Puzzles in Pop Culture: The Challenge: War of the Worlds 2

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[Image courtesy of The Challenge Wiki.]

One of the first reality TV shows to make an impact was MTV’s The Real World, which debuted back in 1992. A show wherein seven strangers would live together in a house and have their lives and interactions taped, it is credited with helping launch the modern reality TV genre.

In the decades since, one of the show’s longest-lasting spin-offs has been The Challenge, a competition show where former Real World alums and other reality show figures compete against each other in physical and mental games, both individually and as teams. There is also a social element to the show, as players form alliances, scheme against other competitors, and often vote out players at regular intervals.

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[Image courtesy of People.com.]

As you might expect, puzzles have worked their way into The Challenge from time to time. Memory games, sliding tile puzzles, and variations on the Tower of Hanoi puzzle.

The most recent iteration of the show, The Challenge: War of the Worlds 2, pits a team of reality show contestants and former Challenge competitors from the UK against a team of previous Challenge competitors from the United States.

At this point in the game, the UK team had lost two players already (as one was sent home at the end of the previous episode, and another left the show for personal reasons).

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In last week’s episode, as the two teams arrived at a secluded lakeside area, there was a puzzly surprise waiting for them: Cryptic Crossbow.

Each team had a giant crossbow, a grid with four four-letter words on it (as well as spaces for additional letters), and a platform from which to jump into the water.

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Eight competitors from each team had to swim out into the water and collect wooden tiles with letters on them. (One letter per tile, one tile per swimmer.) Once eight letters had been retrieved, a second wave of swimmers could jump into the water to retrieve the other eight tiles in the water.

Once all 16 tiles had been retrieved, each team had to add them to the grid in order to form four eight-letter words (using the preset four-letter words as clues). Two things would happen once all 16 tiles were placed on the board:

  • The crossbow would activate, and send one of the competitors out into the lake. That competitor would then swim out, retrieve a giant cryptex on a raft, and swim it back to the rest of the team to be solved.
  • When the four eight-letter words in the grid were properly displayed, six highlighted letters in the grid would spell a code word that could be used to open the cryptex once it was delivered to the group.

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Both teams strategized ahead of time.

CT, the Challenge veteran on the UK team, urged his team to simply place all of the letters on the grid as quickly as possible, so they could launch their crossbow-loaded teammate into the water to retrieve the cryptex.

CT noted that the grid didn’t need to be correct for them to win — opening the cryptex was how a team achieved victory — so the grid didn’t matter, so long as they could mentally solve the puzzle and come up with the correct code word for the cryptex.

It’s a solid plan.

On the US side, Laurel pushed her teammates to solve the puzzle before their teammate was launched from the crossbow (to ensure they’d be able to open the cryptex on the first try), but Johnny Bananas had the same instincts as CT and pushed the idea of loading the grid quickly in order to launch their teammate and retrieve the cryptex.

Once the battle plans were in place, the teams then determined who would swim to which letters (in order to use their best swimmers to travel the farthest distance the fastest).

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As a puzzler, after one glance at the grid, I immediately tried to figure out the possible eight-letter answers in my head. Naturally. AQUA was the easiest, because SEAQUAKE was the only relatively common word that fit.

Though UK competitor Georgia obviously disagreed with me, as she was certain EVACUATE would fit.

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Similarly, HIJACKED was the only common word that would fit for JACK.

TACO was harder, because it took me a while to come up with CATACOMB as the answer. It’s a cool word, but not one that jumped out at me.

LORD was the most challenging, because SLUMLORD, OVERLORD, LANDLORD, and DRUGLORD all came to mind, although some seemed less likely due to unpleasant connotations. (Not only that, but my nerdy brain kept suggesting possibilities like TIMELORD, STARLORD, DARKLORD, HIGHLORD, STALLORD, etc.)

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With stronger swimmers on their side, the US team retrieved all of their letters before the UK team did, and according to plan, they simply filled the grid randomly in order to trigger their catapult, launching teammate Jordan into the water and toward the cryptex. They then began mentally reworking the grid to solve the puzzle.

