PN Product Review: ThinkFun’s Cold Case: A Story to Die For

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[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Detective novels, police procedurals, murder mysteries, forensic shows… there’s an entire entertainment industry out there built on the idea of solving crimes. And why do we watch and read and participate?

Because we all like to believe we can catch the crook. Deep down, we all want to be Batman or Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes or Temperance Brennan or Jessica Fletcher or Gil Grissom or the NCIS team or members of the NYPD or any of those quick minds who unravel cases and bring the guilty to justice.

Board games are no different, encouraging us to solve crimes through process of elimination (Clue/Cluedo), careful examination of the evidence (Deception: Murder in Hong Kong), or exploring Victorian London through maps, directories, and newspapers (Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective).

ThinkFun has taken a different route with their new line of Cold Case mysteries for you to solve.

Today’s review is based on A Story to Die For, the first of two Cold Case mysteries being released in the next few weeks.

In A Story to Die For, you try to solve the 1988 murder of a young journalist.

Yes, this is a cold case, meaning you’re coming in after an investigation has already taken place, yet the case remains unsolved.

You have transcripts of police interviews with suspects, evidence, photographs, and other items collected by the police during their initial investigation. But it’s up to you to comb through the evidence and find what they missed.

There is an absolute wealth of material here to read, creating an entire world of suspects, motives, events, and red herrings for you to unravel. And the materials are top-notch. Full-color photographs, plus different papers and fonts to represent the different sources of information collected.

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I was very impressed by the presentation of the case. A lot of hard work and detail went into crafting the materials for you to read and reread as you assimilate more information about Andy Bailey’s life. (I would love to tell you specifics, but I want to keep this review spoiler-free!)

And once you think you’ve cracked the case and found answers for all of the questions left behind by the initial investigation, you can test your theory by going to the ThinkFun Cold Case website and submitting your answers.

If you’re on the wrong track, the replies from the website will give you clues on where to look in order to correctly solve the case. And if your detective skills are in tiptop condition, you’ll get more information and a chance to read the suspect’s confession!

It’s a game built on observation, deduction, and wits, and I think it’s one of ThinkFun’s most impressive creations yet. Whether you’re solving alone or with friends, the hour or two you spend unraveling this mystery will be time well spent.

[Cold Case: A Story to Die For is part of ThinkFun’s Cold Case series, designed for players ages 14 and up, and is available for $14.99 from ThinkFun and other associated retailers. Pre-orders start May 18th!]


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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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Kickstarter Roundup!

Oh yes, it’s that time again.

For years now, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been hotbeds of innovative puzzle and game design, and I’m always happy to spread the word about worthy projects that I think will delight and intrigue my fellow PuzzleNationers.

So let’s take a look at some projects that are currently seeking funding and see if any pique your interest! (This time around, we’ve got twice as many recommendations as usual! So much puzzly potential!)


atoz crossword

The first is a project by Fireball Crosswords and Fireball Newsflash Crosswords constructor Peter Gordon, entitled A-to-Z Crosswords Volume 2: More Petite Pangram Puzzles.

The project is easy to explain, but mindblowing to think about. Every single day for 24 WEEKS, you get a 9×11 crossword puzzle that contains all 26 letters. The puzzles range from easy to medium in difficulty, arrive by email, and are constructed by Gordon and professional puzzler Frank Longo.

This is a very cool project that deserves your support — they’re a little more than a third of the way there, with 9 days to go — and you should definitely check it out!

puzzle postcard

The next project is Puzzle Postcards: Season Two by the Enigma Emporium.

Last year, Wish You Were Here was part of our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, and it’s fantastic to see that the Enigma Emporium is Kickstarting another puzzle postcard mystery this year.

Essentially, an entire mystery is concealed within a handful of postcards, challenging you to mine them for every scrap of information as you uncover a series of coded messages. It’s spycraft in an envelope, very clever stuff.

Already funded with 12 days to go — and carrying a solid track record of previous successful Kickstarter projects behind them — I cannot recommend this one highly enough. I loved Wish You Were Here, as well as the follow-up series.

fuzzies

For a change of pace, our next project is The Fuzzies.

Basically, this is a Jenga-style dexterity game, but made out of little fuzzy balls instead of pieces of wood. And instead of choosing which piece you remove and place on top, that is determined by a deck of cards instead.

I don’t know how it works — actually staying upright in the first place — but apparently it does.

This family-friendly game has already tripled its funding goal with 29 days to go, so it might be right up your alley.

enigmas

The next project we’re sharing today is the ENIGMAS deck of puzzle playing cards.

David Kwong — constructor, magician, and all-around puzzly fellow — has masterminded a puzzle mystery and a series of hidden messages and ciphers, all contained within a deck of cards.

