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Crossword enthusiasts put their skills to the test

Sarah France, Lauren Steinberg and Zahraa Zalzala work on their crosswords during the 5th Annual Central Pennsylvania Crossword Competition hosted by the Mid-State Literacy Council on Sunday at South Hills School of Business and Technology.
Sarah France, Lauren Steinberg and Zahraa Zalzala work on their crosswords during the 5th Annual Central Pennsylvania Crossword Competition hosted by the Mid-State Literacy Council on Sunday at South Hills School of Business and Technology. CDT photo

Fifteen across: A puzzle consisting of grid squares and blanks. Eight down: Several people in a contest to win prizes.

Area crossword-puzzle enthusiasts came out Sunday to the South Hills School of Business and Technology for the Fifth Annual Central Pennsylvania Crossword Puzzle Competition in benefit of the Mid-State Literacy Council. About 20 put their puzzle skills to the test — not only for prizes but also to raise funds that keep the council operating.

In full disclosure, the puzzles were provided to the council by the Centre Daily Times.

As the second-largest event hosted by the council, director Amy Wilson said, the crossword puzzle competition was expected to bring in about $7,500. Each contestant pays a $100 entry fee and brings in additional fundraising efforts.

The competitors also put their crossword skills to use for prizes in both individual and team categories. Prizes were ranked from first to third in both categories, with special prizes for the most funds raised.

The competition was held in honor of Ruth Kistler, who helped found the council.

“I like to read, always have,” Kistler said, “and I couldn’t imagine anybody not being able to.”

The Mid-State Literacy Council started as the Centre County Literacy Council, she said, switching names when individuals in Lewistown wanted to get involved. Services now stretch all the way to Clearfield and Philipsburg, she said.

The council is able to help about 300 adult-learners per year, Wilson said.

Ashley Kraige, who serves on the council’s board of directors and volunteered to help officiate the competition, said she regularly does crosswords in the newspaper and often teams up with her husband to complete the more challenging weekend puzzles.

“It’s close to my heart,” she said. “I enjoy watching people do them as well.”

Retired minister Mark Hayes said he’s been doing crossword puzzles for several years and is now a part of his morning routine. He’s competed in every council competition, placing first for the first two years.

“The biggest thing is lots of practice, do a lot of puzzles,” he said. “There are lots of things that show up over and over. You also need a wide breadth of reading and trivial knowledge to have a lot of words at hand.”

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