When’s the last time you had your brain properly tied in knots by a riddle?
That’s a pretty common occurrence around here, honestly. In our puzzly explorations of the world, we stumble across all manner of brain teasers, riddles, logic puzzles, math problems, mind ticklers, deduction games, and wordplay-fueled bits of linguistic legerdemain.
And on those occasions, we happily share them with you, dear reader, so that you can also enjoy the challenge of unraveling whatever fiendish puzzly conundrum has been placed before us.
This time around, a solver named Darrin submitted this festive holiday puzzle he found in his aunt’s collection of puzzle books. (He credits Marilynn Rapp Buxton as the constructor of this puzzle.)
Let’s see how we do.
Four friends — two girls named Holly and Joy, two boys named Kris and Noel — all celebrate their birthdays during December. Though none was born on Christmas Day — each was born on a different day — they all have festive names. Can you figure out each person’s last name and order of birth?
1. Nobody’s first name goes with the traditional last name (Berry, Fully, Kringle, or Singer) that you might expect. 2. Someone’s birthday is three days after their friend Joy’s birthdate. 3. Holly’s birthday is three days before Noel’s and three days after Kris’. 4. Miss Fully’s birthdate is six days after Joy’s. 5. Noel’s birthdate is six days after the one whose last name is Berry.
Will you be accepting this puzzly challenge from a fellow PuzzleNationer? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!
If you’re looking to spruce up Christmas morning with a puzzly challenge, or maybe prevent the kids from tearing through that wrapping paper in record time, you could create a mini holiday puzzle hunt for them to extend the holiday fun a little longer.
There are several ways to do this. You could have Santa leave them a treasure map to follow. You could create a scavenger hunt with different places to check. Or you could create a puzzle hunt where each clue or puzzle leads to the next and has to be solved in order.
But how do you flesh it out and keep it seasonal? We’ve got a host of suggestions awaiting you. Sprinkle a few of these across the house on Christmas morning and you’ll be sure to delight the puzzly denizens of your home after Santa has come and gone.
Maybe they have to look for gifts wrapped in a particular type of wrapping paper. Perhaps there are clues written on them or hidden inside, or maybe the wrapping paper itself sends them on to their next clue.
If it’s more of a scavenger hunt-style of game, the wrapping paper approach is perfect. They could be stashed around the house, waiting to be found, and there’s no threat of them being mixed up with the actual gifts.
Perhaps there are puzzle pieces at the bottom of their stockings, and they have to work together to assemble them and figure out where to go next. (Craft stores have plain white mini jigsaw puzzles, you could write out or draw out clues, mix up the pieces, and distribute them in several spots with ease.)
Did Santa leave a clue when he sampled the milk and cookies left out of him? Maybe a gingerbread man points the kids in a certain direction, or Santa urges the children to have breakfast before the festivities start (pushing them toward another clue in the kitchen AND toward a healthy Christmas breakfast in the morning).
Your Christmas tree is also perfect for concealing clues and puzzly elements. With lights and ornaments galore, it’s the ideal spot to hide things, whether it’s letters that spell things out, or numbered clues to be solved in order. You could even hang different numbers of various objects (6 candy canes, 3 silver stars, 4 photo ornaments) that are used as a code later to unlock something.
Does the Elf on a Shelf have a clue? Did it see something, or can it point them in the right direction? Is there a paper chain of snowflakes where the different branches of the snowflake are highlighted like clock hands?
Once you start looking at the trappings of the holiday in a puzzly way, you’ll find more and more methods for stashing hints and elements of your puzzle hunt anywhere and everywhere.
Hopefully these suggestions got you off to a good start! Have you hosted a holiday puzzle hunt or celebrated the holidays in a puzzly way, fellow PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.
If you’re unfamiliar, the Boswords 2021 Fall Themeless League spreads out a tournament-style solving experience over nine weeks, one themeless crossword per week. Each puzzle is scored based on your answer accuracy (incorrect letters, empty squares, etc.) and how quickly you complete the grid.
While each week’s puzzle only had one solution, there were three sets of clues, each representing a different difficulty level for solvers. Smooth was the least challenging, Choppy was the middle ground, and Stormy was the most challenging. (When solvers registered to participate, they chose the difficulty level that suited them best.)
Hundreds of solvers signed up for the challenge of two months of themeless puzzle solving and a bit of friendly competition, and now that it’s over, I’d like to share a few thoughts about my experience in the League.
With the previous two Themeless League events under my belt, I had a good sense of what to expect both from the puzzles and from myself.
