(F)right This Way: Caption Contest Results!

Long-time readers know that we periodically invite our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers to show off their wordplay skills with puzzly prompts like our recurring hashtag game. We even invite our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles to participate!

A few months ago, we did things a little differently. A member of the Penny Dell crew cooked up an image for us, New Yorker-style, and we challenged our friends and readers to compose the perfect caption for it.

Well, in honor of Halloween, we held another Caption Contest, and this time, there were three images to choose from!

So, without further ado, let’s check out what all these clever folks conjured up!


#1

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“Knew my old American Crossword Puzzle Tournament costumes would come in handy someday!”

“Well if if isn’t Sum-Bob Squarepants and Ed-Word Pencilhands!”

Penny Press version of “The Little Match Girl”: “Now don’t come home until every last PennyDell pencil is sold!”

“Seriously, I can’t believe you found an alternate solve on my outfit without even trying testsolving my puzzle grid outfit first!”

“So what do we have here? Edward Pencilhands and a Boy Named Sue-Doku?”

“You’ve heard of Edward Scissorhands? Well, this is his lesser known third cousin, Bobby Pencil-Fingers!”

“Sorry to tell you kid, but you’re not solvable, no matter how many pencils you use.”

“Nine rows, nine columns, nine boxes, nine pencils, nine TREATS?” Forget it, kid, try your warped Aristotelian logic on the McDermots next door!

So then I said, “If you still can’t guess what I am supposed to be, the solution is on page 130!”


#2

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“Ah, so you’re the thief who’s been stealing toilet paper from the 3rd floor bathroom!”

Chasing down the mystery behind rising paper costs, puzzle publishers are squeezing the Charmin.

“I gotcha, Mr. or Mrs. Toilet Paper Bandit!” I’m so glad they didn’t use banana peels as their get away disguise.”

“Whodunnit solved! You need a pedicure!”

“Not so fast, toilet paper man! I heard that Dell Blockbuster Sudoku just hit the newsstands and there’s no way you’re beating me to it!”

“Next time, you may want to try gauze instead of Toilet Paper!”

“What does The Riddler dress up as on Halloween? A puzzle wrapped in an Enigma, of course!”

“You may be a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but I can still read you like an open book!”

“Hold still, I’m trying to decrypt you!”

“Let me follow you to your Cryptogram!”

“Just wait until your Mummy finds out the Pyramid Words you said!”

“Hold still, the clues are unfolding before me!”


#3

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“After seeing the final ingredient for the soup, Gretel realized very quickly that making friends with the witch was only going to land her in hot water.”

“Eenie-meeni chili-beanie – I think this cauldron needs more pepper.”

“This isn’t like the Alphabet Soup on the Penny Press app at all!”

“The recipe for Alphabet Soup calls for a bay leaf, not eye of newt!”

“Matilda you fool! When I said “Eye of Newt”, I didn’t mean the 50th Speaker of the House!”

“Double, puzzle, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Puzzles appear in a slimy puddle–
Maybe the clue is ‘Barney Rubble’.”

“This isn’t how you find the Missing Vowels for the curse; I’ll look it up on the Penny Dell website on my iPhone!”

“I can’t ever remember what goes into this Alphabet Soup!”

“It keeps saying to start the Alphabet Soup with ‘Conjecture’ but I don’t understand where they are getting the E,C and T from!” the short witch exclaimed, as she read the directions aloud.


RECIPE TIME: WIZARD WORD STEW

In a large cauldron pour in ALPHABET SOUP, BITS AND PIECES of a SPIDER’S WEB, Lizard HEAD & TAILS, and a dash of HOCUS POCUS. Recite CODEWORDS until stew boils and BUBBLES and then serve with CRACKERS.


Have you come up with any fun captions for these images? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

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Wendy’s Viral Marketing Victory (with a side of French fries)

Some of my all-time favorite puzzling experiences have been part of roleplaying games, so it warms my heart to see more and more people discovering Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop RPGs. Not only are they a wonderful way to connect with friends and tell stories, but they inspire me to create new and innovative puzzles.

