Monday, January 15, 2024


Robert W. Mackey 1961-2024

For someone who's made a hobby of finding the right words rather quickly, it took me four days to sit down and write this. I know the Puzzle Brothers ship sailed a long time ago, and blogging is seen as old school as compared to quicker forms of information dissemination (I'm just grateful my Blogger account was not only still here, but simple to log into), but what transpired in the last week begs to be posted here for the record.

The Puzzle Brothers are now a solo act; yours truly, David Mackey. The other, more prolific and more skilled half of the duo, Robert Mackey, died on Tuesday, January 9, 2024. Bob had suffered a major stroke in his apartment sometime over the weekend, and as he lived alone, he was not able to summon the help he needed that would have saved his life.

A crossword fan literally since childhood, Bob parlayed that interest into an untold number of awards, including two B-division championships at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (1998 and 2013), a number of championship at Will Shortz' other tournament, the Westchester Crossword Puzzle Tournament (including one pairs championship with me), both championships at the short-lived Paramus Crossword Tournament, and many minor prizes from the ACPT. Along the way, he attracted many acquaintances that blossomed into lifelong friendships.

In the early 1970's if you wanted quality crossword magazines you routinely turned to the publications of Dell Magazines, which had been noted for its hard- and soft-cover books and its long running line of Four Color Comics. Practically every major cartoon character had their own titles through Dell, including the acclaimed Donald Duck comics of the great Carl Barks and other artists. But Dell also had a puzzle division, with Kathleen Rafferty as the longtime editor of the line. (I believe Nancy Schuster later took over; Nancy was a big supporter of Bob's crosswording activities and a sweetheart of a lady as well.) About 1971, decades before Sudoku and KenKen and Wordle, there was the Word Search. A universally accepted concept today, great for use in schools to help teach vocabulary and spelling, but Dell decided to launch a magazine devoted exclusively to Word Searches. Our mother wound up buying two copies of the monthly magazine, one for each Puzzle Brother to freely find words in. (Mom also got us two TV Guides, which wasn't as big a financial hit as those magazines were 15c each.) Bob, though, got curious about the other offerings Dell had in their crossword line, and soon he began buying with his allowance money the regular Dell Crossword titles, which had many other types of puzzles as well. Bob was well on his way to becoming a puzzle master.

In 1978, Bob, then a junior in high school and a subscriber to the New York Times at low cost through the Newspapers In Education program, would receive the daily paper, surreptitiously do the crossword during our homeroom period (Bob and I were in a special homeroom exclusively for the school yearbook staff), in ink mind you, and finish it cleanly by the time the first period bell rang. And this was under the editorship of no less than Eugene T. Maleska, who filled his puzzles with a vast array of irrelevance and unrelatability. (Bob had already become familiar with his style through reprints of his work in the Dell magazines.) That Spring, the newspaper ran an article on the very first American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, thought to be a one-off event run by a maverick 25-year-old puzzle creator named Will Shortz. The staff at the Marriott in Stamford liked the uptick in hotel reservations and asked for more. Neither minded doing more, and the tournament has endured to this day, halted only by that pesky 2020 health scare. Bob just tucked the information in the back of his mind and went about his life, graduating 21st in his high school class of 435 students and completing a degree at Monmouth University four years later, all the while working at various retail jobs in his area.

But the lure of wordplay never left. In 1998, on a whim, and without preregistration at either the tournament or the hotel, Bob made his American Crossword Puzzle Debut. No one was ready for this rank newcomer to do what he did, and it has never been surpassed since. In his very first ACPT, Bob Mackey placed SIXTH, out of all competitors. All new competitors in the tournament automatically get into the C skill division, As Bob's ranking was higher than the two top B competitors - Todd Dashoff and Zack Butler - Bob was invited to the B final on stage, which he won handily. (Who won the big prize that year? Trip Payne, who Bob already knew from another field of interest - competitive pinball.)

Bob returned to the 1999 tournament as an A competitor, finishing 44th, but two events threatened to derail his puzzling for good in 2000, the first of which was the death of our mother. During the last few years of her life, Bob was caretaker to his mom, which also took a physical toll: that summer he was diagnosed with a highly treatable form of leukemia, which he beat and was able to keep at bay for the rest of his life. But those years were not very puzzling, as life itself seemed to be puzzling enough for Bob. He had also had a few run-ins with the law, including one incident in which he lost his driver's license. Bob never let on if the suspension was permanent, but after 2002 he never drove another mile. And by 2004 it seemed that Stamford was of a time long ago and far away.

