PN Product Review: Godzilla: Tokyo Clash

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Godzilla returned to theaters this year for the umpteenth time with Godzilla vs. Kong, and after 67 years of cinematic dominance, the King of the Monsters is still an incredibly popular figure in pop culture.

That being said, Godzilla’s board game resume isn’t nearly as impressive. In fact, it’s mostly the pits. Surprisingly, making a good board game about monsters fighting each other is harder than you’d think. (Only two come to mind — King of Tokyo and Smash City — and sadly, neither features cinema’s most iconic city-smashing monster.)

Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that this dilemma might’ve just been solved by a very unlikely source, a company more famous for their collectible figurines than their games: Funko.

In today’s blog post, we’re reviewing a Godzilla game that finally got it right, as we explore Godzilla: Tokyo Clash.

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Not only do you have four famous film kaiju (aka monsters) to choose from — Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, and Megalon — but the game board is different every time you play, thanks to the tile design that allows for numerous different arrangements.

Each of the monsters has a special ability unique to that monster, as well as a deck of action cards that are specifically designed for your monster. Whoever is playing as Godzilla will have different moves, tactics, and attacks than the person playing as Mothra, King Ghidorah, or Megalon, and this adds further replay value to the game.

Plus you randomly choose two ways that the city tries to fight back against the monsters, adding further variety to the wrinkles that color the game play on multiple playthroughs.

You have an energy bar, which is used to control how much you attack the vehicles, buildings, and other kaiju around you. So, in addition to planning for the moves other players make — as well as the moving vehicles on the game board — you also have to manage your attacks based on your available energy.

Smashing buildings and vehicles gives you energy, which you can use to attack the other monsters on the board. Successful attacks give you trophies, which count toward your overall Dominance point total. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.

That’s right! Every player stays active for the whole game — unlike many other monster-fighting games, where players can be eliminated and then you just sit around and watch the rest of the game.

The art is gorgeous, evoking a vibrant style inspired by classic Godzilla movie posters (and don’t worry, the instructions are in English). The miniatures are marvelously detailed, and the game is loaded in references to the films. You don’t have to know them to play the game, but for diehard Godzilla fans like myself, it’s vindication after years of mediocre kaiju-themed games.

And the game is very reasonably priced, considering the quality of the miniatures, the game board tiles, and the overall art. This ticks a lot of boxes for both board game fans and Godzilla enthusiasts.

That being said, the game does have some downsides. The two-player version is far less engaging than the three- or four-player versions, because your tactics are so limited by just throwing vehicles back and forth at each other and smashing buildings. The strategic moves and planning are deeper and far more enjoyable with more targets, threats, and things to consider.

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It might sound silly, but in this game about monsters smashing things, it’s simply more fun when there are other people smashing stuff too.

Also, I’m not a huge fan of the Dominance system, since it’s a little distracting  to have two sets of numbers to keep track of — the energy and the victory points — but I confess I can’t think of another mechanic that would still allow all of the players to keep playing.

All in all, I was very impressed by this game. It’s easy to pick up, fun to master, and offers a ton of variety for new and experienced players. Plus there’s a surprising amount of tactical puzzling involved, which elevates the game beyond a simple you-go-then-I-go mentality.

This game is a win.

[Godzilla: Tokyo Clash is available from Funko Games and other participating retailers.]


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PN Product Review: ThinkFun’s Cold Case: A Pinch of Murder

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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.]

A puzzle can leave you baffled for the longest time. You think you’ve examined it from every possible angle, and yet, you’re still left without a solution. Then a fresh pair of eyes arrives, and suddenly all of the pieces fall into place.

Maybe it’s a friend or colleague who sees something you’ve missed, or simply hasn’t been stuck running through the same paths over and over. Or maybe it’s you, having taken a break from the puzzle, stepped away, and returned, now recharged and refreshed and ready to start again.

And that’s the mindset behind ThinkFun’s new Cold Case series. In this puzzle game, you are picking up where a previous investigation left off, trying to close an unsolved murder case.

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In today’s spoiler-free review, we’re looking at A Pinch of Murder, the second of two Cold Case mysteries being released in the next few weeks.

A Pinch of Murder presents players with the story of Harold Green, a loyal churchgoer found dead late one afternoon in 1983.

