It may not be an "iconic manifestation of civilization," as documentarian Ken Burns proclaims, but The New York Times crossword puzzle is undoubtedly an institution -- and director Patrick Creadon wants to understand why. His sweet, lightly amusing, and largely superficial documentary brings the story to a climax at the 28th Annual Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Connecticut, where the nation's best puzzlers duke it out for . . . four thousand bucks. Does anybody care? Maybe. The 2003 doc Spellbound used the National Spelling Bee to zero in on issues of race, class, adolescence, immigration, and parenting in America. Word Wars (2004) -- a sharp and witty film languishing in grievous obscurity -- did the same thing with Scrabble. Wordplay could have taken the same tack, and at times it attempts to. But mostly it's just a celebrity-studded (Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart) piece of highbrow piffle, about as enjoyable as it is forgettable. There's no harm done, but there's not much else either.
Patrick CreadonWill Shortz, Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Mike Mussina, Ken Burns, Indigo GirlsChristine O'MalleyIFC Films