It’s Follow-Up Friday: Holiday Answers edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’m posting the answers from our updated Word Mastery for the Holidays post on Monday!

[Old-timey carolers, courtesy of CTyuletide.com.]

1.) Move hitherward the entire assembly of those who are loyal in their belief.

Oh Come All Ye Faithful

2.) Listen, the celestial messengers produce harmonious sounds.

Hark, the Herald Angels Sing

3.) Proceed forth declaring upon a specific geological alpine formation.

Go Tell It on the Mountain

4.) Nocturnal timespan of unbroken quietness.

Silent Night

5.) Embellish the interior passageways.

Deck the Halls

6.) An emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good given to the terrestrial sphere.

Joy to the World

7.) Twelve o’clock on a clement night witnessed its arrival.

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

8.) The Christmas preceding all others.

The First Noel

9.) Small municipality in Judea southeast of Jerusalem.

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem

10.) In a distant location the existence of an improvised unit of newborn children’s slumber furnishings.

Away in a Manger

11.) Tintinnabulation of vacillating pendulums in inverted, metallic, resonant cups.

Jingle Bells

12.) The first person nominative plural of a triumvirate of far eastern heads of state.

We Three Kings (of Orient Are)

13.) Geographic state of fantasy during the season of Mother Nature’s dormancy.

Winter Wonderland

14.) In awe of the nocturnal timespan characterized by religiosity.

Oh Holy Night

15.) Natal celebration devoid of color, rather albino, as an hallucinatory phenomenon for me.

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

16.) Expectation of arrival to populated areas by mythical, masculine perennial gift-giver.

Here Comes Santa Claus

17.) Obese personification fabricated of compressed mounds of frozen minute crystals.

Frosty the Snowman

18.) Tranquility upon the terrestrial sphere.

Peace on Earth

19.) Omnipotent supreme being who elicits respite to ecstatic distinguished males.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

20.) Diminutive masculine master of skin-covered percussionistic cylinders.

Little Drummer Boy

21.) Jovial Yuletide desired for the second person singular or plural by us.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas OR We Wish You a Merry Christmas

22.) Allow winter precipitation in the form of atmospheric water vapor in crystalline form to descend.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

23.) A first-person observer witnessed a female progenitor engaging in osculation with a hirsute nocturnal intruder.

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

24.) Your continued presence remains the sole Yuletide request of the speaker in question.

All I Want For Christmas Is You OR You’re All I Want for Christmas

25.) Permanent domicile during multiple specific celebratory periods.

(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays

26.) Diminutive person regarded as holy or virtuous known by the informal moniker shared by two former Russian tsars.

Little St. Nick

27.) More than a passing resemblance to an annual winter festival is emerging.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

28.) Are you registering the same auditory phenomenon I am currently experiencing?

Do You Hear What I Hear?

29.) Overhead at the summit of the suburban residence.

Up on the House Top

30.) Attractive or otherwise visually pleasing wood pulp product.

Pretty Paper

31.) Parasitic European shrub accompanied by a plant with prickly green leaves and baccate qualities.

Mistletoe and Holly OR The Holly and the Ivy


How did you do? Did you get them all, or did one or two stump you? Let me know!

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What crosswords have taught me

I’m a huge proponent of puzzles not just being fun, but being great for the brain as well. There are numerous studies (and PuzzleNation blog posts) touting the ways that certain puzzles can keep you sharp and perhaps even stave off developmental issues later in life.

Whether it’s crosswords helping with retrieval of previously learned information or Sudoku exercising your concentration, attention, and formation of new memories, puzzles are good brain food.

And then there are the curious facts and new words we learn simply by solving crosswords and other puzzles.

In the decade plus that I’ve been constructing and editing puzzles, I’ve encountered all sorts of strange vocabulary and interesting trivia that wouldn’t have crossed my path in other fields.

Through proper crossword cluing and fact-checking, I’ve learned the difference between Inuit and Eskimo (and why they are not interchangeable). I’ve learned which Hawaiian islands the nene calls home.

I now know that cows are fed magnets in order to cope with the random bits of wire and other metals that they unintentionally swallow. A puzzle about rationing during World War II taught me that an ordinary piano contains enough steel, copper wire, and brass to make a dozen bayonets, a corps radio, and sixty-six thirty-caliber cartridges.

