Greetings, puzzlers, gamers, and PuzzleNationers! We hope you’re staying cool out there, and taking plenty of time to kick back and relax with your favorite tabletop roleplaying games, jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku collections, or crossword puzzle and wordseek apps :)! While winter is traditionally the hibernation season, we’ve decided to switch things up, and our blog and social media presence are going into hibernation for the rest of the summer. (Heat is bad for computers, after all.)
Never fear—Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search will continue to update on a daily basis. We’ll just be a little quieter about it than usual. In the meantime, we invite you to peruse the blog’s archives! Maybe you’ll get some great ideas for new games to check out, or TV shows to marathon on those days when the sun is too intense for you to brave the outdoors.
Have fun! Happy puzzling!
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With Wordle’s surging popularity earlier this year came a slew of derivatives like Nerdle, Queerdle, and Trekle, all fighting for second place in the guessing game spotlight. Heardle, it seems, was the real breakthrough hit. Launched in February by product designer Glenn Angelo, Heardle gives listeners six tries to figure out a song’s identity, based on increasingly lengthy clips from the song’s intro. Angelo’s initial inspiration was just the pun of the name, though the concept can be traced back to the television game show Name That Tune,or to its radio-based predecessor, Stop the Music.
Like Wordle, Heardle updates daily, uniting players in listening to a single song together, creating the illusion of people all over the world huddling around the same jukebox. Some days unite the crowd more than others, depending on how avid a tune’s fanbase. I’ve recently seen a couple of different viral social media posts excitedly imploring people to play the day’s Heardle, once when it featured One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful,” and again when the answer was My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade.” (Full disclosure: I recognized the One Direction song immediately.)
Student Gigi Vincent, who plays Heardle every day, explained the game’s appeal by contrasting it with the movie-clip trivia game Framed. She noted that while the brain behind Framed “clearly has a specific taste, so you can really narrow things down once you understand their repertoire, Heardle is more democratic [in its song choices], and therefore harder,” making for a compelling challenge.
Just as the strength of Wordle’s appeal lead to a purchase by The New York Times, Spotify has heard the acclaim for Heardle and snatched it up in response. This is Spotify’s first game acquisition—the company’s previous purchases have primarily been forms of podcast technology. Spotify’s press release about the acquisition quotes the company’s Global Head of Music, Jeremy Erlich, as saying “We are always looking for innovative and playful ways to enhance music discovery and help artists reach new fans.” According to the release, the company intends to eventually “integrate Heardle and other interactive experiences more fully into Spotify,” building on the eye-catching, meme-able feature of Spotify Wrapped to further gamify music streaming.
I spoke to media specialist, musician, and Heardle dabbler Sam Hozian about his strong disapproval of the acquisition. He said that it runs directly opposite to the Heardle ethos that Vincent highlighted above, elaborating, “Spotify is the anti-democratization of music. It creates an illusion of democracy because people have a sense that anyone can upload to Spotify and become a hit, but it’s one-in-a million that this will happen . . . It’s not easy for Spotify to make money off of independent artists,” so that’s not where the corporation puts its resources.
Hozian isn’t the only disapproving player. Last week, the BBC ran an article entitled, “Heardle Spotify move hits sour note with some fans.” Complaints lodged in the article include that winning streak stats have been deleted, and that the website is now showing as unavailable in some countries.
Until Spotify sees through its plans to more fully integrate Heardle, the main difference is that the challenging songs are now hosted by the streaming app itself, rather than by SoundCloud. Angelo’s original choice to use SoundCloud for the game was not politically motivated. Instead, he’s cited convenience as the reason; the SoundCloud player was quick and easy to set up within a day. SoundCloud, however, would seem to be more in line with Heardle’s democratic ethos. SoundCloud touts itself as “the first music company to introduce fan-powered royalties, where independent artists can get paid more because of their dedicated fans.” Compare this to oft-repeated criticisms that Spotify underpays artists for streaming their work.
Lest I sound like Spotify’s biggest detractor, rest assured that I am a daily user of the platform. Access to algorithmically generated playlists and the playlists of strangers worldwide opens the door to musical discoveries I would otherwise never have made. In this age of attacks on the Internet Archive, when the ubiquity of Amazon’s cloud services make fully boycotting Amazon an uphill battle, it’s tempting to go quietly into the future of the internet—a future in which everything is owned by a small handful of monopolies, pay-walled and demanding access to our IRL identities. Still, I believe that it is important to resist this new wave of the web in whatever ways you can. Maybe you’ll switch from Google Chrome to Firefox; maybe you’ll download some indie games; maybe you’ll give up Spotify for SoundCloud. We all have our parts to play in shaping the fair, equitable, weird, creative internet that we want to see.
infinitely more complex than any map of the path could ever be.
