Puzzles in Pop Culture: Hell’s Kitchen

Puzzles in Pop Culture is all about chronicling those moments in TV, film, literature, art, and elsewhere in which puzzles play a key role. In previous installments, we’ve tackled everything from The West Wing, The Simpsons, and M*A*S*H to MacGyver, Gilmore Girls, and various incarnations of Sherlock Holmes.

And in today’s edition, we look at a puzzle that popped up in a most unexpected place: a reality cooking show.

Hell’s Kitchen is in its sixteenth season, so clearly I’m not the only one who enjoys Gordon Ramsay’s drill sergeant-esque haranguing of nervous up-and-coming chefs.

For the uninitiated, Hell’s Kitchen is a competition reality show where chefs cook in Ramsay’s eponymous restaurant, engaging in ridiculous team games and devious cooking challenges, all judged by the highly demanding and critical Michelin star-winning Ramsey.

[Devin, one of the male contestants, trying to spell ONION. It wasn’t pretty.]

The male contestants are placed on the Blue Team and the female contestants on the Red Team, and each week, one chef is cut until the finale, when the top two chefs compete for the top prize, a head chef position at a prestigious restaurant.

In Friday’s episode, the team game that awaited the Blue and Red Teams was the Ingredient Crossword Challenge.

A member of each team had to spell out ingredients with letters on books from “the Hell’s Kitchen library,” placing them into squares on a giant crossword-like grid.

Any ingredients placed in the grid had to share a letter with one of the established words, just like in a crossword or Scrabble game.

[Here, the placement of the word BACON violates the rules of the puzzle and is disallowed.]

The Red Team started at a disadvantage, since the first player on their team placed CHICKEN in the center of the board, leaving some difficult letters to work with. (Placing it along the left-hand edge might have given them better options going forward.)

This caused the team problems later when they tried to get creative, playing SNAP and then PEA in the lower-right corner, so they could add snap peas to their list of ingredients.

Chef Ramsey rejected that gambit, however.

Once their five minutes of ingredient spelling and placement were up, the contestants then had 45 minutes to cook a stunning entree with those ingredients, which would then be judged by Chef Ramsay on a scale of 1 point (for a terrible dish) to 5 points (for an outstanding dish).

The Red Team’s bad luck with the game would continue with the scoring portion of the challenge, as they lost by a single point to the Blue Team.

Sadly, puzzle skills couldn’t save either team from a fairly disastrous dinner service, leaving both teams in the cross-hairs of an irate Chef Ramsay.

It’s always a treat to see puzzles find their way into the team challenges on reality shows. It’s too bad combining the ingredients in a tasty dish isn’t as easy as making them cross in a grid.


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