ENIGMAS marries some of the ideas from his Enigmatist show — specifically the historical aspects — with an ingenious puzzle hunt to create an intriguing solving situation. Plus, once you’ve cracked all the puzzly elements, you’ve still got a beautiful deck of cards to enjoy.

This project has blasted well past its funding goal, and with 9 days to go, they’ve added a special limited-run deck of red cards (to compliment the standard blue deck) that will only be offered to Kickstarter backers and never sold in stores. With a pedigree like David’s, you can’t go wrong!

sherlock

Our next project is bigger and no less ambitious. It’s Sherlock’s Mysteries: An Interactive Puzzle Adventure (not to be confused with another Sherlock-based Kickstarter running right now).

Combining board game and escape room elements, this project contains 10 mysteries (described as chapters) that combine into one interwoven narrative where you try to save the life of Sherlock Holmes!

By combining murder mystery-style solving with puzzles like ciphers and deduction puzzles, this project definitely tries to encapsulate the experience of being the Great Detective from the comfort of your own home.

About halfway to its goal with 21 days left, this project isn’t a lock (given the price tag of $135 to experience the entire story), but it’s definitely worth a look. (I’m especially intrigued by the fact that certain levels offer “refill kits” that allow the experience to be played more than once!)

shivers

For something just as puzzly but more immersive from a roleplaying point of view, there’s The Shivers.

In this game, someone has gone missing in the house owned by the Shivers family, and you play one of the family members trying to solve the mystery and defeat dangerous foes at work in various sinister and creepy scenarios.

This gameplay is bolstered by pop-up 3-D models of the various rooms of the house, bringing the setting and different stories to life right before your eyes.

This is a very clever combination of puzzle hunt, roleplaying game, and pop-up book that I’ve never really seen before, and like some of these other projects, it has blown past its funding goal with strong support from interested gamers and puzzlers.

legacy

Following the escape room/puzzle mystery at home template, Legacy: Quest for a Family Treasure is our next project to discuss.

You receive a black box in the mail, and inside, you discover in your estranged father’s will that there is a family treasure hidden somewhere in Europe. And you’ll have to unravel secrets of the past in order to secure your future.

This immersive mystery involves audio and video clues, physical evidence to pore over, and even incorporates Internet searching into the gameplay. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the level of depth and attention to detail in this one, and clearly I’m not the only one, as the project has already met and surpassed its funding goal with 10 days to go.

The familial element adds a neat twist to the mystery-at-home genre, and I suspect this project will do very well.

labyrinth

The last project we’ll be sharing today is The Labyrinth: An Immersive Multi-Platform Puzzle Challenge.

There’s a lot of stuff included in this one: puzzle boxes, ciphers, maps, tools. They’re sending you a CRATE full of material here. The goal is to move through the various chambers of a labyrinth, solving puzzles as you go.

With 55 puzzles included — and an expected solve time of 8-10 hours — this is a breathtaking amount of puzzly paraphernalia. So there’s cost to consider here. The full puzzle costs $195 (there’s even a more expensive deluxe edition), so although that easily makes it the priciest project we’re discussing today, but also one of the most visually impressive.

And yet, with 14 days to go, they’ve already passed their funding goal nine times over. Check it out and see what you think of the expansive puzzle selection offered here.


Have any of these games or projects hooked you? Tell us which ones you’re supporting in the comments section below! And if there are any campaigns you’re supporting that we missed, let us know!

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

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Looking Forward to More Crossword Mysteries

There are always puzzly events to look forward to, big and small.

Maybe yours is solving the Sunday Times puzzle with a cup of coffee in hand, or starting a new jigsaw puzzle with coworkers over lunch. Maybe yours is reuniting with fellow puzzlers at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, or Lollapuzzoola, or a yearly puzzle hunt.

Hallmark Mysteries and Movies has added to the list of eagerly anticipated puzzly events with their Crossword Mysteries films over the last year or so.

Featuring the unlikely duo of detective Logan O’Connor and crossword editor Tess Harper, these films have struck a chord with puzzle- and mystery-loving fans of Hallmark Channel.

So far, there have been three Crossword Mysteries films:

That last one stung a bit for enthusiastic fans, of course, after the film was pushed back from its original debut date of October 20, so Hallmark could start showing Christmas movies.

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But there’s still a question floating around regarding these films… what happened to the fourth one?

After the success of A Puzzle to Die For, three additional films were announced for the series, but at some point, the order was cut down to two.

IMDB still lists a fourth film in the series, but with scant details.

Naturally, that hasn’t stopped me from pondering what the plot could be.

And so, today, I give you three pitches for the fourth Crossword Mysteries film.

Enjoy!


#1: The Jigsaw Is Up!

Tess’s beloved aunt Candace is framed for murder — puzzly murder, of course, as jigsaw puzzle pieces are found in the victim’s mouth — and Tess has to try to exonerate her socialite aunt.

