Date: Sun, 31 Mar 1996 12:54:43 -0500
From: Myles Callum <MCALLUM@DELPHI.COM>
Subject: Puzzle Time
To: Multiple recipients of list WORDS-L <WORDS-L@UGA.CC.UGA.EDU>

"XWORDS." That was the New York license plate of the maroon Lincoln Town Car parked in front of me as I pulled in at the Stamford (Conn.) Marriott's indoor parking on Saturday afternoon. Will Shortz's car? I forgot to ask him, and never did find out.

This American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was a lot of fun. About 250 people attended, the elite of crossword puzzlers. Some of them have been on Jeopardy, and many also belong to something called the National Puzzlers' League, composed mostly of people who like cryptics. These puzzlers even have their own Susan Lucci, a woman who has finished second or third in the contest nine different times but has never won first prize. A fair number are professional puzzle constructors, people who create the crosswords for magazines, newspapers and those Dell crossword puzzle books you see on newsstands. Many of them, like Jinny, are just puzzle lovers who go for the fun of it.

I met up with Emily, and we found Jinny inside. We waited for her to finish the current round of contesting, then went out for dinner at the Crab Shell, a cool seafood joint at a waterfront marina at what I seem to remember is the Stamford Yacht Club area. I grew up in Stamford, but the town's changed a lot.

After dinner we went back for the Saturday night round of games. This was recreational time, not part of the contest. First there was a game, created by Will Shortz, called "News Clips," in which each team was given a pile of newspapers and had to find certain kinds of words in the paper, then clip them out and paste 'em on a sheet. There were 20 of these pieces of wordplay you had to look for. For instance, "A word that contains 5 or more consecutive consonants (Example: handspring)": or, "A word of 10 or more letters that contains no letter more than once (Ex: thumbnails)."

We were joined by an amiable young couple, Chris Hurt and his girlfriend, Janet, who were at loose ends and looking for a team. (Chris is a New York actor who turned out to be quite the demon puzzler; I learned Sunday morning that he had placed 26th in the contest--not bad out of 250 crossword aces.) We did pretty well at the News Clips game, coming in among the top ten teams, I believe.

The second game was a combination treasure hunt and acrostic with cryptic-type clues. Team members had to go roaming around the hotel to find clues, then come back, decode the riddles and fill in the acrostic. One of the easier clues:

                        What's in the ground
                        When Bunyan's through.
                        Where politicians
                        Spout their view
                        To fool a solver
                        With a clue.
                        _ _  _  _  _
                        3 17 47 72 65

The answer: STUMP.

This one had US stumped, until Emily got it:

                        A dog that'll hunt
                        (But not at the front)
                        Will give you our word
                        (The quarterback bird).
                        _  _  _  _  _
                        20 52 98 86 62

Five letters. Good luck.

It was a good time. I did get to chat with Shortz, a nice- looking fellow with a good speaking voice. (Note to Karen: he's 43).

Emily headed back to New Haven Saturday night because she had to work next day. Heather had hoped to come but couldn't make it; unfortunately I didn't find her note about that until I got home. Jinny and I met for a leisurely breakfast this morning, after which she went back into the main ballroom for the last round of puzzles and the final awards banquet. I hit the road, eager to get home. The NYT Sunday Magazine puzzle was waiting.