Puzzle Me This

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.

Evelyn David

4 replies
  1. Dea, Kia, Jake
    Dea, Kia, Jake says:

    Great post, Evelyn. Loved the movie; have a love/hate relationship with the Sunday times, my arch-enemy and nemesis. Maggie

  2. The Stiletto Gang
    The Stiletto Gang says:

    Never seen the movie, but for some reason I never enjoyed doing crossword puzzles. I’ll do them on an airplane (the magazine stuck in the seat back) if I’ve run out of something to read and that’s about it.

    Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

  3. Vicky Polito
    Vicky Polito says:

    I like to do an easy-to-moderate crossword with my husband over some coffee while we’re out people watching or picnicking at our arboretum.

    Gardening is a good one, too. And, it helps the mind to turn over plots and character attributes, etc. Growing my Lilacs or Blue Bells and Solomon’s Seal is a good tie in with growing a scene or a non-fiction piece, too.

    I knit these days and I know there are a couple of series of books out there that use knitting and knitting clubs (as well as gardening ones??) as themes–I think at least one series is in the mystery genre?

    I also do, or really “did”, quilting and cross-stitch, but I do those far less these days as my far-sighted eyes have gotten more and more problematic. And, knitting is very portable.

    I really enjoy how making a scarf, a stuffed toy, or a sweater, stitch by stitch, helps me think through the sentences of my writing as well.

    In my head I always carry the analogy that each stitch is important, but alone is fairly meaningless. Put them all together and you get an image and a message. Just like those sentence by sentence stories.

    Do others of you find that you use your other creative or challenging hobbies as a way to work through stories or at least through writing problems? My suspicion is that EVERYTHING is fodder and fuel to the writer’s mind, even hobbies.

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