The 2021 Boswords Spring Themeless League: Looking Back

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After two months of challenging, engaging, and thoroughly enjoyable weekly solving, the Boswords 2021 Spring Themeless League came to a close a few weeks ago.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Boswords 2021 Spring Themeless League spreads out a tournament-style solving experience over nine weeks, one themeless crossword per week. Each puzzle is scored based on your answer accuracy (incorrect letters, empty squares, etc.) and how quickly you complete the grid.

While each week’s puzzle only had one solution, there were three sets of clues, each representing a different difficulty level for solvers. Smooth was the least challenging, Choppy was the middle ground, and Stormy was the most challenging. (When solvers registered to participate, they chose the difficulty level that suited them best.)

Hundreds of solvers signed up for the challenge of two months of themeless puzzle solving and a bit of friendly competition, and now that it’s over, I’d like to share a few thoughts about my experience in the League.

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When I participated in the 2020 Fall Themeless League, I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t have much experience with themeless puzzles, and I rarely solve online, so even though I’m very familiar with crosswords, it felt like a new experience.

But with last season’s league under my belt, I went into the 2021 Spring Themeless League excited to again test my skills with some top-flight puzzles, a touch more confident in my themeless solving than last time.

As you might expect, being freed from the shackles of themed puzzle building allows constructors to really flex their creative muscle, indulging all sorts of curious and unexpected vocabulary as they cross long entries and employ staggeringly few black squares in these impressive grids.

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Aimee Lucido opened up week one with three 13-letter entries across the center of the grid, giving new solvers a taste of just what constructors can do with a themeless grid, and offering established solvers some terrific crossings and fun vocabulary.

Peter Wentz’s week two puzzle and the week three offering from Brynn Diehl and Mark Diehl continued to set the tone for the season, mixing some clever wordplay in their cluing with ambitious grid construction. (Week three’s puzzle had stacks of 10-letter entries in every corner, which was impressive.)

Rachel Fabi provided week four’s puzzle — which really tickled me by having “advice column” as a down entry, i.e. a column — and Ryan McCarty’s week five puzzle was one of my smoothest solves of the tournament. Plus, he had “doggos” in the grid, and I am fully onboard with “doggo” becoming crosswordese.

I stupidly submitted my grid with an empty square in Patti Varol’s week six, which hurt my score somewhat. I still enjoyed the puzzle, though. Crossing SPANKED with BUCKNAKED was certainly a style choice. Also, Patti always teaches me new words with her puzzles. This time around, it was “vaporetto.”

Week seven’s offering by Ricky Cruz really impressed me with some difficult letter placements — particularly the plethora of Xs in the lower-left corner. (Unfortunately, I missed the submission deadline for this one, so I got a zero for this puzzle.)

That was followed by Kevin Der’s amazing week eight grid. This one took me ten minutes longer than my average time for the rest of the tournament puzzles.

I mean, look at this grid:

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Week nine’s championship puzzle was constructed by Brooke Husic, and it was the perfect closer to two months of solving. It was sharp and well-constructed, sending everyone home happy.

All in all, I enjoyed the Spring Themeless League more than the Fall League because I felt much more comfortable with the solving interface and I had a better handle on themeless solving overall. My times were stronger — although far from the blistering pace set by many of the top solvers — and I felt like I was making smarter choices in my solving. It’s always nice to both see and feel improvement in your puzzling.

I ended up placing 262nd out of around 600 competitors — had I actually gotten puzzle seven submitted, I would’ve been closer to 115th or so — which is about on pace for how I did in the Fall Themeless League.

But the tournament experience was delightful. Having a new challenge awaiting you every week is a treat, especially with the fantastic roster of talent they assembled in this season’s constructors.

And with the promise of future Boswords-hosted events in 2021 like the Summer Tournament on July 25th and the Fall Themeless League in October and November, it’s nice to have exciting puzzle events to look forward to in the near future.

Kudos to everyone who helped bring this marvelous project together, and kudos to everyone who participated. It was so much fun.


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Vague Cluing: Yea or Nay?

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When is vagueness in crossword cluing a bad thing?

That’s kind of a loaded question, because I think it depends on the clue and the solver’s knowledge base. But there are definitely good vague clues and bad vague clues.

Someone on Reddit’s r/crossword forum mentioned the clue “Son of Zeus,” which got a laugh from folks who remember their Greek mythology and just how… prolific Zeus was.

But to me, this isn’t necessarily a bad clue. You know the number of letters (4 in this particular case), which helps narrow down the field a lot.

There are some synonym-style clues that do lend themselves to multiple answers, which can be frustrating for solvers.

