The Monster Mash-Up: Punny Costume Ideas!

Long-time readers know that we often host in-house wordplay contests. Not only do we invite our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles to participate, but our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers as well!

This month, the challenge was to create a punny costume for a wordplay-fueled Halloween party!

Participants could use famous phrases, quotes, celebrities, characters, and anything else they could think of, just so long as there was a punny element to the inevitable costume!

With both text and art submitted, let’s check out what these clever puzzly minds came up with!


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An enigmatic talk/game-show host… Rebus Fill-In

Just carry around pictures of Miss Kapowski, Miss Bundy, Dancer Gene, and Singers Clarkson and Rowland, then tear them up… Kelly Ripa

Someone all dolled up in a fabulous evening gown and hair stacked up high, but also wearing a flannel shirt, toting an axe, and covered in a bushy beard… RuPaul Bunyan

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A man in a sharp suit, dyed entirely pink, smoking a pipe and asking about your mother… Pink Freud

Someone in a striped shirt and beret, wielding a sledgehammer in one hand and a plate of thin pancakes in the other… The Crepes of Wrath

Kim Kardashian riding a broomstick… a Flying Buttress

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Slutty Sandy (from “Grease”) with Freddy Krueger hands and a Santa cap… Sandy Claws

A peanut butter cup carrying a ladle… Reese Witherspoon

A Great White shark dressed in a cereal box… The Jaws of Life

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An impaled Italian Stallion dressed in his boxing outfit and gloves, accompanied by someone dressed as a Boston Red Sox player… Rocky Horror Pitcher Show

A plaid bowtie and cummerbund with a black pork pie hat, black sunglasses, and a goatee… Breaking Brad Majors

(Here’s one for a family!) Mom, Dad and kids all dressed like Freddy Krueger or Edward Scissorhands… The Blady Bunch

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Picture it: A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…

A man with a Chuck Norris beard, scowl and cowboy hat, wearing a short trench over a black Jedi knight outfit looms in the doorway of a smuggler’s cantina. He slowly pushes back his coat with a robotic hand revealing his holstered sidearm and drops his lightsaber from his sleeve into his other hand…

Luke SkyWALKER, Galactic Ranger

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One of our contributors even created a delightful puzzly rebus for you to unravel! Can you identify this Halloween icon from the clues provided?

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Do you have any punny costume ideas? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!


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PuzzleNation Product Review: 13 Monsters

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It’s nearly Halloween, and monsters are a seminal part of the season’s festivities.

Maybe you’re hunting them alongside Buffy, the Winchester brothers, or agents Mulder and Scully. Maybe you’re trying to survive them, like any number of nubile teens at parties, secluded cabins, lakeside retreats, or after hours at the school.

Or maybe, you’re making them.

There’s a grand tradition in pop culture of monster-making, from Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Moreau to Rita Repulsa and Mr. Sinister.

And who hasn’t wanted to make their own monster at one time or another?

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Well, you get your chance in 13 Monsters, a cutesy-spooky build-’em-and-fight-’em game with a load of skill and a little luck required.

13 Monsters combines the attentiveness of Memory, the dice-rolling skills of Yahtzee or Tenzi, and the tactical timing of Bears Vs. Babies or Fluxx to create an enjoyable gameplay experience that’s more fraught with tension than you might expect from a game featuring such heartwarming big-eyed monsters.

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And while we’re on the subject, the art for these thirteen monsters is out of this world. The creatures are visually striking, gorgeously rendered onto the tile pieces, and so vivid that they practically pop out into 3-D.

Each has a distinct flavor, adding horns, fangs, wings, and all sorts of tiny details to hint at the deeper, darker worlds they might inhabit. I cannot say enough good things about the art direction behind this game.

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The game starts with a 9×9 grid of tiles, all face down. The pieces of thirteen different monsters are scattered across this grid, and you must find matching pairs of monster pieces to build your gruesomely adorable fighters. If you flip two tiles and they don’t match, your turn is over.

