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Wordplay More at IMDbPro »

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39 out of 42 people found the following review useful:

Playing with words

10/10
Author: jotix100 from New York
2 July 2006

This delightful documentary, directed by Patrick Creadon, is a dream come true for people that enjoy to solve crossword puzzles. It centers around Will Shortz, the current New York Times editor, who has revolutionized the way we do the puzzles today. The film was co-written by Christine O'Malley, who with the director, takes us to meet some of the people behind the scenes.

We must make a confession from the start, we are one of those addicted to solving the daily crosswords in the paper. The New York Times puzzles are the best of all the ones published by any newspaper. Of course, we are not in the league of the likes of Tyler Hinman, Trip Payne, or Al Sanders, who were the three finalist in the 2005 competition, but we are happy with just the idea of solving them every morning.

There are many personalities that speak about their addiction to the crosswords of the New York Times. Among them, we hear from former President Bill Clinton, a man that has always been notorious for his quick mind. David Okrent, the former public editor of the Times, makes a surprise appearance. Jon Stewart is also funny in the way he deals with clues and how he blames Will Shortz when he doesn't get them. Mike Mussina, The Indigo Girls, Bob Dole, and other celebrities also are seen.

The great fun of "Wordplay" is watching a master constructor of the stature of Merl Reagle creating a daily crossword right in front of the camera, and explaining the logic behind it. There is a funny moment when Ellen Ripstein, a former winner, tells us that in spite of having won, she keeps going every year to participate in the tournament. Her performance in the entertainment part of the competition brings a light and goofy moment to the film.

The only thing we don't get too much of is the master himself. Will Shortz appears all too briefly as the emphasis of the documentary seems to be the annual competition at the Marriott in Stamford. Some of Mr. Shortz observations are funny, especially when he shares his typical weekly correspondence from frustrated people that are "puzzled" by his clues.

"Wordplay" is a film that will resonate more with crossword puzzle lovers, but it is a fun movie to sit through because the witty material and the pace it was given by its creators.

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21 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Fantastic!

10/10
Author: from United States
14 July 2006

You would never imagine that the evolution and story behind the New York Times crossword puzzle and the people who both create them and ferociously try to solve them, would be so darn interesting. This movie proves that a good theme, a sincere effort and some interesting, quirky characters can make even the most remote of subjects, a fascinating, moving documentary. Watching Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton and other famous people work at the crossword somehow humanizes them in a way that I have honestly never seen before. Everyone who attacks the puzzle is now on the same page, and the movie somehow made me feel a lot better about the human race. If there is anything that unites us all, it is the need to solve something - to go through the process of cracking it and to ultimately own it. By watching this movie, you almost have the same amount of respect for the people who are simply the best in the country at this particular thing, as you do for the Stewarts and the Clintons of this world.

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21 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

I loved this documentary!

10/10
Author: helena-emerick from United States
7 June 2006

I have such vivid memories of sitting in my kitchen every Sunday morning with my father doing the New York Times cross word puzzle together and this movie paid amazing tribute to everyone who has ever attempted such a feat. I loved the stories and the people that were filmed, and laughed at all the things these people did to get to the cross word championships. It was interesting the little nuggets of information that go into these puzzles as well as the commentary from the people who do them, celebrities and contestants alike.

I would suggest this lighthearted film to anyone who has ever enjoyed a good cross word puzzle. From beginning to end, I enjoyed every moment.

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22 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

Wordplay is great fun

7/10
Author: lwo1977 from NYC - United States
18 June 2006

I really enjoyed this film. There is wonderful insight into the "characters" who participate in the crossword competition - a whole world out there that I was not aware of. They employ many different techniques to present the information and in the end it is just a feel-good documentary. Not sappy and a fun, short film. I think that people who live in New York City will especially appreciate this film, and I guess those individuals who take their crosswords very seriously will find some sense of kindred spirit in the people they see on screen.

A must see.

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14 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Low-Key But Surprisingly Enthralling Look at a Most Unlikely Subject

7/10
Author: Ed Uyeshima from San Francisco, CA, USA
24 January 2007

I have half-heartedly tried the New York crossword puzzles on occasion but had no idea what a devout following they had until I watched this refreshing 2006 documentary. Structured a bit like 2002's "Spellbound", the entertaining film that builds toward the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee, first-time director Patrick Creadon uses the 2005 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament as his climactic event where a group of nimble-minded crossword solvers vie for the championship. However, Creadon wisely focuses much of the film's initial attention on Will Shortz, the crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times who has gained renown as NPR's Puzzle Master. At his post since 1993, he has dramatically transformed the puzzle from an often frustrating, intellectualized exercise full of obscure clues to a more broad-based challenge that embraced popular culture and word games.

