Looking Forward to More Crossword Mysteries

There are always puzzly events to look forward to, big and small.

Maybe yours is solving the Sunday Times puzzle with a cup of coffee in hand, or starting a new jigsaw puzzle with coworkers over lunch. Maybe yours is reuniting with fellow puzzlers at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, or Lollapuzzoola, or a yearly puzzle hunt.

Hallmark Mysteries and Movies has added to the list of eagerly anticipated puzzly events with their Crossword Mysteries films over the last year or so.

Featuring the unlikely duo of detective Logan O’Connor and crossword editor Tess Harper, these films have struck a chord with puzzle- and mystery-loving fans of Hallmark Channel.

So far, there have been three Crossword Mysteries films:

That last one stung a bit for enthusiastic fans, of course, after the film was pushed back from its original debut date of October 20, so Hallmark could start showing Christmas movies.

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But there’s still a question floating around regarding these films… what happened to the fourth one?

After the success of A Puzzle to Die For, three additional films were announced for the series, but at some point, the order was cut down to two.

IMDB still lists a fourth film in the series, but with scant details.

Naturally, that hasn’t stopped me from pondering what the plot could be.

And so, today, I give you three pitches for the fourth Crossword Mysteries film.

Enjoy!


#1: The Jigsaw Is Up!

Tess’s beloved aunt Candace is framed for murder — puzzly murder, of course, as jigsaw puzzle pieces are found in the victim’s mouth — and Tess has to try to exonerate her socialite aunt.

And it’ll be tough. There are dozens of witnesses placing her at the scene of the crime — a party — and many of them observed an altercation between her and the victim mere moments before the body is found.

Tess realizes the jigsaw puzzle pieces in the victim’s mouth don’t match the puzzle he was working on, and it turns out the puzzle was swapped? Why?

It was a favorite of the murderer, who used to solve jigsaws with the victim before he took a shine to Aunt Candace. Once the original puzzle is found, it turns out to a picture of the victim and the murderer in happier times.


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#2: A Boy Named Sudoku

Tess is completely baffled when Sudoku puzzles are left behind at a series of break-ins, each with seemingly random numbers filled in.

Frustrated, Tess is forced to turn to her hated puzzly rival — the Sudoku editor at a competing newspaper — to help her solve the puzzles.

It turns out the numbers aren’t random after all, and the break-ins are all tied to bank account numbers for the same individual: a ruthless millionaire. The break-ins are all to businesses owned by him.

In the end, a promising puzzle whiz turns out to be behind it all, taking revenge on the man who ruined his father’s business. When Tess offers him an internship at her paper, she’s appalled when he says he prefers Sudoku, and ends up working for her rival.


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#3: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

Okay, this one centers around Will Shortz’s cameos in each of the previous films. In the first, we encounter him playing table tennis. In the second, he’s a cop at Logan’s station. In the third, he’s one of the folks at the dance studio.

Each time, the protagonists interact with him but don’t recognize him, meaning each of these three characters are different people. And yet, the fact that they’ve encountered mustachioed triplets doesn’t register with Logan and Tess.

Apparently New York City is loaded with Will Shortz lookalikes. My pitch is for the fourth movie to involve two dozen or more Will Shortz characters as suspects. Maybe one is also the victim. I don’t know. But I want there to be a boatload of Will Shortzes and a serious case of “Man, all these suspects look similar.”


Did you enjoy the potential pitches for a fourth Crossword Mysteries movie, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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More Puzzle Discounts, Freebies, and Links!

Hey there, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers.

We know it can be hard to keep yourself engaged, distracted, and entertained during these trying times, so we’ve compiled a few puzzly links and options for you!

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A lot of companies, creators, and puzzlers are putting their products out there at a discount or on a Pay-What-You-Want basis (and sometimes for free!) to help distract home-bound bodies from the unpleasantness and uncertainty going on around us.

There’s the awesome team at DriveThruRPG (and the many marvelous contributors who post there), the brilliant crew at Lone Shark Games, and hey, even your friendly neighborhood puzzle app makers at PuzzleNation are throwing the digital doors wide open.

The New York Times is offering free access to its Spelling Bee puzzles, as well as up to eight free solves a day for their Tiles puzzles. The website PZZL has a bunch of free puzzles for solvers as well.

Plus numerous constructors are putting their creations out there for you to solve. One example is T Campbell’s monstrous comic book-themed puzzle with Stan Lee drawn in black squares! Check it out:

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Do you know of any other puzzly folks or companies that are offering discounts or freebies right now? Let us know so we can help spread the word!

And remember: be sure to support puzzlers, or local businesses, or artists you love online, or any other small businesses or entrepreneurs during this trying time.