You have transcripts of police interviews with suspects, witness statements, 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 so much material here that it’s a bit daunting at first. The dizzying array of suspects and names takes a while to get a handle on, even as you carefully read through every scrap of evidence. The presentation is very impressive, with different types of paper and full-color reproductions of photographs and other materials really adding to the immersive feel of the game.

And this case file feels totally different from the one included in the previous entry in the Cold Case series, A Story to Die For. You receive bits of evidence in unfamiliar formats, the interviews are presented differently, and it genuinely feels like a separate team of investigators put this set together.

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Harold Green’s life unfolds before you in little bits and bobs, and the glimpses you get of his town, the people around him, and his day-to-day existence feel so credible.

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!

But with no shortage of suspects and a wealth of material to pore over in order to track down the killer and tie up every loose end, this is hardly a cakewalk. You’ll need to pay attention, read between the lines, and make connections like a proper detective.

Solving puzzles is great fun, but to actually feel like you’re solving a murder? That’s something special. Whether you’re solving alone or with friends, the hour or two you spend eliminating suspects and narrowing down the truth in this mystery game will absolutely be worthwhile. When you have that a-ha moment and you know you’ve earned it, there’s nothing quite like it.

ThinkFun has only made two of these so far, and I cannot wait to get my hands on the next ones.

[Cold Case: A Pinch of Murder 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 June 1st! Links coming soon!]


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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.

riddle me dead 16

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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PuzzleNation Product Review: ThinkFun’s Block Chain

block chain intro

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

Mechanical brain teasers can be incredibly complex, requiring many steps all taken in a particular order to achieve a goal. They can be devious, hiding components from sight and forcing you to deduce or luck your way into maneuvering the brain teaser in a certain fashion or from a certain angle.

But they can also be fairly simple in design and still retain a level of challenge and difficulty that makes the a-ha moment when you solve it just as sweet.

One of the traits that most ThinkFun puzzles or brain teasers have is accessibility. There’s nothing hidden from the solver. What you see is what you get, even if the path forward isn’t exactly clear.

The only thing that separates success from failure with a ThinkFun brain teaser is patience and puzzly skill. From age 8 to age 80, everyone starts on the same playing field.

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This is exemplified by their latest brain teaser, Block Chain.

The concept is simple. You have three linked four-sided blocks. You can rotate each one independently of each other to show different faces.

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You can also tilt the outside blocks in the chain up or down so that they slide over the center block, or swing the outside blocks so that they slide into the center block.

block chain 4

By swinging one block in and tilting the other block over, you create a single cube with different images on each face. Your job is to spin, swing, tilt, and tinker with each block chain until you form a cube that fulfills a certain condition.

And each package contains three different challenges for solvers to tackle.

block chain 1

One simply requires you to make all six sides match to fit one of two possible themes. For instance, this pirate-themed one could be all gold coin patterned, or all treasure chest patterned, depending on which side you twisted, swapped, and slid into place. So there’s two puzzles here, one on each side.

The second follows a more Rubik’s Cube-style solve style, as you have to manipulate the block chain so that a different color appears on every side of the cube.

The third involves multiple paths on each four-sided block, so you have to twist and maneuver the blocks so that the paths line up properly along each edge where the paths “meet.”

This was the most difficult of the three, because the patterning required much more attention from the solver. After all, you aren’t just matching a side — like the colored or themed ones — so the positioning of each block in the chain is more exact and deliberate than it is for the other cubes.

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Block Chain brain teaser sets come in different themes — pirate, robot, and unicorn, for instance — adding a really fun visual aesthetic to what could be a fairly bland-looking puzzle. And their relative simplicity helps them serve as marvelous introductory puzzles for new solvers.

Although older solvers will blow through these fairly quickly, I definitely found myself returning to them more than once, enjoying the simple tactile joys of maneuvering the blocks around and over each other to make different shapes. They’re essentially a puzzly little fidget cube you can idly toy with as you solve!

Once again, ThinkFun has managed to walk that tightrope and balance simplicity of design with satisfying solving to create a delightful puzzling experience. Block Chain brain teasers have already become a welcome addition to my desk, keeping my hands occupied while I puzzle over the day’s obstacles.

[Block Chain costs $10.99 and is available through ThinkFun and Amazon.]

unicorn 1


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Puzzling in the Past with the Fantastic Club Drosselmeyer Radio Show!