And it’ll be tough. There are dozens of witnesses placing her at the scene of the crime — a party — and many of them observed an altercation between her and the victim mere moments before the body is found.

Tess realizes the jigsaw puzzle pieces in the victim’s mouth don’t match the puzzle he was working on, and it turns out the puzzle was swapped? Why?

It was a favorite of the murderer, who used to solve jigsaws with the victim before he took a shine to Aunt Candace. Once the original puzzle is found, it turns out to a picture of the victim and the murderer in happier times.


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#2: A Boy Named Sudoku

Tess is completely baffled when Sudoku puzzles are left behind at a series of break-ins, each with seemingly random numbers filled in.

Frustrated, Tess is forced to turn to her hated puzzly rival — the Sudoku editor at a competing newspaper — to help her solve the puzzles.

It turns out the numbers aren’t random after all, and the break-ins are all tied to bank account numbers for the same individual: a ruthless millionaire. The break-ins are all to businesses owned by him.

In the end, a promising puzzle whiz turns out to be behind it all, taking revenge on the man who ruined his father’s business. When Tess offers him an internship at her paper, she’s appalled when he says he prefers Sudoku, and ends up working for her rival.


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#3: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

Okay, this one centers around Will Shortz’s cameos in each of the previous films. In the first, we encounter him playing table tennis. In the second, he’s a cop at Logan’s station. In the third, he’s one of the folks at the dance studio.

Each time, the protagonists interact with him but don’t recognize him, meaning each of these three characters are different people. And yet, the fact that they’ve encountered mustachioed triplets doesn’t register with Logan and Tess.

Apparently New York City is loaded with Will Shortz lookalikes. My pitch is for the fourth movie to involve two dozen or more Will Shortz characters as suspects. Maybe one is also the victim. I don’t know. But I want there to be a boatload of Will Shortzes and a serious case of “Man, all these suspects look similar.”


Did you enjoy the potential pitches for a fourth Crossword Mysteries movie, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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: Proposing Murder

In January of 2018, it was announced that Hallmark Movies and Mysteries would be teaming up with Will Shortz of The New York Times Crossword to produce a mystery film with crosswords at the heart of the story.

On March 10th, 2019, Crossword Mysteries: A Puzzle to Die For debuted, introducing the puzzle world (and the mystery world) to crossword editor Tess Harper and 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 October. (For reasons yet unexplained, that number has shrunk to two over the intervening months.)

This past Sunday, the second Crossword Mysteries film debuted on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries.

Its title? Proposing Murder.

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 spoilers, scroll down to the next solid black line.

Ready? Okay, let’s do this!


FILM RECAP

The show opens with a lovely little introductory montage with the characters framed by crossword clues and grids. It’s a nice touch (and a sign that the network expects to continue with these).

An apartment door opens, and a young man picks up his newspaper, smiling at the crossword inside. He carefully sets it down with an elegant table setting for brunch, then answers a knock at the door. Everything goes white.

We cut to detective Logan O’Connor standing over the body.

A title card flashes on the screen:

FIVE DAYS EARLIER

Tess chats with her assistant Josephine about Josephine’s cousin, a new intern at the paper. She then bumps into Detective O’Connor for a lovely little meet-awkward. It’s been two months since they’ve seen each other.

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Logan is running around doing errands for his sister’s wedding. The sister, Angela, is also there, immediately making things more awkward, and asking if Tess can get a photo of the couple into the paper (alongside the usual wedding announcement). Tess makes no promises, but says she’ll see what she can do.

She then shares weird wedding trivia with Logan, and he and his sister leave. Oh, puzzle people and their trivia. (That part’s actually true.)

Tess meets the intern, who is (of course) a huge fan of her puzzle. He will be helping with research, apparently. Tess then solicits help for her puzzle, looking for a romantic 9-letter word, second letter H. Her assistant suggests CHRISTMAS (which simply has to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to Hallmark’s never-ending barrage of Christmas programming).

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Also, it must be stated, nobody actually constructs puzzles this way.

Tess’s puzzlesmithing is then interrupted by a call from a Professor Clark.

We cut to her and Professor Lyle Clark, who it turns out is the victim we saw in the opening sequence. Oh Tess, is every casual acquaintance of yours bound to be murdered? We can only hope.

He’s using one of her crosswords as a bookmark. She comments on that. This is in no way an important detail for later.

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Lyle brings Tess (and the audience up to speed): he’s a college professor, he’s got tenure now, and he has a knack for codes. (Tess namedrops Navajo codetalkers and World War II ciphers.) He’s also reading a book on the Beale papers.

Lyle talks about the big distraction in his life — his girlfriend Abby — and it turns out Tess’s crossword is not only solved by every human being on the planet, but it’s also a romantic talisman. You see, Lyle and Abby were both solving Tess’s puzzle, and that’s how they met. They do her puzzle together over brunch every Sunday. Awww.