The change has engendered a diverse number of celebrity fans, several interviewed here in entertaining snippets - a particularly caustic Jon Stewart, Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina, the Indigo Girls, filmmaker Ken Burns in a somewhat zen-like state, a wry Bob Dole, and Creadon's biggest get, an ingratiating Bill Clinton who conquers his puzzle with surprising zeal. Once the film turns its attention toward the tournament, the personalities of the top contenders are highlighted with the makings of a classic showdown among three-time champion and professional puzzle-maker Trip Payne; Al Sanders, the middle-aged perennial also-ran who can never seem to rank above third; and prodigious twenty-year old Tyler Hinman, the potential usurper who could become the youngest champion ever. One of my favorites is Ellen Ripstein, an unassuming statistician who twirls a baton, but the true unsung hero of the piece has to be frequent Times puzzle creator Merl Reagle.

Delving into the crossword puzzles themselves, the most interesting extra with the 2006 DVD is a featurette called "Five Unforgettable Puzzles" about how the five of the most challenging Times puzzles were constructed as recounted by the creators themselves. Naturally, the puzzles are included in the accompanying booklet as well as the DVD-ROM for printing. The DVD also includes an amiable and insightful commentary track by Creadon, Shortz and Reagle, as well as a bevy of deleted scenes, including extended versions of the celebrity interviews. There is a twenty-minute short about the film's reception at the 2006 Sundance Festival, including a Q&A with the top contenders, as well as a music video. It's a robust package for a niche-oriented film but one that is more entertaining than it has any right to be.

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19 out of 25 people found the following review useful:

Every thing that makes a great movie

10/10
Author: Dan Kaufman from Los Angeles
24 June 2006

This is the best movie I have seen this year. It has everything that makes a movie great, fun, memorable. It's funny, it's sad, there's angst, and tension, anticipation, there's "ohhhhhhh" and smiles, laughter and tears. It's interesting--and I learned something too (actually a lot). You'll cheer and applaud DURING the movie, you'll feel their pain and marvel at how SMART these people are.

The editing is the tightest I can remember. The movie flows like a roller coaster: never off track, always going somewhere, the highs fall into the lows, and it rises back to an even keel. It never leaves you bored wondering okay when will this over. It leads you to the edge, pulls back, and then climaxes. Superbly done.

Wordplay is a small independent that is more worthy of an Academy Award than many of the "big ticket" movies out there. Go see and tell your friends—you won't be disappointed, you'll leave the theater with a smile on your face.

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16 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

a delight for linguists and fans of words, not bad for everyone else

7/10
Author: MisterWhiplash from United States
9 July 2006

Crossword puzzles, and the many people who make them popular, are the focus in Wordplay, including the editor of the NY Times puzzle (the most notorious of them in the USA), celebrities and politicians, and the general public obsessed with them. As a documentary Wordplay is good, not great, film-making about its subject with a couple of montages and interlocking scenes that are weak. But the subject matter, and usually how its presented, sparks a fine interest even in a non-crossword puzzle player like myself. As words are all that we have to work with in communication and just everyday discourse, it's also attached here to the idea of testing, of competition, and how different and varying crosswords can get. Like the documentary Spellbound from a few years back, the director is also after the kind of irony of making such an isolated experience of finishing a puzzle into an event with hundreds of players once a year with friendships and acquaintances- a social event as much as a match-up.

Many parts are amusing as well; we get interviews from Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, and the editor of NY Times Crossword himself, Will Shortz, and they all give some insightful, funny little bits of interest into making the puzzles and playing them. But for the most part we're into the mind-set of several key players, real people whom will all come together for the tournament in Jaunary. What makes all of this work, and what actually makes crossword puzzles become good enough for cinema, is watching smart people, un-cluttered for the most part with problems, who can focus all of their attentions on this one activity, to the point of obsessive compulsive behavior. It's really fun, in a nerdy way, trying to guess some of these words (or rather watching them guessing the words) along with the players. And the way the puzzles are created sparks a little interest too, as it's one of those parts of life I myself could never, ever accomplish. Worth a look, though probably more so for fans of the activity.