(We couldn’t see all of the available letters, but teammate Paulie correctly determined that the top word was, in fact, OVERLORD.)

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The UK side, on the other hand, struggled to get all 16 letters back to their grid in a timely fashion, and then compounded this mistake by trying to fill in the grid properly, delaying the launch of their crossbow-loaded teammate.

While they tried to solve the puzzle (and failed), Jordan had already unlocked the US team’s cryptex and started swimming it back to his team’s platform.

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Finally, the UK team listened to CT and just filled the grid in order to launch their teammate Joss into the water, but by this point, Jordan was more than halfway to the US team’s platform with their cryptex.

Joss had barely reached the UK team’s cryptex when the US team unlocked theirs with the code word DEMISE.

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The US team made it two Challenge event wins in a row, and the UK team was sent off to choose one member of their team for possible elimination.

In short, the UK team was decimated in this challenge. They were outswam, outpuzzled, and outstrategized by the US team. Although they were behind at the start due to some of their slower swimmers, they would’ve had a better chance if they’d follow the US team’s lead and just gotten their crossbow teammate into the water sooner while they worked out the puzzle. But alas, it was not meant to be.

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If only they had a PuzzleNationer on their team, this could’ve all been avoided.

Although this wasn’t the most difficult puzzle-based event I’ve seen in previous editions of The Challenge, it was a nice variation and certainly kept the competitors on their toes. I look forward to seeing if there are more puzzly obstacles awaiting the two teams as the competition continues.


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Beer + Puzzles = Viral Marketing Hijinks

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[Image courtesy of Busch]

We recently discussed the art of viral marketing in our post about an upcoming Cartoon Network show. This year alone, we’ve seen some very clever viral marketing techniques — the Game of Thrones promotion that had people scouring the globe for replicas of the Iron Throne comes to mind — and last week, the folks at Busch Beer got in on the puzzly fun.

The concept was simple: launch a pop-up shop (a short-term retail venue where the location and the brief duration are selling points for the store) in a secret location and leave clues for interested customers to follow in order to find it.

News stories like this one hyping the Busch Pop Up “Schop” began appearing all over the Internet on July 15th and 16th.

The promises were intriguing. Limited-edition merchandise. Free beer. The commitment to plant a hundred trees in a national forest for every visitor who makes it to the Schop. Plus, a random drawing where one lucky visitor wins Busch Beer for life.

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[Image courtesy of Busch.]

After the launch video, additional clips with clues were posted once or twice a day from the 17th to the 19th.

On the 17th, solvers received this clue: Kansas to the left of me / Illinois to the right / here I am stuck in ____ with you. Can you guess what state I’m in?

On the 18th, they received this clue: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” I’m actually in the forest. Can you guess which one?

Later the day, another clue appeared: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Which is why I can tell you I’m in an area with a lot of vertical wooden objects.

On the 19th, they offered a final clue: First syllable: Abel’s brother. Second syllable: Rhymes with duck. Can you guess where the trailhead starts?

Later that day, they made things less opaque: Ok, final clue. If you were hypothetically hiking to the Busch Pop Up Schop, you might hypothetically start at the Kaintuck Hollow Trailhead. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

So, from the clue on the 17th, we got the state: Missouri. By the 18th, we knew it was the Mark Twain National Forest. And the day before the event, we even knew where to start hiking: Kaintuck Hollow Trailhead.

On the day of, the Busch Twitter account shared the following advice:

-No need to hurry, you do not have to be first to arrive to win, it will be a random draw after we close
-We’re open 10AM-5PM
-Bring your hiking boots
-Stay hydrated, it’s going to be a hot one

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[Image courtesy of Ryan James Hausmann.]

Unfortunately, the “No need to hurry” line looked quite bad in retrospect.

