Wordplay

This documentary along with 2002’s Spellbound makes for a perfect word-lovers’ sandwich. In Wordplay, Patrick Creadon attempts to plunge into the culture of crossword puzzles, particularly the one surrounding the New York Times daily crossword. We get an interlinking of crossword fans and obsessives, from celebs like Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton to the participants of an annual crossword competition. The ringmaster or, in geekspeak, the “dungeon master” of both the competition and the circus of word fetishists is Will Shortz, the genial and well-regarded New York Times puzzle master. It’s a pleasure to get to know Creadon’s lineup of personalities, as he ponders our collective fascination with puzzles and games, and gives us an inside look into the mind and habits of this curious bunch. As pleasant and good-natured as Wordplay is, it’s not exactly potent stuff. Creadon has created a mild, middle-of-the-road documentary comprised of innocuous talking heads alternating with spry graphics; a charming sequence involves a puzzle aficionado designing a puzzle of his own as the finer points of the crossword-making process are spelled out, and smoothly demonstrated by visual aids. All of this leads up to the championship finale in which puzzler-solvers go head-to-head en route to the world title. In term of style and scope, Wordplay is the equivalent of a Monday puzzle in the Times when what Creadon should’ve been shooting for is a Friday-level documentary. Then again, crossword puzzle culture doesn’t exactly make for provocative cinema, and, judging from this enjoyable time-passer, barely merits a movie unto itself, no offense to you puzzle freaks out there.

Grade: C+

Directed by: Patrick Creadon
Written by: Patrick Creadon, Christine O’Malley
Cast: Chris Astoyan, Judie Berger, Leslie Billig, Dr. Selmer Bringsjord, Katherine Bryant, Ken Burns, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Will Shortz, Jon Stewart

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