Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wordplay (2006) - Great Way to Start Your Day

On the Menu: WORDPLAY (2006)

Ingredients: Will Shortz, Merl Reagle, Tyler Hinman, Trip Payne, Ellen Ripstein, Al Sanders, Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, Mike Mussina, Ken Burns, Jon Delfin, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. Directed by Patrick Creadon. Run time: 94 minutes. Rated: PG.

At First Bite: I was actually looking for WORD WARS when I came across WORDPLAY at my local Blockbuster. I enjoy crossword puzzles; I usually start my Saturday mornings with one. I'm better at word find puzzles, but crosswords definitely work your brain. Completing one makes me feel smarter, even if it's the one in the local paper and not The New York Times.

Will Shortz is the crossword editor for The New York Times. He went to Indiana University and created his own major: enigmatology. He also started the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (1978) in Stamford, Connecticut.

And, this tournament is where the excitement happens...

Tough to Swallow: It would have been nice to see footage/interviews with normal, average joes at the tournament instead of just with people who had won before.

I would have like to have seen more on Reagle and crossword construction. It's fascinating.

Second Helping: The DVD has a commentary track with Creadon, Shortz and Reagle, so I decided to watch the movie again. It's amazing to think covering the tournament wasn't originally part of the movie.

Something to Chew On: Watching the movie a second time, you'll notice some foreshadowing in the scene where you're introduced to Al Sanders and he solves a puzzle in real time.

Shortz provided the clues for The Riddler's riddles in BATMAN FOREVER.

The film currently has a 7.4 user rating on IMDb.com (2,213 votes).

Sides: Aside from the commentary, the disc includes 7 deleted Shortz scenes (7:08), 3 deleted Tournament scenes (5:36) and 6 other deleted scenes (7:33). There's an interview gallery (12:16) with 7 of the celebrities. There's also a featurette on the film at Sundance (21:02).

The best extra is the featurette "5 Unforgettable Puzzles from the Pages of The New York Times." It's a breakdown in the construction of the puzzles. You can also use a DVD-ROM drive to access those puzzles for printing and solving purposes.

The extras conclude with a music video, photo gallery, a look at the 2006 tournament results and a 12-minute short film by Patricia Erens title "Waiting for The New York Times."

Aftertaste: Being a crossword "solver" myself, this film is pretty entertaining. I mean, I was unaware of Shortz and his big tournament (it's been going since 1978) until watching this. Shortz is an interesting guy, but the movie really gets going once we're introduced to the "professional" solvers. They're all real characters. I was surprised to find out that musicians and math geeks are usually the best at crosswords.

It's also fun to listen and watch famous people, e.g., Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton, working on the puzzles.

The editing and graphics are wonderful. A key scene is when you see Al Sanders solve a puzzle in real time. The screen is split into four sections and includes a clock. Shortz comments on the scene by stating if ESPN ever picked up crossword solving it should be shot the same way.

Another great editing sequence is when the celebrities solve the same puzzle.

Seriously, you'd never think a movie about crossword puzzles would be intense. Well, this one is. Especially when the final three square off in the tournament final (again with split screens). Really, I was on the edge of my seat watching it.

Sure, it's a documentary, but the last half-hour is exciting drama.

Okay, I'm a nerd. Probably on par with the one guy in the film who keeps a list of his solving times.


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