Musical Wordplay to Soothe the Savage Puzzler…

Oh yes, it’s that time again! It’s time to unleash our puzzly and punny imaginations and engage in a bit of sparkling wordplay!

You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie, hashtag games on Twitter, or @midnight’s Hashtag Wars segment on Comedy Central.

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 #PennyDellPuzzleLyrics, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with lyrics from songs of any and all genres!

Examples include: “Lucy in the sky with Nine of Diamonds“, “If I leave Here and There tomorrow, would you still remember me?”, and “’cause the times they are a-Changaword.”

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


Let’s start with some Puzzly Lyrics!

“Woah, Black Betty, Anagrams.” (Black Betty, Ram Jam)

“I’m still Jenny from the Blockbuilders” / “I’m still Jenny from Around the Block” (Jenny from the Block, Jennifer Lopez)

Abacus think this song is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you?” (You’re So Vain, Carly Simon)

ABC’s, it’s easy as one These Three, or simple as A to Z Maze, ABC’s, one These Three, baby you’re a solver!” (ABC, The Jackson Five)

“I put a Spelldown on you because you’re fine” / “I put a Starspell on you” (I Put a Spell on You, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins)

Give and Take another little Bits and Pieces of my heart now, baby.” / “A Little Piece-by-Piece of My Heart” (Piece of My Heart, Janis Joplin)

“It’s hip to be Circles in the Square.” (Hip to Be Square, Huey Lewis and the News)

“Tea for Two for One and Two at a Time for tea.” (Tea for Two, Doris Day)

“I have become comfortably Number Square.” (Comfortably Numb, Pink Floyd)

“All in all you’re just another Brick by Brick in the wall.” (Another Brick in the Wall Part 2, Pink Floyd)

“When you’re thick as a Brick by Brick” (Thick as a Brick, Jethro Tull)

“Plenty of room at the Hotel Cancellations” (Hotel California, Eagles)

“Growing up leads to growing old and then to Tie-In, Ooo, and Tie-In to me don’t sound like all that much fun.” (Authority Song, John Mellencamp)

One and Only is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do” (One Is The Loneliest Number, Three(somes) Dog Night)

Chain Reaction of Fools” (Chain of Fools, Aretha Franklin)

“Animal Crackers in my Alphabet Soup” / “Animal Crackers in my Alphabet Soup for Two” (Animal Crackers in my Soup, Shirley Temple)

“‘Cause I knew you were Double Trouble when you walked in, So shame on me now” (I Knew You Were Trouble, Taylor Swift)

“The Anagram Magical Mystery Word Grand Tour” (The Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles)

“Domo Arigato, Mr. Sudoku” (Mr. Roboto, Styx)

Diamond Rings are a Girl’s Best Friend” (Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend, Carol Channing/Marilyn Monroe)

Diamond Mine-Eyes Adored You” (My Eyes Adored You, Frankie Valli)

“Ricky don’t lose that Number Seek, it’s the only one you own” (Ricky Don’t Lose That Number, Steely Dan)

“Jenny I got your Number Seek.” (867-5309/Jenny, Tommy Tutone)

“She’s a Brick by Brick House” (Brick House, Lionel Ritchie & The Commodores)

“Love in an Escalators, living it Ups & Downs” (Love in an Elevator, Aerosmith)

“I Go to Extreme Sudoku” (I Go to Extremes, Billy Joel)

“It’s a Family Ties Affair” (It’s a Family Affair, Sly & the Family Stone)

“Living in the Shadowbox of Love” (Standing in the Shadow of Love, The Four Tops)

“Jump in the Line ‘Em Up Rock Your Body in Time” (Jump in the Line, Harry Belafonte)

“Don’t Get Around the Block Much Anymore” (Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Duke Ellington)

“You spin me Right Angles round, baby, Right Angles round, like a record baby” (You Spin Me Round, Dead or Alive)

“Beauty school Drop-Outs, no graduation day for you…” / “Beauty school Drop-Outs… Go back to Shuffle” (Beauty School Drop Out, Frankie Avalon)

“Cold iron shackles, ball and Chain Words” (Tennessee Jed, The Grateful Dead)

“Here I come Red-dy or not, Here I come Red-dy I go” (Ready Or Not, Lou Gramm)

“Quaint little villages Here and There, You’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod” (Old Cape Cod, Bette Midler)

“…Gotta Lip Service, get it while you can, Hot, sweat ‘n’ nervous love on demand” (Rock! Rock! Til you drop, Def Leppard)

“We’re goin’ up Around the Bend” (Up Around the Bend, Credence Clearwater Revival)

“I wanna live where the Good Deal grows, watch my Combos pop up in Rounders” (Where the Green Grass Grows, Tim McGraw)

“I wanna swing from the Consonant Search, from the Consonant Search” (Chandelier, Sia)

“I’ve got 1, Two by Two, 3, 4, 5, senses working overtime” (Senses Working Overtime, XTC)

“It takes Two at a Time, baby, it takes Two at a Time, baby, just me and you” (It Takes Two, Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston)

Say That you, Say That me, Say That for always” (Say You Say Me, Lionel Richie)

“I’m back in Blackout! I hit the stack.” (Back in Black, ACDC)

“I see a red door and I want to paint my Blackout!” (Paint it Black, The Rolling Stones)

“You go back to words, and I go back to Blackout” (Back to Black, Amy Winehouse)

“There’s a man In the Funny Papers we all know (Alley Oop, oop, oop-oop)” (Alley Oop, the Hollywood Argyles)

Hare we go again on my own, going down the only road I’ve ever know… like a drifter I was born to walk alone” (Here I go again, Whitesnake)

Movin’ On Over… Rockin on over… move over little dog the big old dog is movin in” (Move It On Over, George Thorogood)

“The fire’s in their eyes and their words are really clear, So beat it. Just Beat the Clock” (Beat It, Michael Jackson)

“It doesn’t matter what they solve. In the letter games people play. Our Blips are sealed” (Our Lips are Sealed, The Go-Go’s)

“Can, my darling, can you Picture This?” (When Doves Cry, The artist formerly known as ‘The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’)

