Round 10, Pick 2
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The Word on These Documentaries
Let me start by saying I’m terrible at crossword puzzles, and I’m a bad sport when it comes to Scrabble. I’d like to say my talent is in reviewing intriguing movies for people to enjoy, even if they’re simply about spelling difficult words.
The best documentaries take you to places you can hardly imagine: Mount Everest, Texas State Penitentiary, and the Volcanic Ring of Fire. But, what about the mind of a person who can finish a New York Times crossword puzzle in two minutes or finish off a game of Scrabble with the word, picolinate? Now, this is a place worth visiting!
Word Wars (2005) follows the lives of four oddball Scrabble brainiacs on their way to the 2001 national tournament with first prize of $25,000. When I say odd, I mean odd: Tai chi fanatic Joe Edley, stand-up comedian Matt Graham, pot-smoking gadabout Marlon Hill, and Maalox guzzling, gastrointestinally-challenged Joel Sherman sound like movie characters, but these are real people; and, yes, real geniuses who simply astound you with their intellectual speed on the Scrabble board.
Wordplay (2006) takes you on a similar journey with a focus on crossword puzzles and the 28th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. You get your fill of eccentric “wordmongers” along with celebrity gurus like Jon Stewart and the political faces of Bob Dole and Bill Clinton. Clinton recalls the morning before he was elected president when the NY Times puzzle included a seven-word solution that could have been “Clinton” or “Bob Dole.” Either answer would have worked, as the surrounding words and clues were perfectly assimilated.
You may call this plain nerdy, but I find it fascinating. We can watch movies about the Himalayas all day long, but these two documentaries are about thinkers of words who could be right next to us or even be us. These are men and women who open the morning crossword on their iPad or open the cardboard Scrabble box and live their lives both down and across.
I commend them for that.
Thank you for reading,