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Wordplay


Wordplay

Rated:None
Director:Patrick Creadon
Release Date:2006
Genre:Documentary

Opens June 30 at the Charles Theatre

By Violet LeVoit | Posted 6/28/2006

The New York Times crossword puzzle doesn’t spring fully formed from the atomic pile of words printed in the paper every day. Someone has to make it, preferably someone already fanatical about crosswords. Luckily for Will Shortz, the Times’ crossword editor—and sole recipient of a self-designed degree in “enigmatology,” the study of puzzles—many people happily grid their lives between the Downs and Acrosses. There’s Merle Reagle, who can’t pass a Dunkin’ Donuts without observing that it anagrams to “Unkind Donuts”; or Trip Payne, who observes, “I’ve always been fascinated by the letter ‘Q’”; or the lovably nerdy, baton-twirling Ellen Ripstein, who after 18 losses finally wins the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in 2001. Yes, such a tournament exists, and filmmaker Patrick Creadon loosely structures his documentary around the months leading up to the big showdown-cum-powwow held every year in Stamford, Conn. Creadon wisely splits the screen with stylish play-along crossword grids, so the audience can puzzle along with the contestants—and gain a greater appreciation for the top-ranked solvers’ near-savant ability to transform oblique clues and empty spaces into real words, all at sausage-grinder speed—while interspersing the competition with interviews of unlikely crossword fanatics like Jon Stewart, the Indigo Girls, Mike Mussina, and Bill Clinton, who observes that when he was in the White House he regarded the puzzle’s clues as a barometer for the country’s current concerns. The end result is a delightful celebration of an overlooked American ingenuity, and as cheer-inducing as completing the Saturday puzzle in pen.

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