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Once you locate a pair — the two tiles making up the top of the head, the two tiles making up the eyes, or the two tiles making up the body — you place it in the play area in front of you, and you may draw again. You can keep drawing until you fail to make a match.

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If you have all three sets — no matter if they’re from the same monster or their element symbols match — you combine them to form a full monster.

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Once you have a full monster, you can attack your opponents with the goal of taking one of their matched pairs for yourself. (This is one way to assemble a complete, matching monster.)

Different monster combinations have different powers as well, depending on how many of your sets match. This can grant you the power to swap parts between your monsters, freeze tiles on the memory board to prevent other players from taking them, or look at additional tiles on the memory board.

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As you can see, there’s a lot going on at once, and the more monsters you assemble, the more options you have available. You need to keep track of what tiles have been revealed, what pairs your opponents have, what pairs you need, how dangerous their monsters are, and how dangerous your monster is. (There’s also the threat of the thirteenth monster out there, which is the most powerful.)

Testing your memory, your ability to assemble the best monster from the pieces you have available, and gauging when to strike for maximum effect, this game will keep board gamers and puzzle fans alike on their toes.

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We were impressed by how much gameplay was packed into what seemed like a simple memory/combat mashup game. The wealth of options available, the stunning artwork, and the addictive gameplay quickly made it a hit at the gaming table.

Plus the relative family friendliness of the monsters ensured that younger players could get into the game as well, exposing themselves to several different gameplay styles all at once.

While it may remind you of Dr. Frankenstein’s famous creation, 13 Monsters is no cobbled-together stroke of luck. It’s a well-assembled machine.

[13 Monsters is available from 13-monsters.com and select European outlets.]


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The Great Crossword Debate: Overused Vs. Obscure

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Making a great crossword puzzle is not easy. Heck, making a GOOD crossword puzzle is not easy.

You want the theme to be creative, innovative even, but still something that can be intuited from a clever title and crafty clues.

You want the clues to be engaging, challenging, funny, tricky, and loaded with wordplay and personality.

And you want the grid fill to be fresh and interesting, yet accessible. You want to avoid obscurities, abbreviations, nonsensical partial-phrases, and the dreaded Naticks where two difficult entries cross.

But you also want to add to the lexicon of grid fill, leaving behind the tired vowel-heavy words that have become cliche or crosswordese.

Even if you accomplish all that, you also want your puzzle to have an overall consistent level of difficulty. Having a bunch of easy words in the grid only highlights the hard words necessitated when you construct yourself into a corner. A sudden spike in vocabulary and eccentricity is always noticeable.

So completing every grid becomes a balancing act between new and old, pop culture-loaded and traditional, obscure and overused.

This raises the question posed in a Reddit thread recently:

Which bothers you more, words that you probably wouldn’t know without a dictionary OR filling out OLEO and ARIA for the millionth time?

Both options had their proponents, so I’d like to give you my thoughts on each side of this cruciverbalist coin.


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Obscure Over Overused

A well-constructed grid can overcome the occasional obscure entry. After all, since you have Across and Down entries, several accessible Across answers can hand you a difficult Down answer that you didn’t know.

You can assist with an informative clue. It might get a little lengthy, but like a well-written trivia question, you can often provide enough context to get somebody in the ballpark, even if they don’t know the exact word or phrase they need. If it FEELS fair, I think solvers will forgive some peculiar entries, as long as you don’t go overboard.

Also, if you’re a crossword fan, you’re probably a word nerd, and who doesn’t like learning new words?

As one contributor to the thread said, “I’d rather eke out a solution than fill in EKE OUT or EKE BY again.”


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Overused Over Obscure

The very nature of crosswords demands letter arrangements that are conducive to building tight grids. Your vowel-heavy entries, your alternating consonant-vowel ABAB patterns, the occasional all-consonants abbreviation or all-vowels exhalation or size measurement… these are necessary evils.

But that doesn’t mean the cluing has to be boring. I absolutely love it when a constructor finds a new twist on an entry you’ve seen a billion times. I laughed out loud when Patti Varol clued EWE as “Baa nana?” because it was a take I’d never seen before.

