The ACPT Returns This Weekend!

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The 42nd edition of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is this weekend!

Puzzlers from all over are sharpening their pencils and their wits as they gear up for what is affectionately known as the Nerd Olympics, and we here at PuzzleNation wish all of the competitors the best of luck!

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Here’s hoping Puzzle #5 isn’t as diabolical as it has been in previous years!

There is a topnotch lineup of constructors to challenge this year’s competitors. Not only do we have Patrick Berry and Mike Shenk — perennial contributors to the tournament — but there will also be puzzles from ACPT stalwarts like Lynn Lempel and Joel Fagliano, as well as tournament puzzle debuts for Evan Birnholz, Robyn Weintraub, Jeff Stillman, and Kathy Wienberg! I can’t wait to see what they’ve concocted for this year’s tournament!

Good luck to everyone competing! And hey, if you need a pencil sharpener — or you’d like some terrific puzzly merch, contests, and a few freebies — we’ll be hanging out with our pals at the Penny Dell Puzzles table again this year! Be sure to stop by!


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A New Twist on a Classic Twisty Puzzle?

The Rubik’s Cube is an instantly recognizable icon of the puzzle industry. That simple pattern of colors on a 3×3 grid, the twisty turny puzzly challenge… it’s unmistakable.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped Rubik’s Cube devotees and puzzle designers from experimenting with new variations on this iconic idea. Just in the last few years, we’ve seen everything from a solvable Google Doodle to a smartphone-enabled solving tool, from self-solving cubes to 3D-printed designs from superfans. Heck, we’ve seen cubes the size of buildings! (We’ve even seen them animated!)

But we’ve never seen a Rubik’s Cube quite like this.

[Image courtesy of Gearbrain.]

Say hello to the Rubik Tilt, a $25 handheld Rubik-style twisty puzzle that mixes button pressing with rotating, turning, and tilting the device itself in order to manipulate a virtual Rubik’s Cube on its game screen.

The buttons on the back of the controller allow you to select which row or column of the Cube is being shifted by your real world maneuvering.

Now, you may very well be saying, “So what? What does the Rubik Tilt do that you can’t get from playing with an actual Rubik’s Cube?” And that is a very fair question.

And the designers at Super Impulse did think of that; yes, the Rubik Tilt does have one trick up its sleeve that the original Cube does not.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

It’ll offer you hints if you get stuck.

Yes, when the game detects a lapse in solving — such as when you’re stumped about how to proceed next — it offers hints on which rows and columns of the puzzle to focus on. Although the puzzle won’t go as far as walking you through solving a Cube, it does provide a little pushing and prodding to keep you going.

When you factor in that the game also keeps track of your solving time, you have a Rubik’s-solving experience that not only encourages you, but actually teaches you to be better at solving this classic, diabolical brain teaser.

And, like the best puzzles, it rewards determination, rather than doubling down on frustration.

It’s certainly a different take on the Cube we all know, but it remains a worthwhile experiment, a proud new entry in the grand tradition of puzzles that teach us to be better solvers.


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Daedalus, The Original Master of Mazes

[Image courtesy of Lofty Dreams 101.]

Writing about The Maze of Games Kickstarter last week got me thinking about labyrinths and mazes, so naturally, my thoughts turned to the ultimate maze builder: Daedalus.

Stories about Daedalus are inconsistent — his workshop was variously attributed to Crete, Sicily, or Athens, and even when he lived is up for debate — but his reputation as the premiere craftsman of his day is unparalleled.

His most famous creation was the Cretan Labyrinth, an enormous baffling maze with a roof, so there could be no assistance or solving from above. The Minotaur, a hulking creature with the body of a man and the head of a bull, was imprisoned inside it by King Minos.

[Image courtesy of Medium.com.]

It would fall to the Athenian hero Theseus to navigate the Labyrinth and slay the Minotaur in order to stop periodic sacrifices of young men and women from Athens to the monster. Theseus did so thanks to a magic ball of wool given to him by the daughter of King Minos, Ariadne. By tying one end of the wool string to the entrance of the Labyrinth — and following instructions given to him by Ariadne — he would be able to find his way back.

