Wordplay (the movie)

This morning I saw a screening of Wordplay, a documentary on crossword puzzles featuring Will Shortz. If you're a crossword puzzler, this movie is a must-see. In addition to Will, there are plenty of other rock stars of the crossword puzzle subculture who play major roles: Merl Reagle, Trip Payne, and Ellen Ripstein. (I was particularly amused by this entry. Hey, if you're not going to appreciate Ellen Ripstein's autograph, give it to somebody who will!)

The audience loved this movie, laughing so hard in places that it drowned out the dialogue. (And gasping in horror when... well, you'll have to watch the movie to find out.) Crowd-pleasing one-liners (paraphrased):

  • Getting Merl Reagle to compose a Tuesday puzzle is like getting Barry Bonds to play on your Little League team. — Daniel Okrent reacts to seeing Merl Reagle's byline on a Tuesday puzzle. (Monday puzzles are easiest, with the difficulty increasing as the week progresses.)
  • I had a boyfriend who would put me down, but I would just come back with, "Oh yeah? And what are you the best in America at?" — Ellen Ripstein, 2001 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champion.
  • "I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate you. Sincerely..." — Will Shortz reads a letter from a frustrated puzzle solver.

As a recovering crossword-aholic myself, I found myself using the on-screen clues to race against Al Sanders as he himself raced the clock to solve a New York Times crossword. Although I'm no crossword slouch, I'm no match for Al Sanders.

Wholeheartedly recommended.

Comments (5)
  1. Gabe says:

    For those who enjoy crosswords enough to do 5-10 per day, I recommend trying the Crossword Tournament hosted by Will Shortz (http://www.crosswordtournament.com). If you only do 1 or 2 per day, it may still be fun, but don’t kid yourself — you’ll probably not make it into the top 300.

    The joke about Ellen Ripstein is that she’s known as the Susan Lucci of crossword puzzles. Susan Lucci is a soap opera star who had been nominated for an Emmy award something like 18 years in a row before winning. Ellen finished in the top 5 at the tournament every year since 1983. When Susan finally won an Emmy in 1999 we knew Ellen was due for a win, and she came through in 2001.

    And for the record, I would have to say Merl Reagle is my favorite crossword constructor.

  2. RevMike says:

    Will Shortz is a pale imitation of Eugene. T. Maleska, unfit to sharpen his pencil.

    each his own. Many years ago, I got a book of Maleska crosswords and
    hated them. Governor of Alaska in 1960? Opera singers from the 1900’s?
    Booooooring! It was the Shortz school that made crossword puzzles fun
    again. Merl Reagle discusses this in this interview: “There are two kinds of solvers in the country: People who solve crosswords as a test and people who solve crosswords as a game.
    Now, the people who solve crosswords as a test like the
    vocabulary-building ones. … Unfortunately, they can’t solve the
    ‘tricky’ ones. The people who solve crosswords as a game can solve the
    ones that are a test, they just don’t like them.” Thanks to Ellen
    Ripstein for the link to the Merl Reagle interview. -Raymond
  3. Ellen says:

    Trip Payne has a blog, too.

    [Wow, a comment from Ellen Ripstein. Almost as good as an autograph! -Raymond]
  4. Norman Diamond says:

    As a recovering crossword-aholic myself

    And to think of all the times you complained about my cross words.

  5. Andrew Feldstein says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Raymond’s response to RevMike.  I love puzzles of the Will Shortz era.  In college, in the early 80’s, I used to refer to Eugene. T. Maleska as "the most hated man on the Eastern seaboard,"  I was so frustrated, I thought everyone must have felt the same way.

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