I can’t say that participating in the Boswords 2022 Summer Tournament was a humbling experience, because I came into it already sufficiently humbled. However, the Tournament did bring the blurred edges of my crossword puzzle-solving humility into razor-sharp focus.
Having heard about the contest from the inimitable Rex Parker, I forked over my $30 entry fee (an incredible value, by the way) and signed up as an online contestant. I assumed that, although my opponents would possess varied skill levels, they would generally coalesce around my own solving prowess neighborhood (I’ve been solving for approximately three years, with 2,200+ puzzles under my belt).
When I finished the first Tournament puzzle, which had a 20-minute time limit, in 11:16, I was quite pleased with myself. I finished the second, another 20-minute puzzle, in 12:49, so I figured I was on a roll. But then I took a look at the standings.
My goodness, the names. It turns out that the Boswords tournaments attract some of the most brilliant luminaries in the crossword world as contestants. People like Will Nediger, Rebecca Goldstein, Hoang-Kim Vu, Jeff Davidson and Max Kurzman, just to name a handful. Hilariously, the morning of the Tournament, I had completed the Washington Post Sunday crossword, constructed by the amazing Evan Birnholz… and Birnholz himself was a contestant in the Tournament!
The standings, at that point, served to emphatically buttress my solving humility. I mentioned I was pleased with my 11:16 solving time for Puzzle #1? Well, Will Nediger solved the identical puzzle in... 1:54. (I’m pretty sure that even if I were given all the answers to the puzzle beforehand, I wouldn’t be able to simply type them into the grid in 1:54!) Hoang-Kim Vu solved Puzzle #1 in 3:14, Rebecca Goldstein did it in 3:16, and our friend from that morning’s Washington Post, Evan Birnholz, solved it in 3:18. Literally dozens of other solvers in the Tournament solved Puzzle #1 in less than five minutes.
Humility appropriately buttressed, I gamely continued solving. Puzzle #3 proved too much for the man. I was unable to finish it in the 35 minutes allotted. Of course, the dastardly Nediger solved it in 3:04. Yes, 3:04, for a 117-word puzzle that, given a couple of hours, I only may have been able to solve.
I sort of redeemed myself with Puzzles 4 and 5, cleanly solving both within the 30 minutes allowed (29:14 and 28:09, respectively). Mr. Nediger? 2:27 and 3:40.
For the online solver championship, Nediger faced off against the aforementioned Davidson and Kurzman in a three-way, live, on- air solve of a wicked puzzle dreamed up by the brilliant Paolo Pasco. Pasco had come up with two sets of clues for his Championship grid; one labeled “mild,” the other “sizzling.” Using the “mild” set of clues, I was unable to finish Pasco’s puzzle in the allotted time (I believe it was 20 minutes). The three finalists, of course, were required to use the much more difficult “sizzling” clues for their on-air solve. They all solved the puzzle cleanly, all well under 5 minutes. Will Nediger won the Championship match, and the online tournament. (For the record, I ended up with a rank of 262 out of 314 in the overall standings. I write that sentence with a strange combination of pride and humility. )
When I signed up for the Boswords 2022 Summer Tournament, I expected a certain experience. What I ended up with was completely different. I had the unexpected privilege of solving the same puzzles at the same time as a multitude of people whom I deeply admire. I was reminded that there are individuals in the world whose intellect surpasses mine to such an extent that it seems impossible that we are of the same species. And I got to spend an afternoon deeply immersed in the world of crossword puzzles, which, as the past three years have shown me, is a magical place, chock-full of intelligent, genuine, welcoming, generous, and inclusive people. It’s a place with nothing less than the best that humanity has to offer.
I’d like to extend a big thank you to John Lieb, Andrew Kingsley, Lisa Bunker, Ruth Margolin, Paolo Pasco, Erica Hsiung-Wojcik, Parker Higgins, Rob Gonsalves and Brad Wilber for making the Boswords 2022 Summer Tournament possible, and available to all.
I look forward to the next one, hopefully in person!