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Across And Down, Armonk Family Is All About Crossword Puzzle Tournament

The Gardner family at last year's tournament.
The Gardner family at last year's tournament. Photo Credit: Submitted

ARMONK, N.Y. -- For the Gardner family of Armonk, their puzzle fascination began with the 2006 documentary, "Wordplay," about New York Times crosswords puzzle editor Will Shortz and the founding of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT).

Tom, Wendy and Kristy Gardner attended their first tournament, the nation's largest, in 2011 as spectators and then got up the nerve to compete in 2012.

This year will be their fourth time competiting when the event takes place at the Stamford Marriott and they're excited, despite continually placing around 500th (their daughter, Kristy, now a graduate student in computer science at Carnegie Mellon, climbed all the way to 350 last year).

"It's an amazing group of people," said Tom. And this year, for the first time in seven, it's closer to home. "We used to go to Brooklyn and stay in the hotel the entire weekend, but now we'll get to sleep at home," he said.

The event runs this weekend beginning with a warm-up competition on Friday night from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. with pioneering Multimedia Crosswords, solved on iPads, in which more than half the clues contain video, audio, or picture elements, followed by a wine-and-cheese reception.

The tournament officially begins Saturday at 11 a.m., with three crosswords in the morning, three in the afternoon, and one more on Sunday morning. The puzzles are all from top puzzle makers and range from easy to hard.

Contestants score points for accuracy and speed and prizes are awarded in 21 categories -- for skill level, age, and geography -- with additional prizes for the top rookies. First prize is $5,000.

On Saturday night, the directors of the film "Wordplay" will discuss the movie and show outtakes.

The Stamford Marriott was where the first competition was originally held back in 1978 but grew so big after "Wordplay" debuted that it was moved to Brooklyn.

"Attendance has declined about 15 percent since ACPT's post-'Wordplay' peak, so we can now squeeze into the Stamford Marriott again, which we couldn't do in 2008-09," explained Shortz, a Pleasantville resident.

From 600 to 700 partipicants are expected to attend.

Go here for event details including ways to play online or by mail.

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