Customer Reviews: Wordplay
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on August 12, 2006
For me, crossword puzzles have been a casual thing, I might find one in the airline magazine on a flight and work on it to pass the time or my wife, who is a much more avid fan, might have left a partially finished one about, which I will pick up and see if I can find some answers.

Those who appear in this movie find crossword puzzles to be anything but casual. And this is not about just any crossword puzzle. This is the "gold standard." The NYT crossword puzzle. You may genuflect if you wish.

As the movie unfolds we hear how the NYT graduates the difficulty of its puzzles from Monday to Sunday. We learn how they are constructed, how they are made more difficult, what the rules of puzzle building are and how crossword puzzles infect and afflict those who are addicted to them. Celebrities from Ken Burns to Jon Stweart are utilized in cameo pieces, some of which are very entertaining.

This all culminates in the Marriott Hotel in Stamford, CT where the World Crossword Puzzle Championship takes place every year in March. We meet some of the contestants, we are shown how the tournament is organized and the friendships it has engendered during the years it has been held and as the days pass we get to the "A" finals where three finalists try to solve a puzzle against time on large easels set up at the front of the room which will really draws you in to the genre.

Whether crossword puzzles are your thing or not, this is an entertaining and interesting movie to see. It did not encourage me to increase my crossword puzzle activity, but it sure gave me a deeper appreciation of what those who are hooked on it go through. There is something in this movie for everyone.
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on October 14, 2006
I have seen many hundreds of movies in my lifetime, and I must say, this is very close to being my favorite.

It is not a giant movie... it is a small documentary about one interesting subculture. While there are plenty

of famous people in the movie and that makes it more entertaining, the real heroes are ordinary people,

and the movie makes them all lovable when it could just as easily have mocked them. I am not

the least bit interested in doing crossword puzzles, but this movie is about a community,

both virtual and real, from all walks of life, that loves to do puzzles, and the movie made

me like *them*.

The movie uses brilliant visualizations to show puzzles being constructed and solved. Several

reviews in newspapers have mentioned the wonderful cover of a Talking Heads tune by Shawn

Colvin at a key point in the movie... I echo that. You will not be able to get it out of your head

after you see the movie.

I would not expect a documentary about crossword puzzles to make me laugh out loud and

cry in a theatre, but in fact it did both.
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on September 25, 2006
Crossworders-quel subculture! I had no idea that this world was out there, this competitive bunch of crossworders, but I must say that I am indeed a better person for now knowing! The movie begins by introducing the audience to a group people who are the key players in an annual crossword competition held/hosted by Will Shortz, editor of the NYT crossword puzzle. In following these different people (literally from all walks of life-a homosexual, a mid-west family man, a college student, a single female) the audience almost becomes a part of their group. It was absolutely warming, to say the least (Ellen Ripstein has got to be one of my all-time favorite characters!). Oddly enough, rules of the crossword puzzle are given, and the difficult nature of actually solving one, especially the NYT, is revealed. After leaving the theatre I was determined to solve one (I am embarrassed to say that I started small and have finally solved a Monday puzzle, and am coming close to a Tuesday! It really is a new way of thinking!); it has been a really long road! Aside from being really well made, Wordplay was also salted with cameos from icons of American society such as Bill Clinton, Ken Burns and Jon Stewart. To watch them work on these puzzles was great-as well as putting their pants on one leg at a time, they (sometimes) struggle with the crossword puzzle too!

What a great documentary, and how fun to watch. In an age of vulgar and ridiculous entertainment, there is a shining example of entertainment revolving around a group of inteligensia. Bravo, and two enthusiastic thumbs up!
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Are you an aficionado of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle? Do you fill in the blanks with pen? Do you keep a record of how long it takes to finish each puzzle? If you answer yes to all of the above, then "Wordplay" is the film for you. This light-hearted documentary stars Will Shortz, the editor of the New York Times Crossword puzzle, puzzle master for NPR's Weekend Edition, and the founder and director of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. He is the only person in the world to hold a college degree in Enigmatology, the study of puzzles, which he earned from Indiana University in 1974.

Directed with a sense of fun by Patrick Creadon, and featuring a lively musical soundtrack, "Wordplay" has an eclectic cast, including former President Bill Clinton, who uses a blue felt tip pen to fill in his puzzle, as well as comedian Jon Stewart and Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina. Stewart and Mussina approach their puzzles differently. Stewart yells maniacally as he dares Shortz to defeat him. Jon dryly admits, "I am a Times puzzle fan. I will solve the USA Today [puzzle], but I don't feel good about myself." Mike Mussina, who is shown in his Yankee uniform working on his puzzle in the dugout, admits that he finds solving the Times crossword very relaxing. The famous documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, is another junkie who eagerly looks forward to his fix. He asserts that the New York Times Crossword is a celebration of language, which is the common denominator that unites us all.

