Learning How to Drive From a Board Game?

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You can learn a lot from board games.

You can test your dexterity with games like Flick ‘Em Up, Flipships, or Pitchcar. You can test the steadiness of your hand with Jenga or Operation. You can test your deduction skills, your memory, your trivia, your tactical ability, your pattern matching, and your luck in all sorts of games. And along the way, you can learn history, strategy, negotation, and deception.

But, according to an article sent in by a fellow puzzle fan, there’s a board game out there that teaches you the rules of the road as well.

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It’s called The Driver’s Way, and in the African country of Sierra Leone, it became law that you had to purchase and play this board game to learn road safety.

The game was actually designed by the assistant inspector general of police in Sierra Leone, Morie Lengor, and he designed the game in the hopes that it would reduce the accident rate for drivers in his country.

Now, this is a pretty cool idea, and I think more skills should be taught through board games. Do detectives need to play Clue or Deception: Murder in Hong Kong in order to learn their trade? Should we have exterminators playing Mousetrap and virologists playing Pandemic?

Just imagine if a court could order someone to play Sorry until they respected the meaning of the word.

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Anyway, I thought this was a weirdly fascinating factoid, so I went on the hunt for more details. There weren’t many.

The news regarding this story broke in 2013, and the vast majority of articles about the game date back to that initial media blitz. Practically all of them carry the headline “You Have to Play a Board Game Before You Can Get a Driver’s License in Sierra Leone.”

Moreover, almost all of the articles were in some way factually incorrect, because they were thirdhand or worse reports, copying and paraphrasing from another article which did the same from another article which MIGHT have linked to the original.

Recent search results (and by recent, I mean 2018, which is the latest reference I found to it) are scarce, and parrot the same information from 2013. Most articles don’t even have an actual image of the game, using any image with a road — be it The Game of Life or just one of those small town rugs from kindergarten class with roads drawn all over.

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Descriptions of the game vary. Some refer to “spotlight-themed dice” and answering questions, while others compared the game to “a cross between Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders, as well as Scrabble.” I have no idea what form that game would take, and I suspect the person who wrote it has even less of a clue.

I can’t find anything that verifies this became a widespread tool for driver safety. A planned global production expansion appears to have dried up quickly, and I can’t find anything on the 3000 copies of the game articles claim were already manufactured and distributed. There’s not even an entry for the game on Board Game Geek, which is an otherwise exhaustive resource of board game info.

And yes, I did go as far as to actually reach out to the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority about this, but they haven’t gotten back to me.

So, sadly, until we can find out more, we must consider this story a delightful flash-in-the-pan and not the start of a board game-learning revolution that could transform us all into Battleship-hunting, Forbidden Island-exploring, Kerplunk masters of a thousand different legally-bonded skills.

For now, anyway.


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5 Questions for Crossword Constructor Mollie Cowger!

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

This feature is all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them.

And this marks the third edition of a new series of interviews where we turn our eyes to the future of crosswords. Instead of interviewing established talents in the field, I’ve been reaching out to new and up-and-coming constructors and asking them to share their experiences as a nascent cruciverbalist.

And we’re excited to welcome Mollie Cowger as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Less than a year into her crossword career, Mollie Cowger has already built a reputation for creative themes, strong cluing, and well-constructed grids. Heck, she made my list of favorite clues of the year with “Protector of the crown?” for ENAMEL.

Her puzzles have appeared in Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest, Matthew Stock’s Happy Little Puzzles, and several times in the USA Today crossword, and that list will be growing by leaps and bounds in the near future.

Mollie was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Mollie Cowger

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

My mom has always been an avid crossword solver, so I got started young. I’ve solved crosswords (originally just NYT, now many others) with varying degrees of regularity since at least high school (so, 2010-ish). I’ve been messing around with construction for a few years, but didn’t start devoting serious time and energy to it until summer 2020. My published debut was in October 2020 with a meta crossword for Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest.

2. What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle? What do you most enjoy — or try hardest to avoid — when constructing your own?

I love a good a-ha moment; I love a puzzle that makes me laugh; I love seeing pop culture that’s in my wheelhouse; I love learning new things. There are so many ways a puzzle can be great! I also think “greatness” is a subjective judgment. I’ve solved many puzzles that are technically impressive and thoughtfully constructed that just don’t vibe with me for whatever reason. But that’s fine! Not everyone has to like every puzzle.

