Couch Film Festival :: Puzzles and Games Competitions

This week’s three film pick are documentaries on competitions with puzzles, crosswords and scrabble.

Wicker Kittens (2014)

Open the box. Dump out all the pieces. And scramble for your lives! This is competitive jigsaw puzzling, and it’ll turn even the mildest mannered Midwesterners into hardcore competitors. Every January, the top teams from around the country gather at the St. Paul Winter Carnival in frigid Minnesota to compete for the title of fastest puzzler in the country. Wicker Kittens takes you into this puzzling world, following the returning champs, the upstart challengers, the sunny family, and the dark horse team with nothing to lose. Follow them as they try to put the pieces back together in this quirky, fun doc from South By Southwest Film Festival.

In Minnesota, the winters are long but the jigsaw puzzling is fierce. Join some of the top teams in competitive puzzling as they prepare for the largest contest in the country at the St. Paul Winter Carnival. And feel the loneliness, despair and bitter cold that drives them to be the best.

Bonus :: Who knew puzzles could be so … competitive.

WordPlay (2006)

Filmmaker Patrick Creadon pays tribute to crossword puzzles and those who love them, and features a profile of The New York Times “puzzle master” Will Shortz. Among the celebrities who swear by the Times puzzle are President Bill Clinton, folk-rock duo Indigo Girls, comic Jon Stewart, baseball player Mike Mussina and filmmaker Ken Burns.

The movie focuses on the following crossword solvers:

  • Ellen Ripstein: editor living in New York City and 2001 ACPT champion. She is also known for her baton twirling.
  • Trip Payne: professional puzzlemaker living in South Florida and three-time ACPT Champion. He held the record as the youngest champion after winning the tournament in 1993 at the age of 24.
  • Tyler Hinman: student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. At the 2005 ACPT, he challenged Trip Payne for the title of youngest champion ever.
  • Jon Delfin: pianist living in New York City and seven-time ACPT champion.
  • Al Sanders: project manager at Hewlett-Packard in Fort Collins, Colorado. He is a frequent finalist at the ACPT.

Bonus :: The Talent Show

Word Wars (2004)

A 2004 documentary film directed by Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo about competitive Scrabble playing. The film was an official selection at the 2004 Sundance film festival, had a 25-city theatrical run, was included as part of the Discovery Times Channel’s “Screening Room” series, and was nominated for numerous awards including a 2004 Documentary Emmy for “Best Artistic or Cultural Programming” and an International Documentary Association (IDA) Award.

The film follows four players in the nine months leading up to the 2002 National Scrabble Championship, which was held in San Diego, California: Joe Edley, Matt Graham, Marlon Hill, and Joel Sherman. These players also appear in Stefan Fatsis’s book Word Freak (Amazon, iTunes)as does Chaikin. Fatsis and Chaikin are both tournament Scrabble players themselves.

Bonus :: 2-letter words

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