Amazing Maize Mazes!

It’s October! October means falling leaves, Halloween delights, and a particular brand of puzzle that can only be enjoyed outdoors: the corn maze.

The corn maze is a seasonal hall of mirrors, a mental challenge that envelops you like few puzzles ever will.

Whether it’s a simple series of twists and turns designed for kids, or an elaborate design for adults whose true complexity can only be appreciated from above, corn mazes are a terrific puzzly experience for the whole family, and October is prime corn maze season.

Friend of the blog Cathy Quinn passed along an article from the Boston Globe featuring bits of trivia on numerous New England corn mazes, covering such curiosities as the machetes wielded by the Hanson’s Farm crew and the precautions taken by Marini Farm’s maze masters, including phone number to call and GPS assistance available for lost maze-goers.

But for someone looking for a puzzle with a bit more bite, worry not! Some truly devious corn maze designers cook up extra challenges for the brave of heart and sharp of wit.

[Do you see a dinosaur?]

The corn maze found at Pennsylvania’s Cherry Crest Farm, for instance, has three levels of difficulty, each demanding more puzzle skill and problem-solving acumen than the one before.

Their easy version is a basic run-through the maze (indicated with yellow trail markers), while their intermediate one features orange clues to unravel that guide you through a more complicated path. And their most difficult run? Well, that one requires you to collect every piece of a scattered map and every Kernel of Knowledge along way, tackling the mental obstacles that accompany every red clue.

Some clued corn mazes feature additional prizes or access to exclusive parts of the maze. (The Billingsgate Farm corn maze in Plympton, Massachusetts, features a pirate theme, and only the most intrepid solvers and explorers will find their way to the treasure chest at the center of the maze.)

It’s been a while since I’ve found myself tackling a corn maze, so I don’t have any anecdotes to add, but Cathy shared a terrific tidbit about the corn maze at Flint Farm she and her family frequent every year:

The article doesn’t mention it, but when you go in, they hand you a list of 10 trivia questions. As you wander the maze, you can come across up to 20 signs giving possible answers, so you have to figure out which answers are correct.

If you get them all right, you are entered into a raffle for free ice cream at their farm stand/ice cream stand. (We never get them all right, alas.)

Are there any great corn mazes near you, fellow puzzlers? Let me know! Share pictures! I’d love to see them!

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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Potter Puzzle 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’ve got another anagram story for you.

Harry Potter fans are one of the most enthusiastic and devoted fanbases in the world. The Boy Wizard’s fans are legion, and they’re ready to pounce on any little nugget that might reveal new Potter-centric projects in the works.

So when author J.K. Rowling posted this mysterious tweet, the fanbase exploded with excitement and intrigue:

It was immediately recognized as an anagram, and naturally, the fanbase hoped this was news of more Harry Potter content to come, perhaps even a new novel featuring their favorite hero.

Soon after, a solution was posted!

Harry returns! Won’t say any details now. A week off. No comment.

To the disappointment of many, Rowling replied that this wasn’t the correct solution.

But just 24 hours after the tweet went live, a Harry Potter fan and Ph.D. student at the University of Sheffield replied with another possible solution:

Newt Scamander only meant to stay in New York for a few hours.

J.K. Rowling quickly replied, confirming the answer and congratulating the solver.

The answer references Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a spin-off title set in the Harry Potter universe that is set to become a trilogy of movies. Apparently, this sentence summarizes Newt’s story in the forthcoming screenplay and film.

In a world where teasers and viral marketing can make or break a franchise, I suspect we’ll see more and more puzzles like this to keep fans invested between movies or novels.

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!

PuzzleNation App Review: G.O.A.T. – Mow it up!

Welcome to the another edition of PuzzleNation App Reviews! Today we continue our quest to explore the world of puzzly games and apps for your tablet or smartphone!

Our resident App player and puzzle fiend Sherri has another intriguing game for us today, so let’s get down to business and dive into her review of G.O.A.T – Mow it up! for iPad, iPhone, and Android devices!


Oh no! Farmer Jason’s mower is broken! How is he doing to mow his fields? Well, Mr. Goat is here to the rescue. After all, he is a farmer’s best friend.

G.O.A.T – Mow it up! is a cute twist on a clear-the-grid game. It’s an iOS game in which your goal is to guide the goat through the unmowed grass. All of the grass needs to be cleared, and you can’t mow a space twice.

The game is divided into worlds and chapters. Summertime is the easy world, and it’s divided into 40 levels. Using your finger, you draw your path, dropping carrots along the grassy patches. There are also items of litter that the goat eats. You have to clear all of the litter and the grassy patches, and each path needs to end with a yummy piece of litter.

