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Beat the Geeks
Comedy Central's Vs.
The Joker's Wild (1990)
Tic-Tac-Dough (1990)
Card Sharks (2001)
Twenty One (2000)
Break the Bank (1985)
Let's Ask America
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with Chris Wolvie
A Show at Which Will Shortz Would Excel
May 14

Fasten those seat belts and get ready for a winner-take-all battle of the brains. Welcome to...

SHOW: Merv Griffin's Crosswords

AIR DATES: September 10, 2007 to May 16, 2008
CREATOR: Merv Griffin
PACKAGER: Program Partners, Yani-Brune Entertainment, Merv Griffin Entertainment
HOST: Ty Treadway

As stated before, one would think Merv Griffin was a genius at making game shows just because of the overwhelming success of "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" but, in reality, the other shows he created didn't last very long. He passed away in 2007 but not before creating one last show for syndication: "Let's Play Crosswords". Unlike its spiritual predecessor"The Cross Wits", this show actually solved an entire 15x15 crossword in the span of 22-26 minutes. Nothing quite like doing something you normally do when bored on a Sunday afternoon and making it pay you off. Merv died some time after production began so whether HE changed the name of the show or his production company did in memorium is up in the air. But the fact remains that his last gift to American entertainment was perhaps one of his most unique.

The show starts with two contestants called "Solvers". their task is to solve a 15-by-15 crossword puzzle, one clue at a time. The host shows the word, tells how much it's worth and gives the clue associated with it. Whoever buzzes in first must not only give the correct word but spell it out to fill out the clue. The worth of the word is based on how long the word is: in Round 1, three-letter words are worth $50, four-to-six-letter words are $100 and words seven letters or longer are $200. The podiums in front of the Solvers light up with numbers in the order in which they buzzed-in. A right answer puts money in their podium. If they answer or spell the answer wrong, the money is subtracted from the podium and, if the other Solver has buzzed-in, they can steal the word and the money.

In Rounds 2 and 3, the dollar values double. Also, three more contestants are introduced called "Spoilers". For the rest of the main game, they can ALSO buzz-in. However, they cannot try to answer unless both Solvers miss the clue. THEIR podiums likewise light up in the order they ring in, meaning that, if both Solvers miss, the #1 Spoiler gets first crack. If a Spoiler gets an answer right, they get to trade places with a Solver (and their podium, which adds the value of the answer) and can stay that way until a Spoiler takes THEIR place. If a Spoiler misses a clue, they are blocked from answering until a) all other Spoilers miss a clue or b) a Spoiler gets a clue right.

During Rounds 1 and 2 (of later episodes), a Crossword Getaway is added to one of the clues, the one who gets the right answer adding a small trip to their podium. In earlier eps, a Crossword Extra was put in each round where whoever answers a clue gets to wager on an unconnected clue.

When time runs out in Round 3, the Solver at the podium with more money wins the game and goes to the bonus round. In case of a tie, all five contestants get one last clue an whoever gets it right wins. The others receive a custom-made Croton watch with the show's logo on its face.

The champion now is tasked with completely the remainder of the puzzle in 90 seconds or less. All clues used in the main game - whether actually solved or not - are filled in. The champ gives a number and direction (like "14 Across" or "7 Down"), the host gives the clue and, again, the champ must give the answer AND spell it out. If they miss, they can just call it again and say it correctly. If they fill out the entire puzzle in 90 seconds or less, they win money (at first $2000 but then $5000) and a bigger trip.

This was a thinking-person's game show. And, while that may not have been good in the 70s (as I've said in GGBs past), it was excellent for the twenty-aughts and a generation who grew up on "Jeopardy!" and "Millionaire". And, let's face it, we've ALL tried doing the crossword in the newspaper when tremendously bored (before smartphones started kicking in and taking EVERYONE's time EVERYWHERE). So it was a genuinely cool idea to take that and make it into a game show. Merv may not have been consistent in making games but, when he's good, he's QUITE good.

Ty was...all right as a host, really. He seemed to be what people think of when they think of stereotypes for game show hosts. Actually, he seemed more like if a soap-opera character had become a host...which he WAS, actually. Still, he kept the game going, explaining clues that may have gone over people's heads and keeping that smile going like he had bad plastic surgery. He was adequate, though more so than other hosts I could mention.

It's a little thing but I liked when they showed just how much of the puzzle the contestants had "solved" going into Round 3...even though the missed clues will also be filled in for the bonus round.

The show seemed like it needed a "Let's Ask America"-sized set: just six podiums and a big screen for the puzzle. The clear walkway and the tall walls just made the show seem like a bigger deal than it really was. Same problem as with "Monopoly", really; seemed to be a problem with Merv's shows.

Not saying that the Spoilers were a bad idea. But the more I watched it, the more I thought how unfair it was for the Solvers. A Spoiler could go the entire show without buzzing-in once...then, on the last clue, they can steal the podium and win the game. The Solvers do all the work in building up that podium...and just because they miss one clue, they lose it all. How fair is that?!

As cool as the Getaways and Extras may have been, they broke the flow of the game. Yeah, Extras were essentially the "Daily Double"s of the show but Merv already MADE a show with those...and a damned successful one at that! Who needs 'em here?


If they can take away the trip and wagers and find a way to make things more fair - like have the Spoilers from the start or, hell, give all FIVE cash podiums - I guess it could do for a return. Or, like "Cross Wits", maybe they can double their winnings if they guess the common thread of the longest words like in crosswords these days. But, even if this one doesn't show up ever again, at least we still have "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel" to remember Mr. Griffin by. Thanks, Merv, for giving us one last quasi-memorable show.

You need to be a "genus" to win...but it helps...

Chris Wolvie thinks anyone who does crosswords in pen is crazier than HE is. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisWolvie and e-mail him at