Wordplay review by Tom Blain

Wordplay

To me, a crossword puzzle is just another section in the newspaper. From time to time, Ill work on one for about 10 minutes and maybe solve about a quarter of it. But I cant remember the last time I attempted one or let alone even completed one without errors. It usually gets about the same consideration as Doonesbury. After seeing the movie Wordplay, I understand that there is a section of society that has a very different opinion of these crossword puzzles. This section that I haphazardly ignore, is as necessary to others as a morning coffee is to me. It is their lifeblood, and this documentary is for them.

Wordplay opens with king of the puzzlers, Will Shortz, crossword editor at the New York Times. For those who arent avid crossword solvers, the New York Times is the big leagues. Its the Major League Baseball of crossword puzzles, while other papers are the Toledo Mudhens. Will was bitten with the bug early on; so much so that he invented his own major at the University of Indiana which essentially equated to Bachelor Degree of Puzzles. His job at the New York Times is the holy grail of jobs for a puzzle fanatic. To give you an idea of how serious some people take the NY Times crossword puzzle, the guy receives hate mail For puzzles.

The movie also shows a list of celebrities who are addicted to the morning puzzle. Jon Stewart trash talks his New York Times like he is on a city basketball court. Bill Clinton relaxed during his presidency with the NYT crossword many nights. Even Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina solves his with a pen when he is feeling lucky. But these celebrities arent the most entertaining characters of Wordplay. The real joy comes when we meet the competitors.

Every year there is a competition in Stamford, Connecticut hosted by Will Shortz to crown that years Crossword King (or Queen). The competition is won by speed and accuracy. The accuracy is one thing but the speed with which these people solve difficult puzzles is what is incredible. The top talent can finish an average New York Times crossword in two to three minutes. Its not as if these people arent brilliant wordsmiths or literary wizards. They are a scattering of oddball men and women with a talent to identify word patterns. Just average joes (or janes) in college, working for a tech company, etc.

The movies drama unfolds during the competition itself. There are backstories just like in sports (the guy who seems to win every year, the 20-year old wiz kid, the guy who always finishes in third place, the nerdy girl). Each puzzle contains an element of suspense where a few errors or a lapse in time could be the different between 1st and 7th place. Its tough not to enjoy.

The makers of Wordplay did a great job of penetrating this semi-secret society. They took what is really a pretty dull subject to most people and made a cozy little documentary full of interesting characters and their stories. At the end, I felt like finding the nearest newspaper and stop watch to see where I ranked with Wordplays elite. Chances are Id have to use a pencil




6 out of 10 Jackasses
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