He’s going to propose to Abby, showing off a massive diamond ring, and he asks Tess to hide his marriage proposal to Abby in her upcoming puzzle. Tess happily agrees.

We cut back to her working on the puzzle and explaining the concept to the new intern. She clues ABBY “Free with her advice” (which is terrible cluing) and the word WILL “Shakespeare, to friends,” and “Words that have a nice ring to them” for MARRY ME. The idea is to spell out ABBY, WILL YOU MARRY ME?

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[It’s so romantic. “LOAM ABBY WILL YOU VINYL CONTENTMENT.”]

FIVE DAYS LATER

Back at the murder scene, the Chief arrives, avoiding wedding planning with a convenient murder. (The Chief is also Logan’s father, for those who didn’t see the first Crossword Mysteries film.)

The victim has been stabbed. There’s no surveillance footage, no sign of the murder weapon, and no sign of forced entry. His girlfriend Abby found him, unfortunately.

We also meet Logan’s new partner, detective Winston Sams. He calls him “Rookie” and “Rook” because he’s charmingly condescending, I suppose. Winston notices one of the chef’s knives from the block is missing. Logan has him check the victim’s financials while he heads down to the hospital to question Abby.

At the hospital, Logan chats with the obviously upset Abby.

She hadn’t seen Lyle since the night before at a faculty party. She was going to meet him for brunch to solve the crossword. She found the door open and his body on the floor. Abby mentions that Lyle has been getting threats in the mail for months. (He said they were from his ex-girlfriend Bethany.) He always threw them the threatening notes away, but Abby kept one, which she promises to give Logan.

She also mentions a Professor Emory who was arguing with Lyle at the faculty party the night before. Lyle beat him out for tenure the previous month.

Back at the police station, the plot… well, doesn’t thicken. Simmers? Let’s go with the plot simmers.

The girlfriend’s alibi checked out. There was apparently a struggle between the victim and the killer, but the tip of the knife was embedded in his body. They’re waiting on more details from forensics.

Logan’s partner finds a note with the initials TH and a phone number in the victim’s wallet. He calls it, and surprise surprise, it’s Tess who answers.

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She mentions the ring, but Logan says they didn’t find the ring at the crime scene. They all note how expensive the ring would’ve been for a college professor. Logan also recalls that Abby said the victim had been looking at property in Connecticut, which would be costly. But the victim’s record seems clean, save for a single parking ticket.

Tess confirms his sister’s photo will be in the paper before she hangs up. Logan and Winston discuss the ex-girlfriend, a surgeon, who is on the suspect list.

Cut to Tess and Aunt Candace (who knows simply EVERYBODY who’s ANYBODY) walking the streets of New York. Tess mentions that Lyle told her he hadn’t been researching anything lately, and ponders whether Lyle had a secret that cost him his life.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

We get an ad for next week’s new edition of Crossword Mysteries. It’s titled Abracadaver. We cross our fingers for a David Kwong cameo.

COMMERCIAL BREAK CONTINUES!

Logan is talking to the victim’s mother. She talks about her childhood in Connecticut and how she wanted that idyllic life for Lyle. His grandfather was a World War II codebreaker, which sparked Lyle’s interest in the field of codes and ciphers. After she mentions Lyle always rooting around in the basement, Logan heads down there himself. He shines the light at the camera A LOT, which is atmospheric, yet annoying. He takes a picture of a military uniform hanging up in the corner.

Tess, meanwhile, is reading an article Lyle wrote about WWII operational codenames like Neptune. (Surprisingly, she doesn’t make the crossword connection there.) Her assistant reminds her that the Sunday puzzle is due, because Tess always has to be reminded to do her job. She decides to make it World War II-themed as a tribute to her friend, then heads off to do some research.

Tess heads to the library at Lyle’s college to look up his research on codebreaking. Along the way, she meets Clayton, who worked with him and helped with his research. He immediately identifies her as the famous crossword editor, because in this universe, “crossword editor” is just below “rock star” in terms of familiarity and name-recognition.

The assistant mentions that Lyle had just driven back from Connecticut before the faculty party. He had gone up there a lot recently, interviewing WWII vets. (He was also lying about his teaching schedule, only teaching one class instead of the many Tess thought.) The dude acts suspiciously, and the lights ominously click on and off behind them, thanks to motion sensors.

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Logan and his plot-exposition-device of a partner talk, confirming that there’s no record of a ring purchase in the victim’s bank account. No unexpected DNA or prints at the murder scene either.

Logan and Tess then have one of their classic meet-randomly-in-the-same-place run-ins. He asks her for a 7-letter word for “going where one shouldn’t”. She offers INTRUDE — which is not the same verb tense, COME ON, TESS — and they banter about his crossword skills. He tries to usher her off-campus, but she dangles the information she got from Lyle’s TA, and Logan folds like a pamphlet.

