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This month’s challenge was to create a Penny Press/Dell/Penny Publications mascot or character.

It could involve expanding upon one of the characters in our puzzle books (like the chefs in Alphabet Soup or the rabbit in Anagram Magic Square) or creating an entirely new one to represent the company.

So let’s see what our intrepid puzzlers came up with!

Some opted to write bios for established characters from our books.

Julien Fries, the Alphabet Soup Chef

Painstakingly ensuring that every bowl of alphabet soup that leaves his kitchen has all 26 letters of the alphabet, Julien may not have a Michelin star, but he’s a star in Michigan, where he hosts his own public access cooking/puzzle show, Crockwords.

Ted, the Cryptogram Detective

Short for N. Cryp Ted, Ted is the PI everyone goes to who needs help cracking codes. Located across and down the street from Penny Press, Ted often solves cases for his cryptogramma, a kindly lady who encrypts her grocery lists (but then forgets the encryption code).

Other contributors conjured up new potential mascots. One opted to cash in on the growing superhero trend:

Faster than a PEN GETS BULLIED
More powerful than an engineer’s wheelhouse (10 ltrs)
Able to leap to conclusions with BHJMJUZ

Look, up in the dictionary!
It’s an anagram; it’s a word game; it’s Cryptoman!

Yes, Cryptoman, a shadowy figure with powers equal to those of an enigma Cryptoman! Who can change the coarse of course, bend steel into stele with his bare intellect.

And who, disguised as Wordly Nerdnik, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan puzzle publisher, embarks on a never-ending quest for clues, clever substitution codes, and someone besides Stanley Gardner who spells his first name E-R-L-E!

It’s Cryptoman, from the planet Crypto (He’s a Cryptogramarian!). An enigma, a puzzle, a hero of many words!

Two players went above and beyond and created artwork for their new potential mascots!

First, please welcome to Portia the Reporter, gatherer of quotes.


And now, say hello to Penny Nichols, aka Grandma Nichols, a two-fisted puzzle warrior.

penny nichols

Great job everyone!




“Well General, it appears he’s looking for a 2-letter word for ‘Spielberg Film.’”

“It says it needs a 4-letter word for ‘mine opening’”

“I think he needs a 10-letter word for 3rd-rock inhabitants.”

“He wants an answer for 3 Across, ‘Earth ending.'”

“I think he needs help with 8 across.”

“He says they come in peace, but that could deteriorate very rapidly if we don’t give him the answer to 17-Across.”

“They mean to do us no harm, General…as long we give them the answer to 17 Across: ‘My Favorite Martian!'”

“He travelled 47.2 light-years to tell us he needs help with 23-Across.”

“About this clue for three down: 1978 hit for Japan’s Pink Lady…Hello?!”

“He appreciates the mention in the Crossword, but he still thinks that two-letter entries are bad form.”

“I guess he finds the clue ‘Little green man’ offensive. Some aliens are so touchy!”

“Sheesh, he thinks we have nothing better to do than help him with the Sunday Crossword every week? And they accuse us of being non-intelligent life forms.”

“Which one of you threw away this puzzle?!”

“Take me to your proofreader.”

“Take me to your Editor. I have a few bones to pick.”

“He appreciates the Crossword as a gesture of goodwill, but says he’s partial to Sudokus.”

“They harnessed nuclear fusion and have spaceships that travel three times the speed of light, but they still can’t make heads or tails of that Crossword.”

“Well this is awkward. He says his name is Oz, he comes from the planet Toto, and that Crossword he’s holding? He thinks it’s a map of Kansas.”

“Oh crap. Doug, remember that time capsule that we planted on Mars? The one with the Crossword puzzle? I guess we forgot to include the answer.”

“Apparently, on Proxima Centauri, they’ve never heard of Britney Spears.”

“All right…which one of you is Will Shortz?”

“We came as soon as we got your message.”


“I guess E.T. wants us to phone Dell”.

“Commander, he’s armed with a Easy Fast & Fun Crossword, someone get Penny Dell Puzzles on the phone!”

“Guess they don’t like being defined as aliens!”

“Says they found an alt-solve!”

“Ya gotta call the experts at Penny Press…I can’t make heads or tails of this.”

“He needs answers? We need answers!”

“I can’t puzzle out the meaning of this!”

“I think he needs the answers.”

“I think he wants to know if we are ‘REAL THINGS.'”

“He’s giving us a ‘LARGE HINT.'”

“How are your crossword skills?”

“We don’t want to cross him.”

“He looks pretty cross.”

“If this Kappa puzzle isn’t a reason to invade your planet, I don’t know what is!”

A Kappa customer, a Kappa representative and an official from the U.S. Department of Puzzle Publishers get a surprise visit from Prowittor from planet Penndello.

Three Kappa employees are commanded to solve a Penny Dell puzzle or be taken to planet Penndello for experimentation.

“Excuse me, can you show me where we are?”

In the background another alien yells out “Honey, I told you we don’t need directions!”

And the other, “Ugh, this is so embarrassing.”



Anna-Marie Spero:

WHICH WAY WORDS: Off in all directions. I laughed, I cried, I got lost. But I had popcorn. Hit or miss? Miss… by a mile, or a circle, any which way you look at it.

STARSPELL: A galaxy of talent comes out for this one, which stars everyone you can think of — and some you can’t. All drop in for a spell, make new words, and leave you — and possibly come back for an encore — feeling like a winner.