It seems that Busch severely underestimated the number of people who would be attending. (The expected number seemed to be between 75 and a few hundred people.) Though the event was scheduled to run from 10 AM to 5 PM, they reportedly closed off the Pop Up Schop by 10:30 AM because they’d already reached capacity. (Some online reports said they closed the shop by 9:30 AM, before the event had even officially started.)

Naturally, since these are anecdotal reports, details are contradictory, but the vast majority claim that the merch was gone quickly, attendees either got a warm beer or no beer at all, and the only consolation rested in the fact that you could still sign up for the free beer for life contest before being turned away.

According to one attendee on Twitter:

We walked there and were told we couldn’t go up the trail because they were at capacity and out of beer and merchandise. We got to enter for the drawing, hike back to the car and attempt to turn around on a one lane road.

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[Image courtesy of Nick Schmidt.]

A few later reports suggest the Pop Up Schop was restocked at some point, given that there are stories of attendees arriving between 1:30 and 3:30 and getting drinks. Perhaps they were simply overwhelmed by the early morning onslaught… or maybe the promotional team was doing damage control and seeding a few positive reports in with the negative feedback. It’s hard to say given the general lack of coverage for the event. (Despite the many reports hyping the event, as far as I can tell, none followed up with the results of the promotion.)

Either way, a viral marketing campaign with great traction and excellent turnout had a lackluster result. Hopefully those who made the journey had fun and the marketing team learned something from all this.

And, in their defense, it does seem that many people enjoyed the adventure, even if the end result didn’t exactly meet their expectations. The staff was routinely praised for their professionalism and grace under tough conditions (especially in 100 degree weather).

There’s always next time. I mean, a summer day, a nice hike, a puzzle, and free beer? That sounds like a recipe for major turnout to me.


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Alex Trebek Wraps Up His 35th Season of Jeopardy! with a Surprise!

It’s hard to believe that less than two months ago, Jeopardy! was on everyone’s mind as James Holzhauer embarked on his thrilling streak of money-making trivia performances, shattering records and raking in an impressive amount of dough.

Things are a bit quieter now. The show recently wrapped up its 35th season, a landmark few television shows ever reach. And integral to the show’s success is Alex Trebek, who has served as the show’s host since 1984.

Trebek is a certifiable pop culture icon these days. Not only is he a member of that elite pantheon of game show hosts that are instantly recognizable to virtually everyone, but he actually holds the Guinness World Record for hosting the most episodes of a game show. He was awarded with the honor on June 13, 2014, having hosted 6,829 episodes (up to that point).

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[Image courtesy of IMDb.]

My personal favorite Trebek moment is when he showed up unexpectedly in an episode of The X-Files, playing one of the mysterious Men in Black. It’s unclear if he was playing himself, though. As Agent Scully states, “Mulder didn’t say it was Alex Trebek, it was just someone who looked incredibly like him.”

Although he received devastating medical news earlier this year — a diagnosis of stage IV pancreatic cancer — he has said in recent interviews that he’s responding exceptionally well to treatment, giving his many fans and well-wishers hope that he will not only see out the end of his contract (currently set to end in 2022), but many more years of health and happiness.

It’s in that spirit that we write today’s blog post, as Season 35 concluded with one last surprise for Mr. Trebek, courtesy of the Jeopardy! All-Stars (Ken Jennings, Austin Rogers, Brad Rutter, and others):

It’s a wonderful gift to a television icon that millions have been welcoming into their homes for decades now. When it comes to figures in the world of puzzles and games, there are few as iconic as Alex Trebek.


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“Infinity Train” Arrives Soon With Some Puzzly Ideas (and Viral Marketing)

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Puzzles pop up all over the television landscape, whether you’re expecting them or not. For instance, while watching an old episode of The Sopranos the other day, I was surprised to see a Crostic puzzle from our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles in the hands of an FBI agent on the show.

You never know where puzzly ideas will show up, though thanks to a recent viral campaign, we do have some details on the latest Cartoon Network show with a puzzle element.

Infinity Train.

