More down than Across
Wordplay (2006): 5 out of 10: In reviews of Robert Redford’s delightful movie Quiz Show critics lamented on the disappearance of the middle class intellectual since those storied fifties. It turns out they are alive and well and doing the New York Times crossword, in ink no less.
Wordplay is a documentary about such people and the puzzles they love. Like the New York Times resident cruciverbalist Will Shortz, Wordplay is genial to a fault.
The fact is, for many people doing the daily crossword is the only intellectual exercise their brain gets all day and is the total sum usage of a four-year liberal arts degree. Let us face it: knowledge of Sophocles doesn’t come up often at the daily grind. (Or as Sir Humphrey Appleby said in Yes Prime Minister, what use is knowing Latin if I can’t even use it when talking to the Prime Minister.)
So doing the crossword is often the best intellectual stimulation an over-educated person can get in his or her daily experience. (Alas, some people only write movie reviews instead.) Does Wordplay touch upon these more significant issues? Not on your life.
Instead, we get an assortment of celebrity moments: some insightful (Bill Clinton) some humorous (Jon Stewart) and some downright creepy (documentarian Ken Burns).
There is a very penetrating look inside the creation of the crossword with enigmatologist Merl Reagle, but alas it is over just as it gets interesting.
There are also the painfully non-judgmental profiles of the fanatics — those people who dedicate themselves to solving puzzles in record time and winning the crossword championship. So screen time is spent not just watching the crossword championship talent show but watching the baton twirling practice in the park for the same.
Wordplay is very slick with excellent graphics, but it indeed isn’t at all deep for such an intellectual pursuit.