Tess mentions Lyle’s secret trip to Connecticut, and explains that he had a form of night blindness that made driving at night dangerous. He then shares that Abby said Lyle had been going to Connecticut on house-hunting excursions. She also mentions the scheduling lie.

Finally managing to send Tess on her way, Logan then gives her the exasperated “oh, her” double take as she walks off.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

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On campus, Logan sits in on a college class. Christina Blake is the guest lecturer, an expert on antique books, and Logan talks to Professor Emory Nelson, who acts like the argument he and Lyle had at the faculty party was just animated debate. He offers an alibi for the time of the murder, a pancake breakfast covered in the school newspaper.

Logan then returns to the crime scene, noticing a can of beef stew in the cabinet and realizing that Lyle claimed he was a vegan. (Though he said that to Tess. I don’t recall her telling Logan this.) Inside the can is the wedding ring and a folded note, containing a series of numbers and dashes. It is quite obviously an encoded message.

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(Naturally, if I was trying to hide something from my vegan girlfriend, the fake can of beef stew in the front of the kitchen cabinet would be my first choice for a hiding spot.)

Back at the police station, Logan has Tess confirm that the ring is the same one Lyle showed her. The chief then suggests Logan show her the mysterious page of numbers. Logan thinks they’re bank account numbers, but Tess thinks it’s a code, because she’s not an idiot. When Logan tells her she can’t have a copy of the numbers, she tries to memorize them in front of him, before he folds like a lawn chair and gets her a copy of the codes.

At the hospital, Logan tries to talk to Bethany, the surgeon ex-girlfriend. She’s abrupt and bitter about moving to NY for Lyle, then getting dumped, and casually, bitterly mentions that Lyle was engaged just a year later. Logan points out that the proposal-to-be wasn’t common knowledge, and she replies that he proposed in the crossword. (You know, the crossword everyone knows about. Duh.)

The farm in Connecticut comes up again before she leaves. After she walks off, Logan manages to nab her water bottle. Detective work.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

Tess has the intern researching high-end ceramic knives (like the one Logan’s partner accidentally mentioned), and he points out they’re used by chefs and scuba divers.

I immediately get my hopes up for an underwater knife fight scene.

I will be disappointed.

Logan and Tess bump into each other again at the jeweler’s. She drops more wedding trivia on him and then pretends they’re an item as they talk to a store employee. Logan confirms Lyle’s ring wasn’t purchased there. The jewelry store employee says that the diamond in Lyle’s ring is older, probably a museum piece. Then Tess tries to extort a diamond stickpin out of Logan. Hilarity!

Back at the paper, Tess has the intern working on the page of codes — though he’s comparing them to social security numbers and other numbers, instead of looking at them as an encoded message — and Tess remembers that Lyle was carrying a book about the Beale papers. They quickly namedrop the concept of book ciphers.

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At the police station, Tess explains book ciphers to Logan and the chief (and the audience). Angela, the sister, shows up (she and the chief have to practice for the father-daughter dance) and the sister not-so-subtly mentions Logan is dateless for the wedding.

At the college library, Tess tries to get the librarian to tell her what books Lyle had been taking out, but the librarian rightly points out that such information is private. Tess responds by stealing a staff member access card and sneaking into a restricted area, getting a look at Lyle’s last three checkouts, all books on Enigma and WWII codes.

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Back in the ominous stacks, Tess is book-hunting, looking for a clue by rifling through pages, and finds a receipt pointing to Heirloom Books for a book costing $300. (Ah, the “anything as a bookmark” comment from earlier comes home to roost.)

She calls Logan and leaves a voicemail explaining what she’s found, then spots Lyle’s TA and his girlfriend Abby together at a picnic table. She takes a picture before leaving.

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COMMERCIAL BREAK!

At Heirloom Books, Tess tries to find another copy of the book Lyle purchased, a collection of children’s stories. Christina, the guest lecturer from earlier, also owns the bookstore; Tess gives her a business card, asking to be contacted when Christina finds a copy of the book, and then she mentions how much work doing the crossword for The Sentinel is.

Seriously, Tess? You are NEVER there. I’m going to ask Will Shortz, Evan Birnholz, Mike Shenk, David Steinberg, Patti Varol, and Rich Norris how much free time they have to solve murders.

At the police station, Logan discusses the photo of Abby and Clayton that Tess sent him, and Detective Winston says Bethany called Lyle five times the day of the murder. He also mentions that Lyle’s mother, who had been facing foreclosure, suddenly had her mortgage paid off.

Tess arrives, having partially decoded the page of numbers using pages of the children’s book she was able to find online. (Conveniently, she gets words like JEWELS and BURIED, instead of lots of THE, AND, and -ING suffixes.)

