By Dawn Evans Greenberg
How do you become the reigning KENKEN champion and the 6th-ranked SCRABBLE® player in North America, all at age 14? The answer is “Board Vision” — the ability to view the entirety of the SCRABBLE board or the KenKen puzzle as you solve it. It’s a rare ability for anyone, but 14-year-old Mack Meller of Bedford NY, has it in spades.
At last weekend’s 5th annual KenKen Tournament at the Chappaqua Library, Mack solved the difficult final round 8×8 puzzle in 6 minutes + 38 seconds to win the championship. He won over two-time defending champion Martin Eiger, as well as 120 other contestants from as far away as California.
KenKen is a math and logic puzzle created by Tetsuya Miyamoto, a math teacher in Japan, and now owned by Pleasantville-based Nextoy. KenKen puzzles feature grids ranging in size from 3×3 to 9×9 of equations to be solved. Its fans include Will Shortz and Martha Stewart. KenKen, meaning wisdom in Japanese, can be enjoyed by all ages. It is syndicated in the New York Times and many other newspapers worldwide. Daily puzzles can be found at www.kenkenpuzzle.com.
Mack and his dad began solving KenKen puzzles together five years ago. They like to compete over the New York Times daily puzzle and against each other at the annual tournament. This year Mack prepared for his 4th KenKen Tournament by practicing on the KenKen website. What does Mack like so much about KenKen? “I like the practically infinite variations on puzzles, that you have to think steps in advance, the math of course, and especially that moment when you figure out the last box after which everything falls into place.”
Mack is a self-directed teenager who seems to navigate both his classes (multivariable calculus is a favorite) and the world of competitive SCRABBLE with ease. He is in ninth-grade and a student at Stanford University Online High School. His SCRABBLE ranking was achieved through many weekend tournaments around the country, as well as daily study and practice games with tournament competitors who have become friends. When he isn’t studying, he spends time playing tennis, bird-watching, and volunteering at the Community Center of Northern Westchester.
While Mack is equally adept with words and numbers, his true passion is for math. He says it’s too early to pick a career path, but he’s certain it will have something to do with math or physics. No doubt that the logic and strategic thinking he’s honed from both KenKen and SCRABBLE will help him continue to excel.