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Scott D. Pierce: PBS documentary reveals world of crossword excitement

Will Shortz edits the N.Y. Times crossword puzzle.
Will Shortz edits the N.Y. Times crossword puzzle.
Robin Holland, IfcFilms/Itvs

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — PBS's "Independent Lens" takes a look inside the exciting world of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Really.

"Who would have ever thought that 'crossword' and 'exciting' could be spoken in the same sentence?" said Will Shortz, editor of the New York Times crossword puzzles.

"Wordplay," which airs tonight at 11 p.m. on KUED-Ch. 7, actually began as a profile of Shortz, whose been on the job at the New York Times since 1993. And there's still a lot of him in there. The documentary premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.

We also see a few of the more famous crossword puzzle-workers among the 50 million who fill in the blanks every week — everyone from Bill Clinton to Bob Dole, Jon Stewart to the Indigo Girls.

The tournament became part of husband-and-wife filmmakers Patrick and Christine Creadon's project almost by accident.

"We didn't know that he had a tournament," Patrick Creadon said. "We didn't really know that much about any famous folks that appeared in the film. It was strictly about a man who had an interesting job.

"Shooting the tournament, ironically, was something that came along later in the process. And, frankly, we said, 'That doesn't sound like something that will be that interesting, but we'll come and shoot it anyway.' And it turned out to be way more interesting and exciting than we thought."

"Wordplay" also goes into the creation of the Times crossword, which appears daily in the Deseret Morning News. And the "love/hate relationship" between Shortz and everyone who does the puzzle.

"My goal, of course, is to challenge you to your limit. Make you work your hardest," he said. "But I would really like you to break through in the end and finish the puzzle because that's where the satisfaction comes.

"If the puzzle is too easy, it's no fun. There's no challenge. If it's too hard, well, you just throw it away in disgust. And I'd like to hit that sweet spot in the middle."