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Overall Rating
3.87

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look86.67%
Average: 13.33%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

7 reviews, 3 user ratings


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Wordplay
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by Doug Bentin

"Nothing but words, words, words."
4 stars

“Wordplay,” a new documentary about the compulsive addiction of crossword puzzles, may not draw you into its across and down world, but it may very well remind you of hobbies you once felt passionate about, or perhaps still do.

What was it? Building model airplanes? Collecting Barbies? Acting in community theater? Believe me, when I reviewed theater in Oklahoma City I learned that you can insult someone’s religion, nation or family and get off with a mild rebuke, but if you said anything negative about his hobby he’d come after you with the ferocity of a sabre tooth in a tar pit.

The central character in “Wordplay” is Will Shortz, crossword editor for The New York Times and puzzle guru for National Public Radio. He’s a geek and he knows he is. In fact, all the people interviewed in the film who are crossword champions—all of them real—know that their fellow humans think they’re weird. Personally, I couldn’t tell you why a passion for crossword puzzles is any odder than being able to quote chapter and verse of baseball stats going back to 1890, but a lot of folks would find it so. Maybe it’s because crossworders tend to be really smart and Americans don’t like smart.

My favorite of the interviewees is Ellen Ripstein, who has been attending the championship tournament in Stamford, CT, since 1978. She knows she’s a nerd—she’s near 50 and for the annual talent show she does a supremely mediocre baton routine—but she’s happy. She came close to winning so often before she finally took home the trophy, she acquired the nickname “The Susan Lucci of Crosswords.”

And I like Al Sanders, a project manager for Hewlett-Packard, whose goal in life is to finally work the Times crossword in less than two minutes. His record is 2:02.

In addition to these and other crossword-maniacs, one of whom lives in Ponca City, we hear from guys like Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Jon Stewart, Mike Mussina, Indigo Girls and Ken Burns, who also find a few minutes of pleasure each day zipping through the Times puzzle. While you and I might revel in meeting the goal of just completing the damn thing before lights out, these guys judge themselves by how quickly they finish.

The film is written, produced and directed by Christine O’Malley and Patrick Creadon with a sense of humor and a fascination for people who take so seriously something so ephemeral. They never make fun of anyone, even the crossworders who tend to make fun of themselves, so you come away from the film with an affection for the folks in it as well as with the realization that there’s nothing so wrong with having an interest in goofy things. You may have no interest in crosswords, but if your hobby is one that others look askance at—comic books, keeping snakes for pets, collecting Jerry Lewis movies, etc.—you’ll see attitudes and behaviors here that you’ll recognize.

Like so many good documentaries, “Wordplay” isn’t just about its subject. It’s about people, not puzzles. But maybe that’s the same thing.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13597&reviewer=405
originally posted: 08/14/06 07:25:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2006 Florida Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Independent Film Festival of Boston For more in the 2006 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/15/06 William Goss Contagious addiction mixes w/ quite the snarky streak to make for appealing crossword doc. 4 stars
4/13/06 Kathleen M. Sullivan Loved it - grea fun! 4 stars
3/30/06 Kvon Good look at average and astounding puzzlers. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  16-Jun-2006 (PG)
  DVD: 07-Nov-2006

UK
  N/A

Australia
  26-Oct-2006


Directed by
  Patrick Creadon

Written by
  (documentary)

Cast
  Will Shortz
  Bill Clinton
  Bob Dole
  Jon Stewart
  Mike Mussina
  The Indigo Girls



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