Egghead Documentary Presents Crossword Puzzles as Spectator Sport
When Will Shortz went to college, he majored in enigmatology, better known
as the study of puzzles. Who even knew that such an esoteric concern was a field of academic inquiry? In any case, Shortz, the longtime editor of the New York Times puzzle has made a career by stretching readers’ brains with his daily collection of confounding clues which tend to test the patience of even the most brilliant minds.
Wordplay, a surprisingly entertaining documentary directed by Patrick Creadon, actually manages to take this supposedly solitary and cerebral endeavor and present it as a spectator sport every bit as engaging as the national pastime. For after introducing the audience to the deliberately perplexing Shortz, the film devotes the bulk of its attention to the annual National Crossword Championship, staged since 1978 in Stamford, Connecticut. Looking a lot like a Jeopardy Tournament of Champions, the auditorium is
stocked with a motley assortment of eggheads with one thing in common, a savant’s knack for solving crosswords. Edited in fashion to maximize tension, don’t be surprised to find yourself suddenly a fan and pulling for this or that contestant.
There’s matronly Ellen Ripstein, a perennial also-ran, who unwinds between
rounds by twirling a baton like a cheerleader, her plump physique notwithstanding. Or upstart 20 year-old Tyler Hinman, a first-time entrant out to shock the world by taking home the trophy and the $4,000 grand prize. Beside observing these nerdy competitors in the heat of battle and speaking with them about their consuming passion them, Creadon found an array of celebrities who expound on their own relatively-normal love of crossword puzzles. Interviewees include ex-President Bill Clinton, talk show host Jon
Stewart, New York Yankee Mike Mussina, fellow filmmaker Ken Burns and others.
Crosswords as cool.
Excellent (4 stars)