The King of the Word Nerds


Via, a must-read ten-year-old New Yorker piece on the rarefied world of elite crossword-puzzle solvers.

Warning: unless you are mentioned by name in the article, you will probably have to face some hard truths about how your own crossword-puzzle prowess is not as impressive as you thought.

Ripstein got off to an early lead, and managed to dash off “aristas” (“Some beards”) and “bhang” (“Hallucinogenic drink made from Indian hemp”). But her strategy was unorthodox. Instead of starting at the upper left corner and working her way around the puzzle, she jumped immediately to the right side. That left her stranded without 1 across (“What sots don’t do?”), a ten-letter answer on which much depended. Jordan took the standard path, built on previously placed letters, and soon surged ahead. He filled in “at bats” (“Denominator in some stats”) and “coigns” (“Wedge-shaped pieces of wood”), and hesitated only briefly before writing “bard” (“Avon calling?”).

Lauren O'Neal is an MFA student at San Francisco State University. Her writing has appeared in publications like Slate, The New Inquiry, and The Hairpin. You can follow her on Twitter at @laureneoneal. More from this author →