When I’m making a puzzle, I love having an entry where I know there’s great wordplay to be found, and then having my own constructor aha moment when I finally land on it. I try to put things in my puzzles that I would be excited to see as a solver, or that I can imagine someone else being excited to see.

I try to use “do I think people who know this will be happy to see it” as a guiding question for proper noun-ish fill and cluing, rather than “do I think everyone will know this.” As many others have pointed out more eloquently than I can, trying to guess what “everyone” will know tends to reinforce existing inequalities.

3. Do you have any favorite crossword themes or clues, either your own or those crafted by others? Who inspires you as a constructor?

I don’t keep track of favorite clues, but I do keep a folder of favorite puzzles. Some recent-ish additions to that folder include Rachel Fabi’s June 1st, 2020 USA Today puzzle (“6/1”), Erik Agard’s February 1st & 2nd 2021 Universal puzzles, and Paolo Pasco’s blog puzzle “Entry-Level Stuff”. I don’t want to spoil them, so I won’t explain why they’re great. Go solve them!

There are so many constructors I admire and am inspired by that it feels foolish to try to name them all. It’s phenomenal how many people are making puzzles these days, and it seems like the community is only continuing to grow, which is wonderful.

[Her tag team solving is next-level.]

4. What’s next for Mollie Cowger?

Puzzling, gardening, maybe finishing knitting a half-done scarf that’s been taunting me for years (that one’s pretty aspirational), getting that sweet sweet COVID vaccine needle into my arm as soon as I’m eligible. In the longer term? Who knows!

5. What’s one piece of advice you would offer fellow solvers, aspiring constructors/setters, and puzzle enthusiasts?

If you’re thinking of diving into constructing, you should absolutely do it– the community is filled with kind people who will help you along. And, more broadly, don’t forget to have fun.


A huge thank you to Mollie for her time. You can follow her on Twitter for all of her crossword endeavors, and be sure to check out her puzzle blog Crosswords From Outer Space for new puzzles every other Monday! Whatever she creates next, I’m sure it will be terrific.

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Prose, Poetry, and Puzzles: Multiple Ways to Look at the Same Text!

Puzzle fans are used to searching for multiple avenues of entry when it comes to solving.

Crosswords have the across and down clues. Some people go straight for the pop culture clues, while others seek out fill-in-the-blank clues. Diagramless crosswords add an additional challenge by removing the black squares and set numbers that guide you.

Fill-Ins and Word Seeks have all sorts of entries you can start hunting through the grid for. Logic problems have several clues you can use to whittle down possibilities and utilize the information you have.

Heck, Rubik’s solvers are positively awash in potential paths to success.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

Fans of more complicated jigsaw puzzles are also familiar with this concept. The standard approach is to find the edges and work your way in, but I know plenty of solvers who either sort by color or build from the middle around recognizable figures in the image.

Of course, jigsaw puzzle companies know this and they abandon the traditional rules of jigsaw puzzles, creating some diabolical ways to force you to change your tactics and find new ways in. There are jigsaw puzzles with no edge pieces (meaning no flat edges), so-called “infinite” puzzles like the one pictured above, and brain-teaser jigsaws where the pieces can be assembled in many different ways, but there’s only one correct solution.

And as it turns out, there are a few historical items that prove this sort of multi-approach thinking isn’t limited to puzzles.

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[Image courtesy of This Is Colossal.]

Say hello to a marvelous variation on the dos-à-dos book concept that resides in the National Library of Sweden.

Normally, dos-à-dos books (or back-to-back) books are just what they sound like: two books bound together at the spine. But this religious text is six books in one. Depending on which clasps you have open and shut, you can read this book six different ways.

Each book is a devotional text printed in Germany during the 16th century — including Der Kleine Katechismus by Martin Luther — and it’s a masterwork of craftsmanship, skill, and design. It boggles my mind just looking at it.

And yet, a single book with six ways to read it seems like a drop in the bucket when you compare it to a poem that can be read thousands of different ways.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

This is Star Gauge, also known as Xuanji Tu (Picture of the Turning Sphere). It is a palindrome poem by Su Hui, a 4th-century female Chinese poet whose most famous creation still amazes to this day.

