It’s a fact you can pack in your _ _ _ _ (small ornamental case): Because they’re sedentary adults who work in stolid silence as they chase their letters, crossword puzzle tournament contestants don’t generate nearly the same dramatic excitement as young spelling bee hopefuls who burst into tears when they mess up. Patrick Creadon, who made the amiable brainiacs-are-cool documentary Wordplay, knows this, and he does what any storyteller who isn’t a _ _ _ _ (Hawaiian goose) would do to punch up the competition particulars of the 28th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT), which was held in 2005 at a Marriott Hotel ballroom in Stamford, Conn.: He enlists famous people. Between timed bouts of puzzle solving (during which folks fill small boxes as fast as mind-eye-hand coordination allows), Creadon steps away and talks to the sex gods of the crossword-puzzle-addicted world about why the activity turns them on. Among the aroused: President Bill Clinton, Sen. Bob Dole, Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina, and king of most media Jon Stewart, who all speak passionately about their love of clues that go across and down.
But sexiest of all (within the species) is surely Will Shortz, the New York Times puzzle editor and NPR ”puzzlemaster” who has been running the ACPT since its inception. Shortz’s gentle manner and French-foreign-agent mustache go a long way toward making him a thinking girl’s pinup nerd — and this despite the man’s pitiless insistence on making the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle ”tough as a _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.”