“It’s time to Scramble on Across” (Ramble On, Led Zeppelin)

Combos number five. Look Across and Down and move them all around” (Mambo Number 5, Lou Bega)

“Will we ever leave the maze again? It’s the final Countdown” (The Final Countdown, Europe)

“Hit the road Crackerjacks” (Hit the Road Jack, Ray Charles)

“Can you Fill-In above and right? It is where they are” (Can You Feel the Love Tonight?, Elton John)

“It’s the Circle Cross of Life, it’s the Wheels of fortune” (Circle of Life, Elton John)

“Another All Four One bites the dust” (Another One Bites the Dust, Queen)

“No time for Loose Tiles cause we are the Champions… of the Domino Theory!” (We Are the Champions, Queen)

“It takes Two at a Time to make a thing go right” (It Takes Two, Robe Base/DJ E-Z Rock)

Three From Nine, damn she fine!” (Get Low, Lil Jon)

“If Rhyme Time was a drug I’d sell it by the gram” (Ice Ice Baby, Vanilla Ice)

“I just can’t get you out of my Headings. Boy your letters are all that I think about” (Can’t Get You Out of My Head, Kylie Minogue)

Line ‘Em Up up up, I’m on fire” (My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark, Fall Out Boy)

“I Walk the End of the Line” (I Walk the Line, Johnny Cash)

“Will the Circles in the Square be Unbroken” (Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Johnny Cash)

And of course Johnny Cash had the immortal, “A Boy Named Sue-doku,” with the line “Life ain’t easy for a boy named Sudoku.”

Simon Says: “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls.” (The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel)

Simon Says: “you’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” (You’re so Vain by Carly Simon)


Some players were a bit more ambitious, so we’ll call this section Puzzly Verses!

“She’s so lucky… a Lucky Star but she try try tries in her only chart thinkin’ if there’s nothin’ missing to the right then why don’t these terms come out right” (Lucky, Britney Spears)

I heard there was a Secret Word, that David played and it pleased the nerd
But you don’t really care for puzzles, do ya?
Well it goes like this the Foursomes, the Fitting Description, the minor Quotefall, the major List-a-Crostic
The Battleships composing Hidden Word Squares
(Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen)

He says, “Bill, I believe this is killing me.”
As a smile ran away from his face
“Well, I’m sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this Places, Please.”
(Piano Man, Billy Joel)

For five long years
I thought you were my man
But I found out
I’m just a link in your Chain Words
(Chain of Fools, Aretha Franklin)

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
Look for the girl with the Sunrays in her eyes
And she’s gone
(The Beatles, Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds)

Hey now, you’re an all-star, get your Bowl Game on, go Word Play
Hey now, you’re a rock Guest Star, get the show on, get paid
And all that glitters is gold
Only shooting stars break the mold
(Smash Mouth, All-Star)

Carry on my Right of Wayward son
For there’ll be Piece by Piece when you are done
Lay your weary Headings to rest
Don’t you cry no more
(Kansas, Carry On Wayward Son)

You wouldn’t even know a Diamond Rings
If you held it in your hand
The things you think are precious
I can’t understand
(Steely Dan, Reelin’ In the Years)

You’re the First and Last One
When things Turnabout bad
You Know The Odds I’ll never be lonely
You’re my only One and Only
And I love the things
I really love the things that you do
You’re my best friend
(Queen, You’re My Best Friend)

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper book.
They slither wildly as they slip away Across and Down the universe…
Nothing’s going to change my word…
(The Beatles, Across the Universe)

Every breath you Give and Take
Every It’s Your Move you make
Every Common Bond you break
Every Step by Step you take
I’ll be watching you.
(The Police, Every Breath You Take)

Oh you know, you know, You know the Odds
I’d never ask you to Changaword
If Perfect Fit‘s what you’re Circle Searching for
Then just stay the same
(Bruno Mars, Just the Way You Are)

We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and Around the Bend
In the Circle Sums game
(Joni Mitchell, The Circle Game)

In a world that keeps on pushin’ me Around the Bend
But I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down
Hey baby there ain’t no easy Word Ways out
Hey I will stand my ground
(Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, I Won’t Back Down)


Pete Seeger wrote “Little Boxes,” about about a range of variety puzzles with a chorus imploring puzzlemakers to create digest-sized Boxes Word Seeks… here’s a sample:

Window Boxes on the hillside
Letterboxes made of ticky tacky
Little Boxes
Little Boxes
Shadowboxes all the same…


The Puzzles of Your Mind

(Puzzle in the) Round,
Like a circling Bull’s-Eye Spiral,
Like the Wheels within Spinwheel,
Never ending or beginning like a Flower Power feels,
Like a snowball down some Word Trails or a Dart Game done too soon,
Carousels Tossing and Turning, running Ringers ’round the moon,
Beat the Clock who’s hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face,
And Star Words is like an apple whirling silently in space,
Like Full Circles that you find in the puzzles of your mind.

(The Windmills of Your Mind by Michel Legrand with English lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, winner of the Academy Award for Best Original Song, as sung by Noel Harrison in the movie The Thomas Crown Affair)


Here is the first verse of Bob Dylan’s classic “Tanglewords in Blue,” although known to some as “Tangled up in Blue.”

Early one mornin’ the Sunrays shinin’
I was layin’ in bed
Wonderin’ if she’d Changaword
If her hair was still red
Here and There folks said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like mama’s Home Runs dress
Papa’s Bookworms wasn’t big enough
And I was standing on the side of the Crossroads
Quotefalls on my shoes
Heads & Tails for the east coast
Lord knows of paid some dues
Getting through
Tanglewords in blue


Two intrepid puzzlers went above and beyond, conjuring up entire Puzzly Songs!

Nice Nice Puzzles
(Performed in the Style of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”)

Word to your mother.

Yo! PDP! Let’s kick it!

