Come On Down! It’s Prime Time for Puns and Puzzles!

Yes, yes, it’s that time again. It’s hashtag game time!

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleTV, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with television shows, characters, catchphrases, actors, actresses, hosts, and more!

Examples include: I Love Loose Tile, Will Shortz & Grace, and Match Game of Thrones.

So, without further ado, check out what the puzzlers at PuzzleNation and Penny Dell Puzzles came up with!

Puzzle TV Shows!

The Good Places, Please

Mighty Morphin’ Flower Power

Leave It To Weaver Words

Spinwheel of Fortune / Wheels of Fortune

Father You Know the Odds Best

The Addams Family Ties / Modern Family Ties / Family Ties Matters / All in the Family Ties / All Fours in the Family / Railroad Family Ties

All in the Crypto-Family

Mama’s Crypto-Family

Crypto-Family Feud

Tales From The Crypt-o-grams / Tales from the Crypto-Verses / Tales from the Crypto-Family

Bewitched Way Words

Sabrina the Teenage Which Way Words

My Three of a Kind Sons

Starspell Trek

ALF-abet Soup

Alphabet Talk Soup

Charlie’s Try-Angles

My Two at a Time Dads

Perfect Fit Strangers

Brooklyn Nine-Nine of Diamonds

Take it from St. Elsewhere

The Odds and Evens Couple / You Know the Odds Couple

Guess Who’s the Boss / Who’s Calling the Boss?

Trade-Off Spaces

Home Runs Improvement

Rowan & Martin’s Fill-In

Dr. Fill-In

Doctor Guess Who

Doctor Who’s Calling?

Whose End of the Line is it Anyway?

Scoreboardwalk Empire

Scoremaster of None

Late Night with David Letterboxesman

Tosh.O and Turning

America’s Next Top to Bottom Model

Throwbacks Horseman

3rd Rock from the Sunrays

Everybody Loves Sunrays

It’s Always Sunrays in Philadelphia

Square Deal or No Deal

Spider’s Webster

The White Shadow

Kaku-Rizzoli and Loose T-Isles

Rocky and Bull’s Eye Spiral

Dancing with the Starspell

Nine(teen Kids) of Diamonds (and Counting), Add One, Plus Fours, Seven Up…

American Pickers-Upper

Give and Take Two

These Three’s Company

Trading Off Spaces

Sister, Sister: Double Trouble

Little Puzzler on the Prairie

Battleships Galactica

Smallville Change

Simon & Simon Says

Knight Ride-of-Way-r

The Price Is Right of Way

Happy Daisy

Daisy of Our Lives

Match-Upstairs, Downstairs

Match-Up Game

Say That Again to the Dress

Riddle Me This Is Us

One Day at a Rhyme Time

One Day at a Time Machine

First and Last Comic Standing

Three to One-der Years

Unsolved Mystery Movie (or Person or Melody or State)

Heads & Tails of the Class

McHale’s Na-V Words

Wizard Words of Waverly Place

Puzzle TV Miscellany!

“No Alphabet Soup for You!”

“Heeeeeeerrree…. (and There’s) Johnny!”

Benedict CumberBattleships

Sherlock Holmeruns

The Walking Dead Keep on Moving

Simon Says: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Home Reruns

In Living Colors

“I’ll Be (Here and) There for You”

“Those Were the Daisy”

And members of the PuzzleNation readership also got in on the fun!

On Twitter, the intrepid Screenhog contributed “Tales of the Cryptoquizzes.” Excellent stuff! Keep it coming, Screenhog!

Have you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzle TV entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

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PuzzleNation Product Review: Hacker

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. And this concludes the disclaimer.]

All of the puzzles and games produced by ThinkFun have one thing in common: learning through play. Whether you’re solving logic problems with lasers, creating unique patterns with color wheels, or deducing the culprit of a feline crime, you’re learning valuable skills through puzzling.

Several ThinkFun games are designed with computer coding in mind, as the gameplay mimics some of the rudimentary concepts of preparing and entering commands, then seeing how those commands can interact with an environment.

If you’re familiar with Robot Turtles, or any of their puzzle games from the //Code series, like On the Brink, you’ve already experienced this for yourself or seen someone else putting newfound puzzly skills to the test.

But Hacker offers a new twist on this concept.

[The various game pieces: agents, data files, exit points, commands to move the agent and rotate parts of the playing grid, and others, including the virus, alarm, and locks.]

As ThinkFun’s newest logic game, Hacker goes above and beyond those introductory coding games, challenging players to add their own coding to an established scenario in order to complete a specific task.