However, it is not the well-known faces who make this film sing, but the ordinary Janes and Joes. There is an entertaining segment with Merl Reagle, a Crossword Constructor, who allows the viewer to look over his shoulder while he creates a new puzzle. Even more involving are the scenes featuring the top participants in the Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Connecticut, which will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary next year.

Tyler Hinman, Al Sanders, Ellen Ripstein, and Trip Payne are everyday people whom we might run into on the subway or in a supermarket. For them, the Annual Crossword Puzzle Tournament is serious business, and it is fun to watch them practice and sweat bullets as they compete against their fellow experts. Each viewer will cheer for his or her particular favorite as the competitors strive to achieve perfection. It is also heartwarming to observe the camaraderie that exists among the tournament participants of all ages and from all walks of life. This is a select fraternity of unique individuals who enjoy one another's company, and for whom solving puzzles is a lifelong and consuming passion.
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on November 20, 2006
There's an episode of MASH where Hawkeye and B.J. become obsessed with solving a New York Times crossword puzzle and go to outrageous lengths to finish it. This episode perfectly sums up the kind of dedication these puzzles inspire and require. Wordplay profiles Will Shortz, the crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times and explores a hobby that millions of people practice on buses and subways to and from work every day. What is the appeal of crossword puzzles? This entertaining and informative documentary answers this question.

This is a fun, engaging documentary that successfully conveys the passion people have for crosswords. All one needs is a puzzle and something to write with and there is something comforting about that kind of simplicity in this day and age where everyone seems to be plugged into an iPod or a Playstation.

There is an audio commentary by director Patrick Creadon, New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz and crossword constructor Merl Reagle. Shortz comes across as a naturally funny guy who tells some amusing anecdotes. This is a very genial, engaging track that compliments the documentary quite well.

Also included are seven deleted scenes pertaining to Shortz. We see footage of him reading another fan letter, footage of him talking about the difficulty he had taking over at the New York Times and the negative mail he received about how much tougher the puzzles were when he took over.

There are six additional deleted scenes with the other puzzle solvers in the doc. Ellen Ripstein talks about the allure of puzzles for her while Al Sanders speaks about how he is at the perfect age for solving puzzles.

There are three deleted scenes from the Stamford Crossword Tournament including more interviews with other attendees.

The "Interview Gallery" features more footage of the celebrity puzzle solvers. Ken Burns talks about his love for crosswords while Jon Stewart talks about meeting Shortz in person for the first time.

"5 Unforgettable Puzzles from the Pages of the New York Times" features footage of five people who created some of the most memorable crosswords in the newspaper's history. One lady designed a pictorial puzzle and another designs humourous puzzles with puns.

"Wordplay Goes to Sundance" shows the documentary's reception at this famous film festival. Key crew members and interview subjects were there and are shown answering questions from the audience.

There is a music video for the song "Every Word" by Gary Louris.

Also included is the "Wordplay Photo Gallery," a montage of pictures from the Sundance screenings.

"And the Winner is..." presents the finalists from this year's Annual American Crossword Tournament.

Finally, there is "Waiting for the New York Times," a short film by Patricia Erens.
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on August 8, 2006
I just returned from seeing this movie at the theatre and was so impressed I wanted to find out more. Unfortunately I see there is no soundtrack available, but I'm hoping that will change, because the music used in the movie was one of the most touching and memorable aspects. Yet, WORDS are the true star of this film, and it was heartwarming to get an inside glimpse at an intellectual hobby that crosses (pun intended) all groups regardless of age, economic status, etc. Not only did I walk away inspired to become an avid New York Times Crossword Puzzler, but uplifted by the positive comradery of the puzzling community. In a world where it seems so easy to find things that divide us, it was wonderfully surprising and satisfying to see this warm film about something uniquely universal. The creators non-judgemental treatment of the pastime and those devoted to it is worth at least 4 stars whether or not you like to engage in wordplay.
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"Wordplay" is director Patrick Creadon's homage to crossword puzzles, their creators, and their most avid solvers. The elite of crossword culture share their insights and expertise: New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz, who founded the Annual Crossword Puzzle Tournament held in Stamford, Connecticut since 1978. Puzzle constructor Merl Reagle. And a diverse assortment of five expert puzzle solvers who were among those competing at the 28th Annual Tournament in 2005. The ubiquity of crossword puzzles in American culture is represented by interviews with celebrity enthusiasts Jon Stewart, documentarian Ken Burns, The Indigo Girls (Amy Ray & Emily Saliers), former President Bill Clinton, and Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina.