My Latin has certainly improved from years of studying word etymologies. Did you know that “ita erat quando hic adveni” is Latin for “it was like that when I got here?” That’s a handy phrase to have in your back pocket.

Heck, I now know how pineapples grow because of crosswords. How cool is that?

And it doesn’t stop there.

Crosswords provoke your curiosity and lead you down unexpected avenues of thought. Crossword clues cause you to ask questions you probably never would otherwise, like “Is ‘L.A. Law’ two words or three?” or “Is ‘bat-signal’ hyphenated?”

(Both of those are actual topics of discussion for puzzles of mine in the past.)

What sorts of interesting facts and weird vocabulary have crosswords introduced you to, fellow puzzlers? Let me know! I’d love to hear about it!

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Word Mastery for the Holidays: Updated!

A few years ago, I posted a holiday puzzle that had been floating around the Internet for years. It was a list of Christmas songs and carols whose titles had been reworded, and it was up to the reader to identify the actual titles.

It was a popular post, but something about the list always bothered me. There were 21 reworded titles, which didn’t strike me as very Christmassy at all. I mean, why not 12? Or 24? Or, heck, 25?

So, I did something about it. I’ve added 10 new reworded titles to the list, bringing the total to 31, one for every day in December. Let’s see how many PuzzleNationers can crack all 31 titles, shall we? Enjoy!


1.) Move hitherward the entire assembly of those who are loyal in their belief.

2.) Listen, the celestial messengers produce harmonious sounds.

3.) Proceed forth declaring upon a specific geological alpine formation.

4.) Nocturnal timespan of unbroken quietness.

5.) Embellish the interior passageways.

6.) An emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good given to the terrestial sphere.

7.) Twelve o’clock on a clement night witnessed its arrival.

8.) The Christmas preceding all others.

9.) Small municipality in Judea southeast of Jerusalem.

10.) In a distant location the existence of an improvised unit of newborn children’s slumber furnishings.

11.) Tintinnabulation of vacillating pendulums in inverted, metallic, resonant cups.

12.) The first person nominative plural of a triumvirate of far eastern heads of state.

13.) Geographic state of fantasy during the season of Mother Nature’s dormancy.

14.) In awe of the nocturnal timespan characterized by religiosity.

15.) Natal celebration devoid of color, rather albino, as an hallucinatory phenomenon for me.

16.) Expectation of arrival to populated areas by mythical, masculine perennial gift-giver.

17.) Obese personification fabricated of compressed mounds of frozen minute crystals.

18.) Tranquility upon the terrestial sphere.

19.) Omnipotent supreme being who elicits respite to ecstatic distinguished males.

20.) Diminutive masculine master of skin-covered percussionistic cylinders.

21.) Jovial Yuletide desired for the second person singular or plural by us.


Those were the original titles. Here are the ten new ones, making their debut here on PuzzleNation Blog.

22.) Allow winter precipitation in the form of atmospheric water vapor in crystalline form to descend.

23.) A first-person observer witnessed a female progenitor engaging in osculation with a hirsute nocturnal intruder.

24.) Your continued presence remains the sole Yuletide request of the speaker in question.

25.) Permanent domicile during multiple specific celebratory periods.

26.) Diminutive person regarded as holy or virtuous known by the informal moniker shared by two former Russian tsars.

27.) More than a passing resemblance to an annual winter festival is emerging.

28.) Are you registering the same auditory phenomenon I am currently experiencing?

29.) Overhead at the summit of the suburban residence.

30.) Attractive or otherwise visually pleasing wood pulp product.

31.) Parasitic European shrub accompanied by a plant with prickly green leaves and baccate qualities.


How did you do, fellow puzzlers? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: Hats Off to You edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to revisit the subject of brain teasers.

A few years ago, we posted a riddle that had been making the rounds online. It centered around four men buried up to their necks in the ground, each one trying to figure out what color hat he is wearing.

It’s a great exercise in logic and deduction, one that most solvers unraveled after a few minutes.

As it turns out, there’s a more complex version of this riddle. But this one involves 100 people!

One hundred prisoners are lined up single file, facing in the same direction. Each prisoner will be randomly assigned either a red hat or a blue hat.

No one can see the color of his own hat. However, each person is able to see the color of the hat worn by every person in front of him. So the person at the head of the line cannot see the color of anyone’s hat, the second prisoner can see only the first prisoner’s hat, the third can see the first two prisoners’ hats, and so on. The last person in line — the 100th prisoner — can see the colors of the hats on all 99 people in front of him.

