PN Review: Crossword Mysteries: Riddle Me Dead

Almost two years ago, the first Crossword Mysteries movie debuted. A Puzzle to Die For introduced the puzzle world (and the mystery world) to crossword editor Tess Harper and NYPD detective Logan O’Connor, as the unlikely duo unraveled the murder of an art dealer with a crossword puzzle in his pocket.

With four follow-ups in the can (including Sunday night’s offering), it’s fair to say that Logan and Tess have carved their own little niche in the mysteries market for fans.

So, without further ado, let’s get to the latest installment in the series: Riddle Me Dead.

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But first, a heads-up. I’ll recap the story below, and then give my thoughts on the whole endeavor. If you’d like to read my conclusions but skip the full recap, scroll down to the next solid black line.

Ready? Okay, let’s dig in!


FILM RECAP

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Crossword editor Tess Harper is doing video intros for Riddle Me This, a game show featuring riddles and brain teasers on a Jeopardy!-style board. Her ex-fiance Hunter, who works on the show, chats with Tess about old times during a break from shooting.

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As they stroll around outside the set, they bump into producer Dana, who checks in on them before heading to the dressing room of Riddle Me This host Aidan. But instead of Aidan, she stumbles upon the body of security guard Ian on the floor.

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Cue a very brief intro with the Crossword Mysteries logo, but none of the usual main character introductions or trappings. We get right down to business.

As Ian is helped to his feet, he says someone with brown hair attacked him from behind. But it happened so fast, there could have been two guys for all he knows. Hunter and Tess ponder the attack, and Hunter mentions it might be an obsessed Riddler. (Riddlers are what fans of the show call themselves.)

We meet more staffers for the show, including editor (and Dana’s husband) Graham. Tess hears from police detective Logan, and regretfully cancels dinner plans with him to finish filming. He’s very cute about the whole thing.

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He gets teased about it by fellow detective Amrita, and police chief Chauncey (also Logan’s father, if you’re new to the series) forcefeeds Logan some Italian food, a nice callback to the cooking classes from the last movie. He also makes the partnership between Amrita and Logan official.

Back at the Sentinel newspaper offices, Tess is talking about working on a series of crosswords with “unified themes,” and she and her assistant Sonia mention random seasonal ideas for themes. I do not know if Tess understands what a theme is.

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The conversation soon turns to Riddle Me This, and Sonia confesses that she’s a Riddler and psyched about Tess doing the show. Crime desk reporter Frank (who shares a workspace with Tess) also chimes in. Flowers arrive from Hunter, along with a riddle: A measure of time not found on a clock, but in your heart. Tess ponders the riddle.

Later, Candace and Tess are waiting in line to attend a taping of Riddle Me This. The studio is bustling with activity as a security guard ensures that all guests are on a pre-approved list.

We also see a Riddler bringing a homemade scarf for host Aiden, concerned that Aiden needed something to keep him warm. Security guard Ian accepts it, and greets Candace and Tess. Hunter shows up to take them to their seats, and Candace mentions that Hunter is the head riddle writer for the show. He asks Tess about the riddle he sent, and mentions he has a surprise for her after the show.

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Before the show starts, Tess notices host Aiden arguing with someone. Hunter introduces Aiden, who walks away from the argument and right into his hosting duties. Welcome to Riddle Me This! The crowd says the title along with the host, selling how popular the show is.

Mathew Nasr, their returning champion, has 36 wins in a row. He’s shooting for the record of 41. We get to see Tess’s video introduction from earlier as the show begins.

Mathew chooses a question, and gets one of Tess’s video puzzles: “How do you make the number seven even without addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division?” Mathew quickly buzzes in. You drop the S.

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We get a montage of Matthew stomping the competition. Some of the riddles are traditional wordplay format, like “What goes up but doesn’t come down?” Mathew answers “A person’s age.” And some of the riddles are short logical brain teasers, more akin to detective riddles. We see one last riddle from Tess: “In 1990 a person is 15 years old. In 1995, that same person is 10 years old. How can this be?” The person was born in BC and the years are counting down backwards.

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Mathew wins again today, earning $44,600. His 37-day win streak earnings total $2,252,600. The show has clearly been doing well during Mathew’s reign, as ratings are up. It’s a pleasant homage to James Holzhauer’s triumphant run on Jeopardy! in 2019.

After the show, Tess, Hunter, and Candace chat, and Marlon Freeman walks up (the man Aiden was arguing with before the show). He introduces himself as the man who writes the checks for “all this.” He compliments Tess and offers his card. Candace and Hunter fawn over this, talking about Tess having found a potential new career.

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Hunter walks them to Aiden’s dressing room, and the door is ajar, so everyone can hear Aiden being a jerk to Sally the staffer and firing her. Hunter reassures Sally as she walks away in tears. When he meets Candace and Tess, Aiden is pleasant, but curt, and cuts Candace off before leaving with Hunter, inviting them to hang out in his dressing room. They acknowledge that he’s a phony clod, far from the genial host facade he presents in public.

Logan arrives with flowers for Tess. The security guard radios to Ian to ask Dana for approval, but Ian instead finds Aiden down on the floor of the stage. Logan runs in to investigate, and we see that Aidan appears to have been choked with the scarf from the Riddler.

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Freeman, Sally the staffer, Hunter, Tess, Candace, Dana, and Graham all arrive, and Logan tells them the set is an active crime scene. Aiden is dead.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

As CSIs document the scene, Chauncey confirms Aiden was strangled to death. They mention that the leverage required — and the amount of time it takes to asphyxiate someone — indicates the suspect is probably male.

Logan talks to Ian about the break-in the day before and finding Aiden’s body. We cut back and forth between that interview and Chauncey talking to Mathew, who claims he was alone, prepping for the next taping. Ian mentions the staff ID tags allow access everywhere, but their usage is logged in the system. Logan requests a list of staff and audience members in attendance for the show. Mathew mentions his only interactions with Aiden were on-camera, because game show standards and practices forbid contact between the contestant and crew to avoid any chance of cheating.

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Logan talks to Dana about the scarf, and Dana says Aiden had thrown it in the trash can near where his body was found. When asked about her whereabouts during the murder, Dana claims she was alone in her office going over tapes, and then with her husband in editing.

Now we finally get the pairing we’ve been waiting to see, as Logan talks to Hunter about being the last person to see Aiden alive. Hunter replies, “Except the killer, you mean.” Hunter mentions that Aiden gave him his big break, and he owes his career to Aiden. Hunter’s dismay at being considered a suspect is quite evident.

In Aiden’s dressing room, Logan asks Tess about Hunter, and she’s sure he didn’t do it. She mentions “we used to date,” slyly omitting their engagement. There’s no way this information will be revealed in an awkward manner later, no sirree.

Amrita talks to the Sally the staffer, who says she was in the alley getting some air after being fired, and she saw someone leave the studio, a tall blond. She leaves to pack her things.

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Chauncey, Amrita, and Logan sum up what they have: a tall blond spotted, a brown-haired guy who attacked Ian the day before, and the security camera system is down for an upgrade, so no footage.

Later, Tess comforts a teary-eyed Hunter, who hugs her. Logan sees all of this. Tess mentions that Logan was really quick to respond to the call of Aidan’s death, and he says he was in the area. Awww, you poor slob. Tell her about the flowers already.

The next day, Tess and Sonia talk about a fan forum for Riddle Me This. Most of the fans are devastated by Aiden’s death, but one poster repeatedly mentions how pompous Aiden is. Sonia mentions she’s friends with one of the forum moderators, and will press for more details about the aggressive poster.

Glad they’re surfing the internet rather than working on her crosswords. WHAT OF THE UNIFIED THEMES, TESS?!

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

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We see Sally the staffer walking through an alley, and she’s stopped by Amrita and Logan. There’s no evidence on street cameras nearby of a guy leaving the studio. She claims she was wrong and he went the other way. They’re suspicious of her. Back at the station, they can’t confirm her story, because of a lack of cameras on the street in that direction.

Also, sharp-eyed viewers catch a cameo of Officer Will Shortz in photo form on the wall!

Logan looks at the ID tag records for the studio and finds one for thirty minutes before Aiden’s death, but with no name attached. They head to the studio to investigate.