Written in the form of a 29 x 29 grid of characters, Xuanji Tu can be read forward or backwards, horizontally or vertically or diagonally, or organized by its color-coded grids.

As you might have guessed, it’s called a palindrome poem because it can be read backwards or forwards, though some scholars have estimated more than 2,800 different rhyming poems can be produced by reading it different ways.

Most of her other works have been lost to history, but this one piece alone leaves an incredible legacy.

Whether it’s a six-fold book, a puzzle with an infinite number of arrangements, or a poem with thousands of different interpretations, it’s amazing what you can create with a puzzly mindset and the insight to approach things from a unique perspective.


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Eyes Open #16

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Welcome to the latest puzzle in my ongoing series, Eyes Open, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and other civil rights protests.

It was difficult to choose a topic that would close out Black History Month. So many important historical figures have been highlighted all across media outlets and social media this month that I felt like I was playing catch-up with ideas, or offering a superficial glance while other sites were doing wonderful in-depth profiles.

So I decided to turn my attention forward rather than back, looking at individuals who are making history now. Names that will be in the history books of the future for their contributions to promoting continued interest in science, technology, engineering, and math for people of color, particularly women of color.

These are women who have achieved historic firsts and who work to further the inclusion of women and people of color in the sciences. Their outreach has been critical to increased engagement and job placement. As both inspirational figures and glass ceiling-shattering icons, their actions will resonate for many years to come.

[If you’re looking for a more historical take on black female trailblazers in medicine, check out Eyes Open #2 from last year.)

This is a relatively straightforward grid, featuring four names across five entries that you should know. There are two revealers in the lower right corner — one wordplay-heavy, one clued overtly — that tie together all of the themed entries.

I hope this puzzle serves to both engage you as a solver and encourage you to learn more about these impactful women, their contributions to their chosen fields, and their efforts to recruit younger people of color to follow the paths they’ve taken.

[Click this link to download a PDF of this puzzle.]

If you have suggestions for more topics for me to cover in future puzzles, please let me know. If you’re a person of color and you’d like to share a puzzle of your own, or to collaborate with me on a puzzle, please let me know.

If you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, and you have ideas, please let me know. If you’re a trans person, or a non-binary individual, and you feel underrepresented in puzzles, please let me know.

I would like this to become something bigger, but hopefully, this is at the very least a start.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for standing up, speaking up, and fighting the good fight.

Support LGBTQIA+ people.
Believe women.
Black lives matter.

Upcoming Puzzle Events! The Spring Themeless League, Plus ACPT Going Virtual!

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Most years, the puzzle event season starts with the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in late March/early April, but 2021 is different. We already had the Boswords Winter Wondersolve event last month, and there are plenty of exciting puzzle events on the horizon!

Did you know that there’s still time to sign up for the Boswords 2021 Spring Themeless League? It starts Monday night, and you should check it out!

Last year, Boswords launched the Fall Themeless League, a clever weekly spin on traditional crossword tournament-style solving. Instead of cracking through a number of puzzles in a single day (or two), the Fall Themeless League consisted of one themeless crossword each week, scored based on your accuracy and how fast you completed the grid.

Each week’s puzzle only had one grid, but there were three sets of clues, each representing a different difficulty level for solvers. Smooth was the least challenging, Choppy was the middle ground, and Stormy was the most challenging.

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The Spring Themeless League follows the same format. Every Monday in March and April, a themeless puzzle awaits you!

Not only is there some serious talent among the constructors — Brooke Husic, Aimee Lucido, Rachel Fabi, Patti Varol, Ryan McCarty, Kevin Der, Peter Wentz, Ricky Cruz, and the duo of Brynn Diehl and Mark Diehl — but there’s a great community of solvers out there participating in after-puzzle chats and Twitch streams.

The Fall Themeless League gave me a new appreciation for what themeless crosswords are capable of, and I’m happy to be signed up for the Spring edition!

The Spring Themeless League will conclude with the championship puzzle on April 26th, which will make for a busy few days of puzzle solving, since another puzzle event is set for that very weekend!

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Yes, you might’ve heard that the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament will be hosted online this year.