"Wordplay" takes the audience on two journeys: Our five competitive crossword solvers anticipate the national Tournament and tell us a little about their hobby. And we watch Merl Reagle create a puzzle on the "word play" theme that will appear in the New York Times. To tie the two threads up nicely, the celebrity solvers all work Reagle's crossword, and, of course, we watch our five crossword whizes compete in the 3-day 2005 Tournament, right through to the nerve-racking championship round. Although the highly ranked contestants are very competitive, the Annual Crossword Puzzle Tournament is strikingly low-key and friendly. Perhaps that is because crossword-solving is a solitary pursuit. Competitors never confront one another.

"Wordplay" is a low-key documentary to match its subject. But crossword fans will be amazed by the skill of the competitors, intrigued by the creation and editing of puzzles, and in accord with the celebrity solvers as they express the charm of crosswords. "Wordplay" is an engaging tour of crossword culture that hits all of the most compelling facets of these wonderful word puzzles. English captions and Spanish subtitles are available on the IFC 2006 DVD.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon November 9, 2006
The DVD of the documentary film "Wordplay" hit the stores this week. When the film originally played the Philadelphia Film Festival this past Spring it included a few scenes of a local Philadelphia attorney Susan Katz Hoffman, an avid crossword puzzle fan who also attends the annual national competition in Washington, DC. The Film Festival version ran nearly 2 hours and was edited down to 85 minutes for the theatrical release and most of Hoffman's scenes were cut. (She appears at two points but the only words we hear (when she meets friends from prior tournaments) are "Hi, how are you?".

I was anxious to see if there would be more of Hoffman on the DVD version, especially since it has quite a few "deleted scenes" as a bonus. Sadly, there is no more Hoffman since all the included "deleted scenes" are of the "stars" of the film - those who made it to the finals. But the bonus features are still entertaining, as is the whole film, if you haven't seen it in the theaters.

There are enough readers of the daily New York Times crossword puzzle that it's said that, if the puzzle was no longer published, readership would drop substantially. The Editor of the Times crossword, Will Shortz, is the founder of the national competition and the center focus of the film. To give it more "star" power, Director Patrick Creadon, interviewed celebrity crossword puzzle addicts such as former President Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart and even the musical duo the Indigo Girls. I'm not a crossword fan but - like Spellbound (about the National Spelling Bee), which played the Film Festival two years ago - I became fascinated with the personalities of the finalists and picked the one I wanted to win.

The DVD also contains some featurettes, and a record of the first showing at the Sundance Film Festival. There's a full-length commentary but I haven't gotten to that yet. (Maybe Hoffman is mentioned there.) . It's certainly worth watching for anyone and would make a great holiday gift for any family or friends who are crossword addicts.

Steve Ramm
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VINE VOICEon December 21, 2006
Maybe they should make a documentary about people that enjoy documentaries. If that ever happens, Wordplay will be one of the films that documentary-heads will obsess over. It entertains, educates and gives you true insight into a fascinating subculture. No, I'm not a serious puzzlehead but I do enjoy the crosswords; and after seeing the abilities of the participants in the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament it's going to be a long, long time before I might work up the nerve to test my mettle in that competitive endeavor. But in a society where we crown national champions for children's athletic teams, what's wrong with a national crossword championship? The answer is a seven letter word beginning with N. Nothing!

The filmmakers suck you in by exposing you to a few well known people (Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart, the Indigo Girls, Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina and others) who explain their fascination with puzzles, as well as introducing you to Will Shortz the editor of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle (the pinnacle of puzzleship). We also get to meet Merl Reagle, a puzzle constructor, who explains how he builds a puzzle with just the smallest grain of a theme idea. Later on the camera watches as each of the personalities works the puzzle we watched Reagle build, listening as they explain their particular way of attacking the answers. Stewart is particularly funny with his reactions (duh!).

Shortz comes across as a surprisingly appealing personality. I was expecting some kind of sadistic intellectual prig in a white shirt and bow tie, but Will is a decidedly normal human being with interests beyond puzzles and an almost complete lack of pretension. That last observation is underscored by several images of him sitting cross-legged on the floor watching the final three contestants labor over the last puzzle of the tournament.

The last 30 minutes or so deals with the 2005 Tournament, as we watch various competitors that we've met earlier in the film compete with and encourage each other. It's a joy to see that a contest can be so civil without sacrificing any of the competitiveness.

It's difficult not to like this, whether you've never done a puzzle in your life, use pencil or ink, or even take a week and a half to get through one.
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on April 9, 2016
As a crossword fanatic, I had to buy this DVD. It is a very entertaining and interesting account of folks who are hooked on crossword puzzles. Includes coverage of the annual crossword competition and interviews of celebrities who do crossword puzzles and those who construct them. Also includes several extras. Ken Burns never disappoints.
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