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Tyler Hinman
Jon Delfin
Will Shortz
Merl Reagle
Trip Payne
Ellen Ripstein
Al Sanders
Ken Burns
Bill Clinton
Bob Dole
Mike Mussina
Jon Stewart

Written by Patrick Creadon and Christine O'Malley

Directed by Patrick Creadon

Running Time: 1:24

Rated PG
for some language and mild thematic elements.



Wordplay was a decent documentary but not one that had a whole lot of drama attached.


Will Shortz is the crossword editor at the New York Times. The Times crosswords are considered the best in the world and people from all over love to try and complete then. From celebrities like Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton and Mike Mussina, to regular every day people like Tyler Hinman, Jon Delfin, Trip Payne and Ellen Ripstein, everybody loves a good crossword. Every year Shortz hosts a massive tournament where the best in the world compete. Delfin has won a record seven times, Ripstein won once, Hinman is the young kid on the block and Payne is the defending champion. The documentary follows the 2005 tournament. Who will win it?


Wordplay was a well made film filled with interesting people, but didn't really capture my attention. I mean, the movie is about crossword puzzles after all. And while the regular people are nice enough, they're all kind of... geeky, for lack of a better word. They all seem much too into their crosswords. The tournament reminded me of an 80s Dungeons and Dragons reunion. Let's just say there's not a Brad Pitt or Jennifer Aniston in the bunch. I think the filmmakers would have loved that just so they could have one pretty face to focus on. That being said, they were all very nice and definitely wanted to win. The film introduces us to both the famous and non-famous as we slowly build towards the tournament. There are people who have won before and people who have come oh-so-close. We get to see Jon Stewart acting very crazy for his crosswords, and his portions of the film are easily the funniest. There is a lot of history involved as well. We learn how the first crossword was created, and who was the first editor of the Times puzzle. We also get to hear the history of the famous 1996 election puzzle where there were two possible solutions, depending on who won the contest.

It was rather amazing how quickly some of these people managed to finish a puzzle. I can spend days staring at one and never get it, but these guys were finishing in 2-3 minutes sometimes. It must be nice to know that you're very talented at something like that. To just be able to look at something and know the answer is a great feeling. As we head towards the tournament, the filmmakers got lucky in that out of the half a dozen people that were followed, three of them end up in the finals. That's when the drama finally kicks in. I suspect that throughout the viewing, audiences will pick a favorite person to root for. If you manage to do that, the rest of the movie becomes more compelling since you now have someone you want to see win. I was happy that the person I picked ended up winning the whole thing. Although, amazingly enough, there is some last minute suspense that surprised even me. Does it make me want to pick up a crossword puzzle book? Not really, but that might only be because watching the film, whenever they would throw up a clue, I would have no idea what the answer was. But it was fun to try.


So overall, Wordplay was a solid documentary. It wasn't the greatest thing I've ever seen, but it was entertaining in its own way. If you're a fan of puzzles in general, you should enjoy it.

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reviewed 06/14/06

© 2006 Wolfpack Productions

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