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Play on words

Patrick Creadon directed 'Wordplay,' a documentary about the cult of crossword puzzles.

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Who'd have thought that a documentary about crossword puzzles and the people who love them would generate the kind of excitement that gets theatergoers shouting solutions at the screen?

Watching audiences catch the puzzle bug has been great fun, says Patrick Creadon, director of "Wordplay," which opens Friday in New York before expanding wider later in June. "Playing games is something you typically associate with children," says Mr. Creadon, who screened the movie at the recent Seattle Film Festival. "As people get older, they don't always make time for that."

More than 50 million Americans – from former presidents and rock stars to ordinary folks around the corner – do crossword puzzles each week. For them, The New York Times is the gold standard. As Jon Stewart, who proposed to his wife in a custom-made crossword puzzle, quips in the film: "I'll solve a USA Today [puzzle] in a hotel room, but I don't feel good about myself."

Creadon and his wife, producer Christine O'Malley, had been casting about for a topic for their first feature-length documentary when they realized it was right on the page in front of them. Both come from puzzle-solving families and they began working crossword puzzles together on their honeymoon.

"Like a lot of people who are in the film, we find that it's just a special little part of the day," he says. "It's nothing profound. It's just something we like to do."

They initially planned to focus only on Will Shortz, the New York Times crossword editor and the only person to hold a university degree in "enigmatology" (the study of puzzles). "Will was the key," Creadon says. "We knew that without Will, we probably wouldn't do the movie."

With Mr. Shortz's blessing, the project soon expanded to include puzzlemakers, celebrity puzzlers, and competitors in the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, held each year in Stamford, Conn.


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