Over the previous four years, the organizers of Club Drosselmeyer have hosted an event in Boston set in a nightclub during World War II. The events have featured era-appropriate costumes, music, puzzle solving, dancing, and even a swing-time version of the Nutcracker Suite!

But given the current global circumstances, this year they redesigned their magical December event, and for the first time, folks outside the Boston area took part in a virtual Club Drosselmeyer puzzle experience presented as a radio show from the same era.

The first event was this Saturday, and your friendly neighborhood puzzle blogger was in attendance. And I just have to say… I was absolutely blown away by the show.

I’ve done a lot of puzzle-from-home things, from crossword tournaments to escape rooms, but none of them had the same style, ambiance, and energy as the Club Drosselmeyer Radio Show.

Allow me to explain a bit more.

Participants could either order a box of physical material to be delivered to the house (your Drosselbox) or download and print the necessary materials. But either way, you had puzzles and helpful items in front of you during the show.

drosselbox

[Some of the contents of your Drosselbox.
Puzzle materials excluded to avoid spoilers.]

Then you log into your account online, which gives the Club Drosselmeyer team your phone number and sets up your unique radio show page, which you have running online.

Every participant — or group, since you could play with up to five people (or more if people wanted to share roles) — had a scheduled two-hour window for the full solving experience. The radio show itself serves as musical performance, ambiance, and a built-in two-hour timer for your solve!

Plus you would periodically call into the Drosselmeyer Industries Switchboard with your phone to interact with prerecorded performances with the characters. A push-button system allowed you to answer questions and input puzzle solutions, which is already really cool. But, during the scheduled performance times, at points, you would be kicked over to the ACTUAL PERFORMER who voiced the prerecording you had just interacted with!

I must confess, I was startled virtually every time a voice said “Hello?” and then called me by name.

The interactions were so cool, and really immersed you in this fun roleplay aspect of the game as you gave them your solutions and were directed what to do next. The performers weren’t just professional, they were charming and helpful and it was an absolute treat to have these unique interactions with them.

Plus, your phone interactions would affect your individual radio show as you listened. You could trigger plot-specific updates and one of SEVEN different conclusions based on your contributions to the night’s events!

Oh, and what were the night’s events? Well…

In this scenario, puzzlers take on the role of an air raid warden and a civilian defense unit during World War II. It’s supposed to be a quiet night in Massachusetts while you listen to your favorite radio show. But suddenly, an air raid siren blares into the night, and you’re called into action!

I won’t go into the puzzles themselves, since solvers can still interact with the automated system, but I do want to highlight the radio show itself.

The music and sound design were absolutely top-notch, really adding to the whole experience. The music varied from soft lilting pieces to absolute big-band bangers, and it all felt so perfect for the time period. (I actually had to go back to listen to some of the song performances afterward, because I was so in-the-zone with my puzzle solving that I barely registered them.)

There was a post-show videochat so that players and performers could show off their period-specific costumes and interact, and I had the pleasure of speaking to several of the performers. They were incredibly welcoming and interested in the players’ solving experiences, and the mellow after-show aspect was a delight.

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[Just some of the characters you interact with through prerecorded messages AND live chats during the actual show!]

I inquired whether they’d be doing another Club Drosselmeyer Radio Show in the future, but the performers seemed quite anxious to get back to their usual live show format. I can appreciate that, but I sincerely hope they do this again. Eschewing videochats for a pure radio show-style feel was so engaging and felt so fresh and vibrant, and the phone interaction system (both automated and live) was truly impressive.

I simply cannot say enough good things about this experience. The puzzles were cleverly designed and varied in challenge (to allow for easier solving paths for less-experienced players or puzzle-light listening experiences), and the performances were outstanding. The entire team, from puzzlers to technicians to performers to musicians, should be very proud.

The Club Drosselmeyer Radio Show was an absolute blast. I loved every minute of it. (Yes, even the minutes wasted making dumb mistakes on a puzzle. *laughs*)

[Please check out their website here for all things Club Drosselmeyer.]


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Homeworlds

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

One of the coolest moments in a board game player’s life comes when you’re immersed in a game, and someone walks by, stops, and simply must ask, “What is that?” Because you’re showing them something new.

Homeworlds got that reaction the very first time I played it at the office. A coworker walked by, saw what is essentially an array of colorful triangles on the table, and asked the question. They didn’t know what it was, but they were intrigued.

Honest praise doesn’t come much higher than that, does it?

