Directed by Patrick Creadon.
Written by Patrick Creadon & Christine O'Malley.
Release Year: 2006
Review Date: 7/6/06
There's a moment in the new crossword puzzle
documentary "Wordplay" where we get to meet Al, father of three,
loving husband, avid crossword puzzler. Or maybe it's "crossworder."
Or maybe it's just "nerd." Either way, we sit down with Al as
he picks up a crossword puzzle from The New York Times and the
offscreen interviewer times Al as he goes through the dozens of
clues to complete the puzzle. The timer shows up in the
corner. I'm thinking this timer is showing us hours and
minutes, so when Al finishes in just over two-and-a-half hours, I'm
thinking "hmm, pretty good, given that he's doing this puzzle right
before he goes to bed"...and then, it hits me:
He did the whole puzzle in two-and-a-half
Al basically read every clue in order and
filled in every answer, almost as if he was grading a test...except,
his brain was working about ten zillion times faster than mine
would. Such is the feeling you get from watching "Wordplay",
much like I did when I watched
Inconvenient Truth"--you almost can't believe a film can be
fascinating AND depressing the whole way through at the same time,
but whammo!, they somehow can do it. This is because you like
to believe that you are a reasonably smart person, and then
"Wordplay" starts, and you immediately realize that you might be a
really nice person, but not a really smart person (or, if anything
else, garbage in the larger scheme of things when it comes to
completing crossword puzzles).
The film, which essentially traces the
history of crossword puzzles, the current Times crossword puzzle
editor & NPR contributor Will Shortz (who, we learn, actually
MAJORED in crosswords while at Indiana University), and the annual
crossword puzzle national championships held each year in Stamford,
CT, is a fun look at how puzzles are put together and--borrowing
from the recent rash of nerd-inspired character studies of films
kinds of people that seem to thrive in an environment with
one-to-four word clues and lots of empty boxes. The editing
also allows for Joe Blow to follow along as we get to watch how a
guy might work through a puzzle, or create a puzzle, or guess at
clues based on the theme of a given puzzle.
Throw in some cameos by smart famous people,
like Stanford graduate & Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina, Bill Clinton,
and "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, plus a 30-minute stretch that
follows what happened at the 2005 puzzle tournament, and you've got
yourself a pretty good documentary for the whole family AND a movie
that will make you go home and do the next crossword puzzle you see.
Sad fact: along with four other reasonably-intelligent people, I
attempted a recent Washington Post Magazine puzzle after seeing this
film, and over the course of about five hours, we came up with not
more than about 25% of the answers. I might want to hold off
on entering next year's puzzle contest, eh?
Rating: Opening Weekend
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard