We'll, let's give the latest champion "Steely" Dan Feyer the last word, shall we? "Steely" is a professional musician living in Manhattan. I'm pretty sure that's code for "unemployed," but I could be wrong. Rumor has it that in order to kill all the hours between jobs, "Steely" took up the crossword habit which quickly blossomed to roughly 25 puzzles a day. And, like running scales makes him a better pianist, doing 25 puzzles a day makes him a better speed solver. To mere mortals like you and me, 25 puzzles a day sounds like a full time job. But for "Steely" up there (caught in a rare action shot of him on a job), that quota amounts to what us mere mortals might spend at the gym. Don't believe me? Behold his times on all the major dailies. The moral: practice makes perfect. Okay, let's do this interview:
BEQ: Has it sunk in yet?
Dan: Yeah. My Facebook and email exploded over the last few days, and I had to talk to a few reporters [Time, and San Francisco Chronicle]. I don't feel any different or anything. Maybe like a small weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Wish I had more time to bask in the glory, but I have to get back to real life!
BEQ: Was there a moment last weekend where you're like: “oh fuck, I'm gonna blow this?” Or were you confident the whole way?
Dan: I'm never confident. About anything. But I wasn't as nervous as I thought I'd be, and I didn't have any scary moments while solving. After I finished puzzle 5 [the hardest of the tournament] and stood in the back of the room for a full minute waiting for someone else to get up, that was when I thought, "OK, maybe I do deserve to be in first place this year."
BEQ: So there was doubt? I mean, you were thisclose last year?
Dan: I know I'm as fast as anybody on the easy/medium crosswords, but I was definitely afraid of the finals puzzle. Sometimes I get stuck on really hard puzzles. So last year, there was no reason to think I would have won if I'd been up there. And there was plenty of doubt this year too (that's just how I am), but nailing the hardest puzzle made me feel good at my chances on the final.
I never totally put the theme [for 5] together, but I knew where it was going, and all the cross-referenced answers made sense when combined with "with," so I figured I was good. I wasn't totally sure I hadn't screwed something up elsewhere in the grid, though.
BEQ: Wait, you didn't even bother to figure out the theme?
Dan: No, I figured it out, but once I had the "aha," I didn't spend much time going back and forth to make sure X-Across went with Y-Across and fit the clue. Cross-references are the bane of speed-solvers, as I'm sure you know!
BEQ: That's gotta be nerve wracking. You just went on faith it was right?
Dan: I've developed that Spidey-sense that Tyler [Hinman] has, to know if there's something not quite right somewhere.
BEQ: I don't think anybody has ever won three divisions, let alone divisions A, B, and C, let alone three years in a row, let alone in their first three years at the ACPT. Yet here you are. That might be as impossible a feat as Tyler's five-peat.
Dan: I don't know, it worked out that way because of how I got into puzzling. My first time at the ACPT, I was less than six months into my crossword addiction. If I'd been solving obsessively for a year or two before showing up, I'd probably have jumped into the B division. And I wouldn't say it's so impossible to win all three divisions — if Joon Pahk had been able to attend last year, he might have been the C champion, won B this year, and clearly he'll be in a position to contend for the big prize down the line.
BEQ: But yours was back to back to back, in order.
DAN: OK, I will grant that that's not too likely to happen again. But I think it's more likely than somebody winning 5 in a row again!
BEQ: What do your non-crossword puzzle friends think of your addiction?
Dan: Most of them don't know the extent of it. Doing an average of 25 puzzles a day is not something I like to brag about. And talking about my crossword hobby is usually a conversation killer. But winning a national tournament, that's pretty cool. So now I don't mind if my friends think of me as the crossword guy.
BEQ: So what's the deal with all these musicians, professional and otherwise, in the puzzling world?
Dan: There's clearly a connection between music, math, and crosswords - witness all the scientists and mathematicians who are top solvers and constructors. I used to be good at math until I hit Advanced Multivariable Calculus. The part of the brain that allows me to sight-read a piece of piano music is the same part that helps me get a grid filled in. Though I do need clues to help, because I don't have the talent to be a good constructor.
BEQ: So now that you've won, are you going to ease up on the number of puzzles?
Dan: I was sure last year that I wouldn't keep up the same pace, but that didn't really happen. Right now I don't much feel like doing any crosswords. We'll see if I can break the addiction and go back to occasionally reading on the subway. I definitely won't feel like I have to do so much training for the ACPT in the future — the last two years I've spent a lot of time speed-solving NYT crosswords.
BEQ: What's on your bookshelf that's unread?
Dan: I wasn't a big reader even before getting into crosswords. The next books in my queue are "Blink" and "Everything Is Illuminated," but it'll take me months to get through even those two.
BEQ: "Everything" is very moving.
Dan: I was a college classmate of JS Foer! And still haven't read his book.
BEQ: So since you, Howard Barkin and Anne Erdnmann are post-documentary contestants, is the "Word Play" era over?
Dan: Not unless Tyler, Trip [Payne], Al [Sanders], and the other superstars retire!
Annnnnd ... Scene.
So that just about wraps up all the ACPT stuff. Let me take a moment to wrap up a couple other things while I've got you here:
The Visual Thesaurus contest crossword is up. Go do that now, will you?
And, once again, thanks to all who were able to hit up the tip jar this month. It's never ever too late to show your appreciation for this month's puzzles with a small donation. And just think, every time you donate to BEQ.com, "Steely" Dan Feyer solves another crossword. I neglected to mention it Wednesday, so let me get it out there now: one randomly selected donor from this month's drive will get their choice of anything from the BEQ store. And, as always, even if you can't tip, just telling five people about this site helps immeasurably.
Share the puzzle. New one on Monday.