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At the studio, we see Hunter and Graham working in the editing room, and Tess arrives with treats. Tess bonds with Graham over his baseball memorabilia. She brought cookies because Hunter used to crave chocolate when he was stressed. He’s touched she remembered. They chat about the show’s questionable future now that Aiden is gone.

Hunter mentions that a few months before, a former contestant claimed the show was conspiring with Mathew Nasr to keep his win streak alive. But an investigation by Standards and Practices found no evidence to support the accusation.

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Logan and Amrita arrive, and awkwardness ensues! When Hunter offers a cookie, Logan says he’s allergic to chocolate, and Tess says she didn’t know that. Hunter drops that he and Tess used to be engaged. Amrita, like many of us, is totally here for the drama. Amrita and Logan exit, looking for Dana’s office, and Tess follows to try to mitigate the awkwardness, leaving Hunter with his cookies.

But even though they were only a few feet ahead of her, we don’t see her again for a while. Weird.

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Logan asks producer Dana about the ID tag usage, and she suggests they ask Ian. All four meet outside, and Ian confesses he made an ID at Aiden’s request about a week ago, but he doesn’t know who Aiden wanted it for. Dana is pissed. When Ian leaves, she explains to the detectives how erratic Aiden had been over the last few weeks, including walking in with a bruised eye at one point.

She also happens to mention that the only person close to Aiden was Hunter, and that they often had dinner together, and even traveled to Vegas together the year prior. Chauncey calls with further exposition; he pulled Aiden’s financials, and the host was flat broke.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

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We see Candace and Chauncey at their latest cooking class. He’s looking forward to the next set of classes, but Candace says she’ll have to bow out due to her work schedule as a therapist. Chauncey is clearly sad, but understands, because John Kapelos is the best.

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[That’s a lot of clues for a half-filled grid.]

Tess is working on a baseball-themed puzzle — though the theme doesn’t seem very unified if you ask me — when Sonia offers her a stack of printouts with comments from the aggressive Riddle Me This forum poster, TheKid324.

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They have the poster’s IP address and Frank tracks it to Williamsburg. Tess says that’s where the Riddle Me This studio is located.

At the police station, Chauncey, Logan, and Amrita discuss Aiden spending lots of time in Atlantic City and Vegas. Tess arrives with the posts, and Amrita, being a pal, greets her by name to warn an unsuspecting Logan. She and Chauncey then make themselves scarce so Logan and Tess can chat.

She mentions that TheKid324 is a baseball reference, which points to Graham Miller, the editor. Logan thanks her for the info, but is clearly cold with her.

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Tess apologizes for not mentioning her engagement to Hunter, but is displeased when Logan says he thinks Hunter is hiding something. Tess calls him the most cynical person she’s ever met.

Tess, you have met killers and failed magicians. That cannot possibly be true.

Back at the Sentinel, Tess is reading up on the contestant who accused the show of cheating, Thomas Sprows. Tess decides to pretend to be writing an article about the cheating accusations for the paper, so she can finagle time with Sprows to see his reaction to Aiden’s death.

At the studio, Logan and Hunter talk about Aiden’s financials, and Hunter mentions a regular poker game Aiden attended with a five-figure buy-in.

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Logan startles editor Graham, who always seems to be watching Tess’s footage. Logan confronts him with the posts from TheKid324, and Graham claims it was just him venting about Aiden, upset that fans thought he was great when in reality, he was a petty, cruel jerk. When asked why he continued to work for Aiden, he claims he only stayed to spend time with Dana, because otherwise, he’d never see her. Aiden works her like a dog.

Logan wants a copy of his hard drive to confirm he was working at the time of Aiden’s murder, and then he gets a call, because it’s time for him to randomly cross paths with Tess again.

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Cut to Sonia and Tess, playing reporter with Thomas Sprows. He claimed that Mathew Nasr got ten Double Up Dilemmas (Riddle Me This’s version of a Daily Double) for every other contestant’s one opportunity, implying that Nasr knew where they were hidden on the board. He suggests there was some code to tell him where they were, but he couldn’t find it.

Logan arrives, and as soon as he tries to talk to Sprows, Sprows bolts.

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Logan gives chase. Sprows hilariously tries to dissuade Logan’s pursuit by throwing down trash cans and garbage that Logan easily avoids. Another cop quickly nabs him, and we find out he’s Sally the staffer’s boyfriend.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

In interrogation, Sprows admits to searching Aiden’s dressing room for evidence that he was colluding with Mathew Nasr, and that he was the one who attacked the security guard. But he denies murdering Aiden. Sally talks to Amrita, and she confesses to lying about the tall blond because she couldn’t be sure that Thomas didn’t come back the next day to hurt Aiden. But she claims Aiden has an alibi for the murder, so her lie was unnecessary.

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In the hopes of cooperating to help her boyfriend, she also tells Amrita she overheard Aiden saying on the phone, “when I leave the table, he’ll be the one owing me $75,000.” Aiden was massively in debt to someone at his poker game.

Logan and Tess are walking and talking — with no sign of the earlier engagement revelation awkwardness — and Logan mentions that Sprows’s alibi checks out. Also, Sally wasn’t tall enough to be the one who strangled Aiden. Whoever did it was taller than him.

Tess and Logan then chat about famous game show scandals, and whether Nasr and Aiden were colluding. When Logan mentions that Hunter could be involved, Tess again defends him.

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Later, Dana hands Tess a thumbdrive with every episode Nasr competed on, and Tess confesses looking into Sprows’s allegations. Dana is understandably defensive about this, making the common sense argument that Nasr finds more Double Up Dilemmas because he answers more questions. She adds that Aiden didn’t know where the “DDs” were located until they were revealed during tapings.

Dana then gives Tess directions out of the building, which weirdly include crossing the show’s set. Tess is on set when the lights suddenly come on, and then one plummets toward her. She dives out of the way, and it crashes to the stage floor.

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Should I pun here? Okay. It was almost lights out for Tess!

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

Logan and Amrita talk to an undercover cop about possible high-end poker games Aiden could be involved with, then he gets a call about the attack on Tess.

When he arrives, Tess mentions there was someone in the control booth, so it wasn’t an accident. Hunter and Logan both offer to take her home, but then Aunt Candace arrives to do so. Logan presses Hunter about security on set during the attack, but with the show shut down, they’ve cut back on staff. The only people around were Dana, some assistants, Graham, and Nasr.

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Logan and Amrita discuss that, with Tess investigating the cheating allegations, the person with the most to lose is Mathew Nasr. So they talk to the arrogant game show contestant. Nasr mentions he intends to go home to Oklahoma since the show is dark, and they press him about everything he’d lose if the cheating accusations were true.

He counters by pointing them toward Dana, claiming Aiden torpedoed a job offer for her. She wanted to take a job in LA, and Aiden threatened to nuke her career with “a few phone calls.”

Apparently, Dana leaving would be enough proof that Aiden’s poor behavior was a problem, and it would jeopardize Aiden’s contract negotiations. Nasr then smugly shoulder-checks Logan, and I was really hoping they’d pin him to the floor for assaulting an officer. Alas, they did not.

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We also spot a poster in the background for the fake program SHORTZ ON SPORTS, our second Will Shortz photo cameo of the episode.

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Tess visits with Aunt Candace, who confesses that she called off cooking classes with Chauncey because she feels guilty about enjoying things without her late husband. Tess advises her to be honest with Chauncey, and the conversation shifts to the subject of her, Hunter, and Logan.

Tess confesses she knows how she feels about Logan, but doesn’t know where she stands with Logan. (And I can hear the shippers cheering across the Internet, rooting for Logan and Tess.) Aunt Candace doubles down, telling her niece maybe Logan is waiting for a sign from Tess.

Later, Tess is watching the thumbdrive shows on fast forward when Hunter arrives with food. During dinner, he mentions that Tess breaking off their engagement was a good thing, helping him find perspective. He again asks about the riddle with the flowers, and she thinks the answer is “a second chance.” He doesn’t press her for more, and they continue eating dinner.

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(For the record, if that IS Hunter’s intended solution for the riddle, it’s a terrible one. It’s not a measure of time at all.)

At the police station, Chauncey, Logan, and Amrita discuss fingerprints found around the control room, and it turns out Nasr’s fingerprints were there. They find him preparing to leave, and take him in.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

In interrogation, Nasr smugly mentions that he’s been around the set for weeks, so it’s reasonable for his prints to be there. Logan counters that producer Dana says there’s absolutely no reason for him to have been anywhere near the control room. Nasr claims he was taking pictures to show the school AV club he mentors back in Oklahoma.