Nice nice puzzles
Nice nice puzzles
All right stop
Grab your pencils and hear it
Penny/Dell’s here with some puzzly spirit

Hold on to your magazines tightly
Solvin’ some word seeks daily and nightly

Will I ever stop?
Yo, I don’t know.
My love of words is something I just can’t let go

To the extreme I rock crosswords like a boss
Hang on a sec while I write in three across

When on the go…
Gotta download Daily Pop
Or pick up some Logic at the airport gift shop

Sorry, were you talking to me?
Didn’t hear a thing ‘cuz I’m on a solving spree

Puzzles? I love them.
I do ’em all day
From the time the sun rises until I hit the hay

Crostics, Tiles, and Fill-Ins
Sudoku, Piece by Piece
With each new type I try
My solving skills increase

Nice nice puzzles to solve…to solve
Nice nice puzzles to solve…to solve


Ode to the Casino
(Fool’s Paradise by Buddy Holly)

You took me up to heaven
When you sounded that sweet alarm
I was dazzled by your Diamond Rings
Blinded by your charms
I was lost, in a Roll of the Dice
Good and lost, in a Roll of the Dice

When you told me that you loved me
I gave my coins to you
And I wondered if there could be
Any cherries in my view
I was lost, in a Roll of the Dice
Good and lost, in a Roll of the Dice

The whole world was my Circle Sums
And I love the Ups and Downs
Then I saw you glance at a new romance
And my love tumbled Across and Down

Though you treat me kind-a coolish
And may never let me know
That you think I’m being foolish
Because I love you so
I’ll still get lost, in a Roll of the Dice
Lost with you, in a Roll of the Dice

Though you treat me kind-a coolish
And may never let me know
That you think I’m being foo-oo-oo-lish
Because I love you so
I’ll still get lost, in a Roll of the Dice
Lost with you, in a Roll of the Dice
Lost with you, in a Roll of the Dice


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

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PDP Tabletop Tournament: Round 3

Two weeks ago, 15 intrepid members of the Penny/Dell Puzzles crew (as well as yours truly, your friendly neighborhood PuzzleNation blogger) embarked on the first stage of a four-week journey: The PDP Tabletop Tournament.

In Round 1, the field was culled from sixteen competitors to eight after tense battles of On the Dot and Bananagrams.

In Round 2, it was halved again as this group of elite puzzlers went to war in games of Timeline and Qwirkle.

We’re down to just four competitors, each inspiring their own hashtags: #TeamNikki, #TeamRick, #TeamGordon, and #TeamJenn.

What awaited them in Round 3? Let’s find out, shall we?

Unlike Rounds 1 and 2, there wouldn’t be two games to play. Instead, all four competitors would play a single game, and the top two scorers would go on to the championship finals next week.

The game for Round 3? Sheriff of Nottingham.

Sheriff of Nottingham is a card game that mixes strategy, resource management, and bluffing. The players collect cards with different goods to take to market — apples, chickens, bread, and cheese — as well as cards of contraband items (like spices, mead, and weapons). Each of these cards is worth points, and the contraband goods are worth more than the legal goods. Of course, the contraband goods are illegal, so if you’re caught bringing them to market, there’s a penalty.

And, unfortunately, in order to get your goods (legal or otherwise) to market, you have to get past the Sheriff.

For example, in a four-player game, let’s say the first player is the Sheriff. The other three players will each place up to five cards in their bag, then snap it shut, and declare what’s inside to the Sheriff. A player may be telling the truth about the contents of her bag, or she may be lying. The Sheriff can choose to either let a bag pass through unchecked or open and inspect the contents of any bag.

Anything that gets through the Sheriff goes into your market stand and is worth points at the end of the game. If the Sheriff chooses to check your bag, one of two things happens. If you were honest about what’s in the bag, the Sheriff pays you the value of those items. If you lied about the contents of your bag and the Sheriff catches you, you must pay him a penalty, and any contraband goods in the bag are seized.

[Nikki places a kindly offering of cheese from a fellow player
into her marketplace during her turn as the Sheriff.]

Of course, you can always negotiate with the Sheriff before the bag is opened. Bribes (of coin, product, or favors) can be offer, and deals can be made.

Once the Sheriff has either let the players’ bags through or finished the inspections, everyone settles their goods in the marketplace, the next player takes over as Sheriff, and the cycle starts again.

The game ends after every player has been the Sheriff twice. Then the players count up the value of everything they’ve brought to market — including any contraband they’ve snuck through — as well as their coin piles. (Plus, there are bonus points to be gained if you brought the most of any product to market. For instance, the person who brought the most apples is King of Apples, and the person who brought the second-most is Queen of Apples. Both titles are worth points.)

This game is obviously more complex and involved than the games played in Rounds 1 and 2, so there was a practice game last Thursday to allow players to familiarize themselves with the rules and the gameplay.

Once starting coins and cards were allotted to each player (plus a few coins extra to encourage wheeling-and-dealing/bribery), the game commenced. In the end, only two of the four players at the table would be moving on to the finals. What combination of Nikki, Rick, Gordon, or Jenn would face off for the championship?

As it turns out, there was already a wrinkle there. Jenn unfortunately couldn’t make it to the tournament this week, but she was allowed to choose a player to sub in for her: JP. Although she didn’t know what game would played in Round 3 when she picked him, as it turns out, she chose well. JP not only won the practice round last week, but he’d won a previous game played a month or two ago.

JP started off as the Sheriff, and surprisingly, he let the other players off easy, choosing not to inspect any of their bags for contraband (perhaps hoping such kindness would be reciprocated when he brought goods to market in turns to come).

[As Sheriff, Gordon inspects the contents of Nikki’s bag, looking for contraband.
He’ll be disappointed, and end up paying her for the inconvenience.]

As Gordon, Nikki, and Rick each took a turn guarding the path to market, this first go-around proceeded quickly. There were only a few attempts to sneak contraband through. There was also a touch of bribery, but hey, that’s part of the game. In fact, Rick rejected a bribe from Gordon at one point and chose to inspect his products anyway, which was a surprise.

All in all, only ten minutes passed before the role of Sheriff returned to JP.

The tension picked up as the second go-around began, and game play slowed down considerably. People were being more deliberate in both choosing the items for their bag and in their deliberations as Sheriff.

[Rick watches intently as Gordon chooses what to take to market.]

