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Word nerd gridlock: Crosswords tourney Saturday at Westport Library

Whether you go across or down, you are likely to find a crowd Saturday afternoon at the Westport Library.

The library's 15th annual Crossword Puzzle Contest is scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. in the McManus Room, again led by Will Shortz, the New York Times crossword editor.

All 120 slots for contestants were grabbed up soon after registration began, and the library said it is bracing for a packed house.

Competitors will do three puzzles of increasing difficulty, with 20 minutes to complete each. Contestants with the top three scores then will compete on a final puzzle to determine the champion.

Shortz has a cult following among serious crossworders, and the three finalists will receive certificates signed by him and a copy of his book "A year of Crosswords," which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle.

The champ also will have his or her name printed in a bookplate commemorating the victory, and the book will be placed in the library's collection.

How did the library ever get Shortz to come to Westport?

Fifteen years ago, the library Director Maxine Bleiweis attended a book fair in New York City, where Shortz happened to be autographing copies of a Sunday puzzle, and she approached him.

Some years earlier, Shortz predecessor Eugene Maleska had agreed to produce an original puzzle for a Westport contest.

When Bleiweis asked Shortz if he would do the same, the crossword master went one better, offering to come to Westport and run the contest.

It's been an annual event since.

Registration for this year's contest opened Dec. 1, and 80 percent of the spots were taken within a week, according to Marcia Logan, the library's communications director. There ended up being a waiting list of people hoping a registrant would drop out.

All contestants are amateurs, and some have competed in all 14 previous contests, she said.

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