He won the contest designed by Merl Reagle to celebrate crossword’s 100th birthday


(Courtesy of John Bulten)
December 27, 2013

If you assumed the winner of WP Magazine’s Dec. 1 crossword contest would be an obsessive lifelong puzzler, a diligent code-cracker, and a devotee of mind games and mysteries, riddles and brain-teasers — congratulations, you were right.

John Bulten, 43, of Boynton Beach, Fla., a “lapsed member” of the National Puzzlers’ League, found out about the contest from the league Wednesday, Nov. 27. “Sure someone would get the jump on me,” he dug right in when he saw the puzzles posted on our Web site. With occasional assists from his wife and son, Bulten estimates that he came up with the answers in about two hours.

He plans to use part of the $1,000 prize money to “get a couple more puzzle subscriptions” and renew membership in puzzle clubs.

About 650 people entered the contest to mark the 100th anniversary of the crossword. In addition to the winner, who got the correct answers first, 10 entries represented finalists. They were chosen randomly from the first 100 correct submissions and will get $100.

Ann and Jason Thompson of Alexandria were among the finalists who put their heads together to come up with the solution. The puzzle was “right in their wheelhouse,” Jason said in an e-mail. “Ann loves maps and city geography, and I’m kind of a political junkie who’s always a sucker for anything with ‘ghost’ in the title.”

Full disclosure: The Thompsons both used to work for washingtonpost.
com; in fact, it’s where they met.

Brenda Hill and Robert Montgomery of Burke were another dynamic puzzling duo. Hill found the crosswords fairly easy but says “it really took both of our brains to figure out the mapping piece in relation to the puzzle.”

Susan Morrison of Falls Church called the contest a tag-team effort with her husband, Tom Roberts. Apparently that approach worked: Her husband said it took “four times as long to do the regular crossword” later in the day.

And Martha Stansell-Gamm of Arlington tackled the puzzles with her law student son, Drew Liming.“I think the intergenerational connection helps. Between the two of us, we cover a wide swath of trivia,” she says.

Rosa Cheney of Arlington did her puzzle with just “me and my phone.” She said she’s not that good at crosswords, so she liked that there were different ways to solve the puzzle, tackling it backward and forward.

Some of the finalists had also participated in another WP Magazine contest, The Post Hunt, held each June, or are veteran puzzlers. Carol Vranas of Fairfax is both. And when the family gets together, “we’ll all sit around doing crosswords. And we try to be the first one done. That’s my history in competitive crosswords!”

Constance Haaser of Adelphi, now retired, used to do a puzzle a day. “That was my reward for riding the Metro.” She likes to “dither” with puzzles, “so I was totally shocked that I got the answer.” She thought it took her too long but submitted her entry anyway, and now she gets to lord her win over her husband, who razzed her about the contest.

Sarah Johnson of Chevy Chase, Md., did the puzzle alone, too, but was “on the couch with my fiance looking at me, like, What are you doing?” she said. Her win has strengthened her resolve to “get her act together” and finally join a Post Hunt.

At 25, John Flatness, our youngest finalist, is already a Post Hunt alumnus — with “limited success,” he says jokingly in an e-mail. The Falls Church man says the appeal of crosswords is that, unlike Sudoku, they “can be really varied from day to day in themes, shapes and entries.”

And finally, Court Burns — the lone finalist from the District proper — found the puzzles “cleverly created.” He regularly does the acrostic in Brand X’s paper and is a “big fan of the diagramless.”

Congratulations, winners, and keep on puzzling.

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