This is a great game. With the increasing level of difficulty, even in the easy world, I had a blast clearing the levels. They are colorful and bright, and I just love the goat. Once you complete the path, the goat really takes off, and it is a wonderful sight to see. Figuring out the best path to mow all of the grass provides such a good feeling of accomplishment.

Graphically, this game is great. The levels are colorful, with various obstacles to get around, and there’s a variety of litter items like sandals and tires. Mr. Goat just gobbles them all up. And carrots. He loves carrots. If you enjoy games where you have to clear a grid, this is a good one to play.

Ratings for G.O.A.T – Mow it up!:

  • Enjoyability: 3/5 — This is a really cute and colorful game but each level is essentially the same gameplay-wise, which can grow tedious over time.
  • Puzzle incorporation: 4/5 — The levels increase in difficulty, and you need to think logically to clear all of the grass. Plotting your route really works your brain, and that was just in easy mode!
  • Graphics: 4/5 — The graphics are bright and colorful, and the goat is great. It’s awesome seeing him zip through your path once you’ve cleared the board, although one big drawback is the continue screen that obscures the fast mowing.
  • Gameplay: 3/5 — It can get a bit monotonous, but the increasing difficulty and the need to puzzle out your path keeps you on your toes.

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!

A puzzler, by any other name…

Fake names, stage names, noms de plume… they’re more common than you might think. Authors, musicians, actors, and performers of all sorts can take on new identities, either to make themselves more marketable, to build a brand, or simply to create a public persona in order to keep their private lives separate.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, crossword constructors in the UK (known as setters) also employ pseudonyms, literally making a name for themselves as they create challenging cryptic crosswords for their solving audience.

Evocative names like Araucaria, Gordius, Crucible, Otterden, Anax, Charybdis, Tramp, Morph, Paul, Enigmatist, Hypnos, Phi, Nutmeg, Shed, Arachne, and Qaos grace the puzzles in England’s The Guardian newspaper.

That made me wonder… if American constructors were given the same opportunity, what UK-style names would they choose?

So, I reached out to some of my fellow puzzlers, and as I compiled their replies, some curious patterns emerged. I thought I’d share their responses with the PuzzleNation readership.

Whereas several UK setters have employed the names of former members of the Inquisition and other nasty sorts — like Torquemada, Ximenes, and Azed (which is Deza backwards) — to highlight the torturous challenges solvers could expect, some of their American counterparts prefer to highlight the playful, tricky aspect of constructing.

Constructor Robin Stears would publish under the name Loki or Anansi (citing two famous mythological tricksters), while meta-puzzle master Matt Gaffney would ply his craft under the name Puck. (He actually played Puck in sixth grade in a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)

[Loki, as played by Tom Hiddleston in the
Marvel cinematic universe, seems to approve...]

Other constructors embraced wordplay involving their names, like Brendan Emmett Quigley who chose Beck (his initials pronounced phonetically) or Penny Press variety editor Cathy Quinn, who chose the nom de plume Sequin (for C. Quinn).

Still others revealed their feelings about those curious words that are only found in crosswords. Variety editor Paula Curry opted for the name Ese-Averse to show her disdain for crosswordese, while puzzle historian and constructor David Steinberg selected Osier, both for its crosswordese appeal and its homophone pronunciation (OCR, representing the Orange County Register, for whom David has served as crossword editor for years).

[This crossword features several infamous crosswordese
clues as entries. Do you recognize them all?

Naturally, my fellow puzzlers at Penny Press had some of my favorite puzzly stage names. Will Shortz’s WordPlay editor Leandro Galban sets himself firmly against the heroic solver by choosing Grendel, while variety editor Andrew Haynes opted for either Bob the Settler or The Flying Penguin. (He feels that “the” adds a certain arrogance to the pseudonym, and Bob has that delightfully bland palindromic quality.)

Editor Ariane Lewis would be known simply as Dub, leaving interpretation up to the solvers, while editor Maria Peavy offered a plethora of possible pennames, including Pushkin, Excelsior, Kutuzov (in the spirit of Torquemada), Sphinx (another famous riddler) or Grail.

Or you could adopt a full false moniker like variety editor Keith Yarbrough did, and go by Rufus T. Firefly.

As for me, I haven’t decided if I want something esoteric like Syzygy (alluding to the rare alignment of both planets and quality crossword grids), something obscure and wordnerdy like Snurp or Timmynoggy or Interrobang, or something meaningless but fun to say aloud, like Skylark or Guava.

So watch out, UK setters, because one of these days, you might see names like Sequin or Osier or The Flying Penguin baffling your solvers with cryptic crossword cleverness.

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: Alice in Wonderland 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 want to follow up on a classic unsolved riddle from Lewis Carroll.

