Jenny Powell

Jenni Falconer


Lucky Day Productions and GroupM Entertainment for Five, 23 March to 31 July 2009 (95 episodes in 1 series)


A few years back, Five brought us a super-cheap daytime show called Brainteaser. Consisting of little more than a series of age-old parlour games wrapped around a premium-rate phone-in competition, it was nevertheless sufficiently entertaining to become a moderate hit... until it got unceremoniously pulled from the schedules after being caught faking the results of some of its competitions. Wordplay is Brainteaser's spiritual successor - the production company, the host and even the games may be different, but the lineage is clear.

Here are the games, then. All but "Word Ladder" are on the buzzer, and a wrong answer means that player is frozen out for the next question:

Word Jumble: Four players start, and like Brainteaser, the first round is simple anagrams on the buzzer. A subject is given along with the anagram, e.g. FOOD: ALESNAG. 1 point per correct answer.

AKA: A synonyms round, again with a subject provided for each one, e.g. FILM: FLEETING MEETING. 2 points per correct answer, and after this round the lowest scorer is eliminated.

Word Smuggle: Scores are reset zero and the three remaining players look for words hidden in a phrase, e.g. ANIMAL: PLEASE REBUFF A LONER. 1 point per correct answer.

Hangman: The usual hangman thing. Again the subject is provided, and letters are gradually filled in until somebody gets the answer, for 2 points. After this round, the lowest-scoring player is again eliminated.

Invisible Link: Scores are zeroed again, and the questions take the form of a set of three words which can all be topped or tailed by a fourth to make common compound words or phrases, e.g. BLUE, WIRE, HARD. Provide the missing word, and you will be rewarded with one measly point.

Word Ladder: The only individual round (apart from the endgame, obviously). 90 seconds on the clock, a three-letter word is provided to start with, and then the player must change, or sometimes add, a letter to make a word fitting the clue, e.g. starting with KID, change a letter, clue: Assist. Two points per correct answer.

Safecracker: The winner plays this endgame. They have another example of each of the six types of puzzle, and 90 seconds to solve them. Each one solved earns them £50 and the position of one digit of the seven-digit combination of a mock-up safe containing £500 (in the form of a cheque in a golden envelope, visible through a perspex panel). The combination consists of the digits 1 to 7, so if the player solves all six puzzles in the time, there will only be one digit (the 7, since the Word Jumble puzzle gives the position of the 1, the AKA gives the position of the 2, and so on) and one position remaining, so they will automatically win the prize. If they get five of the six, they have a 50/50 chance of placing the two remaining digits correctly, and lesser chances for fewer answers. Win or lose, the "safe" is opened anyway to reveal the combination printed on the back of the prize envelope, just to prove it's all above board.

It may not, strictly speaking, have anything to do with Brainteaser, but let's face it, Wordplay can't help but live in its shadow. And if we're honest, it's not quite up to the same standard, partly because it's effectively only had the second pick of wordy parlour games, and its predecessor already chose the best ones, and also because Jenny Powell just can't do the fluent ad-libbed waffle that a format like this demands. OK, so Brainteaser turned out to be bent as a nine-bob note, but that wasn't Alex Lovell's fault, so could we have her back, do you think? And maybe we could get the Wordstorm game back too, 'cos we liked that one. Hmmm... not going to happen, is it?

See also

Weaver's Week review


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