what i'm watching: wordplay

We saw "Wordplay" last night, the movie about the New York Times Crossword Puzzle.

Clearly inspired by and modeled on "Spellbound," about the National Spelling Bee, and "Word Wars," about competitive Scrabble play, Wordplay - objectively, as a movie - is the weakest of the three. But for me it was so enjoyable.

There are great scenes of New York City, including Central Park during The Gates exhibition. My heart was flooded with New York City love and longing. There's Ken Burns, talking about why the New York Times Crossword is New York:
"It's the sense of grids. You know, it's all about boxes. You live in a box, and you ride in a box to go to work in a box. Then we have this wonderful newspaper that's boxy-shaped that has in it this page, which is my favorite page in the whole newspaper. And there are a set of boxes in which you kind of practice the wordplay of this particularly exquisite language."
There are really nice interviews with famous people who are also addicted to the Times puzzle - Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, two members of the Indigo Girls - and there's even a baseball angle, albeit one that some wmtc readers do not appreciate.

But I suppose I enjoyed the movie so much because the New York Times Crossword Puzzle was part of my life for so many years. I was completely addicted. That was before blogging, and email, and dogs, and all the other things that now take up my time. I used to spend a fair portion of my Sunday on the Puzzle, and I'd go back to it dozens of times during the week. I never went for speed - never worked in pen - and often did not finish the whole thing. But I loved it.

I don't do it anymore. I went cold turkey.

I also like movies such as this because I love learning about people who are passionate about, and completely immersed in, something unusual and non-mainstream. It's a window onto a world outside of commercial, consumer culture, a world that exists solely for its own sake. There's fame and glory on the tiniest of scales, but mostly there's a simple, unexplainable passion for this one thing.

It's also fascinating to me how human beings can be competitive about absolutely anything. I'm not competitive at all - probably an over-developed survival instinct - so it's amazing for me to see these people doing something I enjoy and am fairly good at, but in an entirely different way.

One other thing about this movie, a non sequitur. One of the competitors profiled happens to be in a same-sex relationship, and that is just a casual fact of his profile. I appreciate this everywhere I see it. It shouldn't be noteworthy, of course, but the fact remains that it still is. I love to see same-sex couples included in mainstream advertising (Ikea broke a barrier that way) or included in topics completely unrelated to sexual orientation, with their orientation or same-sex couple status neither highlighted nor ignored. I believe every instance of that is progress.

If you haven't seen "Spellbound" or "Word Wars", those are both better movies. ("Spellbound" is great.) But if you love the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, see "Wordplay".

And since someone will ask, I don't do Soduko. I can't enjoy anything with numbers. Although I supposedly have very poor spatial relations, I'm great at jigsaw puzzles. Not sure how that works.

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