Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Last Words on "Wordplay"

by Tom Bozzo

Since Tonya's contribution is more review-ish than mine, and substantially in alignment with my take on the film, I won't totally re-invent the wheel here.

Incorporating Tonya's review by reference, I have some additional comments. One of the interesting things about "Wordplay" is that it's subject matter is just on the edge of the unfilmable. Even the structure of the crossword tournament providing the movie's climax, lacking the sudden-death elimination that turns spelling bees into nail-biting dramas. As Ebert notes in his review, the filmmakers resort to clever graphical techniques to dramatize filling letters into tiny boxes.

Ultimately it's the celebrity and civilian personalities that carry the film. Will Shortz's obvious love of puzzles and Jon Stewart's hammy cameo are standouts. Some of the others, meh. I might have cut Ken Burns, and didn't really need to know about Daniel Okrent's puzzle-timing obsessions or to hear Okrent describe how the NY Times is a singular journalistic institution (even though that's approximately true, and Okrent does at least acknowledge that's sometimes for better or worse). As a substitute, I might have liked to find out what separated a competitor in one of the tournament's lower skill divisions from someone who is just privately good at puzzles; the director also lost too much interest in some of the featured competitors as they dropped out of contention. Or perhaps there is no filmable reaction to being a couple minutes behind in the puzzle-solving.

Anyway, "Wordplay" did re-pique my interest in the Times crossword, which I haven't regularly done in some time — in my present-day attention economy, it has to get in line behind family, job, blog and blogiverse, books, and LEGO, in approximately that order. That led to one interesting factoid concerning the NY Times web content. You can get the news for "free" (ad-supported, natch). You can get reasonably liberal access to the Times columnists and archives for no additional charge as a print subscriber, or for as much as $7.95/month (*) to others, via the widely disliked Times Select service. That doesn't include any access to current crosswords; that's a separate $5.95/month service.

Draw such conclusions as you will as to the most valuable content in the Times.
They tried, for a while, to charge $9.95 for the Entertainment services (including the xword). It was a brief, rather failed, experiment of a few years ago.

I do consider the Archives to be substantially more valuable than the crossword, so the spread is reasonable. (Discount the Archives by the negative-value of Tierney and Brooks.)
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