Review: Wordplay

It's been a while since I could say this about a film, but run—do not walk—to Wordplay, the new documentary about the annual crossword puzzle tournament.

I know, you're wondering if I've gone completely mental at this point. But, I assure you that Carol and I spent the 40 minutes coming back from the film last night trying to think of anybody we knew who wouldn't thoroughly enjoy it and we couldn't come up with anyone.

Certainly, you have to understand what you're getting into with this movie, but it is basically a fine old-school event documentary. Individual, interesting characters are teased out of the mix of 500 or so that annually attend the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and in the end, they manage a nail-biting contest going into the finals.

The film includes appearances from famous crossword players, such as Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Jon Stewart, and Ken Burns—each of whom take the crossword, and the film pretty seriously.

In the end, we were left with a fond feeling toward this annual gathering of disparate people brought together by a love (or obsession) for sticking letters into boxes, and toward its creator, Will Short, who established the tournament 29 years ago, when he was just 25 and quite some time before becoming the puzzle editor of the New York Times in 1993.

On the technical side, the production quality is very good for a traditional documentary, with crafty weaving of interviews to create a near-narrator-less experience that allows you to further grasp the breadth of the people who enjoy the puzzles and attend the tournament. When you go, keep an eye on the scene transitions, they're very cute, but not so much so that it's distracting. And, the solving of the puzzles is done in a way that is visually fun and intellectually interesting.