June 24, 2006

Two thumbs up from Ebert and Roeper

As Richard Roeper began to discuss Wordplay on this weekend’s Ebert & Roeper show, the still photo on the screen behind him featured Jim Jenista in his crazy crossword helmet. "Roger, I’m thinking of a five-letter word describing a digit used to vote on movies. [Roger Ebert waggles his thumb.] That’s right! Thumb! My thumb is up on this documentary, despite occasional fits of dryness and a very heavy nerd factor." ["Blank-letter word for blank" trope, check. "Nerd" trope, check.]

NYT crossword constructors and "puzzleholics" are bright and "preternaturally wonky," Roeper continues. This is illustrated with a clip of Trip Payne’s discourse on the letter Q.

"Thank goodness we also get to see celebrities" like Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart, says Roeper, because Wordplay lacks the kids of Spellbound and the "more interestingly weird" Scrabble nuts of Word Wars.

Will Shortz, says Roeper, is "a god in his field. He comes across as scary smart, very nice, but a little dull." [Oddly, the closed captions translated "a little dull" into "bald."]

"With the exception of the college kid from Indiana [Tyler Hinman, who’s shown solving on the laptop at his desk in the frat house, and who is not from Indiana], there’s not much to distinguish the contenders from one another. Still," Roeper concludes, "I’m recommending Wordplay as a sincere and comprehensive look at the inside world of hardcore crossword puzzling."

“I’m recommending it, too,” states Ebert. He goes on to praise the graphics (yay, Brian Oakes!) and the device of having "the celebrities all solving the same puzzle at the same time and all talking out loud—that’s a great sequence. And when the three finalists are on the stage," … "it’s interesting. It is an interesting and very well-made film" with a lot of visual interest.

Roeper suggests doing the ACPT finals with bowling-alley technology, displaying the finalists’ grids on a screen above.

Ebert interjects, “By the way, Will Shortz majored at Indiana University in his own custom-made subject, which was enigmatology.”

“That’s impressive,” responds Roeper.

“It is!” exclaims Ebert.