Both the Netflix series Stranger Things and the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory have helped bring roleplaying games to greater mainstream attention (as shows like Community and Freaks and Geeks did in the past), and now, even fast food chains are getting in on the pencil, paper, and dice-loaded pastime.

Yes, Wendy’s has created its own roleplaying game.

Feast of Legends is a self-contained roleplaying adventure that is both staggeringly detailed and shamelessly self-promotional. This NINETY-SEVEN page downloadable PDF contains the rules for building your character, equipment, rules, setting details, and different character classes (like the Order of the Frosty or the Order of the Spicy Chicken Sandwich), each with their own bonus abilities.

It’s actually a terrific introduction to roleplaying games as a whole, discussing concepts like how many actions you can take on a given turn, how combat works, and which dice to use.

They even created an online dice roller for you to use if you don’t own roleplaying dice!

(For RPG aficionados, the system is reminiscent of both D&D’s fourth and fifth edition rulesets, though not nearly as involved, obviously.)

Once you’ve created your character — an easy task, given the streamlined (but effective) character creation instructions in the first half of the handbook — there’s an entire campaign included to play through!

Yes, a five-part adventure awaits players willing to explore Freshtovia, battle the evildoers who seek to force frozen beef on people across the land, from Costa del Spicy to Roast Beach, from The Box to Biggie Vale.

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Oh, you were curious about the shameless self-promotion? Trust me, we’re getting to that.

It starts with the setting — the mythical land of Freshtovia, in the realm of Beef’s Keep, where Queen Wendy requires your help to battle the monstrous threat of frozen beef. You can arm yourself with various implements (the spork caught my eye) as you prepare to do battle with the Ice Jester (a thinly veiled take on Ronald McDonald) and his minions, including violent versions of the Hamburglar (aka the Beef Bandit) and the Fry Guys.

Not only that, but there are rules regarding the bonuses you get for eating Wendy’s food while you play (as well as minuses for any characters eating from a different fast food chain during the game).

It’s seeded throughout the game, and on the website as well. On the page explaining how RPGs work, readers will find this text:

Beef’s Keep is a wide open world waiting for you to explore it. Make the world your own, expand your adventure, and most importantly, buy Wendy’s. Wait, we meant to say have fun. Also, buy Wendy’s.

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As a writer and a content creator, I was a little disappointed to see that this voluminous and impressive PDF was lacking in one crucial detail: credits for all the hard work that must’ve gone into it.

Yes, there is a brief credit near the end — illustrations by Alex Lopez, maps by Collin Fogel — and a few signatures and identifying marks hidden in some of the art, but what about the writing? What about the well-crafted adventure? What of all the puns?!

I really had to go hunting in order to track down who exactly deserves the kudos for this engagingly ridiculous endeavor. The credit belongs to the company VMLY&R and their Wendy’s team, including @TonyMarin and @SmugKeck.

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Designed to launch in time for New York Comic-Con — coinciding with a play-through on the popular webseries/podcast Critical Role — Feast of Legends seems like a rousing viral success.

Yes, there is naturally some pushback on the Internet — some for campaign donations made by the CEO of Wendy’s, some for how Wendy’s employees are treated — and some directed at the RPG itself, viewing it as a thinly-veiled propaganda tool (or an anti-union screed designed to brainwash the puny minds of roleplayers).

Politics and social issues aside, I’m calling this project a win. People that have never played a roleplaying game before have asked me about it, and roleplaying games in general are in the news because of this. If this brings more people into one of my favorite activities and opens up a new world of puzzles and games for them, then I thank Wendy’s for making that possible.

And yes, we’re probably going to end up playing this at the office at some point.


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PN Video Game Review: Untitled Goose Game

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[Image courtesy of USG.]

A game review? We know, it’s been a long time. Yes, we often discuss the puzzly aspects of video games both new and old, but it’s rare that we review them.

Thankfully, friend of the blog Jennifer Cunningham — puzzler, artist, musicologist, and former Tabletop Tournament Champion — offered to step up and review a puzzle game as clever as it is subversive, one that’s already made quite an impression across social media.

So, without further ado, let’s turn things over to Jen for her take on Untitled Goose Game.