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Chauncey argues with Logan that they can’t hold Nasr, despite Logan’s suspicions. Logan is clearly heated because of the attempt on Tess’s life. They mention there was a 10-minute window where Graham was away from his computer, but that it isn’t enough time to get from the edit suite, kill Aiden, and get back.

Amrita interrupts their shouting to tell them they found Aiden’s poker game, but they need a known high-roller or someone with name value to get in. Chauncey suggests Tess, which Logan is strongly against. Amrita asks him to suggest someone else. (What about officer Will Shortz?)

Tess is still watching Riddle Me This on fast forward, and complains she can’t spot anything. DUDE, IT’S ON FAST FORWARD. HOW THE HELL ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO NOTICE ANYTHING?

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Logan arrives, and we find out Tess has a monthly Texas Hold ‘Em Game “with the girls.” WHAT? Tess’s random hobbies and their connections to crimes are getting a little ridiculous here.

Logan explains the plan to Tess, mentioning that she’s in six million papers worldwide, and she could be their recognizable high-roller. She accepts.

Cut to the seedy warehouse where the game takes place, and Tess arriving in a white van with Logan and Amrita. Not suspicious at all. Tess wears a hidden earpiece so she can hear Logan, and they mention her bracelet, another callback to a previous episode. She gets $20,000 from them as her buy-in for the game.

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The warehouse has a weird nightclub feel with purple lighting, and Tess hands over the money. Big crossword money. You know how it is.

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Tess walks up to the table with various suited and serious-looking gentlemen, and sits down. She looks at her cards, holding them way too high. Rookie move, Tess. Come on, guard your hand a little. She throws away pocket aces, then throws away King, Queen suited, in order to prolong her time at the table When poked by one of players, she raises $5k on a Jack-2 off-suit. WHAT?

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The guy doubles her raise, and she goes all-in, bluffing him out of the hand. Risky, but not a terrible play early on. She then shows him the bluff, which mildly impresses him. He starts talking.

She then immediately overplays her social game by mentioning Aiden being in debt. He pushes her for information, bluffing about playing cards with Aiden in a different game. The guy pushes, saying if Aiden was playing anywhere else, he would know, since Aiden owed him money. Their security guy holds Tess in her seat. Logan and Amrita keep getting static, so they head for the building. Will they get there in time?

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

Tess tries to flee, but the thug holds her. (IMDb lists his character name as The Mountain, which is hilarious.)

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Amrita and Logan arrive with guns drawn, and they bring in Joseph Cheever, the guy who threatened Tess. Back in interrogation, Cheever mentions that Aiden couldn’t place a bet anywhere else, so he let him into his poker games. The ID Aiden requested was for him, so he could come to Aiden whenever needed to take his bets.

He mentions Aiden had some plan to make good on his debt, something about the game show and his new contract. It turns out Aiden signed over his car to Cheever as collateral for his latest bet.

The next day, Tess meets with Marlon Freeman and asks about the argument she saw before the show. He says that he told Aiden that he could be replaced. And it turns out, Hunter went to him a week before Aiden’s death and suggested himself as a possible replacement for Aiden. After a “respectful” period off-air, the show will return with Hunter as host, since Mathew Nasr is still going for the record.

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Chauncey and Candace meet up, and she admits to lying to him about her work schedule. They commiserate over previous opportunities lost, and both admit how much fun they’ve been having lately. In short, Chauncey is great about the whole, and she suggests salsa dancing as their next activity, since the cooking class is full. He counters with bowling, and she accepts. Because John Kapelos is THE BEST.

Logan talks with Tess, and she says she couldn’t find anything in the episodes that shows Aiden and Nasr cheating. SHOCKER. As they chat, they eliminate Graham, Nasr, and Cheever as suspects, leaving Dana and Hunter on the table.

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She mentions Hunter angling for Aiden’s job, then spots two people talking in sign language, and one of them repeatedly doing a knocking motion. She bolts on Logan, having a eureka moment in progress.

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She goes back to the footage of the show, and sees Aiden tapping his cards on the podium a few times. Tess shows Dana footage where Aiden holds out a number of fingers, then taps the cards, indicating where the Double Up Dilemmas are located on the board. And Hunter is the only one who knows where the DDs are located.

Hunter is in the doorway for this revelation, and says “I can explain.”

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FINAL COMMERCIAL BREAK!

Hunter claims it was Aiden’s plan, stating that Nasr was smart enough to go for the record. Hunter felt he owed it to Aiden. And the ratings of the show increased as Nasr’s streak went on. But he says he didn’t kill Aiden.

Hunter promises the show will be on the level when he’s in charge, but Tess leaves, saying she’ll do what Hunter should have done all along. Tess calls Logan as Hunter looks on.

Cut to interrogation with Hunter and Logan. Hunter claims Graham saw him going into Nasr’s dressing room to give him the next set of DD locations, and that’s why he couldn’t have killed Aiden. Chauncey and Amrita ask why Graham would protect Nasr and Hunter’s secrets, and Logan concludes it’s because it helps him conceal a bigger secret: Graham killed Aiden.

But Tess hasn’t wandered into enough hornet’s nests on this show yet, so we find her returning the thumbdrive to Graham and mentioning that Nasr and Aiden were cheating. She looks away at the worst possible moment as Graham shuts the door and locks it.

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Realizing she’s in danger, she tells him the cops already know, trying to dissuade him from attacking with the scissors in his hand. But he doesn’t believe her, and he lunges. She dodges and flees, and he follows after clumsily stabbing his desk chair. Tess runs to the set, and has the wherewithal to push “record” on the tech director’s control board before hiding.

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Graham smugly walks out onto set, talking about Aiden threatening Dana’s career. He recalls seeing Cheever take Aiden’s car. Aiden threatens to implicate Dana in the cheating plot, and Graham chokes him with the scarf. Tess tries to escape the set, and narrowly avoids a slashing by Graham.

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She flees into the hall, and Graham is stopped at gunpoint by Amrita and Logan.

The four protagonists gather as Graham is loaded into a squad car, and Amrita mentions Graham confessed to dropping the light, trying to scare Tess off. They also mention that Dana knew nothing of the cheating scandal.

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Later at the Sentinel, Sonia laments that Riddle Me This has been cancelled. Tess says that Hunter has been banned from working on game shows, but has gotten a book deal to write the Riddle Me This tell-all. She seems disgusted by the whole thing.

Later still, Logan shows up at Tess’s place with food. They are cutesy-cozy while eating on the couch, a very different visual from her sitting at the table earlier in the film with Hunter. He tells her he’s sorry that Hunter disappointed her, and says that Tess interfering with his murder case was the best thing that ever happened to him.

And she kisses him. (And the Internet rejoices!)

He confesses that he doesn’t want to let her down. She says he won’t. And they cuddle up.

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The End.


CONCLUSION

Honestly, I think this was one of their best outings yet. The murder was nicely set up, with LOTS of potential characters and a properly hateable victim. Playing games with the audience by introducing the threat of Hunter was a little cruel, but also a nice narrative catalyst to finally bring Logan and Tess together after five installments in the series.

It would have been nice to push the riddle thing a bit more as a unifying theme to the mystery. Not something as hokey as the killer taunting them with clues, but maybe Tess alluding to famous riddles like The Lady or The Tiger as connective tissue.

Plus they never really closed the loop on Hunter’s riddle. “A measure of time not found on a clock, but in your heart.” “Heartbeat” as an answer sounds right to me, and would have been a nice wrap-up, particularly with Tess resting her head on Logan’s chest at the end of the episode.

But still, the plot moved briskly, there were some enjoyably silly moments (like Tess playing spy in the poker game), and nothing ever felt too contrived.

As always, there are some holes. (Like there being no way to remotely drop a light on someone from the control room of a studio.) The big one is the ten minutes that precluded Graham from committing the murder. I wonder if something was cut for time, because it feels like they got the killer wrong on this one.

Graham somehow had time to see Hunter AND Mathew’s secret, then stumble upon Aiden and Cheever’s deal, talk to Aiden, murder him, AND get back to the edit suite, all in the ten minute window the cops said wasn’t long enough for him to simply kill Aiden and get back to work?

