Crossword Champ, Able to Solve NYT Saturday Puzzle in 5 Minutes, Has Legal Lineage

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The winner of this year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament didn’t follow in his parents’ legal footsteps, but he has their intellectual abilities.

Dan Feyer is a pianist and a director in musical theater, and he has an amazing talent to quickly solve crosswords. He demonstrated for the New York Times, completing the newspaper’s difficult Saturday crossword in five minutes and 29 seconds.

The article says Feyer’s father is a San Francisco bond lawyer and his mother, a law professor. A Google search identifies the couple as Orrick bond counsel Robert Feyer and law professor Marsha Cohen of the University of California at Hastings. Both are Harvard law grads.

Asked to disclose his secrets, Dan Feyer told the Times it helps to have “underlying brain power and a head for trivia.” He has done well in both music and math, and says many crossword people have the same backgrounds.

Feyer and other experts use pattern recognition to help solve the puzzles, the Times explains. “As he begins filling in a puzzle grid, he starts recognizing what the words are likely to be, even without looking at the clues, based on just a few letters,” the article says.

Robert Feyer and Marsha Cohen tell the ABA Journal in separate e-mails that their son’s talents were clear from a young age. “Dan was of course a very bright child and student, and was always good with words,” the elder Feyer says. The boy taught himself to read at the age of 3, and won the San Francisco Spelling Bee at the age of 13. As a high school journalist, Dan Feyer managed to get an interview with newly confirmed Justice Stephen G. Breyer, but told the legal reporter who wrote of his coup that he had no desire to be a lawyer himself. Even then, says Cohen, Dan would “rather be Stephen Sondheim than Stephen Breyer.”

Cohen recalls when Dan was at Princeton and told his parents he was passionate about music, the same career chosen by his grandfather, who played piano in Manhattan hotels.

“We knew it would be a hard way to make a living,” says Cohen, “but what’s the saying attributed perhaps to John Quincy Adams? Something like, ‘We are soldiers so our sons can be farmers, so their sons can be lawyers, so their sons can be poets’?”

Now the couple often travel to New York to watch their son’s performances. And they are trying their own hand at crossword puzzles. “The crossword business, as he said in the article, only started a few years ago,” Robert Feyer says, “and it’s of course been wonderful for us proud parents to see his really meteoric rise in this unique subculture.”

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