Beginning with the last person in line, and then moving to the 99th person, the 98th, etc., each will be asked to name the color of his own hat. If the color is correctly named, the person lives; if incorrectly named, the person is shot dead on the spot.

Everyone in line is able to hear every response as well as hear the gunshot; also, everyone in line is able to remember all that needs to be remembered and is able to compute all that needs to be computed.

Before being lined up and given their hats, the 100 prisoners are allowed to discuss strategy, with an eye toward developing a plan that will allow as many of them as possible to name the correct color of his or her own hat (and thus survive). They know all of the preceding information in this problem. Once lined up, each person is allowed only to say “Red” or “Blue” when his turn arrives, beginning with the last person in line.

What would your plan be to save as many people as possible? How many prisoners can you definitely save?

It’s an absolutely diabolical riddle, one that definitely taxed my puzzle skills. And different plans have different chances for success! Will you save half? 75%? Can you save everyone?

[Click here and scroll down for the solution, courtesy of the folks at IO9.]

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A Quantum Leap Forward in Crosswords!

It’s fair to say that the 1996 Election Day crossword, pictured above, is one of the most famous puzzles in crossword history. The puzzle “predicted” the outcome of the election quite cleverly by allowing for either CLINTON ELECTED or BOB DOLE ELECTED to read out, depending on how the solver answered seven down clues.

(You can click the image to see a larger version of the grid and clues.)

Reportedly, Will Shortz called it the most amazing puzzle he’d ever seen.

Well, that puzzle may have been topped.

But first, a bit of backstory.

These rare crosswords are called Quantum puzzles or Schrodinger puzzles. These names reference the famous thought experiment involving a very unlucky cat in a box that could be alive or dead, and an observer wouldn’t know which until he opened the box. Meaning that both answers are correct at the same time; the cat is both alive and dead.

[This great t-shirt melds the Schrodinger’s Cat concept with a classic joke.]

Similarly, these puzzles have more than one answer, and each answer is equally correct.

And on Thursday, December 4, constructors Kacey Walker and David Quarfoot combined some considerable Scrabble skills and a dynamite crossword grid to create the most impressive Schrodinger puzzle to date.

You see, clues 26-Across, 36-Across, and 44-Across all feature seven letters, like a rack in Scrabble. And it’s up to the solver to find the anagram of each rack that fits the grid.

For example, 26-Across reads “Play in 7-Across with the rack DEIORRW”. (The answer to 7-Across is SCRABBLE, giving the solver a strong idea of where to go next.)

Quite amazingly, Walker and Quarfoot have designed the puzzle so that each of those clues has three possible correct answers — for 26-Across: ROWDIER, WORDIER, and WORRIED all fit the down clues — meaning there are a staggering 27 possible correct solutions!

This is just one of those 27 solutions:

[You can check out all of the possible solutions, as well as the clues, on XWordInfo here.]

This is David Quarfoot’s 41st NYT published puzzle and Kacey Walker’s first! Talk about setting the bar as high as you can.

This is also one of the flat-out coolest puzzle constructions I’ve ever seen. My thanks to Deb Amlen for doing such a great write-up on the puzzle and for pointing it my way.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

Puzzles in Pop Culture: Bones

In today’s edition of Puzzles in Pop Culture, we join the forensic team at the Jeffersonian Institute to uncover what happened to a prominent puzzler. It’s Bones, episode 8 of season 10, “The Puzzler in the Pit.”

The episode opens, appropriately enough, with Special Agent Seeley Booth solving a crossword. (Given the looser grid construction, it’s either a British-style crossword or a cryptic crossword. Either way, points to Agent Booth.)

Both he and forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan (Bones, to some) are called into work after a body is found in a fracking pit. The harsh chemicals in the pit are causing the body to deteriorate faster than normal, but some clever chemistry saves the day. Although a blood sample the team collects is too degraded for a positive match, they manage to identify the body from a rare surgery performed a few years before.

The body belongs to Lawrence Brooks, reclusive syndicated crossword constructor, considered by some to be a master in his field. His wife quickly points the fickle finger of blame squarely at his ambitious assistant, Alexis Sherman. Apparently, Brooks promised to use Alexis’s puzzles and dangled the possibility of a promotion to co-editor, but delivered on neither.