Last week, I mentioned in my mondegreens and malaprops post that I often preferred the nonsensical, silly misheard lyrics of songs to the actual lyrics. And I received a private comment from author Mary Hammond, who likened my position on mondegreens to a topic that deeply interested her: Why is a raven like a writing-desk?

You see, many Carroll fans and scholars believe that the riddle is purposely nonsensical, taking Carroll’s word at face value when he claimed that the riddle was designed with no answer in mind. But Hammond believes that Carroll, wordsmith and gamesman that he was, hid the true answer to the riddle in plain sight.

Check out her solution to Carroll’s riddle, wonderfully summed up in this short YouTube clip:

Now, this is a Follow-Up Friday post not only because it calls back to my mondegreens post, but because over a year ago, I penned a post where I presented my own solution to Carroll’s riddle.

So I leave it up to you, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Did Mary crack Carroll’s riddle? Did I? Or is the riddle simply destined to baffle and delight more puzzlers and scholars in the years to come?

[Thank you, Mary, for reaching out and sharing your solution with the PN readership. Click here to check out Mary's book The Mad Hatter: The Role of Mercury in the Life of Lewis Carroll, and be sure to follow her on Twitter (@Hg4words) for all things Hammond (and Carroll).]

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!

These anagrams are out of this world!

Planets are in the news, as Pluto’s dubious planetary status is under the microscope once again.

Recently, a debate over the defining qualities of a planet was held at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and three of the top names in planetary science presented their cases to the attending audience.

Now, although the audience overwhelmingly voted in favor of Pluto’s planethood, that’s not binding. This wasn’t an International Astronomical Union vote or anything like that.

But it did put the solar system back in the news cycle, and that reminded me of a puzzly planetary story.

In the 1600s, Galileo Galilei was doing amazing work with his telescope, redefining our understanding of the solar system and our place in it. He was doing controversial work, but he still wanted to be able to prove he was the primary person behind a given discovery, so he mailed a letter to his colleague, Johannes Kepler.

Galileo sent Kepler this anagram: s m a i s m r m i l m e p o e t a l e u m i b u n e n u g t t a u i r a s

When properly solved, the anagram reads “Altissimum planetam tergeminum observavi,” meaning “I have observed the most distant planet to have a triple form.” You see, Galileo had glimpsed Saturn and its famous rings, but due to the poor magnification of his telescope, he’d mistaken the rings themselves for two moons orbiting the planet.

This was a tremendous discovery, adding to our knowledge of what was (at the time) the furthest reaches of our solar system.

But Kepler, while trying to untangle the anagram, came to a different solution. Believing that Galileo’s latest discovery involved Mars, not Saturn, Kepler’s solution read “Salue umbistineum geminatum Martia proles,” meaning Mars has two moons. (The ambiguity of Latin V’s and U’s didn’t help matters.)

So, while Kepler was wrong in his solution, he was unintentionally correct about Mars! (Phobos and Deimos, the two moons of Mars, wouldn’t be confirmed until 1877.)

Amazingly enough, this wouldn’t be the only time Galileo relied on Kepler and anagrams to prove provenance when it came to his discoveries.

In 1611, Galileo sent another anagram to Kepler: Haec immatura a me iam frustra leguntur o.y.

Properly unscrambled, the message reads “Cynthiae figuras aemulatur mater amorum,” or “The mother of love imitates the shape of Cynthia.” This one requires a little more explanation. The mother of love was Venus, and Cynthia was the Moon, meaning that Venus, when observed from Earth, has phases just like the moon.

[Click here for a larger version of this image.]

This probably sounds less important than Galileo’s studies of Saturn, but it’s not. This was an earthshaking discovery, because it was observable evidence that Venus had to pass on both sides of the sun, meaning that Venus orbited the sun. This violated the geocentric model of the solar system so strongly espoused by the church!

It was evidence like this that led to Galileo’s battle with the Inquisition.

And, weirdly enough, there might be one more twist to this story.

Some historians believe that Kepler also solved this Galilean anagram incorrectly, and that his solution once again revealed an unintentional discovery about the solar system.

According to the as-yet-unverified story, Kepler’s solution read “Macula rufa in Jove est gyratur mathem…,” which translates as “There is a red spot in Jupiter, which rotates mathem[atically].” (Again, yes, there’s the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, but there was no way for Kepler to have known that at the time.)

It’s hard to believe that Kepler could twice unravel a Galileo anagram and twice make accidental predictions about the solar system. While the first story is widely accepted, the second is viewed with far more skepticism.

But either way, it just goes to show that anagrams, while delightful, might not be the best method for announcing your great discoveries.

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!