A Chat with a Crossword Champ

The three-time champion of Will Shortz's annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is Tyler Hinman, a 22-year-old bond trader from Chicago. Hinman joins Shortz and Liane Hansen to talk about the role his lucky T-shirt plays.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

We have with us now the winner of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. His name is Tyler Hinman, and he joins us from the NPR bureau in Chicago.

Hi, Tyler.

Mr. TYLER HINMAN (Winner, American Crossword Puzzle Tournament): Hi. How are you?

HANSEN: I'm well. How are you?

Mr. HINMAN: Doing pretty well.

HANSEN: Third win in a row, huh.

Mr. HINMAN: Yeah.

HANSEN: So, what's your secret? How do you do it?

Mr. HINMAN: It's a lot of practice more than anything else. I just do a lot of puzzles and try to learn something new when I see it.

HANSEN: Really? Did you learn anything new this year?

Mr. HINMAN: Nothing springs to mind immediately. Fortunately, I was able to do everything that I came across. In the final puzzle, one of the clues was secesh - S-E-C-E-S-H - and it's a lot easier when you hear the clue aloud than when you read it, because when you read it you're likely to mispronounce it as I did. And the answer turns out to be reb, because secesh, of course, is short for secessionist.

HANSEN: Ah.

Mr. HINMAN: And that was a - error that tripped up a lot of us because it crossed an ambiguous entry - carpenters tool - all of us had level, which was the easiest answer to come up with, and it turned out to be bevel, with that B in reb.

HANSEN: Wow. So those were the pitfalls, some rather diabolical clues in the final puzzle, yeah.

Mr. HINMAN: Oh. That's right.

HANSEN: You know, the final round has been described as a contest between you and the constructor, not you against the other contestants. Would you agree with that?

Mr. HINMAN: More or less. Really, you're just trying to get to the puzzle and hope it's good enough.

HANSEN: Yeah, and was it hard this year compared to the two years before, harder?

Mr. HINMAN: It's difficult to compare because each has been difficult for its own reason. But yeah, this year was - this year was very hard. I think it actually took me longer than either of the other two championship puzzles. It was very close to the time.

HANSEN: Yeah. Do you have a good luck charm?

Mr. HINMAN: Yeah. Actually, I've worn the same T-shirt on Sunday for each of the past three years - not every Sunday over the past three years, but every Sunday at the tournament. There's a Web site called homestarrunner with some very funny flash cartoons, and there's a character on there named Trogdor, who's a dragon. And I have a shirt with that character on it that I've worn every Sunday at the competition that I've won.

HANSEN: You're not like the baseball players who, like, won't wash the shirt or...

Mr. HINMAN: Oh, I wash the shirt. Yeah.

HANSEN: Okay. Tyler, what do you do when you're not doing puzzles and crossword tournaments?

Mr. HINMAN: I work nights, actually, as a bond trader in Chicago. Still, kind of, going through - I had some growing pains in that regard, trying to get better at it so I can make a decent living off of it, but it's interesting work.

HANSEN: Yeah. So after you win a tournament like this, do you, sort of, fast from crosswords for a while or do you get right back into it, you know, the next day?

Mr. HINMAN: Oh, I still do them. I might not do as much speed solving. Right before the tournament, I tend to do a little more training on paper with a stopwatch and so forth. I won't really do that as much after the tournament. I'll do the same number of puzzles, but it's more likely to be at a more leisurely pace so I can enjoy them a little more.

HANSEN: And can Will assume that you'll be showing up at next year's tournament in Brooklyn?

Mr. HINMAN: That's the plan.

HANSEN: Tyler Hinman, three-time American Crossword Tournament champion. Congratulations and good luck next year.

Mr. HINMAN: Thank you so much.

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