An analysis of a cast Brooks had on when he died reveals crossword clues written on it, but in two different handwriting styles. Some of the clues are straight-forward and simple synonym-style clues, hardly the work of a master constructor like Brooks.

“Despise,” 4 letters. Hate
“Blood feud,” 8 letters. Vendetta.

Other key words on the cast include punish, attack, payback, and justice. The team suspects the other clues are a message from his killer.

When Booth and Special Agent James Aubrey interview Alexis, she plays a nasty phone message from an unidentified man, claiming that a stranger has been hanging around lately. Alexis agrees to help a forensic artist sketch the mystery man.

Sadly, this is the last appearance of a visible puzzle in the episode, leaving solvers with Brooks’s murder to solve instead of a crossword grid.

The team swiftly gathers several suspects:

  • Emory Stewart (the man who matched the forensic artist’s drawing) claims to be writing a book about Brooks, and denies having left the phone message. He suggests another suspect:
  • Donald McKeon, Brooks’s old college roommate and a fellow crossword constructor, who admits to leaving the angry phone message. When the team finds one of Brooks’s puzzles in McKeon’s possession, they accuse him of theft and murder, only for McKeon to claim Brooks had stolen the puzzle from him. (He says his copy of the puzzle is from a old publishing trick, mailing something to yourself to provide a verified date for the contents, like a poor man’s patent.)

[Not an image from the episode, just one of James Addison’s puzzly envelopes.]

Meanwhile, the team discovers that Brooks’s bones had been weakening for months before his death, implying illness or injury. As it turns out, Brooks might have been seeking treatment for early onset Alzheimer’s, triggered by a head injury in a boating accident years before.

The Alzheimer’s treatment explains the condition of his bones, and the illness itself explains both the different handwriting (a dementia symptom) and the conflict with McKeon. (Brooks may have stolen McKeon’s puzzle unknowingly.)

This points back to Mrs. Brooks. It turns out she was publishing puzzles Brooks had previously created but deemed unusable. She had accidentally published McKeon’s puzzle. She mentions being broke, and not knowing what happened to hundreds of thousands of dollars that should’ve been in their bank accounts.

[This is your brain. This is your brain on Internet gambling…]

It appears that Brooks gambled his money away in online gambling. But when Booth and Aubrey lure out the bookie who broke Brooks’s fingers, the bookie says that Brooks was bankrolling a woman: his assistant, Alexis.

The assistant confesses to stealing from Brooks, but claims she would’ve paid him back. She is booked for theft, since they can’t yet prove she committed the murder.

The team discovers Brooks’s neck was broken, and doubts that the assistant could’ve done it.

Oddly enough, the solution appears while the team rallies around a pregnant coworker, Daisy, who solves the case during her pre-delivery contractions. She supposes that the blood sample they found with Brooks wasn’t his. It has to be that of a blood relative.

Brooks had a son. Which brings us back to Emory Stewart, who turns out to be Brooks’s son from a previous relationship. Emory talked to Brooks, but when they met in person later that day, Brooks claimed to have no idea who he was. Angry, and unaware that Alzheimer’s was behind Brooks’s faulty memory, Emory shoved Brooks down a hill, unintentionally killing him.


This episode goes against the standard crossword mystery convention of having a puzzle at the center of the murder. There’s no puzzle left behind by the killer, no cryptic clue scribbled onto a grid by the victim, no need for a detective with a knack for crosswords to crack the case. There’s simply a murder mystery and a bit of fun clue-fueled wordplay.

Sadly, we never return to the curiously unpleasant list of clues and words on Brooks’s cast, which was one of the most interesting plot points to me. Oh well. (There’s also the whole “wife knows husband has Alzheimer’s, but doesn’t report him missing” plot hole. But, hey, puzzles, not plot holes, right?)

[Mr. Shortz, looking none too amused by the plot of this episode.]

This episode does raise an intriguing idea, though. Imagine a murder mystery dinner set at next year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, where something dastardly had happened to Will Shortz. (Thankfully, we can lose the fracking pit and its acidic unpleasantness with this scenario.)

Who would YOU suspect had done the heinous deed? His equally ambitious and capable assistant? A wronged fellow constructor? Perhaps a jealous ping-pong rival? There’s a lot of possibility there.

Of course, considering how Puzzle #5 decimated the competition last year, perhaps Brendan Emmett Quigley would be a more likely target.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!