Sweep Your Eyes Across These Ugly Puzzly Sweaters!

proper ugly sweater

It’s December, and you’ve probably already received an invitation to some sort of holiday event. Maybe it’s a housewarming, or a holiday luncheon, or a game night. But, maybe, it’s an ugly sweater party.

Ugly sweater parties used to be events that ironically appreciated sweaters that were made with genuine affection, but simply didn’t please the eye. But once ugly sweaters became a part of pop culture, they became, as all things do, a cottage industry, and now companies release “ugly” Christmas sweaters for every pop culture property imaginable.

Most of them are simply underwhelming — and a few are often actually quite lovely — but none of them really capture the spirit of the original ugly sweater party ideal.

abominable sweater

Of course, there are exceptions.

And then, there are the ones I’m on the fence about. Check out this Minesweeper-inspired ugly sweater from Microsoft:

minesweeper sweater

It’s not garish by any means. It’s cleverly designed and weirdly festive. But I also can’t imagine anyone buying it.

It’s certainly unique.

But it raised the question…

What other puzzly ugly sweaters are out there? Would they all feel too corporate like the modern ugly sweater patternings, or could I find some genuine diamonds in the rough?

Let’s find out, shall we?


Of course, when you type “puzzle ugly sweater” into Google, you find an amazing array of jigsaw puzzles featuring ugly sweater designs. And honestly, what a great idea for an image for a jigsaw. The riot of colors alone would make for a pretty fun jigsaw solving experience.

So I started pairing different puzzle brands with “ugly sweater” in my searches, and I began to yield some results, however mixed.

rubiks color sweater

There’s this Rubik’s sweater design, which I find a bit meh. It’s nice, it’s unoffensive. But it’s not the colorful visual assault I was hoping for.

I mean, look at this Rubik’s hoodie on Amazon. At least that seems to be trying to overwhelm your senses.

ugly rubik hoodie

So what about Tetris? Tetris is part of the fabric of modern puzzling. Surely there must be some Tetris-fueled designs for ugly sweaters.

tetris moscow sweater orig

The first result I found was this pattern, which is actually quite lovely. It’s discontinued in its original sweater form, but lives on as a print for t-shirts.

tetris stack shirt

There’s also this festive message delivered in the style of the monumentally successful Game Boy Tetris version of the puzzle classic. (I’ll probably end up ordering this shirt.)

These are festive, but hardly fit the ugly sweater criteria.

falling tetris sweater

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. It’s not particularly Christmas-y, but it does manage to barrage the eyes with color.

ugly tetris sweater

I found this one on Poshmark, and supposedly it won some sort of ugly sweater contest. Not sure who judged that one. This isn’t great, but it’s hardly ugly.

Alas, where else can we look?

math sweater

Well, there’s this ugly sweater-patterned take on the math puzzles that periodically circulate on social media. I couldn’t find it in actual sweater form, but it’s a start.

(It also exemplifies the unsatisfying corporate nature of the modern ugly sweater pattern. Festive borders on the top and bottom, and the hook in between. Nothing on the sleeves or back, no real effort involved.)

Finally, I turned my attention to crossword-specific sweaters, and I struck gold. None of these are particularly festive, but you could slap a bow on them and get past any discerning bouncer at the ugly sweater party of your choice in these.

pas de mer crossword sweater

This pas de mer sweater feels like you’re looking at a cryptic crossword grid through a funhouse mirror.

poshmark diffusion crossword sweater

I also found this sweater on Poshmark. You’ll be heartbroken to discover it’s already been sold. But man, you could easily wear this one at the crossword tournament or ugly sweater party of your choice and turn a few heads.

ebay ugly sweater

I wish I could find a bigger picture of this one somewhere. It was clearly made with love, and it’s one of the few that actually feels like a proper crossword grid.

crossword sweater vest

What is it about a sweater vest that somehow makes this worse than a normal sweater? Maybe it’s how the boxes don’t quite line up, or the two-letter words trailing off near the armpits. Man, this is pretty bad.

boating crossword sweater

And this one, fellow puzzlers, was the pièce de résistance. The random crisscross placement. The color palette. The way the lighthouse beam doesn’t make it past the center buttons, condemning the proud cross-legged sailor nearby to a disastrous collision with the rocks near the shore.

This might not be a Christmas sweater, but man, does it fit the bill in every other way.

Do you have any favorite ugly sweater designs? Are any of them puzzle-fueled? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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A Labyrinth of Stone and Puzzly Invention

Many artistic and creative endeavors have a puzzly element to them. But it’s hard to think of one more intricate and puzzly than the construction of dry stone walls and structures.

Dry stone walls are built without mortar, relying entirely on careful selection and placement of stones that interlock and reinforce each other. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a game of Tetris, solved a brain teaser about fitting pieces into a particular space, or packed a bag for a long vacation has engaged in this sort of puzzling.

But dry stone structures put those piece placement skills to the test. They’re load-bearing collaborations.

Stone creations built in this manner can be found all over the world, from the English countryside to the mountainous heights of Machu Picchu.

