Using a slew of interesting interviews and a brilliant visual device, filmmaker Patrick Creadon treats the ordinarily solitary pursuit of "crossword-puzzling" as a kind of spectator sport; his documentary on the subject is nearly as exciting as HOOP DREAMS. The main focus of Creadon's film is the estimable Will Shortz, the current editor of what many consider to be the daily puzzle: the venerable New York Times crossword. Shotz, who actually received a degree in enigmatology from Indiana University (his is the only such degree in the world), sifts through and vets hundreds of puzzles each year, making sure each published crossword conforms to the newspaper's standards of difficulty, style and taste there's reportedly a propriety check commonly known as the "Sunday Morning Breakfast Table Test" (no "urine," "rectal" or "enema," thank you) many of which were set by Margaret Farrar, Shortz' forbear at the Times and the great popularizer of crossword puzzles. Shotz also hosts a word-game segment on National Public Radio and continues to host the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament which he founded in 1978 and which is still held annually in Stamford, Conn., but one thing he does not do is write the puzzles. These are the works of so-called "puzzle constructors," semantic savants like the well-known Merle Reagle (who Creadon shoots while he's actually building one of his cryptographic marvels) who can take an empty grid and turn it into a mosaic of black and white squares and words, answers to the "up" and "down" clues that often involve cleverly complex wordplay. Interestingly, musicians, computer programmers and math whizzes tend to make good puzzlers (it has something to do with an ability to processes coded information), but it's not just musos and eggheads who enjoy a challenging puzzle. Creadon interviews everyone from rock stars (the Indigo Girls), comedians (Jon Stewart) and sports heroes (Mike Mussina) to former U.S. presidents (Bill Clinton), as well as a host of regular folks (well sort of regular folks; many of those profiled can finish a mid-week NYT puzzle in under three minutes) who are passionate about puzzling. We get to know many of the country's top puzzlers by the time Creadon and his camera arrives at the 28th annual ACPT in Stamford, and it's a thrilling way to wrap up this ingeniously constructed film. At key points, Creadon divides the screen into smaller boxes so he can simultaneously show the clues, parts of the grid and the puzzlers, thereby pulling the audience into the game. It's also very cleverly edited one scene will often branching off from another in much the same way a crossword puzzle works and features a bang-up ending that will actually leave you cheering over a word game.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: PG
- Review: Using a slew of interesting interviews and a brilliant visual device, filmmaker Patrick Creadon treats the ordinarily solitary pursuit of "crossword-puzzling" as a kind of spectator sport; his documentary on the subject is nearly as exciting as HOOP DREAMS… (more)