Then the players have to locate vulnerabilities and correct them before they can move on to the next challenge.

But by working your way through the various difficulty levels — Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert — the game introduces new elements and challenges to the player gradually, allowing younger solvers to develop their skills and learn new tricks as they work out increasingly complex scenarios.

Let’s look at one Intermediate-level challenge to give you a better idea of how the game works.

The first part of each challenge is the coding. Each challenge card presents you with the initial layout of the grid, as well as which commands are hard-coded into the scenario (listed on the Platform line), and the openings for you to code movements for your agent (shaded in on the Red Agent line).

In this scenario, the agent must retrieve a single data file and deliver it to the exit point.

[The commands I “coded” in order to complete the scenario.]

You will use the arrow tiles to indicate where you want the agent to move. The rotation tiles are hard-programmed at certain times, so you can’t move them; you have to plot your path and code your agent to take advantage of those rotation commands.

[A full scenario ready to go. Clockwise from the upper left, we have the Challenge Booklet, the playing grid, the coding Control Panel, and the Solutions Booklet.]

As the scenarios grow more complex, those hard-coded rotation tiles will offer greater challenges, forcing you to become more creative and more tactical in your programming.

In addition to handling the rotation tiles, you must pick up the data file and reach the exit point while avoiding any contact with the virus.

[Here, the command as coded plays out. The agent moves left and acquires the data file, then moves down. The platform rotates twice, and then it’s a straight shot right to the exit point.]

And by using the special answer flipbook — which separates each challenge into three different pages for Code It, Hack It, and Fix It, so you can look at each individually without spoiling the rest of the solve — we can confirm our coding is correct.

The second part of the challenge is an element I haven’t seen in any previous ThinkFun release: hacking.

In this stage, you’re trying to debug your coding by seeking out vulnerabilities in the code that would allow the agent to encounter a virus. You’re essentially troubleshooting yourself!

To do so, you have to play the role of a malicious hacker hell-bent on corrupting your coding and delivering the agent directly into the hands of the virus.

This part of the game is more like a traditional sliding-tile puzzle, as you try to manipulate the tiles already in place to engineer a different outcome. In this case, I’ve moved the platform command forward and the down movement command over, altering the agent’s path.

As you can see here, by “hacking” our code, we picked up the data file and delivered it right to the virus, corrupting the entire program. Although our original program avoided the virus entirely, it isn’t safeguarded against hacking. Yet.

That brings us to the third part of the challenge, fixing, which allows you to correct the flaws you identified in the second part.

You can do so by placing an alarm on an open tile, which prevents the agent from encountering the virus; but you must do so without interfering with the successful completion of the original coding’s goal. In more difficult scenarios, you can also fix your coding by using a link token to link certain commands together, so a hacker has to move them as a whole, rather than as individual commands.

So in order to have a successful fix, you should be able to play through the original coding and succeed, but the hacked coding should be thwarted by the changes you’ve made.

[Below the blue agent and the blue exit point, you have the primary tools used in the Fixing phase of gameplay: the transaction link and the alarm.]

It’s an effective metaphor for the amount of review and beta-testing that goes into actual coding, since tiny mistakes can have dire consequences. By requiring younger players to review the same data in three different ways, you’re subconsciously encouraging diligence and care in one’s programming.

It’s a simple lesson, but an important one, and the gameplay promotes it without feeling preachy or heavy-handed. Instead, you’re almost partners-in-crime with the game as you develop new tricks to outwit each scenario.

Hacker is one of ThinkFun’s most complex and immerse logic games yet, one that never forgets to be great fun and an engaging, multilayered puzzly challenge, even as it educates. Other ThinkFun games might look flashier at first glance, but I think they’ve truly outdone themselves this time around.

Hacker is available from ThinkFun and participating retailers, starting at $24.99.

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Novelty Crossword Songs!

Although the crossword as we know it celebrates its birthday on December 21, tracing its roots all the way back to 1913, it was the 1920s where crosswords really caught the public eye.

By 1924, crosswords had officially become a fad, inspiring fashion trends (black and white patterns) and moral panics alike.

But it was also the year of the novelty crossword song. Yes, crosswords found their way into the world of music, serving as inspiration for numerous comedic ballads.

Perhaps the most famous of the 1924 crossword songs is the curious “Crossword Mama, You Puzzle Me (But Papa’s Gonna Figure You Out).”