Homeworlds is a difficult game to review, because there’s so much to cover. The rules are expansive and complex, even though the elements are simple. It’s three sets of Looney Pyramids each in four different colors: red, blue, green, and yellow. And yet, it might be the most involved, complicated game we’ve ever reviewed on PN Blog.

And to be fair, we’re going to spend way less time than usual covering the rules. There’s simply too much to explore, and to be frank, throwing a novella of rules at you doesn’t tell you about the game and why it’s worth your time.

So let’s try it a little differently today.

Homeworlds is chess plus Risk set in space. But unlike those games — or basically any strategy games with territory control and resource management elements — which require lots of different pieces and a host of tabletop real estate to enjoy, Homeworlds can easily be toted around and played on any flat surface. And it still manages to encapsulate all the complexity, variety, and tactical planning of those games.

You and your opponent are both playing spacefaring races that are trying to wipe the other player’s influence from the universe. You can do so by eliminating their fleets (through capture or destruction), destroying their Homeworld, or forcing them to leave their Homeworld defenseless.

There are specific rules governing how you build your fleet, how you travel to different star systems, and what you can do when you arrive there. These are all dictated by the colors of the ships in your fleet, which allow you to build new ships, travel, attack, or transform ships (swapping them out for ones with different abilities).

Any pieces not currently in use by the players sit in a communal bank, waiting to be pulled and deployed as either new star systems or new ships. (I love this aspect of the game. It’s like every time you travel to a new star system, you pull that place out of the ether and place it onto the table in front of you. You essentially make each game space you need to use.)

The communal bank adds a third player of sorts to the table, since you must always keep an eye on the bank to not only manage your resources but prevent your opponent from capitalizing on your moves. For instance, you must pull the smallest sized pyramid available for a given color. But size of the pieces does matter. So if you impulsively pull the last small green pyramid, you’ve left the bank open for your opponent to grab a medium or a large pyramid, leaving them with a more powerful ship than you.

Trust me, it’s a lot to take in at once, like the first time you play chess and you’re overwhelmed trying to remember how the little horse-shaped ones move while all the other pieces are doing their own thing. Unless you watch a detailed how-to video, your first few games of Homeworlds are going to be a wash. Because, like chess or Risk, there are important steps you need to take first before you can really get into the game.

But those early learning sessions are still great fun. You slowly drink in all the rules. You figure out choosing your Homeworld can affect the entire scope of the game (by determining how many or how few spaces away your opponent’s homeworld is). You puzzle out devious little tricks like sacrificing one ship in order to take multiple actions, sometimes even undoing that sacrifice in the same term, like you’ve built a perpetual motion machine or found a loophole in the rules.

As the game progresses, what was an overwhelming jumble of complexity becomes an elegantly balanced logic tree of possible options unfolding in front of you.

Catastrophes you might have accidentally caused in earlier games — or studiously avoided in later ones — become tactical moves you intentionally inflict in order to tilt the battle in your favor. Any reader who has sacrificed a piece in chess in order to capture a more important piece from their opponent knows exactly what we mean here.

That fluidity of play, the endless potential to affect the game, makes Homeworlds as exciting and dynamic as possible. In Risk, for example, one country is always the same number of moves from another. But in Homeworlds, an aggressive play can make the trip from your Homeworld to your opponent’s Homeworld perilously quick.

This game will undoubtedly be daunting at first. The instructional booklet alone is two or three times bigger than that of any other Looney Labs game I can think of. But when you get past that, you’ll find a game that is endlessly rich, challenging, and satisfying, one where every new game feels like a positive step forward.

You get to look out at that same eye-catchingly baffling array of colors and shapes that made someone stop and ask you “what is that?” and in an instant, you see moves, countermoves, chances to be taken, and gambits to be foiled.

And that’s pretty cool.

I don’t think there’s another game in the expansive Looney Pyramids library that gets so much out every aspect of the pyramids. The color, size, and arrangement of each is absolutely essential to the gameplay, and choosing the wrong pyramid at the wrong moment could be the difference between victory and defeat.

Homeworlds perfectly captures everything great about strategy games, tosses aside extraneous game boards, tokens, and pieces, and delivers a killer play experience at a fraction of the price.

[Homeworlds is available from Looney Labs and select online vendors for $20, and is part of PuzzleNation’s 2020 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, so be sure to check out this game and other offerings from Looney Labs in this year’s edition of the Gift Guide!]


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