Autumn 2006 Documentary series
Wednesday, October 25, 2006 at 7:00pm
Directed by Patrick Creadon
Starring Will Shortz, Ken Burns, Bill Clinton, the Indigo Girls (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers), Jon Stewart, Al Sanders
Rated NR ·
Inky-fingered New York Times readers often love to attempt the mind-bending crossword puzzles lovingly curated for the paper by longstanding contributor Will Shortz. There are few things more satisfying than completing one of Shortz’s puzzles, and a cult has sprung up around the enigmatic crossword compiler as Times readers put pen to paper and attempt to pick his brains. Director Patrick Creadon has capitalized on this phenomenon with the film Wordplay, a genial documentary based around Shortz and his devoted followers which received a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize in the documentary category of the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
Creadon begins by tracing Shortz’s unusual ascent to his tenure at the Times, creating a picture of an easygoing, well-liked and respected man. Creadon also takes viewers on a trip to the 28th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, a geek haven where someone like Shortz assumes Godlike status. Indeed, it was Shortz himself who created the contest, and he still presides over it, demonstrating a great deal of affection for the tournament and its participants. As we witness the various eccentrics battling it out in an attempt to be the 28th winner of the contest, some of Shortz’s celebrity fans get plenty of camera time, with the Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart and former president Bill Clinton among them. Clinton even recalls an amusing occasion when a particularly tricky puzzle left readers wondering whether “Clinton” or “Bob Dole” was the seven-letter solution to one of Shortz’s clues — in fact some clever juggling of letters meant that both answers could have been correct.
A delightful movie that manages to make a crossword tournament a gripping affair, Wordplay draws its warmth from the immensely likeable Will Shortz and kooky contestents at the annual tournament.