RPI grad and national crossword champion Tyler Hinman is back on top

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute graduate Tyler Hinman won the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament for the seventh time last week, but don’t call it a comeback, he says.

The Connecticut native has been solving New York Times puzzles since his teens and has been competing nationally every year since 2003. He started making headlines in 2005 when, as a 20-year-old college student, he became the youngest person to win the national crossword competition. The next year, in 2006, the computer science major won again. And he just kept winning through the end of the decade.

It would be a seven-year streak for Hinman “if you ignore the 2010s,” he said Thursday in an interview. “That wasn’t my decade.”

He resumed his winning ways last year and took this year’s title on Sunday.

Since graduating and leaving the Capital Region Hinman has held day jobs in finance and programing while putting his puzzle-solving skills into side projects.

He has participated in a documentary called “Wordplay” with the New York Times’ puzzle creator and editor William Shortz, appeared on a reality television show featuring contestants with “Superhuman” abilities and even published his own book of crossword puzzles

He lives in San Francisco now but has fond memories of his time in the Capital Region, including attending RPI hockey games and enjoying buffalo chicken pizza and beer at Villa Valenti pub in Troy.

“That was our go-to on a Friday night when we wanted to go out and have some pizza and wings.”

Hinman also participates in National Puzzlers’ League conventions which have taken him all over the country.

Some might expect the fastest puzzle-solvers to be English teachers or trivia buffs, but some of the top competitors are computer programmers, mathematicians and musicians, he said.

“All three of those disciplines — programming and music and puzzles — involve interpreting coded, stilted information really quickly and translating that into something meaningful,” Hinman said.

The crossword puzzling scene is younger and more vibrant than ever, he said. Hinman is still a fan of the Times’ crosswords but notes that independent puzzle designers who self-publish on the internet have changed the game.


“The Times has brought a ton of innovation to that puzzle under Will Shortz’s editorship,” he said, describing the old puzzles as “a scholastic, pretty dry test of vocabulary.”

“The indies are going even further than that,” he said. “They are clueing in ways and styles that are very just cavalier and free-flowing and stuff the Times won’t allow because it’s the Times.”

That includes use of emojis and obscure references and experimenting with unusual formats.

About puzzling, he said, “It’s been cool to kind of just have a thing. Some people get good at a sport or learn an instrument. This is what I got good at and I took it pretty far.”

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