsmanlike attitude at all times. Not to say you can’t curse
yourself and feel terrible for days, but one still must act professional. When
the final was over, the crowd sprung to its feet to offer a standing ovation to
Al. Not me. I don’t feel someone who acted in less than a sportsmanlike manner
should be rewarded. (Insert grumble # 4 here: “He’s a veteran who actually won,
except for his mistake, and he deserved to be honored”. Sorry. Not buying that…)
There was a young Russian guy that has been in the US around 7 years (or so I
was told). He did very well over the weekend. To be able to solve puzzles in a
different alphabet and with different cultural references was pretty amazing.
And, to be able to do it competitively was even more so. That deserves an