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[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

Based on an 8-minute short film by Owen Dennis — who worked as both writer and storyboard editor for Regular ShowInfinity Train is an adventure/mystery series featuring a student named Tulip who has a knack for coding and solving puzzles. Tulip ends up on the titular train, discovering not only endless strange worlds inside the train, but dangerous foes and a puzzly mystery to solve.

The folks at Cartoon Network even whipped up a puzzle-fueled challenge for interested viewers.

It started with this brief teaser trailer for the show:

A link in the description box on YouTube directed folks to this website, where a piano puzzle — similar to the one from The Goonies — awaits:

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Intrepid solvers quickly figured out that the solution to the puzzle is to play that brief melody you heard in the teaser. If you press (in order) D, B, G, and F#, a full trailer plays as your reward, revealing more scenes from the upcoming TV show.

It’s a cool piece of viral marketing that definitely sparked greater interest in the show, and even before the first episode has aired, fans are already speculating about the infinite train, the strange number on Tulip’s hand that changes depending on her actions, and the sinister characters that want her to “return to her seat.”

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[Image courtesy of Infinity Train Fans.]

There is an intriguing mix of danger and excitement to the proceedings, as Tulip and her companions seem eager to unravel the train’s many mysteries, but never forget that they are in peril. It’s a tough tightrope to walk narratively, but if done correctly, it will add tension and drama to the show’s puzzly premise.

Given how much fun — and how challenging — solvers found some of the puzzles connected to Gravity Falls, there’s real potential for those same solvers to find new joys with Infinity Train.

Only time will tell.

Oh, and hey, here’s the full trailer in case you couldn’t crack the piano puzzle:


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PN Review: Crossword Mysteries: A Puzzle to Die For

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 fame to produce a mystery film with crosswords at the heart of the story.

This past Sunday, the film finally made its debut on cable television, starring Hallmark Mysteries stalwarts Lacey Chabert and Brennan Elliott in their fourth outing together, but the first under the Crossword Mysteries brand, collaborating to solve a twisty mystery worthy of the channel.

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 film opens with a stealthy thief sneaking into an art gallery via the skylight, then focusing on one particular painting. A man walks into the room, interrupting the robbery in progress, and smiles, seemingly recognizing his attacker. He then gets shot for his trouble.

Cut to Tess Harper (Lacey Chabert), a crossword editor strolling through New York City on her way to work at The New York Sentinel newspaper. She is accosted by no less than three people en route to her desk, which is obviously routine. (Ask any constructor. They’re practically mobbed in the streets by eager solvers looking for hints.)

Tess, our intrepid puzzler, meets her mentor Pierre at the elevator, and they discuss the Sentinel’s upcoming crossword puzzle tournament.

We then return to the scene of the crime, where detective Logan O’Connor (Brennan Elliott), briefs the police chief on the scene. The only clues are a single shell casing (whereas the victim was shot three times) and an unfinished crossword in the victim’s back pocket.

Tess looks around the room for ideas in order to complete her crossword, as she’s one 8-letter word shy of finishing. In a quick chat with the newspaper’s editor, Tess is credited with an uptick in online readers thanks to her puzzle editing.

She shares a desk with the paper’s crime beat reporter, Harris, and he briefs her on the murder at the art gallery. It turns out the victim was friends with Tess’s aunt, and she’s about to have lunch with her. Quel coincidence!

Our two protagonists have a meet-awkward while waiting in line for coffee. And then cross paths again when Logan talks to Harris. Tess is peppy and interested, while Logan is dismissive. He’s polite enough to ask what a crossword editor does, then proceeds to be a mild jerk about her explanation.

He does mention the crossword in the victim’s pocket, which has only sporadic across clues filled in. In pen. In cursive writing. She explains that the crossword clue he has is weird, because no one solves puzzles like that.

After their less-than-pleasant exchange, Tess classifies Logan as a Monday puzzle, “the simplest one of the week.” Ouch.

