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Crosswords Turn Competitive

By Michelle Liu, Contributing Writer

More than 150 Boston-area cruciverbalists gathered in the Science Center yesterday for the second annual Boston Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

Competitors in the tournament, co-sponsored by the Harvard College Crossword Society and Cruciverbalists of Boston, completed four previously unpublished puzzles slated to appear in The New York Times.

Prizes were awarded to the overall winners as well as those competing in individual and pair divisions. Winners of a Harvard undergraduate division received prizes as well.

The event also featured a presentation by New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz. In addition to editing crosswords for The Times, Shortz also serves as puzzle master for National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition Sunday,” directs the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and coaches for the World Puzzle Championship.

During his speech, Shortz detailed memorable clues contained within crossword puzzles that he had rejected during his tenure at The Times. He also invited the audience to participate in a word game engineered specifically for the event.

Shortz acknowledged that many people are surprised to find out that crossword solving can be a competitive event.

“A crossword ‘tournament’ is kind of an oddball idea,” he said.  “First of all, normally crosswords are a solitary activity. Secondly, you take your time and enjoy the puzzles. So, why would you come to an event with dozens or hundreds of other people to do crosswords with them and race through the puzzle? It’s sort of crazy,” he added.

Shortz said he believes that many competitors are drawn to tournaments by a sense of community.

“[Community is] part of the appeal of an event like this—it’s the only time of the year when you can meet other puzzle people and just see how good you are as a solver,” he said.

Eric D. Helmuth, the founder of Cruciverbalists of Boston, echoed this sentiment.

“People that enjoy solving crosswords tend to be interesting and funny and also tend to love language. So, strangely enough, for an activity that’s largely solitary, there’s a social angle,” he said.

Harvard Crossword Society treasurer Chelsea S. Link ’12 said that Boston-area cruciverbalists are more formidable than their Harvard-affiliated adversaries.

“The non-student competitors are really intense and take this very seriously. For instance, the guy who won the tournament came all the way from California, which is ridiculous,” she said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: April 13, 2010

An earlier version of the Apr. 12 news article "Crosswords Turn Competitive" incorrectly stated that the winners of a Harvard undergraduate division were recognized, but did not receive prizes at the Boston Crossword Puzzle Tournament. In fact, awards were given to the Harvard winners, according to Nathaniel S. Rakich '10, the president of the Harvard College Crossword Society.

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