Black History Month Profile: The Puzzle Brain Behind 'Merv Griffin's Crosswords'

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Timothy E. Parker is one of the few African-American puzzle masters in the world, and the only one to help the late Merv Griffin take his original vision of a game show about crosswords and build it into a television hit.

With its ratings steadily climbing, television game show "Merv Griffin's Crosswords" has been renewed for season two. Behind the Hollywood flash and the studio lights is soft-spoken Timothy E. Parker, one of the few African-American puzzle masters in the world, and the only one to help the late Merv Griffin take his original vision of a game show about crosswords and build it into a television hit.

As reported recently in "TVWeek," the game show, which debuted on Sept. 10, 2007, has been renewed for season two and is securing commitments from stations including WNBC-TV in New York. The rookie series has been averaging a 0.8 Nielsen rating this season. Its distributor, Program Partners, has scored deals for the game show from stations including the NBC Owned-and-Operated Stations Groups, Belo and Four Points, among others.

When the legendary TV icon Merv Griffin needed a puzzle master for his last show, he looked no further than Parker, editor of the crossword puzzle for USA Today and nationally syndicated with Universal Press Syndicate, headquartered in Kansas City.

"Merv called me on my phone in my home office in Baltimore and invited me out to Beverly Hills to help with his new show. I'll never forget getting off the elevator in his building and looking up to see Merv sitting behind his enormous desk. I was even more thrilled when he told me he solves four crosswords a day but the USA Today puzzle is his favorite," Parker says.

Parker sat in several meetings with Griffin and his production staff as the show was being created. "Sitting next to Merv in the production meetings, and experiencing his genius and wit firsthand, is not easily explained. Parts of it seemed a bit surreal," Parker recalls.

Parker personally constructed and clued over 200 shows for the first season and his hard work has not been in vain. "The entire production team is incredible, and I knew Ty Treadway was going to be a terrific host from the moment I met him in the run-through of the show," Parker says.

According to the Merv Griffin Web site, the show was in its first week of production when Griffin entered the hospital, where he critiqued the first episodes and suggested to host Treadway that he change his hairstyle. Griffin died of prostate cancer in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Aug. 12, 2007. He was 82.

Parker has edited three volumes of books entitled "Merv Griffin's Crosswords." Each one features puzzles of different degrees of difficulty. He has also edited and published a number of other word game and puzzle books, including those featuring Sudoku and Kakuro. Some of his digital games can be found on http://www.upuzzles.com. More on Parker can be found at http://www.amuniversal.com/ups.

So what's the puzzle guru up to now? Parker, a pastor himself, is currently marketing a 349-page hardcover "Generations" edition of his "King James Games" book (http://www.kingjamesgames.com), a coffee-table sized collection of various puzzles that actually teach scripture. "Every pastor I've shown the book to has loved it. There's never been a Biblical puzzle book of this quality," says Parker. The book is available to individuals and is also discounted for church fundraising.

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Kathie Kerr
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