March 4: Crossword Puzzle Champions Cross Wits in Connecticut


On this day in 1978, the first-ever American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, the first competition of its kind ever held in the United States, kicked off a weekend of fierce competition at the Marriott Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut.  Founded by New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz, the first tournament attracted over 100 enthusiasts who pored over a series of increasingly difficult puzzles over the course of two days as judges awarded points based on accuracy and speed.  In that first year, the first and second place tournament winners were both women: Nancy Shuster of Queens, New York, and Eleanor Cassidy of Fairfield, Connecticut, who won prizes of $125 and $50, respectively.

The official logo of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

What began as a convention of hobbyists on March 4, 1978 quickly grew into a serious international competition, necessitating tournament organizers to limit the number of participants to “only” several hundred people within the next few years.  The first thirty years of the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament were held at the same hotel in Stamford, Connecticut.  However, after a 2006 PBS documentary about the tournament entitled “Wordplay” caused a huge spike in national interest, the tournament was moved to Brooklyn, New York — only to return to the Marriott Hotel in Stamford eight years later.   Over forty years later, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament has expanded to include live play-by-play commentary, streaming video, game-show style events for attendees, and a grand prize numbering in the thousands of dollars.  The oldest and largest crossword tournament in the United States got its start in Stamford, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Deb Amlen, “Puzzle Lovers Find Their Tribe at at Crossword Tournament,New York Times

Wordplay: The Documentary,” PBS Independent Lens

American Crossword Puzzle Tournament official website