Wordplay (2005)

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Released 7-Mar-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Audio Commentary-Director Patrick Creadon, The New York Times Crossword Edito
Deleted Scenes-Deleted Scenes
Interviews-Cast-Interview Gallery
Featurette-3 Unforgettable Puzzles
Featurette-Wordplay Goes to Sundance
Music Video-"Every Word" by Gary Louris
Short Film-Waiting For The New York Times - by Patricia Evans
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2005
Running Time 85:47
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up ?
Region Coding 4 Directed By Patrick Creadon

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Patrick Creadon
Christine O'Malley
Chris Astoyan
Judie Berger
Leslie Billig
Dr. Selmer Bringsjord
Katherine Bryant
Ken Burns
Bill Clinton
Neal Conan
Stella Daily
Eleanor Dantignac
Jon Delfin
Case ?
RPI ? Music Vic Fleming
Peter Golub

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    One of the great benefits of the documentary form is that it can introduce the viewer to subcultures that would never have found their way into a feature film. Something of a companion piece to 2002's Spellbound, which looked at the deadly serious world of children's spelling bees, comes Wordplay about crossword puzzles and the American Crossword Championships.

Wordplay doesn't just look at any old puzzle - director Patrick Creadon goes straight to the Holy Mountain - the New York Times and its crossword editor Will Shortz. The result is a funny look at the world of crosswords and the very different people who do them. Although over-achievers and geeks feature prominently there are also baseball champs, TV personalities (The Daily Show's Jon Stewart) and a former president Bill Clinton. Each has an indefinable personal need to complete the puzzle every day. Will Shortz is a professor of Cryptology (the study of puzzles) and yes, he did actually make up his course. He is an engaging and likeable man and remarkably humble as he dishes out some of the most crafty crosswords in the world. He doesn't write them all, of course, he has up to 50 contributors slaving away to produce the perfect puzzle. Each has an individual voice and style.

The film is not just a look at famous puzzlers. It also shows the competitive side of puzzling with its climax at the 2005 American Crossword Championships. We are introduced to the main fancies for the championship - there is Ellen Ripstein, the quirky New Yorker, Trip Payne a gay guy from Florida, the 7 time winner Jon Delfin, the perennial third place getter Alan and the hotshot rookie 21 year old Tyler Hinman. They are all quirky, interesting characters.

Like Spellbound the conclusion of Wordplay features an amazing degree of drama as the finalists battle it out for the title. The ending, which I won't spoil, has a turn of events that is both high drama and minor tragedy.

Wordplay has few pretensions. It lives on its characters and fortunately these are funny, engaging people. Whilst it lacks a deep social message and searing insight it is a welcome diversion from doom and gloom. The highest compliment I can pay it is that since watching it last week I still pick up the paper each day and try (unsuccessfully) to nut out the daily puzzles.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    Wordplay comes to DVD in a 1.78:1 transfer. It is 16x9 enhanced.

The original aspect ratio of the film is a bit confusing. IMDB states that it was shot on 35mm film at an European Widescreen ratio of 1.66:1. It looks to me more like digital video. If it has been expanded to 1.85:1 from its original aspect ratio then the change is indefinable.

The film is a low budget documentary and carries the flaws usually associated with digital video and a low budget. There is some aliasing and the image is at times noisy. The footage varies slightly according to the location and the lighting is minimal.

Having said that the image is probably better than we have a right to expect. The graphics and effects, such as the split screens during the championships, are nicely done and the overall feeling is that the filmmakers drew every ounce of quality out of the cash limited product.

There are English subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


  Sound for Wordplay is Dolby Digital 5.1 running at 448 Kb/s.

Whilst never one to shun a surround track, this really is a movie that could have passed muster on a decent 2.0 mix. The film is just dialogue with a few music moments thrown in. The sound including the live miked interviews is pretty clear throughout and it is easy to pick up what all the characters are saying.

I didn't detect any real action from the subwoofer.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Wordplay comes with a host of extra features.

