12-down, 5 Letters, "The People in This Movie," Starts With "N"

We went to see Wordplay last night, and both enjoyed it thoroughly. I'm not a crossword fiend on the level that the people in the movie are, but I do enjoy doing the Times crossword, especially the monster Sunday puzzles.

Friends, let me tell you, I call myself a great big nerd, I call my blog "A Great Big Nerd," but I can't hold a candle to some of these folks. When Jon Stewart is the coolest cat in your movie, you know your movie is about nerds of the highest order. And for a guy who got as much tail as he reputedly did during his tenures in the Arkansas statehouse and the White House, Bill Clinton is really just a big ol' dork.

The celebrity cameos are fun and interesting, but the real stars of the show are the hard-core puzzle freaks, the contenders for the title at the National Crossword Championships. Ellen Ripstein, a past champion, has got to be one of the nerdiest women I've ever seen. Trip Payne, another past winner, gives lie to the stereotype that all gay men are fabulous fashionistas - he and his partner are both schlubby nerds, dressed in polo shirts and pleated Dockers.

I call them nerds, but you know coming from me that it's meant as a compliment. These people are really amazing. Emily and I, working together, can usually complete the Times sunday crossword, working on it on and off over the course of an afternoon. Tyler Hinman can finish the same puzzle in less than seven minutes. That's a stunning level of knowledge about diverse areas ranging from ancient history to the latest celebrity scandal rag headlines, an incredible vocabulary and a knack for puns and anagrams, and the ability to put that that all together very quickly. I found it quite impressive.

The inevitable comparison is to Spellbound, the documentary from a couple of years ago about the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee and it's contestants. I don't think this one is quite so well-made or captivating as Spellbound, but it's very interesting and consistently entertaining. Jon Stewart's commentary and Will Shortz reading a selection of his hate mail are particularly hilarious moments. There's some real drama in the movie's "climax," the finals of the 2005 Crossword Championship, too.

Overall, pretty damn cool for a movie about nerds.