My eye was recently caught by the headline, “Retired Professor Builds Wooden Anatomy Puzzles.” The article in question is a human-interest piece detailing the woodworking career of former biology professor Roman Miller. AP Journalist Jillian Lynch writes, “Of interest to both oddity-seekers and students, Miller’s anatomy puzzles are a unique offering that blends his love of woodworking and understanding [of] the functions of organs in the human body.”
Interestingly, anatomy puzzles appear to make up only a small percentage of Miller’s recent artistic output. His website features several animal puzzles, a handful of numerically or alphabetically themed puzzles, two abstract shape puzzles, and—among the other miscellaneous wares—a single puzzle showing off the insides of a human head and torso. Yet the article chose to shine the spotlight on the anatomy puzzles, noting that Miller has made twenty such works over the course of his time operating a scroll saw. Lynch clearly knows that there is an allure to what lies inside of us, likely to reel in readers. Human anatomy is, after all, puzzling in real life, much more so than the alphabet or shapes.
Several years ago, I trained to be an EMT. A regular class exercise was “trauma assessment,” during which a teaching assistant would invent a gruesomely injured patient. Students would evaluate this fictional character and then determine how best to treat them. One T.A. favored mythical creatures gone rogue—unicorn-horn stabbings and vampiric exsanguination. The assessment that stuck most clearly in my head revolved around an imaginary man’s evisceration-by-werewolf. I clearly remember concluding that a cool, damp cloth should be placed over the patient’s abdomen. The T.A. agreed, reminding us all never to try placing a patient’s intestines back inside their body. “Internal organs are a complex puzzle,” he said. “You do not have the training to put that puzzle back together correctly.”
Miller’s motivation for making those twenty puzzles was a desire to help young children learn the basics of anatomy, preparing them for further education in biology. Maybe those children would go on to become surgeons—those who do have the training to put the puzzle of the organs back together in the wake of a werewolf attack. While Miller is quoted in the article as saying, “Nobody makes anatomy puzzles,” the use of puzzles to teach anatomy is actually a very old concept, dating at least back to the 18th century. Dissectible wax models known as “anatomical venuses” provided medical students with an alternative to illustrations or cadavers when learning the body’s workings.
Although these models were strangely idealized in their femininity as compared to a bare-bones wooden rendering like Miller’s, they were undeniably puzzles—one essay opines, “18th century obstetrical models represent women simultaneously as ideals of graceful femininity and as puzzle boxes of removable parts.” Here in the 21st century, three-dimensional models representing humans as puzzle boxes of removable parts are readily available online, luckily with fewer misogynist undertones; for a lower price, you can download a digital human anatomy puzzle with timed challenges. Between models, computer games, and jigsaw puzzles, anatomical knowledge today is much more accessible than it would have been in the 18th century.
Still, there is perhaps no better manifestation of the theory that the map is not the territory. If you know how to put an alphabet puzzle in order, then we can likely say that you know the alphabet. A talent for piecing together a representational puzzle of a human’s internal organs, however, does not indicate that you’re equipped to put a real human’s intestines back where they belong. Unless you’re a surgeon—AKA a next-level puzzler—if you’re ever in the company of someone who has been eviscerated by a werewolf, I don’t recommend trying to transfer your skills to a flesh-and-blood context. Miller presents his jigsaw puzzles as a simple starting point for biological education. Ahead of that starting point lies a long and winding path, infinitely more complex than any map of the path could ever be.
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!
It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them. (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!) Today I’m excited to introduce our latest interviewee, Christina Iverson!
Christina is a crossword constructor and the assistant editor for the LA Times Crossword. When she’s not working on puzzles, she can often be found reading, knitting, biking or hiking. She lives with her husband and two young children in Ames, IA. Find Christina on Twitter at @xtinaiverson.
1. How did you get started with puzzles?
I’m a first generation crossword solver. I grew up with a love of words, books, games, and puzzles, but no one in my family solved crosswords. In my mind, crosswords were just about trivia, and using big words that no one really uses in real life. Not true!
I realized that in 2018 when my son was a baby. My husband and I were trying to get him to fall asleep in his own bed at night before we went to bed (!). He’d usually last about 10 minutes before waking up again, crying.
