A class of ’95 alumnus won a national crossword puzzle tournament held March 16-18, reclaiming the title for the third consecutive time.
Daniel Feyer, who is also a former staff member of The Lowell, won the 35th Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament held in Brooklyn, New York. Everyone is eligible to play, though participants are placed into groupings based on age and previous rankings in the tournament. Contestants are entered into as many divisions as they qualify for, and each category awards its own set of winners, including a $5,000 grand prize. Contestants solve crossword puzzles on the spot and submit them to judges, who base scoring on accuracy and speed. Everybody solves the same puzzles, and the top three in each division advance to the final round.
Feyer placed first in Division A, which is eligible to everyone, after completing eight rigorous puzzles designed especially for this competition. He won the grand prize. The second place winner for Division A was Tyler Hinman from San Francisco and third place was claimed by Anne Erdmann, also from California. “I always have fun at the tournament, because it’s one of the few times each year when crossword enthusiasts get together — like an annual convention for word nerds,” Feyer stated in an email dated April 16.
The tournament was founded in 1978 and is now directed by New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz. This is the nation’s oldest and largest crossword competition, according to the ACPT’s web site. In a New York Times article dated March 17, a computer called Dr. Fill competed in the competition as well, but was not eligible for the prize, as it is not human. Dr. Fill can complete puzzles at the lightning fast speed of a minute.
Although he currently works as a pianist and music director in New York City, Feyer’s past has always been filled with words. “Doing crossword puzzles is the perfect pastime for bright students, because it’s educational and fun,” Feyer stated in an email dated April 10.
Feyer competed in the National Spelling Bee in 1991 as an eighth grader and edits crossword puzzles as a part-time job now, as well as publishing two books of word search puzzles for Sterling Publishing. “I have always been good with words,” Feyer stated. “I served as chief copy editor of The Lowell my senior year, a position that journalism teacher Pete Hammer created for me, because I was finding errors that he missed while proofreading.”
Feyer was already a crossword dabbler, solving books of New York Times puzzles on the subway and occasionally at home, when he came across the movie Wordplay in 2007, a documentary about people’s passion for crosswords, which included scenes of the ACPT and inspired him to enter the competition. “For the next few months I started doing puzzles obsessively — downloading several every day and ordering a bunch of books online. I found that all the practice was making me a faster solver,” Feyer stated.
In addition, Feyer has created a puzzle that was featured in the New York Times on October 4, 2011. It was published on a Tuesday and the theme was “Juggling Pins,” where the letters P-I-N were spread around the grid as if they were being juggled. “Creating puzzles is a whole other ballgame,” Feyer stated in an email dated on April 11. “Although I am not a particularly good constructor, the most important part of making a puzzle is coming up with a theme or gimmick that’s unique, clever, or funny.”
Feyer has competed in this contest five times already, winning three of the five, and plans to continue competing. He did offer one word of wisdom to those interested in crossword puzzles. “The only proven method to get good at crosswords is practice,” he stated. “Once you understand the conventions of clues and puzzle themes, you’ll be able to attack harder and harder puzzles, which are more and more rewarding as you finish them.”
And practice he does! As Feyer admitted, “I'm pretty sure that nobody in the world has done more crosswords than me in the last five years. I’ve done 35,000 to 40,000 puzzles in that time.”