One of the things that makes Sheriff of Nottingham so engaging is that you can’t ever really know who is winning. Whenever someone sneaks contraband through (or pays off the Sheriff to look the other way), you have no idea how many points they scored. All you know is that they got something of higher value to market. Unless you make a concentrated effort to keep track of the goods people are focusing on — particularly if they’re hoping to score those bonus points as King or Queen of a product — it can be tough to know exactly where you stand, points-wise, compared to the others.

Nerves began to fray as more goods flooded the marketplace. Sheriffs looking for “contributions” drove harder bargains, adding both coins and goods to their coffers. Apples became quite a valuable foodstuff for bribes, particularly when Nikki was Sheriff.

Rick’s second turn as the Sheriff coincided with the last turn, and he ominously declared, “This is going to be a very expensive round.” Everyone laughed, but given how strongly Rick had been playing, they also knew he’d be driving a hard bargain for anyone trying to score last-minute points by sneaking contraband through.

This second go-around lasted nearly twice as long as the previous one, and emotions were running high as Rick’s turn as Sheriff ended and the gameplay concluded.

We then counted up the legal goods everyone brought to market, and determined who would be scoring bonus points. Everyone did well here, racking up some valuable eleventh-hour coinage.

  • JP was King of Cheese.
  • Rick was King of Chickens and Queen of Cheese.
  • Gordon was King of Bread and Queen of Apples.
  • Nikki was King of Apples (thanks in part to those marvelous bribes), Queen of Bread, AND Queen of Chickens.

The judges then swooped in to count everyone’s haul, and the players stepped away from the table to enjoy some marvelous cookies and treats provided by the judges… and await their fate.

In the end, it was a very close game. Only fourteen points separated the top scorer and the third place finisher. (Less than 30 points separated the entire field.)

Gordon secured a spot in the finals with top score (165), followed closely by Nikki (159) and Rick (151), with JP closing things out (137).

So it would be Nikki and Gordon proceeding to the finals! Congratulations to both of them, as well as kudos to Rick and JP for their impressively strong performances throughout the game.

The finals will held as part of our annual International Tabletop Day event next week!

And, of course, a crown, scepter, and Game Night Gift Pack await the eventual champion.

To be concluded…

[You can check in on the next round of the tournament live on Tuesday on our Instagram account!]


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Making Board Games More Accessible Than Ever!

[Image courtesy of Make Board Game.]

I’m a huge proponent of the idea that there’s a game out there for everybody. Some prefer fun, lighthearted fare. Others like the high-stakes of a winner-take-all scenario. Some thrive in cooperative games where victories are shared and losses softened by camaraderie, while others like one-on-one strategic battles.

But no matter who you are, there’s a game out there for you.

Unfortunately, for colorblind gamers or those dealing with visual impairments, some of the most popular games are less accessible.

[Ticket to Ride remains one of the more colorblind-friendly games on the market today. Image courtesy of Board Game Duel.]

I’ve had several colorblind friends tell me that the color-and-pattern-matching tile game Qwirkle is a no-go, because the game’s colors (as well as the black tiles on which those colored symbols are set) can cause serious confusion that hampers gameplay.

Although there’s no official colorblind-friendly edition of Qwirkle on the market, there is a colorblind-friendly version of the game that has been shared online. The color palette is more accessible, and instead of black tiles, the base tiles are gray.

Other games have also picked up on the need to keep their multicolored games accessible to a broader audience. As mentioned in a recent post on the official Tabletop Day website, the game Lanterns: The Harvest Festival incorporates specific symbols for each of their differently colored cards to make it easier for colorblind players to distinguish them.

And if you’re a visually impaired game enthusiast, there are other companies out there working hard to ensure you have the widest possible range of games to enjoy.

The folks at 64 Oz. Games produce specialty sleeves and other modifications for established board games and card games, allowing visually impaired players to play alongside their sighted pals.

[An image from their successful Kickstarter campaign a few years ago.
Image courtesy of 64 Oz. Games.]

A combination of Braille and clever use of QR codes has opened up games like Munchkin, Cards Against Humanity, Coup, Love Letter, Seven Wonders, King of Tokyo, and numerous roleplaying games to a previously excluded audience.

Add items like their 3D printed Braille roleplaying dice and a touch-based game called Yoink! that is based on tactile gameplay, and you have a wonderful resource for all sorts of game fans.

As we gear up to celebrate a day dedicated to gathering with family and friends to enjoy playing games, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to acknowledge those who are going above and beyond to make sure as many people as possible can participate.

It’s a beautiful thing.


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PDP Tabletop Tournament: Round 2

Last week, 15 intrepid members of the Penny/Dell Puzzles crew (as well as yours truly, your friendly neighborhood PuzzleNation blogger) embarked on the first stage of a four-week journey: The PDP Tabletop Tournament.

After fast and furious rounds of the anagram-fueled tile game Bananagrams and the pattern-matching card game On the Dot, the field was pared down from 16 enthusiastic puzzlers to 8 worthy contenders who triumphantly emerged, ready and willing to tackle whatever challenges awaited them in round 2.

Let’s find out what happened, shall we?

Round 2 kicked off in similar fashion to Round 1, as the 8 competitors were split into 4-person groups. Each group of four would play two games. Two winners — one from each game — would come from each foursome and move on to the next round.

The two games for Round 2? Qwirkle and Timeline.

Qwirkle is a tile game that mixes the gameplay of Mexican Train Dominoes with the Uno mechanic of matching colors or matching symbols. There are 6 different shapes and 6 different colors, and players score points by playing tiles from their hand on a communal gameplay area (similar to Scrabble or dominoes). Neighboring tiles can be the same color (a green square next to a green star) or the same shape (a red diamond next to a purple diamond). But you can’t repeat any tiles within a row (meaning that if a blue diamond is in a row of diamonds, you can’t play another blue diamond in that row).

You earn bonus points by completing Qwirkles — six-tile runs that either have 6 different symbols all of the same color or 6 different colored tiles with the same symbol. In our tournament, the player with the highest point total after 20 minutes would move on to Round 3.