Here are a few more examples of really smart ways I’ve seen overused entries clued:

  • “It’s never been the capital of England (and it surely won’t be now)” for EURO (Steve Faiella)
  • “Name-dropper’s abbr.” for ETAL (Patrick Berry)
  • “It’s three before November” for KILO (Andy Kravis)
  • “Fix plot holes, maybe” for HOE (Peter Gordon)
  • “50/50, e.g.” for ONE (Michael Shteyman). This one really plays with your expectations.
  • “Hawaiian beach ball?” for LUAU (George Barany)

Still, this is no excuse for going incredibly obtuse with your cluing just to be different. Making an esoteric reference just to avoid saying “Sandwich cookie” for OREO might be more annoying to a solver than just the overused answer itself.

On the flip side, you can treat them as gimmes, cluing them with familiar phrasing and letting them serve as the jumping-off points for longer, more difficult entries or the themed entries the puzzle is constructed around. Some familiar words are always welcome, particularly if a solver is feeling daunted with a particular puzzle’s or day’s standard difficulty.

(One poster even suggested pre-populating the grid with common crosswordese like OLEO, kinda like the set numbers in a Sudoku. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that approach before.)


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So, have we come to any conclusions today? Probably not.

As I said before, it’s a tightrope every constructor must walk on the way to finishing a crossword. Every constructor has a different method for getting across, a different formula for success. Some even manage to make it look effortless.

What do you think, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Do you favor overused entries or obscure ones? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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PN Updates: A New Puzzle Set! And More!

Hello puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

Today we’re happy to spread the word about an exciting new puzzle set for the Penny Dell Crosswords App! It’s our latest deluxe set, Creature Features!

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Jam-packed with spoooooky special themed puzzles and loads of ghoulishly great crosswords at all difficulty levels for you to enjoy, this puzzle bundle is a seasonal treat with a few tricks as well to keep your puzzly wits sharp!

It’s available for in-app purchase now alongside lots of terrific puzzle sets — for instance, check out the Fall Set for the Daily POP Crosswords App! — waiting for your puzzly attention.

And say… while we’ve got you here, we’ve got a question for you:

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Have you signed up for our PuzzleNation Newsletter yet?

It’s the best way to keep updated with all things PuzzleNation. There’s news, special offers, and you’ll be first to hear about any new projects, including sneak peeks, downloadable bonus puzzles, and more! (Plus we won’t bombard you with endless emails!)

Do yourself a favor and sign up! Just this week, for instance, we had some free puzzles and a special promotional offer for our fellow PuzzleNationers!

Don’t miss out! It’s never been easier to enjoy everything PuzzleNation has to offer, right from the comfort of home, at the touch of a button.

Happy puzzling, everyone!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can 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!

Mechanical Tables: Puzzle Furniture for the Ages

We previously did a post discussing puzzly furniture where we explored origami cardboard chairs, furniture that can be arranged in different ways like puzzle pieces, sofas with hidden footrests and tables, storage and couches made of soft Tetris pieces, and the buildable puzzly furniture of Praktrik.

And yet, we only scratched the surface of what clever designers and skilled craftspeople can do when they combine puzzly elements and beautiful furnishings.

Today, we return to the topic and up the stakes, as we delve into mechanical tables and other furnishings with delightfully challenging puzzle-inspired secrets.

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Let us begin with the works of Jean-François Oeben.

You simply cannot discuss the topic of puzzle furniture or mechanical tables without mentioning this 18-century woodworker, furniture builder, and artisan. Oeben’s work is on display in museums all over the world: the Louvre, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Museu Calouste Gulbekian, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and many more.

And the mechanisms that make his creations so unique are still working flawlessly more than 200 years later.

A maker of cabinets, commodes, desks, and more, Oeben was as celebrated for his ingenious mechanical devices as he was for his dazzling work in marquetry. Marquetry is the art of cutting thin sheets of wood, metal, mother-of-pearl, and other materials into intricate patterns and affixing them to the flat surfaces of furniture.