Happy puzzling!


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Favorite Clues from CTFYC!

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Last week I sang the praises of the Crossword Tournament From Your Couch event, and rightfully so. The entire enterprise was delightful, and the puzzles were tricky and engaging in equal measure.

But I neglected to give the cluing their proper due, as many of the clever themes in CTFYC were bolstered by great cluing (and, occasionally, truly diabolical cluing).

What do I mean by that? Well, let’s look at a clue from the third tournament puzzle, Patrick Blindauer’s “Look Up.” This puzzle featured a clue that had numerous solvers asking for help upon returning to the livestream chat after solving.

The clue? “Response to teens, perhaps?”

The answer? BRR.

I confess, this one had me flummoxed as well. My initial answer was BRO, but that just didn’t seem to work with the crossings in that lower-left corner. Trusting the down entries more than this one, I left BRR in without getting the clue.

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Of course, once I no longer had a timer lurking in my forebrain and a few seconds to think, I got the wordplay for “teens” — think temperature and not age — and the clue made total sense.

But given the response of some of the other solvers, I suspect this was the slipperiest clue of the entire tournament.

Which should come as no surprise given Blindauer’s pedigree as a constructor. That puzzle alone had a few more clever clues, including “Caught stealing, e.g.” for OUT and the much saltier “Smothers brother who isn’t a dick” for TOM.

As you can tell, I love a clue with some misdirection to it.

Robyn Weintraub’s warm-up puzzle “Get the Pillows Ready” had some notable examples. If you saw “Took the wrong way?” would you come up with STOLE? She clued TEETH with “Location of some crowns” and spruced up a classic crossword entry, NTH, with the clue “Advanced degree for a mathematician?”

Great stuff all around.

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But it’s not just tricky clues that pique my interest. The other warm-up puzzle, “Put Your Feet Up,” constructed by Rachel Fabi, had a few different styles of clue that caught my eye.

For instance, you can offer multiple clues or multiple examples for the same clue, which can lead to enjoyable wordplay. The clue “Hot thing to drink or spill” for TEA mixes a classic clue with a more updated, slangy use, making for a more interesting clue overall.

I’m also a sucker for a really wordy clue with personality, and Rachel didn’t disappoint. “Joke type that becomes a cellist if you repeat its first two letters instead of its last two” is an incredibly wordy (and very funny) way to clue the unusual entry YO MAMA.

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The clues for OUT, NTH, and TEA are particularly great because those words appear in crosswords ALL THE TIME, and so at some point, you inevitably feel like you’ve seen every possible clue a dozen times over. So when somebody can find a new wrinkle or breathe new life into a tired entry, you rejoice.

Joel Fagliano’s clue “Thing that nobody ever wins” for TIE and “Manual’s intended reader” for USER from Laura Braunstein and Jesse Lansner’s tournament puzzle also fit the bill. I don’t think I’ve encountered either clue before.

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[Wait, not that sort of clue…]

And here’s one more before I wrap this post up. Naturally, I’m returning to my favorite cluing style, misdirection, this time courtesy of Byron Walden from the CTFYC finals.

The clue: “Wanders around LAX?”

The answer: TSA

I read the clue three times before I got it, the perfect a-ha moment sort of clue.

What are some of your favorite clues, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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Relaxing Games: More Tranquil Than Tactical

Everybody has a copy of Monopoly lying around, but that’s not really the most relaxing game experience, is it?

Most of the classics, however fun, are also pretty competitive. But what about games that help restore your spirit, ease your anxiety, and put you in a good mood?

As much fun as co-op games like Forbidden Island, The Oregon Trail Card Game, and Castle Panic! can be, they can also be a little stressful. And if you’re looking to relax, those might not be the games for you.

So today, I thought we could turn our attention to games that will help you enjoy a more calming gameplay experience.


Now, before I get started, I’m well aware that you might not have these games at the ready. Maybe you’re a jigsaw family and you find calmness and distraction in placing those last few satisfying little pieces and completing the image. Or maybe you like making your own fun with pencil and paper.

Whatever your jam, as long as you’re engaging in play and passing the time in fun ways, you’re already ahead of the game.


When I asked fellow game enthusiasts for games that are mellow and relaxing, the first one that always comes to mind is Tsuro.

In Tsuro, up to 8 players adopt the role of flying dragons soaring through the sky. Each player chooses from the tiles in their hands in order to build paths on the board, representing their paths through the sky. Naturally, these paths will eventually intersect, and you need to be careful to avoid colliding with another dragon or following a path right off the edge of the board. (Both of those scenarios cause you to lose.)

