Enigmas Wrapped inside of Riddles

After Spellbound's success at transforming the nerdy arena of spelling bees into riveting spectacle, anything seemed possible. Hence Wordplay, a smart and lively documentary on the world of crossword puzzles, and the next leap forward for geek chic.

With considerable style, wit and warmth, director Patrick Creadon draws us into the lives and mindsets of the individuals who make up crossword culture, focusing on the New York Times' influential puzzle editor Will Shortz (who during his college days turned crosswords into a self-invented major of "enigmatology") and syndicated puzzle constructor par excellence, Weekly Planet contributor Merl Reagle (who confesses his life would be much easier if his puzzles were allowed to use the word "enema"). Adding an even more interesting texture to the proceedings are the talking heads sprinkled along the way, a curious group that includes such noteworthy puzzle-heads as Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart, Ken Burns, the Indigo Girls and Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina.

The movie is mostly just good-natured fun, but its affection for its subject is infectious, and the most basic reading between the lines reveals something significant about humankind's love of language, codes, and our urge to solve (and create) puzzles. The last act takes us to the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament held in Stamford, Conn., an event that, regardless of how trivial it might sound to the uninitiated, is made positively gripping by a winning combination of precise shooting, editing and visual technique.

Wordplay (PG) opens July 7 at local theaters. 3.5 stars

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