On September 23rd, 2019, a new video game release took the Internet by storm.

Untitled Goose Game, an independent stealth and puzzle game from House House, has a straightforward description: It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose.

That’s it. That’s the tagline. And yet it has already won the hearts (and memes) of many.

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[Image courtesy of Polygon.]

Yes, players take on the role of a rogue goose, being mischievous and causing mayhem in a quiet English village. The objective of the game is to complete a series of tasks to advance to the next area of the town. Players are given very simple abilities as the goose: you can waddle and run, you can grab and pick up items with your beak, you can honk, you can duck (pun not intended), and you can flap your wings.

With these skills, players must determine how to complete their “To Do List” tasks, while avoiding being thwarted or chased away by the village’s (perhaps justifiably) irate citizens. Such tasks include “get into the garden,” “break the broom,” and “be awarded a flower.”

Unlike many video games, there are no hints given to players such as flashing or highlighted items, arrows, dialog, etc., so players must experiment and problem-solve in order to accomplish the vaguely-described tasks.

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[Image courtesy of Goose Game.]

Since there is no life system and no time limits, players are free to explore the world and see what sticks. Sneaking around, hiding objects, and sometimes deliberately calling attention to your goose-self are required to succeed. It is completely up to the player to figure out how to approach each endeavor. Additionally, players will discover some hidden tasks as they experiment and try to solve each task’s unique puzzle.

Untitled Goose Game is fun, farcical, and highly entertaining. It will make you think, laugh, and almost wish you were a rebellious goose yourself. But a word of warning: it is a relatively quick game. Players can easily win the entire game in just a few hours.

While there are bonus tasks that open up after winning, there isn’t must incentive to replay the game over and over unless you’re determined to beat your own personal timed record. We can only hope that the developers come up with a sequel or expanded gameplay in the future.

Untitled Goose Game is available for digital purchase in the Nintendo Switch Store and for PC/Mac at Epic Games.

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[Image courtesy of EuroGame.net.]

Ratings for Untitled Goose Game:

  • Enjoyability: 4/5 — This game provides a high level of entertainment despite the limited world. You truly feel as one with the goose. The varying difficulty of tasks is well balanced to allow players of all puzzle-solving abilities to accomplish the game’s objectives.
  • Puzzle incorporation: 4/5 — Completing tasks requires the player to determine how to use your basic goose skills to achieve them with no clear directive on how to accomplish them. Prepare for a lot of trial-and-error. It is truly a problem-solving puzzle game.
  • Graphics: 3/5 — Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is an indie game so the graphics are not on par with most PC/Switch video games or franchises. The graphics are somewhat flat, similar to paper cutouts. But at the same time, that is part of the game’s charm (much like its non-title title) and detail is certainly not lacking. The colors are muted but calming, the world is crisp and clean, and movement is smooth.
  • Gameplay: 4/5 — The drive to sow a little chaos lives within all of us, and this game lets us play out that devious urge in perhaps the most innocent way while challenging players with puzzly goodness. If you’re going to cause trouble, might as well be a cute goose just doing its goose thing. The satisfaction that comes with completing a task is extremely gratifying, as is the sandbox-esque freedom of being able to cause mayhem for no honkin’ reason at all.

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A Puzzle Zoo Created By You!

As you know, from time to time we host puzzly contests. Oftentimes, those contests involve not only our in-house personnel (as well as our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles), but the marvelous PuzzleNation community as well.

This time around, we challenged our fellow puzzlers to come up with animals and attractions for a Puzzly Zoo. The entries had to involve puzzles featured either by Penny/Dell Puzzles or PuzzleNation, and we thought we’d collect all of the entries here for everyone’s enjoyment!

And we ended up with a menagerie of different submissions, including carnival barker-esque promotional announcements, animals, drawings, and even a poem! (Good thing it’s not a petting zoo, people would be cutting themselves on the razor-sharp wit around here!)

Shall we see what zoo-rific delights our fellow puzzlers cooked up for us? Let’s go!


“Welcome and thanks for Dropping-In! Today, I’ll be your Grand Tour guide as we Explore-A-World full of excitement around the Penny Publications Zoo!

