The opening scene of Wordplay (2006) shows the Marriott Hotel in Stamford, CT. The same Stamford that was my hometown for 15 developmental years of my life. The same Marriott where my family had a pool membership one summer. And all throughout this documentary, people speak of Stamford in reverent tones as the Valhalla of the nation’s greatest crossword puzzle solvers. Founded by New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament has met in Stamford every year since 1978. In Stamford, wow! My only disappointment is that they don’t show anything in Stamford other than the drab interiors of the Marriott.
I enjoy a crossword puzzle now and again, but I’m not big into them, however I do really enjoy documentaries about geeky people with obsessions. Wordplay did not disappoint. The first half of the film profiles Shortz, some of the crossword constructors who submit puzzles to the Times, and several of the country’s top puzzle solvers. They all appear to be affable people, all with talents in other areas (one’s a pianist, another twirls baton), but with an underlying current of arrogance. A number of celebrity crossword fans are featured as well including comic Jon Stewart, filmmaker Ken Burns, and former Orioles pitching ace Mike Mussina. The Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray compares puzzle-solving to songwriting and has great line about writer’s block. Bill Clinton and Bob Dole both appear to talk about the 1996 election crossword in the Times that worked with either one of their names.
The second part of the film follows the action at the 2005 tournament in Stamford. It turns out to be surprisingly compelling drama to watch the contestants solving puzzles with the clock ticking. SPOILER ALERT: An affable Coloradan named Al Sanders is a perpetual runner-up who’s never won the tournament. He manages a great come-from-behind effort to get himself into the finals only to muck it up big time. Worse, a snot-nosed frat boy named Tyler Hinman ends up winning the whole thing. END SPOILER ALERT.
The DVD includes some fun extras including short features on some of the Times most memorable puzzles (which one can download from the DVD-ROM).
I could play with this for hours: Feed the Head.
More fun flash games at Vector Park.
Today’s Boston Globe talks about the revival of two children’s playground games now played recreationally by adults: dodgeball and kickball. Without getting snarky about the Globe being behind the times in tracking trends, I’d like to say that I’m totally behind this movement. Susan & I had a lot of fun playing on a Boston Ski & Sports Club kickball team a while back at some point I’d like to find the time to get involved with WAKA (we own a WAKA-approved kickball after all). I’d also like to note that kickball is a wonderful game to play at a wedding reception.
As for dodgeball, I have a question for my readership. The game commonly known as dodgeball, as described in this article, was known as Bombardment when we played it at my schools as a child growing up in Stamford, CT. Now I will not deny that Fairfield County Nutmeggers can come up with unusual alternate terminology. For example, the sandwich often referred to as a sub or a hero is known exclusively as a “wedge” in this part of Connecticut.
We had a game called dodgeball as well. Our PE teacher would make all the kids stand in the circle, and one kid would go to the center of the circle while all the other kids tried to bean him/her with a playground ball. My guess is that the PE teacher would say this version of dodgeball improved childrens’ agility as s/he tried to avoid being hit by ball. In practice it was just another way for children to be cruel to the slow, fat kids. I hated dodgeball.
When I tell people of this game, they say they’ve never heard of it. Furthermore, many people think I’m making it up. So tell me readers from around the world, have you ever been forced to participate in this rather sadistic version of dodgeball or at least heard of it being played?
Links to organizations mentioned in the articles:Big Kids Dodgeball
World Adult Kickball Association
Easy: From Ironic Sans, see how many US States you can name in ten minutes. I got all 50 in 3:23.
Hard: The Impossible Quiz Deluxe from DeviantArt (takes a while to load).
Potentially Addictive: Vox Imperium, a web-based civilization-type game. I haven’t tried it yet. I’m not sure if I should but here are instructions how to start.