Shortz puzzles cruciverbalists

Will Shortz, the editor of the New York Times crossword, officiated at Yale’s fourth annual crossword tournament in LC.
Will Shortz, the editor of the New York Times crossword, officiated at Yale’s fourth annual crossword tournament in LC. Photo by Emily Foxhall.

Setting aside conventional springtime flip-flops, Rachel Kurchin ’13 spent 30 minutes perched on the High Street fence Monday afternoon wearing clogs and socks printed with a crossword puzzle design. Unlike students enjoying the sun on Old Campus, Kurchin was there with a purpose: She was waiting for Will Shortz.

Shortz, the crossword editor for the New York Times and Sunday puzzlemaster on National Public Radio Weekend, visited campus to officiate Yale’s fourth annual crossword tournament Monday evening. Earlier that afternoon, he delivered a Saybrook Master’s Tea.

Half an hour before the tournament began, students filed into a lecture hall in Linsly-Chittenden Hall, doing homework or chatting as they waited for the competition to begin. Though Shortz blended in with the crowd, sitting at a desk on the side of the room, a few true New York Times crossword puzzle aficionados who recognized him, approached hoping to get an autographed crossword puzzle.

Following a greeting from Shortz, Josh Price, head of the Yale Cruciverbalist Society – the club that sponsors the annual tournament – welcomed everyone. Asking if anyone needed a pen or a pencil (no one did), he then started the clock. Contestants immediately flipped over crossword puzzle No. 1. Heads bent over, they scrawled the answers to the puzzle edited by Shortz.

After four minutes and four seconds, Philip Hall MED ‘10 finished. Ehrhard Knoerding, a Weslayan student, finished about 20 seconds later. Andrew Mayersohn ’11 followed in the next minute.

After time was called for the first puzzle, contestants had two more puzzles to fill out within a time limit. The three finalists then moved to the front of the room to fill out the fourth and final puzzle. In the end, Mayersohn claimed victory.

The author of this fourth puzzle, high school junior Caleb Madison, had helped with the tournament, walking up and down the aisles to collect finished puzzles. One of the youngest people to have a puzzle published in The New York Times — at age 15 — Madison interned with Shortz two summers ago and learned about this year’s tournament from him. Madison said he used tournaments at Brown and Yale as an opportunity to do college visits.

“It’s interesting, the sense of the school you get by their crossword tournaments,” Madison said. “The kids who show up, the way it’s run, varies from school to school.”

Students had an opportunity to see Shortz in a less competitive environment earlier that afternoon at the Saybrook Master’s Tea. With a clear passion for wordplay, Shortz answered just a few questions from the audience of about 50 students before he assumed the role of game show host and jumped into what would be the first of six word games played during the remainder of the tea.

Pointing a blue pen down the middle of the room, Shortz divided those seated into two teams. He tested the teams by providing two words and asking the audience what the two had in common. A typewriter and a Christmas gift, for instance, both use ribbon. Yalies got the hang of the game quickly.

“The nose and San Francisco bay?” he asked.

“Bridge,” someone responded with lightening speed.

“A credit card and a skunk?”

“A stripe.”

Five students interviewed said they enjoyed the interactive quality of the tea as well as the subsequent games. Edward Chang ‘10, said the Tea was unlike any he’d ever attended.

And as for Kurchin, who had waited so patiently with her clogs?

“I loved all the puzzles,” she said. “It was everything I wanted and more.”

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