It’s Follow-Up Friday: That Has a Name?! edition

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

For those new to PuzzleNation Blog, Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and update the PuzzleNation audience on how these projects are doing and what these people have been up to in the meantime.

And today, I’d like to revisit crosswords for a moment.

We’ve explored crosswords a lot in this blog. From great cluing to the curse of crosswordese, from advice for constructing quality puzzles to tips for solving them, crosswords have been the centerpiece for many PuzzleNation Blog posts.

But friend of the blog Cathy Quinn recently passed along an article with an interesting bit of crossword trivia attached.

Have you encountered a difficult crossing in a crossword that left you baffled? This happens with proper names, archaic terms, and other more difficult grid entries, and when two of them cross, you might find yourself guessing instead of solving.

As it turns out, that difficult crossing, that unfillable square, that unsolvable spot, has a name, and it’s “Natick”.

From the article:

Back in 2008, The New York Times crossword puzzle featured a crossing of NATICK (“Town at the eighth mile of the Boston Marathon”) with N.C.WYETH (“Treasure Island” illustrator, 1911). If you weren’t from ’round these parts and were unfamiliar with the less-well-known Wyeth, it was a tough intersection.

Readers were not happy, and the term “a Natick” became shorthand for what is basically an unsolvable part of the crossword grid. (You can check out constructor Brendan Emmett Quigley’s take on the Natick here!)

So, if you’re ever flummoxed by a challenging crossing or an obscure intersection of terms, at least now you know what to call it.

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 our library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

5 Questions with Constructor Brendan Emmett Quigley

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, board game creators, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m overjoyed to have Brendan Emmett Quigley as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

A professional puzzle constructor for almost 20 years, Brendan is one of the top names when it comes to crosswords with strong craftsmanship and clever cluing. One of the most prolific contributors to The New York Times Crossword in the modern era, his puzzles have appeared everywhere from GAMES Magazine and The Los Angeles Times to Wired.com and The Crosswords Club.

In addition to the two puzzles he constructs every week for his website, he’s created many puzzle books of his own, and contributed puzzles to an American Red Cross fundraiser for Hurricane Sandy victims. (He also masterminded Puzzle #5 at this year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, the puzzle only a few dozen solvers managed to conquer in the time allotted.)

Brendan was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for Brendan Emmett Quigley

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

I started making puzzles at a very early age. In Kindergarten art class, specifically. We were given 11×17 sheets of paper and told we could draw anything. I drew mazes. Shortly after that, I realized I could make the puzzles more complicated if I eschewed crayons and used finely sharpened pencils. When I discovered GAMES Magazine, sometime in second grade, I was hooked and became a puzzler for life.

I didn’t get into crosswords until much later. It was a way to while away the hours at a miserable summer job in 1995. After a whole summer of dutifully attempting (and not necessarily succeeding) at solving the Times crossword, I was determined to make and sell one. Which I did by January of 1996. I haven’t stopped since.

2.) What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle? (Other than your signature knack for stacking long entries.) What do you most enjoy — or most commonly avoid — when constructing your own? What do you think is the most common pitfall of constructors just starting out?

A good original and hopefully funny theme is all you need to make a great puzzle.

The most common pitfall for newbies is unoriginal themes, or ones that don’t employ enough wordplay. The English language is full of nuances, we should exploit them.

[Check out Brendan's latest collection, Sit & Solve® Marching Bands!
For more information on marching band puzzles, click here!]

3.) Will Shortz has credited you with bringing some hipness to the New York Times Crossword with your cluing and entry-word choices. Do you have any favorite clues or entries that have appeared there, either in your puzzles or puzzles by other constructors?

Mike Shenk once wrote the clue “Strips in a club” for BACON, and well, that’s a classic.

4.) What’s next for Brendan Emmett Quigley?

I think I’m going to have a beer.

5.) If you could give the readers, writers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t do drugs. Be drugs.


Many thanks to Brendan for his time. Check out his website for twice-weekly puzzles, and be sure to follow him on Twitter (@fleetwoodwack) for updates on all things Quigley. I look forward to solving whatever he cooks up next.

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!

5 Questions with Constructor Matt Gaffney!

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, board game creators, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m overjoyed to have Matt Gaffney as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Matt Gaffney is a puzzle constructor, and over the last twenty-five years — fifteen as a full-time constructor! — he has made a name for himself as one of the most innovative names in crosswords. Whether it’s his signature Weekly Crossword Contest puzzles or the crossword murder mystery he launched on Kickstarter, he’s become synonymous with puzzles that contain a little something extra.