In the early months of 2005, I told Nancy (my wife at the time) that I would try to make a go at the tournament my brother had excelled in for two years, having been invited to finish her Games magazines which include a puzzle variety she disliked - crosswords. As I got in my car and drove up the Garden State Parkway, I grabbed my cell phone and called Bob at his trailer-house in Eatontown, where he had been living since selling mom's house. "Get dressed, Bobby. We're going on an adventure." And he had no idea where we were going until we got on the New Jersey Turnpike. I had told Bob that his place in the tournament was already bought and paid for, and we'd just be coming for the day. We commuted in both days from New Jersey for what proved to be a very special tournament. This was the year of "Wordplay", Patrick Creadon's major documentary film on the tournament and Will Shortz, with a camera crew documenting moments both profound and trivial. The fill is just as important as the theme entries, and Patrick caught it all - including the moment when Al Sanders looked at 1-Across on the final puzzle and saw it read _OLAES_UE, and slammed his headphones down in disgust, his winning moment ruined by two blank squares. Once "Wordplay" hit theaters and was released on DVD, people wondered how they could get into the tournament. In the ensuing years the tournament had to move to a larger Marriott in Brooklyn, it just got so big. And Bob got his solving mojo back, with a vengeance. He began making friendships in the crossword world. And as we both began getting our crosswords published, it dawned on us that we were at the time the only pair of identical twins who excelled both in constructing AND solving crosswords, and we marketed ourselves as The Puzzle Brothers, founding this blog and having custom hats and T-shirts printed.

By 2013, Bob had earned a reputation as a very capable solver and had begun winning smaller tournaments. We began regularly attending Will's annual tournaments in Pleasantville, either held at the Episcopal Church or his table tennis club, and soon Bob began racking up the championships there. One of the more frequent finals lineups in Westchester consisted of Bob, Glen Ryan and Jeffrey Schwartz. So it was almost a given that all three of them, still entrenched in B division, would meet someday in a Stamford final. I did not compete in the tournament that year, and I have been known to miss a tournament here and there for whatever reason, but once I read that Bob was in the B finals, I cancelled my regular Sunday appearance with my church choir to see Bob try to win the B final. Well, we all know what happened that Sunday morning in Brooklyn.

I still don't know what the heck he said to indicate completion.

Bob continued on with crosswords, as long as he could, until suffering more personal setbacks in the era of COVID-19, when the tournament was suspended in 2020, virtual in 2021, and returned to its live glory in 2022. Bob would return in 2022 for what turned out to be his final ACPT, finishing 30th. But during this time, he developed new health issues, which I would rather not recount here, and ultimately lost his home. Family members helped him back on the right track, and Bob continued attending tournaments, missing his last chance at an ACPT in 2023 but making his final tournament appearance at Lollapuzzoola 16 that August, finishing 43rd.

When the word got out that Bob had died, the crossword world mourned. He was one of the stars of our competitions, always cheering on his opponents and lauding their accomplishments. Friends paid tribute after tribute on various social media channels...
It was always great to see The Puzzle Brothers at ACPT and other events. --Dan Feyer

Such a mainstay of the puzzle community. --Stella Zawistowski

Bob was one of the first people I ever met who considered themselves a competitive solver. I had no idea there was such a thing, or a community of.puzzlers for that matter. Thank you, Bob, for opening a path to meeting so many great people. --Howard Barkin

Sweet guy, and all about +words! --Diane Franklin Terry

I loved seeing Bob at the tournaments. He was always had something interesting to say. --Patrick Merrell

Bob was a wonderfully familiar face at so many tournaments and I always enjoyed competing together. --Ken Stern

It was clear how you and Bob loved each other; he, like you, was smart, witty, and most of all warm and friendly. Our crossword gang will miss Bob. --Robert Moy

There exists an early Bugs Bunny cartoon, "The Heckling Hare", in which Bugs and an unnamed dog antagonist take an extended fall from the heavens, yet still manage a safe landing, with Bugs mocking the viewers: "Fooled ya, didn't we?" Bob was taken off the machines keeping him alive at about 4:30 on Tuesday afternoon. Miraculously, he hung on for another three hours, with a repeat of Bugs' majestic 1941 fake-out a possibility. Alas, it was not to be. Time of death: 7:31 p.m. 

