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March 28, 2007

Interview with Tyler Hinman

Last summer the movie Wordplay came out. Much of the movie focused on the 2005 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Connecticut. The winner of that tournament was a 20-year-old college student named Tyler Hinman. Tyler won a second time in 2006. Last weekend he went on to win for a third time. Amazing!

Tyler now lives in Chicago and is a bond futures trader. Graciously, he has agreed to answer a few questions for us. (I've added a few links.)
Paul: Congratulations on winning your 3rd American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.  Can you tell us a little about the tournament - memorable moment(s), interesting people?
Tyler: The tournament's just a fun event where people gather to share their love of puzzles and games. So many memories stick out in my mind. There are those related to the tournament (my victories, the raucous reaction to Ellen's long-awaited victory, etc.), and many more among the extracurricular activities (hanging out in the bar, Friday night games, homemade games of Jeopardy late at night, etc.). Everyone there is interesting in some way; I've made many friends through this hobby.
Paul: You've won three championships.  You got a little exposure in the wonderful documentary, "Wordplay".  Do you find yourself being recognized by strangers on the street?
Tyler: It happens only rarely. A few times in the gym, once in a Starbucks, once in a Borders...only a handful scattered here and there. My fame, if you want to call it that, extends much further on Facebook. People see the movie or hear about my triumph, and list me as a friend. I try to drop everyone a line to ask them if that's how they found me and to thank them if that's the case. I've even made a few good friends as a result of this correspondence.
Paul: You're way too young to be this good at crossword puzzles...  When did you begin doing crosswords?  Did your parents get you started?  Did they encourage you?
Tyler: I have been doing puzzles approximately forever; I can't remember how or when I started. I began focusing on crosswords in ninth grade, when I tried one during a Friday study hall in which I didn't want to do work. It was Friday, so I was terrible at it, but I tried again on Monday and succeeded. I was exceedingly pleased with my sudden improvement before I was informed of the Times's difficulty curve. I failed again on Tuesday, but I kept trying every day and eventually improved. My parents encouraged my early puzzle habit, but didn't have much to do with the crossword obsession in particular. My dad enjoys taking a stab at the LA Times daily puzzle and Merl Reagle's Sunday puzzle (both printed in the Hartford Courant), but I think it's safe to say I've eclipsed him.
Paul: To what do you attribute your skill w/ crosswords - is it just the way your brain is wired?  or is it because you've practiced with hundreds of puzzles?  Do you read a lot of books?
Tyler: Part of my ability is innate; I have a pretty good memory, particularly if words are involved. And, as I said, I've always been drawn to puzzles. But it is largely practice; I learned much of what I need to know simply by solving a ton of puzzles. I learned common crosswordese, types of misdirection, etc. As for reading, I don't do it as much as I'd like.
Paul: Speaking of books, I noticed from your blog (rpipuzzleguy) that you're reading Moneyball (at 2:30 am).  What do you think of it?  Have you ever read a better baseball book?

Tyler: Enjoying Moneyball so far; it's an engaging read. It's pretty much required reading in our office; it carries many parallels to bond trading. I haven't read other baseball books (and I call myself a fan!), so I can't compare it to those.

Paul: Since my site is devoted to crosswordese I feel obligated to ask - do you have any favorite crosswordese words?

Tyler: I'd like to paraphrase Al Sanders's response to what his favorite letter is: I like whatever crosswordese enables me to finish the puzzle I'm working on. I speak from a solver's standpoint there, of course; I hate all crosswordese when constructing! Then again, I don't like it much in terms of solving aesthetics, either, but if it's a slam dunk for me and it gets me one step closer to success, I'll take it.

Paul: Who, in your opinion, is the best crossword constructor out there?  ...the best editor?  How many puzzles have you had published?

Tyler: There are so many brilliant constructors that have their own fortes. Merl Reagle is consistently witty and clever every Sunday. Frank Longo is the best with wide-open, low-word-count constructions. Patrick Berry has come up with a staggering number of truly amazing ideas that come across in well-crafted puzzles of various types. There are others, of course. As for editing, Will Shortz is king, just because of his experience and the variety of puzzles with which he's had ample experience. I also want to name Peter Gordon, who took hold of the New York Sun puzzle and has raised it to a standard of excellence on a par with the Times. My constructing output has waned of late, but I have had a good number of puzzles published. I couldn't tell you the exact numbers, but I've had work in the New York Times (about a dozen daily, two Sunday), New York Sun, Wall Street Journal (Sunday-size, on Friday), Washington Post (Sunday), LA Times (daily), and a few others. I am one of a small group of constructors making puzzles for the Onion AV Club; that gives me a chance to have a little irreverent fun in the grid sometimes.

Thank you, Tyler, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions. Best wishes in your new career and we'll be rooting for you to win again next year.

March 1, 2007 Clever Clue of the Month

February 1, 2007 Clever Clue of the Month

January 23, 2007 The State of Crosswords

January 2, 2007 December's Clever clue of the Month

December 1, 2006 Clever Clue of the Month

November 1, 2006 Clever Clue of the Month

October 2, 2006 Clever Clue of the Month

September 1, 2006 August's Clever Clue of the Month

August 1, 2006 July's Clever Clue of the Month

July 15, 2006 Who Writes Better Puzzles, Humans or Computers

July 1, 2006 June's Clever Clue of the Month

June 10, 2006 6 Days 'til Wordplay

June 1, 2006 May's Clever Clue of the Month

May 1, 2006 April's Clever Clue of the Month

April 15, 2006 The Perfect Crosswordese Meal

April 1, 2006 Clever Clue of the Month for March

March 15, 2006 Crosswordese Hall of Fame

March 1, 2006 Your Opportunity to Vote

February 11, 2006 30 Minutes of Fame

January 23, 2006 Wordplay

January 1, 2006 Happy New Year

December 3, 2005 Christmas Shopping

October 2, 2005 Crossworld

August 20, 2005 Crosswordese and the Arts

June 26, 2005 Alzheimer’s and Crossword Puzzles

May 26, 2005 Sudoku

May 1, 2005 Spell-check

April 16, 2005 Frequency

April 7, 2005 Keyhole

March 19, 2005 A New Champion

March 12, 2005 More Great Links

March 1, 2005 Chicken Strata ala King

February 23, 2005 Solution!

February 21, 2005 Letter Rip?

February 12, 2005 Spelling Bee

February 1, 2005 A 75th Anniversary

January 29, 2005 Video Google

January 22, 2005 Unexpected Pleasures

January 4, 2005 Invisible Ink

January 1, 2005 Let The Adventure Begin

Paul Stynsberg, © 2008