Sounds to me like Graham took the fall for Dana. She was tall enough to kill Aiden (whereas Graham appeared too short, according to forensics), never had an alibi, and sent Tess to the set where Graham tried to drop a light on her. Plus Graham stupidly continued posting ugly comments online about Aiden even after his death. It sure seems like someone both protecting his wife and acting to draw suspicion on himself.

And it looks like it worked.

But enough armchair theorizing.

All in all, I thought this was a very quick, enjoyable watch, with some nice moments for the entire cast. With two Shortz cameos and lots of quality John Kapelos time, this one was a win.


What is the future of the Crossword Mysteries series?

Well, IMDb does have a listing for a sixth Crossword Mysteries outing, but no details are listed yet, so I guess we’ll have to wait.

But after finally getting a Logan/Tess kiss, I suspect fans will be clamoring for more.

As for me, I’m still clamoring for the all-Will-Shortz version I pitched.

In either case, do not fret, puzzle fans. There’s more of Tess and Logan to come.


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A Crossword Roundup: 10,000 Days of Shortz, The Crossword Mysteries, and ACPT!

Hello crossword fans! In today’s post I just wanted to offer a quick little roundup of crossword-related items and stories, so I’ve got three for you today.

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Firstly, I’d like to congratulate Will Shortz on editing his 10,000th crossword! (Approximately. It’s actually his 10,000th day as editor, which is still a very impressive number!)

Friend of the blog Deb Amlen interviewed Will to mark the occasion, and it offers a nice little snapshot of Will’s career as editor of The New York Times crossword, as well as some insight into the man behind the puzzle.

There are also some intriguing stats included in the interview. This one caught my eye:

The Times is publishing more teen constructors than ever before. In the whole history of the Times Crossword up to me, only six teenagers are known to have had crosswords in the paper. I’ve published 46 teens so far, with two more coming up this month.

46 teens! That’s amazing.

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Of course, the part that’s getting a lot of traction online is this quote: “I read all but one of the daily crossword blogs”

Now, I hesitate to bring this part up, because there’s virtually no way to discuss it without sounding like I’m picking a side. It’s not hard to deduce what daily blog Will is referring to here — plenty of others have made the connection already — and the presumed writer of that blog responded to the comment in typically salty fashion, as did his many fans and readers.

I choose not to wade into that particularly turbulent Internet space, which is why I’m not naming names or providing links. If you are that interested, it’s not hard to find them.

But I DO want to say that there are plenty of terrific crossword blogs out there, big and small, that all add to the daily crossword discussion in important ways. Some are more critical than others. Some are acerbic to the point of being fairly unpleasant to read regularly. But there’s definitely a blog out there about the Times daily crossword for you.

In any case, congratulations to Will Shortz on 10,000 days as the most recognizable name in crosswords. Other than Brian Eno, Yoko Ono, Bobby Orr, Mel Ott, Rip Torn, Oona Chaplin…

Anyway, congrats on being A recognizable name in crosswords. =)

Speaking of recognizable names and crosswords, the fifth Crossword Mysteries movie will be premiering Sunday night, April 11th, at 8 PM Eastern! It is entitled Riddle Me Dead, and here’s the plot synopsis:

Tess gets invited to be part of a popular game show, but when the host is unexpectedly murdered, she and Detective Logan O’Connor try to discover who was behind it all.

Not only that, but Hallmark Movies & Mysteries is running a Crossword Mysteries marathon all day, starting at noon, so you can catch up on all things Tess Harper and Logan O’Connor before the newest entry in the series debuts that night!

Of course, you could also just read the four posts about the movies that I’ve written for the blog here, here, here, and here. Just saying.

acptlogo

Finally, I’ll cap off this trifecta of crossword-related notes by reminding you that registration is open for this year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament! The tournament is running from April 23rd through the 25th, complete with all sorts of events!

The tournament has gone virtual this year, so if you’ve ever thought about entering the tournament and testing your puzzly skills, this is the perfect opportunity for you. The deadline to register is Friday, April 23rd, noon Eastern.

There are sample puzzles to try out as well!

Will you be attending ACPT this year, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Or tuning in for the latest Crossword Mysteries film? What do you think of 10,000 days of Will Shortz-edited NYT crosswords? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

Ask a Puzzler: What’s your puzzly pet peeve?

pet-peeves

Originally this post was going to be a nitpicky little thing where I focused on one of my puzzly pet peeves.

But it occurred to me that this might not just be a pet peeve of mine. It might similarly irk other puzzle people I know.

I then reached out to some of the constructors I know to ask what their puzzly pet peeves are. And, as it turns out, there are lots of silly little things in crosswords and other puzzles that catch the ire of constructors and puzzle-minded folks.

So please join us as we kvetch and complain a little bit and let off some steam about one of our favorite pastimes.

Welcome to Ask a Puzzler: What’s one of your puzzly pet peeves?


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Constructor Joanne Sullivan:

The myth that solving in pen is the highest achievement.

Winners of the ACPT have told me that they never solve in pen. Almost all solvers (including the expert speed-solvers) use pencils at crossword tournaments. You could write a whole article on serious crossword solvers’ pencil preferences–wood vs. mechanical, .5 mm vs. .7 mm lead, disposable vs. refillable, etc.

When I’ve worked as a judge at crossword tournaments, I’ve been irked by solvers who solve in pen and then wrote over their original answers when they made mistakes because they couldn’t erase them. If they insist on using pens, at least they should use ones with erasable ink. Sloppy handwriting in tournament puzzles is also a pain for judges. What’s worse than mere sloppy handwriting is inconsistency. If a contestant always uses the same squiggle to represent a certain letter, it’s easier to determine their intent, but if they form the same letter different ways in different squares, it can be maddening for judges.


Washington Post Crossword editor Evan Birnholz:

A pet peeve of mine is the tendency to refer only to classical or Romantic-era music pieces when writing clues about keys (A MINOR, C MAJOR, etc). Mozart and Beethoven and Chopin are great, but there are other genres and musicians who used those keys, too.


Universal Crossword editor David Steinberg:

I’d say my puzzly pet peeve is when a crossword has too many cross-reference clues (like “See 19-Across”), since it’s always sort of frustrating to be sent all over the grid.


Constructor Doug Peterson:

Clues that want me to think the answer is a “good name” for a certain profession.

For example STU as a [Good name for a cook?] or SUE as a [Good name for a lawyer?]. OTTO for a chauffeur, OWEN for a debtor, PHILIP for a gas station attendant. The list goes on and on. I love third grade riddles as much as anyone, but for some reason these stick in my craw. =)

In my opinion, this sort of thing only works for pets. OREO is a great name for a black-and-white kitten!

oreo


Fireball Crosswords constructor Peter Gordon:

The best I can come up with is when someone feels the need to cross of the clue number after filling in the answer. Why bother doing that?

[PN Blog: I confess. I do this.]


Wordplay blogger Deb Amlen:

It took me a really long time to understand when there was a rebus element in a puzzle. I spent a lot of time cursing at my empty grid before I realized that something must be up.


Daily POP Crosswords constructor Robin Stears:

Puzzle books for little kids, particularly the ones in the dollar stores.

Very often, they’re nothing more than scaled-down grids with clues written for adults. And for some reason, they all contain the word ARIA, which I doubt children even know, unless Peppa Pig has a friend named Aria. I actually saw one with a Blackjack clue for ACE! Are these kids today playing poker on the playground? At my school, we didn’t learn how to count cards until the eleventh grade. 😉


Constructor Neville Fogarty:

My biggest pet peeve in the world of puzzles is actually in the world of cryptics — indirect anagrams! I can’t stand when a clue involves rearranging letters that you aren’t given. That’s just not fair; there are too many possibilities!

Fortunately, most publishers of cryptics edit these out, but I still see these on occasion from newer setters and indie sites. Yikes!


Oh, and what was the pet peeve that inspired this entry in the first place?

When people call things crosswords that aren’t crosswords.

I get it. You see a clued puzzle where words cross, and you think crossword. But it’s not. It’s a crisscross. It’s a perfectly valid puzzle, but it’s not a crossword.

