Last night was a very special night at the Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove, Illinois. The After Hours Film Society showed Wordplay, a documentary about crossword puzzles, their creators, and their fans. After the film the director Patrick Creadon and producer Christine O"Malley answered questions from the audience about the making of the film and about the world of crossword puzzles.
Wordplay begins in the office of enigmatologist Will Shortz, who is the editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle and who presents puzzles every Sunday on National Public Radio's Sunday Edition. He tells about his love of word puzzles, his education, and his career. He also tells about founding the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Connecticut.
In the first half of the film we meets the country's best puzzle minds and some celebrities who love to do the daily NYT puzzles, including Jon Stewart, the Indigo Girls, Ken Burns, and former president Bill Clinton. Merl Reagle shows us how crosswords are created, and Shortz tells us the story of the 1996 NYT Election Day Crossword.
The second half of the movie takes us to the 2005 tournament, where the contestants do six puzzles on Saturday and a final big puzzle on Sunday. The players with the top three scores then compete for the championship on stage, using erasable markers on large crossword boards. With a former champ, a frequent contender, and a young whiz on the stage, the drama is intense.
After the film Creadon and O'Malley answered questions for 45 minutes. They reported that the film, which took the nine months to shoot and edit, had just become 25th on the top grossing documentaries list. They told about the process of presenting and selling the film to distributors at the Sundance Film Festival, and the technical work and licensing that had to be done then to get it to theaters. They also told about shooting the scenes with Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton. Creadon did 90 percent of the camera work himself but extra cameras were brought in for the tournament.
Creadon also reported that the DVD will be on sale November 7, 2006. In addition to the 84 minute film will be 85 minutes of special features, including out takes, a report from Sundance, profiles of five puzzle makers, a music video, and more about Will Shortz. He also said that there is Wordplay: The Official Companion Book, which includes all the puzzles used in the film, more about puzzle making and advice for solving crosswords.
As I left the Tivoli, I met a Thomas Ford library user. She said, "We have to get that DVD for the Library!" I agree.