The tournament will feature six crossword puzzles. The difficulty of these puzzles ranges from easy to very challenging. Each of the first five puzzles is themed and everyone will solve these five puzzles. The scores calculated from these puzzles will be used to determine the finalists in each division. Finalists in the two main skill divisions will solve the sixth puzzle on large boards on the stage to determine the overall winners.
Each puzzle will have a specified time limit (anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on size and difficulty). Contestants will receive scores for everything correctly entered into their puzzles at the end of the time limit, whether or not the puzzles are completed. There will be a ten-minute break between puzzles, as well as a 90-minute lunch break between Puzzles 3 and 4.
It is the responsibility of the solver to check their puzzle before handing it in. A contestant may not make changes to their puzzle grid once it has been collected by a tournament official. This includes both correcting errors and filling in missed letters (though information unrelated to the puzzle itself such as the contestant's name and their solving time may be added later if forgotten).
Solvers may not talk in the solving area while a puzzle is being solved. Solvers also may not use any external solving aids, including phones or written materials, while a puzzle is being solved. If you do either of these things, we reserve the right to disqualify you from a puzzle or from the tournament.
The tournament has two skill divisions: the Inside Track and the Outside Track. Any contestant who has finished in the top 25% of the field in a crossword tournament with published standings in the past five years (including previous Indie 500 tournaments) will be placed on the Inside Track. All other contestants, including first-time crossword tournament competitors, will be placed on the Outside Track.
Contestants are distinguished by division only for the purposes of scoring; all contestants will compete on the same puzzles in the same room, begin rounds at the same time, and have the same amount of time to complete each puzzle.
Contestants are scored for both solving speed and the accuracy of their solved puzzles, with accuracy weighted far more heavily than speed. A contestant's score for each puzzle consists of three parts:
- The contestant's base score for each puzzle will be the number of seconds they take to complete the puzzle.
- If a contestant's puzzle contains any incorrect squares, that contestant will be given a penalty. A penalty adds 500 seconds (8 minutes and 20 seconds) to a contestant's score for that puzzle.
- In addition, for each incorrect square in a puzzle, 30 seconds are added to a contestant's score.
So, a contestant's final score for a puzzle equals:
(seconds taken to complete the puzzle) + (incorrect squares * 30) + (500, if there are any incorrect squares)
The three contestants in each division with the lowest cumulative score after five puzzles will advance to the sixth and final playoff puzzle.
In the event of a tie between contestants for a spot (or spots) in the finals, there will be a tiebreaker puzzle given to all affected contestants. The first contestant(s) to solve the puzzle cleanly, or, if no contestant solves cleanly, the contestant(s) with the lower score using the scoring method described above, will advance.
If, after the fifth puzzle, an Outside Track contestant has one of the top three overall scores, they will qualify for the Inside Track finals. In that case, the next-lowest-scoring Outside Track contestant will be given that contestant's spot in the Outside Track finals. Inside Track contestants cannot qualify for the Outside Track finals.
The three contestants in each skill division with the lowest cumulative score will compete on a sixth and final puzzle. All finalists will solve the same answer grid, but the Inside Track finalists will have a more challenging set of clues.
Contestants will have 20 minutes to solve the final puzzle. In each final, all contestants will begin solving the puzzle at the same time, regardless of their scores on Puzzles 1−5. The contestant with the fewest errors will be declared the winner. If two or more contestants have the same number of errors (e.g., the likely scenario that more than one contestant completes the puzzle perfectly), the contestants will be ranked in order of speed.
Awards will be given to the top three solvers in each division. In addition, several other awards will be given, including:
- The PuzzleGirl Prize for Rookie of the Year - Awarded to the top scoring contestant who is competing in a crossword tournament for the first time
- Titan of Tittling Award for Penmanship - Awarded to the contestant with the best penmanship, as decided by the scoring team
- joon pahk award for worst handwriting - Generally awarded to
Chris Kingthe contestant whose solved grids are the most difficult to read, as decided by the scoring team
- Yogi Berra Best Wrong Answer - Awarded to the contestant who entered the most amusing incorrect answer for a clue on any submitted puzzle, as decided by the scoring team
- FireballCrosswords.com Indie Spirit Award - A recognition of one or more individuals or entities who have done significant work to better the puzzle community in some way, as voted on by the tournament organizers