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how the tournament is organized and run

Until recently, the ACPT event was held at the Stamford, Connecticut, Marriott hotel, but was moved to the Brooklyn Marriott hotel in New York because attendance rocketed after 2006. (To see why, visit the section called Wordplay, The Movie, on the page you just came from.)

Will Shortz, the organization's founder, is the current director, as well as the editor of The New York Times crossword puzzle feature.

The insider's world of crossword puzzles is a closely-knit community and The Times is perhaps the most influential U.S. newspaper publishing crossword puzzles today. The fact that the Times editor is also the tournament director makes sense and doesn't seem to be bad for business, either. Also, holding the event in Brooklyn draws from a larger pool of attendees and places the contest directly on the newspaper's turf.

tournament preliminaries

Solvers tackle eight original crosswords created and edited specially for this event. Prizes are awarded in more than 20 categories, including a $5,000 grand prize. Evening games, guest speakers, and a wine and cheese reception allow solvers to meet each other in a relaxed and entertaining atmosphere.

Contestants compete in one of three divisions (A, B, or C), depending on skill level, with C the highest. All divisions are conducted in the same manner. For each level, the main part of the tournament consists of seven rounds. Puzzles rounds progressively increase in size and difficulty from round to round. In each round, all competitors solve the same puzzle; those who complete the puzzle within the time limit raise their hands to indicate completion. Puzzles are collected from each hand-raiser and evaluated by a judge, who scores them based on accuracy, completeness, and speed.

the final and deciding round

The top three solvers from the first six rounds, and only these solvers, progress to the final round, which consists of concurrently solving the same difficult crossword puzzle in a race against the clock. This puzzle and its solution were created in advance by a top constructor in the field who also is one of several judges; he keeps the grid under wraps until the moment the competition begins and reveals the solution only after it's ended.

A blank copy of the crossword grid is placed on oversized white boards mounted on easels, one for each contestant, on a stage at the front of the room; it's covered by a drape to hide its contents. The audience is composed of entrants who didn't make it to the final round, an audience of peers. The room is packed. The contestants mount the stage. Now the pressure is really on.

Each contestant is handed a worksheet that contains a list of clues and the drapes that conceal the grid are pulled aside. Each contestant sees the puzzle at the same time, for the first time.

Now each finalist has only 15 minutes to fill in the grid. They work fast, in full sight of the audience and the judge who created the puzzle. The audience and judges can see each contestant's grid as it's being gilled in, but the other contestants cannot. The three competitors in this round wear noise-blocking headphones which isolate them from the spectators, shielding them from distractions and ensuring that they get no advice or other kinds of aid. They're unaware of the answers being filled in by the two other contestants.

The first finalist to finish indicates that he is done by throwing up his hands and declaring himself. The other two contestants continue until each is finished or the playoff is stopped by the clock.

Judges score the performance of each contestant. Contestants receive or lose points on the final round for time and accuracy. Accuracy is determined by comparing grid entries with entries in the puzzle solution. Since they are penalized for errors, most finalists choose to check their work before they decide to quit. In the past a few contestants actually have lost the competition because they forgot to check their work under pressure.

The winner of this final round is the solver with the most points. He is declared the tournament champion.

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