I love the movie Wordplay. Released in 2006, it’s a documentary about The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. I watched it again last weekend with my kids and even knowing the outcome, didn’t change my enjoyment for a moment.
The director, Patrick Creadon, did what every mystery writer aims to do – create complex characters that you care about. There’s perpetual bridesmaid, Al Sanders, an engineer from Colorado who almost always finishes in the top three, but never seems to be able take home the championship belt. There’s Trip Payne, puzzle constructor and multiple-year winner, who brings more than a little swagger to his interviews. There’s Ellen Ripstein, one-time winner, baton twirler (and dropper), who tells the story of an old boyfriend who used to belittle her and she would counter that, unlike her, he’d never won a national anything. (I think it’s fair to guess that this was a love match not made in heaven.) And there’s college kid Tyler Hinman, cocky and full of himself, the equivalent of Fast Eddie, new on the scene, but not to be underestimated.
The move also has its fair share of faux crossword celebrities, like Jon Stewart, Indigo Girls, Yankee star Mike Mussina, even former President Bill Clinton. Sure they can do the New York Times puzzle in ink, even the Sunday Times!, but the real stars of Worldplay are the motley crew of geeks and cruciverbalists who meet every year at a Marriott in Stamford, CT in order to compete in the Superbowl of Crossword-dom.
What struck me when I watched the movie this time was the similarity between the crossword addict and the mystery fan. In fact, they are probably often one and the same. Besides the obvious shared affection for solving puzzles, both are essentially engaged in solitary pursuits. Both sort through false starts and red herrings, and both enjoy incredible satisfaction when they figure out the key to solving the puzzle. And like the group who meet yearly at a Marriott (this year’s convention moved from Stamford to Brooklyn), I found that same sense of enthusiasm and unbridled joy at Malice Domestic, a convention devoted to the traditional mystery.
Whatever your hobby — crossword puzzles, mysteries, gardening, rock-climbing — it’s important to find a community who shares your interests. For some, it will be at these types of conventions, but an online community, like The Stiletto Gang or DorothyL, can be every bit as rewarding as face-to-face meetings.
Thanks for sharing my love of puzzles — all kinds! Please share your hobby and whether you ever meet fellow enthusiasts, in person or online.