For example, he designed and built this table for Madame de Pompadour:

It’s not only gorgeous — featuring inventive elaborate legwork and numerous surfaces adorned with favorite designs of his patron — but it contains one of Oeben’s most impressive mechanical devices. The mechanism allows the top to slide back at the same time as the larger drawer moves forward, doubling the surface area in an instant. This also reveals a writing slope which revolves to offer two different surfaces, as well as hidden storage compartments. All of this is unlocked with a single turn of a key.

It simultaneously celebrates a desire for privacy and a need for ostentatious flourish. It is brilliantly space-efficient, yet thoroughly eye-catching. It is extravagant and reserved all at once, perfectly encapsulating the spirit of French consumerism at the time, combining luxury, efficiency, elegance, and functionality.

Oeben worked extensively for Madame de Pompadour; in the inventory drawn up after his death there were ten items awaiting delivery to her.

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That single-lock design was also present in one of his famous commode designs, as one lock controlled the entire piece. Unless the center drawer was pulled out (ever-so-slightly), the side drawers could not be opened. There was a metal rod in the back of the drawer preventing them from opening unless the center drawer was in the correct position.

As you can see, the handles for each drawer are cleverly concealed, using circular pulls that look more like ornamental flourishes than utilitarian parts of the furniture. Again, privacy is combined with style, adding an individualistic touch to a beautiful piece.

(Although the mechanism sounds simple, you can explore how difficult Oeben mechanisms are to recreate by visiting this blog.)

His masterpiece is widely considered to be the bureau de roi, a desk he was building for the French king Louis XV at the time of his death. (The piece was finished by a younger associate, Jean-Henri Riesener, who also married Oeben’s widow. Talk about picking up where Oeben left off…)

However, I find this mechanical desk to be a much more impressive piece of cabinetry.

Now part of the Louvre’s expansive catalog of museum pieces, this Table a la Bourgogne is a transforming marvel. It conceals not only a removable laptop desk, but a prie-dieu (or kneeling surface) for private prayer. It also conceals a writing slope and a secret bookcase that rises from within the desk.

It is a mind-boggling piece that contains numerous important home elements all in one, and positively exudes luxury and elegance.


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There is another name that deserves recognition, one that often exists in Oeben’s shadow: Bernard Molitor.

Molitor first rose to prominence after creating mahogany wood floor paneling for Marie Antoinette’s boudoir in Fontainebleau. This order led to other requests from the queen and members of the aristocracy.

His business was briefly shuttered during the French Revolution — many of his clients were killed or had fled — but he was later able to reopen his business and resume his lucrative practice. Dressers, tables, desks, cupboards, cabinets, and writing and dining tables flowed from his workshop, thanks to Molitor and a large array of artisans he employed.

Behold a staggeringly impressive work of Molitor’s: King Louis Bonaparte’s desk, commissioned by Emperor Napoleon as a gift for his brother, the appointed King of Holland.

Now residing at the Lightner Museum, this desk is adorned with false drawers at the front to mislead potential tampering. Instead, the desk not only contains its own chair, but more than 200 drawers, all organized with labels and concealed within, away from prying eyes.

As the roll-top desk’s cover slides back, the desk itself slides out for use, revealing several drawers. These drawers contain hidden locking mechanisms that reveal additional storage, workspaces, and further secrets.

It’s a gorgeous piece of furniture and a diabolical multilayered puzzle all in one.


What about furniture makers in the 21st century, you may ask? Who is carrying on this grand tradition of puzzly craftsmanship?

Well, if you’re looking for master puzzle furniture design these days, Craig Thibodeau should be on your radar.

We featured his magnificent Wisteria Puzzle Cabinet in a previous blog post, but it’s far from his only complex, stunning, and immensely intricate piece of puzzly furnishings.

The Automaton Table, featured above, is a wonderful simple-looking piece that contains multitudes. It has a rising spring-release center column, magnetic secret drawers, and additional hidden compartments that use a variety of concealed mechanisms.

