Hello, my name is Stella Zawistowski, and I’m a Brooklyn based copywriter at a pharmaceutical advertising company. I’m also one of the best women crossword puzzle solvers in the United States. I want to share my story with all of you.
Daily crossword made me an enthusiast puzzler
I have always been a puzzler. Even when I was a kid, I kept solving one kind of puzzle or the other. My parents bought me an easy crossword book, thinking it will make me an intelligent child.
But I enthusiastically started solving the clues when I was a junior in college. I and my best friend solved The New York Times Crossword together every Sunday. Now, I don’t need anyone to solve them.
After graduation, I heard about The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. At that time, I was living in Connecticut, and its tournament usually takes place in Stamford every year.
I’m talking about the year 2001. I browsed for the official website, and it said, ‘If you complete the easy crossword puzzle in 15 minutes or less, you will be competitive. If you do it under 10 minutes, then it is excellent.
Well, I managed to complete that puzzle in 9 minutes and 45 seconds. Now that was great. So, I participated in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament but didn’t do well in there.
Daily Crossword made me a good solver
I was very upset because I underperformed in the tournament. Although a bit depressed, I wanted to practice more to become a better solver. There are many who participate in the tournament but don’t care about their performance.
They only love the fact that they are surrounded by people who like solving puzzles as much as they do. But my performance made me sad. I promised myself; I will work as hard as possible to make my solving skills above average.
After the tournament, I started solving Times daily crossword puzzles every day.
Getting the initial foothold is a bit difficult. But after that, things started falling in place.
You will discover that there are short words, words with lots of vowels in them and a few words with letter patterns of common consonants that repeat multiple times in different crosswords. I knew every clue that is related to “Oreo” cookie like:
- Biscuit introduced in 1912
- Twist, Lick, Dunk, Cookie
- Three-ply cookie
- Twistable cookie
- Crème filled cookie
- Black and white cookie
- Cookie Snack
Playing free crossword daily turned into my addiction, and I tried completing them in less than 20 minutes. On certain days like Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, I solved 3-5 puzzles as I had more time than other days.
I still love the most challenging puzzle of the week, and that is usually on Saturdays.
Daily crossword is now a habit
Struggling with the clue has become a habit now. Although it keeps getting harder, I’m becoming smarter. My all-time favorite is one of the most challenging daily puzzles- Saturday Stumper that is in the Long Island Newspaper ‘Newsday.’
That is run by Stanley Newman, who is a passionate crossword constructor from a very long time. Then, I started doing 30 puzzles a week.
Now, when I’m in my thirties I practice more daily crossword and I’m used to the fact that people keep throwing common questions at me like:
“Wow, How could you complete that crossword. I can’t even read and understand the first clue?”
“There is something wrong with the grid. This can’t be completed.”
“You may be a nerd or an inborn genius. This is the reason it is easy for you to complete the puzzle.”
“We should be given 1-2 days to completely solve the crossword.”
Bang on Performance at American Crossword Tournament
In every round, you are given a certain amount of time to solve crossword puzzles. And for every minute, if you are able to solve it, you are given extra points.
But if there is any mistake, your score will decrease, and the first mistake costs you eight minutes worth of points. Getting all the right answers matters more than speed.
If you want to be on the top, it is important to be quick and accurate both. By 2005, I managed to be in the top 10 solvers for the very first time. This came as a surprise.
Many people don’t have this type of trajectory. When I bagged the 6th position in the tournament, I got the feeling that I might win one day. That felt crazy seriously.
This year, it was my 19th time that I participated in the tournament. I was in fourth place. There were a couple of tough competitors, who couldn’t make it this time in the competition.
I seriously want to win the title of the best solver at “American Crossword Tournament.” But, I don’t have anyone to teach me how to solve the free easy crossword.
My dream of winning the crossword tournament
No woman has won the title since 2001. No one is pressurizing me, but there are many (especially women) who desperately want me to win.
Now, I have started getting the feeling besides being one of the top crossword women solvers, I should also be a good puzzle constructor. I would love to make a puzzle that is full of fashion clues, drag-queen clues, and classical music clues.
I have always been in love with the free crossword as they are brainteasers. There are a lot of dreams that I have but winning the tournament is my priority.