What's a 10-Letter Name That Defeats the Crossword Addicts? the Answer Is Stan Newman

updated 03/22/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/22/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

The three contestants had cracked the toughest clue: a four-letter word for "resembling an egg." (Answer: "Ooid.") Now they were the only survivors in hot pursuit of the championship of the fifth annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Conn. As they faced their Götterdämmerung the strain showed in their taut faces: defending champ Philip Cohen, 32, a computer programming consultant; Joe Clonick, 45, a composer; and Stan Newman, 29, a bond analyst from Brooklyn. In a crossword version of sudden-death playoff, they would have 15 minutes to solve a final puzzle of 68 enigmatic clues.

"Break a lead," shouted one spectator by way of wishing the fast-writing contestants good luck. "This thing has me climbing the walls," Clonick moaned. "The tension is incredible." Then the finalists sat down to overhead projectors (so spectators could see their work). In the audience were the 129 losers—teachers, computer programmers, housewives, retirees and one gem cutter—who were eliminated after seven preliminary rounds.

Puzzle solvers brought fruit juice, Life Savers, gum and antacids to fortify themselves. Some confidently wrote with pens, boasting that "the Sunday New York Times in ink is still the ultimate." Joel Darrow, last year's runner-up, was wielding a Schwan-STABILO (the tournament's "official" pen), which he dubbed "the purple puzzle eater." Most played it safe with eraser-equipped pencils.

Ed Snarski of White Plains, N.Y. entered the tournament "to rub elbows with the gurus of the business." They were there. Puzzle matriarch Margaret Farrar, 84, the New York Times' first crossword editor, handed out awards. "I still enjoy the challenge of those black and white squares," she said. Maura Jacobson—one of the few people who make a living constructing puzzles (for the New York Times and New York magazine, among others)—drew up one for the tournament semifinals. It was Jacobson who wrote a clue now considered a crossword classic: "Post-Watergate Nixon" in eight letters (answer: Mopy Dick).

The clock ran down on the finalists. The winner was a six-letter word for "not old, not woman"—in other words, Newman. Stan got all 68 right, crossword's perfect game. Cohen got 64 right. Clonick failed to finish.

Newman credited his success to hard training. "Last year I had the speed," he said. "I thought I knew a lot of crosswordese, but I had to learn more." Locking himself in a room—because his wife will not let him talk about puzzles—he did six a day. A graduate in math from Brooklyn College and in statistics from Rutgers, Newman owns four editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and once blazed through the Times puzzle in two minutes 41 seconds. He likes crosswords because "it's tough for me to find an appropriate mental exercise."

Stan pocketed his $400 prize (he will use it to buy a videotape player for his ex-cabdriver father) and packed up his battery-operated pencil sharpener. He says he will take a month off from puzzles "to mingle with other people."

From Our Partners