In addition to puzzle books and books about puzzles, he’s been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate Magazine, and GAMES Magazine, among numerous others. All told, he estimates he’s created more than 4,000 puzzles in his career!

Matt was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for Matt Gaffney

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

My older sister starting bringing home Dell and Penny Press puzzle magazines when I was about 8 or 9. I have a hypercompetitive personality with certain things, and puzzles turned out to be one of them, so I starting submitting crosswords to Dell Champion. They ran my first two published puzzles when I was 13.

2.) In addition to your daily crossword puzzles, you host a Weekly Crossword Contest, featuring crosswords with a puzzle-within-a-puzzle lurking inside. These “metapuzzles” have grown in popularity over the years. What separates a quality metapuzzle from a bonus answer that simply feels tacked on? What are some of your favorite past metapuzzles?

Ideally a metapuzzle is like a good hiding place in hide-and-go-seek. The seeker shouldn’t find you right away; they should overlook you a couple of times, walk past you a couple of times, and only later say, “Ah, I should’ve found you sooner.”

My favorite meta that I myself wrote in the past year is called “Corporate Structure” and can be found here.

My favorite meta that someone else wrote is called “Seasonal Staff” by Francis Heaney and you can buy it for $1 here (under “Puzzle” scroll down to 2013-12-18).

[Just one of many puzzle-themed titles Matt has authored.]

3.) When you celebrated 5 years of your Weekly Crossword Contest, you stated that MGWCC will run for 1,000 weeks, which would put the final edition around August 6, 2027. Do you have any predictions for how crosswords might have changed by then?

I think by then individual crossword writers will be more brandable than we are now. With a few exceptions like Merl Reagle, familiar crossword brands are still usually publications or, in the case of Will Shortz, an editor.

The Web has allowed constructors like myself, Brendan Quigley, Liz Gorski, Erik Agard, and many others to get our work out independently, so I think solvers will move more towards seeking out their favorite individual constructors rather than solving newspaper puzzles. Sort of like how you can buy an album by your favorite artist instead of waiting for them to play on the radio.

4.) What’s next for Matt Gaffney?

I’m going to market my Daily Crossword this summer. I’ve been too busy to find a good home for it but the number of hits it gets, with zero marketing on my part, is amazing to me.

5.) If you could give the readers, writers, puzzle fans, and aspiring constructors in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

I would encourage people to explore the indie crosswords. If the newspaper dailies are ABC, NBC, and CBS, then the independent puzzle writers are HBO and Showtime. Go here and click on any of the names on the bottom-left sidebar and see what’s good.

Not all of them are indie crossword sites (some are crossword critique sites, some are other crossword-related stuff) but about half of them are personal sites of independent crossword writers.


Many thanks to Matt for his time. Check out his Daily Crossword, his Weekly Crossword Contest, his blog about crosswords, and his website, and be sure to follow him on Twitter (@metabymatt) for the latest updates on all his projects. I can’t wait to see what other puzzly tricks he has up his sleeve.

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!

American Crossword Puzzle Tournament Round-Up!

This past weekend was the 37th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Puzzlers descended upon Brooklyn, NY, for what more than one Twitter user affectionately referred to as “The Nerd Olympics.”

I’ve spoken to several participants — all veterans of the tournament who often enjoy the socializing as much as the actual puzzles — and much fun was had by all.

The tournament flowed smoothly, despite Daylight Saving Time stealing an hour’s sleep from competitors on Sunday. Topnotch solvers emerged early with blistering times, and other solvers challenged themselves to reach new personal bests and performances to be proud of.

In previous years, the biggest hurdle for most solvers has been Puzzle #5. It’s routinely the toughest, and this year’s puzzle proved to be no exception. Only a few dozen solvers completed the puzzle in the half hour allotted.

Here are two of my favorite tweets that captured the impression left by Puzzle #5:

I asked Penny/Dell variety editor and friend of the blog Keith Yarbrough about Puzzle #5. As a multiple-time attendee of the ACPT, one who has placed in the top 20% on more than one occasion, he had some valuable insight into the infamous puzzle:

If they didn’t have puzzle 5, the top solvers would all be bunched up with roughly the same scores, and it would be a mess trying to figure out the top three for the finals.  Puzzle 5 separates those people a bit and is the price we mortals have to pay for it.

(For the constructor’s thoughts on the puzzle, check out Brendan Emmett Quigley’s blog post here.)