Perhaps the most egregious example recently was featured on the Hallmark website page for the Crossword Mysteries series of films. They advertise a crossword tie-in to each show. And when you click on it, you get this:

crisscross

That’s not a crossword. And this happens all the time. a blog page or an activity book or a tie-in product related to some pop culture property, you’ll be told there’s a crossword to solve…

And you get a crisscross instead.

Several of my fellow puzzlers chimed in on this topic when I mentioned it as my example of a puzzly pet peeve.

Joanne Sullivan: Oh, don’t get me started! Criss-crosses being passed off as crosswords are bad enough, but I think it’s even worse when clueless designers try to emulate real crosswords but make all kinds of mistakes like lack of symmetry, noncontiguous white squares, unchecked squares, and worst of all, nonsensical numbering. I can’t stand it when fake crosswords in cartoons or fabrics have numbers thrown in them willy-nilly.

Robin Stears: Dang it, you stole my pet peeve. I was just complaining to someone the other day about a book cover with a pseudo-crossword grid that wasn’t really a crossword puzzle at all!

Oh, and puzzle books for kids very often try to pass off criss-crosses as crosswords, too. It’s not just Hallmark — that new People crossword game is not a crossword either. Six words that vaguely overlap do not a crossword puzzle make, and you can quote me on that.


Did you enjoy this fun little venting session, fellow PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below, and we might do another Ask a Puzzler post in the future! (But not too often. I don’t want them to start dreading emails from me.)

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

PN Review: Crossword Mysteries: Terminal Descent

Almost two years ago, the first Crossword Mysteries movie debuted. A Puzzle to Die For introduced the puzzle world (and the mystery world) to crossword editor Tess Harper and NYPD detective Logan O’Connor, as the unlikely duo unraveled the murder of an art dealer with a crossword puzzle in his pocket.

During the final commercial break, three more Crossword Mysteries films were announced for the fall of 2019. The second Crossword Mysteries film — Proposing Murder — debuted on schedule on October 13th.

The third film — Abracadaver — was originally scheduled to air one week later, but was suddenly pushed to January of 2020 to make room for more Christmas movies. In October. At some point, any mention of the promised fourth film simply vanished.

Naturally, folks couldn’t help but wonder what happened. I even pitched ideas for a fourth movie! Fans waited the whole year to find out.

Finally, I heard from a fellow puzzler that the fourth film would be debuting on Valentine’s Day.

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Our first taste of Crossword Mysteries in over a year? Marvelous! Let’s get to it, shall we?

But first, a heads-up. I’ll recap the story below, and then give my thoughts on the whole endeavor. If you’d like to read my conclusions but skip the full recap, scroll down to the next solid black line.

Ready? Okay, let’s dig in!


FILM RECAP

The film opens on a Wednesday at 3:30 PM.

Businessman Morgan Daniels disconnects a hard drive from a laptop, then tucks it into his pocket as he leaves the conference room. He awkwardly bumps into a staffer, and by bumps into, I mean full-on chest-to-chest sumo-collides with her. Morgan apologizes and continues on, stopping to say goodbye to crossword editor Tess Harper and head for the elevator.

He speaks to the elevator, asking for the parking garage, and the elevator actually answers him. But instead of going down, it starts ascending. It suddenly stops, then plummets downward. In a panic, Daniels cries out to the interactive computer programming that runs the elevator, BB, as he falls.

Everyone, including Tess, hears the crash. Once again, Tess simply being in the vicinity has caused another death. We are approaching Jessica Fletcher levels of coincidence here.

Also, if we’re getting a murderous crossword-obsessed supercomputer villain in this Crossword Mysteries movie, I am totally on board.

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Cue a very brief intro with the Crossword Mysteries logo, but none of the usual main character introductions or trappings. We get right down to business.

The story starts six hours earlier.

Tess speed-solves a puzzle in 2 minutes, 13 seconds. She’s prepping for a showdown with BB, the XCAL Communications supercomputer. New crime desk reporter Frank, who shares a workspace with crossword editor Tess, comments on how the chess-playing supercomputer Deep Blue and the Jeopardy!-quizzed Watson both defeated humans. We know, Frank. We’ve tried to warn people about this.

Tess’s new assistant Sonia highlights that Tess is a woman and all the previous human vs. computer showdowns have featured men, which is an interesting point.

Tess asks Sonia to cook up a list of “computer and tech jargon” to do a series of tie-in puzzles for the week of the exhibition. (We later see Tess working on one of these puzzles, and the jargon includes TERABYTE. Which, if she is symmetrically placing themed answer words, is opposite either PRIME RIB or SPARE RIB for some reason.)

Tess then leaves to meet the competition.

We jump to the police station, where Detective Logan O’Connor is chatting with new detective Amrita Kapoor. He’s then called into the chief’s office where his father (the chief) is having tech trouble with the new filing system. We’re only a few minutes in, and we’re already getting John Kapelos, because Hallmark knows what the audience wants. The chief talks about possible retirement. NOOOO, don’t you dare, Hallmark.

We then jump to Tess and Aunt Candace, walking and talking. Tess mentions being slightly overwhelmed with her deadlines and her Crossword Club newsletter — I think Patti Varol and Penny Press might have something to say about that — and a singles charity event that she’s helping with that never gets brought up again.

At the XCAL building, Tess chats to old friend Viv Banks, who helped put together this woman vs. machine promotional showdown. Viv shows Tess how they can talk to BB to use the elevator, which is totally not faster than just pushing a button yourself. INNOVATION.

They meet the XCAL VP Paul Redford and talk about XCAL and the upcoming exhibition. 

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They introduce Tess to a giant interactive monolithic version of BB, and she’s invited to ask it a few puzzle clues to test it out. (BB is very loud. Is everyone in the building hearing this demonstration?)

BB answers two simple clues, and Tess immediately has doubts about her performance. She seems to be half-joking, although she mentions potentially getting replaced at The Sentinel by BB.

Tess has a meet-awkward with a maintenance worker over a nearby plant that Tess seems to know more about than him. Tess and the audience are immediately suspicious.

She meets CEO Morgan Daniels, and asks him why he decided to test BB’s programming with crosswords. He tells a charming story about his father’s contentment sitting at home solving crosswords. In pen, of course. This pleasant moment is immediately ruined when plot intervenes in the form of Jesse Alexander, a woman who warns Morgan against taking a government contract, fearing the obvious Big Brother implications.

Morgan goes off with Jesse, and Tess shrugs this off, continuing to chat with VP Paul, who mentions that her voice is in the system. This means BB will respond to her elevator commands, and would even set off the alarm if she chose. This will definitely not come into play later in the movie. This is absolutely not foreshadowing.

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At this point, time has caught up to the opening scene where Morgan enters the elevator. It’s only a brief distraction by Viv that prevents Tess from entering the same elevator as Morgan and plummeting to certain doom.

Also, Tess mentions to Viv that tomorrow’s crossword waits for no one. SHE HASN’T FINISHED THE PUZZLE FOR TOMORROW YET?!

There’s a brief jump in time, and we’re looking through the broken elevator doors at Logan and Amrita, who have arrived at the behest of the Mayor, who is demanding action. It turns out the elevator’s safety protocols were overridden. The NYPD’s Computer Crimes department are investigating how this could have happened.

Tess and Logan meet up, asking why each other are there. I would think Logan’s reason for being there is obvious, Tess.

She mentions the maintenance man, and then tries to shrug it off as irrelevant. (We know it’s not.) Logan awkwardly compliments her hair. What a charmer.

Amrita starts interviewing nearby staff members, and Logan talks to VP Paul. VP Paul claims that Morgan is the only one who could have disabled the safeties. And in fact, Morgan is the only person who can modify BB and her impressive data-mining and searching abilities. WHAT?!

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They do bring up the possibility of hacking, and VP Paul mentions that someone would have to be in the office to make any system changes to BB. They claim Morgan’s firewall is impenetrable, so the tampering could only be internal.

Tess finally connects the very large dots regarding the maintenance man, and confirms with building security that he was an impostor. There’s only one plant guy for this entire building. That must be one busy dude. She tells Logan when they bump into each other again, and they check the plant.

Logan unearths something metallic from the soil, which Tess immediately recognizes as a listening device. (How? Has this come up previously at her shared crime/crossword desk at work?)

