The Good

A movie that will have you looking at crossword puzzles in a whole new way.

The Bad

I think this film could have been a lot better if it was 10-15 minutes shorter.

Wordplay is an interesting, if someone longer than it should be, look at the world and the people who do the New York Times crossword puzzle. The stars of the film are basically Will Shortz and Merl Reagle who put the puzzle together. I found out things I didn't know like as the week progresses, so does the difficulty of each puzzle. There is a general overview of the history of the New York Times Puzzle and we also get to hear from celebrities like Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart and others who make doing the puzzle a part of of their daily routines. The film culminates in a thumbnail sketch of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, in which we get to see how some lesser known people (some champs, some up and comers, some mid-range talents) fair during this highly competitive and interesting affair.

While I think this film could have been better served if it was a few minutes shorter, ultimately I got the impression that Wordplay was more about the culture and the importance of language than anything else.


Feature Commentary

This is with the film's director Patrick Creadon, The New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz and crossword constructor Merl Reagle. Okay, to say that these three guys are smart would be an understatement. I must admit that I didn't know how these three would translate to an audio commentary, but it was cool hearing how this project came together, what Will and Merl thought of the idea, and what they ultimately thought of the documentary that Creadon constructed.

Wordplay Photo Gallery

Deleted Scenes and Interview Gallery

As I have mentioned before, I am bit dubious toward deleted scenes, and that goes double for in a documentary. I found this stuff interesting but the subject matter of the film isn't such that it lends itself to "high" drama. While I am sure that the final portion of the film at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is dramatic to some people, I don't know that one needs to screen these deleted scenes to get any more out of the film.

Waiting for the New York Times - A Short Film by Patricia Erens

"Every Word" a music video by Gary Louris

Wordplay Goes to Sundance

I am a big fan of these kinds of things because I think it's interesting when a movie gets into this world. Everything about how the film and the filmmakers are perceived changes. We see how the audience responded to the film as well as the kinds of people that got first crack at screening it. While I don't know if you'd call this movie "a little film that could," it is probably more aptly described as a small film that will.


Enhanced Widescreen Letterbox for 16x9 TV. This movie, shot on video, was as simple and understated as a crossword puzzle itself. That's how it presents things on the surface. As you continue watching the film and you go a little deeper, you find that there is a simplicity to it that is inherent in the puzzles themselves. Filled with graphics that break down the puzzles, this movie has a light feel to it that makes the smarts of all involved seem just as simple.


Dolby Digital 5.1. This movie sounded fine. As I mentioned above, it is shot on video so it isn't like I expected a whole lot from it in this department. Shot across many locations, I do have to give Patrick Creadon credit for getting such solid sound in the many environments he interviewed his subjects in. Everything about the audio in this film seems like it's been tailored to match the personality of the person talking to the camera.


This front cover plays up the star power of Wordplay by showing people like Bob Dole and Jon Stewart on the front cover. The back shows us some more images from the film, it gives a simple description, a Special Features listing, and some technical specs. While not the kind of release that will do X-Men numbers, I am sure that Wordplay's audience will not have a problem finding it.

Final Word

I honestly was not looking forward to screening this movie. Look, I like a lot of films and I am sure the people around me would say that I like a lot of boring films, but the idea of watching a 90 minute film on crossword puzzles just didn't sit well. I saw the trailer for the movie in the theater, and even though it seemed interesting (as these documentaries often are), Wordplay was not a movie I made it out of my house to see. All in all, I felt that this was an enlightening experience. I could certainly see how one might get hooked doing these kinds of puzzles, and how after awhile you probably never look at words (or the English language) the same way ever again.

Not for everybody, Wordplay celebrates a culture in the best and most loving way.

Wordplay was released June 26, 2006.