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10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Surprisingly Entertaining

8/10
Author: kevbo1 from United States
19 November 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

To me, a successful documentary teaches me about someone or something I didn't know. I am not a crossword enthusiast, but I thought I knew about crossword puzzles. It turns out there is a lot I didn't know, and what I learned in "Wordplay" was conveyed in an entertaining manner.

The film is rated PG, and the only mildly "offensive" language occurs when one of the puzzle constructors lists several clinical terms that he is not allowed to use in the puzzles. It's nothing you wouldn't hear at your annual physical.

Wordplay is one documentary with three interwoven parts. The first part introduces us to New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz and a number of puzzle constructors, primarily Merl Reagle. It shows how crossword puzzles are created and edited. It explains the "rules" of puzzle-making, how the degree of a puzzle's difficulty is changed by altering the clues, and how creators use themes throughout the puzzle. It also shows how there are often puzzles within the puzzle.

The second part is a series of interviews with six or seven celebrity crossword enthusiasts, and with a number of competitors in the annual tournament. One of the most interesting parts of the film is watching each of the celebrities work on the same puzzle at the same time. The filmmakers use split screens and animation to show the answers being filled in.

The third part (and the bulk of the film) covers the 28th American Crossword Puzzle Tournament held in March, 2005 in Stamford, CT. It features more cool puzzle-filling animation, and it includes a blunder of Bill Buckneresque proportions. The tournament is a nerd-fest of the highest order (not that there's anything wrong with that). It's a combination competition, convention, and family reunion. The participants seem like nice people who genuinely enjoy each others' company. There is one scene with an element of sportsmanship that is rarely displayed in competition on any level.

You MUST watch ALL of the bonus scenes on the DVD. OK, you can skip the music video, but watch the rest of them. In their entirety they are about as long as the movie itself (94 minutes). They include deleted scenes, extended cuts from the celebrity interviews, additional insight into the puzzle creation process, and more clips from the tournament.

There is also a short film about a group of people in a small Wisconsin town who read The New York Times every Sunday. This segment is a little out-of-place if not off-putting. It is not about the puzzle at all, it's just about people who read The Times. I found these people to be elitist and condescending -- not at all what I expected from a rural town in Wisconsin. One of them even admits to "playing at" being a farmer while not at his "home" in Chicago. The point of the film seemed to be that erudite urbanites love spending time in the country as long as they can get a decent cup of coffee and the Sunday New York Times. If I lived in that town I would buy up all of the papers every Sunday so these people would go back from whence they came.

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24 out of 43 people found the following review useful:

Decent--But Not A Feature

6/10
Author: gus-148 from LIC, New York
8 June 2006

Saw a preview screening last week at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. Overall I thought it was decent but I didn't think it was compelling enough to warrant being distributed as a theatrically-released feature film. The subject matter is better suited for an hour-long doc on PBS or The Learning Channel. Being a something of a crossword puzzle fan myself, I'd prefer seeing a shorter, tighter version of this piece.

Movie is most interesting when it gives us glimpses of brilliant minds at work but even that wasn't enough to sustain my interest for a full ninety minutes. It lacks the momentum of similar docs like "Spellbound."

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8 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

I Feel the Need, The Need for Spaces

7/10
Author: David Ferguson (fergusontx@gmail.com) from Dallas, Texas
10 July 2006

Greetings again from the darkness. Pretty interesting look behind the curtain of the world of crosswords ... in particular the New York Times crossword editor, Will Shortz.

What is not really surprising is the combination of ego and insecurity that plague the top contenders in the annual contest. These traits rear their head at any and every competition, regardless of topic or sport. What is surprising is the sportsmanship involved when there is an apparent major scoring error in the semi-finals. Watching the competitors band together against the committee is something not usually seen in the sporting and gaming world. These guys want the competition to be fair ... no cheap wins. I wonder if Pat Reilly or Bobby Knight would feel the same way? As you might expect the traditional nerd factor is at play here and the filmmakers do a nice job of mixing in some pretty faces to balance the picture. Mike Mussina, Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart are all thrown in to show that all walks of life are addicted and not everyone that is addicted looks like the reclusive nerd we all knew in high school. The most fascinating character in what story there is, is the twenty year old hot shot that most think is too young and inexperienced to really compete at the top. Just as interesting though is the way the more traditional powerhouses react to his presence and apparent skill.

There is a nice peak at the collaborative efforts that go into the creation of the puzzle, even though Mr. Shortz leaves little doubt that it is his responsibility ... hate mail and all. Very nice look into a world that most of us give little thought to.

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