Dan Feyer ’99, right, with brother Stephen ’03 at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. (Photo by Gretchen Margaroli)
Solving a Sunday crossword puzzle is hard enough. Try doing it on stage, in front of hundreds of spectators — in under eight minutes. Impossible? Not for Dan Feyer ’99. And that’s why he is the new American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champion.
Feyer, a music major at Princeton who now plays piano accompaniment for off-Broadway musical theater productions in New York, got hooked on crossword competition after seeing the documentary Wordplay on PBS three years ago. He’s quickly climbed the ranks of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, winning top honors in just his third year as a contestant.
The secret to success is practice, Feyer told PAW. He solves up to 20 puzzles per day and has been known to complete 10 or more during a half-hour subway ride to work.
This year marked the first time that Feyer reached the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament final, a three-person onstage showdown. Contestants wear headphones that play white noise, to block out the commentators and crowd noise. When Feyer marked his final letter, he double-checked the puzzle, turned to the judges, and said, “Done.”
“It was very exciting, but I wasn’t entirely sure that I’d gotten everything right,” he said. “So when I finished I was kind of looking around for someone to give me a thumbs-up or a nod or something.” After a brief pause, that affirmation came. Feyer smiled and took off his headphones.
Feyer, who earned $5,000 for his victory, is not the only Princetonian word whiz. He was joined by two other alumni in the top 10, Kiran Kedlaya *97 and Stella (Daily) Zawistowski ’00, who finished sixth and seventh, respectively.
Below, watch a YouTube video of the tournament final (or view a high-resolution version here).