Thursday, June 5, 2008

Wordplay (2006)

Last time I was in Chicago, my brother and I initiated a daily ritual: we tackled the New York Times crossword. Our system worked as follows: I'd start and solve as much as I could. Then, Brian worked his magic. When he got as far as he could, we'd work on it together. To our chagrin, each day, we needed help, so we used this handy tool at, where we plugged in the clue and the number of letters and we got the possibilities. It felt like cheating but as Baby Bro astutely remarked, there was no way we were going to figure out the rest. It was during one very successfully solved project that he mentioned Wordplay, the crossword documentary.

In Wordplay, we are introduced to Will Shortz, the New York Times crossword puzzle editor. This man has led the crossword puzzle kingdom for 26 years. He chose to attend Indiana University so he could design his own program tailored around the study of crosswords. Shortz also details the fascinating history of crossword puzzles.

The movie features celebrity puzzle junkies including Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart, Bob Dole, the Indigo Girls, Ken Burns piping in on how crosswords fit into their lives. My favorite scene is edited to show each of the celebrities solving the same puzzle. Each snippet reveals their personalities and offers a nice glimpse into their process (all are extremely into it). The background music completes the perfect scene.

Bit by bit, the movie is building suspense for the 28th American Crossword Puzzle Tournament held yearly in Stamford, CT. The tourney is quoted as a "family reunion" of sorts. We are introduced to many of the past champs and those that have come close...until the final puzzle reveals the new champion.

This doc is filled with real folks getting enormous joy out of puzzles. It's fun getting to know the competitors. I'm guessing that even non-crossworders would get some satisfaction out of this the least, for the fabulous puzzle-themed clothing sported throughout.

Themes: Competition, camaraderie, crossword puzzles

Director: Patrick Creadon

Duration: 85 minutes

Scale: A resounding 5!

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