The Valuable Things (and Names and Places) We Learn From Crosswords

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I’ve learned a lot by solving crosswords. Honestly, it’s quite rare for me to solve a crossword and NOT learn something new. Sometimes, I am baffled by a reference I don’t know, and I end up finding out the answer only when the crossing entries are complete.

But that bafflement, that frustrating moment of ignorance, is soon mitigated, and I add a new fact to my ever-growing mental crossword library.

How many words have you learned by solving crosswords? How many geographic places do you know because of solving crosswords? How many actors, scientists, authors, musicians, and figures from pop culture do you know from solving crosswords? How many nuggets of trivia have you tucked away in the dusty parts of your brain that you picked up from an unexpectedly informative clue in a crossword?

Sure, we joke about the silent film stars and European rivers and African animals that often fall under the banner of crosswordese, but only because we’ve seen them enough to know them. We crave new entries, new peculiarities of language, and new crossword clue fodder to challenge and engage us in equal measure.

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A recent USA Today puzzle clued the word POEM with “Victoria Chang creation,” and a friend of the poet Victoria Chang, Nan Cohen, shouted out constructor Zhouqin Burnikel and editor Erik Agard on Facebook for including Chang in the puzzle.

Nan’s post went on to ask about how Chang ended up in the puzzle (though she thought it was cluing OBIT, Chang’s poetry book, instead of POEM, the actual answer):

I am curious, if you can share, how did you arrive at the cluing and decide it was accessible enough? (I love that it’s a new way of cluing OBIT, and of course that it represents an Asian American poet–cannot think when I have ever seen a contemporary Asian American poet in a puzzle, although Arthur SZE (who won the National Book Award in 2019) might be helpful to someone sometime).

The praise for both Burnikel and Agard is well-earned — Agard was quick to clarify that the clue was 100% Burnikel’s doing — but the discussion itself highlights an important issue in modern crosswords: the concept of who is “crossword-worthy.”

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Natan Last discussed this very topic in a brilliant piece in The Atlantic last year, citing the following troubling examples of “crossword-worthy” gatekeeping in major outlets:

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

Appropriately enough, Last’s piece mentions a puzzle by constructor Sally Hoelscher, and Sally herself replied to the Facebook post celebrating Chang’s inclusion in the USA Today crossword:

One thing I enjoy about the USA Today puzzle is that Erik and the constructors are intentional about lifting up and highlighting those who may not be deemed “crossword-worthy” by some publications. I was delighted to learn about Victoria Chang from this puzzle, and to learn about her book, OBIT, when I was researching her to write my blog.

I can’t say for certain how many solvers were already familiar with Victoria Chang or her works, but I suspect the majority of USA Today crossword fans learned something new that day.

That is reason enough to keep pushing the boundaries of what is considered “crossword-worthy.” Inclusion encourages visibility, which encourages greater participation in crosswords, which feeds into greater inclusion. And along the way, solvers are exposed to worthwhile individuals and ideas, learning more about the world we live in.

Sounds like a win-win to me.


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Eyes Open #12

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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.

Over the course of the last year, we’ve discussed many important topics, delved into historic moments, and done our best to educate ourselves and our readers on crucial social issues.

For this crossword, though, I wanted to refocus on those groups on the front lines that inspired this puzzle series in the first place. There are a huge number of brave, selfless individuals out there organizing and advocating for people of color, for women’s rights, for non-binary gender representation, and for LGBTQIA+ causes. And these organizations, advocacy groups, and charitable foundations deserve a spotlight.

I will definitely return to this topic in the future to highlight groups for women’s rights and LGBTQIA+ causes, but for today’s crossword, I opted to focus on groups that work to better the lives of people of color. They are generous, bold, endlessly kind defenders of decency, civil liberties, and representation, and the work they do is immensely important.

Although the names or abbreviations of only eight organizations appear in this grid — we have posted links to each below the puzzle grid link — there are many more that merit attention. Please click this link to see a tremendous list of charities and organizations compiled by New York Magazine working on behalf of people of color.

As one year closes and a new year begins, we wanted to offer some well-deserved attention to hard-working groups and individuals who deserve our respect, our esteem, our support, and our heartfelt gratitude.

I hope this puzzle serves to both engage you as a solver and encourage you to learn more about these groups and the causes they serve.

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

Charity links:

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.

Looking Forward to the Year in Puzzles and Games!

