Wordplay

Wordplay

2.0 out of 52.0 out of 52.0 out of 52.0 out of 5 2.0

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Spellbound‘s legacy is documentaries like Wordplay, a cute, quirky but predominately superficial portrait of brainy wordsmiths that alternates between sketches of its crossword puzzle-loving protagonists and the high drama of a championship competition. The film’s title addendum “Featuring Will Shortz” will likely be the main draw for most crossword enthusiasts, as Shortz—NPR’s “Puzzle Master” and the renowned editor of The New York Times’ “gold standard” puzzles—is the closest thing the field has to a bona fide celebrity, though most of the star wattage of Patrick Creadon’s affable directorial debut comes from interviews with notable fans such as Jon Stewart, Ken Burns, Bill Clinton, and New York Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina. It’s Clinton who most lucidly explains why the puzzles prove so irresistibly appealing, linking his process for completing them (initially working on the clues he knows, and then slowly building off that knowledge to figure out the rest) to his presidential problem-solving techniques, yet Wordplay generally avoids any penetrating explanations as to why its most talented subjects like crosswords, how their minds process them with such lightening speed, and how this newspaper-provided pastime relates to the rest of their lives. Instead, we’re treated to quick glimpses of Shortz reading hate mail, Merl Reagle constructing a semi-difficult puzzle, and a group of linguistically gifted individuals who all aspire to win the 28th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, CT, a timed contest that bestows aficionados with minor glory while also providing them with a sense of community. Creadon does his best to enliven the act of watching smart folks fill in blank grid spaces by employing newspaper-ish graphics and transitional wipes that give his frame a boxy, crosswordy visual arrangement. But between its skin-deep portrayals of the tournament’s main contestants and its preference for funny anecdotes (such as one regarding the 1996 Election Day puzzle) over insightful inquiry, this relatively genial doc proves considerably less complex and engrossing than an average Times brainteaser.

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DVD
Distributor
IFC Films
Runtime
84 min
Rating
PG
Year
2006
Director
Patrick Creadon
Screenwriter
Patrick Creadon, Christine O'Malley
Cast
Will Shortz, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Ken Burns, Jon Stewart, Mike Mussina, Indigo Girls, Merl Reagle, Daniel Okrent, Tyler Hinman, Al Sanders, Trip Payne, Jon Delfin, Ellen Ripstein