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!

PuzzleNation Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

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 broken down into categories for ease of searching. We have puzzle books, downloadable puzzles, specialty puzzles, puzzle apps and iBooks, puzzle games, board games, card games, and party games. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


Puzzle Books

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

 

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 line), 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 (18 and up)

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


Downloadable Puzzles

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)


Specialty Puzzles

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!


Puzzle Apps / iBooks

Crosswords and other puzzles have absolutely taken over the portable market with apps and iBooks and games galore, so here are a few for the puzzle-loving techie on the go!

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!

PuzzleNation Classic Word Search iBooks

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!

Dabble

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!

Seven Bridges

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!

Light ‘Em Up

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!


Puzzle Games

These one- and two-player puzzle games are perfect to train your brain and keep you guessing!


Laser Maze and the Brain Fitness series: Solitaire Chess, Rush Hour, and Chocolate Fix (ThinkFun)

ThinkFun brings us a logic game with an actual laser in Laser Maze ($26.95), as well as three variations on their 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 Laser Maze by clicking here and our review of the Brain Fitness line by clicking here!]

Pink Hijinks (Looney Labs)

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!]

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)


Board Games

Some of the puzzliest games on the market today are being made by top-flight board game companies, and we’ve got some marvelous games that will appeal to puzzlers of all ages!

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!]

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!]

Veritas (Cheapass Games)

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!]

Fluxx: The Board Game (Looney Labs)

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!]


Card Games

These card games add a bit of friendly competition to some splendid strategizing for puzzlers of all sorts!

The Stars Are Right (Steve Jackson Games)

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!]

Chrononauts (Looney Labs)

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!]


Party Games

Some puzzles are best enjoyed in groups, so here are a few fun options for party puzzling!

ROFL! (Cryptozoic)

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!]

Treasure Hunt Game (Hammacher Schlemmer)

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)


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!

PuzzleNation Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Age

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog Holiday Gift Guide!

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

This guide is broken down by age group, so we’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for puzzlers of any age on your list!


For Ages 3-5 and Up

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)

Kindergarten Learning Fun

The kid-friendly Kindergarten Learning Fun book (part of the Learning Fun series) is a perfect introductory book of puzzles for youngsters! ($3.99)


For Ages 8 and Up

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!]

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!

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!]

Word Winder (David L. Hoyt, puzzle game)

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)


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

ThinkFun brings us a logic game with an actual laser in Laser Maze ($26.95), as well as three variations on their 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 Laser Maze by clicking here and our 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!

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!]


For Ages 10-12 and Up

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!

Penny/Dell Puzzles Crossword App (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!

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games, board game)

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!]

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!]

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!

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!]


For Ages 14 and Up

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!]

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!]


For Ages 18 and Up

Most puzzle books would probably fall in the Age 9-10 and Up range, but oftentimes, the cluing is geared toward an older audience, so to avoid confusion, I’ve bundled the majority of the puzzle books here.

 

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 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 WideScreen 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!


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!

5 Questions with Puzzle Constructor Robin Stears

Welcome to the fourth edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s newest feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, writers, filmmakers, 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 excited to have Robin Stears as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Robin is a puzzle constructor whose crosswords appear not only on her StearsWords site, but have also appeared in Penny Press/Dell and Kappa titles as well as the Los Angeles Times. Her puzzles are clever and topical, often striving to add new entries and wrinkles to the field of crossword construction and cluing.

Robin 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 Robin Stears

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

Crossword puzzles and word games have always appealed to me, and after my first daughter was born, I was looking for a way to work at home. My mom suggested the idea of constructing crossword puzzles, since I’d been killing time solving them while I was wondering what to do. Armed with a stack of dictionaries, graph paper, and pencils, I created a puzzle, and typed it on my mom’s typewriter, and colored in the black squares with a marker. I sent my first puzzle to Janis Weiner at Kappa, who promptly sent it back with a bunch of notes. I’m very grateful to her for taking the time to explain what I did wrong. It’s because of her I decided to try again. She rejected most of my puzzles at first, but she always explained why. I consider her my mentor, but she probably doesn’t know that.

2.) You recently constructed a puzzle utilizing that most infamous of cinematic weather phenomena, the sharknado. You have a knack for releasing topical puzzles steeped in pop culture. Is this more a case of keeping your puzzles fresh (since so many crosswords slip into archaic terms and dated references), or of you constructing the kinds of puzzles you’d enjoy solving?

It’s a little bit of both. I think language is fluid and crossword puzzles should reflect that. For example, the word “inception” wasn’t quite as popular in everyday conversation prior to the 2010 movie release as it is today. I don’t know about other constructors, but I find it very satisfying to be the first to use a new word in a crossword puzzle; I suspect they do, too, as evidenced by the number of times ZZZQUIL was used in puzzles when that product was introduced.

The fandom crossword puzzles were born from a comment I saw on Tumblr; someone complained that there weren’t any fandom puzzles. It occurred to me that the only specialty puzzle — where all the clues refer to a single theme — was the Bible puzzle, probably because there are nearly 600,000 words in it. There are about the same number of words in the Lord of the Rings books, though.

