The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament starts this Friday. For the 99% of you going, that means it's a weekend to talk puzzles with your crossword family. Lord know's it's not really about the competition. Back when I competed, I took my shockingly poor showing each year as an example I wasn't nearly as good at solving puzzles as I thought I was. Least not against the best of the best. Humbling. Which is why I eventually put myself out of my misery and transitioned over to what I do best: making puzzles. And once again, I've got one in the tournament this year. You'll love it. Trust me on this.
As for the 1% of you, you're all gunning for one guy: "Steely" Dan Feyer. The four-time champion is going for the fivepeat this year. So far, he's shown no weaknesses. Two years he managed to seriously flub up one puzzle (which is enough to knock out mortals), and still made it on stage to win the whole thing. Bonkers. But now that's he's moved over to the Left Coast perhaps jetlag will be the thing that breaks him. Who knows? What we do know is that he's a ruthless predator. In fact, Steely sent me that picture of himself eating his competition.
He spent a few minutes to talk to BEQ and this is how it went down:
BEQ: How's San Francisco?
Dan: San Francisco is the greatest city in the world as well as my hometown, so I'm happy to be living here. Gretchen and I managed to find a reasonably affordable, well-located, recently renovated apartment (with free washer/dryer) in a mere two weeks of searching. We're counting our blessings.
BEQ: This year you're going for five-ACPT-victories-in-a-row. Do you feel any nerves at all?
Dan: A little bit more than usual, because another win would tie Tyler's mark, but I just don't get too nervous anymore. Especially since I felt very underprepared last year, but was still able to win wire-to-wire.
BEQ: Are you good at any puzzles other than crosswords?
Dan: Not really. I can maybe solve a medium-level sudoku. I get about half of the meta answers in Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest. And I barely understand what goes on at the MIT Mystery Hunt.
BEQ: Rattle off a list of things that stump Dan Feyer.
Dan: Oh, there's too many to list. Of my overall trivia skill, I like to say that I probably know enough to get on "Jeopardy!", but not enough to win a lot of money on "Jeopardy!". By far my biggest knowledge gap is visual arts. Fortunately there won't ever be an ACPT puzzle that requires me to distinguish a Rembrandt from a Caravaggio. No, that's not a challenge.
BEQ: Talk to me about doing a Monday puzzle in 90 seconds. Is that the 4 minute mile of speed solving? Can you imagine anybody realistically beating that speed?
Dan: Not by much. At that rate I'm writing faster than two letters per second. I'm sure it's possible to go incrementally faster, but we're probably approaching the lower limit. I'm still trying to solve a puzzle in Across Lite in under 60 seconds. (Remember that these are Newsday crosswords, and the clues are so easy that there is literally no thinking involved, just reflexes.)
BEQ: Do you ever stop and think about the money you're losing by having to fly across the country and stay in hotel versus paying for a couple subway rides?
Dan: That's definitely one of the negatives about moving across the country. It's not just the cost -- I suspect I had a slight home-field advantage, not having to deal with travel/hotel/jetlag. I'm actually staying in New York until Tuesday to make some extra cash at one of my old theater accompanying gigs. Having to drop a thousand bucks for the weekend might make me try just a bit harder to win.