We spent this week looking back on the year that was 2020, celebrating the resilience, innovation, creativity, and kindness that makes the puzzle community so unique and remarkable.

But today, on the first day of 2021, it feels appropriate to turn our gazes forward instead of back, looking ahead for what’s to come.

And for our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, there are already exciting developments awaiting us all in the new year.


If you didn’t participate in either the Boswords crossword tournament or the Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League last year, you might not have heard about this yet, but the intrepid puzzlers from Boswords are already launching their next solve-from-home puzzly endeavor…

The Winter Wondersolve.

On Sunday, January 31st, participants will have four puzzles awaiting them — three themed crosswords and a themeless — designed by top-notch constructors.

Registration opens tomorrow, so be sure to visit Boswords.org for all the details!

(And that’s not all! They’ve also announced a Spring Themeless League, a date for their traditional summer tournament, and the return of the Fall Themeless League later in the year! That’s loads of puzzly goodness to look forward to!)


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Speaking of crosswords and tournaments…

After being forced to postpone and then cancel the 2020 edition of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament outright, Will Shortz and the tournament’s organizers announced the following a few days ago:

In most years, registration for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament opens on January 1. This year, though, we’re going to wait to see how the fight against the pandemic goes before deciding how to proceed.

Our hope is that, with widespread vaccinations, enough people will feel safe in attending an in-person crossword event in April to have it be worthwhile. We won’t know about that for some time.

Whatever happens, in-person or not, we’re planning at least a major online crossword event in April. We hope you’ll take part in some form.

Whether this means an in-person event — which seems optimistic — or a sequel to last year’s Crossword Tournament From Your Couch, we cannot say. But we will certainly keep you posted on any and all updates.


But it’s not just the world of puzzles that will be celebrating and finding new ways to bring fans together in 2021. The folks at Looney Labs will be marking their twenty-fifth year on the calendar in 2021. Yes, twenty-five years of Looney Labs and twenty-five years of Fluxx!

To mark the occasion, Looney Labs has a plethora of events and promotions planned throughout the year. There is a limited run of special anniversary cards and copies of a miniature version of Fluxx available with web store purchases, plus new game releases planned and much more!

The team at Looney Labs is also welcoming fans like never before with a series of one-of-a-kind Zoom experiences for game enthusiasts. You can purchase tickets for these Silver Jubilee events to play games virtually with the game designers and crew from Looney Labs! There are tutorials, full game sessions, previews of new games, and more planned for each one!

Tickets for the first Silver Jubilee event go on sale at their online store at noon Eastern on Tuesday, January 5th, and there will be more throughout the year!


The year is barely a day old and there’s already so much to look forward to!

We have also heard that some of our favorite constructors will be releasing new puzzle books in the coming weeks and months.

When you factor in all of the puzzles we can expect in major and independent outlets throughout the year — not to mention the puzzles we’ll be producing for our own apps like Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search — 2021 is certainly looking bright for solvers of all ages!

And we look forward to sharing in all of that puzzle-fueled fun with you, PuzzleNationers. Happy puzzling!


Do you know of any puzzle or game events coming in 2021 that we missed? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

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

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

The PN Blog 2020 Countdown!

It’s the final blog post of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2020 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


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#10 Farewell, Keith

I don’t mean to start off this countdown on a sad note by mentioning the loss of fellow puzzler and Penny Dell colleague Keith Yarbrough. Writing this post was incredibly difficult, but I am proud of how it turned out. It served as a valuable part of my healing process, allowing me to immerse myself in nothing but good memories of my friend. Giving other people the opportunity to know Keith like I did was a worthwhile experience.

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#9 Tap Code

Exploring the different ways puzzles have been involved in historical moments, either as anecdotes or key aspects, is one of my favorite parts of writing for PuzzleNation Blog. But it’s rare to have a historical story about puzzles that tugs on your heartstrings like this one. The way the Tap code served to keep the spirits of POWs high — and the way that codes and spycraft helped a husband and wife endure the hardships of separation — made this a post with a lot of depth and humanity.

#8 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

#7 Crossword Commentary

There’s more to writing about crosswords than simply solving puzzles and unraveling clues, and that was especially true this year. The social and cultural aspect of crosswords came up several times, and it’s important to discuss these issues in an open, honest way, even if that means calling out a toxic presence like Timothy Parker, or even questioning the choices of the biggest crossword in the world to hold them accountable.