Audio Commentary

The commentary track, featuring director Patrick Creadon, Will Shortz and puzzle constructor Merl Reagle is as bright and breezy as the movie itself. This gang clearly had a lot of fun putting the movie together and they have a real camaraderie which makes for an interesting listen. Given the low budget nature of it all ( Creadon shot most of the interview footage himself) this is not a commentary about technicals but rather about the many characters who make up the world of puzzling.

The team talk about the response to the film from the public. Merl Reagle managed to dispel the commonly held belief that crossword puzzles are made by computers and Will Shortz gets even more hate mail than before about the difficulties of his puzzles.

Deleted Scenes

These 10 deleted scenes don't add much but they are worth a look. There is a scene where Trip takes us lovingly through his dictionary collection. Another sees Merle relating how his crossword ideas span decades. He began a crossword about stamps many years ago which only came to completion when the US post put out a crossword puzzle stamp series.

Interviews- Extended Cast

The interview gallery presents extended interviews with various characters from the film including Clinton, Dole, Stewart and the Indigo Girls.

Featurette Wordplay at Sundance

Wordplay made it to Sundance in 2005 and was picked up by the Weinstein Company. It didn't do as well at the box office as they would have hoped (though it is in the top 30 earning documentaries). The DVD features three films from Sundance. Firstly, there is the first screening of the film at the Festival which sees a nervous bunch waiting to see if the film will be liked. Secondly there is a lengthy Q&A session with the "cast" and crew. Creadon does most of the talking as it is a "pass the microphone" affair. Interestingly, the top puzzlers are mostly from maths based professions, dispelling the notion that crosswords are for those who love their English. Finally, there is a featurette set largely in a bar on a Sunday morning where Will delivers some word puzzles for an enraptured audience. It goes to show how great he is as a communicator.

Featurette 3 Classic Puzzles

These three short films (not 5 as it says on the back of the DVD) about great puzzles are fascinating snapshots of the individual styles of three creators. One makes a puzzle with the Empire State Building as a visual motif in the centre and another cheekily calls her crossword Wardrobe Malfunction after the Janet Jackson incident. Most intriguing of all it is the second where we see the obsessive struggle to get the crossword with the lowest number of black squares. Apparently each black square you take out exponentially increases the difficulty of constructing a workable puzzle. The creator of the current winner devoted his life to it.

Music Video "Every Word"

A music video for the country pop song featured in the film. Not my kind of thing but it certainly fits the film.

Short Film - Waiting For the New York Times by Patricia Erens

This film is not about Wordplay, it is not even about the crossword puzzle. It is one woman's story of the difficulties getting the Sunday edition of the New York Times in her remote Michigan location. She interviews the people who turn up at the local chemist waiting for the indifferent supply trying to work out why they considered it so important to get the Times. I had to like the guy who said, tongue in cheek, that he only bought it so people would think him smart.


These are a series of photos of the film crew at Sundance accompanied by the now familiar tune : If you don't come across I'm going to be down

Featurette American Crossword Puzzle Championships 2006

The American Crossword Puzzle championships featured in the film dated from 2005. As a feature we get a summary of the 2006 championships which is well worth a look.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

  The Region 1 version of Wordplay is similar to the Region 4 DVD except that it manages to cram on even more special features. There is not much that is actually new - there are more deleted scenes as well as some DVD Rom features and another two classic puzzles. Apparently the DVD even comes with a series of puzzles for fanatics to do. Really the film is quite fine on Region 4 but Region 1 would have to get the nod for the extra bits.


 Wordplay is a documentary which is both funny to watch and interesting as it tries to answer the question of why we do puzzles. The closest it actually comes to answering the question is when Bill Clinton ponders a deep answer then says that they are "fun".

The video quality is not amazing but it is entirely acceptable.

The extras are comprehensive and enjoyable. There is not fluff as each adds something to the movie.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Friday, May 18, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DVR 630H-S, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TH-50PV60A 50' Plasma. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX - SR603
SpeakersOnkyo 6.1 Surround

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