Timeline is a card game where every card depicts a different moment in history, and the players are trying to place cards from their hand into a historically correct timeline. Players take turns adding cards to the timeline, placing them before or after previously played cards. You don’t have to know the exact year the event on a given card took place; you simply have to figure out when it happened in relation to the other events that have already been played.

You play your card, and then flip it over to reveal the actual year the event occurred. If you’re correct, the card stays, and you have one fewer card in your hand. If you’re wrong, the card is removed from the timeline and you draw a new card. The first player to place every card in their hand wins. (And moves on to Round 3.)

My group settled in for a game of Qwirkle while the other foursome set their sights on Timeline. (I didn’t name any players in Round 1 because that would’ve been 16 names for you to keep track of, but I’ll name players this time so you can follow along.)

Group 1 consisted of me, Nikki, Rick, and Sue; Group 2 consisted of Jen (last year’s champion), Jenn, Gordon, and Robin.

Qwirkle was an interesting choice for the second round, because it offered players less control than the games in Round 1. On the Dot has everyone using the same cards to match the pattern, so it comes down to speed and skill. Bananagrams has a random tile selection, but since you can change the grid at any time to accommodate new letter tiles, you have a lot of control in how you place things.

But with Qwirkle, you only have 6 tiles at a time to place, and you’re dealing with one communal play area. So you’re limited in what you can play by the tiles already on the board; if there are no diamonds on the board to match, for instance, you can’t play a diamond tile unless there’s another symbol on the board that’s the same color as your diamond tile.

Plus, you can’t just play a lot of tiles, if you have several that match, because you don’t want to leave openings for your opponents. If you add three different colored star tiles to the two already on the board, great, you’ve got 5 points. But you’ve left the board open for someone to play the sixth-colored star tile and score a Qwirkle, which means bonus points.

So you have to play both offensively and defensively at the same time.

And my opponents were all solid players, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. At our annual International Tabletop Day event, Sue usually plays Qwirkle, so I knew she knew the game well. And Nikki and Rick are both smart, tenacious players. (In Round 1, Rick nearly won On the Dot, and the Bananagrams game that followed was so close that we needed a tie-breaker game of Slapzi to determine the winner.)

Everyone was playing cautiously, trying to prevent others from landing those precious Qwirkle bonus points. (Although I think I was the only one who was actively sabotaging Qwirkles where possible, because hey, that’s part of the game, right?)

At the end of our twenty-minute session, everyone had played well. We all finished within ten points of each other. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be for your PN-blogging pal, as I was knocked out of the tournament here, alongside Qwirkle-savvy Sue.

But who was moving on? We didn’t know yet. You see, Nikki and Rick had tied at 60 points apiece, so a tie-breaker was needed. Yes, once again, Rick would be playing Slapzi.

Since I was busy with my group, I didn’t see any of the highlights from Group 2’s session of Timeline. All I knew was that Jenn was going through to the next round.

We switched games, and Group 2 started their Qwirkle game while we settled our tie with a round of Slapzi.

Both Nikki and Rick were quick on the draw — though there were a few questionable plays like this one:

In the end, Nikki bested Rick and moved on to Round 3.

The four of us then settled in for our game of Timeline. There was still a chance for me to salvage the day and continue onward to Round 3 in the proud name of PuzzleNation.

[My Timeline hand. Lots of Viking knowledge needed…]

Success in Timeline depends on two factors: how well you know the events in your hand, and which events get played on the timeline before your turn. For instance, you might have several events that you suspect took place in the 1800s, but you’re not sure when. If there are several cards with dates from the 1800s already in play, you could have a very hard time placing yours. But if the timeline features events from much earlier (like the taming of fire or the creation of the moon) or much later (like the creation of CDs or the launching of the space shuttle Discovery), then you’ll be able to place at least one of your cards with relative ease.

Naturally, the game gets tougher as the timeline fills out, and the gaps between cards get smaller.

The first few turns went well for everyone. I think it was our third go-around before someone incorrectly placed a card. Rick and I jumped ahead with some lucky guesses (I mean, skillful application of vast historical knowledge), and soon, we were each down to three of our original seven cards.

Unfortunately, I botched two cards in a row — including stupidly placing the Appeal of 18th June AFTER the events of World War II — and Rick calmly swooped in, placing his final card — the invention of basketball — in the correct gap in the timeline.

No tie-breakers for Rick this time; he was moving on to Round 3.

We wrapped up our game in time to settle in and watch the conclusion of Group 2’s Qwirkle match, which was a bit higher-scoring than ours. (There were definitely more Qwirkles scored in their game.)

In the end, a surprise upset occurred, and last year’s champion Jen was knocked out of the running by Gordon, who joined Nikki, Rick, and Jenn as the contenders in Round 3. So no matter who wins this year, we’re guaranteed a new champion. Unexpected!

So, alas, I shan’t be competing in either the semi-final or final round of this year’s tournament. But then again, that does free me up to take pictures, observe, add my own unique brand of obnoxious color commentary, and document the event in full for your reading pleasure.

Next week, the remaining four players will try their hand at a game unlike any they’ve encountered in the tournament thus far. Next week, it’ll be about strategy, cunning, bluffing, cutting deals, and a fair bit of trickery, as Nikki, Rick, Gordon, and Jenn play Sheriff of Nottingham.

The two players who score the most points will move on to the finals, which will be held at our annual International Tabletop Day event in the last week of April!

And, of course, a crown, scepter, and Game Night Gift Pack await the eventual champion.

To be continued…

[You can check in on the next round of the tournament live on Tuesday on our Instagram account!]


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How Women Have Shaped and Changed the World of Roleplaying Games

About a month ago, I wrote a blog post about Elizebeth Smith Friedman, one of the founders of American cryptography as we know it. One of the goals of that post was to help correct the historical record and restore Elizebeth to the prominence, accolades, and attention she so richly deserves.

A friend of mine and fellow tabletop roleplayer read that post and pointed me toward this article from Kotaku last year about the early influence of women on the development of the iconic roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. One of the first playable modules, the “Sage Advice” column of Dragon magazine, the inimitable art style (and maps), the long-running D&D series of novels… women played vital roles in crafting the world of D&D as many of us know it today.