Back at the police station, Logan comes up with footage of the suspect, but there’s a discrepancy between the footage of the intruder and the coroner’s estimated time of death.

Tess, preoccupied with the crime, looks over a crossword puzzle from a week before, and thinks she sees clues pointing toward the murder.

COMMERCIAL!

Tess brings her theory to the detective, and gets brushed off rather abruptly. To be fair, her “clues” are very specious. (She points out that the word BIRD could mean Nightingale, the last name of the victim, and CINDERELLA could point toward midnight, when the crime occurred.)

We learn that the puzzle wasn’t one of Tess’s. Instead, it was a submitted puzzle from a regular constructor named Abigail Krebs. But when she tries to contact the constructor, the phone number traces back to a bar, and nobody there had ever heard of hers. When she and Harris visit the constructor’s address on file, it’s a funeral home. Another suspicious dead end.

That night, Tess attends a memorial service for the victim at his art gallery. She and her aunt meet an art dealer who worked with Alan, who is brutally rude and says Alan got his just desserts. Not the usual sort of talk at a memorial service.

Logan shows up, continuing his investigation, and continues to be kind of a jerk to Tess.

As we follow both his and Tess’s conversations with various characters, the suspects begin piling up. We have the art dealer, the person in charge of security at the art gallery (who was conveniently on vacation the night of the murder), the victim’s ex-wife who is constantly mentioned, and Tess’s two odd helpers for the tournament, Elizabeth and Alexander, who flub the name of a beach near their supposed Newport abode.

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Logan talks to Carmichael, the security guy, who mentions how cheap the victim was, skimping on everything from employee pay to the security system. Tess continues to push her theory about the crossword constructor, but gets nowhere with the detective.

She does, however, upgrade him from a Monday puzzle to a Thursday puzzle: “difficult, but full of surprises.”

Later, in her apartment, Tess looks over more of the mysterious constructor’s previously published puzzles, and spots a pattern. She calls Logan, but gets no response. (Though she does get encouragement from Harris, who thinks she’s onto something.)

Tess and the detective cross paths AGAIN at the ex-wife’s bakery, and he accuses her of interfering with the investigation. Tess rebuffs his argument by continuing to point out specious clues (like boxes of frozen pies suggesting that the ex-wife lied about her alibi, which was working late baking fresh pies for the morning rush).

When Tess mentions something shady going on with Alan (he’s only half the story, according to something Veronica, the ex-wife, said to Tess), for the first time, the detective seems receptive to her help.

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In a meeting with Logan and his police chief father, Tess presents her theory, revealing a pattern of puzzles and art heists she believes are connected. (As she explains, the chief hilariously pilfers several treats Tess brought back from the bakery.)

According to Tess, the constructor always places certain keywords in the same parts of the grid. The location is always 1 across, the point of entry is always 22 across, the time to strike is always 44 across, and the target is always 53 across. If you know what you’re looking for, you’d have everything a thief would need to know.

Although skeptical, the two cops agree to pursue the theory, and all three begin referring to the mysterious constructor as the Phantom. Which is very silly. (Unless it’s your pseudonym for cryptic crosswords in the UK, that is.)

Tess claims she can profile any constructor through their puzzles, since someone’s word choices are distinct, a personal fingerprint. She also mentions that, if the pattern is correct, there will be a robbery tomorrow, since the Phantom had a puzzle published last week.

She gets a call from Pierre that Channel 4 is waiting to interview her about the tournament, and leaves the two detectives to their work.

After an interview at the hotel, she gets a call from Harris, who has turned up something in his background research on the victim, Nightingale, and he warns Tess to be careful. As soon as she’s done with tournament stuff, she plans to meet up with him. But before photos can be taken with the interviewer, Elizabeth and Alexander find an excuse not to be photographed, which is very suspicious. Pierre offhandedly mentions to Tess that the pair have a nice collection of antiques.

Returning to the office later that night, Tess finds Harris lying on the floor, bloody and non-responsive. He’s been shot.

COMMERCIAL!

