PuzzleNation Looks Back at 2014!

The year is quickly coming to a close, and as I look back on the past twelve months, I’m both proud of everything we at PuzzleNation accomplished and optimistic for the year ahead of us.

It’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to explore the world of puzzles and games with you, my fellow puzzle lovers and PuzzleNationers. I’m closing in on my 300th blog post, and I’m even more excited to write for you now than I was when I started.

Over the last year, we explored dice games and tile games, apps and pen-and-paper puzzles. We met designers, constructors, and creative types of all kinds. We cracked brain teasers and tackled mind-bending riddles.

We explored the different roles puzzles have played throughout history, from codebreaking during the American Revolution and the Civil War to Galileo’s anagrams and a Pope who crafted puzzles for the local paper.

We celebrated International TableTop Day, Star Wars Day, the 40th anniversary of the Rubik’s Cube, the 30th anniversary of Tetris, and the 75th anniversary of Batman, and we were happy to share so many remarkable puzzly landmark moments with you.

We spread the word about numerous worthwhile Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, and along the way, we supported some fantastic causes, like saving a puzzle/game shop in Washington and donating to a campaign to adapt games for colorblind and visually-impaired puzzle/game fans.

And that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune and accomplishments in 2014 went well beyond that.

In February, we launched the Penny/Dell Jumbo Crossword App, our most successful puzzle app to date. In March, we launched Classic Sudoku for the iPad, and in May, we added Classic Word Search for the iPad.

With numerous new puzzle sets (including two launched in December!), we have proudly maintained a steady stream of topnotch puzzle content for our solvers, and we’ve got plenty more on the way in 2015.

Not only that, but in September we relaunched our website, gearing it entirely to providing you with the best mobile puzzle gaming experience around.

And your response has been terrific! We also amassed over a thousand followers for the blog and over 1600 followers of the PuzzleNation Facebook page in 2014, numbers that are both humbling and encouraging.

2014 was our most productive, most exciting, and most creatively fulfilling year to date, and 2015 promises to be even brighter.

Thank you for your enthusiasm, your support, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. Have a fantastic New Year. We’ll see you in 2015!

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!

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!

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: New Puzzles 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 spread the word about our latest Penny Dell Crossword App content!

PuzzleNation Facebook followers got advance notice of this a day or two ago, and it’s time everyone heard! We have two new collections of crosswords available for purchase!

The first is Collection 3, which offers 150 new puzzles across 5 puzzle sets: three under the Penny Press brand (Easy, Medium, and Hard) and two under the Dell brand (Easy and Medium). And all of these puzzles feature our Alternate Clue feature!

And the second is our Winter 2014 Deluxe Set, which offers 30 Easy, Medium & Hard puzzles, as well as 5 unlockable bonus puzzles! The bonus puzzles are revealed after solving puzzles in the set, and to add to the challenge, there are no alternate clues!

Both of these puzzle sets are available for in-app purchase right now!

We’re thrilled to add to our library of quality downloadable content for you, and we can’t wait to show you what else is up our sleeves.

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!

The new Penny Dell Crosswords App update is here!

I’ve been teasing this announcement for a little while now, and today’s the day! (Well, technically, the DAY happened this past weekend, but today’s the day I’m announcing it. You know what I mean…)

ANYWAY, today I’m proud to announce the release of our new update to the Penny Dell Crosswords App!

Not only have we streamlined the user interface, but we’ve improved our smart navigation system AND updated our puzzle library and puzzle store sections!

[Here’s a side-by-side image of the solving screen
and the puzzle store screen for the iPhone version.]

There’s 150 all-new puzzles for your enjoyment, complete with our signature alt-clue feature! All kinds of puzzle fun awaits you!

And that’s not all! To celebrate the release of the update, for a very limited time, ALL puzzle sets are over 60% off!

PuzzleNation has always been committed to providing the highest quality puzzles and solving experience possible, and with this new update, we are continuing that proud tradition. We hope you enjoy!

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!

Prep for College the Puzzly Way!

It’s summer here in the United States, which means many high-school graduates are already looking forward to starting college. But for those soon-to-be freshmen, as well as high schoolers looking for an edge before university, have you considered puzzles and board games?