This may come as a surprise to some people, given how pop culture tends to present roleplaying in general as an all-male nerdy pursuit. (The Big Bang Theory, for instance, often pushes the idea that girls don’t play D&D.)

But to me, it’s no surprise at all that women played such important roles in the development of one of tabletop gaming’s most famous franchises. Women have always been a part of roleplaying in my experience. Whether we’re talking LARPs (Live-Action RolePlaying) or tabletop, in my group of friends, female players were the norm.

The longest-running game I’ve ever been a part of — one that we’ve played on and off for over a decade — has had a brilliant female DM [dungeon master / game runner / storyteller]. Women made up half of the players in the Star Wars-based RPG campaign I ran for nearly seven years. The all-guy game that serves as the cliche sitcom punchline was rarely the case.

But I never want to assume that my experience is the same as everyone else’s. So I decided to reach out to some of the female RPG fans, game-runners, and creators I know to get their take on roleplaying games.

How did they get into RPGs? What effect has roleplaying had on their lives, their own personal creativity, and so on? And has the roleplaying world changed, either favorably or unfavorably, for them as women during their time as roleplayers?

To start, I think my friend Addie wrote the perfect intro:

Twenty years ago I was dating a guy who asked, “Do you want to play Dungeons & Dragons?” and not really knowing what it was I said, “Sure why not.” Ever since that first game it felt like I found something that I was looking for, a doorway to a fantasy world I was unfamiliar with yet interested in.

D&D was the first step into a world that introduced me to other means of roleplaying, from LARPing to MMO’s [massive multiplayer online games] to text-based games online. It allowed me to exercise my creativity and become more comfortable with writing. It lead me to learn that I love to write, especially creating characters, and eventually I even co-started a text-based Marvel game called MUCK that had a successful seven years until I burned out and couldn’t run a game on my own anymore.

Sometimes, it’s a boyfriend who introduces the game. Other times, it’s a friend, as in Lindsay’s experience:

I started gaming when I was 14 or 15 (1990ish) when my female best friend bought a copy of the AD&D Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual [the three core books required for D&D] on a whim one day and she ran a game for me and her brother and, I think, a friend of her brother’s.

I’d been exposed to the idea of D&D several years before when the blue box set came out, and another female friend’s brother had it and the dice on his desk. I was utterly fascinated by the idea and wanted to play, but of course we were the Little Sister and friends, so we weren’t invited.

In Jala’s case, it was her sister:

When I was 10, my sister brought home a boxed set of D&D (the original edition) which had a map, module & etc. She was my first DM and first tabletop RPG buddy… RPGs were a way to bond with my sister originally, and later on when online RPGs were a thing it was the manner in which my sister met her husband, and the way I met my best friend (now ex-husband, though we are still friends).

But no matter how they discovered roleplaying, it made an immediate impact.

Beverly credits quite a bit to her experience roleplaying:

It changed my life by helping me form and solidify friendships. I even met my second husband because of RPGs (online and not pencil and paper) and that’s pretty rad.

It also helped me gain some confidence early on when I started game-mastering. I was pressured (in a friendly way) to try my hand at being a game master. I didn’t think I could do it, but I was with a group of trusted friends and I tried it out. It went pretty well, and because being the leader and helping guide the story had gone well in that trusted environment, I felt more empowered to try it at a small convention with people I didn’t know as well.

Those people ALSO had a good time, and each experienced helped me feel more capable in speaking in front of strangers, and if I’m being perfectly honest, also how to fake a bit of confidence at first to help me get started.

Lindsay also credits gaming as a huge factor in her life:

How has gaming affected my life? I laugh: it has been one of the two biggest parts of my life for most of my life. I met the most important people in my life through gaming, whether it be tabletop, writing for the games, or LARPing: my best friends since high school, my general social group, and my husband.

Gaming certainly helped broaden my creativity — collaborating with my best friends when we wrote tournaments or created a whole world to set games in brought so much to the forefront. Cultural knowledge, intricacy in political situations, and depth of character all came into it and we all boosted each other’s creativity. I also like playing all different races, classes, attitudes, and genders when I play — just to see what it’ll be like and to bring different parts of my personality out.

That being said, there has definitely been a sea change in how women in roleplaying have been viewed over the last twenty to thirty years.

Beverly: I have been at it in some form or another since about 1992 and mostly I have had good experiences but there have been some pretty bad ones. I think it has gotten a bit better for me over the years, but admittedly I am not as into it as I used to be.

Addie: The world has definitely become more welcoming to female gamers, at least in my experience. For many years I hid my gender online when roleplaying or playing MMOs, tending to play male characters. I never told anyone I was female but I didn’t tell anyone I wasn’t male and just let them assume. I’m sure there are people out there who are still convinced to this day I was a dude behind the screen.

Now, I have no issues with hiding my gender. The harassment isn’t there like it used to be, I’m not the “golden egg” of female roleplayers anymore.

Lindsay’s experience working inside the world of RPGs grants her a particular insight into how things have changed:

As for my own career, I wrote and edited for several game studios throughout my 20s and 30s. White Wolf in particular liked employing women in the office, but I don’t think that was really because they were committed to diversity. I think it was more because “Wimminz In Gamez Iz Edgy and Cool.” Yes, the women were incredibly capable and remain powerful writers and gamers, but still.

I work in a comic, card, and game store now, the same one where I host and play games. The customers’ attitudes are a mixed bag, really, but overall they are friendly and respectful of me as a woman and an expert. Some are overtly sexist and assholes about it – “uh, can you get [man]? I have questions. No, I don’t think you know about this, can you just get [man]?”

And yep, I know more than the man does.

That idea of “nerd cred” being checked, unfortunately, isn’t the exclusive domain of male players. My friend Athena confessed that female players can also make it hard to get into gaming:

I didn’t want to identify myself as a female RPGer to those that may attack me. I readily tell people I enjoy tabletop, RPG, and other video games in real life, but often (especially in groups of people that already somewhat know me) when I say “oh I love that game”, I get checked for my nerd card. Testing responses from people trying to make me prove I actually am a gamer… I got into D&D in the early days of high school because it looked like fun and my friend-group played. Since then, I personally have always found it somewhat difficult to “break into” new groups.

