Word Routes

Exploring the pathways of our lexicon

ACPT '09: A Last Look Back

The 2009 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, held this past weekend at the Brooklyn Marriott, had it all: warm cameraderie of puzzle-minded word lovers, and high drama in the finals that left the audience alternately gasping and cheering. If you missed any of our coverage of the Tournament, here's a handy recap.

Friday, Feb. 27: The weekend started with an evening of fun and games designed to limber up the brains of the tournament-goers before the competition began in earnest. Highlights included the introduction of the number puzzle KenKen by its enthusiastic inventor, Japanese math teacher Tetsuya Miyamoto. The Visual Thesaurus supplied complimentary subscriptions to the night's prize-winners. Read more here: "Puzzlin' Evidence."

Saturday, Feb. 28: Six puzzles challenged the competitors, especially the super-diabolical Puzzle 5, which got the best of almost everyone (including your humble editor, competing as a rookie). Dark horse Dan Feyer, in only his second year competing, pulled ahead in the point totals by the end of the day. The evening was capped off by a Game Show Night, featuring a rollicking crossword version of Family Feud. Read more here: "Saturday Report."

Sunday, Mar. 1: The seventh puzzle left a four-way tie atop the leaderboard, and Dan Feyer lost out on the tiebreaker rules, unable to advance to the Division A finals. (He did win the Division B finals quite handily, however.) Trip Payne and Francis Heaney, who had received identical scores on all seven puzzles, continued their eerie synchronicity by making the exact same mistakes on the championship puzzle in front of an incredulous audience. That allowed 24-year-old Tyler Hinman to win in odds-defying fashion yet again... for the fifth consecutive year. Read more here: "Sunday Report." (True cruciverbalists will want to check out the insiderish recaps from Eric Berlin and Visual Thesaurus puzzle-master Brendan Emmett Quigley.)

I should also note that competitors got a special treat at the Sunday awards luncheon. The Food Network filmed an episode of the show "Dinner: Impossible," in which chef Robert Irvine is given outrageous cooking tasks to perform with no prior notice. For the Tournament luncheon, he had to come up with dishes that illustrated various food-related sayings, such as "The proof is in the pudding" or "Bigger fish to fry." Then the finalists from the different divisions got to "solve" the meal by figuring out the sayings. Look for the episode to air on the Food Network some time this spring.

In my rookie outing, I finished in a not-great-but-not-embarrassing 228th place out of 684 contestants, putting me (just barely) in the top third overall. I was also 28th out of 179 rookies. I made stupid one-square errors on three puzzles (costing me big point bonuses), finished three puzzles cleanly, and succumbed utterly to the maddening Puzzle 5. Of course, now I'm hooked, and I know I'll have to come back next year to make a better showing!

Finally, here once again is my shaky video of the crazy final moments of the Tournament, with young Mr. Hinman pulling a win out of thin air. A truly memorable experience.

(You can see the whole final round, in two parts, here and here.)


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Ben Zimmer is executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com. He is language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and former language columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine. He has worked as editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press and as a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. In addition to his regular "Word Routes" column here, he contributes to the group weblog Language Log. He is also the chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. Click here to read more articles by Ben Zimmer.

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Try your hand at the latest crossword from puzzle-master Brendan Emmett Quigley.
Day 1 of the Tournament ended with a surprise at the top of the scoring leaders.
Tyler Hinman wins his fifth consecutive ACPT in a wildly entertaining final.