Now, it comes as no shock to me, but this article from the U.S. News and World Report website might surprise some, since it lists puzzles and board games as two of its five tools to develop critical thinking skills before college!

Naturally, I’ve been an advocate of puzzles as a learning tool for a long time, so it’s gratifying to see a major publication sharing the same views and ideas.

From the article:

Collections of crossword puzzles, logic problems, riddles, sudoku, word problems and word searches can be found at your local bookstore or library. The puzzles in these books are a wonderful strategy to activate different parts of your brain for a round or two of mental gymnastics, and many collections even discuss what each puzzle is meant to target within the mind.

Allow me to expand on this for a bit. Different puzzles can target different skills, so which puzzles you solve can make a big difference when it comes to critical thinking.

Crosswords encourage deduction (figuring out words from a few common letters) and a facility with wordplay (dealing with crafty clues and alternate definitions), while word searches offer great practice in pattern recognition and quick reaction times.

And the demand that Sudoku puzzles place on active attentiveness and concentration exercises parts of the brain associated with forming new memories, encouraging better memory retention.

[All three of the above pics come from our line of puzzle apps! Perfect for puzzly pre-college practice! Shameless plug now concluded!]

But the article also mentioned that certain board games can be excellent tools for honing valuable mental skills for college.

Choose board games that require more than luck – namely, strategy – for players to win. Any game where players must carefully consider their next move, recognize patterns and remember details will aid in honing critical thinking skills.

The article goes on to suggest some classics, like Chess, Checkers, and Mastermind for learning chain-thinking (planning several steps ahead) as well as Scrabble and Boggle (speedy information analysis, as well as word formation) and Clue and Risk (anticipating and reacting to the gameplay of others).

But I think they’re excluding some prime examples of board games that could benefit younger minds.

  • You could pick a cooperative game like Pandemic or Forbidden Island, which not only encourage strategic thinking, but teamwork and the free exchange of ideas (something that forced group exercises in school never really managed).
  • You could choose a rapid-change game like Fluxx (either the board game or the card game), which forces the players to adapt quickly to constantly changing rules and gameplay (a perfect microcosm of problem-solving in the real world, where things rarely remain static for long).
  • You could select a mixed-play game like The Stars Are Right, which incorporates several forms of gameplay (in this case, pattern-forming, tile-shifting, and a strategic card game akin to Magic: The Gathering or Munchkin) and forces players to exercise different forms of strategy and puzzle-solving all at once.

Just think about it. You could turn Family Game Night or Family Puzzle Time into College Prep Time in a snap. It’s win-win, or perhaps even win-win-win. What could be simpler, or more fun, than that?

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!

It’s Follow-Up Friday!

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.

Today, I’ve got two short updates for you.

First, there’s a new page on the blog for information about our apps and iBooks. For pictures, links, and details on our crossword, sudoku, and word seek puzzles, click here!

And be sure to bookmark it, since new apps will be added to the page as they’re released!

Second, a PuzzleNationer requested an update on this year’s Cicada 3301 puzzle.

Back in January, I wrote about the mysterious Cicada 3301, an elaborate multilayered scavenger hunt across the Internet that involves cryptography, research, and some serious cleverness to unravel.

It first appeared in January of 2012, until a few diligent and dedicated solvers unraveled its secrets, and the puzzle was shut down. Then in January of 2013, a new Cicada 3301 puzzle emerged, similarly challenging and just as short-lived.

January 2014 was no different, as the latest Cicada 3301 puzzle appeared. Unfortunately, as far as we know, no one has yet cracked it.

But one of the code wizards who solved Cicada 3301’s 2012 puzzle has come forward to offer advice to aspiring Cicada solvers:

Make sure that you have a good understanding of every part of the previous Cicada 3301 puzzles. If there is a subject you are not already well acquainted with, take your time to read and learn more about it.

Try to solve as much as possible of the earlier puzzles by yourself rather than just reading through a write-up.

For parts you do read, make sure you understand each step completely and try to think about how you would have arrived at the same conclusions by yourself.

Last but not least, enjoy the ride.

Are there any stories or features from the PuzzleNation Blog you’d like an update on? Let us know and your suggestion could be the focus of our next Follow-Up Friday!

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