Today in 1978, the 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 tournament attracted over 100 enthusiasts who battled over a series of increasingly difficult crossword puzzles for two days to earn points judges awarded based on accuracy and speed. In that initial competition, the first and second place tournament winners were both women: Nancy Shuster of Queens, New York, and Eleanor Cassidy of Fairfield, Connecticut. They took home bragging rights and cash prizes of $125 and $50, respectively.
What began as a convention of hobbyists on March 4, 1978 quickly grew into a serious international competition so popular tournament organizers had to limit the number of participants to “only” several hundred people. During its first thirty years, the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was held at the same hotel in Stamford, Connecticut. But after a 2006 PBS documentary about the tournament titled “Wordplay” caused a huge spike in national interest, the tournament was moved to Brooklyn, New York — but returned to Stamford eight years later. Now in its fifth decade, 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 First matched wits in Stamford, today in Connecticut history.
Deb Amlen, “Puzzle Lovers Find Their Tribe at at Crossword Tournament,” New York Times
“Wordplay: The Documentary,” PBS Independent Lens