The subject of the song is an ardent puzzle solver, but the singer of the song is more bothered by the fact that he doesn’t have her full attention, painting her as someone who ignores him or flirts with other guys. He is clearly suspicious of her, and expresses his suspicions through crossword clue references.

[Although written and arranged by James V. Monaco and Sidney Clare,
this version of the song was recorded in 1925 by Frank Crumit.]

For example:

Crossword Mama you puzzle me,
But Papa’s gonna figure you out.
You call me honey – that means bee!
Looks like I’ll get stung no doubt.

Your Papa’s gonna crossword you right now,
You better get your answers right.
I heard you mention “butcher” – that means “meat”!
Who you gonna “meet” tonight?

The singer is clearly confused by both crosswords and the object of his affections. It would be best if he just left them both alone for a while.

Given how difficult some people find crosswords, you shouldn’t be surprised that there was a blues song penned about crosswords the same year.

“Cross-Word Puzzle Blues,” penned by Fred Herendeen and performed by The Duncan Sisters, is surprisingly upbeat, as the sisters describe themselves as “criss-cross crazy” and discuss their difficulties solving puzzles. It’s very silly indeed.

Be careful not to confuse this with the jazzier song by D.J. Michaud and Marguerite Bruce, “I’ve Got the Crossword Puzzle Blues,” featuring such tongue-in-cheek downbeat lyrics as “I’m feeling awfully down and cross / I spend all day solving, but I still don’t have a clue.”

(Unfortunately I couldn’t find a decent public recording of this one to share with you.)

There’s a strange recurring theme with these songs where women are primarily the solvers, and the men in their lives are utterly baffled by the pastime.

In a similar vein to the first song, “Cross-Words (Between Sweetie and Me)” is all about a man who feels spurned and underappreciated by his crossword-obsessed lady.

Sorrow has torn at my heart strings
I wonder who is to blame
My sweetie never has time for me
She’s deep in love with a game
Crosswords have made me blue as can be,
Cross, crosswords between my sweetie and me,
She’s been puzzling, don’t seem to care
Whether I’m near her or taking the air
I’m jealous. How can I win sympathy?
I’m hoping she’ll soon need L-O-V-E.

[Recording of Billy Jones from Edison Records, circa 1925]

He goes on to describe how a group of people solving crosswords were so quiet, he thought they had died, and he subsequently broke into the house to make sure they were all right.

Billy clearly has boundary issues, and although his sweetie might be spending too much time with crosswords, at least they’re keeping her away from her weird, weird paramour.

This is just a sampling from a single crossword-obsessed year. I’m sure there are many more puzzle-inspired songs out there. Do you know any? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

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Give This Rubik-Solving Robot a Hand (Or at Least a Few Fingers)!

Wait a minute, didn’t you write about robots and Rubik’s Cubes just last week?

Yes, gentle reader, I certainly did.

But, as it turns out, that iconic little puzzly cube and all its twisty brethren are incredibly useful to AI and robot designers.

Not only do the acts of pattern recognition, visual assessment, and solving provide ample challenges to programmers — both in terms of speed and efficiency — but the physical manipulation of the cube itself is a frequent subject of testing.

In this particular case, a robot has been developed which can solve the cube one-handed. And, as eloquently stated in this Gizmodo article, that’s a feat in itself:

At one point in time, it was considered an accomplishment when a robot arm could pick up something as delicate as an egg without crushing it between a pair of pincers. But as researchers from the University of Tokyo’s Ishikawa Senoo Lab demonstrate — with the assistance of a high-speed camera monitoring the subtle movements — this agile three-fingered hand can manipulate and reposition Rubik’s fiendish puzzle cube with impressive dexterity.

Check it out:

This is a very different mechanical rig when compared to some of the other speed-solving rigs we’ve seen before. Instead of an elaborate array of motors and manipulators, it’s simply a few limber fingers.

This level of dexterity could prove to have all sorts of applications, from robotic surgery and meal preparation to improving bomb-defusing equipment and hazardous material disposal.

And all thanks to this twisty little puzzle. That’s pretty cool.

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A Writing Prompt with a Puzzle/Game Twist!

I’m always on the hunt for different ways that puzzles have found their way into pop culture and society in general, and it never ceases to amaze me how ubiquitous puzzles can be.

I recently stumbled across a puzzly reference in a list of writing prompts intended to spark some creative scribbling:

A long while back, the world came to an end, and with it your favourite newspaper. For years you’ve been filling the idle hours between scrounging and scavenging by solving crosswords puzzles. You’ve got 50 years worth of backlogs, but now you’ve completed every single one.

