New York Daily Photo Analytics

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


I knew that our freelance computer guy, Paul, was a regular crossword doer.
I subscribe to the New York Times crossword online service - convenient for getting the daily puzzle without having to buy the printed paper. Yesterday, Paul paid us one of his regular visits and worked to days end, when I typically download the puzzle. I offered to print any puzzles to his liking - perhaps Friday or Saturday, I taunted? The New York Times crossword increases in difficulty each day, beginning with Monday. The most difficult is Saturday (Sunday's is considered equal to Thursday in difficulty, just larger).
It was good timing - he had been away for a week and had not done last week's puzzles. Not daunted by an audience or feeling any performance pressure, he sat at my desk and began to rip through Saturday. I was astounded as he flew through this puzzle in approximately 15 minutes, working in ink with almost no corrections.
In my opinion, Paul is a genius by any reasonable definition of the word. Now I realize that doing a Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle in 15 minutes does not in itself confer genius. Some may argue that such an ability is something akin to savant syndrome. I would imagine there are puzzlists who have an extremely narrow skill set but in my experience that is the exception not the rule.
But I have a lot more evidence than crosswords and when you put it all together, it becomes difficult to dismiss his talents as a smorgasbord of clever tricks. If you perhaps require elements of a romantic notion of genius, i.e. eccentric behavior or reclusive lifestyle ala renowned mathematician Paul Erdős, our friend Paul has that covered too. New York City is the perfect environment for the idiosyncratic polymath.
There was a time when SAT tests were taken without special preparatory courses - if such things existed, none of us knew about it. People just took the test. High scores meant much more. The older SAT (before 1995) had a very high ceiling - in any year, only seven of the million test-takers scored above 1580 (equivalent to the 99.9995 percentile.)
I had heard through a mutual friend that Paul had done extraordinarily well on his SAT exams, but I never confirmed the scores with him personally. So when I asked yesterday (as he was already completing Friday's crossword) for the first time about his SAT scores, he thought for a moment and said - 760 Verbal and 800 Math. You don't need great math skills to total that in your head - 1560 ...

About SAT tests: There is of course much controversy about the SAT test. There are bias issues and questions as to the correlation of high scores and intelligence. Some feel there is too much emphasis placed on the tests and there is even is an SAT optional movement - a number of prominent small colleges do not require the SAT for college admission. The movement was first instituted by Bates College in 1984.


Steffe said...

15 minutes! Very impressive. I do enjoy crosswords but ours look a bit different. Like this.

Anonymous said...

Yes, impressive! Did your post have the effect of reducing Paul's bill? ;)

Clove Spice said...

An 800 in math. That's a perfect score!

Brian Dubé said...

Anon - Paul is very reasonable and never over charges for his time.

Clove - Perhaps I should have given bqckground those not familiar with SATs - there are many readers here not in the USA. At the time Paul took SATs, 1600 was a perfect score (800 verbal, 800 math). Also, the test was much more difficult. In the 1990s changes were made and the testing was not as rigorous - certainly 1600 does not mean what it used to.

ryan said...

Thanks Brian for another one of your fascinating entries. I've learned so much about the city I come from from you. By the way, do you know Wordplay, the 2006 documentary on NYTimes crossword aficonados (and some would call obsessives)?

Brian Dubé said...

ryan - thanks. Yes, I did see the film. Didn't reference - the post was already getting quite long. Good film and surprising how many people seemed to enjoy it.