Bob's survivors also included an older brother and a sister, six nieces, and two step-nieces courtesy of my second marriage. He sired no progeny to carry on his legacy.

And thus ends the story of Bob Mackey, a humble, gracious man who was one of the quiet giants of wordplay. I was proud to call him my brother.




Sunday, April 03, 2016


Howard Barkin wins first ACPT

Don Christensen; from ACPT website

In a year where the impossible seemed within reach - Dan Feyer steamrolling to a possible seventh consecutive American Crossword Puzzle Tournament trophy - the unthinkable happened. Howard Barkin, longtime bump in the road whenever Feyer or his predecessor Tyler Hinman would win tournaments, now has an ACPT soup tureen to call his own, along with $7,000 in cash for a nice dinner out with the family.

Barkin, who also won the New Jersey state title, defeated Feyer (second place) and David Plotkin (third). Going into the final round, Feyer was first by three minutes over both Barkin and Plotkin, with Barkin seeded second due to a better time on Saturday's Puzzle 6.

Doug Peterson won the B division title over Michael Megargee and Emily O'Neill, who did win for top foreign solver (she is from Canada).

Rookie winner Miriam Sicherman finished third in the C finals. The champ there was Christopher Baker, with a perfect solve in 8:45, nineteen seconds ahead of Sam Donaldson.

Other division and regional winners:

D: Claire Rimkus
E: Dean Romano
Junior: Sam Ezersky
Fifties: Al Sanders
Sixties: Jon Delfin
Seventies: Neil Singer
Senior: Thomas Hennessy

West: Feyer
Connecticut: Ron Osher
New England: Joon Pahk
New York City: Francis Heaney
Long Island: Thomas Weisswange
Upstate New York: Arnold Reich
Mid-Atlantic: Megargee
South: Plotkin
Midwest: Anne Ellison

Puzzle Brother Bob Mackey placed much lower than usual this year, 52nd, due to multiple errors. Dave Mackey did not attend the tournament this year.

The 40th ACPT will be back in Stamford the weekend of March 24-26, 2017.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Per Brendan Emmett Quigley, puzzle maker Henry Hook, who spent the last few years in extremely ill health, which included the amputation of one leg, has died at the age of 60. Developing...

Friday, September 04, 2015

New Tournament For Long Islanders

Long Island residents will get a chance for some crossword action on October 3, 2015, when the Oceanside Library hosts its first annual Crossword Puzzle Tournament. The event will take place at 11 a.m. at the library, which is at 30 Davison Avenue.

Competitors will be solving three unpublished New York Times puzzles with the top three scorers competing in the finals. Refreshments, prizes and free entry. For more information or to register, call the library at 516-766-2360, extension 302.

Westchester Tournament Cancelled For 2015

The annual Westchester Crossword Tournament, benefitting the Pleasantville Fund for Learning, has been cancelled for 2015, owing to a busier than usual fall for Will Shortz, tournament organizer and host. The tournament should return in 2015; meanwhile, the Pleasantville Fund for Learning has other fundraisers lined up for the fall season. Please visit for more information on those events.

You may remember that the 2014 Westchester Tournament was won by Bob Mackey in a very close finish over Ken Stern, with Glenn Ryan finishing third.

Monday, March 30, 2015


On the 10th anniversary (plus a few days) of the first ACPT championship won by Tyler Hinman in a heartbreaker over Al Sanders, Hinman almost regained the crown he has watched Dan Feyer walk away with for the past five years. But it was not to be as Dan Feyer sneaked in by a margin of about 1/2 second to win his record sixth consecutive ACPT title, as the tournament returned to its original home of Stamford, Connecticut after a seven-year run in Brooklyn, NY. Watch and see. (The "official" video is still being edited; that will be posted here when available.)
The value of banking time on Puzzles 1-6 became apparent this year as Dan Feyer's four-second head start enabled him to win the title, in spite of Tyler actually solving the Byron Walden-constructed puzzle faster. On his way to establishing that cushion, Feyer set a new tournament record this year when he solved Puzzle 1 in less than two minutes. Mike Nothnagel runs the numbers on that...
Dan's 7:13 is also the fastest winning solve time ever for A clues in the finals... with an asterisk noting Tyler's faster solve. For his efforts, Feyer won $5,000, a sixth bowl-shaped trophy, and a free roll into next year's tournament.