Nikki Dohan:

Number Seeks are less of a relaxation method and more of a emotional torture sequence. You’ll doubt your ability to count to 10 and believe yourself to be suffering from fever dreams as you swear the correct sequence was “right there!” The only positive from this grueling experience is the “Rocky conquering the steps” feeling you acquire upon its completion.

Susan Fazekas:

Mirror Image surprises with its dark undertones in what appears at first to be a sunny romp. Twin sisters facing opposite directions, with identical backpacks. Is that a tennis racket in the one on the right? Or is it something more sinister? They have identical hiking boots, but what is that tucked in the sock of the sister on the right? And something is off in her expression. A malevolent twist to the eyebrow? The path in the woods behind them seems the same, but you can’t be sure. What is hiding in there, what did they do? Be surprised, maybe shocked as this subtle exploration of fluid identity unfolds. Five stars for the performances of the twins. Five stars for the intricate art direction that keeps you puzzled throughout.

Rochelle Burkman:

Remember those hours spent in college ‘majoring in’ Tetris on your old video game console? Relive those glory days with Assembly Required, rated PG for mild language and infernalism, opening this weekend in your latest issue of Penny Press Master’s Variety Puzzles! You will ponder over the answers to your Pieces and curse yourself for filling them in backwards by accident half the time, then you’ll delight in fitting those jagged Pieces into the Tray while answering the Rows clues! So satisfying! Soon your Tray will be filled in and you’ll be looking for more puzzles! But don’t worry, Penny Press is devoted to a release schedule slotting almost as many Assembly Required puzzles as Disney plans for Star Wars sequels!

Andrew Haynes:

Master’s Variety Puzzles
June, 2019
Patchwords Word Seek, Page 48

The Patchwords Word Seek in Master’s June, 2019 is a cute little idea about Greenland that quickly devolves into a mind-numbing exercise in tedium. The puzzle opens with benign entries such as “Arctic” and “Caribou,” but around the midway point hurls a torrent of insipidly-spelled and impossible to pronounce place names such as “Qaqortoq” and “Kangerlussuaq,” that would make a Welshman weep. Editor Andrew Haynes, a paragon of self-aggrandizing boastfulness, once again wants to impress the world with how many useless facts he has stored in that cobweb-filled morass he calls a brain, but ultimately his efforts are about as successful as a day spa Nanortalik. In short this puzzle made me laugh, and then I cried, and cried some more. One-and-a-half thumbs pointed straight down towards more pleasant climes than Haynes’ Greenland.

Rick Sutton:

By Peter Travers, Rolling Stone Magazine

With Summer Blockbuster season opening on Memorial Day, you’re probably already planning your puzzle/movie outings. Plan no further.

Yes, there is the Classic Variety Summer Spectacular and Blockbuster Sudoku, and these are fine for the millenials who just need a quick puzzle fix, but let me tell you about a puzzle that could be the sleeper hit of 2019.

Crossword 84 is a puzzle that will keep you guessing from start to finish.  Brought to you by Penny Studios, the same folks who gave us Crossword 82 and Crossword 83, this one takes the genre to a whole other level.

Starring Randy QUAID (“Kingpin”) as 47-Across and TORI Spelling as 3-Down, Crossword 84 takes place in an ARABIAn SALOON frequented by IDOLS, CLOWNSs, and VILLAINs. The puzzle starts out quietly, with references to “On Golden Pond” and Happy Days’ Potsie. But about a third of the way in, it takes a darker, more sinister turn, with clues like “Film Heavy”, and “So I murdered an ____ Murderer”. GREED is a central theme, and Quaid pulls off the 47-Down character with an understated finesse. There is no opportunity for the photogenic Spelling to upstage her male co-star, because (and I hope I’m not giving anything away here), remarkably, they don’t share grid time in this movie. Could the director have put them together in a romantic scene?  Well, there’s only one way to get RANDY and TORI together, and that’s at the R, and alas, that was not to be in this puzzle (Mr, Rivers, if you’re reading this–maybe the Sequel?)

The puzzle builds momentum in the second half, when the characters take their saloon brawl to NYC (86-Down) In the main fight scene, watch for Quaid’s moves as he takes a roundhouse kick to Kate WINSLET.  No stunt-men or CGI in this movie; clearly Quaid has out-done himself with his preparation (I hear he lost 25 pounds for this role!)  With the tension building up to the final clue, this one grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the solution line. Spelling and Quaid are great in the leads, but keep an eye out for cameos by SHARON Osbourne as the saloon “madam”, ANGELA Bassett as the conflicted tavern wench, and Jim Carrey, who revives his role from DUMB and Dumber, this time as an even dumber gunslinger from ALABAMA (see 71-Across). Don’t blink, or you’ll miss TV journalist STONE Phillips doing a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of himself on the SALOON’s dilapidated TV.

With intersecting themes throughout, there are twists and turns along the way, so grab your popcorn (and pencil), and enjoy the ride.

Crossword 84 is not for everyone. For some, this puzzle may be a struggle to get through. Others may find it trite and a bit dated. But, if you’re looking for a Classic movie-puzzle (movie-puzzle? it’s a moozle!) that works on many levels, this is the moozle for you. Come Oscar time, I expect to see Crossword 84 bringing home the Gold.