But in the Dalby Forest, inside North York Moors National Park in England, ambitious puzzlers are taking this marvelous endeavor a step further.

They’re creating a labyrinth entirely from dry stone walls.

Yes, if all goes to plan, by 2024 this will be the home of the world’s largest dry stone wall maze.

Four inner circular walls, surrounded by five square outer walls, as well as small holes for wildlife and children to use as shortcuts (known as smout holes), will form a 260-square-foot labyrinth.

(Plus the designers plan to periodically update and rearrange the maze through the use of phantom gates — a technique for disguising passageways not in use — to encourage return solvers.

The first stone was placed in 2014, and a decade later, more than four thousand TONS of sandstone will reside there, assembled into a mind-boggling artifact of monstrous puzzly proportions.

Made from nothing more than stone and human ingenuity, we could soon see the completion of an iconic work of puzzly wonder. I for one cannot wait to see how it all turns out.


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Farewell, Stephen.

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[Image courtesy of Vanity Fair.]

Most people know him as a titan of Broadway and the American stage, the composer and lyricist behind dozens of iconic works, spanning decades. West Side Story. Gypsy. Into the Woods. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. (My personal favorite? Assassins.)

Even as someone with a degree in theater, I don’t feel qualified to discuss or summarize his impact on the stage. It’s monumental. Incalculable. Iconic.

But as a puzzle enthusiast, I do feel qualified to discuss his influence in that realm. You see, Stephen Sondheim occupies a curious space in the history of puzzles.

sondheim

He created cryptic / British-style crosswords for New York Magazine in the late 1960s, helping to introduce American audiences to that devious and challenging variety of crosswords.

In fact, he famously wrote an article in that very same magazine decrying the state of American crosswords and extolling the virtues of cryptic crosswords. (He even explained the different cluing tricks and offering examples for readers to unravel.)

Sondheim was an absolute puzzle fiend. His home was adorned with mechanical puzzles, and he happily created elaborate puzzle games. Some of them were featured in Games Magazine! In his later years, he was also an aficionado of escape rooms. (Friend of the blog Eric Berlin shared a wonderful anecdote about Sondheim here.)

uplifting-things-crossword-the-nice-thing-about-doing-a-crossroad-puzzle-is-you-know-the-answer-1080x760

He also represents another link in the curious chain that seems to connect musicians with crosswords. Prominent constructors like Patrick Blindauer, Brian Cimmet, and Amanda Rafkin, as well as top crossword tournament competitors like Dan Feyer and Jon Delfin also have musical backgrounds.

In the crossword documentary Wordplay (and quoted from the article linked below), former New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent mentioned why he felt that musicians and mathematicians were good fits as crossword solvers:

Their ability to assimilate a lot of coded information instantly. In other words, a piano player like Jon Delfin, the greatest crossword player of our time, he sits down and he sees three staffs of music and he can instantly play it. He’s taken all those notes and absorbs what they mean, instantaneously. If you have that kind of mind, and you add it to it a wide range of information, and you can spell, you’d be a really great crossword puzzler.

Sondheim certainly fits the bill.

He will forever be remembered for his musical creations, and that legacy far overshadows his work in puzzles. But as someone who opened the door to a new brand of puzzle solving for many people, Sondheim will also have the undying loyalty, respect, and admiration of many puzzlers around the world.

We wholeheartedly include ourselves in that crowd of admirers.

Farewell, Stephen. Thank you.


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What’s New in the Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide?

It’s Black Friday, and I’m sure you’ve already been bombarded with emails and posts promising deep discounts and sales galore.

We could do that too. I mean, we’ve got terrific deals on puzzle bundles for all of our apps… but then again, we do that all the time. We’re nice like that. =)

And plenty of the companies that have products in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide are going all out with discounts today as well.

If you sign up for their newsletter, Puzzometry is offering 21% off their puzzles. Calliope Games (makers of Tsuro and 12 Days and other great games) have great discounts, as do our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles (like their Winter Holiday Fun Pack!).

Don’t worry, we’ll be sharing every offer we find on social media to help you out today as well!


So instead, I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss some of the new products in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. There were so many cool additions to the guide this year that it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

The-Crosswords-Club-Digital-XWCD-ribbon

For instance, not only is there now a digital version of the terrific Crosswords Club puzzle subscription service, but there were tons of new puzzle magazines worth your time!

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This year we also had a big contingent of UK companies included in the guide. A lot of cool puzzles and games are being developed across the pond these days, and we were happy to include them.

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And anyone who has been reading the blog regularly knows there are a few companies that are part of the gift guide every single year. We’ve partnered with our friends at Looney Labs, ThinkFun, Project Genius, and Bananagrams for the better part of a decade now, and we practically couldn’t have a gift guide without their puzzly contributions every year!

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As the lead blogger for PuzzleNation, the gift guide is one of my favorite projects all year. As you’ve no doubt noticed, I absolutely love spreading the word about great puzzles. (It’s what brought me to PuzzleNation in the first place: top-notch puzzling!)