The 43rd annual edition of the granddaddy of all crossword tournaments will take place April 23rd through the 25th. We’re awaiting further details, but hopefully we’ll know more soon!

So there you go, the next two months of puzzles all planned and set for you, with more to come this summer.

Will you be participating in either the Spring Themeless League or ACPT’s virtual event this year, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comment section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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5 Questions for Crossword Constructor Erica Wojcik!

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

This feature is all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them.

And this marks the second edition of a new series of interviews where we turn our eyes to the future of crosswords. Instead of interviewing established talents in the field, I’ve been reaching out to new and up-and-coming constructors and asking them to share their experiences as a nascent cruciverbalist.

And we’re excited to welcome Erica Wojcik as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Erica has only started constructing crosswords over the last year, but she’s already making waves. Most notably, she has spearheaded the Expanded Crossword Name Database, a resource for constructors where the crossword community at large can submit the names of women, non-binary individuals, trans individuals, or people of color that you’d like to see in crosswords.

She currently has a puzzle up on Matthew Stock’s Happy Little Puzzles, and we’ll start seeing her creations in outlets like The Inkubator in the coming months. I have no doubt her byline will be appearing elsewhere soon!

Erica was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Erica Wojcik

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

I used to do morning crosswords with friends in college, but only sporadically. In 2015, my husband got me hooked on the NYT crossword and ever since, our daily routine involves solving the Times puzzle together and reading Rex Parker’s blog. I study language development as a professor of psychology, and crosswords perfectly combine my interests in language and problem solving.

I’d been curious about constructing for a while, but finally decided to try it out in February 2020. I tweeted something about wanting to construct and tagged Anna Shechtman and Erik Agard on a whim, and they both gave super advice and other constructors chimed in as well. I was so shocked and delighted by how nice and helpful everyone was!

But, it was February 2020 and before I could actually dive in, the pandemic struck and I was stuck juggling a job, a toddler, and a newborn. I got my head above water in November, downloaded Across Lite, read Patrick Berry’s Handbook, got hooked up with a mentor via the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory and very quickly became obsessed.

2. You have a puzzle in the pipeline with The Inkubator and you’re awaiting feedback on submissions to several of the major outlets. As you start to interact with the puzzle community at large, what have you learned along the way? What has been the most surprising part of the process for you?

Oh man, I’ve learned so, so many things from so, so many people! The most surprising part of constructing has been discovering the fun, welcoming online crossword community. I had no idea! It’s been such a delight to chat and joke and learn from so many folks. The most important (and most cliche) thing I’ve learned is to ask for help when you have a question. So many folks are willing to collaborate or share tips.

What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle? What do you most enjoy — or try hardest to avoid — when constructing your own?

I love puzzles that have personality and teach me something new, which usually means crosswords that have colloquial/contemporary phrases and avoid common crosswordese. Of course, I’ve learned that this is SO HARD to do. I end up ripping up entire grids because I have AMTOO and OSHA gnawing at me. But it’s worth it when you fill a grid that is just so clean and fresh throughout.

3. Do you have any favorite crossword themes or clues, either your own or those crafted by others? Who inspires you as a constructor?

There are WAY too many constructors that I admire to list here! But in recent memory…. I absolutely loved Nam Jin Yoon’s Saturday NYT puzzle at the end of January. So many good phrases. Such clever cluing on the shorter fill. I’m also a huge fan of Malaika Handa’s 7×7 blog. Those make me laugh out loud all the time.

4. What’s next for Erica Wojcik?

I’ve gotten so much positive feedback for the Expanded Crossword Name Database, and one thing that several people have asked about is whether I can create a similar database for cultural things (teams, places, organizations etc.) So I’ll be getting that up soon!

I’m such a n00b at constructing, so I’m still just constantly playing around with themes and grids and trying to really find my voice. I love love love collaborating so I hope to do more of that, too!

5. What’s one piece of advice you would offer fellow solvers, aspiring constructors/setters, and puzzle enthusiasts?

Read Patrick Berry’s Handbook and join Crossword Twitter 🙂


A huge thank you to Erica for her time. You can follow her on Twitter for all of her crossword endeavors, and be sure to contribute your ideas to the Expanded Crossword Name Database! I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what she creates next.

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