Logan receives confirmation from Computer Crimes that the elevator was, in fact, tampered with. This was a murder.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

Logan meets with VP Paul and Viv, and asks about potential threats made and enemies accumulated by the company. A rival company, Eisner Industries, immediately comes up, as they’ve been behind corporate espionage, hiring ex-employees, the works.

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Amrita shows up with a picture of the fake maintenance guy, which from the angle and resolution, appears to have been taken from the cameras filming this movie.

While waiting in line near a food cart, Tess chats with Frank, mentions the woman vs. machine exhibition has been cancelled, and then immediately starts sharing crucial information about the case and the maintenance man in public. She remembers a tattoo the man had on his forearm. Frank says he might be ex-military, and runs a few potential images past her, but no luck.

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[I love the subtle grid patterning on Tess’s clothes.
It’s one of my favorite stylistic touches in the series.]

Back at the office, Tess searches for the image and gets it on her very first click. It’s a motorcycle club. Tess goes to investigate.

Meanwhile, Logan and Amrita have turned up nothing on fingerprints and gotten no hits on facial recognition. Thankfully, Tess calls to inform him she’s putting herself in wildly stupid danger by heading to the motorcycle clubhouse herself.

She walks into the club, gets called “honey,” and drops some motorcycle knowledge, impressing the bartender. Then she immediately blows it by asking for details on a club member in the narc-iest manner possible. She looks around, sees a polaroid of the man from XCAL, and the bartender says his name is Eric. We get a swell of music to tell us a tense moment is approaching.

Logan arrives to find Tess charming the bikers with a story. Oh movie, you tricked us. She shares what she learned with Logan and he calls it in. Logan again warns Tess about putting herself in dangerous situations, then informs her that her new bartender friend is called Hammer because he committed felony assault with a hammer. Tess shrugs it off.

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The film cuts to Logan meeting Eric Ogden as he drives a van into an alley. He tries to bolt, but Amrita magically teleports into his path and stops him.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

Logan is interrogating Eric. Eric stays silent until Logan accuses him of conspiracy to commit Morgan’s murder. Eric then confirms that Eisner Industries hired him, but claims he knows nothing about the murder. He has a hard drive in his apartment with all the audio he recorded from XCAL.

At The Sentinel, Frank thanks Tess for offering to introduce him to Viv, getting him a crucial in at XCAL. Frank offers some exposition on XCAL’s early days, including a partner named Gregory Sackett that Morgan booted from the company before they went public and became a cash cow.

At the police station, surveillance footage confirms Eric was never near a computer, so he couldn’t have been the one who reprogrammed BB and killed Morgan. He and Amrita talk suspects, and rule out Viv, but mention Jesse, who turns out to be lead programmer. They also mention the insane idea that Daniels was the only person who could make changes or maintain BB, and how that doesn’t make sense. Good call, movie. We were all thinking it.

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Logan sees the police commissioner is talking to the chief. I swear, movie, if you are writing out John Kapelos, I will fight you.

One visit to Jesse’s apartment yields no Jesse, but a neighbor confirms she left a few hours ago with a duffel bag.

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Meanwhile, Tess is finally crosswording, in the lobby of XCAL for some reason. She better have finished Tuesday’s puzzle by now. Logan bumps into her there. SHE MENTIONS HER PUZZLE IS DUE IN TWO HOURS. Tess, seriously?!

They banter back and forth about people skills. It’s pretty cute, honestly.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

Logan crosses paths with reporter Frank and fires off a friendly “no comment” before talking to Viv. They observe VP Paul having a heated phone call with the board of directors. Eisner has put in a bid on XCAL, swooping in during the chaos. It turns out XCAL didn’t get the government contract because all the programming for it was on a personal hard drive Daniels was carrying, which Viv presumes was destroyed.

Yeah, it surely wasn’t nabbed from his pocket during the incredibly awkward bump-into earlier in the movie. I SEE YOU, MOVIE. I SEE YOU.

Frank and Tess are in the parking garage, and it turns out Tess’s vehicle knowledge also includes cars, as she correctly identifies the problem Viv is having with Morgan’s car. Viv is  trying to return it to his wife. Tess volunteers to drive it back with her.

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At the police station, the chief talks retirement with Logan after finding out from the commissioner that a colleague died at his desk. Amrita arrives to inform them that the audio files weren’t on the hard drive from Eric’s apartment. Someone erased them. The chief deduces that the killer is mopping up after their crime.

Eric confirms that Keith Eisner, the CEO of the rival company, was the one who hired him. Eric offers up that he overheard a heated argument Morgan had with someone named Patricia about a government contract and that “he’d sign the papers over his dead body.” Logan begins forming a theory connecting the missing Jesse with Patricia, and heads out to talk to the latter, who it turns out is Morgan’s wife.

But guess who is already on the way…

Tess and Viv chat en route. In Morgan’s messy car, she finds evidence that he was spending a lot of time at New York General Hospital. They talk about Jesse and Viv mentions how much Morgan trusted her input.

Logan has somehow beaten Tess and Viv to Patricia’s house, and it turns out the papers he wouldn’t sign were divorce papers. Patricia had fallen in love with someone else: Keith Eisner.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

Tess and Viv arrive in Morgan’s car. She mentions the hospital to Logan, who is baffled by their increasingly unlikely meet-ups across New York. She cons a ride home with Logan. WAIT, HOW WAS SHE PLANNING TO GET BACK TO THE CITY? THAT CAB FARE WOULD BE OUTRAGEOUS.

[Tess adds “grand theft french fry” to her long list of previous crimes and indiscretions.]

Over lunch, Logan and Tess talk about Patricia and Eisner possibly orchestrating Morgan’s demise. Logan conspires with Tess to have socialite extraordinaire Aunt Candace test the chief’s interest in actually retiring.

Amidst their chatting, Tess reveals she was once engaged, but called off the wedding. Logan is about to share something, but is interrupted by a call. Turns out there’s no link the police can find between Patricia and Jesse.

Tess and Logan visit the hospital. But the nurse, a true professional, won’t divulge who Morgan was visiting. Tess doesn’t get a chance to try out her biker-soothing charms, because Logan gets a call, and there’s no sign of a hard drive in the elevator wreckage. Audience suspicions of pickpocketing confirmed.

Tess herself confirms this when Logan asks if she remembers anything, and she mentions the pre-elevator bumping-into. They go looking for the bumpee at XCAL, and it turns out she was a temp, so she wouldn’t have been on the employee list Viv gave the police.

[The temp, right after bumping into Morgan.]

Amrita looks up the temp, Layla Barnes, and she’s got a record. Apparently Jesse recommended her for the job.

In a coffeeshop, Aunt Candace and Tess chat about Logan and the chief, and Candace agrees to help Logan find out his dad’s thoughts on retiring. Tess gets a call. Frank has located former XCAL founder Gregory Sackett. He offers to bring Tess with him to talk to Sackett.

Logan arrives at Layla’s apartment building and hears a scream. Behind the building, he finds Layla on the ground, checks her pulse, and gets struck from behind by an unknown black-clad assailant.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

Lots of flashing lights as we return to the alley behind Layla’s apartment. Amrita and the chief are there to check on Logan. He has a headache and a serious bump on the noggin, but otherwise he’s alright.

Amrita reports that Layla was killed by a single gunshot. Her laptop is there, along with a bunch of burner cellphones, but there’s no sign of Morgan’s missing hard drive.

Meanwhile, Frank and Tess chat, theorizing that Morgan and Sackett patched things up, and Sackett was the person Morgan was visiting at the hospital. It turns out that Morgan found out about Sackett’s illness through BB’s search algorithm, and that’s what made him reach out and mend fences.

At Sackett’s home, the ailing man mentions there was a third founding member of XCAL, Guinevere Rice. Tess puzzles out that XCAL is a reference to the sword Excalibur from Arthurian legend, and Sackett confirms the company was named in her honor. He also mentions that Guinevere and Morgan had been dating, and split at some point around the same time Sackett got booted.

At the police station, a phone call between Aunt Candace and the chief wraps up just as Logan and Amrita arrive. One of the burner phones they found at Layla’s apartment had call listings to all the biggest tech companies. She was trying to sell Morgan’s hard drive. Most of the phone calls were a minute or less, indicating no luck. The only long phone call — eight minutes long — was with Eisner Industries.

As soon as Logan arrives at Eisner, all of the computers in the lobby — because employees work in the lobby for some reason? — are hacked and start displaying the word CONFESS with seven exclamation points.

