Saturday, July 08, 2006


I'm back and doing a second post for today.

My friend M and I went to the movies this afternoon to see "Wordplay," a documentary by Patrick Creadon. The film focuses on Will Shortz, the most famous puzzlemaster in the world, and the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which Shortz founded.

I first became aware of Shortz in the early '90s when a friend gave me a subscription to Games Magazine for Christmas. I love puzzles of all kinds and, back then, Shortz was editor for the magazine.

In 1993, Shortz moved to the New York Times where he became its fourth crossword puzzle editor. According to Wikipedia, the Times' crossword, which has been running continuously since 1942, is "the most prestigious (and among the most difficult to solve)." In addition to his duties at the Times, Shortz has been the puzzlemaster for NPR's Weekend Edition on Sunday for nearly twenty years.

Shortz is unique in that he is the only person in the world who holds a college degree in Enigmatology, the study of puzzles. After being accepted into Indiana University, Bloomington, he convinced the school to let him design his own own major program focussed on puzzles. In 1978, at age 25, he founded the American Puzzle Tournament, now in its 28th year.

"Wordplay" interviews Shortz and some of his most famous fans (Bill Clinton, Ken Burns, Jon Stewart, Mike Mussina and The Indigo Girls). It also interviews some of the authors who construct the Times puzzles and the super stars who participate in the annual puzzle tournament.

The film is fascinating. It's a look at a funky, quirky crowd of very bright, very obsessive people, all focussed on the world of crossword puzzles. One of my favorite moments was when Shortz read the letters he has received from people who do the Times puzzle. Some were complimentary, some complained and some were downright scary.

I LOVE the Times Sunday puzzle. I start it Sunday evening and work on it a little bit every day until I finish it or until the next puzzle comes out the following Sunday. To give you a sense of the people starring in this movie, they complete the daily puzzles in approximately two minutes and the Sunday puzzle in less than fifteen minutes. Unbelievable!!

If you like puzzles or documentaries or just odd people, this is a great film. We enjoyed it enormously.


Emjay said...

There was some opera singer ... can't remember her name ... who claimed to do the Sunday NY Times crossword in 15 minute or some time so short I couldn't even write the words out in that time period.

Roberta something (the dirty liar).

Anyway, I have a scene in my new book about two people working the Sunday crossword.

One is a purist who refuses to allow any help; no dictionary, no computer puzzle gadget, no calling up friends (like Maya) to ask about Roman Gods and Goddesses, no nothing.

The other one gladly used any help, only drawing the line at looking at the puzzle answers or calling that stupid 900 number.

Gotta go now. the puzzle awaits.

Maya said...

Don't use up all the good clues. Leave some for the rest of us. :)