It’s been a generation since the early days of D&D, and thankfully, being a female RPGer is far more common, even if it can be hard for new players to get started.

Addie: It’s also nice because female Roleplayers aren’t the rarity they used to be.

Lindsay: I also feel like being a woman among gamers gives us a way to feel special sometimes in a world that stigmatizes, belittles, or outright ostracizes smart, creative women who don’t fit the physical or otherwise mold of what a Strong Female Character ought to be. It seems like a poor sort of evaluation, but … it’s true. Among the usual population, we’re just kind of weird, with weird interests. Among gamers, we’re rare and fascinating. That’s nice to feel sometimes.

And on the other hand, that same rare and fascinating thing crosses very quickly, very often into creepiness and even sexual inappropriateness. It’s kind of scary sometimes as a woman to walk into a new game group and have no idea what the guys are going to be like.

Jala: I can’t say that I ever experienced the kinds of horror stories you read about on Buzzfeed, myself, so my personal exchanges have ranged from being blase (occasionally with new folks I didn’t know) to absolutely hilarious (when my gay male friend was playing a flirty straight woman and I was playing a straight man whom his character hit on for example, the role reversal was funny to everyone). The respect of my personal authority was never challenged even as a teenage female DM with older people as my players, although I did exasperate a DM or two with my out-of-the-box thinking as a player. That, however, had nothing to do with my gender.

Athena: Whenever I play tabletop games — Magic, board games, D&D. etc. — the (mostly male) players don’t care AT ALL who I am. It’s generally an extremely welcoming community in person.

Lindsay: Things have absolutely changed over time. Women have gone from being only princesses to be rescued; bar wenches; prostitutes; and the subject of lonely-artist posters to writing the rules systems; being the examples of particular classes or races in said books; having a voice and presence online and in media; and more respected equals as players and writers. We still have things to overcome, but we have come SO far.

Jala: Initially although my “core group” was comprised of my sister and whatever friends (all male) we could rope into it, these days there are many more female gamers of all flavors. From being an outlier in what was a fairly esoteric and clique-filled community, I have (female and male) friends who own comic & gaming shops and run games for kids and single-session adventures for those who can only drop in from time to time. I think that the voice of women is more pronounced now and there is definitely more representation of my gender out there which is great.

Addie: When I was at PAX EAST in 2014 and playing the Pathfinder Mods, one of the random groups my friend and I got put together with ended up being all females. We had so much fun we played three modules together and the GM was shocked to find out we weren’t a regular group, just a handful of pairs of strangers. We weren’t put together because all of us were female, we were put together because we were the players waiting for a group. Ten years ago, there wouldn’t be enough women at a Tabletop booth to put a 7-player group together.

Although things are changing and the pendulum of acceptance and inclusiveness is swinging in the right direction, it’s still amazing the impact that one or two strong female voices can have in attracting and empowering other players.

Lindsay: A guy came up to me at the game store I work at to ask me how many women play D&D. He said his wife and he had played some online D&D and loved it, but she in particular was hesitant to try it in person because she felt uncomfortable with the idea of being a female newbie in a room full of guys.

I realized that this reluctance might be more common than anyone realized, and I thought about the fact that even I, a lifelong gamer, am always reassured when there’s even one other woman on a table. Thus was born my Thursday women-only D&D table. Now I have more interest than seats available at the table! One of my players said, after the last session, that she really, really enjoys playing with just women, that there’s so much less pressure to know everything off the top of your head and that roleplaying is so much more fun.

My stated goal with the game is not only to give women a table of our own but also to welcome and encourage newer gamers or total beginners. It’s a safe space for all women, and I specified that trans women are women and therefore welcome too … Safe. Space. And we’re having a good time!

Addie: I’ve also found that being a female roleplayer with 20 years of D&D under her belt, I’ve been able to help other, younger, women with getting into tabletop roleplaying. A lot of the younger roleplayers I meet online nowadays are mostly younger females who do a lot of text-based roleplaying. Now that they’re starting to get their feet wet with tabletop, they’ve come to me with questions, and I thoroughly enjoy being a “Geek Mom” to young girls.

It was a privilege talking to these women and gaining some valuable insight into the world of roleplaying games from their point of view. Just reading these stories made me even more grateful that my personal experiences with RPGs have been so positive. Seeing these amazing, creative, hilarious, and brilliant women help to shape the roleplaying community for the better… it’s something special.

I’d like to close with something Lindsay said. It is part optimism, part mission statement, and wholly appropriate to the subject at hand:

When things like Gamergate simply don’t happen any more because women’s voices are automatically respected, we’ll have gotten somewhere. Meanwhile, I’ll keep reaching out to women in gaming and helping the ones I can as well as doing what I love best.


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Puzzles in Pop Culture: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Plus Will Shortz!)

[Image courtesy of FOX.com.]

In our Puzzles in Pop Culture series, we’ve featured shows as diverse as Gilmore Girls, NCIS: New Orleans, The West Wing, Hell’s Kitchen, and Parks and Recreation.

But oddly enough, the puzzliest show in the series has proven to be Brooklyn Nine-Nine, FOX’s hit sitcom about a New York precinct and its oddball collection of detectives. Not only did they pose a diabolical seesaw brain teaser in one episode, but crosswords were at the heart of another key moment in the show just last year.

And today’s post marks the show’s third appearance. Join us as we delve into “The Puzzle Master,” episode 15 of season 5.


The episode opens with detective Amy Santiago passing the sergeant’s exam and doing a dorky dance. Good start.

[Image courtesy of Spoiler TV.]

Her fiance, fellow detective Jake Peralta, has a doozy of a last case for he and Amy to solve as detectives. He presents her with a serial arson case that seem to be connected to the Saturday crossword puzzle. Amy, as a crossword fiend, is overjoyed.