Despite the potential for competition, most Tsuro games are peaceful affairs as everyone enjoys watching their dragon token loop and swirl across various intersecting paths, hoping to be the last dragon standing on the board. It’s a beautiful, simple game that only takes about twenty minutes to play, and it’s the perfect palate cleanser after a more stressful round of some other game.

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[Image courtesy of Board Game Geek.]

Some of the most enjoyable and low-key game experiences are storytelling games. I could recommend one with high-fantasy flavor like Once Upon a Time or one with a tongue-in-cheek Addams Family-esque humor like Gloom. But the one that piques my interest the most is based in mythology and sharing stories around a fire.

In Before There Were Stars…, players claim constellation cards to use in crafting the origin story of the world itself. Each player shares how things were in the beginning, at the dawn of civilization, when a great hero emerges, and at the end of days. Along the way, players grant each other points — little star-shaped point tokens, naturally — for their favorite story moments, as everyone encourages each other in creating epic mythologies.

Although there can be a winner based on points, playing this game always feels more like a storytelling session than a competition, and it can lead to some unforgettable gaming moments.

[Image courtesy of Starlit Citadel.]

Tokaido is another game about movement, but in a very different vein. Players in this game are all travelers, journeying across Japan’s famed East Sea Road from Kyoto to Edo. Whereas most travel-based games are about reaching a destination first, Tokaido is about reaching a destination with the widest array of meaningful experiences.

Along the way, your character can meet new people, enjoy new cuisines, collect souvenirs, visit hot springs, and visit scenic locales. You add experience points for these events (and acquire achievement cards) that represent your traveler partaking of these experiences.

This elegant game bypasses traditional competition entirely, building a unique game mechanic out of living your best life.

[Image courtesy of Board Game Quest.]

Sagrada is another wonderfully visual game about individual accomplishment. In this game, each player is building a stained glass window using different colored dice. No dice of the same color can neighbor each other, so you need to be strategic about how you place the dice you roll.

Each window is different, and has certain rules for maximizing points. (A certain pane can only be a certain color, or a certain die value, etc.) The players can boost their scores by selecting cards that reward them with points if they create certain patterns within their stained glass window.

Except for competing for the best point total at the end, there’s virtually no interaction between players. You’re all simply working simultaneously on the best window, which is a gameplay style that breeds camaraderie more than competitiveness. It’s genuinely encouraging to see fellow players make good choices in dice placement to create the most beautiful, elegant window patterns.

[Image courtesy of Starlit Citadel.]

For a change of pace, let’s look at a game that’s more about interaction with other players. Dixit is a gorgeous card game where each player is given a handful of cards, each depicting a different, unique, evocative piece of art.

Player 1 will choose a card from their hand and say a word or phrase to the other players that has some connection to that card. It could reference color, or part of the imagery. It could be a joke, or an idiom, or a song lyric. The goal is to be vague, but not too vague. The other players will then each select a card from their hand that could also be described by Player 1’s statement, and the cards are all shuffled face down so no one can see who submitted what card.

The cards are then all placed face up, and each player (except Player 1) votes on which piece of art they think Player 1 chose. Player 1 gets points if some (but not ALL) players chose his card. (If every player chooses it, the clue was too easy, and Player 1 gets no points.) And any other player’s card that earns votes also earns that player points.

This sort of associative gameplay really encourages your imagination and teaches you about how the other players think. There’s no other game quite like it on the market today, and it makes for an intriguing, low-key gaming experience.

Finally, let’s close out today’s post with a classic tile game that mixes Uno-style color- and pattern-matching with Mexican Train Dominoes-style gameplay. Qwirkle is a bit more competitive than the other games on today’s list, but it’s still a game more about collaborating than outdoing your opponents.

By placing different tiles onto a shared play area — either by matching colors or matching symbols — players earn points. If you complete a Qwirkle — a pattern of all six colors for a given shape or all six shapes in the same color — you earn bonus points.

The lighthearted gameplay style lends itself to friendly competition rather than the cutthroat mien evoked by games like Monopoly. Qwirkle’s not about grinding the other players down, it’s about adding to a colorful world in interesting, inventive new ways.


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Story Time: An Escape Room and a Record

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[Image courtesy of Yelp.]

Sometimes we discuss puzzly world records here on the blog, and today, I’d like to share the story of a once-in-a-lifetime puzzly accomplishment.

On Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017, two women set a record by walking out of Sidequests Adventures, an escape room company in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in only three minutes.

How did they do so? With police assistance.

Allow me to elaborate.

Our story begins the night before, as police search for two inmates who jumped the east fence of the Edmonton Institution for Women.

