First there was Spellbound.  Then there was Word Wars.  Now there is Wordplay.  The first two movies documentaries focused on the National Spelling Bee and National Scrabble Championship.  Wordplay takes a look at crossword puzzles, stopping along the way for the Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Connecticut, and interviewing its creator, New York Times Puzzle Editor Will Shortz, and many of the leading competitors.  Crosswords are an American institution, but a very solitary pursuit.  The Tournament, and Wordplay, allows closet players to realize that there are other people who enjoy the same hobbies that they do.

Wordplay mixes surprisingly interesting information about the history and rules of crossword puzzles (the black spaces must align such that the board looks the same upside down), player profiles, interviews with famous celebrities, and footage from the tournament in Stamford.  Writer/director Patrick Creadon and co-writer Christine O'Malley make the New York Times crossword, the gold standard of crosswords, look deceptively easy with many in the movie finishing crosswords in a matter of minutes. Sure, they're the best puzzlers in the country, but still...

And while everybody knows that the crossword can be difficult, Creadon makes every accessible.  By interviewing everybody from Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Ken Burns, Jon Stewart, and Yankee Mike Mussina, Creadon shows that the crossword can appeal to everybody.  And it just takes practice to get better.  Finishing the crossword is addictive.  After completing one, you feel like you can complete another.  But when you get stuck, it can be extremely frustrating.  And puzzles can go from extremely easy to devilishly hard.  Shortz and syndicated crossword Merle Reagle are genuine, nice guys who like their jobs and are insanely smart.  It helps greatly that the two are very open and enthusiastic about their profession/hobby/obsession.  Shortz is the man who established the tournament, and also brought the stuffy New York Times crossword into the present.

The actual players are a bit quirkier.  Creadon manages to show who they are without mocking them, and tells a bit about each person before moving on to the tournament.  For the most part, these are all ordinary people who happen to be very good at doing crosswords.  The tournament is good, because while there is competition, everybody is there to have fun and socialize.  As one contestant put it, crossword puzzles are solitary by nature, and the tournament is a way to meet other people with similar interests.  The competition itself is tense, but nowhere as tense as Spellbound, which is the current standard for these types of films.  A spirit of fun and friendship permeates the air, which the audience can feel and enjoy.  Next up, Sudoku...

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 30 minutes, Not Rated but would probably be a PG or PG-13 due to brief language.

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