Thursday, July 6th, 2006 | All Things, Film

After picking up and dropping off my weekly haul of vegetables from Stoneledge Farm, I headed down to the IFC Center to catch the 9:00PM screening of “Worldplay,” the documentary about the colorful subculture of hardkore crossword aficionados.

The IFC Center opened in 2005 in the space years-abandoned by the famed Waverly Theater in the weeks after September 11. It’s actually a rather depressing and still gritty (for the Village) stretch of Sixth Avenue — flanked by tattoo parlors and adult video stores — but the space, to me, is vastly more charming than the megaplexes in the Squares — Union, Times and Lincoln. Clean, intimate screening rooms with well-cushioned seats, pre-feature shorts, real butter on the popcorn, an above average theatre cafe, and no commercials mixed in with the trailers. Well, no corporate commercials… the theatre is actually rather relentless in their self-promotion and IFC-branding.


The film itself was fun (and humbling!) — and inevitably called to mind 2002’s Spellbound, another film I enjoyed.

Besides the expected ensemble of gloriously word-nerdy characters, one of the most interesting segments in the movie focused on the (in)famous New York Times crossword that appeared on Election Day morning, Tuesday, November 5, 1996. If you are not familiar with the story of this puzzle – or would like to try your hand at solving it before reading further – check out this link.

The controversial combination of clues asked for the “Lead story in tomorrow’s newspaper (!)”, which seemed to require the puzzler to predict the outcome of the 1996 presidential election. Many were shocked that the Times would be so reckless and bold (albeit in the crossword) as to call the election while the polls were just opening that morning. The amazing — and truly brilliant — twist was that both “CLINTON ELECTED” and “BOBDOLE ELECTED” were valid answers, fitting within the grid. So clue #39-DOWN (“Black Halloween animal”) could be eitherBAT” orCAT”; #35-DOWN (“Trumpet”) could be “BOAST” or “BLAST.”

Wow. Will Shortz called it the most amazing crossword he’d ever seen, and I would be hard pressed to argue. I tip my hat to you, Professor Jeremiah Farrell!

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