Unfortunately, Tess was too late, and Harris is gone. Logan meets her at the scene, and she mentions the possible connection between Harris’s murder and the Nightingale case. The detective is interested enough about the crossword connection to join Tess at the tournament, asking for a list of attendees and volunteers, which Pierre helpfully provides.

In the meantime, Logan corners one of the sketchy art dealer’s employees, who explains that she brokered a deal for one of Nightingale’s paintings, but it turned out to be stolen. He also claims she “got even” with Nightingale.

Tess badgers Logan into posting someone at the gallery she suspects will be the next crime scene, and explains that a work by an artist with two S’s will be stolen. Tess believes the next crime will be a stolen Picasso.

COMMERCIAL!

Tess and Logan meet for dinner across the street from the potential robbery site. Tess talks about her crossword profile of the constructor, mentioning a penchant for sailing terms and British slang. It is revealed that Tess’s love of puzzles comes from her dad and how they would solve crosswords together. She likes that crosswords, no matter how tricky, always have one answer.

Well, almost always. She namedrops the famous 1996 Election Day puzzle where both “BOB DOLE ELECTED” and “CLINTON ELECTED” were possible solutions, then realizes last week’s puzzle — the one that led to this stakeout — could also have two answers. After all, MATISSE is another 7-letter painter with two S’s.

Logan and Tess race to the Matisse gallery in time to see two suspects fleeing. Logan catches one, who turns out to be the security guy Carmichael from Nightingale’s place. He confesses to disabling the security for both the Matisse gallery and Nightingale’s gallery.

Carmichael’s accomplice — who he only met twice and knows nothing about — had chalk on his hands. Logan connects that to the rope left behind at the Nightingale murder scene, which leads them to the climbing gear store that sold the rope. The only person who bought that kind of rope recently AND has a criminal record becomes their prime suspect.

As Logan interrogates the suspect, he confirms Tess’s theory about the crosswords, claiming he doesn’t know who hired him or about the murders of Harris and Nightingale. His job was to complete the theft, then drop off the stolen goods at a secure location. That’s all.

Logan realizes that, if the murderer and the thief are two different people, that would explain the two-hour discrepancy in the video footage mentioned earlier.

COMMERCIAL!

With the tournament starting the next day and a killer still on the loose, tensions are high. Logan meets Tess at ping-pong, where she plays to de-stress. As she and Logan go over some of the constructor’s other puzzles, Tess points out that two of the answer words point toward the shady art dealer.

We also get a Will Shortz sighting in the background, followed by a Will Shortz cameo, as he banters with Tess about vocabulary and retrieves a wayward ping-pong ball from under their table.

Leaning on Tess’s constructor profile, the duo set a trap for the Phantom: a practice puzzle for the tournament loaded with Phantom-friendly words. Whoever does well on the puzzle is a likely suspect. But then Tess is nearly run down by an SUV that races out of the alley!

Logan calls in a description of the vehicle and a partial license plate number, then offers Tess a ride to her aunt’s apartment, where she’s spending the night. Along the way, we get a little backstory on Logan, humanizing him a bit. (His jerkiness, by this point, has mostly tapered off, thankfully.)

Later on that night, Tess laments to her aunt that she can’t solve this particular puzzle, and lives hang in the balance. Man, is she earnest or what?

The next day, Logan adds a few more wrinkles to the story. A background check on volunteers Elizabeth and Alexander turns up nothing, absolutely nothing, which is peculiar. Also, Harris’s Fitbit was GPS-enabled, so he’ll be able to track Harris’s movements from the day he died, which will hopefully point to a suspect.

COMMERCIAL!

It’s tournament time in the grand ballroom of some fancy schmancy hotel, and man, ACPT contenders would be jealous of the elbow room afforded to competitors at The NY Sentinel’s 17th annual crossword tournament, because they’ve got plenty of personal space.

Tess hands out the practice puzzle, and the solvers begin. (Side note: it’s weird that the volunteers Elizabeth and Alexander are solving the practice puzzle. Shouldn’t they be working?)