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For instance, if you have a 5-letter word and the clue is “Kingly,” you could have REGAL or ROYAL, and those shared letters add a level of uncertainty and challenge to the grid. Similarly, if you have a 5-letter word and the clue is “Escape” or “Sidestep,” you’ve got EVADE, ELUDE, AVOID, and DODGE all as possibilities. That’s a little tougher.

But all of these clues seem fair to me. The vague cluing style that really irks me is “Certain [blank]”.

“Certain cat,” for example, might as well just be “Cat.” The word “certain” adds literally NOTHING to the clue. “Type of [blank]” and “Kind of [blank]” clues can also fall into this trap, but there are a fair number of cases where those clues point toward a category, not just an example of that particular group, so “Type of” and “Kind of” still provide some context.

But “certain” is a waste of typing. You could have given me a helpful adjective, or a misleading one, or a funny one. Instead, it’s the least helpful addition possible.

That sort of vague cluing is infuriating, because there’s no cleverness or art to it. Obviously, the only exception here would be some sort of wordplay involving the definition of “certain.” Something like “Certain thing?” for LOCK or GIVEN. But those are pretty rare.

In the end, vagueness can be a tool for clever cluing or a bit of filler in a long-overused clue. It’s all up to the constructor.

Are there are any vague clues or cluing tropes that get your goat, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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The Robots Have Come For Our Crosswords!

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Well, it was bound to happen. We’ve seen it in chess, and Go, and Scrabble. Now, crosswords are the latest pastime to fall to the inevitable machine takeover of civilization.

Okay, I’m being a tad hyperbolic here. Robots aren’t snatching crossword puzzles out of peoples’ hands and solving them, after all.

But we have reached a peculiar milestone in AI and crossword history: a computer program won the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Sorta.

Dr. Fill, the crossword-solving creation of Matt Ginsberg, was able to balance the occasional solving mistake with a blistering solving speed in order to overtake any human competitors in its total tournament score.

But not by much. Former ACPT champion Erik Agard was only 15 points behind Dr. Fill on the seven tournament puzzles. Dr. Fill then went on to solve the championship puzzle in 49 seconds (while actual winner Tyler Hinman did so in three minutes).

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But, as it turns out, this isn’t the old Dr. Fill that has been competing in the ACPT for years. No, this year’s Dr. Fill is a curious hybrid of the original programming and a neural network known as the Berkeley Crossword Solver.

And this Frankenstein’s monster of puzzle-solving machinery is what toppled the competition in the first-ever virtual edition of the tournament.

According to an article on Slate:

An alliance came naturally. Ginsberg and the Berkeley crew started working together just two weeks before the tournament, plugging the latter system into the former, and the centaur program finally ran with just days to go.

The result, hastily constructed though it was, was a marvel, its pieces working hand in glove to solve crosswords. Ginsberg’s system handled the grid and the colder, mathematical side of things, searching and placing answers, while the Berkeley team’s system unriddled the hazier, “human” side of the language of the clues, crosswords’ music.

You know, it’s kind of reassuring that it took TWO computer programs working in tandem to best the top puzzle solvers.

Also, it’s not like Dr. Fill can actually win a tournament. Not until it can hold a marker and solve in person in front of everybody while Greg Pliska and Ophira Eisenberg crack wise about it, at least.

It does make next year’s tournament more intriguing. Will Dr. Fill perform as well “in person”? Or will the master cruciverbalists retake the title?

And hey, if anyone is building a body for Dr. Fill, please stop. Stop, rewatch every sci-fi movie about AI and robots, and then rethink your life choices.


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The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament Returns This Weekend!

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Hello fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

Normally, this reminder post would go up on Friday, but since the deadline to register to participate in this year’s virtual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is noon tomorrow, we’re posting a day early.

Yes, the 43rd edition of the ACPT — jokingly referred to as the Nerd Olympics — has gone online this year (though some folks are still attending in person). But it’s not just the competition puzzles! Prizes, panels, and more are planned across the weekend.

A full slate of events has been scheduled for Friday through Sunday, including the Merl Reagle Award, puzzle workshops, trivia and games, and the live-solving finals, including commentary from Greg Pliska and Ophira Eisenberg!

But who is constructing this year’s puzzles, you ask? A fine question.

Constructors Sam Ezersky, Emily Carroll, Patrick Berry, Kevin Der, Lynn Lempel, Mike Shenk, Ruth Bloomfield Margolin, and Robyn Weintraub are all contributing puzzles to this year’s tournament.

You can click here to register and visit the ACPT website for full details!

Will you be competing, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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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.

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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!