Whether it was exploring representation in crossword entries and cluing or continuing to debate cultural sensitivity in crossword answers in the major outlets, we took up the torch more than once this year because it was the right thing to do.

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#6 Best Puzzle Solvers

Last year, we began a series of posts examining the best puzzle solvers in various realms of pop culture, and I very much enjoyed combing through the worlds of horror movies and television for the sharpest minds and most clever problem solvers.

This series continued in 2020, as we delved into literature (for adult readers, young adult readers, AND younger readers, respectively), as well as compiling a list of the worst puzzle solvers in pop culture. We even graded the skills of different fictional crossword constructors to see who was representing the best and worst in puzzle construction in media!

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#5 Crossword Bingo

One of the most clever deconstructions of the medium of crosswords I came across this year was a bingo card a solver made, highlighting words and tropes that frequently appear in modern crosswords. It was a smartly visual way of discussing repetition and pet peeves, but also a sly bit of commentary. So naturally, we couldn’t resist making our own Crossword Bingo card and getting in on the fun.

#4 Pitches for Crossword Mysteries

Hallmark’s Crossword Mysteries series was one of the most noteworthy crossovers between puzzles and popular media last year, and that continued into this year with the third Crossword Mysteries film, Abracadaver. But we couldn’t get the idea of a fourth film — still promised on IMDb and other outlets — out of our heads, so we ended up pitching our own ideas for the fourth installment in the franchise. Writing this, no joke, was one of my favorite silly brainstorming sessions of the entire year.

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#3 The World of Puzzles Adapts

Even in a post celebrating the best, the most satisfying, the most rewarding, and the most enjoyable entries from 2020, you cannot help but at least mention the prevailing circumstances that shaped the entire year. 2020 will forever be the pandemic year in our memories, but it will also be the year that I remember puzzlers and constructors adapting and creating some of the most memorable puzzle experiences I’ve ever had.

From the initial experiment of Crossword Tournament From Your Couch to the creation of the Boswords Fall Themeless League, from tournaments like Boswords and Lollapuzzoola going virtual to the crew at Club Drosselmeyer creating an interactive puzzly radio show for the ages, I was blown away by the wit, ambition, determination, and puzzle-fueled innovation brought to the fore this year.

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#2 Eyes Open

Earlier this year, we made a promise to all of the people standing up for underrepresented and mistreated groups to do our part in helping make the world better for women, for people of color, and for the LGBTQIA+ community. We launched Eyes Open, a puzzle series designed to better educate ourselves and our fellow solvers about important social topics. And that is a promise we will carry into 2021. We hope that, in some small way, we are contributing to a better, more inclusive world.

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#1 Fairness

Part of the prevailing mindset of PuzzleNation Blog is that puzzles can and should be for everyone. They should be fun. And they should be fair.

So this year, two posts stood out to me as epitomizing that spirit. The first was a discussion of intuitive vs non-intuitive puzzles, which I feel is very relevant these days, given the proliferation of different puzzle experiences like escape rooms out there.

The second, quite simply, was a response to a friend’s Facebook post where she felt guilty for looking up answers she didn’t know in a crossword, calling it “cheating.” I tried to reassure her there was no such thing as cheating in crosswords.

And since I couldn’t decide between these two posts for the top spot in our countdown, I’m putting them both here, because I feel like they represent a similar spirit. I hope you feel the same.


Thanks for spending 2020 with us, through brain teasers and big ideas, through Hallmark mysteries and Halloween puns, through puzzle launches and landmark moments. We’ll see you in 2021.

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

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

PuzzleNation Blog Looks Back on 2020!

2020 is rapidly, finally, mercifully coming to a close. As I do every year, I look back on another eventful year in the world of puzzles and games, a year unlike any I can remember.

And I am incredibly proud of the contributions both PuzzleNation Blog and PuzzleNation made to the puzzle community as a whole.

Over the last year, we explored board games and card games, strategy games and trivia games, dice games and tile games, do-it-yourself puzzlers and pen-and-paper classics. We met game designers, constructors, artists, YouTubers, Twitch streamers, and creative types of all kinds.

We unraveled math puzzles and diabolical brain teasers. With our fellow PuzzleNationers, we tackled visual puzzles, trivia, optical illusions, and logic problems. We played punny hashtag games galore, exploring everything from music and sports to poetry and plants, Halloween costumes and puzzly opening lines in novels. Heck, we even designed a puzzle-fueled theme park together.

