Words and numbers were flying through the minds of those at the Chilmark library this past Saturday afternoon, as 15 adults and 3 youngsters gathered for the Crossword and Sudoku Challenge. Outdoors it was chilly, with snow in the air. Inside the warm library, tables were clean, pencils were sharp and the place was quiet, all set for an afternoon of indoor puzzle fun.
It took about 30 minutes to bring out the winners. Steve Auerbach of Oak Bluffs won for completing his crossword puzzle the fastest. George Balco of Tisbury won in the sudoku contest.
This was Mr. Auerbach, 60, and his wife Phyllis Jampol’s first full winter in Oak Bluffs. Mr. Auerbach is a retired horticulturist. For 23 years, he ran an interior landscaping firm in the Hudson Valley of New York, providing living plants in commercial spaces like malls and hotels.
“I’ve been doing crossword puzzles since I was in junior high,” he said after winning. “Chemistry was horrendously boring and some of us students used to do The New York Times crossword puzzle during class.” He has been doing them ever since.
On most Saturday mornings this winter he said he has joined other enthusiasts to play Scrabble at the Oak Bluffs library.
Mr. Balco, a retired Wall Street investment analyst, won for completing his sudoku first. Afterwards, Mr. Balco talked about his avocation and how he got started. “I commuted into New York from Connecticut for so many years, I did a lot of crossword puzzles; that was before there was sudoku.”
Mr. Balco is best known in his home town of Tisbury for spending 12 years on the town finance committee. He stepped down as chairman two years ago after unsuccessfully running for selectman. He is also treasurer of the Mink Meadows Golf Course.
“I do a couple a day,” mostly at the end of the day, Mr. Balco said.
“I was embarrassed by mistakes. I was hustling. But while I had my head down, I heard a lot of shuffling around me. I didn’t think I was very fast. I thought a lot more had already turned in their puzzle.”
Of the three youngsters that competed, two won prizes. Kyle Joba-Woodruff won the crossword contest while his sister Margaret Joba-Woodruff won the sudoku.
Ebba Hierta, library director, called the event a complete success. Every table had a dish filled with a special brand of popcorn: “Smart Food.”
Ms. Hierta was pleased by the turnout. “There were some serious competitors,” she said. The event was sponsored by the Vineyard Gazette. Top winners received $25 gift certificates to Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven.