This article was written by Alyson Mead
Are you a word geek? Have you ever fumbled through the Sunday New York Times, pen in hand, for the crossword puzzle? If so, Wordplay is for you.
Documentarians Patrick Creadon and Christine O’Malley follow Will Shortz, the current editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle, from his early days of convincing his college regents to allow him to major in enigmatology (the study of puzzles) to his role as emcee of the Crossword Championship held each year in Stamford, Connecticut. His easy charm (comedian Jon Stewart calls him “the Errol Flynn of crossword puzzling”) and self-deprecating manner makes him eminently watchable. His slightly addled grin when surrounded by other puzzlers makes him even more compelling, as you wonder what the hell is going on in his mind.
Story of Champions and nerds
An appealing cast of nerds round out this film, from the 20-year old engineering student trying to make his mark, to the lone female former champion, to the guy who’s finished third so many times he’s lost count. If you’re thinking what I thought, that solving crossword puzzles has all the visual impact of watching paint dry, you’re wrong. The filmmakers employ ticking clocks, subtle music, and superimposition to keep things moving. And the cameo interviews have something for everyone. Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina talks about doing the puzzle in the clubhouse. Former President Bill Clinton, who unfairly gets hitter as he ages, deploys his low-key charm as he scores “ICBM,” his puzzle’s first clue. Jon Stewart is just funny, yelling, “Bring it on!” every time he solves a clue.
The lovable relationship these filmmakers create with their terrifically bright and strange subjects makes Wordplay far more dramatic than, say, MI:3, since you already know what’s going to happen in that one going in. If you’re looking for something a little more human and a little less loud, check out this well-made valentine to the English language.
Cast: Will Shortz, Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, Mike Mussina, Ken Burns
Director: Patrick Creadon
Have you watched Wordplay already? Did you like it?