We delved into puzzle history, pondering riddles in Shakespeare, the crafting of mechanical furniture for royalty, and decoding centuries-old rock carvings. We explored wartime puzzling at Bletchley Park, during World War II with knitting needles, and through tap codes in POW camps.

We offered a first look at new puzzles like Setka and fresh endeavors like Everything Board Games Magazine. We offered our best suggestions for tranquil games, games to play solo, and games to spooky up your Halloween.

We finally got to see the third Crossword Mysteries film (and pitched our own ideas for a fourth one). We tracked down the best puzzle solvers across the world of fiction, searched for the greatest palindrome, explored weird versions of Monopoly, and played Crossword Bingo.

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We looked on in awe as Forrest Fenn’s treasure was finally found, and then in bafflement as questions and confusion reigned in the aftermath.

We found puzzly ways to celebrate everything from Independence Day and Halloween to Thanksgiving and Christmas. We lamented the sad losses of luminaries like Alex Trebek, John Horton Conway, Kazuhisa Hashimoto, and our own dear friend, Keith Yarbrough.

We spread the word about numerous worthwhile Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, watching as the puzzle/game renaissance continued to amaze and surprise us with innovative new ways to play and solve. We celebrated acts of puzzly charity like Red Nose Day’s celebrity escape room, Mission Street Puzzles’ puzzle scholarship, and DriveThruRPG’s Fight Fires With Games, which raised money for those affected by the wildfires in Australia.

As protesters took to the streets in the name of equality, fairness, change, and growth, we stood with them. To educate ourselves and our readers on issues of color, of race, of gender equality, of gender representation, we launched Eyes Open, our ongoing puzzle series to explore these important topics.

We shared worthy causes as the puzzle community came together, first as part of Women’s March to push for greater inclusion and representation for women in crosswords, then as the pandemic hit and numerous constructors, companies, and outlets either discounted their products or gave them away for free.

And it was an incredibly strange experience to look back on discussions of then-upcoming events and puzzle tournaments from early in the year. Events that never happened. I wrote about my favorite game shop closing, something that seems prophetic, given what was to come. We first mentioned Coronavirus as its initial surge in China affected the board game industry in February.

From that point on, the pandemic redefined the world of puzzles and games. We discussed puzzling by mail, and then from home as we compiled ideas to get readers through lockdown. We spread the word about discounts and deals, and watched the puzzle world adapt.

Crossword Tournament From Your Couch emerged from the hole left by the postponement of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Game conventions went online, The New York Times announced it was accepting online submissions. Other tournaments like Boswords and Lollapuzzoola went virtual, while the Indie 500 team made all of their previous tournament puzzles available for free.

The Rubik’s team attempted a virtual Guinness World Record. ACPT was cancelled and rescheduled for next year, while Boswords announced the launch of their Fall Themeless League. We delved into the world of escape room-solving from home, and the Club Drosselmeyer team brilliantly transitioned from a live show to an online radio show format for their night of puzzles.

Puzzles continued. They evolved. The community came together in brilliant, clever, unexpected ways. And we at PuzzleNation were privileged to share many of those moments with you.

Despite the trials and travails of the year, it’s been a pleasure to explore the world of puzzles and games with you, my fellow puzzle lovers and PuzzleNationers. We marked eight years of PuzzleNation Blog this year, I’m closing in on my 1,300th blog post, and I remain as excited to write for you now as I did when I started.

And honestly, that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune, hard work, and accomplishments in 2020 went well beyond that.

In a tumultuous and uncertain year, we focused on honoring our promise to our fellow puzzlers: maintaining and producing the best puzzle experience possible.

Penny Dell Crossword App, Daily POP Crosswords, Daily POP Word Search, Penny Dell Sudoku, Wordventures… no matter the platform, our team worked hard to produce engaging puzzles at all levels, and we are immensely proud of the work the PN team performed this year.

Every day, we delivered top-notch content for Penny Dell Crosswords App, Daily POP Crosswords, and Daily POP Word Search. Whether it was monthly deluxe sets and holiday bundles for PDCW or the world-class topical puzzles by some of the industry’s best constructors for Daily POP, hundreds of outstanding crosswords and word searches wended their way to our loyal and enthusiastic solvers.

