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A man with a short dark beard and glasses sitting on a couch and looking down with a pen in his hand
"I don’t smoke, I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t need to have a drink at the end of the day. What I do need is to solve the crossword, every day, in ink."
—Ken Burns, filmmaker

Known to millions of crossword die-hards as National Public Radio's Puzzle Master, New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz has built a career on studying, creating and editing puzzles, garnering a dedicated fan-base in the process. WORDPLAY places the spotlight on this crossword hero and introduces many of Shortz’s brilliant and often hilarious contributors, including syndicated puzzle creator Merl Reagle.

The film follows several world-class crossword solvers as they compete at the 28th Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, CT. Hosted and directed by Shortz, the tournament is the nation's oldest and largest crossword competition, where nearly five hundred competitors from around the world battle it out for the title of Crossword Champ over the course of one long, snowy weekend.

WORDPLAY also presents interviews with celebrity crossword puzzlers such as Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Jon Stewart, Ken Burns, Mike Mussina and the Indigo Girls, who reveal their process, insight and the allure of the game.

From Monday-only solvers to Saturday puzzle experts, WORDPLAY reveals why more than 50 million Americans do crosswords every week.


Independent Lens caught up with the players in WORDPLAY in August 2007, to find out what they've been up to since filming ended.

Will Shortz

Headshot of Will Shortz

After numerous television, radio and print interviews to promote WORDPLAY, life has gotten back to normal for Will Shortz. Will has been playing table tennis five to six times a week, getting regular coaching, with the hope of becoming one of the top U.S. players over 50. Also, he is preparing for the big move of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament to Brooklyn in 2008. The tournament has been held at the Stamford Marriott for 30 years, but due to increasing popularity, he was forced to move the event to a larger venue. The 2008 tournament will mark the beginning of a new era.

Jon Delfin

Headshot of Jon Delfin

People occasionally bring Jon's involvement in WORDPLAY when they see him in rehearsal studios, and he's received some e-mails from friends and strangers (most glamorous: '50s-'60s pop singer Joni James). But mostly, things are about the same.

Tyler Hinman

Headshot of Tyler Hinman

The big change in Tyler's life is that he's graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and has moved to Chicago to begin adulthood in earnest. He's been here for about a year and really likes the city.

WORDPLAY, it seems, was a good luck charm for him at the tournament; he's now won three consecutive tournaments. He doesn't get recognized that often, but his Facebook friend count has increased dramatically.

Trip Payne

Headshot of Trip Payne

The biggest news in Trip's life has been the debut of his puzzle-oriented Web site, tripleplaypuzzles.com, which features original puzzles and links to his books. Since WORDPLAY, he finished fourth at Stamford twice, won a Scrabble tournament and continues to create puzzles for various magazines, Web sites, books and the upcoming MIT Mystery Hunt.

Ellen Ripstein

Headshot of Ellen Ripstein

Though Ellen occasionally gets stopped on the street, post-WORDPLAY life is as low-key as it ever was. She came out of semiretirement this year to work on the GSN game show Grand Slam but mostly (as people who read her blog know) she spends time grocery shopping and reading magazines and trashy novels. After finishing 11th in the crossword tournament the year WORDPLAY was filmed, she made the finals again in 2006 (coming in third) and was sixth in 2007.

Al Sanders

Headshot of Al Sanders

The summer of 2006, when WORDPLAY premiered, was a thrill for Al. He attended the New York premiere and did several Q&A sessions at premieres in Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins. He's done several speaking engagements about the movie and gets recognized occasionally, but mostly life has returned to normal (work, helping kids with homework, watching the kids play hockey and cheerleading). He recently taped an episode of the new game show Merv Griffin's Crosswords and several people there recognized him from the movie.

Related Links and Resources

Wordplay: The Movie
Find more about the film, and also player info and more crossword puzzles.

NPR: Sunday Puzzle
Solve Shortz’s on-air puzzles online.

American Crossword Puzzle Tournament
The nation’s largest, oldest, and most prestigious crossword solve-off.

New York Times: Crosswords and Games
Solve free classic puzzles; join the crossword forums and more.

New York Times: Questions for Will Shortz
(free registration required)
Shortz answers readers’ questions about puzzles and WORDPLAY.

New York: The Puzzlemaster’s Dilemma
How sudoko puzzles—not crosswords—may be Shortz’s next big thing.

Wired: The Puzzle Master
What’s an enigmatologist? Will Shortz is the world’s only one.

Sample puzzles and games from the famed mag, which Shortz once edited.

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