For the past decade, just two men have reigned supreme
Never in the history of competitive crossword puzzle solving has there been a rivalry like the one between Tyler Hinman and Dan Feyer. So says Will Shortz, crossword editor for the New York Times and director of the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which concluded its 37th year on Sunday.
In the finals, the three top ranked solvers stood before giant white-board puzzles in front of a crowded room, wearing sound-muffling earphones. They raced to fill in the blanks as announcers made crowd-pleasing jibes about the clues and discussed the merits of beginning in the northeast corner. The competition ended when Feyer, a 36-year-old freelance pianist wearing a black T-shirt and salt-and-pepper beard, finished the final puzzle in 7 minutes and 18 seconds. It was a puzzle crafted for those fluent in crossword grammar and tricks, in which clues like “Salt shakers” (six letters) were meant to yield answers like swells—the shakers being waves on the sea and the salts being seasoned sailors.
The win was Feyer’s fifth in a row, which meant he was one step closer to becoming the colossus of clues, the sultan of solving! It meant that he had finally tied Hinman’s record for consecutive wins—one of a dwindling few feathers the 29-year-old game designer had left in his cap since Feyer began his dominating run. “If Dan weren’t around, everyone would be oohing and ahhing over Tyler,” Shortz says. And the two of them, he says, are in a class of their own, the type who can flawlessly tear through a New York Times Sunday crossword in under four minutes. Most people, Shortz notes, would be “over the moon” if they finished one at all.