Complications start piling up at a record pace. The art dealer’s SUV is a match to the one that tried to run Tess down. Harris’s Fitbit had him at Veronica’s bakery on the day of the murder. And Pierre excels at the practice puzzle, while Elizabeth and Alexander struggle.

As Logan departs to pursue the bakery angle, Tess’s assistant stumbles upon some of Harris’s background research on Nightingale, which was left behind on the photocopier and mixed in with copies of the tournament puzzles.

It’s a photocopy of an article about the Nightingales, complete with a photo and a caption mentioning Alan and Chesley Nightingale.

As Tess gives her opening speech before the tournament begins, Logan confronts Veronica about Harris’s visit on the day of his murder. She says that someone wants her to keep quiet, and by doing so, she’s preventing a third murder from happening.

As round one of the tournament wraps up and the contestants file out, Tess checks out Pierre’s bag, and finds something inside a small plastic owl trinket that alarms her.

FINAL COMMERCIAL BREAK!

Two shell casings tumble into Tess’s hands, the contents of the plastic owl. She puts them back, but not before Pierre spots her near his bag. She conjures up a quick excuse for why she was handling his things, then grabs her phone, saying she’ll be right back.

She calls Logan and tells him what she found, which confirms what he learned from Veronica: that Pierre is secretly Alan’s brother AND the constructor of the puzzles.

Logan says he’s on the way with backup and he’ll be there soon. But when Tess hangs up, Pierre has her cornered, pistol in hand!

He confirms the clues about the art dealer were a red herring, an insurance policy. And all his distractions (as well as the attempt on her life with the SUV) were intended to scare her away from investigating. [Side note: Most of his distractions were simply requests for Tess to fulfill her tournament responsibilities. But she was too busy playing detective. If I was Pierre, I’d be mildly miffed myself.]

Pierre escorts Tess to the roof to kill her, but she manages to keep him talking until Logan arrives, saving her life.

As it turns out, Elizabeth and Alexander are in witness protection, explaining their secretive nature and camera-shy ways. They also explain away the art dealer’s suspicious dealings, wrapping up the loose ends nicely.

Now that the case is closed, Tess upgrades Logan once more, now to a Saturday puzzle: “sometimes so exasperating, but the smartest one of the week.”

And the story ends as they part ways, both turning back to look at the other at different times, something left unfinished between them.

THE END!


ONE FINAL SPOILER-Y NOTE

We never find out why Alan was carrying the crossword in his pocket in the first place, though I have a theory.

I suspect Alan was a willing participant in Pierre’s thefts and schemes, but didn’t know exactly how Pierre contacted the thieves he employed. The small smile Alan gives before he’s murdered, after noticing the painting is missing, makes me think Alan had just recently figured out the crossword angle, and the missing painting confirmed it. (The brief glimpse of the crossword we get shows that he filled out all of the relevant across entries in the pattern Tess reveals later.)

Of course, that satisfaction turns to shock when he sees the gun and is murdered. Pierre said that Alan’s incompetence endangered their enterprise, and it turns out, he’s right. Because without Alan having that crossword in his pocket, Tess would never have gotten involved and cracked the code.

That’s my theory anyway.


CONCLUSION

I know, I know, we never actually get to see any puzzles, and we don’t know who won the tournament. But other than that, how was the movie?

All in all, it’s a very competently put together mystery. Lots of small details are important, and nothing feels terribly extraneous. The plot builds nicely, the stakes increasing as both Tess and Logan delve deeper into the mystery of Nightingale’s murder. The commercial breaks are also exquisitely timed to maximize the dramatic effect of several plot reveals and tense moments.

As for the characters, Tess is immensely likable. The detective starts off a little dry for my tastes, but is slowly worn down by the earnest charm of Lacey Chabert’s character. Not that I was surprised. After all, who can resist an intelligent woman with mad puzzle skills, I ask you?

