Wordplay (2006)

. Rated PG. Our ratings: V- 5; L – 3; S/N – 5. Running time: 1 hour, 30 min.

Then Bildad the Shuhite answered:
“How long will you hunt for words?
Consider, and then we will speak.
Job 18:1-2

Wordplay

Okay, I know that when Bildad accosted Job, the latter was absorbed in his suffering, and not in a crossword puzzle, and the puzzle fanatics in this intriguing film spend little time hunting for words—they fill in the blanks before most of us can even think about what is needed. Even if you are like me, hardly ever able to finish a NEW YORK TIMES crossword puzzle, but sill trying on occasion, this film is for you. The documentary visits various crossword fanatics and then focuses upon the annual Crossword Puzzle Tournament, hosted in Stamford, Conn., by Will Shortz, the editor of the New York Times crossword puzzles. In a way the movie could be seen as a tribute to this word genius, who has been involved in puzzles all of his life. He studied for his career by going to Indiana University where students can design their own major, and so he created “enigmatology,” the study of puzzles.

The fascination with and love of crossword puzzles, we see, cut across all political and vocational lines. Bill Clinton and Bob Dole are among those interviewed, as is Jon Stewart. Then there are New York Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina, the Indigo Girls, and documentary historian Ken Burns—and lots more famous, but equally word-knowledgeable fans. One of the things I especially appreciated was director Patrick Creadon’s use of charts to help us see how different people work the puzzles, and also a fascinating sequence with Merl Reagle, considered by most of the people in the film as the pre-eminate composer of crossword puzzles, in which he takes us through the process of creating a puzzle. There is more, much more, to this film that holds revelations and delights concerning this ingenious genre called “wordplay.” The film will make you approach the next crossword puzzle with new appreciation.