January 15, 2006

Wordplay fever

All righty, a couple people left comments inquiring about Wordplay. Here's the deal (as I understand it): Last winter, a guy named Patrick Creadon traveled around the country, interviewing New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz, a handful of top solvers (Trip Payne, Ellen Ripstein, Al Sanders, and Tyler Hinman), and constructor Merl Reagle. Patrick, his camera, and producer Christine O'Malley went to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Connecticut, last March, following the "stars" and filming the weekend's events (which included an "American Crossword Idol" talent show—who knew a crossword-tournament talent show could land people in the movies?). Patrick also interviewed some famous crossword buffs, such as President Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart.

The zillion hours of footage were winnowed down to a 90-minute documentary compelling enough to be selected for the Sundance Film Festival's documentary competition—one of 16 films to make the cut out of about 700 submissions. Because the movie's not out yet, Wordplay's IMDb listing is rather spartan—merely the title, a few names, and a modest "Nominated/Grand Jury Prize/Sundance Film Festival" mention.

The Sundance website has a review by Basil Tsiokos that cites "the unexpectedly riveting coverage" of Stamford and the "intelligent and ingratiating contestants" who are profiled. Wordplay is, Tsiokos writes, "an engrossing, yet lighthearted, portrait of an American institution."

The Wordplay premiere is Saturday, January 21, in Park City, Utah, and there are several more screenings later in the festival. Every screening sold out on the first day of individual ticket sales, so there might be just a teeny bit of buzz. I'm going to Sundance next week, and I'll do my damnedest to get a ticket. If it takes standing in line in the cold for two hours, I'll do it—I need to find out just how goofy I look in this movie. Oh—and of course, I'm keenly interested in the rest of the film as well!

So far, the Wordplay website is bare-bones (more to come in March), but you can check out the movie poster, which rather alarmingly depicts a giant pencil poised to penetrate Will Shortz's cranium.

When will Wordplay be "coming soon to a theatre near you"? That's a good question. With a little luck, distributors will get into a bidding war and offer to buy the movie for a princely sum, Patrick's directorial career will be off to a fabulous start, the winning distributor will give the movie a wide release, the word of mouth will be incredible, Wordplay fever will sweep the nation, tens of millions of people see the movie, it'll become the top-grossing documentary of all time, and next year it will win an Oscar. At least, that's how I see the scenario playing out. Too optimistic? Only time will tell.