Solvers should realize that the “word game” the ladies are playing is Scrabble.
The names of the speakers, some of their comments, and the fact that Thursday says “he should have called us” clues solvers to detectives, specifically literary female detectives Nancy Drew, Thursday Next, and Jane Marple.
The first section of conversation is instructions for how to play the game. The second section (after the gunshot) is the actual puzzle text.
The distinctive words in the puzzle (corpse, vengeance, peril, etc.) clue the solver to the Sue Grafton Alphabet Mysteries, whose main character is a female detective.
Once solvers have recognized the Alphabet Mysteries titles, the instruction conversation clues them that their “correct play” is the next one, indicating that they should take the alphabet mystery word that comes after the one in the puzzle—for “evidence” they want the word “fugitive” and so on.
Jane’s question in the instructions portion of the conversation tells people that they have unlimited letters at their disposal for each turn, and the first sentence of the puzzle text—in addition to cluing the word FUGITIVE—underlines “across” and the number 38, indicating that the first word played goes across and scores 38 points.
Solvers then need to construct the following Scrabble grid.
Other numbers scattered throughout the text (20, 16, 10) give solvers score checks to make sure they are constructing the grid correctly.
Once solvers have constructed the Scrabble grid, the final sentence in the instructions mentions double meanings in words, which clues them to the Double Word spaces. If they read as indicated in the text (left–right, top–bottom) the letters on the Double Word spaces spell out RAT RACE.
1. Z is for Zero was not completed before Sue Grafton’s passing, and whilst the title was announced as the intended finale to the series, the book was never published. Solvers should realize that they need to loop back around to the first book in the series, Alibi.