One night while our TV show was paused, I came back from our son’s room to find my husband working on a crossword puzzle. We realized that crosswords were more easily interrupted than TV shows, and started solving them pretty regularly together. I was really terrible at them at first, so I started solving puzzles by myself to get extra practice; it’s not as fun to solve puzzles with someone who knows the answer before you even understand what the clue is getting at.
It wasn’t very long before I started trying to construct my own puzzles. I’ve always been interested in creating puzzles and games; I invented my first board game when I was probably 5 or 6, made treasure hunts for my brother in grade school, and designed logic puzzles for my geometry teacher in high school. So it didn’t seem like much of a stretch to go from solving to constructing.
The first puzzle I made was a puzzle for my husband, about our cat, George Melvin. I constructed on my own for a couple of months before I reached out to some mentors in the crossword community. Jeff Chen, Amanda Chung, and Ross Trudeau all gave me invaluable assistance at the beginning of my journey, and I don’t think I would have gotten published without their help.
2. What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle? What do you most enjoy—or most commonly avoid—when constructing your own? What do you think is the most common pitfall of constructors just starting out?
I think a great puzzle is one that brings a smile to your face. For me, it’s mostly about having fun theme entries and a good “aha” moment, and also keeping the grid clean and free from yucky crossword glue.
I think the most common pitfall of new constructors is that they can be so enthusiastic that they move on to the next constructing stage too quickly. They often underestimate the importance of the theme entries, and move on to making a grid before having a solid theme set. The theme makes or breaks the puzzle, so if the theme isn’t well-conceived and well-executed, it doesn’t matter how great the rest of the puzzle is. They also often move on to writing clues before ironing out issues in a grid. I think many new constructors remember too vividly the times that they have run into words they didn’t know in a puzzle, and can have the attitude that all crosswords are full of obscure words and lots of abbreviations. (I definitely had this misconception when I first started out!)
3. Do you have any favorite crossword themes or clues, either your own or those crafted by others?
My favorite puzzles to solve and construct are Sunday grids, and I especially like ones with wacky theme entries. I always try to make the theme entries as silly and fun as possible. One of my favorite puzzles I’ve made was in The New York Times with my frequent collaborator Katie Hale, and had R sounds switched for Ws. For example, “Cause for celebration at a pachyderm sanctuary?” led to AN ELEPHANT IN THE WOMB.
And one of my favorite clues that always stands out for me was in a themeless puzzle by Matthew Stock—“Ground shaking stuff?” was the clue for PEPPER. So clever!
4. How did you end up as Patti Varol’s assistant editor for The LA Times? And what’s next for Christina Iverson?
I have been submitting puzzles to the Crosswords Club and Daily POP for a while, so Patti was familiar with me and my work. In February, I had made a puzzle for the Boswords Winter Wondersolve, an online crossword competition. The constructors were all interviewed over Zoom, and Patti was watching. I mentioned in the interview that I’d love to be doing crossword things full time some day. About two minutes later, I had an email in my inbox from her about a potential job opportunity. Rich Norris was retiring in March, and she was looking for an assistant once she took over as editor for The LA Times. I enthusiastically said yes, and I’m so glad I did! I think we work together well and make a great team.
I really like what I’m doing right now, and don’t see any big changes coming up on the horizon. I do hope that I’ll have more time for constructing once my son starts school in the fall, as right now I’m mostly just constructing on the weekend, and doing LA Times work during the week.
5. If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring constructors, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?
You do you, and don’t let other people dictate what the right way is to solve puzzles. Puzzles are all about challenging yourself in a fun way. If it’s more pleasant for you to solve with a thesaurus and Wikipedia, then do that. If you enjoy speed solving, have fun that way.
And for new solvers and new constructors both, remember that no one is amazing the first time they do something, and that it takes time and practice, but you can have fun the whole time.
Christina’s work can often be found in the Daily POP Crosswords app! Download now and keep an eye out for her name, and enjoy our other contributors’ puzzles while you’re there. You can find delightful deals on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search!
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White Collar begins with an escape. Not from an escape room—the stakes are much higher; I’m talking about a prison break. Art thief, bond forger, and all-around con artist Neal Caffrey (played by Matt Bomer) has devised a plan to escape from his super-maximum security correctional facility. He changes his appearance rapidly by shaving, slicking his hair back, and donning a prison guard uniform stashed in a staff bathroom toilet tank. Accompanied by jaunty music, he strolls unrecognized past guards and fellow inmates. When he slides a key card through a gate’s reader, the light turns green. He’s free.