Now, we all know that three exclamation marks or more are the sign of true insanity, so seven is incredibly dangerous territory.

Logan meets with Keith Eisner upstairs as the hacking chaos continues. Eisner claims that the bugs were the result of an overzealous employee and that he only listened to Layla’s call for eight minutes to get details to report to the police. He admits that he and Morgan were rivals, but claims that their rivalry pushed each other to greater heights.

I really liked this touch. So often, antagonists — either actual bad guys or just red herring suspects — are cartoonishly mean or evil. To have their rivalry painted as a positive is a nice take that adds much-needed depth to what could have been a bland boilerplate suspect.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

At dinner, Aunt Candace and the chief chat about retirement and making changes when you’re older. He takes an interest in the cooking class she mentions.

At The Sentinel, Frank has no luck locating Guinevere Rice. Tess suggests reaching out to the alumni organization at the college Morgan, Guinevere, and Sackett all attended. Tess spins an obvious lie to the alumni office, but manages to find out Guinevere died in 1993 in a car accident. She is given contact information for Guinevere’s daughter. It leads to the voicemail of Jesse Alexander.

Jesse is Guinevere’s daughter. GASP.

At the police station, Logan confirms that Eisner filed a report with the NYPD, and the chief reveals that Layla and Jesse were in the same work-release program. Jesse used to be known as Stephanie Rice, and got in trouble after some major hacking she did back in the day.

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And in the saddest of the three revelations, the chief confirms that he’s retiring. YOU EVIL MOVIE. IF WE DON’T GET A CRIME-SOLVING RETIRED JOHN KAPELOS SPINOFF, I WILL RIOT.

We cut to a random sidewalk, where a black-clad individual is shadowing Tess. (We can see it’s Jesse, but Tess cannot.)

Tess, showing much greater awareness than in previous movies, notices she’s being followed and ducks into a store. Jesse stares through the front door, unsure of what to do next.

Tess then somehow emerges from the subway stairwell behind her pursuer, reveals herself, and is stunned to discover that Jesse was the person following her.

While this is going on, Amrita and Logan are searching Jesse’s apartment, and Amrita finds a hard drive. They assume it’s Morgan’s. Logan gets a call from computer crimes that confirms Morgan gave access to XCAL’s systems to Jesse a week ago. The net around Jesse tightens.

Meanwhile, Jesse and Tess talk in the park. Jesse reveals that Morgan was her father but he didn’t know that when he hired her. She disappeared because she’s been trying to find his killer through less-than-legal means. But before he died, Morgan found out her true identity when he searched her name in the increasingly unsettling and hyper-efficient BB search program.

Logan finds out Jesse has been spotted in the park talking to an unidentified woman. It’s surprising the entire police force doesn’t know Tess by now. She’s the famous crossword lady who interferes in all the best and puzzliest investigations!

He shows up and arrests Jesse for the murder of Layla Barnes. He also quite testily shuts down Tess’s attempts to explain, reminding her how dangerous it is to interfere in a police investigation, and leaves with Jesse in tow.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

In interrogation, Jesse claims she didn’t know Layla took the hard drive from Morgan and she’s shocked that it was found at her apartment. She believes she’s being framed. When Logan asks about her hacking Eisner Industries and posting the Confess!!!!!!! message, she lawyers up.

Tess shows up at the station to explain, and the chief gives her a kinder version of the dressing down Logan offered earlier. He mentions that if anything happened to Tess, Logan would never forgive himself. He alludes to Logan being attacked at Layla’s apartment — to highlight how dangerous this case is — and Tess is concerned, only just now hearing about the attack. Still, she presses on, making a case for Jesse’s innocence to Logan and the chief.

The trio soon joins Amrita at her desk. Computer Crimes can’t get into Layla’s laptop, but has determined there’s a seven-digit password. Tess suggests “1234567” because it is insanely common. She also casually mentions that there are 33,000 possible seven-letter words that could also be the password.

The chief suggests Layla might’ve kept a list of passwords nearby (because he does), and Logan finds some 7-digit numbers in a notepad she kept on her desk. One of the numbers works, and they’re in. Logan tries to use this success to convince his father not to retire.

The detective offers to give Tess a ride home en route to returning the hard drive to XCAL. Tess rightly points out it’s evidence, but apparently Viv made a call to the Mayor’s office. This is very sus, as the kids would say.

Our dynamic duo arrives at XCAL, and plot intervenes to separate them in the form of a phone call from Tess’s editor. SHE HAS NOT SUBMITTED TOMORROW’S PUZZLE YET. COME ON TESS, WHAT THE HELL?!

Logan turns over the hard drive to VP Paul, who asks about Jesse, confirming that she’s been apprehended. Logan gets a call from Amrita, who finds copies of Eric’s audio files on Layla’s computer. She listened to some of them, and it turns out that Morgan and VP Paul disagreed about the government contract in the days leading up to Morgan’s death. Morgan sided with Jesse.

(This seems out of the blue, given Jesse publicly chiding Morgan for the contract right before he died, but it’s possible when he pulled her aside, it was to appease her before breaking the bad news to everyone. Jesse clearly didn’t know in interrogation, so he couldn’t have told her then. Anyway, I digress.)

Logan, now realizing that VP Paul has been playing him this whole time, baits Paul with references to Layla and the hard drive. We see Paul has a gun concealed behind him, and he draws on Logan when Logan confirms that Paul murdered Layla.

FINAL COMMERCIAL BREAK!

Tess finishes her call, and considers going to look for Logan, but then mumbles to herself, “Stay out of it, Tess,” and sits back down. Oh movie, look at you, making us disregard otherwise prudent advice for the sake of drama. I see you, movie.

Paul gets Logan to put down his gun, then starts monologuing about selling the hard drive on the black market and leaving for a country without an extradition treaty. Classic villain stuff.

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Then the elevator opens and Tess emerges, ignoring the prudent advice. She sees Logan being held at gunpoint.

Remembering the alarm thing from her earlier visit to XCAL, she yells, “BB, activate the alarm!” and Logan manages to put some distance between himself and VP Paul after a shameful scuffle where he fails to disarm the bad guy.

VP Paul orders BB to shut down the alarm, but this gives Tess time to slide Logan his gun. Paul fires toward Tess, and Logan puts a bullet in Paul’s shoulder.

Later, we see Tess, Logan, and the Chief for the loose-ends wrap-up.

Morgan’s hard drive was empty. Presumably Morgan erased it before he died. And apparently Paul saw Morgan enter his password one time and that’s how he gained access to the system. (So the impenetrable system only Morgan could operate was foiled by something someone could memorize after seeing it once. Huh.)

Logan and the chief thank Tess for saving Logan’s life. She is humble about the whole thing. Is that the end?

No! We cut to the police station, where Logan needs to grab his wallet before taking his dad out to dinner. The chief deduces that Logan has lured him here for a retirement party, but Logan claims that’s wrong.

The chief reveals he’s not ready to retire yet. The people rejoice!

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As it turns out, Logan has organized an UNretirement party for the chief, because he knew the chief wasn’t ready yet. Good job, Logan.

During the festivities, Logan and Tess share a quiet moment, and Logan reveals that he was married before and it ended because of his job. (This was what he wanted to tell her during their lunch.)

He thanks Tess for helping him realize that he shouldn’t keep people at arms length. They clink glasses. And the camera drifts away from the couple.

The End.

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[SORRY, ROMANCE LOVERS. YOU’LL HAVE TO WAIT AT LEAST ONE MORE CROSSWORD MYSTERIES FILM FOR THE GOOD STUFF.]


CONCLUSION

I confess, I’m torn on Terminal Descent. The mystery is interesting and well-constructed, and the twin reveals of a third founding member and her secret daughter actually worked quite nicely. (It does tend dangerously close to “secret twin” territory, but overall, I enjoyed the twist and how the characters played off each other.)

But then again, these are the Crossword Mysteries, and this was the least puzzly entry in the series yet! The first had an actual crossword at the center of the story, the second a cipher, and the third had a riddle and all sorts of twisty magic happenings that encouraged some brain teaser-like deduction.

But this one had no puzzle element at all. We lose the woman vs. machine bit about ten minutes into the movie; it would’ve been nice to close with that, just to give Tess a chance to prove her puzzly mettle.