(As it turns out, this technique would also prove useful for solving a riddle later in Daedalus’s life, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.)

Theseus bested the Minotaur in a fierce battle, saving the potential sacrificees and ending Minos’s reign of terror over the Athenian people.

But who gave Ariadne the wool and the instructions on how to navigate the Labyrinth? Daedalus, of course.

For his betrayal, Minos imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in the Labyrinth.

[Image courtesy of Fine Art America.]

We all know this part of the story. Daedalus fashions wings for himself and Icarus, and they fly off to escape. Unfortunately, Icarus ventures too close to the sun, melting the wax holding his wings together, and he plummets into the sea.

Daedalus, heartbroken, continues his flight, eventually finding himself in Camicus, Sicily, a land ruled by King Cocalus. Cocalus welcomed Daedalus and promised him protection from the vengeful King Minos.

During his time serving King Cocalus, Daedalus was credited with creating other, less famous wonders, like a perfect honeycomb made of gold, and self-moving “living” statues, and a fortified citadel for Cocalus that was so well designed, three or four men could hold off an invading army.

Naturally, King Minos was still hunting the fugitive inventor, and he devised a puzzly scheme to expose Daedalus wherever he was hiding.

[Image courtesy of Baburek.]

As he traveled around pursuing Daedalus, Minos would bring a large spiral seashell with him, challenging any clever people he encountered to thread a string through its many interconnected chambers. If they could do so, he would pay them a hefty reward.

Hmmm… threading a string though a convoluted maze of chambers. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Minos’s travels brought him to Sicily, and King Cocalus wanted that reward money, so he brought the seashell to Daedalus in secret.

Daedalus drilled a small hole at the top of the shell, and placed a drop of honey at the mouth of the shell. He then glued a thread to an ant and placed it in the hole. As the ant explored the interior of the seashell, hunting for that tempting drop of honey at the end of the maze — like cheese to a lab rat — it towed the string through the shell. Eventually, the little ant completed the task, and Cocalus returned the solved puzzle to Minos.

Naturally, Minos demanded that Cocalus turn over Daedalus — the only person who could’ve possibly solved the seashell puzzle — and Cocalus agreed.

Of course, Cocalus instead had his daughters murder Minos in a hot spring instead. As you do, when you’ve been denied the puzzly prize money you were promised.

So, if you’re ever confronted with a maze — of corn, of wood, or lurking inside a book — make sure you’ve got a ball of yarn or wool with you. And possibly an ant as well.


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Crossword Solving Advice, Tournament-Style!

With the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament looming large, newcomers to the tournament and experienced puzzlers alike are trading advice, looking for ways to improve their solving, and gearing up for the latest edition of the Nerd Olympics.

In a similar vein, Lifehacker recently shared a post with advice for how to get better at crosswords. And I thought, with the tournament a little more than a week away, we’d analyze Lifehacker’s suggestions for sharpening your solving game.

1.) Do puzzles every day.

According to article author A.A. Newton, “the only way to improve at crosswords is to do lots of them, and the best way to do that is to work them into your daily routine.” Now, since there is more than one entry in her list, clearly that’s not THE ONLY way to improve.

But this is still valuable advice, especially with the tournament coming up. You see, a fair number of crossword solvers solve them online, either through apps or website interfaces, rather than on paper. But since the tournament puzzles are solved on paper, it’s a good idea to practice the old-fashioned way for a few weeks before the competition, especially if solving time is a priority for you.

2.) Use an app.

Like I said, access to puzzles is a great thing; being able to solve crosswords for all sorts of skill levels at the touch of a button… you can’t beat it. It exposes you to different cluing styles, theme ideas, and all sorts of clever wordplay.

I’d recommend an app that tracks your solving. Several apps like our very own Daily POP Crosswords app track data like your solving times, themes or categories you excel in, and even streaks of days gone without missing a daily puzzle!

