Patrick Creadon, Christine O'Malley, Doug Blush, Tracy McKnight, Brian Oakes
Fifty million Americans do crossword puzzles each week, many in the venerable New York Times, which published its first puzzle in 1942. For the past 12 years, the man whose name has been indelibly linked to the Times crosswords is editor Will Shortz. In Wordplay, director Patrick Creadon presents an entertaining and informative look at Shortz's work and that of the puzzle constructors with whom he collaborates. As these pros demonstrate how to create a crossword, Creadon cleverly integrates interviews with celebrity crossword solvers, including Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Jon Stewart, Ken Burns, the Indigo Girls, and others. While Creadon's access to Shortz enables a fascinating insight into what makes crosswords tick, it's the unexpectedly riveting coverage of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, an annual competition founded by Shortz, that makes Wordplay really shine. Profiles of a number of intelligent and ingratiating contestants reveal their unique personalities as they prepare for and attend the tournament. Though on the surface, this part of the film resembles other recent documentaries exploring competitions like spelling bees or Scrabble, the focus for participants here is as much on the overarching sense of community their love of crosswords fosters as on winning. Wordplay emerges as an engrossing, yet lighthearted, portrait of an American institution, and its masterful execution produces the same satisfaction as completing a particularly ingenious and challenging puzzle.