It’s a letter from Lyle’s grandfather about caches of jewelry buried around the old farm in Connecticut. Logan sincerely tells her she did a good job on the codebreaking, then they have another petty back-and-forth about her taking a picture of Lyle’s grandfather’s uniform before Logan folds like a cheap suit.

Tess walks with Aunt Candace, who of course is attending Angela’s wedding (because she knows EVERYBODY) and mentions Logan’s datelessness. Tess doubts Lyle’s girlfriend, and makes a plan to surveil Abby. Aunt Candace points out she’s putting herself in harm’s way. So Tess ropes Aunt Candace into joining her.

I was right. Tess will be the death of everyone around her.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

At Heirloom Books, Christina explains that Lyle had been throwing her odd jobs over the years, helping her cover the costs of maintaining the bookstore. She mentions that Lyle told her about the threatening notes he believed were from his ex, and then says she was working at the bookstore at the time of the murder.

Tess and the intern determine that the Fighting Badgers — the group represented by the patch on the grandfather’s uniform — were stationed near a castle in Europe where a bunch of jewels went missing. Logan is planning to go up there, and Tess wants to go. Logan rightly asks if she has work to do, and she promises to do it in the car during the ride up to Connecticut. Logan folds like an origami swan.

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We then get our Will Shortz sighting, as Tess asks for a clue for GOLD, and policeman Will offers “what some hearts are made of”.

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(She apparently doesn’t recognize him from their table tennis-centric meeting in the first film. This raises the question of whether he’s the same character or not. If not, then I look forward to another random Stan Lee-like cameo next week. If he is the same character, why didn’t Logan recognize him as another cop from the same precinct in the first film?)

During the ride up to CT, she helps Logan with his toast. They talk weddings and Tess’s farmgirl past. It’s a nice moment in a series where cutesy antagonism usually runs roughshod over the character beats.

At the old farmhouse, the current owner mentions chasing off two men who were digging a hole. He mentions the barley in the field, which sticks tenaciously to Logan’s clothes. (Hello, second bit of important detail!) When Logan shows him pictures of suspects, he confirms that it was Lyle and his TA Clayton digging the hole, but mentions that someone else had been snooping around the farm as well.

Back in NY, as Logan is dropping Tess off, she gets a call from someone about the children’s book. At the police station, the chief tells Logan that forensics found DNA on the envelope the threat was sent in.

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The chief notices that Logan didn’t go to Connecticut alone, and then mentions Logan’s datelessness for the wedding. Logan and his partner ponder how Lyle would’ve fenced the jewels if he found them.

Tess is back on the college campus, passing a film crew as she heads for the library. But the librarian can’t find the book; she clearly wasn’t the one who called Tess.

Tess goes hunting in the stacks for the book anyway, because we were promised ominous stacks and they are going to give us ominous stacks.

As Tess book-hunts, she hears someone stalking around, and the assailant keeps pushing books at her from the other side of the shelves. Panicked, she runs around the shelves lost, and narrowly avoids getting an entire bookcase dumped on her.

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COMMERCIAL BREAK!

Logan is with Tess at the university, admonishing her for getting involved in the murder case, before begrudgingly confirming that a burner phone was used to call her. They don’t know who tried to scare/hurt her.

At the station, Winston has an idea about how Lyle fenced some of the jewels. A parking ticket points toward a jeweler in Long Island, but the obviously shifty fellow claims he didn’t buy anything from Lyle.

At one of Abby’s cooking classes, Tess and Aunt Candace are taking notes. As Tess and Abby chat — and the crossword comes up, of course — Abby mentions she hadn’t left the house since Lyle’s death (which is a lie, the photo Tess took of Abby and Clayton proves that). Tess uses her aunt as a distraction to bag one of Abby’s knives and hide it in her purse. Given that it was the knife Abby had JUST been using, there’s obviously no way she’d notice it was missing. Tess is a mastermind.

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Tess brings the knife to Logan, who is understandably furious that Tess endangered herself AND potentially contaminated evidence. Winston interrupts, mentioning wire transfers involving an account that traces to Abby AND Clayton, as well as the suspicious jeweler Logan talked to. The wire transfer that paid off Lyle’s mom’s house was probably made in exchange for the jewels. (Meaning that the jeweler technically didn’t lie to Logan about buying the jewels.)

At Lyle’s campus office, Tess adds flowers to an ever-growing pile of notes and offerings, before bumping into Bethany. They talk about Lyle’s love of puzzles. Bethany’s first likable moment as a character is immediately undercut by her assertion that puzzles are for kids and triathlons are for adults.

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Logan talks to Clayton at Lyle’s mom’s house, where the TA is helping load boxes into the moving truck. Logan mentions that Clayton was working during Tess’s attack, but he claims he snuck off for a workout. Logan points out how the meeting with Abby and the trips to CT with Lyle make him look pretty guilty, but Clayton claims he owes his life to Lyle, because Lyle gave him a chance after Clayton made some youthful mistakes.

