Saturday, March 25, 2006

Saturday, 10:17 p.m.

What a night for a Saturday movie! "Wordplay", the documentary filmed in part at last year's tournament, was the centerpiece. Filmmaker Patrick Creadon was originally going to have the tournament be a little sidebar to the movie, but the story that unfolded that cold March weekend was too good to pass up.

We meet the dramatis personae up front: Will Shortz, the tournament founder; Merl Reagle, the constructor, and solvers from all walks of life: the Indigo Girls, Jon Stewart (hilarious), even Bill Clinton, who said he solved more puzzles after he became President. And some special solvers in it for the speed challenge: Al Sanders (the tragic hero of the film), Trip Payne, eventual winner Tyler Hinman, and tournament veteran Ellen Ripstein (very charming in her scenes walking the New York streets with her broken umbrella).

Creadon mixes marvelous historical footage (some of the first tournament in 1978, lorded over by the then-25-year-old Shortz) with interesting graphics that give the clues and answers being solved.

Much like in Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket", the first half shows the basic training of the solvers, and in the second half, they're "in the s--t" - or, more properly, Salon D here at the Marriott.

We see some of the fun sidelights: the talent competition from last year (featuring the singing voice of Stella Daily), contestants kibbitzing in the lobby, the late night games. We see many of our friends and fellow solvers on screen. But when it comes to watching the competitions - especially the finals - Creadon excels with his excellent camera work and tight editing.

I've got to agree... this is a fine film and you should all go see it when it hits the theatres this summer.

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