Wordplay (review)

Ya know how after Spellbound, the enchanting doc about spelling bees and the kids who make themselves crazy in pursuit of winning them, we got the slew of fictional spelling-bee movies? Well, brace yourself for another onslaught of word-nerd movies, because Wordplay, Patrick Creadon’s, yup, enchanting doc about New York Times crossword-puzzle editor Will Shortz and the crossword geeks who worship him has arrived, and it is a charmer. Famous crossword devotees — Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, Ken Burns, and others — check in with their two cents, but really, it’s the “ordinary” — if superbrainiac-ism can ever be called ordinary — and usually anonymous geeks who head every year to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stanford, Connecticut, who steal the show. It’s so rare, and so delightful, to see a film that unabashedly celebrates folks who are supersmart and feel no need to hide it that that alone is reason to check out this unexpectedly riveting film. But Creadon mines genuine suspense from his coverage of the 2005 Tournament, with its interpersonal rivalries that are nevertheless models of intellectual integrity — adversaries don’t hesitate to speak up when an opponent has been cheated of points. These are people for whom winning only matters when it’s achieved honestly. How refreshing is that?

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