Clayton mentions the book cipher and the diamonds they dug up, but that there’s a larger cache out there worth millions. He swears that Lyle only wanted a small cut of the jewels, and made Clayton promise to return the rest to the original owners, a European family.

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Clayton explains that he set up the Cayman Islands account with the first cache of jewels they found, and he was meeting with Abby after Lyle’s death to tell her about the money, but she didn’t want it. Lyle thought something might happen to him, because he spotted someone else up at the farm, looking for the jewels.

As he leaves Clayton at the house, he gets a call from Winston, confirming that Bethany’s DNA was on the envelope containing the threats to Lyle.

Back in the city, Logan and Tess talk about Clayton. He also mentions that Abby’s knife doesn’t match the murder weapon. He then runs off after a call, saying there’s been a break in the case.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

The murder weapon has been found by a jogger, on a jogging trail that Bethany favors. All the evidence points to her.

Logan then makes a stop at the university, asking about film crew permits. Tess, meanwhile, talks to Lyle’s mom. She gets a text that Christina finally has a copy of the children’s book at Heirloom Books, and Tess asks about it. The book, it turns out, was her favorite. That’s why Lyle’s grandfather chose it.

At the police station, Logan tells Winston that Bethany confessed to sending the threats, but not to the murder. He also has the film crew’s footage from that night, and as Tess passes through the frame, she’s being closely followed… by Professor Emory.

Logan meets with Emory, who brushes off Logan’s conjecture and lack of hard evidence, and as Logan leaves, he sees a picture of Emory with Bethany and Christina. Meanwhile, Tess meets with Christina to pick up her book, and Christina shows her a copy of the first crossword puzzle, the word-cross created by Arthur Wynne. It looks like a pristine page copy of the actual printing of The New York World from December 21, 1913.

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As Christina heads off to grab her book, Tess notices barley stuck to a coat on Christina’s coat rack. GASP! She’s been at the farm.

Tess heads toward the door of the shop, and finds it locked. Christina pulls a box cutter on her. Logan has Winston looking up info on Christina, while Tess confirms that Christina has had the book all along.

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Christina is furious that she’d known Lyle all these years, but he didn’t let her in on the secret of the jewels. Between Lyle getting the book from her and asking Emory about unsolved crimes from World War II, she put it together pretty quickly. On the day of the murder, she confronted Lyle about the jewels, but he claimed he was just trying to return them to the rightful owners.

As she backs Tess away from the door with the box cutter, she talks about killing him with one of Abby’s knives and then searching the apartment. But she only found the book, not the cipher. (She took the knife with her in order to frame Bethany.)

She saw the cipher in Tess’s purse earlier and demands it from her, taking her purse and dumping its contents on the floor. She grabs the cipher and locks Tess in the freezer.

FINAL COMMERCIAL BREAK!

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Trapped in the freezer, Tess tries in vain to break the glass with one of the books on the shelves.

Winston confirms that Bethany and Christina were roommates in college, and Logan realizes that Tess was probably on her way to Christina’s bookstore. He heads there himself.

Tess tries her keys on the glass and fails, before remembering the diamond stickpin that she conned Logan into buying for her aunt. She breaks the glass with the diamond and escapes the freezer, just in time for Logan to arrive. Yes, Tess has saved herself, which is a nice change from the previous mystery.

Christina has a 20-minute head start on them, and Logan heads off to catch her. Winston finds out details about her car, and they put out an APB. She’s nabbed fairly quickly. Once Logan arrives, he charges her with the crime, and he asks why she attacked Tess in the library. She says it was Emory’s idea.

Back at the station, Tess and Logan talk about Christina and Emory’s plot. And he finally asks her to be his date to his sister’s wedding.

Cut to the wedding, for much clapping and frivolity, and the chief dancing with Aunt Candace. You sly dog, chief. Logan dances with Tess and there is lots of twirling. He asks if she knows the foxtrot, and she says it’s just like a crossword, “2 down, 1 across.”

And, naturally, the camera drifts upward to reveal the dance floor is a checkerboard… very reminiscent of a crossword grid.

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The end.


CONCLUSION

I know, I know, we never find out if the rest of the jewels are dug up or if that castle-dwelling European family got their jewelry back. We also don’t find out why a book of children’s stories is 440 pages long (according to one of the codes). But other than that, how was the movie?

All in all, I thought the plot was a slight step down from the previous entry in the series. The crime (and how the main puzzle tied into it) was certainly more realistic than the robbery-plans-through-crosswords plot of the first installment.

Both were competently assembled mysteries with lots of small, important details that get followed up on, but the relative dearth of suspects and the nature of the puzzle as the heart of the mystery just felt a little lacking.

And I don’t mean Tess’s proposal puzzle. Which… oof.

