March 16, 2009

Movie Review: Wordplay

Posted in Word Fun tagged , , , , , at 1:34 pm by The Word Jar

WordplayI recently had the pleasure of viewing Wordplay, a great little documentary about crossword puzzles and crossword lovers—the people who make them and the people who fill them in. Will Shortz, the editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle is interviewed, as are Merl Reagle, crossword constructor extraordinaire, past American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champions, and several crossword fans, including Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart, and recently retired Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina.

The top competitors in the annual tournament are insanely good. They can complete the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in mere minutes. Minutes! I’m pretty sure I–even as a lover of all words–couldn’t do it in a whole day. With help. And the answers in front of me.

But the most interesting part to me was seeing a puzzle constructor at work. I figured that all crossword puzzles these days were made with complex computer programs. But there is Merl Reagle sitting at his dining room table with a blank grid on a piece of regular paper and a pencil, creating a puzzle on the spot for the Times. And he just starts filling in words. That makes it sound much easier than it must be. You of course have to know enough words to fill in the whole grid and make everything fit nicely. And real words are probably best to use. No making things up here. I thought I had my dream job now, but I may have found a new calling.

Wordplay is a fun film for all fans of words and crossword puzzles. You get to see “behind the curtain” of the crossword machine, and you feel the intensity as the final round of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament plays out. Wordplay may just inspire you to grab a pencil (or pen, if you’re really daring!) and tackle a puzzle today.

Word Fun Fact (from Wordplay): “Intercoastal” is an anagram of “altercations.” I know . . . I just blew your mind!


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