On Sunday, after the ceremonial final solve in front of an audience — click here to check it out on YouTube! — the winners were crowned, and to no great surprise, Dan Feyer scored his fifth consecutive ACPT title, tying Tyler Hinman’s formidable streak. The top solvers were a who’s who of ACPT puzzlers, including Joon Pahk, Anne Erdmann, and Jon Delfin — and a thoroughly impressive 43 solvers managed to solve all 7 puzzles without any errors!

And friends of the blog had a terrific showing this year! Crossword gentleman Doug Peterson placed 14th, Los Angeles Times crossword editor Rich Norris placed 71, constructor David Steinberg (of the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project) placed 136, Uptown Puzzle Club editor Patti Varol placed 145, and editor Keith Yarbrough placed 212. (When you consider the nearly 600 entrants, those numbers are stunning.)

For a more complete rundown of the tournament, I highly recommend you check out the Twitter feed of The Puzzle Brothers. They virtually live-tweeted the tournament — their coverage of the final puzzle is terrific — and it’s a really fun read overall.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Tumblr, download our puzzle apps and iBooks, play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

The greatest gift exchange there never was…

It’s Christmas Eve, so hopefully you’ve perused our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide and completed all your shopping in a timely and not-at-stress-inducing, hair-tearing-out manner.

But if not, fear not! Some of the puzzliest and cleverest people in the artistic, board game, and puzzle communities may have just come up with the perfect last-minute solution for you.

You’re probably familiar with the concept of the White Elephant gift exchange, wherein everyone supplies a gift, and then a game of keeping or swapping takes over, allowing people to take turns, develop friendly little rivalries, and generally enjoy a bit of holiday frivolity.

But have you ever heard of a White Heffalump exchange?

This year, numerous game designers, artists, and puzzlers were recruited by Mike Selinker, the head of Lone Shark Games, to participate in a White Elephant gift exchange. But this exchange had a marvelous twist: every gift was imaginary.

So everyone involved — including such names as James Ernest (head of Cheapass Games, publishers of Veritas), John Kovalic (artist for Munchkin and creator of ROFL!) and puzzler constructions Eric Berlin and Brendan Emmett Quigley — created an imaginary gift for the exchange.

And then they all played the game on Twitter, so fans and friends could enjoy the madcap holiday cheer.

Here are a few of the “gifts” created for the White Heffalump gift exchange:

It’s easy to imagine a trip with The Doctor would be a highly sought-after prize.

What’s more heartwarming than retroactively sharing a friendship since first grade? (And possibly an iron-clad alibi, should you need one…)

It’s like one of those grab-the-money booths from an old game show, but with SWEETS!

A formidable steed and a delicious meal all in one. You can’t lose!

And the wily Matt Forbeck offered up the ideal machine for generating presents for next year’s White Heffalump exchange.

From “time to play with toys” and a dapper platypus to a 29-word crossword and a wish-granting pocket pet, the gifts were hilarious, innovative, and absolutely ridiculous, and the gameplay back and forth as people traded and stole gifts was just as entertaining.

[For more details on the exchange, check out Matt Forbeck's write-up here or Mike Selinker's incredibly thorough recap here.]

So, if you’re still struggling with gift ideas, you can always go the White Heffalump route. It’s creative, low-budget, and loads of fun. Enjoy!

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Tumblr, download our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

PuzzleNation Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: Grab Bag!

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog Holiday Gift Guide!

We’re overjoyed to have so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is a grab bag of all sorts of puzzle games, apps, puzzle books, and board games, the perfect random assortment for a puzzle fan you need ideas for! We’re sure you’ll find the right gift for any puzzler on your list!


To start, we’ve got an assortment of pencil-and-paper puzzle books to choose from!

Our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Whether it’s their 100 Years of Crosswords commemorative book, their kid-friendly Kindergarten Learning Fun book (part of the Learning Fun series), their holidaytastic Sugar & Spice Pocket Sudoku Pack, or one of their many value packs featuring puzzles of all sorts, Penny/Dell has you covered. (And be sure to click here for their ongoing 12 Days of Holiday Savings promotion for even better deals!)

And for more specialized puzzle books, some high-level constructors have books of their own for your perusal! With New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some puzzlers within these pages!

Rich Norris’s A-to-Z Crosswords

Doug Peterson’s Easy ABC Crosswords

Jeff Chen’s puzzles for Bridge enthusiasts

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s puzzles (the only one I’d firmly classify as 18 and up)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Quick-As-A-Wink Crosswords and Wide-Screen Crosswords

And many top constructors have started marketing their puzzles directly to solvers, so in addition to free puzzles available on their websites, they have downloadable puzzle bundles and collections!