The list of activities includes a visit to the Accordion Worms farm, a sneak peak at the North & South polar bear exhibit, and taking an unforgettable trip to the Crackerjack-rabbits den.

To finish up, we’ll have just enough of a Timed Frame to stop at the aquarium and see the Starfish and Arrow show. Be sure to take many Pictures of This wonderful Place & Please give us a Thumbs Up no matter Which Way you Pair Off! We hope you have a Lion’s Share-A-Fun!”

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[It’s a Don-keyword!]

Take a Grand Tour of our Crypto-Zoo!

Bull’s-Eye Spirals!
Cat-egories!
Fiddler’s Crab Frames!
Cracker-jackals!
Beaver Words!
Piggybacks!
Kakura-burras!

Watch as they Pair off Two by Two on All Fours.
Feed them Animal Crackers, just watch where you Two-Step.
(And don’t eat the yellow snow!)

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Other attractions!

Adder One

Diamond Mine-A-Taurus

Diamond Rings-Tailed Lemur

Platypuz

Around the Block Ness Monster

Jig(saw)foot

Mongolian Bookworm

Sudokupacabra

Word Mathman (like the Mothman, but better with numbers)

And a more detailed look at the rare and mysterious threyakros:

The threyakros is an elusive creature, found only within the borders of the PuzzleNation. It can only be viewed once all other animals living within its habitat have been discovered as its camouflage derives from copying the physical attributes of animals around it.

Because of its unique camouflage, no one knows what a threyakros actually looks like, and any renderings of its likeness on paper have resulted in completely contrary results; additionally, attempts to sketch a threyakros solely in ink are seen as risky and pretentious.

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At Penny we don’t have an ordinary zoo.
The creatures featured here are quite an unusual crew.
We’ve got animal CRACKERS walking ’round on ALL FOURS.
In our TIME MACHINE you can observe dinosaurs.

Here’s your ONE & ONLY chance to see PAIRS IN RHYME.
There are hogs & dogs, cats & bats. Stop on by at lunchtime.
They’re fed only the best – fresh green LUCKY CLOVER.
You may get to try some if there’s any left over.

Our resident magician is an amazing baboon.
He creates his own sculptures from colorful balloons.
Trained by Tony Spero, he’s got talent to spare.
His lovely assistant is HOCUS POCUS the hare.

Come visit the exhibit we call HEADS AND TAILS.
See our two-headed double-tailed whale with gold scales.
PICTURE THIS: A most lovely day spent with us.
So order your tickets and hop on the bus!

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What do you think of the submissions, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Do you have a favorite? Or a suggestion of your own?

Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!


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How Dungeons & Dragons Brings Us Together

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One of my favorite things about puzzles and games is the way they bring people together. It could be gathering around a table for a session of Dungeons & Dragons, enlisting a friend in unraveling a tricky crossword clue, or swapping jigsaws with a fellow enthusiast to share the wealth.

Recently, a story about Dungeons & Dragons went viral, but if you haven’t seen it, I’ll happily summarize.


A Twitter user named Antoine H. delivered his grandmother’s eulogy after her sad passing, but wasn’t able to devote the time he wanted to one important aspect of her life, so he took to Twitter later to do so.

At 75 years old, in the last year of her life, she started playing D&D at his suggestion.

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Her first character? A male forest gnome named Terminatur (a combination of “termite” and “nature”).

She helped her fellow players cleanse a haunted house, then made it a home, including inventing a new fruit that became quite popular. (It led to membership in an interplanar ecology organization, The Circle of the Green Hand.)

She even gave the adventuring party its name: “les Bijoutiers Fantaisistes,” the Fanciful Jewelers.

Although her cancer treatment would limit her opportunities to play regularly, she still kept on with the campaign whenever possible, adding delightful new wrinkles to her character.

Her last words to him? “Never change, never lose your family spirit, and keep on playing Dungeons & Dragons.”


As a longtime D&D player, I love this story. Because, as much fun as it is to play the game, it’s the connections you forge DURING play that mean the most. In fact, my favorite roleplaying game memory isn’t from an actual play session.