3.) Know when — and how — to cheat

Now, this one is a little bit clickbait-y, since it’s only cheating if you look up answers during actual competition. I don’t consider it cheating to admit defeat on a clue you can’t get or a reference you don’t know, and looking it up in order to educate yourself.

Many apps offer hints — either by offering additional letters or entire words that are stumping you — which allows you to continue solving and get past a roadblock in your crossword knowledge.

And if you’re solving a paper puzzle, there are numerous crossword clue sites on the Internet with databases of previously used clues for you to peruse. Not only does this help you with the troublesome clue at hand, but it shows you the different variations of clues you might see for a given entry, which is helpful in the long run.

Of course, you can’t actually do this sort of thing at the ACPT. (Though you can utilize “Google tickets” at other tournament events like Lollapuzzoola, where instructors will silently provide an answer for you so you can keep solving.)

4.) Study up

There are all sorts of crossword resources out there. The article namedrops a few, like Rex Parker’s blog, XWordInfo, and several online guides to crosswordese.

I would also recommend Wordplay, the companion blog to The New York Times crossword. Not only does Deb Amlen break down each day’s puzzles, but there are articles collecting words that will help you become a better solver. Musical terms, authors, plants, opera terms, French rivers, characters from Greek mythology… the whole series is packed with common crosswordese and little obscurities that crossword solvers have come to know and, if not love, then at least tolerate.

But there is other tournament-specific advice I would offer:

  • Have pencils and erasers handy. Maybe a sharpener as well, though there are a few scattered around the competition space. (And we always have one available for use at the Penny Dell / PuzzleNation table in the marketplace!)
  • Bring a clipboard or other writing surface, since the solving space is often tableclothed, which can interact poorly with sharp pencils and paper puzzles.
  • Talk to fellow puzzlers. There’s nothing better than the experience of other solvers, many of whom are also constructors or tournament regulars.
  • Everyone approaches the actual solving process differently. Some people scan the clues for fill-in-the-blank clues or people’s names and fill those in first. Others read through the clues sequentially and fill in what they can. Some solvers even try to solve using only the Down clues, and then double-check their solve with the Across clues. My advice is to try different techniques and see what works best for you.

Whether it’s your first time attending a tournament or you’ve got a few seasons under your belt, there are always new tricks to learn and new techniques to try out.

Do you have any solving advice we missed? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!


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The Maze of Games Returns to Kickstarter With Some Epic New Twists!

Less than a month ago, we wrote a blog post about The Maze of Games, an interactive puzzle novel first published in 2014, designed by Mike Selinker of Lone Shark Games.

After four years, an intrepid team of puzzlers had finally conquered all five labyrinths in the story and freed the Quaice siblings from the clutches of the diabolical Gatekeeper and his many puzzly challenges.

Naturally, some assumed that the adventure was over.

But not yet, my friends.

Today, Mike and the team at Lone Shark Games are launching a Kickstarter campaign to expand the universe of The Maze of Games like never before!

And in honor of Pi Day, they’re launching it at 3/14, 1:59 PM Eastern!

For the first time, in one collection, you can collect the entire world of The Maze of Games, plus some brand-new features!

In addition to The Maze of Games book (hardcover, PDF, and audiobook), The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze (softcover and PDF), a new updated version of The Maze Map poster, The Maze of Games Soundtrack, AND the EP Songs in the Key of Maze, you can add:

  • a new audiobook version of The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze
  • a new audio puzzle suite, The Gatekeeper’s Variety Hour
  • a new answer guide, The Keymaster’s Tome, written by The Maze of Games characters Samuel and Colleen Quaice (PDF or softcover)

It’s the most complete version of The Maze of Games ever offered: The Maze of Games Omnibus.

And yet, there’s still more.

You can now experience The Maze of Games in an immersive new way: in one of the Gatekeeper’s escape rooms in Seattle!

