I'm a Scrabble player, and Marguerite is a crossword maven. Strange groups, both. The two of us used to play Scrabble, but then I got obsessive about it. Learned the twos (about 100 of them), studied threes for a time as well. You who play know what I'm talking about. Hooks. Dense, clotting moves, the thrill of making 5 words on a single play.
Meanings? Well, you can tell casual Scrabblers from the more seriously demented among us-- encountering a new word they will ask... what does that mean? Snort. Like it matters! Marguerite actually choses 'nice word' plays over high scoring play. You can see the problem.
Crossword solvers, on the other hand, actually have to know something of words, phrases, culture, and meanings, all filtered through the perverse humor, quirks, and inventiveness of the puzzle designer. Serious Scrabble play is always one-on-one. Many of us, on the other hand, have luxuriated in a shared Sunday Times Puzzle, stretched languidly over coffee and conversation. The recollection of Bob and Myrna and Margureite and I almost finishing one before a sunday baseball game fills me with tender nostalgia a quarter century later. And for the record, Myrna was right... the Reds never should have traded Tony Perez... the beginning of the end.
But there is a competetive dimension to crosswords as well. The movie Wordplay explores the social dimensions of puzzling wrapped in the context of the 28th National Crossword Championship.
Wait! A movie about crossword puzzling??? How unlikely is that? The Movie (and, I gather, its hero, Will Shortz) showed up at the Seattle Film Festival a few weeks ago, and is now playing locally again. I went to see it as lonesome homage to a birthday party on the other side of the continent.
No car chases, no explosions (well, except that guy whose head exploded...), but I laughed out loud many times, blurry with affection for these puzzling characters. One scene was so poignant I had to avert my gaze. This is a feel-good movie, bred not of the calculus of hollywood heart strings, but of a peek into a community with a love of wordplay.
If the gentle demeanors of Will Shortz and Leann Hansen soften your Sunday mornings, or you've struggled with frustration and satisfaction over a Times puzzle, you'll love this film. And did you know about the electoral prediction embedded in the Times Puzzle just before the '96 election? Amazing, these enygmologists. On the other hand, bridging two triple word scores for 167 points is a lot of fun, too. I just wish I could remember the word.
image: Deer on Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, July 2006