Although I rarely solve online — and I solve themed crosswords far more often than themeless crosswords — I now have a good base to build on.
Unfortunately, I accidentally signed up for the wrong difficulty level this time around. The previous two seasons, I’d opted for the middle ground, Choppy. I signed up for Stormy by mistake, and didn’t realize my error until I logged in and prepared to solve the season’s first puzzle.
As you might expect, being freed from the shackles of themed puzzle building allows constructors to really flex their creative muscle, indulging all sorts of curious and unexpected vocabulary as they cross long entries and employ fewer black squares in these impressive grids.
And since I’d mistakenly opted for the toughest level of cluing, I also saw the decidedly clever and devious side of each constructor as I navigated tricky wordplay and more challenging clue content.
The first puzzle of the season immediately showed me what I’d gotten myself into. I didn’t know the number of operas Beethoven had written, or who spoke what ended up being a Madonna quote, or what Mohsin Hamid’s “Exit West” was about.
I hit nearly half an hour with my solving time, which I think was a ten-minute increase from my performance in the previous League’s debut puzzle.
Although I would have better performances later in the season — my time averaged out to 24:48 across eight puzzles — that was definitely a shot right across the bow of my confidence.
I could have contacted the organizers and asked to be moved over to Choppy. I’m sure they would have accommodated me; the Boswords team is terrific.
But instead, I decided to throw myself into the deep end and stick with Stormy and see how it went.
As I expected, it was quite a challenge. But I trusted my instincts more — filling in more guesses at the start, rather than letting them sit empty until crossing words offered confirmation — and overall, I enjoyed the experience. Sure, I was a little disheartened at how my season started, but knowing that I was competing — however slowly — at the steepest level available pushed me to keep going.
I’ve never been the fastest solver to begin with — doesn’t matter if it’s pencil and paper or on a computer — and I rarely time myself when I solve in my free time. But I kept setting different goals each week. If I had half the grid filled by a certain time, I’d set a time to beat based on that. I didn’t always succeed, but more often than not, I kept my time below whatever goals I’d set.
(Still, I dare not look at the times of the top performers, lest I despair once more. Heh.)
In the end, my individual rank was 220 (out of 303 Stormy solvers), and my overall rank was 251 (out of the 871 individual solvers). Not too shabby. A staggering 1253 people participated in this season’s event,
As for the puzzles themselves, they were solid. The vocabulary — particularly the longer entries — was incredibly creative and unexpected. And the constructors were fantastic.
Each brought their own style and flavor to the competition, and it was great to see well-established names like Byron Walden, Evan Birnholz, Kameron Austin Collins, and the dynamite duo of Doug Peterson and Angela Olson Halsted mixed with newer names to the field like Mollie Cowger and Quiara Vasquez.
All in all, I enjoyed the Fall Themeless League. (Although I was more comfortable with the solving interface and I had a better handle on themeless solving, given that this was my third go-around, I still felt like a rookie tackling the Stormy-level clues.)
I think when the Spring Themeless League rolls around, I’ll try Stormy again. Now that I have a baseline to compare it to, I’d like to see how I can improve.
And with the promise of future Boswords-hosted events in 2022 like the Winter Wondersolve event on February 6th and the Spring Themeless League, it’s nice to have exciting puzzle events to look forward to in the near future.
They’ve already announced the teams for each! The Winter Wondersolve will be constructed by Kate Chin Park, Christina Iverson, Adesina Koiki, and Matthew Stock.
The Spring Themeless League will be handled by Adam Aaronson, Wendy L. Brandes, Katja Brinck, Julian Lim, Frank Longo, the team of Sophia Maymudes & Kyra Wilson, Ada Nicolle, Robyn Weintraub, and one constructor to be named later.
(Yup, a mystery constructor. They’re actually selecting them based on an open submission process, the details of which will be announced tomorrow, Wednesday 12/8! How cool is that?)
Kudos to everyone who helped bring this marvelous project together, and kudos to everyone who participated. It was tough, but also a great deal of fun.
It’s December, and you’ve probably already received an invitation to some sort of holiday event. Maybe it’s a housewarming, or a holiday luncheon, or a game night. But, maybe, it’s an ugly sweater party.
Ugly sweater parties used to be events that ironically appreciated sweaters that were made with genuine affection, but simply didn’t please the eye. But once ugly sweaters became a part of pop culture, they became, as all things do, a cottage industry, and now companies release “ugly” Christmas sweaters for every pop culture property imaginable.
Most of them are simply underwhelming — and a few are often actually quite lovely — but none of them really capture the spirit of the original ugly sweater party ideal.
