Crosswords are a commonplace tradition to newspaper and magazine readers everywhere, but many are unaware of the dedication surrounding this popular pastime. Wordplay offers viewers intimate insight into both their creation and livid fan base. New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz acts as host, revealing the cult of the crossword puzzle by profiling celebrity enthusiasts as well as champion recreationists.
Big-name puzzlers such as former President Bill Clinton, ex-Senator Bob Dole, filmmaker Ken Burns, and musicians The Indigo Girls share the personal traditions surrounding their passion for the game, their strategies for interpreting the clues, and the sense of status that comes with completing the more highly regarded crosswords over the run-of-the-mill variety. The New York Times puzzle is generally accepted as the crown jewel of crossword puzzles, and is widely syndicated across publications. "I am a Times puzzle man," comedian Jon Stewart quips. "I will solve USA Today... but I don't feel good about it."
A number of unfamiliar names are granted some celebrity here as well. Merle Reagle is widely hailed as being the best crossword puzzle author actively working, offering a degree of challenge that frustrates even the most practiced crossword players. Competitive puzzler Ellen Ripstein (who also shows off her baton-whirling skills), former champ Tyler Hinman, and 20-year-old wunderkind Trip Payne are a few of the more notable names in this particular niche. Highly intelligent, albeit somewhat quirky, each of these folks are united by their love of, and aptitude for, crossword puzzles.
Wordplay ultimately takes us to Stamford, Connecticut, offering front-row seats to the 28th Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, an event founded by Shortz in 1978. Tensions run high in the competition, where participants face the unenviable task of completing giant crosswords in front of an audience, publicizing an act that is typically done in solitude. Competitors are required to listen to music through headphones to avoid any hints being shouted to them as they work studiously to beat the clock and their peers. Requiring an encyclopedic-level of trivial knowledge, the ability to successfully decipher a crossword puzzle proves nothing to be scoffed at.