A few of the characters are cartoonish — the art dealer, in particular, was a little too gleeful in her pseudo-villainy — but for the most part, everyone plays their parts well. John Kapelos as the police chief was a delight, stealing many of his scenes with loving fatherly regard, playful chiding, and a knack for sneaking extra baked goods when he thought no one was looking.

In the end, it’s all a bit of harmless fun, a cozy mystery with some puzzly trappings.

During the final commercial break, the network confirmed that three more Crossword Mysteries will be aired in October. (IMDb has the 6th, the 13th, and 20th listed as potential air dates for these three follow-ups.)

I’m definitely curious to see where they take the series from here, and how crosswords and criminal mischief will cross paths again. Now that the initial pairing obstacles are gone, I look forward to seeing how Logan and Tess work as a team in future investigations.

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


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PuzzleNation Blog Looks Back on 2018!

2018 is quickly coming to a close, and as I look back on an eventful year in the world of puzzles and games, I’m incredibly proud of the contributions both PuzzleNation Blog and PuzzleNation made to the puzzle community as a whole.

Over the last year, we explored board games and card games, strategy games and trivia games, dice games and tile games, do-it-yourself puzzlers and pen-and-paper classics. We met game designers, constructors, artists, YouTubers, and creative types of all kinds.

We unraveled math puzzles and diabolical brain teasers. We pondered optical illusions, Internet memes, and more, even questioning our place in the world of puzzles as AI and solving robots continued to rise in capability.

We delved into puzzle history with posts about ancient board games from centuries ago, Edgar Allan Poe’s secret codes, and the legacy of influential female codebreakers and spymasters previously lost to revisionist history like Elizebeth Smith Friedman and the Countess Alexandrine. We brought to light valuable examples of puzzles in art, comic strips, animation, music, television, film, and popular culture.

We spread the word about numerous worthwhile Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, watching as the puzzle/game renaissance continued to amaze and surprise us with innovative new ways to play and solve. We shared worthy causes like Queer Crosswords and Women of Letters, as well as amazing projects like new escape rooms, puzzle experiences like The Enigmatist, online puzzle quests, and long-running unsolved treasure hunts.

We celebrated International TableTop Day, offered up puzzly suggestions for Valentine’s Day, attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and dove deep into an ever-expanding litany of puzzle events like the Indie 500, BosWords, and Lollapuzzoola.

We found puzzly ways to celebrate everything from Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas to Star Wars Day and the anniversary of the Crossword, and we were happy to share so many remarkable puzzly landmark moments with you.

It’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to explore the world of puzzles and games with you, my fellow puzzle lovers and PuzzleNationers. We marked six years of PuzzleNation Blog this year, I’m closing in on my 1000th blog post, and I’m more excited to write for you now than I was when I started.

And honestly, that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune, hard work, and accomplishments in 2018 went well beyond that.

Every month, we delivered quality content for both the Penny Dell Crosswords App and Daily POP Crosswords. Whether it was monthly deluxe sets and holiday bundles for PDCW or the world-class topical puzzles by some of the industry’s best constructors for Daily POP, hundreds of topnotch crosswords wended their way to our loyal and enthusiastic solvers.

And a little more than a week ago, we launched our newest puzzly endeavor — Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate — bringing you a unique, story-driven puzzling experience, complete with gorgeous visuals, atmospheric music, and an immersive mystery to keep you solving!

But whether we’re talking about crosswords, Sudoku, or Wordventures, I’m proud to say that every single puzzle represents our high standards of quality puzzle content crafted for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

And your response has been fantastic! Daily POP Crosswords is thriving, we’re very excited about the response to Wordventures, the blog has over 2300 followers, and with our audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms continuing to grow, the enthusiasm of the PuzzleNation readership is both humbling and very encouraging.

2018 was our most ambitious, most exciting, and most creatively fulfilling year to date, and the coming year promises to be even brighter.

Thank you for your support, your interest, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. The new year looms large, and we look forward to seeing you in 2019!


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!