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The Passion of the Nerds

It took me thirty-two minutes and thirty-seven seconds to finish the New York Times crossword puzzle today. Which really isn’t bad for a Friday. The puzzles get increasingly difficult between Monday and Saturday, you see. I don’t know how the more famous Sunday one compares in difficulty; I don’t think most Times crossword lovers care as much about Sunday as about Friday or especially about brain-busting Saturday. Anyway, no one talked about the Sunday puzzle in the wonderful movie I saw last night at a San Francisco Film Society members’ pre-release showing. The movie is called Wordplay. It’s about crossword puzzles, the Times‘ in particular, the folks who create them (like Times‘ crossword editor Will Shortz and the SF Chronicle‘s genius puzzlemaker, Merl Reagl) and a few of the famous folks who solve them (like Bill Clinton, the Indigo Girls, Jon Stewart, and this extremely cute guy, Mike Mussina, who pitches for the Yankees (who knew?).

But mostly it’s about the folks who are really, really good at solving them (in like two minutes to my thirty-two). And it’s about their yearly tournament, held every year in the same homey, not-awfully-upscale Marriott in Stamford, Connecticut. It’s about obsession, eccentricity, smarts, sweetness, fairness, heartbreak, suspense and competition.

You even get to watch Merl Reagl create a crossword puzzle — which is more like scoping out a novel than I would have thought. And there’s something fascinating about watching Clinton solve one — odd how he manages to come off somehow bigger and shinier than anyone else who’s interviewed — fascinating, that.

Anyhow, I really loved it. And I suspect that if you’re still reading — if you haven’t snorted ‘crossword puzzles? I thought this was a sexy site’ before clicking your way elsewhere — you might just like it too.

Have a great holiday weekend,


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