Nearly every fandom has a wiki, and a plethora of trivia websites, and by exploring them — along with the Internet Movie Database, Wikipedia, Reddit, and other sources, I was able to create several puzzles specifically for certain fandoms, including both Star Wars and Star Trek, “Adventure Time,” and “Doctor Who.” There is so much information online, that I was actually able to create the “Doctor Who” puzzle without having seen a single episode! My younger daughter’s a big fan, though; she inspired the “Adventure Time” one, too. They also allow me to pay homage to the things I love, like Stephen Colbert, Syfy movies, Donkey Kong, and the US Postal Service.

Every constructor’s style is a little different, and like most solvers, I have my favorites — Liz Gorski, Tyler Hinman, Brendan Emmett Quigley, Merl Reagle, Matt Gaffney, Trip Payne, and of course, Patrick Blindauer, whose dollar bill crossword puzzle is my personal all-time favorite. We all put our personal stamp on the puzzles we create. But, the modern crossword puzzle is about to turn one hundred years old, and if they’re going to remain relevant in the modern world, they have to change and adapt to suit younger solvers. That means constructors need to use the Urban Dictionary as well as Webster’s.

3.) You’re also a published author with several titles to your credit. How does the creative process for writing a book compare to that of creating a crossword?

Writing fiction and writing crossword clues are completely different processes. A novel is a long, leisurely cross-country trip, while a crossword clue is a quick peek around the corner. It took me about a year to write each book, after researching it for months, and another six months of editing. Crossword puzzles may take anywhere from an hour to a day to complete, depending on the size and the theme entries. In the past few years, partly for the instant gratification, partly because it’s more lucrative, and partly because it’s more fun, I’ve concentrated more on crossword puzzles, although I do have another novel I intend to finish.

4.) What’s next for Robin Stears?

Well, there’s that novel… eventually. In the meantime, I’d like to attend more puzzle events, like Lollapuzzoola and the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Last year, I volunteered at my local tournament, and it was fun meeting the participants and discussing the puzzles they’d solved — there’s no substitute for immediate feedback. Solving crosswords is very different from constructing them. I have a database at my disposal, and I have great respect for solvers who have to remember all those clues! I’d like to meet the constructors I admire to exchange ideas and hear their stories, and Amy Reynaldo and Kathy Matheson (Crossword Kathy), whose blogs are so informative and whose ideas and opinions I respect — it’s because of Amy’s “Diary of a Crossword Fiend” blog that I removed certain words from my database, like APER. I’d love to finally meet the people behind PuzzleNation, Cruciverb, Sporcle, and Quinapalus, and all the other puzzle-related sites. Constructing crosswords is a lonely business — I need to get out more.

The fandom trivia puzzles are a challenge, so you’ll probably see more of those. Fans of “Breaking Bad” will see a special puzzle at the end of September for the final episode, and baseball trivia fans can expect their puzzle in October, during the World Series. For Halloween, I’m planning a horror movie puzzle, and of course, I’ll do something for the 100th anniversary of crosswords in December — I’m open to ideas for that one.

Ben Tausig recently pointed out in an article in “The Hairpin” that there seem to be fewer women constructors, and I’d love to help remedy that. When I first started, twenty-odd years ago, constructing a crossword puzzle was difficult and time-consuming — these days, most constructors use software with a built-in database of words and clues. My personal choice is Crossword Compiler. I think anyone with a basic knowledge of the rules and a bit of computer savvy could create and publish a crossword puzzle. I believe there’s plenty of room in the crossword puzzle world for new constructors with new ideas. Technology and the opportunities for puzzle creators and solvers to interact with one another will change the ways crosswords are created. I had a lot of help in the beginning, and I hope to pay it forward to the next generation of crossword constructors.

[[Glenn's sidenote: Robin also had a lot of interesting points regarding the move toward digital puzzle distribution, and I think that topic deserves a post of its own. Keep your eyes peeled for that post (and her thoughtful comments) in the near future!]]

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

When I construct a crossword puzzle, I always have the fans in mind. I want to create a solving experience that’s fun and enjoyable for them. The entire time I was constructing a special “420” puzzle, which, to my knowledge, had never been done before, I was imagining how surprised and delighted some puzzle solvers would be that week. And like the Super Bowl puzzle and the Harry Potter puzzle, I knew that not everybody would appreciate it, but the ones who did would appreciate it all the more because I constructed it especially for them.

When I construct puzzles for Penny Press/Dell, I also have a certain fan in mind — someone who enjoys an easier solve, with a little less pop culture and a little more word play. No matter which publisher I’m targeting, I’m always thinking about the puzzle solvers and what they might enjoy. Frequently, I construct customized crossword puzzles as gifts; they’re always a big hit because they’re personal.

So, my advice is this: Tell me what you want! Send me an email, tweet me, write on my Facebook or Google+, hit me up on Blogger or Tumblr — StearsWords is not hard to find. I maintain a variety of social media because I want puzzle fans of all kinds to interact with me. Much of my day is spent scanning social sites like Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit and reading puzzle blogs, trying to find out what kinds of topics might interest puzzle solvers. Anyone can send me an idea for a puzzle, and if I like it, I’ll do my best to make it happen. I’d rather give puzzle fans what they really want than give them what I want them to have and hope they like it.

Many thanks to Robin Stears for her time. Check out her StearsWords puzzles on her website, and follow her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/RobinStears)! I can’t wait to see what puzzly goodness she cooks up for us next.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! Don’t forget about our PuzzleNation Community Contest, running all this week! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (three volumes to choose from!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!