End Nov. 5 Column

Merv Griffin's Crosswords: Strategic Advice

I got several emails from fellow contestant Michael Cahill about Merv Griffin's Crosswords. His show hasn't aired yet, so he hasn't told me how he did and I can't tell you. But he did offer useful advice.

First, I would like to thank you for all your help a few weeks back. It really helped me on my goal of getting on the show. Surprisingly, out of the 18 of us taking the test, only about 4 of us admitted to watching the show. In case you are interested, I asked the people that work there a bunch of questions that I asked you earlier and I got answers.

There is a set order in which the questions are given. However it is not known which particular questions will become the "Crossword Extras" until a certain time has passed in a round and then only after a correct response has been given can it be shown.

On some shows it really gets slow especially if there are multiple spoils or many incorrect answers given. This results in more squares needed to be filled in during the bonus round.

One can only see whether or not the people in the first row have buzzed in or not. The only way you could tell if a spoiler buzzed in is if you heard the sound but not see that a person in the first row buzzed in. So if more than 1 spoiler buzzed in, you would not know the order until a spoiler gets an opportunity to answer. This was also important for the person in the winning podium as if the losing podium buzzes, the winning podium is safe for that question. I was in the spoilers’ row so even now I am not sure how good I was at buzzing in.

It is possible that on a really low scoring game that they will start the whole game over with a new board. Apparently they have done this twice.

As people were waiting to get on the show, they showed older episodes of the show. If you happened to be on the episode where they used the clue "tasty" and the answer was "sepid", that’s one of the episodes they showed. Once my show was taped, one of the stagehands mentioned that they should use my show as the example to waiting contestants. Then again, they might say that to everyone.

Here are some further changes made onto the show.

The crossword getaways are gone. It was mentioned that they slow down game play and the trips were not that great. It’s hard for someone to be excited about a trip in which there is a good chance they won’t have that podium at the end.

Because the getaways are gone, the number of Crossword Extras have increased from 3 to 4. There are now 2 in the second round and for the one in the third round, one can wager up to $2000 if s/he does not have that much. Apparently with this change, some of the wins have gotten into the 5 figure range.

The bonus round still awards a trip to some Caribbean place, but the cash has been upped from $2000 to $5000 and they also award an XBOX 360 package worth $509. In fact the crossword extras are now called "The XBOX 360 Crossword Extra" and the XBOX logo shows up on the corner when one occurs.

Actually do some crosswords before trying out. [This worked for me; I would never have spelled TSAR the correct way if I hadn't been doing crosswords for years]. You’d be surprised at how often clues repeat themselves. Before taking the test I was doing a puzzle where there was a 4 letter clue for "Alaskan Port City." There were enough letters filled in for me figure the answer is "NOME." The exact same question shows up on the test. (I had tests number 2 and 7. Do you remember which ones you had?)

The guy who makes the puzzles for the show also does the daily USA Today crossword and the online Yahoo Crossword. Allegedly the puzzle on the show is an equivalent of a Friday/Saturday puzzle so take a stab at those ones.

While taking the test you can write down the clue next to where the answer is just in case you don’t know it but think you might later. This is useful for when a later clue is very easy and now you can take more time with the one you did not know.

Just because the people next to you write down the answers very quickly does not mean they are right. I thought I was in way over my head when the two people next to me were jotting down answers I was clueless about. Turned out one person was just writing down "I don’t know" as an answer while the other was just writing down the clue just like what I was doing.

If you manage to pass the test, (in my case about 2/3 of the people did) you go off to the personal interview. The obvious things to do are to look at the camera, smile, and speak clearly. The not obvious thing is that the fact that they are looking for people with an energy level more likely found on "The Price

Is Right" rather than "Jeopardy!" They want people who act as if they solved a Wheel of Fortune puzzle when they get a successful spoil. Although it is just answering one clue, one should be excited that it was a clue that neither front player answered.

If you manage to make it on the show, it should be known that unlike Jeopardy, there is no penalty for buzzing in early. There is a red light that lights up when it is time to buzz in. A yellow light lights up indicating that you have buzzed in. Personally I prefer waiting until the red light shows before buzzing as it is possible that if you are pressing before it lights, you might have it in the down position when the red light goes on and that extra time to let go of the buzzer and press it again may put you in second or third position.

I know they showed the first episode that aired because I remember the dorky 19 year old kid who was excited about the Las Vegas trip even though a person of his age would not be able to gamble. They showed 2 more before I was called to go on. All the shows featured I did see on TV as I recall some of those memorable "groaner" clues. You know, the clues that explain why they don’t have a real audience because if they did the audience would throw stuff on stage to express their opinion on a "punny" clue. Here are a couple of tests clues I was baffled by, I tried to come up with some funny answer on some of them.

11 Letters "A real pity." I thought it was "shamefulness" but that did not fit. Another person put "Full of Shame" which actually did fit.

4 Letters "A permanent solution." One person put down "kill" while I put down "nuke." Either one could be right.

5 Letters "A native New Zealander." The last letter was given as an "I". I put down "A Kiwi." Close enough.

Bonus tip: If the game is close and you manage to get the last crossword extra, either bet a small amount so that even if right or wrong the totals are within $600 or bet everything. It does not make sense to bet an amount that results in a landslide either good or bad unless you bet it all. With only a few clues left, unless the difference in the totals is $600 or less, it is really hard for the person behind to catch up. There should be no middle ground in that situation. If the scores are not close then bet everything if you are behind. If you are ahead, then bet an amount where even a wrong answer will still put you ahead by $600.

One more tip for potential contestants. They ask that you bring 3 shirts for the show and they choose which one looks best. They also want variety in the colors so that no two contestants have the same colored shirt. It has to be a solid color that is neither white nor black. In fact, colors close to those two extremes is not allowed. An exposed white undershirt is not allowed but a black under shirt is allowed. (They really don’t like white.) They don’t want stripes or any pattern that could create a moiré effect on TV. This tip was very important because I arrived in LA with nothing but striped shirts or shirts with logos on them. Thankfully my friend had a grey dress shirt for me to borrow.

Fun fact: The gigantic nametags are recycled because many people have the same name. In fact on our day of taping, 5 people had the name "Michael" so we all had to be on separate shows. They must have 2 of each common name as one group is being set up as another group is playing. Even contestants with obscure names can not keep their tags.

Another fun fact: The spoilers take a secret entrance from behind stage. The twinkling lights in the background are actually reflecting beads that reflect from a light source from the ground. There is a gap between two lines of beads in which the spoilers walkthrough. Up ahead behind a column there is a hidden staircase that the spoilers walk up. At the top of the stairs is the top of the ramp. The column separates the real ramp on the left and the fake ramp on the right that goes to the ceiling. That is why you never see anyone on the ramp to the right of that column. That ramp is slippery, so be careful! I managed to keep it together while walking down. The spoilers are on the ramp at the end of the commercial break, but the camera angles are set up so that you can’t see the spoilers until they are introduced.

It’s funny watching a show now and seeing how often spoils occur while on the show I was on, there was only one spoil in the entire game. The two people in front were ruthless and I believe that there were only 3 times in which a spoiler had an opportunity to answer. For the other times, either someone in the front row knew or no one knew.