City Pulse

By Amber Roniger

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Wanna watch Jon Stewart tweak harder than usual? Learn the word for ‘neighbor whose house is on fire?’ Or know how Will Shortz finagled majoring in crossword puzzles at college? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is most imperative that you check out Patrick Creadon’s effusive WORDPLAY, an innovative movie, which peers into the manic world of puzzle-junkies. Didn’t know such a plane existed? Well neither did I, and it’s still a bit hard to fathom. But after sitting in the IFC Center theatre opening night (which for the longest time was the boarded-up Waverly, right next to the pizza place where me ‘n my high school boyfriend used to… never mind), with an audience chock-a-block with word nerds lobbing rapid-fire questions at Shortz like: “what’s your favorite word”, and “why do you use Brian Eno so much”, I’m a believer. Apparently there’s an entire sub-cultural movement centered on crossword puzzles. Who knew?

I myself am not a puzzle-fiend, but there is something so quintessentially ‘New Yorker’ about the NYTimes crossword puzzle that I just couldn’t resist exploring the phenomena. The movie is genuinely funny and surprisingly moving and I found myself getting emotional near the climax of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (yah, there’s an annual competition, and yah, it climaxes, no joke). About 500 top puzzlers from around the country gather at the Stamford Marriot every year to compete for almost no money and somewhat dubious glory. But no matter, because these loquacious word arrangers go for the gusto like it was the Indy 500. Here’s what I love best about this flick: the fact that the filmmakers made [u]it in their spare bedrooms[/u]. There’s such an amazing independent spirit to this movie that you just can’t help but be drawn into the film, and intrigued about the why’s and what for’s of storytelling process. It’s a real testament to the willpower of individuals to prevail in the most bizarre of arenas. And as an aside, you wouldn’t believe how many people have crossword puzzle art on their living room walls. Scary!

I’ll tell you what, if you’re feeling a bit intellectually haughty lately and need to be cut down to size, Wordplay is the perfect way to do it. I left the theatre thinking about my unbelievably sparse grasp on the English language and how the next book I read is going to be the dictionary.

http://www.wordplaythemovie.com
IFC Center: 323 Avenue of the Americas
http://www.ifcfilms.com
Originally published June 2006

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