I bounced around this weekend between varying states of healthy — one minute I felt fine, the next minute the cold I thought I had left behind came roaring back. Friday night at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, I did something utterly unheard of: I was in my hotel room by 8:30 p.m. and asleep by 9:00. Ten hours of sleep surely went a long way to allowing me to survive the weekend.
My preparations for this year’s tournament consisted of thinking seriously, on more than one occasion, that I should probably solve a few crosswords before the tournament began. I never really got around to the actual solving part, however, and it showed in my final results. Just a couple of years ago I peaked with a ranking of 79. This year, I was clean on the first four puzzles, but too slow to rise above a rank of 100. Then Brendan Emmett Quigley’s puzzle 5 crushed me like an insect. Final result: A not very satisfying 152.
To the surprise of nobody, Dan Feyer won his fifth championship in a row, tying Tyler Hinman for most consecutive wins. Am I crazy, or does Dan seem to be getting even better at crosswords? He had a mistake in this year’s final puzzle for about twenty seconds — a mistake that happened to include some correct letters, so he was able to put in some crossing entries. That’s the sort of thing that sends lesser solvers careening off the road — how can this be wrong when these letters are right? But Dan caught his error in no time flat, replaced it with the right answer, and never looked back.
During the finals, I was sitting next to top-notch solvers Amy Reynaldo and Stan Newman. Neither was able to complete the final puzzle, with the hardest set of clues, in under 15 minutes. Amy told me that former champion Trip Payne took 17 minutes. Such was the feeling that the final puzzle was a killer diller, the A-level finalists were given 20 minutes to solve it instead of the usual 15.
Dan never paused. He filled in the grid’s final letters in a little under eight minutes. It should be said that Tyler Hinman and Howard Barkin, the other finalists, also turned in extraordinary times — somewhere between ten and twelve minutes. But Dan is simply solving on some higher plane. It’s amazing to watch — and I have to imagine that we’ll be watching it for years to come.
Congrats to Dan, and to Tyler and Howard as well. See you next year in Stamford, CT. Now what did I do with that cold medicine?