It is distributed by Program Partners, which has announced that the show would be carried in 90% of the United States and will also air nationally in Canada on Canadian Learning Television. The show also airs in New Zealand on Prime Television. During development, the show was originally known as Let's Play Crosswords, then Let's Do Crosswords.
Griffin was working on the first week's production of the show when he died; in addition to his creator credit, he is listed posthumously in the show's credits as the executive producer. The show was originally planned to be taped in Chicago at the NBC Tower.
|Length of Word||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3*|
|4 to 6 letters||$100||$200||$400|
At the beginning of Round 2, three "spoiler" contestants join the game and stand at podiums behind the two main contestants. Play continues as in the first round; however, the spoilers may ring in for each word as well, with a separate 1-3 listing of their ring-in order denoted on their podiums. If one or both of the main contestants ring in a clue, they are given the first chance at the clues, in the order they rang in. If the main players are incorrect or don't buzz in, any spoilers who have rung in get a chance to answer in the order they rung in.
If a spoiler gets a correct answer, they switch positions with one of the main players and assume their money total and any prizes earned; the main player then becomes a spoiler. If both main contestants got the word wrong, or neither rung in, the spoiler may choose which player they wish to replace; however, if only one main player rung in and was incorrect, the spoiler is forced to replace that player. The spoiler brings with them the money earned by answering the word correctly, though money is also deducted for the word if the main player previously at the podium answered incorrectly, resulting no net change for that word.
Any spoiler who gives a wrong answer is immediately locked out of the game until all three spoilers have become locked out, or another spoiler replaces a main contestant, at which point all three spoilers are eligible to play again.
The main player with the highest money total at the end of the third round (rounds are limited by time) is the winner and takes home the money and prizes (if any) they earned in the game (or inherited as a spoiler); they also move on to the bonus round. The winner may have $0 or a negative total. Due to the spoiler element, a spoiler can win the game by answering only one question correctly, and replacing the leading main contestant. This is a somewhat common occurrence on the show. The losing player and spoilers receive a Croton watch with the show's logo on it. In case of a tie, one final tiebreaker clue is played to determine the winner between all five players.
One word in each of the three rounds has a "Crossword Extra" that follows it. After a player gets the associated word correct, They are asked to choose an amount of money to wager on the next word, which only they may answer. The wagered amount is added or deducted from the player's bank based on the outcome of the word. In Round 1, the player may bet a maximum of $500 or their bank total; whichever is greater. In the second and third rounds, the maximum bet is the greater of $1,000 or the bank total.
For a short time, the Crossword Extra was known as the "Crossword X-Box 360 Extra". For one week in December 2007, players were allowed to bet up to $3,000 in Round 3 if they had that amount or less; this changed coincided with the redoubling of the dollar amounts for Round 3.
If the player successfully completes the puzzle, they win $5,000 (originally $2,000) and either a trip or, for a short time, a tropical vacation. During the time in which the "Crossword X-Box 360 Extra" was used, an Xbox 360 system was included as a bonus round prize. In early episodes with the alternate Crossword Extra rules, players received $100 for each bonus round word they answered, win or lose.
Crosswords has been filmed in a small studio at Sunset Bronson Studios in Hollywood, California. There is no audience in the studio; a prerecorded "applause track" is used after correct answers, in and out of commercial breaks, and at the beginning and ending of the show.
Initial ratings for Merv Griffin's Crosswords were a 0.8 share, significantly less than the more established game shows, which have garnered at least 2 shares. In later ratings for the show, Crosswords hit the 1.0 mark and was reported to have been picked up for a second season in the November 26, 2007 issue of Broadcasting & Cable magazine, with official confirmation coming on January 28, 2008. The 2008–2009 season was expected to be paired with a syndicated version of Deal or No Deal. For the first season, Crosswords was packaged with other game shows such as Temptation (a revival of Sale of the Century which has since been canceled) in some markets while others aired double episodes (the series taped extra episodes for this purpose).
However, in June 2008, Merv Griffin Entertainment and Program Partners announced that they were halting production of the series until at least early 2009, with the cited reason being high production costs. Reruns of the first season will be made available to stations until production resumes, or else stations can pick up either of the two Canadian series imported by Program Partners, Style By Jury (a reality fashion program) or Inside the Box (a pop-culture game show).
Advertisements during 2008 shows announced that a new Crosswords game would be available through the XBox Live Arcade. The XBox 360 console was featured as part of the grand prize package and as a sponsor for the Crossword Extras, which for a time became known as "Crossword XBox 360 Extras".
Hasbro announced that it would be developing board and DVD games based on the show that are expected to be available in fall 2008. Oberon Games released a downloadable PC game of Crosswords on February 11, 2008.
In 2008, Electronic Arts released a mobile version of Crosswords which was available for download at the show's website.