Andrew Feist won the B division finals over Elaine Renner and this year's top rookie, Vic Chandhok. Your other division, demographic and geographic winners....

Official Contestant Count: 567, off 13 from last year

4. Kiran Kedlaya
5. Anne Erdmann (who would have made the finals if not for one mistake on Puzzle 2)
6. Francis Heaney
7. Joon Pahk
8. Al Sanders
9. David Plotkin
10. Jon Delfin

19. Robert Mackey (one square wrong in puzzle 2, retaining his A ranking)
124. Dave Mackey (one square wrong in puzzles 2 and 4, six squares wrong in puzzle 5, so will be demoted to C next year)

C: David Steinberg - youngest division winner ever in the ACPT at 17 years of age
D: Jamie Womack
E: Susan Cocalis announced as champion; however a scoring change made John Morgan the actual champion

Junior: David Plotkin
Fifties: Anne Erdmann
Sixties: Jon Delfin (who just turned 60)
Seventies: Doug Hoylman
Seniors: Arthur Schulman

West: Feyer
Connecticut: Glen Ryan
New England: Pahk
NYC: Heaney
LI: Peter Gordon
Upstate NY: Jennifer Turney
NJ: Howard Barkin (Robert Mackey 2nd in NJ due to a mistake by Renner on her Puzzle 7... thanks Elaine)
Mid-Atlantic: Scott Weiss
South: David Plotkin
Midwest: Erdmann
Foreign: Emily O'Neill (from Vancouver, BC... all the Foreign contestants were from Canada this year)

The 2016 ACPT will be held in Stamford once again at a date yet to be determined.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday Afternoon Recap

The results are in from all of today's puzzles at the ACPT. In A division, Dan Feyer continues to enjoy a three minute advantage over Joon Pahk and Howard Barkin after the first six puzzles. Tyler Hinman and Kiran Kedlaya are also in the top five, four and seven minutes behind Feyer respectively. Anne Erdmann is in sixth place, hobbled by a mistake on Puzzle 2.

Rookie Vic Chandhok (all rookies start as C-level solvers) would be bumped up to the B final along with Elaine Renner and Jesse Lansner if those standings hold to form when Puzzle 7 is solved tomorrow. The other division leaders:

C: Rob Tricchinelli, David Steinberg, Mike Weepie
D: Jamie Womack, Ron Humpolick, Sandy Lawrence
E: Susan Cocalis, Alice Grun, Hannah Wezorek

In order, your constructors today have been Tracy Bennett, Joel Fagliano, Merl Reagle,Paula Gamache, Jeff Chen, and Lynn Lempel. That leaves the formidable duo of Patrick Berry and Byron Walden for the two Sunday puzzles - the 9 a.m. 21x, and the tournament finale.

A weird scoring anomaly took place when the Puzzle 1 results were announced, when a solver named William Hall appeared to have solved Puzzle 1 a full four minutes before Dan Feyer did. Since Dan solved the puzzle in less than two minutes - believed to be an ACPT first - that meant that Hall would have had to do some serious messing with the time-space continuum to finish the puzzle TWO MINUTES BEFORE HE EVEN STARTED.
Hall's score on puzzle 1 has since been adjusted.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Greetings from the Stamford Marriott. And if you told me three years ago that I would be ever saying that again you'd think I was crazy. At this moment we are waiting in the Friday night games which are going to include Multimedia Crosswords by Henry Hook and Joel Fagliano. And an update to the Pre-Shortzian Project by David Steinberg in which he will talk about anonymous constructors.

Tournament host Will Shortz estimates about 560 contestant so far. As it has been for the past four years the big question is "can Dan Feyer win again". 

For the latest on the tournament follow us on Twitter @thepuzbros.