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VOL. 37 | NO. 12 | Friday, March 22, 2013

Nine letters, hyphenated: ‘3 consecutive titles’

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is like an annual meeting for the cruciverbalism industry. At the 36th installment of this event, the three-peat crown wearer, Dan Feyer, a pianist from Manhattan, pretty much went wire to wire.

For the third year in a row, he was joined in the finals by Anne Erdmann and Tyler Hinman. These three were tied after the first and second rounds before Feyer pulled methodically away, finishing first in rounds 3, 5, 6 and 7 by a minute each to take a 100-point lead into the final 20-minute puzzle. He handled that one in about 10 minutes.

Finishing a puzzle that included APOLUNE (clued as “Farthest point in an orbit around the moon”) about three minutes later, Erdmann claimed second place as a birthday gift, avoiding what would have been her fourth straight third-place finish.

In the finals for the eighth time in nine years, Hinman did not finish in the allotted time. He did, however, provide some self-deprecating comedic relief when, after struggling at an empty corner where SNIFF was supposed to be written for the clue [How sad!], he threw up his arms and wrote in “TYLER.”

For me, this event is a time to catch up with many I see only once a year. Stories abound. Sixteen-year-old David Steinberg of California, who has had nine puzzles in the New York Times since June 2011, is in charge of converting old Times crosswords to a digitized, searchable format.

Steinberg was contacted by Arnie Bennett, who remembered having a puzzle in the Times when he was young. Steinberg determined Bennett was 13 years, 10 months old when his 1969 crossword appeared in print, making him the youngest ever Times constructor. Steinberg is now the fourth youngest.

Linda Murray, an artist from Buffalo Gap, Texas, carries a reduced-in-size art portfolio, which I always enjoy viewing.

This year she had quite a story to go with one of her latest works, “She From Whom All Things Flow.” This 36-inch, square acrylic was created for a Lubbock exhibition called Provocate, which has not yet taken place. So impressed were those in charge of the exhibit that they sought and received Murray’s permission to print the piece on a postcard invitation to the event.

Murray’s painting was featured a pair of human female breasts with what appear to be small spigots growing on them. No other part of the human anatomy is involved in this painting. In fact, I thought for a split second that I was seeing a mountainous area, disguised to make stereotypical males see something that wasn’t there.

But no! The artist confirmed that what you see is what you get! Because of this item’s unusual nature, the curator consulted the local postal authorities before mass-producing the cards for a bulk mailing.

No dice, the Lubbock Postmaster said, this work could be “damaging to children.” [It is with great effort that I end this column now, sans any of the sophomoric puns that have spring to mind. I know they’ve sprung to yours just now as well.]

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.