But whether we’re talking about crosswords, Sudoku, Wordventures, or word searches, I’m proud to say that every single puzzle represents our high standards of quality puzzle content crafted for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

And your response has been inspiring! Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search are thriving, the blog has over 2500 followers, and with our audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms continuing to grow, the enthusiasm of the PuzzleNation readership is both humbling and very encouraging.

2020 was a difficult year, but it’s one that also reminded us of the amazing things that can be accomplished when puzzlers come together. And we firmly believe that the coming year will be brighter, more exciting, and more creatively fulfilling.

Thank you for your support, your interest, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. The new year looms large, and we look forward to seeing you in 2021!


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

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

Answers to Our Holiday Trivia Countdown

holiday trivia

Yesterday, we posted twenty-four questions about various holiday-related topics like carols, reindeer, food, and Yuletide historical moments, creating our own little advent calendar countdown to Christmas.

So naturally, the right thing to do is offer the answers to you on Christmas Day! You can call it the gift of knowledge, or the gift of satisfaction when you get the questions right, or the gift of a quick and easy read on a Friday. Whatever you like.

Without further ado, and with our halls properly decked, we present the answers to our holiday trivia questions. Enjoy!


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1. How many ghosts are there in A Christmas Carol?

Answer: Four.

2. Red and green are the two colors most associated with Christmas. Which are the two other colors, also named in a Burl Ives song, that are also extremely popular in this season?

Answer: Silver and gold.

3. In the UK, which Christmas food is it considered good luck to eat one of on each of the 12 days of Christmas?

Answer: Mince pies.

4. In the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” the Grinch is called all kinds of names, but one particular trio of insults, one right after the other, differs by only a single letter. What are those three words?

Answer: Stink, stank, stunk.

5. Which two of the reindeer are named after weather phenomenon?

Answer: Donner and Blitzen, which are “thunder” and “lightning” in German.

6. What year was Christmas declared a federal holiday in the United States?

Answer: 1870.

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7. Which country has a tradition of a witch dropping gifts for children through the chimney at Christmas?

Answer: Italy.

8. Which was the last state in the United States to declare Christmas a legal holiday?

Answer: Oklahoma.

9. How many reindeer were in the story “Twas the Night Before Christmas?”

Answer: Eight.

10. The film Miracle on 34th Street depicted events at what famous department store?

Answer: Macy’s.

11. What dish was served by Mrs. Cratchit in A Christmas Carol? (Hint: it is also mentioned in the song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”)

Answer: Figgy pudding

12. Which of Santa’s reindeer is named after another animal?

Answer: Vixen.

Christmas theme, sales, Happy  Santa Claus in a snowy forest, Santa on the background of a winter forest, Russian Santa Claus (Grandfather Frost), Santa Claus are near his reindeers in harness.

13. The red and white costume of Santa was allegedly first introduced by which beverage manufacturer?

Answer: Coca-Cola.

14. Which President, a famous conservationist, objected to a Christmas tree in the White House?

Answer: President Theodore Roosevelt. He felt it was wrong to cut down trees for decoration.

15. Which spirit is traditionally added to butter and served with Christmas pudding?

Answer: Brandy.

16. In Spain, it’s considered good luck to eat one of these foods for each chime of the clock for the new year. What food is it?

Answer: Grapes.

17. In the American version of The Office, salesman Dwight portrayed Belsnickel instead of Santa for one of the company’s holiday parties. Instead of naughty or nice, what two adjectives did Belsnickel choose between when gauging the behavior of everyone?

Answer: Impish or admirable.

18. Who was the first President to have a tree in the White House?

Answer: President Benjamin Harrison in 1889.

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19. True story. I had a dog named Chestnut who stared at the stereo speaker in confusion every time a certain holiday ditty played. What was its title?

Answer: The Christmas Song.

20. What is the most popular meal for Christmas in Japan?

Answer: KFC fried chicken.

21. The name of what Christmas song was originally called “Tinkle Bells” until the writer’s wife pointed out that tinkle also means pee?

Answer: Silver Bells.

22. In what Central American country might you find yourself kicking off the holiday season by burning the devil on December 7th while sweeping your house?

Answer: Guatemala.

23. Which ocean is Christmas Island located in?

Answer: Indian Ocean.

24. What is the name of the Grinch’s dog?

Answer: Max.


How did you do? And do you have any favorite tidbits of holiday trivia? Please let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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

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