Quick: What’s a ten-letter word for “just enough”? Or a term denoting “freeze-dried” that ends with an e? How about “chew on this”—and it has to fit in a seven-square slot? If you live for questions like these, you might be addicted to The New York Times crossword puzzle. And if you figured out those clues in less time than it took to read this, you may even be in Patrick Creadon’s film on the Stamford, Connecticut, tournament where brainiacs compete for the top puzzler honor. (That’s sufficient, lyophile and gingiva, respectively, for those folks playing along at home.)
Like Spellbound, which put spelling bees on the pop culture map, Creadon’s doc follows several competitors vying for geeky glory in a cranium-taxing event. And like Word Wars, the movie devoted to Scrabble players, the film has a bemused affection for these intellectual athletes. (Is there a genre forming here? Can a vrit piece on Boggle contestants be far behind?) In addition, it examines the larger appeal of these mind games, with everyone from Bill Clinton to Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina weighing in and Times puzzle editor Will Shortz being treated like a deity.
Bouncy and fast-paced, Wordplay is undeniably fun, though Creadon courts crowd-pleasing way too strenuously. The fact that he makes this brainteasing pastime seem accessible is a genuine achievement, but his tricks are so blatant, you can feel the marionette strings tugging you left and right. The film succeeds in paying tribute to crossword culture, but its dogged pursuit of crossover appeal nearly eclipses its subject. (Opens Fri; click here for venues.)—David Fear