Friday, March 18, 2011

behind the grid - a recap of youngstown's first crossword puzzle tournament

I remember cramping up in the third round.

It was during the Tulsa Crossword Shootout of 1987.

In my 37 years of professionally judging crossword puzzle tournaments, it was the first time hitting what us athletes call "the wall."

And there, my friends, is a lesson I'd like to share as you continue your crossword-puzzle ways:

always. stay. hydrated.

- - -

Youngstown's first ever crossword puzzle tournament was actually a pretty darn cool event.

First off, it was a great mix of pure enjoyment and fun competition. Enough competition where it was tense in the finals, but relaxed enough that it was not intimidating.

Second, the event raised money for the entire county's library system. A good cause for sure.

Third, the snacks were spectacular.

How spectacular?

Well, how about this amazingly beautiful and just delicious crossword-themed buttercream cake from Clarencedale Cakes:

This was followed by the WORLD'S FIRST crossword-themed Youngstown-style cookie table.

Did you know oreos are the official cookie of crossword puzzle tournaments? (black and white, and the word is often in puzzles)

I bet the national crossword tournament doesn't even have a spread like this...

About the tournament itself...

participants sat in their own walled off spaces, yet could view the clock up front.

each round had a day-of-the-week puzzle fresh from editor Will Shortz at the New York Times.

round one (Monday puzzle) - 15 minutes to complete
round two (Tuesday puzzle) - 20 minutes to complete
round three (Wednesday puzzle) - 20 minutes to complete

in between each round, every puzzle is judged by an esteemed panel, checking for accuracy and time to complete.

Both factors, time to complete and accuracy, are blended together to make the score for the round which was posted (I have a good picture of the scores taped to the door of the library, but the competitors and scores will remain a secret).

It was amazing to see a handful of people complete the puzzle in just 5 minutes.


These judges were very professional.

Here are the hands of one tireless judge . . . strong, yet tender.

Some judges had special knit grading puzzle cozies to keep their answers warm and secret:

Outside, irish step dancing serenaded the puzzle contestants:

Finally, we get to the final round.

The top three finishers went to the front of the room (after the ceremonial cake was cut by the ceremonial blade) to compete on the Thursday-level puzzle on dry erase boards in front of the audience.

I could not believe how ingenious this puzzle was. Stretched across the middle bar was "its all greek to me", signifying something special in the puzzle.

Turns out there were actually four greek letters one HAD to imbed in the puzzle to make it work.

An example:

70A. What players don't have to travel far for:
answer: HΩME

57D. Difference between the rich and the poor:
answer: INCΩP



three more of those little betties were embedded in the puzzle.

- - -

Overall, the event was a big success, looking to grow for next year.

If you missed the event and want to support the library;s fundraising efforts, you can click here to donate.

Finally, the outstanding Business-Journal newspaper profiled the competition in a great article here.

1 comment:

Tyler said...

Thanks for covering this and for your help at the event!