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It’s from a lazy afternoon hanging out with some of my players, just listening as they shared stories about their favorite moments from the game. (Since each of them had individual adventures, in addition to group adventures, they got to share stories the others hadn’t experienced.) Their reenactments were a pleasure to watch, knowing I had helped craft adventures that they enjoyed so much, they wanted to share them with others.

Getting to tell stories with my friends is an incredible gift, and I can only imagine how much joy it brought both Antoine and his grandmother to find this lovely, unexpected common ground.

You can (and should) click here to read the entire Twitter thread. It’s wonderful.

Also, please share your own stories of how games, puzzles, and RPGs have improved your life and friendships. I’d love to hear them.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Mystic Market

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[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

If you’re familiar with ThinkFun and their challenging and clever logic puzzle games, you know that most of them are one-player endeavors designed to pit the player against the game itself, playing repeatedly with increasing levels of complexity added as the Challenge Cards toss new twists and turns your way.

It is a formula that has worked well for them in the past, and yet, it’s one that they’ve completely put aside with their newest offering, Mystic Market.

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Rather than focusing on deduction in some form — through completing tasks, paths, or circuits — Mystic Market requires players to react to both their opponents’ actions and the ever-shifting demands of the game moment-by-moment in order to achieve victory. You see, players at the Mystic Market are competing to earn the most money. But how do you do that?

By buying and selling magical ingredients, as well as the potions you can make from those magical ingredients, of course.

To start, players receive four ingredient cards and five one-point coins. They then take turns interacting with the communal Ingredient Market and Potion Market, where they can buy, sell, or swap ingredients, as well as craft or play potions.

Each potion you craft and play not only brings in a profit, but it also allows you to take actions that affect the game (even when it’s not your turn).

But here’s where things get much trickier. The cost of ingredients (when purchasing them) and the value of ingredients (when selling them) changes throughout the game.

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Say hello to the Value Track. This inclined plane contains samples of all six ingredients in the game, representing their current value on the market from least expensive to most expensive. (The numbers represent the value of ingredients when sold as a set, while the dots indicate the cost of ingredients.)

The value of ingredients can be altered in two ways: by player actions or by random supply shifts.

When a player sells ingredients — either as single cards or complete sets — they move the colored vial representing that ingredient to the top of the Value Track, lowering its current value (because there’s now more of that ingredient on the market, so the price comes down). The other vials shift as a result of this action, and any vials that were previously cheaper increase in value due to relative rarity in the market.

This mechanic not only brings an element of randomness to the game (because prices aren’t static, as they are in many other games), but it also introduces a deeper level of strategy and opportunism to the gameplay as well.

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Because you can purposely affect the market, either inflating or deflating the value of ingredients through your purchasing and sales, you can create new chances for investment or spoil the attempted investments of your fellow players if you see them stockpiling certain ingredients.

You also have to keep a close eye on the Value Track, because you want to spend as little as possible when buying, and then strike while the iron is hot and sell when your ingredients are worth more.

There are a plethora of resource management games out there, with tons of mechanics for buying, selling, and swapping resources between players or with some sort of market or bank, but I can’t think of another game that simulates an ever-changing spectrum of prices and values for those resources as simply or as elegantly as Mystic Market does.

So, really, you have to play two games in one. You’re not just an alchemist working to create magical potions from otherworldly ingredients like phoenix feathers or mermaid tears; you’re also a savvy entrepreneur looking to corner the market on the ingredients you need and make a tidy profit from your investments.

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It’s certainly a lot to manage, and it took a handful of playthroughs before I really felt like I had a good handle on balancing all of the game’s elements. But with each successive round of play, I understood and enjoyed the experience more than the previous game. Because as you get better at taking advantage of the Value Track, so do your opponents. Each game becomes the magical equivalent of an arms race as you try to build your fortunes and make the most of a dwindling supply of resources.

This isn’t the sort of game I’d expect from ThinkFun — competitive gameplay isn’t really their style — but that only made Mystic Market a delightfully surprising treat that still ably represents their core values: teaching through play. This time around, they manage to make business, investments, and the stock market all integral parts of a terrific gaming experience.

[Mystic Market is available from ThinkFun and other participating retailers.]


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