Two different buildings have been set ablaze on two consecutive Saturdays, each with a puzzle left at the crime scene. The only other clue is a note sent to the puzzle’s “author” — not constructor, oddly — Melvin Stermley.

Amy immediately geeks out, mentioning that Stermley once created a puzzle where every word in the grid was the word “puzzle” in a different language. Jake then mentions that Stermley himself is coming in to help them with the case.

[Image courtesy of Brooklyn Nine-Nine Wiki.]

While Jake expects Melvin Stermley to be “a massive dork,” he turns out to be a handsome Hollywood tough guy type. Jake is instantly jealous. (For a nice bit of insider fun, Stermley is played by David Fumero, the husband of Melissa Fumero, who plays Amy Santiago.)

Amy has set up a display with both of Stermley’s puzzles connected to the fires, and the trio begin searching for leads. When Jake asks if he has the typical physique of a puzzler, he mentions that each puzzle only pays a couple hundred bucks, so he makes most of his money modeling. (No doubt a common response you’d get from any top constructor, right, folks?)

They read over the arsonist’s letter again: “Your clues I discombulate, to teach you to conjugate. The fool who fails to validate will watch as I conflagrate.”

Stermley suggests that they look at the answer grids of his puzzles for clues. Amy then jumps to anagramming some of the answer words. (The puzzler notes that Amy Santiago anagrams to “o, nasty amiga” and Jake Peralta to “eat a jerk, pal.”) Amy and Vin decide to split up the odd and even clues, leaving Jake out.

[Image courtesy of Spoiler TV.]

Getting nowhere with the anagrams, they wonder if “conjugate” in the arsonist’s letter means they should focus on the verbs, “the second best form of speech, after prepositions.” Jake suggests a different path, starting with possible suspects who don’t like Stermley, and the puzzler mentions the crossword night he’s hosting at a local bar. “It’s a total puz-hang,” according to Amy, and a good place to start looking.

While waiting in line outside the bar, Jake is disappointed no one is dressed like The Riddler. Amy points out someone wearing crossword-patterned pants. (Again, a common sight at the ACPT.) They chat with one of the other people in line, a woman who jokingly refers to Stermley as her future husband.

[Image courtesy of Spoiler TV.]

Before anyone can enter, they have to solve one of Stermley’s puzzles. Amy is tasked with anagramming the phrase “MEET A BRAINIER STUD, A” into the name of a place in the world. (Jake’s jealousy is piqued by the anagrammed message, of course.)

She quickly solves it — UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — and heads inside. But when Jake tries to follow, he discovers he has to solve a puzzle of his own to get in. The phrase “SAD ANUS LOSER, I GO IN” must be anagrammed into a film based on a classic book. Cut to Jake sneaking into the bathroom, because he couldn’t solve the anagram.

(It was DANGEROUS LIAISONS, by the way.)

While Jake waits in the bathroom for his pants to dry — he stepped into the toilet while climbing down from the window — two puzzle fans come in, discussing Stermley’s mad puzzle skills and how “Sam” must be pissed, as Stermley replaced him doing the Saturday crossword, bumping him down to work in Parade Magazine.

They mention Sam’s toughest clue, “a 5-letter word for a game popular in nursing homes,” to which Jake replies “BINGO.”

[Image courtesy of AV Club.]

Jake mentions it to Stermley, who says Sam Jepson is one of his best friends and has been out of town for weeks. Jake still thinks Jepson is a solid lead.

Amy and Stermley, meanwhile, have realized that both targeted buildings were at the intersection of numbered streets, and those numbered intersections also point to letters in Stermley’s puzzles: M and A. They plan to build a trap into Stermley’s next puzzle to catch the arsonist.

When given a choice between Jake’s approach and Stermley’s, Amy opts to go with the puzzle trap.

Back at the precinct, Amy has determined that the most common letters in people’s names that follow MA are L, X, R, and T — Malcolm, Max, Mark, and Matthew, for example — so Stermley constructs a puzzle using only one of each of those letters. (A pretty daunting challenge, but definitely doable — especially if the cryptic-style crossword grid on the board behind Amy is the puzzle in question. It would have fewer intersections.)

Amy plans to stake out the intersections for each of those four letters, assigning one of them to Jake. (Jake, meanwhile, makes a secret plan to have Charles stake out Sam Jepson’s apartment.)

[Image courtesy of Spoiler TV.]

Charles spots Sam on the move — played by crossword guru Will Shortz, no less! — and Jake leaves his assignment to intercept. He and Charles follow Sam, who sits at a corner and eats soup, then calls his Mom. It turns out he has been out of town, only having returned tonight — and his marriage proposal was rejected. Bummer.

Jake returns to his assigned intersection, and the building is on fire. He has missed the arsonist.

Amy is understandably upset with Jake when they’re back at the office. Jake confesses he’s jealous of Stermley and doesn’t want Amy to wake up one day, regretting not marrying someone as smart as her. She reassures him that he’s a brilliant detective and that’s why she wants to marry him.

[Image courtesy of FOX.com.]

Jake has a epiphany, realizing that the arsonist’s name isn’t what’s being spelled out, it’s the word MARRY. (The word “conjugate” in the letter also pointed to marriage.)

And who wants to marry Stermley?

The woman in line at the bar on crossword night.

Jake and Amy bring the woman in, and it turns out the full message she intended to spell out with her fires was “MARRY ME OR ELSE I WILL KILL YOU, YOURS FOREVER, HELEN GERBELSON.”

That would take SO MANY FIRES. (I imagine she’d have to burn down several buildings more than once, given the sheer repetition of letters and the relatively few options for numbered streets.)

But, in the end, the arsonist has been caught, thanks to the power of puzzles and good police work.

[Image courtesy of Lauren Leti’s Twitter.]

Overall, I thought this was a very fun episode of the show. The anagram gags were the puzzly highlight, though I confess, I thought they’d do more with the Will Shortz cameo.

Here’s hoping there’s a crime at the Brooklyn Nine-Nine equivalent of the ACPT next year!

Also, as someone who has seen ARSON in a thousand grids, it is funny to see someone finally link the word and the act in a puzzly way.


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