Four hours after Neal has disappeared into Manhattan, Peter Burke (Tim DeKay), the FBI agent who first arrested Neal, is called, and begins to interrogate the warden and marshals about the details of Neal’s escape on the way to Neal’s cell. Where did Neal get the guard uniform? Online uniform supply company. Where’d he get the credit card to buy the uniform? It belonged to the warden’s wife.
Neal’s cell is heavily decorated—with sketches, hash marks, poetry magnets. Where’d Neal get the key card for the gate? “We’re thinking he restriped a utility card using the record head on that,” the Warden says, nodding at the tape player. Peter examines the tape player, the wall decorations, the books and brochures on Neal’s bed. From all of the accumulated detritus of Neal’s imprisoned life, Peter begins to piece together where Neal would go and why. Neal’s escape was low on puzzles compared to an escape room, but the real puzzle comes now for Peter. Peter is an expert puzzler—his house is full of New York Puzzlethon trophies.
The solution is anticlimactic. Peter finds Neal on the floor of Neal’s ex-girlfriend’s emptied apartment, moping over her absence. Neal makes no further attempt to flee, but does make an opening gambit in the long game of securing his freedom; he asks Peter to meet with him back in prison if he can provide crucial intel on the elusive criminal Peter’s been chasing. What would have been four years in prison for running becomes four years released into Peter’s custody as an FBI consultant. With a GPS tracking device around his ankle, Neal walks into the sunlight once again. Thus, the show’s premise is established: Peter and Neal, FBI agent and con artist, taking down white collar crime together while going endlessly back and forth on whether they can trust one another.
Though it has its moments of suspenseful intrigue and poignant drama, White Collar is more lighthearted than many crime procedurals. The mood is kept buoyant partially by Neal’s charm, and by the chemistry between the leads (including Tiffani Thiessen as Elizabeth Burke—Peter’s wife—and Marsha Thomason and Sharif Atkins as Peter’s fellow FBI agents). Beyond that, however, there is an infectious playfulness woven into the screenwriters’ approach to storytelling. Whether the characters are planning heists or solving crimes, it feels like the show is presenting us with a game.
One episode draws out this undercurrent of playfulness, as Peter and Neal are literally presented with a game. The season three episode “Where There’s a Will” centers around a dispute over a $40 million inheritance. Brothers James (Danny Masterson) and Josh Roland (Christopher Masterson) each have a supposed copy of their father’s will, one with a relatively equitable distribution of funds, and one saying that James gets everything. Neal, as an expert forger, has been called in by the bureau to authenticate the wills.
Neal, noticing that the same person is responsible for all of the signatures on both wills, determines that both are forged, but it gets weirder. Handwriting analysis concludes that the deceased himself forged all of the signatures on his own wills. Weirder still, the witness names are anagrams of one another. Peter and Neal get to work puzzling out what other names might be hidden in those letters, and come to the same conclusion: Tycho Brahe, a 16th century Danish astronomer.
Then comes the biggest surprise thus far. Holding the stacked wills up to the sunlight, Neal realizes that, when overlaid, the wills include a drawing that resolves into what look like streets and a compass rose. “This isn’t a message,” Neal says. “This is a map.” The Roland sons have a slightly different take, recognizing the “compass rose” as actually “the sundial in La Monde Garden” (a fictitious location). The sons go on to imply that treasure hunts are an activity their dad once engaged in often, but neither seems interested, even when Neal posits that the real will is likely at the end of the hunt.
Peter is happy to return the wills to evidence. Neal, however, is still intrigued, trying his hardest to entice Peter into joining him at the sundial. Peter won’t bite, so Neal meets up at La Monde Garden with his criminal accomplice and best friend, Mozzie (Willie Garson). They notice faint numbers along the bottom of the wills’ pages, probable times, but those times on the sundial don’t seem to point to anything. Alternatively, they theorize that maybe something will happen when the sun hits 4:30—four hours from now.
Neal texts Peter, who’s at home with Elizabeth, for help, and Peter and Elizabeth dive into the puzzling readily. When Peter spots a little drawing of a tulip next to the times, Elizabeth supplies that tulips stand for spring and rebirth, and Peter’s inspiration is sparked. It isn’t spring now, but with the use of a sextant and a couple of mirrors, they can recreate the shadow that the angle of the springtime sun would cast at 4:30. Each of the times, in fact, have a different seasonal symbol associated with them.