Yes, I obviously had some fun joking about the plot elements in my review, but any criticisms were made with tongue placed firmly in cheek. I quite liked the cast of potential suspects — Eisner in particular was a nice reinvention of a tired trope — and would have enjoyed spending more time with these characters.

Tess and Logan remain immensely likable, and I enjoyed that moments of tension between them moved from the “Tess, you’re interfering AGAIN?!” gimmick of the earlier movies to Logan’s genuine concern that Tess not be harmed and sincere appreciation for what she brings to the investigation. It feels like movement forward, which is always welcome in any relationship. Sure, it was borderline ridiculous how many times they bumped into each other during the movie, but at this point, it’s practically a trope of the series.

And, of course, John Kapelos shined as the police chief and father figure of the film, funny and distracting in equal measure. He is just the best.

In sort, the movie is light, frothy, slightly murdery fun. You can’t go wrong with that.

Fair warning, though: the film did lack a Will Shortz cameo as far as I could tell, but given that it was filmed in late 2020, it’s totally understandable while filming under COVID-safe conditions. Still, we potentially missed out on Biker Will Shortz, which would have been fantastic.


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Plus, there’s more to come!

There is at least one more Crossword Mysteries movie scheduled for 2021. The fifth entry in the series is entitled Riddle Me Dead and has a scheduled release date of April 11th, 2021.

So do not fret, puzzle fans. There’s more of Tess and Logan to come!


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

Happy (Inter)National Puzzle Day!

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It’s National Puzzle Day, also known as International Puzzle Day, depending on where you are and whether your puzzly activities extend across borders.

Maybe your puzzly Zoom group spans several countries. Maybe you and a friend are using remote-controlled robots to play Jenga. Maybe you’ve gotten hooked on Polish crosswords you’re solving through Google Translate. These are some of most common international ways to enjoy puzzling, of course. I’m sure you have plenty of additional suggestions.

But whether your Puzzle Day is National or International, we have some fun puzzly events and information to share with our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers.

The first is that tomorrow marks the latest virtual puzzle event being hosted by the ever-inventive Boswords crew. After the wild success that was the Fall Themeless League, they’re hosting a one-day puzzle event on Sunday, the Winter Wondersolve.

Participants will have four puzzles awaiting them — three themed crosswords and a themeless — designed by top-notch constructors, and it’s only $20 to compete live! (If you just want to solve the puzzles outside the tournament, that’s only $10!)

Considering how terrific both the 2020 Boswords tournament and the Fall Themeless League were, I’m expecting a great day of puzzling from the Winter Wondersolve.

Speaking of puzzly events, the long-awaited fourth installment in the Crossword Mysteries series is debuting on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries on Sunday, February 14th at 8 PM Eastern.

And what would be more perfect for Valentine’s Day than a crossword-themed murder mystery about an elevator accident entitled Terminal Descent?

Exactly.

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Of course, the easiest way to celebrate your (Inter)National Puzzle Day is to solve with us! Whether you enjoy crosswords, Sudoku, word seeks, or story-driven puzzling, we’ve got you covered with the click of a button!

Names like Normal Mailer, Mike Mussina, Beverly Sills, Neil Patrick Harris, and many more are proud puzzle fans, so I thought I’d whip up a quick little puzzle about famous crosswords solvers.

Below is a list of eight names.

As you can see, there are letters missing from each name. Coincidentally, those missing letters spell out the phrase CELEBRITY CROSSWORD ENTHUSIASTS.

Can you place the letters in the correct spots to reveal this octet of puzzle-solving celebs?

Good luck and happy solving!


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The PN Blog 2020 Countdown!

It’s the final blog post of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2020 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


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#10 Farewell, Keith

I don’t mean to start off this countdown on a sad note by mentioning the loss of fellow puzzler and Penny Dell colleague Keith Yarbrough. Writing this post was incredibly difficult, but I am proud of how it turned out. It served as a valuable part of my healing process, allowing me to immerse myself in nothing but good memories of my friend. Giving other people the opportunity to know Keith like I did was a worthwhile experience.

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#9 Tap Code

Exploring the different ways puzzles have been involved in historical moments, either as anecdotes or key aspects, is one of my favorite parts of writing for PuzzleNation Blog. But it’s rare to have a historical story about puzzles that tugs on your heartstrings like this one. The way the Tap code served to keep the spirits of POWs high — and the way that codes and spycraft helped a husband and wife endure the hardships of separation — made this a post with a lot of depth and humanity.

#8 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

#7 Crossword Commentary

There’s more to writing about crosswords than simply solving puzzles and unraveling clues, and that was especially true this year. The social and cultural aspect of crosswords came up several times, and it’s important to discuss these issues in an open, honest way, even if that means calling out a toxic presence like Timothy Parker, or even questioning the choices of the biggest crossword in the world to hold them accountable.

Whether it was exploring representation in crossword entries and cluing or continuing to debate cultural sensitivity in crossword answers in the major outlets, we took up the torch more than once this year because it was the right thing to do.

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#6 Best Puzzle Solvers

Last year, we began a series of posts examining the best puzzle solvers in various realms of pop culture, and I very much enjoyed combing through the worlds of horror movies and television for the sharpest minds and most clever problem solvers.

This series continued in 2020, as we delved into literature (for adult readers, young adult readers, AND younger readers, respectively), as well as compiling a list of the worst puzzle solvers in pop culture. We even graded the skills of different fictional crossword constructors to see who was representing the best and worst in puzzle construction in media!

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#5 Crossword Bingo

One of the most clever deconstructions of the medium of crosswords I came across this year was a bingo card a solver made, highlighting words and tropes that frequently appear in modern crosswords. It was a smartly visual way of discussing repetition and pet peeves, but also a sly bit of commentary. So naturally, we couldn’t resist making our own Crossword Bingo card and getting in on the fun.

#4 Pitches for Crossword Mysteries

Hallmark’s Crossword Mysteries series was one of the most noteworthy crossovers between puzzles and popular media last year, and that continued into this year with the third Crossword Mysteries film, Abracadaver. But we couldn’t get the idea of a fourth film — still promised on IMDb and other outlets — out of our heads, so we ended up pitching our own ideas for the fourth installment in the franchise. Writing this, no joke, was one of my favorite silly brainstorming sessions of the entire year.

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#3 The World of Puzzles Adapts

Even in a post celebrating the best, the most satisfying, the most rewarding, and the most enjoyable entries from 2020, you cannot help but at least mention the prevailing circumstances that shaped the entire year. 2020 will forever be the pandemic year in our memories, but it will also be the year that I remember puzzlers and constructors adapting and creating some of the most memorable puzzle experiences I’ve ever had.

From the initial experiment of Crossword Tournament From Your Couch to the creation of the Boswords Fall Themeless League, from tournaments like Boswords and Lollapuzzoola going virtual to the crew at Club Drosselmeyer creating an interactive puzzly radio show for the ages, I was blown away by the wit, ambition, determination, and puzzle-fueled innovation brought to the fore this year.

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#2 Eyes Open

Earlier this year, we made a promise to all of the people standing up for underrepresented and mistreated groups to do our part in helping make the world better for women, for people of color, and for the LGBTQIA+ community. We launched Eyes Open, a puzzle series designed to better educate ourselves and our fellow solvers about important social topics. And that is a promise we will carry into 2021. We hope that, in some small way, we are contributing to a better, more inclusive world.

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#1 Fairness

Part of the prevailing mindset of PuzzleNation Blog is that puzzles can and should be for everyone. They should be fun. And they should be fair.

So this year, two posts stood out to me as epitomizing that spirit. The first was a discussion of intuitive vs non-intuitive puzzles, which I feel is very relevant these days, given the proliferation of different puzzle experiences like escape rooms out there.

The second, quite simply, was a response to a friend’s Facebook post where she felt guilty for looking up answers she didn’t know in a crossword, calling it “cheating.” I tried to reassure her there was no such thing as cheating in crosswords.

And since I couldn’t decide between these two posts for the top spot in our countdown, I’m putting them both here, because I feel like they represent a similar spirit. I hope you feel the same.


Thanks for spending 2020 with us, through brain teasers and big ideas, through Hallmark mysteries and Halloween puns, through puzzle launches and landmark moments. We’ll see you in 2021.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!