The next day, around 8:30 PM, two women walk into Sidequests Adventures, claiming to be from out of town. They start asking about the escape rooms, apparently never having heard of the puzzly business. One of the employees, Rebecca, takes them down the hall to view one of the rooms.

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[Image courtesy of Global News.]

Around the same time, police arrive in the area, tipped off by a citizen who recognized the women.

As Rebecca gives the inquisitive women the tour, a police officer walks into Sidequests Adventures and asks another employee, Jonathan, if two women without an appointment had come in.

Jonathan confirms that two women had, and the officer immediately calls for backup. Four more officers arrive immediately.

At this point, only about 30 seconds have elapsed, and that’s when Rebecca looks up and notices the numerous police officers inside the business. She quickly realizes they’re not there to inquire about the escape rooms.

Either that or they think “escape rooms” are something quite different.

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[Image courtesy of Global News.]

Kelsie and Samantha are quickly handcuffed and taken away.

By the time they’re led out the door, only three minutes have elapsed.

Oh, by the way, what was the motto on the wall of Sidequests Adventures?

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[Image courtesy of Yelp.]

So, yes, two escaped felons managed to flee to an escape room and be recaptured there. The gods are puzzly and have a wicked sense of humor.


Thanks for indulging me, PuzzleNationers. I scrapped my original idea for today’s post and went with this one late last night.

At a time when we’re all self-isolating and keeping our distance from one another for the greater good, it felt weirdly appropriate to share a funny, puzzly story about an escape gone wrong that ends in such a curiously perfect way.

Be well, fellow puzzlers.


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How Far Crosswords Have Come (and How Much Farther They Have to Go)

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The battle to decrease gender inequality and increase representation in crosswords is ongoing. More people than ever are speaking up on behalf of women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ constructors, and non-binary individuals when it comes to who is constructing the puzzles (and being properly credited), as well as how members of those groups are represented by current grid entries and cluing.

Natan Last is one of many people standing up to make crosswords better, more inclusive, and more emblematic of a richer melting pot of solvers and constructors. In a recent article in The Atlantic, Last neatly encapsulates both the movement for a more inclusive crossword publishing community and the many obstacles that stand in its way.

He starts with a single example — a debut puzzle by a female constructor, Sally Hoelscher — and the conversation that ensued when one puzzle aficionado asked about the ratio of women’s names to men’s names in the puzzle.

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[Image courtesy of XWordInfo.]

Originally there were no men’s names. One entry was edited in. And a discussion about parity in puzzles followed.

Last uses this example as a springboard into the greater argument about how modern crossword editing (and editors) discriminate through gatekeeping under the guise of what’s “familiar” or “obscure.”

From the article:

Constructors constantly argue with editors that their culture is puzzle-worthy, only to hear feedback greased by bias, and occasionally outright sexism or racism. (Publications are anonymized in the editor feedback that follows.) MARIE KONDO wouldn’t be familiar enough “to most solvers, especially with that unusual last name.” GAY EROTICA is an “envelope-pusher that risks solver reactions.” (According to XWord Info, a blog that tracks crossword statistics, EROTICA has appeared in the New York Times puzzle, as one example, more than 40 times since 1950.) BLACK GIRLS ROCK “might elicit unfavorable responses.” FLAVOR FLAV, in a puzzle I wrote, earned a minus sign.

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[Image courtesy of CNBC.]

But what is kept out is only part of the problem, of course. Last goes on to mention many of the same insensitive and offensive clues and entries we (and other outlets) have cited in the past.

He caps off this part of the article by highlighting Will Shortz’s responses to these troubling questions:

But when prodded about insensitive edits, he denied them, adding: “If a puzzlemaker is unhappy with our style of editing, then they should send their work elsewhere (or publish it themselves to keep complete control).”

A pretty damning statement, to be sure.

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Turning away from the problems represented by the most famous daily crossword in the world, Last pivots, turning a spotlight on those who are helping turn the tide in terms of representation and inclusivity.

He shouts-out well-respected and innovative editors like Erik Agard (of USA Today‘s crossword), David Steinberg (of Andrew McMeel Universal’s Puzzles and Games division), and Liz Maynes-Aminzade (of The New Yorker crossword), heaping praise on a fresh constructor-editor partnership that encourages new voices and greater diversity of content.

Last also mentions worthy projects like the Inkubator, Women of Letters, and Queer Qrosswords, as well as the Women’s March crossword movement inspired by the work of Rebecca Falcon.

Across the entire article, Last highlights a system problem in crosswords, challenges those responsible to do better, and praises those who are working for the greater good. And he does so in about a dozen paragraphs. That’s all. It’s efficiency and flow worthy of a top-notch constructor.

You should read it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.


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