And for a piece of puzzly mechanical furniture that will leave you reeling, check out this Spinning Puzzle Cabinet. Rotating it opens certain drawers, while others can only be opened through multi-step actions and a specific chain of button-pushes and actions.

It’s like a 4-dimensional game of Simon where everything must happen in order as you move around the piece constantly. It’s wonderful and maddening all at once.

It may lack the over-the-top ornamentation of Oeben and Molitor’s works, but it’s just as complex, just as engaging, and equally beautiful. Across centuries and different design styles, these pieces are amazing, sending puzzly minds whirling with sheer possibility.

Would you like to see more examples (both modern and historical) of puzzly furniture and mechanical tables, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!


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

Where Puzzles, Knitting, and Spycraft Combine!

You might have seen the news story last year about a woman who chronicled numerous train delays with her knitting while she worked on a scarf. (Though you probably didn’t hear that it sold on eBay for over 7,000 Euros.)

Knitting is a clever way to both eat up downtime waiting for the train and also document how long that train made you wait. Moreover, it’s sending a message in an unusual fashion — an image that speaks volumes.

And one thing we’ve learned over the years is that when you can send a message without words, spy agencies will jump on that bandwagon.

So it should come as no surprise to you that knitting has been part of spycraft techniques for decades.

True, it is far more common from someone to simply passively observe the enemy WHILE knitting and hiding in plain sight. This was very common in countries all over Europe. When you consider how often volunteers were encouraged to knit warm hats, scarves, and gloves for soldiers during wartime, it wouldn’t be unusual to see people knitting all over the place.

Some passed secret messages hidden in balls of yarn. Elizabeth Bently, an American who spied for the Soviet Union during WWII, snuck plans for B-29 bombs and other aircraft construction information to her contacts in her knitting bag.

Another agent, Phyllis Latour Doyle, had different codes to choose from on a length of silk, so she kept it with her knitting to remain inconspicuous. She would poke each code she used with a pin so it wouldn’t be employed a second time — making it harder for the Germans to break them.

But there was a small contingent of folks who went deeper, actually encoding messages in their knitting to pass on intelligence agencies.

It makes sense. Knitting is essentially binary code. Whereas binary code is made up of ones and zeroes (and some key spacing), knitting consists of knit stitches and purl stitches, each with different qualities that make for an easily discernable pattern, if you know what you’re looking for. So, an attentive spy or informant could knit chains of smooth stitches and little bumps, hiding information as they record it.

When you factor Morse code into the mix, knitting seems like an obvious technique for transmitting secret messages.

[What is this Christmas sweater trying to tell us?]

During World Wars I and II, this was used to keep track of enemy train movements, deliveries, soldiers’ patrol patterns, cargo shipments, and more, particularly in Belgium and France. There are examples of codes hidden through knitting, embroidery, hooked rugs, and other creations, often right under the noses of the enemy.

As more intelligence agencies picked up on the technique, it started to breed paranoia, even in organizations that continued to use knitters as passive spies and active encryption agents.

There were rumors that Germans were knitting entire sweaters full of information, then unraveling them and hanging the threads in special doorways where the letters of the alphabet were marked at different heights, allowing these elaborate messages to be decoded.

Of course, this could be apocryphal. There’s no proof such overly detailed sweaters were ever produced or unraveled and decoded in this manner. (Plus, a knitter would have to be pretty exact with their spacing for the doorway-alphabet thing to work seamlessly.)

During the Second World War, the UK’s Office of Censorship actually banned people from using the mail to send knitting patterns abroad, for fear that they contained coded messages.

Naturally, a puzzly mind could do all sorts of things with an idea like this. You could encode secret love notes for someone you admire or care for, or maybe encrypt a snide comment in a scarf for somebody you don’t particularly like. It’s passive aggressive, sure, but it’s also hilarious and very creative.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to unravel this gift from my aunt and see if she’s talking crap about me through my adorable mittens.

Happy puzzling, everybody!

[For more information on this topic, check out this wonderful article by Natalie Zarrelli.]


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