It’s not garish by any means. It’s cleverly designed and weirdly festive. But I also can’t imagine anyone buying it.
It’s certainly unique.
But it raised the question…
What other puzzly ugly sweaters are out there? Would they all feel too corporate like the modern ugly sweater patternings, or could I find some genuine diamonds in the rough?
Let’s find out, shall we?
Of course, when you type “puzzle ugly sweater” into Google, you find an amazing array of jigsaw puzzles featuring ugly sweater designs. And honestly, what a great idea for an image for a jigsaw. The riot of colors alone would make for a pretty fun jigsaw solving experience.
So I started pairing different puzzle brands with “ugly sweater” in my searches, and I began to yield some results, however mixed.
There’s this Rubik’s sweater design, which I find a bit meh. It’s nice, it’s unoffensive. But it’s not the colorful visual assault I was hoping for.
I found this one on Poshmark, and supposedly it won some sort of ugly sweater contest. Not sure who judged that one. This isn’t great, but it’s hardly ugly.
Alas, where else can we look?
Well, there’s this ugly sweater-patterned take on the math puzzles that periodically circulate on social media. I couldn’t find it in actual sweater form, but it’s a start.
(It also exemplifies the unsatisfying corporate nature of the modern ugly sweater pattern. Festive borders on the top and bottom, and the hook in between. Nothing on the sleeves or back, no real effort involved.)
Finally, I turned my attention to crossword-specific sweaters, and I struck gold. None of these are particularly festive, but you could slap a bow on them and get past any discerning bouncer at the ugly sweater party of your choice in these.
I also found this sweater on Poshmark. You’ll be heartbroken to discover it’s already been sold. But man, you could easily wear this one at the crossword tournament or ugly sweater party of your choice and turn a few heads.
I wish I could find a bigger picture of this one somewhere. It was clearly made with love, and it’s one of the few that actually feels like a proper crossword grid.
What is it about a sweater vest that somehow makes this worse than a normal sweater? Maybe it’s how the boxes don’t quite line up, or the two-letter words trailing off near the armpits. Man, this is pretty bad.
Many artistic and creative endeavors have a puzzly element to them. But it’s hard to think of one more intricate and puzzly than the construction of dry stone walls and structures.
Dry stone walls are built without mortar, relying entirely on careful selection and placement of stones that interlock and reinforce each other. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a game of Tetris, solved a brain teaser about fitting pieces into a particular space, or packed a bag for a long vacation has engaged in this sort of puzzling.
But dry stone structures put those piece placement skills to the test. They’re load-bearing collaborations.
Stone creations built in this manner can be found all over the world, from the English countryside to the mountainous heights of Machu Picchu.
Most people know him as a titan of Broadway and the American stage, the composer and lyricist behind dozens of iconic works, spanning decades. West Side Story. Gypsy. Into the Woods. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. (My personal favorite? Assassins.)
Even as someone with a degree in theater, I don’t feel qualified to discuss or summarize his impact on the stage. It’s monumental. Incalculable. Iconic.
But as a puzzle enthusiast, I do feel qualified to discuss his influence in that realm. You see, Stephen Sondheim occupies a curious space in the history of puzzles.
He created cryptic / British-style crosswords for New York Magazine in the late 1960s, helping to introduce American audiences to that devious and challenging variety of crosswords.
In fact, he famously wrote an article in that very same magazine decrying the state of American crosswords and extolling the virtues of cryptic crosswords. (He even explained the different cluing tricks and offering examples for readers to unravel.)
Sondheim was an absolute puzzle fiend. His home was adorned with mechanical puzzles, and he happily created elaborate puzzle games. Some of them were featured in Games Magazine! In his later years, he was also an aficionado of escape rooms. (Friend of the blog Eric Berlin shared a wonderful anecdote about Sondheim here.)
Their ability to assimilate a lot of coded information instantly. In other words, a piano player like Jon Delfin, the greatest crossword player of our time, he sits down and he sees three staffs of music and he can instantly play it. He’s taken all those notes and absorbs what they mean, instantaneously. If you have that kind of mind, and you add it to it a wide range of information, and you can spell, you’d be a really great crossword puzzler.
Sondheim certainly fits the bill.
He will forever be remembered for his musical creations, and that legacy far overshadows his work in puzzles. But as someone who opened the door to a new brand of puzzle solving for many people, Sondheim will also have the undying loyalty, respect, and admiration of many puzzlers around the world.
We wholeheartedly include ourselves in that crowd of admirers.