So every year, I also throw a few of my own favorite puzzles and games into the guide. This year was no exception:

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So today, take a break from hectic storefronts and packed checkout lines, and just enjoy a scroll through our nice, peaceful gift guide. Hopefully you’ll find something for the puzzlers in your life. And if not, at least there’s no pushing and hollering.

Happy Puzzling, friends and fellow PuzzleNationers!


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A Puzzle for Thanksgiving!

Today is a day for celebrating with family and friends, and giving thanks for all the good things in our lives.

We here at PuzzleNation want to thank you, our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, because you help make PuzzleNation one of the greatest puzzle communities in the world.

And when it comes to saying thanks, a Thanksgiving puzzle seems like the perfect offering. So we’ve cooked up a little instructional Thanksgiving puzzle for you to enjoy!

Can you solve this holiday puzzler?


What’s Leftovers?

Following the instructions, cross off words in the diagram. When you are finished, the remaining words will form a message reading left to right, line by line. Some words may be eliminated by more than one of the instructions.

1. Cross off all three- and four-letter words that can be spelled from the letters in the word THANKS.
2. Cross off all words that contain all five vowels (A, E, I, O, and U).
3. Cross off all words that form phrases when following the word TURKEY.
4. Cross off all words in columns A and B that end in ING.
5. Cross off all two-letter words in columns C and D.
6. Cross off all words that rhyme with the word YAM.
7. Cross off all words in row 4.
8. Cross off all words that contain the word ROLL spelled out.
9. Cross off all four-letter words that make a different word when reversed.
10. Cross off all words that name family members.

tday wl

[Click here to download the puzzle!]


Did you unravel this holiday puzzler? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

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Who Is The “Average Solver”?

In crossword forums, the comment sections of crossword blogs, and virtually any other online space where people share their thoughts on puzzles, you’re bound to see the same criticism over and over.

“The average solver wouldn’t know ____.”

I saw a comment on a r/crossword reddit forum recently, regarding the November 11 USA Today puzzle. 10-Down was clued “Spoons,” and the answer word was ENERGY. The poster was baffled.

(If you’re among those who didn’t get the reference, this clue references Spoon Theory, a concept common to those who suffer from chronic pain, fatigue or other debilitating conditions, regarding how many “spoons” a certain activity costs. It’s a way of quantifying how their condition affects their daily life.)

After it was explained, the poster asserted that “nobody” would make the connection between spoons and energy.

Now, no matter what you think of that clue — I personally would have gone with something like “Spoons, to some” or “Spoons, metaphorically” — it’s plainly false that NOBODY would make that connection.

Is it commonplace? Depends on how old you are and in what circles you travel, it seems. (Based on an informal poll I conducted, people 35 and younger are far more likely to know it.)

But one must never mistake their own unfamiliarity with a term for genuine obscurity. And I don’t say this out of judgment. It’s a mistake I’ve made myself on more than occasion. Heck, earlier this year, I did so when reviewing a tournament puzzle. I felt an entry (a hybrid fruit) was too obscure, only to discover others found it fairly common. Live and learn!

Another example where someone questioned the “average solver” was recently shared on Twitter. Constructor Malaika Handa shared part of a Crossword Fiend review:

She pointed out that this assumes that the “average solver” isn’t of Latino descent.

(It’s also worth noting that AREPAS is a more interesting entry than ARENAS, but I digress.)

What do you picture when you imagine the “average solver,” I wonder?

Because I think about those two nebulous measuring sticks a lot: “nobody” and “the average solver.” While they can be valuable to consider, they’re also very misleading.

I mean, what does the “average solver” know? European rivers? Football players? Greek letters? Classical composers or K-Pop bands? How many people would know ETUI if not for crosswords? It’s hardly commonplace.

Do they know those things AND solve crosswords, or do they know those things BECAUSE they solve crosswords? If constructors start regularly cluing or referring to spoons or arepas, then they become part of crossword vernacular, and then the “average solver” might be expected to know them.

Quite a slippery slope when you really start digging, isn’t it?

Plus, there’s more than one average solver, depending on how you look at it. Every outlet has a different “average” solver, and they’ll change over time.

Take PuzzleNation for example. Our Facebook audience is different from our Twitter audience, which is different from our blog audience. But there is overlap. We know there are Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search solvers among all of those groups. But that’s five different “average solvers” to consider at the minimum.

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That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Every crossword constructor walks a tightrope, trying to keep their puzzles fresh while still appealing to solvers.

And, as recently pointed out in a New York Times piece, the Internet has accelerated the proliferation of new slang and terminology. Words become part of the modern vernacular much faster now. (And every time The Oxford English Dictionary adds new words, we get a sense of how deeply some of these new terms have embedded themselves.)

Personally, I think crosswords are better when we’re learning from them. I’d rather have to look up a word or assemble it from familiar crossings — and broaden my own vocabulary and knowledge — than see the same old fill. Those European rivers. Those composers. Those Greek letters.

More spoons and arepas, please. If there is an ideal average solver out there, let’s teach them something new.


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