Last night we saw Wordplay, a documentary about crossword puzzles and the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. We went across the park and downtown (sorry about that--I couldn't help myself) to the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas for the Sundance Festival entrant.
The film centers on Will Shortz, the New York Times crossword puzzle editor and NPR "Puzzle Master," who founded the tournament in 1978. It explains a bit about how puzzles are constructed--which I find fascinating. It never occurred to me the clues are barely thought about until the puzzle itself is finished--or that Shortz as the editor modifies a great many of the clues on the puzzles that are submitted to him.
There are number of interviews with celebrity puzzle solvers--headlined by, as the credits list him, William Jefferson Clinton--who uses a felt-tip pen to do the Times puzzle. The Daily Show host Jon Stewart, NY Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina and the folk-rockers Indigo Girls are featured.
But the most interesting part of the film is the coverage of the 2005 tournament. The top contenders are profiled (including one who is gay--he's shown in a quick kiss with his partner, which the filmmakers had to fight to keep in), and they are shown going through the competition from the first puzzle through the finals--where the winner is determined from the top three standing on a stage and putting their answers up on boards for the audience to see. (They wear headphones so they can't hear the commentators--or the groans when they make a mistake.) The coverage of their talent show is precious.
It's an interesting hour and a half. I really haven't tried doing the Times puzzle for a number of years. Maybe I'll start again.
23 minutes ago