Elizabeth and Peter join Peter and Mozzie to create the necessary shadows. Each shadow they cast points to a different letter on the sundial, spelling out “BSH,” an acronym that means nothing to any of them. Their stumped wondering is interrupted by a call with a startling revelation; James Roland’s young daughter has been kidnapped, and the kidnapper demands $6.4 million. This is enough motivation for Josh Roland to get involved in the treasure hunt, since the real will should give him the ability to pay his niece’s ransom. He knows what “BSH” stands for: Big Sky Hunting, what his dad always called going to the planetarium. Peter and Neal are off to their next destination.
I’ll refrain from spoiling the second half of the episode, but rest assured, even as the mood should have darkened with the girl’s kidnapping, an undampened spirit of playfulness remains threaded throughout. We’re back in the realm of the high-stakes escape room. Now, though, rather than orchestrating his own escape, Neal is playing a game for someone else’s freedom. Rather than scheming by himself, he’s relying on a gaggle of allies to help him each step of the way. The show may have started with Neal and Peter each as independent figures facing off against one another, but as I said, that form of game-play only leads to anticlimactic reveals. Real satisfying drama, in the world of White Collar, comes from games played together, absent self-reliance and self-interest.
With the GPS tracker around his ankle, Neal might not be as free as he was the moment he first stepped out of prison in the pilot. With friends on his side, however he’s much better equipped to mastermind a real escape. A real win.
Elementary stays faithful to Arthur Conan Doyle’s depiction of his protagonist as a drug user, opening with Sherlock escaping early from rehab, only to find Joan waiting for him, as she was hired by his father to help him stay sober. His struggles with addiction, time in 12-step meetings, and relationships with other addicts remain mainstays of the series throughout all seven seasons. The work that Sherlock performs, using his deductive reasoning skills for the police, is considered by both him and Joan to be an integral part of his recovery process. Crime-solving keeps his mind busy, giving him constant puzzles to solve.
At its heart, this is a show about solving puzzles. Sherlock’s job is putting together murder motives and methods; his hobbies are picking locks and stockpiling trivia. He gazes at the world as though it is one big jigsaw puzzle and everything needs to be placed just so to make sense. All the pieces are there; you just need to know how to look at them correctly. One episode even hinges on a love of crosswords.
Season one, episode eight, “The Long Fuse,” depicts a bomb going off in the vent of a web design firm’s office. When Sherlock and Joan are called to consult, they discover that the bomb was built four years prior to detonation. The episode is set in 2012, but the logo on the bomb’s battery is from October 2008, as are the newspaper pieces that were stuffed inside. Pieced together, the newspaper shows a Barack Obama who was still only a senator. The man who detonated the bomb did so by mistake: intending to order a sandwich, he called the detonating pager instead of the deli.
Meanwhile, the specter of Sherlock’s addiction reappears. He goes to investigate the company that rented the bombed office four years prior, rifling through the threatening letters they’ve received from ecoterrorists. The company’s head, Heather Vanowen—played by House’s Lisa Edelstein—walks in on Sherlock’s research and says that she recognizes him as a fellow addict. The moment is tense, until she clarifies, “Crosswords.” She used to have her habit under control, but ever since The New York Times put their archives online, she can’t get enough.
This confession is her undoing. Sherlock didn’t just discover the October 2008 date on the newspaper; he also found the imprints of someone writing on a page above—the word NOVOCAINE, which happened to be the answer to the clue “Pain’s enemy” in that day’s crossword. NOVOCAINE serves as a sufficient sample of the perpetrator’s handwriting; all it takes is asking Heather to fill out a few forms, and presto! Her handwriting can be matched to the crossword, clearly identifying her as the bomb’s builder.
The episode comes to an end with Sherlock’s new 12-step sponsor, Alfredo (Ato Essandoh) pulling up to Sherlock and Joan’s brownstone with a shiny new car. A former carjacker and current security consultant, he’s been tasked with trying to break into the car’s security system. Knowing Sherlock’s love of puzzles, he figured he would first let Sherlock take a crack at it.
Earlier in the episode, Alfredo explained the key to being Sherlock’s sponsor: patience. He needs someone to be patient and methodical, the way anyone solving a puzzle must be. As I said, puzzles are the heart of the show, not just in the sense that they’re at its core, but that they permeate the emotional aspects as well. In the world of Elementary, one must be patient and methodical to solve a murder, to solve a crossword, to break into a car’s security system, and to grow and heal.
To think, a prison sentence could have been avoided had Heather simply stuck to solving digital crosswords like Daily POP’s. No ink-stained muss, no legal fuss, no trace of handwriting or physical evidence left lying around in an office vent, waiting to explode.