What's a six-letter word for fast?


In the hushed corridor leading to the Reg's Special Collections Research Center, a handful of students hunched over a row of wooden tables, bookbags at their feet, pencils scribbling furiously, while two timekeepers watched from a few feet away. Midterms? No, a crossword-puzzle contest. Between 2 and 4 p.m. Monday, students dropped by the library to dash through a creation by New York Times puzzle master Will Shortz. Contestants took the exercise seriously—one shooed away a reporter with a camera, scolding, "You can't take my picture, I'm being timed!"—and scorekeepers grading early returns noted their expertise, whispering that many puzzles had only one or two wrong letters. Half an hour into the contest, librarian Julia Gardner, who organized the event to coincide with a Special Collections exhibit on dictionaries, wondered if she'd chosen too easy a puzzle.

After turning in their entries, students helped themselves to cookies and juice and perused the exhibit, The Meaning of Dic'tion·ar'ies, which traces the texts' history from their Enlightenment origins to the digital age. "We think of dictionaries as an authoritative, objective source," said Gardner, who curated the display, "but at different points in history, dictionaries have reflected the different societies that produced them."

A day after the contest wrapped up, Gardner finished checking the entries. Five students got perfect scores, so winning came down to speed. Finishing in seven minutes, 12 seconds, Harris School grad student Jessica Manvell took first prize, a $30 University Bookstore gift certificate, while third-year Laura McFarland won a $20 gift certificate, and third-place winner David Richter, also a third-year, won his choice of five Special Collections exhibit catalogs. "We hadn't planned on awarding a third prize," Gardner said, "but the third-place finisher was so close to second." McFarland completed her puzzle in 11 minutes, 17 seconds; Richter turned his in nine seconds later.


Crossword contestants scribble furiously; a 1937 title page proof from volume three of the U of C Press's Dictionary of American English, part of the exhibit.

May 14, 2007