Asked for a six-letter word to define the reason for the continued popularity of crossword puzzle competitions, many word experts will say: “People.”

It turns out the puzzles themselves are only part of the reason why the competitors keep coming back to the Westport Library’s annual Crossword Puzzle Contest, hosted Saturday by Will Shortz, crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times.

“I come for the people, just for the people,” said Dave Eckert, who traveled down from Ellington Saturday to be at the event. “Crossword people are great.”

“It’s definitely the people,” agreed Sara Nies of New York City. “This is kind of the start of the crossword season, so it’s really nice to catch up with everyone,” she said. “Everybody’s so nice.”

And while contestants take the puzzle competition seriously, participants also find that it’s a supportive atmosphere. “Jesse, Jan and Andy are all very competitive,” she said of three perennial winners, “and yet they still cheer each other on and are genuinely happy to see each other.”

“It’s good to see familiar faces,” said Glen Ryan of Norwich, who won the Westport championship this year.

Ryan said he and many other regular participants, who all compete on the puzzle “circuit,” enjoy a small get-together after the event at a nearby home, followed by dinner out at a restaurant.

“You get such a great, well-rounded, smart group of people here,” said Shortz, who donates his time running the tourney, including supplying the copies of next week’s Times puzzles for Monday through Thursday, which are used for the event.

“This is the 17th year,” he said of the library’s annual contest. “I missed the first one and I missed the last one,” but has been on hand to lead the other editions.

With the exception of the American Crossword Tournament, which Shortz hosts in Stamford, “this is my favorite tournament,” he said.

“This is really only possible because of Will and his generosity of time,” said David Rubinstein, who introduced the rules, “and it’s become a great tradition.”

After first-place winner Ryan, second place went to Peter Rimkus of Ashford, and third to Andy Kravis of Brooklyn, N.Y., who had claimed the top prize in three previous years.

“Some of us didn’t get as much as sleep as others,” Kravis joked with friends prior to the tournament.

“We’ll all competitive people, but we’re happy when we all do well,” said Jan O’Sullivan, a past winner from Killingworth.

The best penmanship awards went to Brian MacDonald of Stamford and Jonathan Huebner of Medford, Mass.