Nine letters: ‘Frustration, fun’

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A vast gulf exists between the extremes of crossword puzzle solvers.

Picture the perfect scene of cultured domesticity: Husband and wife in bed on a Sunday, solving the New York Times crossword together. Then picture the world of competitive crosswords: Time constraints, practiced strategies, vast memorized banks of obscure five-letter words.

Then picture Jackson Heights residents Ryan Hecht and Brian Cimmet stretched out in between those roles like the 18-letter anchor clue of a Sunday puzzle. The two friends write a novice-friendly blog, Ryan and Brian Do Crosswords, that features running commentary on nearly every Times crossword.

They have also organized the first-ever crossword tournament in Jackson Heights.

Lollapuzzoola will take place Aug. 23 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Community Church, 81-10 35th Ave. For more information or to register, visit

"One of our blog friends, Howard Barkin, suggested it," Hecht said. "We kind of put it out there."

Hecht and Cimmet are hoping for a crowd of 25 or 30 people the first time out, a far cry from the roughly 700 who competed at the 2008 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament put on by Times crossword editor Will Shortz. But the friends will have some high-caliber help.

"At least four of the puzzles are constructed by regular constructors for the Times," Hecht said, noting that crossword tournament dynamo Ellen Ripstein has also offered her help. "We've got good people involved on our end. We need more people on the other end."

The blog itself is rife with humorous commentary on the Times' crossword clues, as well as semi-weekly podcasts on the puzzles.

Sometimes a clue will inspire a flight of fancy as Hecht and Cimmet bounce through their cultural associations with the concept. An analysis of the clue "Rolling Stones hit before "Honky Tonk Women" (Answer: "Jumpin' Jack Flash") leads to the mention of a Whoopi Goldberg movie by the same name and a list of absurd taglines from Whoopi's other films.

Care to guess which film spawned this catchy slogan? "At the sperm-bank she asked for a tall, intelligent black man. One out of three ain't bad."

Hecht, an actor, said he has long been a crossword aficionado, but the film "Wordplay" inspired him to take a shot at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament this past February.

"My wife wouldn't go with me," he said. "The only person I knew well enough that might go with me was Brian. I talked to him incessantly until his wife convinced him to go."

Though the friends placed fairly low in the tournament, they created the blog the next month. Soon they had befriended a number of competitive puzzle solvers and constructors.

Cimmet, a professional pianist who was previously only a fan of number puzzles, said he became engrossed in crosswords when he realized there was more to solving them than a vast store of trivial knowledge.

"I think I can gradually get better by thinking about different possibilities for answers or just parsing the grid differently as I'm going," he said. "My goal is to place higher in next year's tournament. I actually keep track of my times on puzzles. I keep a spreadsheet on this just to see that I'm improving."

But for all his efforts to improve, Cimmet does not expect to get any closer to that domestic Sunday ideal.

"I have stopped telling my wife about it because she's not the least bit interested," he said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 6:39 pm, October 10, 2011
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