Yes, as we first reported back in September 2017, A Curiouser Heart, the first of four escape rooms designed in the world of The Maze of Games, is now open and awaiting the bravest and puzzliest minds, thanks to Epic Team Adventures!

And one of the perks of The Maze of Games Omnibus Kickstarter campaign is a discounted booking for this escape room experience! How cool is that?

But if you can’t get to Seattle, guess what? You’re not excluded from a proper puzzling experience. There’s a Maze of Games challenge awaiting you on the Internet as well.

As part of this Kickstarter campaign, author Mike Selinker and developer Gaby Weidling ventured into The Maze of Games themselves, and now they’re trapped. And only you can save them.

During the campaign, there will be daily puzzles — available through the Kickstarter campaign page, the Lone Shark Games Twitter account and at several puzzly events happening nationwide (including the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament) — and if you solve them all, you can help free Mike and Gaby from The Maze of Games!

That’s right, you can be a puzzly hero from the comfort of your own home!

Check out the Kickstarter campaign page for full details on The Maze of Games Omnibus, the Escape Room for “A Curiouser Heart”, and the ongoing puzzle hunt to save Mike and Gaby!

No matter how you participate, you’re bound to have a marvelous puzzly experience!


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Suggestions from the World of Puzzle Books!

Puzzles come in so many forms these days that puzzlers are absolutely spoiled with choices. There are video games, apps, mechanical puzzles, brain teasers, single- and multi-player puzzle games, subscription services, and puzzles by mail, just for starters.

But sometimes, it’s nice to go back to the simple pleasures of solving while putting pencil (or pen) to paper.

So today, let’s talk about some of the best puzzle books available today for a solver looking to kick back and solve some paper puzzles.

Naturally, let’s start with crosswords. Many top constructors have put out puzzle books with varying degrees of difficulty, and you can pick up most of them for great prices in spots like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Maybe we’re talking something smaller and more accessible, like Matt Gaffney’s Fast & Fun Mini Crosswords, or something with a little more challenge, like Andrew Ries’s Maverick Crosswords. You could start your crossword culinary menu off with the food-themed puzzles of Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords, or enjoy the unthemed puzzles in Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords as a palate cleanser.

Whether we’re talking about the well-constructed crosswords of David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register or the challenging puzzles offered by Peter Gordon’s Wickedly Hard Fireball Crosswords, there’s a puzzle book for every skill level, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar you are with crosswords.

Oh, and for a variation on the theme, you can try Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Octopus Crosswords (where the 8×8 grids allow words to spell out in any of 8 possible directions).

Maybe you enjoy clued puzzles but the criss-crossing of a standard crossword grid isn’t your forte. If that’s the case, crostics (or acrostics) might be more your taste. These clued puzzles reveal quotations, bits of information, or anecdotes of all sorts. And all of the letters in the quote/bonus answer can also be found in the answers to that puzzle’s list of clues.

This allows for some fun back-and-forth solving between the clues and the quotation, in case you get stumped in one spot or the other.

Friend of the blog Cynthia Morris has a fleet of acrostic puzzle books available, with American Acrostics Volume 6: Puzzling American Culture and American Acrostics Volume 7: Puzzling Explorers and Adventurers being among the most recent releases.

Then again, maybe you want to leave clued puzzles behind altogether and simply go hunting for words concealed in a grid. For the word seek/word search fans, a good theme to anchor a puzzle is the key to an enjoyable solving experience.

For the bookworms out there, you can check out Shawn Marie Simmons’s 25 Word Search Puzzles for Classic Literature Lovers. With word lists tailored to different iconic works of literature, you can revisit your favorite reads as you go searching each grid for a bevy of fun and familiar words. (And she has more volumes coming soon!)

Of course, we’ve only just scratched the surface of puzzle books that are available. But whether it’s one of the volumes we’ve mentioned today, the numerous magazines published by our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles, or something bigger and more ambitious like Mike Selinker’s The Maze of Games, you can never go wrong with a good puzzle book.

Can you think of any terrific puzzle books we missed? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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