September 6th, 2008

krazy koati

Pick up the news, you left on the seat beside you

I've been watching Merv Griffin's Crosswords more reliably the last few months, and I thought it was fair to review my comments on the show particularly since a key one turns out to have been importantly wrong. I complained that since the words were floating in a disconnected sea of several letters, there was no fair way that the contestants could choose between several suitable words of the right length; as an example, there was ``Maverick of Maverick,'' which at four letters could equally well be Bart, Brit, or Bert.

This was wrong, although the way clues were presented me obscured it from me. In fact the entire game, including the bonus round, is done on a single crossword puzzle. Contestants only briefly see the entire puzzle --- there is a glimpse at the start and another at the start of the third round, and then the bonus round --- but the whole thing does exist and a skilled enough player could use that information to narrow down alternatives.

There's a twist in the game complicated enough I didn't describe it the first time I reviewed the show, but it's come to be one of my favorite parts: there are two ``front row'' contestants, and which ever has the more money at the end wins that amount (winner take all) and goes to the bonus round. But there are three ``spoilers'' in the back row: if the front-row contestants fail to answer correctly, and a spoiler does, the spoiler take the place of the front contestants, along with the cash and any prizes in the podium. This does play up the meritocratic impulse that (by my lights) makes for good game shows, since the stronger player tends to end up in the front row and with more money wherever she or he started.

It does mean the game really comes down to the stronger front-row contestant trying to not make a mistake late in the game and get replaced, while the weaker one becomes nearly irrelevant. But it also makes for a rise in tension in the last minutes of the game since with one misstep a person who hasn't previously even rung in can sweep away with the prize. If they could find a way to let the second podium continue to have a role in the third round they could really have something.

Maybe: while the game show was picked up for a second season, I learn through Wikipedia that they've suspended production for a season due to ``high production costs''. This can't be due to lavish, The Million Dollar Price Is Right-style prize giveaways: the highest award I've ever seen was just over $12,000 plus a trip to Acapulco. Plus four Crosswords watches as consolation prizes. I'm afraid the show may be doomed after all. They should've had a better lighting and color scheme. Having the podiums light red for both ringing in at all and for getting the word wrong is such an obvious mistake it's odd that it got through the first week that way.

Trivia: Navy Captain Robert McCutchen was the first winner of The $64,000 Question. His subject was cooking. Source: Quiz Craze, Thomas A DeLong.

Currently Reading: The Most Famous Man In America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, Debby Applegate.