Date: November 7, 2006
Byline: Emily Dagostino
32 across: Word wizard from Spartanburg High School
Crossword puzzles, so nerdy? To stop there is to stop short.
Puzzles beguile word lovers and number fanatics. Sanctity in structure, here, at last, is a solution! Here, at last, is something solvable.
Trip Payne, a 1986 graduate of Spartanburg High School, has made a career of puzzles — both making them and solving them — and he's bringing his craft home today on DVD.
For the solvers out there — or those who want to be — the 2005 documentary, "Wordplay" (PG), showcases a common community in which Payne is a featured player.
Everyone can identify with that, said Payne, who now lives in South Florida.
"Everybody has something that really interests them, and everybody has friends who do that with them," he said. "And it's that sense of community that the movie is really about."
Thousands of people across the country already have met Payne in the quirky and even suspenseful film about the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Conn. Payne has won the tournament three times and was defending champ going into last year's event.
Brenda Fleming, Payne's mother, describes her son as "charming," "delightful," and "way past brilliant." She said initially she was nervous going to see the film in Charlotte, N.C. How entertaining could it be to watch puzzlers compete on screen?
"I could not believe how spellbinding it was," said Fleming, who lives in Greenville. "I thought the movie was grand and glorious. I hope everyone will get to see it."
Its allure has been widespread.
"Wordplay," which premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, grossed more than $3 million at the box office. That makes it one of the top 25 highest grossing documentaries ever.
Director Patrick Creadon scrutinizes the lives and minds of several of the country's top puzzlers, including The New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz. The film also features interviews with several famous crossword enthusiasts, including former President Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart and the Indigo Girls.
"You know we're at parties and meeting celebrities," Payne said of the movie-making experience. "And we're just going, we solve crossword puzzles. What are we doing here?"
It was his second 15 minutes of fame; he also was one of the first contestants on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."
Payne's next trip to Spartanburg will be later this month for his 20th high school reunion. He's hoping that more people here will have seen "Wordplay" by then, since it never aired in local theaters.
No doubt it will provide fodder for catching up with former classmates.