I mean, we’re beaten over the head with the fact that the guy was a codebreaking expert. So why is Tess’s intern not researching types of codes? (Also, does he know what a social security number is? They follow a pretty specific pattern that does NOT match the list of codes on the paper.)

I did enjoy that one crime — the murder of Lyle — leads to Tess committing seemingly dozens of crimes. Trespassing, stealing, breaking and entering, coercing a police officer, damaging private property, whatever it’s called when you damage antique books… not to mention neglecting her duties as crossword editor.

Nonetheless, this was a fun watch. It’s ridiculous and cheesy in all the best ways, jam-packed with over-the-top generalizations, and coincidences pile up like unfinished puzzles on Tess’s desk. (Yes, there was the obsessive ex-girlfriend, which is a trope we could all do without, but that filled our Crossword Mysteries quota of cartoonishly obvious red herring suspects.)

Tess remains immensely likable, despite her criminal nature. The detective, meanwhile, grew on me quite a bit. Yes, his constant efforts to keep Tess away from the case seem more and more labored over time, but hopefully that’s all over. Also, I think he laughed more in the last five or ten minutes of the episode than he did in the entire previous installment.

And, of course, John Kapelos shined as the police chief and father figure of the film, funny and distracting in equal measure. Though, sadly, there were no baked goods to be stolen in this one.

It’s light, frothy, slightly murdery fun. No harm in that. (Unless you’re one of Tess’s friends, that is.)

Did you watch the film? What did you think? Will you be watching Abracadaver next weekend? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Kickstarter Roundup!

Oh yes, it’s that time again.

For years now, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been hotbeds of innovative puzzle and game design, and I’m always happy to spread the word about worthy projects that I think will delight and intrigue my fellow PuzzleNationers.

So let’s take a look at some projects that are currently seeking funding and see if any pique your interest!


The first (and puzzliest!) entry in today’s list is a reinvention of something PuzzleNation Blog readers already know: Eric Berlin’s Puzzle Your Kids subscription service.

Eric realized that the clever puzzles he was creating worked for both younger AND older solvers, and has reimagined the subscription service to provide all sorts of quality variety puzzles to solvers.

Now known as Puzzlesnacks, it’s the perfect way to keep the puzzler in your life busy with fun, unique variety puzzles, no matter what their skill level.

With 23 days to go, the project is already funded, so any further funding just means more puzzles and even greater quality going forward!

Our second project is something for the murder mystery fans in the audience: A Note for Murder.

This game plays on classic murder mystery tropes, as players piece together the crime —  identifying the suspect, the murder weapon, and the scene of the murder. The twist? The crime hasn’t happened yet!

Plus you’re competing with your fellow players. Although it takes working together to solve the crime, only one person can get the credit for preventing the crime. Will it be you?

With 23 days to go, the project is one-third funded, but I suspect this intriguing spin on traditional murder mystery board games like Clue will meet its funding goal.

Our third campaign celebrates the history of one of the most unique game companies in the market today: Cheapass Games.

The company originally marketed its games by selling only what you need to play the game, allowing you to save money by scrounging up your own dice, tokens, and more from the games you already have. It was a genius approach that led to dozens of fantastic, unusual gaming experiences.

And now, they’re bringing that history to life with Cheapass Games in Black and White, a book collecting the rules and histories of every game offered by the company during the Black and White era.

The book is already funded, but with 21 days left, this project is still worth your time.

We delve into a peculiar true story from history with our fourth entry: Potemkin Empire.

As Empress Catherine tours the towns and villages in her domain, each player competes to convince her that they have the most prosperous and worthy village. And a bit of chicanery is needed, as everyone is setting up empty building facades to enhance the look of their individual towns.

The game quickly becomes a battle of cons, ruses, bluffs, and betrayal, as players try to expose the fake buildings of others while concealing their own false fronts. This looks like a terrific strategy game with some devious poker elements, built in the same vein as Sheriff of Nottingham and other social games.

There’s less than 36 hours left in the campaign, so contribute now. The game is fully funded and pushing towards some worthwhile stretch goals in the home stretch!

Our fifth and final entry today adds a macabre sense of humor to an iconic storytelling world.

Gloom of Thrones combines the mystique and grandeur of Game of Thrones with the namesake card game’s twisted humor and clever gameplay. As each player takes control of a noble family, they endeavor to make them as miserable as possible to score points, and then kill them off when the time is right.

The transparent cards allow for all sorts of playing combinations as you torment and mistreat the parody characters. And naturally, you can derail the other players by causing nice things to happen to their characters. There’s really nothing quite like playing Gloom.

With 20 days to go, the game is fully funded and pushing onward toward stretch goals, so don’t miss out on this hilariously brutal spin-off.


Have any of these projects hooked you? Let us know which ones you’re supporting in the comments section below! And if there are any campaigns you’re supporting that we missed, let us know!

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!