Patrick Blindauer PuzzleFests (puzzle bundles)

David Steinberg’s Chromatics (color-themed puzzles)

Robin Stears’ StearsWords (themed puzzles)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles)

Of course, if you’d like to have a crossword specially created for someone, both Brendan Emmett Quigley and Robin Stears create puzzles to order on their sites! Two prolific, topnotch constructors are at your service!


And here is our grab bag of puzzle games and apps galore!

The Stars Are Right (Steve Jackson Games, card game)

Build an army of followers and change the stars themselves in The Stars Are Right, a thoroughly enjoyable card game where the goal is summoning an elder god and destroying the world. As you do. ($27.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Penny/Dell Puzzles Crossword App

Test your crossword chops with this impressive app, featuring smart navigation to move you to partially filled-in entries and an alternate-clue option to help you solve!

Word Winder (David L. Hoyt)

Word Winder (also available in app, puzzle book, and GIANT versions!) is a game of finding chains of hidden words in an ever-changeable grid! Put your strategy and spelling skills to the test! ($19.95)

ROFL! (Cryptozoic, party game)

Challenge your friends to decode famous movie lines, catchphrases, and song lyrics in Cryptozoic’s game ROFL!!, created by Dork Tower‘s John Kovalic! Put your texting and abbreviation skills to the test in this laugh-out-loud party treat! ($35)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Seven Bridges (app)

Based on the classic Konigsberg Bridge puzzle, Seven Bridges challenges you to navigate different towns and cross each bridge only once! A terrific chain-solving game with more than a few tricks up its sleeve!

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

PuzzleNation Classic Word Search (iBook)

Enjoy our own puzzler-friendly classic word search iBook (with three volumes of themed puzzles to choose from)! With an adaptable screen and plenty of puzzles to keep you busy, Classic Word Search is a terrific way to pass the time!

Walk-By Scrabble Board, Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and the World’s Largest Scrabble Game

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with multisyllabic ambitions ($39.95) and the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game ($12,000!), but neither is as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Laser Maze (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

ThinkFun brings us a logic game with an actual laser in Laser Maze, a game of light, mirrors, strategy, and skill! ($26.95)

[Check out our full product review of Laser Maze by clicking here!]

Treasure Hunt Game (Hammacher Schlemmer, party game)

All the tools you need to create an engaging treasure hunt for kids can be found in Hammacher Schlemmer’s Award-Winning Treasure Hunt Game! With a map, clues, coins, and everything else you’ll need, it’s an all-in-one kit for scavenger hunt fun! ($64.95)

Veritas (Cheapass Games, board game)

In Veritas, it’s the Dark Ages, and you’re trying to protect your brand of the truth. As monasteries burn and other versions of the truth are spread, can you become the predominant truth in France? This strategy game has a wicked sense of humor and some fun twists on the Risk model. ($15, plus chips)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Chrononauts (Looney Labs, card game)

Time travel can be tough, but when other time travelers are changing history, it can be downright weird. In Chrononauts, you’ll bend the rules of time and space in the hopes of completing your mission and going home. And who hasn’t wanted to make history once or twice? ($20)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Dabble (app)

This word-forming game will put your anagram skills to the test as you try to move letters between tiers in order to spell multiple words of varying lengths! It’s Scrabble taken to the next level!

Fluxx: The Board Game (Looney Labs, board game)

Take a board game, and make the cards, goals, and board changeable, and you’ve got Fluxx: The Board Game. It’s the ultimate think-on-your-feet experience, and like nothing you’ve played before. ($30)

[Check out our full product review here!]


The Brain Fitness series: Solitaire Chess, Rush Hour, and Chocolate Fix (ThinkFun, puzzle games)

It’s three variations on ThinkFun’s classic puzzle games in order to keep your mind in fighting trim for puzzling! Put your chess skills in play for Solitaire Chess, your Sudoku skills on high for Chocolate Fix, and your chain-solving on overdrive for Rush Hour ($14.99 each)!

[Check out our full product review of the Brain Fitness line by clicking here!]

Light ‘Em Up (app)

In this app, you control fire and you’re trying to burn all the woodpiles in the area. But fire is trickier than you think! A fun problem-solving game with a great medieval look!

Pink Hijinks (Looney Labs, puzzle game)

Part of Looney Labs’ multi-colored Pyramids series, Pink Hijinks is a quick-to-play strategy game for two players! Roll the dice, make your move, and try to race your opponent to the finish in this easily transported game of tactics! ($12)

[Check out our full product review here!]


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in our holiday gift guide!

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!