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VOL. 38 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 28, 2014

Crossword titan collects fifth consecutive title

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“Never in the history of competitive crossword puzzle solving has there been a rivalry like the one between Tyler Hinman and Dan Feyer.”

Thus begins a write-up of last week’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament at time.com.

Citing New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz, who’s also the ACPT’s founder and director, Katy Steinmetz continues: “The competition ended when Feyer, a 36-year-old freelance pianist … finished the final puzzle in 7 minutes and 18 seconds.”

That puzzle had been designated as a 20-minute puzzle. As Steinmetz notes, it was “crafted for those fluent in crossword grammar and tricks ….” Only 50 points separated Feyer and Hinman – that’s two minutes in ACPT scoring time, but might represent only a matter of seconds. It would be another full two minutes, however, before Hinman and third-place finisher Howard Barkin completed their grids.

I was there. I left asking myself whether “five-peat” is a legitimate word. I’ve been to the ACPT 10 times now, and I’ve seen only two people win it: Hinman (2005-2009) and Feyer (2010-2014).

Steinmetz – described by time.com as a “journalist who sees not the slightest disharmony between sense and nonsense” – writes that Feyer’s fifth consecutive win means that he is “one step closer to becoming the colossus of clues, the sultan of solving!” It means that he’s “tied Hinman’s record for consecutive wins – one of a dwindling few feathers the 29-year-old game designer had left in his cap since Feyer began his dominating run.”

That makes sense … and nonsense. Go, Katy!

As I write, I’m prepping for the 2014 Clinton School Puzzle Festival, which will include crossword and Sudoku competitions and a screening of “Wordplay,” a 2006 documentary that examines Shortz and his fans.

Feyer, by the way, was not into crosswords and did not know about the ACPT until he saw “Wordplay,” crucial footage for which was shot at the 2005 ACPT, which Hinman won at the age of 20, becoming the youngest-ever champ and one of the movie’s stars.

The other was Al Sanders, who finished before Hinman in the finals, but left two squares blank on the grid.

The ACPT, which is moving back to Stamford, Conn., after six years in Brooklyn, actually lasts about 26 hours. Starting at 11 a.m., all solve six puzzles in a ballroom on Saturday, then a seventh on Sunday at 9. Scoring is based on speed and accuracy.

At noon, the three top performers in each of the A, B, and C skill divisions (if you must know, I’m a D-division solver) compete in the finals.

Hinman has been runner-up to Feyer three of the last four years. He’s hardly optimistic about his future chances: “I don’t think anyone has … a better claim to the title of America’s second-best crossword solver.”

Meanwhile, Feyer remarks, “I like Tyler a lot. He’s a great guy. I feel bad that I have usurped him.”

My favorite clues and answers on the final puzzle:

Start a number with 9, say – DIAL OUT

Time for retiring? – PIT STOPS

It might lead you to draw a blank – SCRABBLE

Next week we’ll report on Arkansas Puzzle Day. And more.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.