Every single one except the most recent one. The final one, that is. The crossword puzzle that never got released because the world ended.

So now you’re on a journey through the post-apocalyptic wasteland to find the last puzzle, and finally complete your collection.

A dystopian tale with a puzzly hook? Sounds like a can’t-miss YA book to me!

It’s an intriguing pitch — for a story or a roleplaying campaign — and one that reminds me of David Steinberg and the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, as they’re still on the hunt for 142 missing New York Times crosswords that weren’t published in New York.

And, naturally, since my mind has wandered to puzzle-and-game-fueled scribblings, I simply must include this board game-inspired take on the classic Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First?” that a friend of mine penned. Enjoy!

Customer: Excuse me, do you sell this particular board game whose name I’ve forgotten, it’s like Parcheesi, only smaller and has a Pop-O-Matic dice rolling bubble in the middle.

Clerk: Are you looking for Trouble?

Customer: What? No! Sorry.

Clerk: Ah, we do have that. But without the dice popper.

Customer: What?

Clerk: Sorry.

Customer: No, it’s fine. I just want your opinion of the other game you have, if it’s no trouble.

Clerk: Well, it kind of is. According to some people.

Customer: Sorry?

Clerk: Yes.

Customer: You are fast becoming a source of aggravation.

Clerk: Oh, we have that one, too!

Customer: Argh! What. Game. Were you talking about before, and what’s your opinion?

Clerk: Sorry, and it’s no Trouble, if you ask me.

Customer: Well, great.

Clerk: So do you want that?

Customer: Huh?

Clerk: Or would you prefer Aggravation?

Customer: I’d rather you gave me a clue!

Clerk: Well that game’s nothing like Parcheesi.

Customer: Then why bring it up?

Clerk: I didn’t, you did!

Customer: Look, just… go.

Clerk: We don’t have that, but what about Othello?

Customer: ARGH!

As always, puzzles and games make everything better.

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The Diabolical Art of Bar Bets

We discuss all sorts of time-honored puzzles and brain teasers here on the blog, but it’s not often that those discussions wander into the arena known as bar bets.

Simply put, bar bets are contests between two parties wherein money or free drinks are wagered on one’s ability to accomplish a given task. Sometimes, that task is answering a bit of trivia, or engaging in a feat of strength.

But more often than not, bar bets are brain teasers designed to separate a fool from his money.

And if you approach them like brain teasers, you have a better chance of holding onto your hard-earned dough.

You see, many of these bar bets are designed more like carnival games than fair wagers; there’s usually a trick involved, and your opponent is wagering on you playing by the rules, rather than out-thinking the game itself.

Example: the wager seems simple. There is a drink placed completely beneath a hat. You must drink the drink without touching the hat.

It seems impossible, but that’s where you must get creative. You can crouch down near the hat and make a slurping noise, and then declare that you’ve succeeded in drinking the drink. Your curious opponent is forced to lift the hat to check, and at that moment, grab the drink, down it, and you’ve won.

You adhered to the letter of the wager, but not the spirit. But that’s the name of the game.

Be careful, because some bar bets are based solely on wordplay.

Example: Tell your opponent to get a coin out of their pocket and set it under a drink coaster, ensuring that you don’t see it. The wager? That you’ll be able to tell them the date.

As you wave your hand over the coaster, as if doing a magic trick, simply announce today’s date. After all, you weren’t specific. You just said you’d tell them the date, not necessarily the date on the coin.

A similar one involves wagering that you can stay underwater for any particular length of time. Once you make the wager, simply hold a glass of water over your head for that amount of time.

A little cheap? Sure. But hey, a bar bet is a bet. And the devil is in the details.

Some bar bets, though, come down to technique. You present a seemingly impossible task, and then accomplish it in a clever way.

For example, my favorite bar bet: You have a glass (a wine glass, a shot glass, whatever), with a coaster (or business card) on top of it. Atop the coaster is a cigarette, standing on end. And atop the cigarette is a coin.

The wager? Put the coin into the glass without touching the glass, coaster, cigarette, or coin.

There’s no wordplay, no trickery, and no deceit here. This one is all about gravity.

You see, the coaster and the cigarette are light, while the coin is not. If you crouch down below the glass and blow upward, you’ll be able to push aside the coaster and cigarette, leaving the coin to fall straight down into the now-open glass.

Easy. Once you know how it’s done, that is.

What’s your favorite puzzly wager, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Do you have a favorite bar bet, trick, or crafty challenge up your sleeve that leaves others befuddled?

Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!