Word Routes

Exploring the pathways of our lexicon

It's Crossword Time Again!

It's time once again for the cream of the crosswording crop to converge on the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Brooklyn, New York. Last year the nail-biting final round saw Tyler Hinman emerge victorious for the fifth consecutive year (his thrilling first win was captured in the documentary Wordplay). Will Tyler manage to pull off #6, or is it time for a new winner — like, say, last year's breakout star Dan Feyer?

This is the third year that the ACPT will be held at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott, after outgrowing its old stomping grounds in Stamford, Connecticut (thanks in large part to the exposure from Wordplay). As always, New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz will preside over the event. The program gears up tonight with an evening of games and entertainment, and then the serious business gets underway on Saturday, with all competitors solving six puzzles over the course of the day. Then on Sunday comes Puzzle 7 and a new variety show called "Crossworders Got Talent" (!), followed by the championship playoff for all the marbles.

I had a blast attending last year and competing in the Tournament for the very first time, despite having connections to the puzzling world since I was a wee lad. You can check out my recap of ACPT '09 here, with links to my daily reports. Unfortunately, I won't be able to join in the fun this time around (darn you, sinus surgery!), but I've enlisted Visual Thesaurus puzzlemaster Brendan Emmett Quigley to bring us some updates live from Brooklyn. Brendan, whose puzzles frequently appear in the Times and elsewhere, will be helping out with the judging and other preparations behind the scenes.

Brendan has his own blog (with fantastic puzzles posted three times a week), and this week he has entertaining interviews posted with Tyler Hinman and Will Shortz in advance of the Tournament. You can find another great ACPT preview over at Ryan and Brian Do Crosswords, the blog of Ryan Hecht and Brian Cimmet. In their pre-Tournament podcast, Ryan and Brian talk to Will Shortz, along with five of the top competitors: Tyler Hinman, Trip Payne, Francis Heaney, Dan Feyer, and Howard Barkin. Tyler, Trip, and Francis were all in the finals last year, and Dan and Howard came up just short. Dan finished fourth (and won the B Division) in only his second year of competition, and the smart money has him finishing at or near the top this time around.

Of course, anything can happen, and any of a dozen or so other top puzzlers could easily come out the winner. If you'd like to follow along at home, the ACPT website has information about how to solve the Tournament puzzles online or by mail. And keep it tuned right here for further reports on the weekend's excitement.

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Ben Zimmer 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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A wrap-up of the 2009 competition.