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Crossword puzzle solvers get their due

New York Times Crossword Editor Will Shortz
011806-Wordplay

Novice puzzle buffs may not believe it, but New York Times Crossword Editor Will Shortz says, "Ultimately, I want the solver to triumph." He admits, though, a good puzzle is "a tussle between the editor and the solver" and should challenge players to their intellectual limits. Shortz, the reluctant star of one of this year’s Sundance Documentary Competition films, enjoys near rock-star status among crossword aficionados. The NYT puzzle he nurtures is arguably the toughest, smartest, most revered crossword in the world and is syndicated in more than 400 newspapers in the United States. It was therefore surprising to filmmaker Patrick Creadon that no one had yet made a film about Shortz and the passionate culture surrounding the daily New York Times puzzles. A crossword fan himself, Creadon contacted the New York Times about doing a film on their esteemed puzzle editor and was told, "If you want to do a film about Will Shortz, call Will Shortz." Surprisingly, Creadon found him to be accessible and enthusiastic. With Shortz’s blessing, Creadon’s wife, Christine O’Malley, a documentary filmmaker in her own right, and Patrick decided that the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament would be a good place to begin. But they didn’t want to make a film that would only appeal to crossword fans, so they decided to ferret out a sampling of avid puzzle solvers to profile in the film. "The key for us was when we decided to talk about the New York Times puzzle through the eyes of its fans," said Creadon. According to Creadon when he and O’Malley mentioned to Shortz that they wanted to talk to some of the people who had contacted him over the years, the list he sent over stunned them. Among them were former President Bill Clinton, singers Amy Ray and Emily Sayers of the Indigo Girls, Mike Messina of the New York Yankees and filmmaker Ken Burns. Creadon and O’Malley packed up their gear and paid them each a visit. Along the way they found some interesting parallels between real life and puzzle solving. Messina, they learned sees the puzzle as a competitive challenge, Clinton describes it as a metaphor for problem-solving on an international scale and the Indigo Girls see it as a way to enliven their lyrics and overcome bouts of writer’s block. "This is a smart group of people," Creadon says of NYT Crossword devotees. "Most are very successful at what they do. They are highly aware of the world around them and driven to be very good at what they do." Which makes for an engaging film. Additionally, Creadon hints, this year’s national tournament was a cliffhanger. "It was gut wrenching and exhilarating." Nevertheless the filmmakers knew there would be skepticism about whether they could keep an audience entertained with crossword puzzles for 90 minutes. Their film’s acceptance by Sundance has helped to dispel those worries. After borrowing money from family members and friends, remortgaging their home and running up their credit cards, the couple that have two young children were anxiously awaiting word from Sundance this past November. Creadon said his wife wasn’t home when someone called with an urgent message. He managed to convince the caller to impart the gist of the call and when he learned it was John Cooper of Sundance he couldn’t speak. The film’s editor, Doug Blush, though, was nearby and happened to be wearing a Sundance hat. "I pointed at his hat, gave him a thumbs up and he started to cry," said Creadon. "Getting accepted was the biggest thrill of my career&I deally we will go to Sundance and prove to ourselves it appeals not just top our immediate family. I hope people enjoy it." Ideally, the couple hopes Wordplay is picked up by a distributor during the festival, not only because they are in debt but also because, Creadon says, "we really want to share this film with a lot of people." Wordplay will be screened at Sundance: Saturday, Jan 21 at 11:30 a.m. Prospector Square Theatre Sunday, Jan 22 at 6:00 p.m. Holiday Village Cinema II Monday, Jan 23 at 1:00 p.m. Screening Room, Sundance Village Thursday, Jan 26 at 10:00 a.m. Holiday Village Cinema IV Friday, Jan 27 at 4:00 p.m. Holiday Village Cinema IV


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