Patrick Creadon the director of Wordplay

Chicago-native Patrick Creadon’s first feature film, a documentary called “Wordplay,” shows us the world of crossword puzzles and the puzzlers who attempt and obsess over them. Will Shortz, New York Times puzzle editor and the NPR Puzzle Master, is one of them. We meet him as well as famous faces, such as Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton, who’ve fallen for the crossword.

The culmination of “Wordplay” is the 2005 Crossword Puzzle Championships. But Creadon’s personal high point of making the film might’ve been seeing his movie on the marquee with “Mission Impossible 3” and the “DaVinci Code.”

Creadon runs through a list when asked about some of his favorite Chicago things, including: cheeseburgers at Billy Goat, Wrigley Field, 16-inch softball leagues in River Forest, Johnny’s Beef and Duey’s Pizza. He grew up in Riverside and attended Fenwick High School in Oak Park. His wife, Christine O’Malley, grew up in Barrington. He says he’d love to come back but being a filmmaker can mean being “dug-in” in L.A.

Besides talking about Chicago, he also talks about his “Wordplay.”

On how he got the idea …

My wife and I are fans of the puzzle. We wanted to do our first movie together (she is the producer). We had some ideas and they all seemed pretty big and we were going to finance the film ourselves, so we didn’t want a big project. And one day it just hit us, and we thought it might be a really fun topic.

On the annual Crossword Tournament …

We actually didn’t know about the competition when we started. The movie was originally about Will Shortz. He was always the star of the film … his puzzle, his radio show. He kept encouraging us to meet these other people. We asked if he knew any famous people that do the puzzle and that’s when he pulled out his list, and we started thinking how fun it would be if we got President Clinton and Jon Stewart.

On the toughest interview …

It was great getting Bob Dole. Dole said no originally. He’s actually not a big puzzle fan. Months later they called and said he changed his mind and he wanted to do the interview. So we went to interview him and he said, “Well you’ve got quite an advance man on your team.” And I said, “Who’s that?” And he said, “Bill Clinton called me three weeks ago.” That was the last thing shot (for the film) about three weeks before our deadline to Sundance.

On Sundance …

We submitted to Sundance (Film Festival) September of last year, and they called us the day before Thanksgiving and said, “Congratulations you’ve been accepted and we’ll see you in January.” That was a really big day for us.

It was a big hit there. There weren’t enough tickets for everyone that wanted to see it. We had seven offers for our film, all the independent studios. A few days later we shook hands and had a deal with IFC.

And the next morning our agent called and said he had an unpleasant conversation with Harvey Weinstein. He really wants to be a part of this movie and is it okay with you if he is? So what they did was [IFC and the Weinstein Company] teamed up, and they are splitting the cost and splitting the profits. He thinks it might do well come awards season. His films have been nominated for 249 Oscars.

On appropriate language for crosswords …

The word scumbag was in the puzzle a few months ago and its clue was scoundrel. But apparently it has a very unsavory definition (used condom), but I won’t get into that. And Will just didn’t even know that. Somebody wrote to him. There was a big to-do about it. By the way, Will did let the following answer into the puzzle. The clue was, it’s a five-letter answer, “the blank mightier than the sword.” Pen is, which can be read two ways.

On people that do crosswords …

That’s why we wanted to get people like Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton because it sort of lends a coolness to the topic. The thing is, I do the crossword puzzle; I don’t consider myself an incredible nerd, maybe a little. But the people at the tournament, they’re pretty hard core. And there is an intensity and passion that goes beyond your average crossword puzzle solver.

On reviews …

I think we are actually the best-reviewed movie in America right now. We have like a 95 percent on rottontomatoes.com. But there was one review, the critic didn’t like it because he said he never got the ugly underbelly of crossword puzzles. We were like, “What? There isn’t any ugly underbelly.” This is a group of nice, friendly people.

On seeing the film with an audience …

I’ve seen it like 50 times already. We’ve been traveling around, gone to a bunch of festivals. What I’ve really enjoyed about it is that when people leave, they walk out with a big smile on their face. And that’s very rewarding.

On his best memory of the film …

Getting into Sundance was great, but the thing I’ll never forget—remember we were a tiny, scrappy filmmaking team—so, we went to the final stage to put the movie onto film. [It’s] a very expensive process, and I went in and they had the works in progress. And it said, “Mission Impossible 3 … DaVinci Code … Wordplay.” And I’m sure people that worked there walked by and were like, “What the hell is ‘Wordplay’?”

What’s next …

We’re still working on this because we’re going to have a DVD coming out around Christmas time. There’s a companion book also. All the puzzles in the film are in the book. And there is a chapter by Merle (a puzzle constructor) on how to make your own puzzle. It’s very funny. Games and puzzles are not the only topic I have [interest in], but I don’t know. We’re fishing around.

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