As we enter the home stretch toward the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, let's have a quick convo with the returning champion, shall we? New York's Dan Feyer really kinda doesn't need much of an introduction. Sure, we could trot out (again) that mind-boggling fact of the tens of thousands of puzzles solved he a year, but who's counting? I mean, just look at the (blurry) photo Dan's girlfriend took just this past weekend. Was that an hour or an afternoon's worth of work? We may never know.
Is Dan going to win it this year? Who knows? The door certainly is open for a new champion as Dan claims it took him an "embarrassing" 6:55 on paper to solve today's Themeless Monday puzzle. (I mean seriously. How is solving this shit in seven minutes is embarrassing? I can't successfully make an omelet in seven minutes let alone solve a hard puzzle in that time.) I had a chance to chat with "Steely" Dan last week and this is how it went down.
BEQ: How's the training been going?
Dan: Eh. I’ve been pretty busy with real work for the last month, and I haven’t stepped it up as much as I was intending to. The big “training project” is printing out all the 2005 NY Times crosswords (one of the years I haven’t solved yet), so hopefully I’ll get through October and November this week. I also bought two books of old ACPT crosswords. Of course, my regular lifestyle involves solving heaping shit-tons of puzzles, so there’s that.
BEQ: Last year you were certainly one of the favorites to win the tournament. If you didn't already, you have the biggest target painted on your back. How does that feel?
Dan: I liked it better when everyone was gunning for Tyler [Hinman]! Definitely feeling some pressure because people are expecting me to win now. On the other hand, maybe my cohorts will be intimidated by my clear superiority and psych themselves out.
BEQ: Now that you're the new crossword alpha dog, surely you must have stories of new-found celebrity.
Dan: Oh yeah! Jon Stewart had me over to the "Daily Show" offices to solve puzzles and play with his Emmys. Bill Clinton invited me up to Harlem for something called an "intern party," but I couldn’t make it that day. And I’ve been a regular guest consultant at the "Crossword Jesus meetings" that Mike Shenk, Frank Longo, Patrick Berry, and [Fallen Angel] Henry Hook hold in Will Shortz’s sub-basement.
Actually, nothing really came of the NYT publicity except an overloaded inbox and some fun reconnection with high-school friends and grade-school teachers.
BEQ: Make a solid case why some of your closest competitors could win this year.
Dan: The "superiority" thing above is a joke, of course. Howard Barkin and Anne Erdmann are every bit as fast as I am and have to be considered favorites to make the finals again ... not to mention Tyler, Trip [Payne], Al [Sanders], Francis [Heaney], and other perennial contenders. I could easily take myself out of contention with a dumb mistake or a hasty guess. It happens to everyone (except Tyler, I suppose). And when it comes to that final freestyle grid, it’s kind of a crapshoot. I got lucky last year with two intersecting TV clues that got me off to a fast start.
By the way, everyone should be on the lookout for young Jeffrey Harris, who moved to New York last year and dominated Lollapuzzoola 3.
BEQ: When's can we see some Dan Feyer-written puzzles?
Dan: Ask Will Shortz. I’ve had exactly one Shortz-worthy puzzle idea, which he bought last fall, and I’m planning to retire with a 100% acceptance rate. I also had a 19x19 crossword in Simon & Schuster’s “Mega” Volume 8. Don’t expect to see my byline again after the NYT puzzle runs. Leave the constructing to the pros, I say.
BEQ: How's the piano-playing going?
Dan: Fine, I guess. Not going to win any trophies for it. I’ve been playing for lots of auditions, working on the original cast recording for last summer’s off-Broadway hit "With Glee" (which may or may not be available for sale later this year), and I will be at the Meadow Brook Theatre in Rochester, Michigan in April and May, music-directing "Shout! The Mod Musical."
BEQ: If you could be any kind of animal, which one would be the best speed-solver?
Dan: How about an unau? That’s some sort of cheetah, right?