Today I saw the documentary “Wordplay” as part of the Seattle International Film Festival. The film is about Will Shortz who is the editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle and the people involved in the annual crossword puzzle solving competition. In the competition you, as you would think, try and solve a crossword puzzle as quickly as possible, with correct answers. Finishing within the same minute window will get you the same score so finishing at 3:20 is the same as finishing at 3:58. It was actually quite funny and an interesting story. The film will have more than a limited release and has distribution by IFC Films. I believe the film comes out in the theatres in a few weeks and has played in other festivals like Sundance. There are many famous people who show up in the film to talk about their love of crosswords. They include Bill Clinton, Ken Burns, the Indigo Girls, Mike Mussina, and Jon Stewart.
After the film the director and co-writer of the film Patrick Creadon was in attendance for a short question and answer period. He was joined by Merl Reagle who is one of the “stars” of the film. He creates many crossword puzzles a year and his puzzles can be found in syndication in newspapers across the states (including the Seattle Times). In the film he quickly builds a crossword puzzle. Since I can barely spell I personally am not a big crossword fan. I did learn many things about puzzle creation. For example a puzzle can be turned 180 degrees and the blocked out squares will be in the same place. In the case of the New York times the puzzles get progressively hard as the week progresses. Perhaps I should start to solve the Monday puzzle? Many of the successful crossword solvers are good at music or math/computer tasks. I noticed many of those in the movie were left handed so I guess I have that going against me to be a good crossword puzzle solver. Someone asked about the DVD which Creadon said would be out this holiday season. He said there will be an associated book. The DVD will contain some of the more famous puzzles including one that was highlighted in the film around the 1992 presidential election. When asked about how he was able to get some many stars in the film Creadon credited his wife, Christine O’ Malley, who was the co-writer on the film as being quite a “pit bull”. Interestingly enough once they had Bill Clinton on board others were quicker to jump in such as Jon Stewart. One thing I did know but was not part of the film but discussed in the Q & A was that Stewart had worked with Shortz to compose a crossword puzzle that contained a marriage proposal for Jon’s current wife. If I could have asked a question I would have asked about the music. In addition to the Indigo Girls, there were songs by bands like Cake , the Eels, and Shawn Colvin. It really flowed well with the visuals.
Update: I got to talk with Patrick at a gala post party tonight. I asked him about the music and they had to pay for most. His brother had suggested the Cake song to him. He did talk about locking yourself into a song and then if you have to pull it later because you have fallen in love with it it is much harder to pull it out. I have heard this same type of commment from other first time directors that might not have gotten the song they wanted due to rights or cost issues. I asked him about when IFC came on board and it was after their showing at Sundance. At the time they had seven bidder one which was National Geographic. You might ask your self since when is National Geographic in the film distribution bussiness for documentaries but after they made a ton of money on "March of the Penguins" they are set to put out one doc a year. What I missed out on was the fact that Harvey Weinstein is a co-distributor on the movie. The day after they had accepted the IFC offer Havery called up very disappointed that he was not part of the picture and in the end they were all able to work things out. You might remember that IFC and Weinstein had a deal like this with "Transamerica" last year. Another intersting comment Patrick made was about USA Today. Jon Stewart has a line in the film where he would do a crossword puzzel in USA Today but he would not feel good about himself for doing so (you can hear the actual line in the movie trailer) and can you guess what movie was missing when USA Today did their complete review of films coming out this summer (and I went and checked and there are many more docs and minor films that are listed) but of course Wordplay was missing from their review.