Wordplay
I’m Bob Dole … and Bob Dole knows crossword puzzles.


Golden Mug

NOMINEE: Documentary

Theatrical Release Date: 06/16/2006
Director: Patrick Creadon
Featuring: Will Shortz, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Mike Mussina, Jon Stewart, Ken Burns, Emily Saliers & Amy Ray

Like many people, when I find myself next to a newspaper, I tend to skip around to my favorite sections first.

I’ll hit the Currents section to see what the local movie reviewer butchered because they hate themselves and don’t like films so they hope to make sure you won’t either.

I’ll glance over the Comics section, flittering between the two or three good comic strips left … my God, whenever you think you’re writing may be sub-standard, take a look at the state of the funnies in 2006.

I’ll hit the Sports page, see just how far back the Padres are in the standings, and keep hoping the Chargers move to another city.

Then I’ll flip through the classifieds looking for perhaps the best part of any newspaper, the crossword puzzle.

I’ll admit I’m no savant when it comes to them. I prefer the easy ones because I like the feeling of finishing the entire puzzle. For the hardcore puzzlers, there is the New York Times Crossword.

That’s the first one people think of and has been since the early nineteen forties. For simpletons like myself, I’ll only dare attempt the Monday or Tuesday edition, when they’re a bit easier. You can go sit on a tack if you think I’m gonna waste my time trying the Friday or Saturday puzzles.

However, there are a multitude of people who do so and a select few who can call themselves crossword puzzle champions. Such is the main focus of the documentary, “Wordplay”.

If any of you saw the documentary “Spellbound” a few years ago, there is a very easy parallel to make in the style of “Wordplay”. (Also, if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and go rent it).

Every year since 1978, hundreds of puzzlers gather at a Marriott in Stamford, Connecticut to crown a new champion. The event was spearheaded by Will Shortz, the crosswords section editor at the New York Times.

A two-day event, the wannabe winners measure themselves against the very best puzzlers via a series of crossword puzzles, with scoring based on accuracy and time.

Like “Spellbound”, “Wordplay” takes a look at some of the favorites to win the championship and examines their journey. Interspersed are tales of crossword philosophies from such famous faces as Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Mike Mussina, Jon Stewart, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and Emily Saliers and Amy Ray (The Indigo Girls for the unaware).

Seeing how some of these well-known personalities find a parallel between tackling crosswords and their own professions and lives ends up more interesting than I’m probably making it sound.

Many of my loyal readers already know I’m a dork and a nerd, so I’m sure they’re not surprised I was interested in seeing this film. However, even I thought they might not be able to pull this off.

At least in “Spellbound”, there were adorable/hilariously geeky kids to fawn over. In this one, it was full-grown geeks battling it out inside a grid arena with ballpoint pens.

However, director Patrick Creadon managed to vary the content enough to keep me interested and far from sleepy. Throughout, you will hear and see crossword clues that you can try to ascertain the answers of before they are revealed. That alone helps to keep the documentary from being too much of a lesson rather than an observation.

If you have any interest in crossword puzzles, you will find a lot to like in “Wordplay”. Even if you don’t like to do them, watching this exhibition of human behavior is fascinating and a very welcome diversion from the summer blockbusters (though at least this year’s crop of big-budget flicks are better than last year’s).

I’m giving “Wordplay” a 4 out of 5. The filmmakers managed to make the film almost interactive and were able to capture an element of drama within this everyday game millions of people use as a daily routine, like brushing your teeth or flipping someone off in traffic.

If you don’t manage to catch this in theaters, add it to your Netflix list or jot it down and catch it on video. It’ll be a far better time than the resurrection of “7th Heaven” this fall.