Word Routes

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Crossword Tournament 2014: "Steely" Dan Scores a Five-Peat

If you saw the documentary "Wordplay," you witnessed young Tyler Hinman win the first of his five consecutive victories at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. This achievement seemed untouchable... until this year's tournament, when Dan Feyer managed to win for the fifth straight time — beating out none other than Tyler Hinman. Puzzlemaster Brendan Emmett Quigley wraps up the action.

[Spoiler alert: For anyone solving this year's Tournament crosswords online or by mail, the following recap reveals spoilers for some of the puzzles.]

Stop me if you've heard this one before: "Steely" Dan Feyer won the 2014 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Surprised? Yeah, me neither. I mean, all Dan does is win. And win big. For those keeping score at home, that's five in a row, tying his rival, the second-place finisher Tyler Hinman.

Don't get me wrong, Tyler's a legend. He is very, very good at speed-solving. But the Feyer vs. Hinman rivalry is shaping up to be a trifle one-sided. We're talking shades of the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals here. But hey, the Generals do win every now and again, so maybe Tyler will eventually find a way to beat Dan. Check this space next year to see if the result is any different.

In the A Division finals, the top three had to solve a themeless puzzle by Wall Street Journal crossword editor Mike Shenk. "Steely" Dan demolished it in just under eight minutes. The only bit of drama was that Dan, ye gods, had a wrong answer in the northeast corner for few seconds: DR PEPPER for the clue "Dapper character on many cans," when in fact it was MR PEANUT.

But come on, this is Feyer here. Did we doubt the outcome? While this puzzle was hard, nobody thought it had a chance against the superhuman solving machine. For mere mortals, clues like "Fifth element?" for SCREW CAP, "It might lead you to draw a blank" for SCRABBLE, and "Major joint" for SPLIFF would give us fits and starts. But Dan just sees right through them.

Dan Feyer (center) holds the championship trophy, flanked by Tyler Hinman (left)
and Howard Barkin (right), who came in second and third place, respectively.

In the B Division, it looked like recent "Million Second Quiz" winner Andy Kravis was going to run away with it, but alas he fell for a trap: filling in SLOMP instead of STOMP for "None-too graceful dance." To be fair, the crossing was clued "Young boy," and LAD seems a bit better than the intended answer TAD. So while he finished, the error opened the door for eventual winner Benjamin Coe.

Fan favorite Anne Erdmann was knocked out of contention, thanks to a puzzle composed by yours truly. There's always a back-breaking crossword in the tournament, Puzzle #5, and to call it brutal was probably putting it gently. Tyler and Dan took almost nine minutes to solve it (and these guys routinely crush my work closer to the 4- or 5-minute mark). Anne however was flummoxed by the vague theme involving subtly crossing duplicates (usually a crossword no-no) as well as the borderline unfair trivia-heavy cluing. It took her five minutes more than the top solvers.

A total of 580 contestants solved seven puzzles by some of the top puzzlemakers and editors. This was the last year that the ACPT will be held in Brooklyn, as it will be returning to where it all began in Stamford, Connecticut next year. Since that was the site of Tyler's first three wins, perhaps 2015 will bring him better karma!

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