Are you an aficionado of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle? Do you fill in the blanks with pen? Do you keep a record of how long it takes to finish each puzzle? If you answer yes to all of the above, then "Wordplay" is the film for you. This light-hearted documentary stars Will Shortz, the editor of the New York Times Crossword puzzle, puzzle master for NPR's Weekend Edition, and the founder and director of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. He is the only person in the world to hold a college degree in Enigmatology, the study of puzzles, which he earned from Indiana University in 1974.
Directed with a sense of fun by Patrick Creadon, and featuring a lively musical soundtrack, "Wordplay" has an eclectic cast, including former President Bill Clinton, who uses a blue felt tip pen to fill in his puzzle, as well as comedian Jon Stewart and Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina. Stewart and Mussina approach their puzzles differently. Stewart yells maniacally as he dares Shortz to defeat him. Jon dryly admits, "I am a Times puzzle fan. I will solve the USA Today [puzzle], but I don't feel good about myself." Mike Mussina, who is shown in his Yankee uniform working on his puzzle in the dugout, admits that he finds solving the Times crossword very relaxing. The famous documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, is another junkie who eagerly looks forward to his fix. He asserts that the New York Times Crossword is a celebration of language, which is the common denominator that unites us all.
However, it is not the well-known faces who make this film sing, but the ordinary Janes and Joes. There is an entertaining segment with Merl Reagle, a Crossword Constructor, who allows the viewer to look over his shoulder while he creates a new puzzle. Even more involving are the scenes featuring the top participants in the Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Connecticut, which will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary next year.
Tyler Hinman, Al Sanders, Ellen Ripstein, and Trip Payne are everyday people whom we might run into on the subway or in a supermarket. For them, the Annual Crossword Puzzle Tournament is serious business, and it is fun to watch them practice and sweat bullets as they compete against their fellow experts. Each viewer will cheer for his or her particular favorite as the competitors strive to achieve perfection. It is also heartwarming to observe the camaraderie that exists among the tournament participants of all ages and from all walks of life. This is a select fraternity of unique individuals who enjoy one another's company, and for whom solving puzzles is a lifelong and consuming passion.