PDP Tabletop Tournament: Round 1

The spirit of puzzly competition is alive and well. Not only are we still basking in the afterglow of the ACPT, but the third round of the World Puzzle Federation Puzzle Grand Prix is this weekend! AND registration for this year’s Indie 500 Crossword Tournament is now open!

But that’s not all!

The crew at Penny Dell Puzzles put together a Tabletop Tournament in honor of the upcoming International Tabletop Day on Saturday, April 28.

It’s a 16-person four-week tournament with different games to play every week, and round 1 kicked off this week. (This is actually the third year of the tournament, but this year has more competitors than ever before! Plus, both the 2016 and 2017 winners are competing again this year.)

One of the things I liked about the layout of the tournament is that there are no one-on-one match-ups until the final. Instead of a single-elimination tournament, competitors were slotted into groups of four. Each group of four would play two games, and the two winners (one from each game) would come from each foursome and move on to the next round.

The two games for Round 1? On the Dot and Bananagrams.

Bananagrams is a tile game where, much like Scrabble, players pull letter tiles and try to form small crossword-like grids. But in Bananagrams, you can anagram and rearrange the grid as needed, instead of being locked into using the words you’ve already played. Each player starts with a certain number of tiles, and each time you’ve used all your tiles, you say “Peel!” and each player grabs a new tile. This continues until the tile pile is depleted. Then the first player to complete their grid and say “Bananas!” is the winner, moving on to round 2.

On the Dot is a pattern-matching game. Each player has four clear cards with randomly-placed colored dots on them, and it’s up to the player to arrange all four cards so that the colored dots showing match a given pattern. The first player to match three patterns would move on to the next round.

This two-winner-per-group arrangement is nice, because it offers people with different puzzle/game skills multiple chances to move on, instead of a one-and-done scenario. The two games also allow two different quartets to compete at the same time; as one group plays Bananagrams, the other plays On the Dot. Since we only had our lunch hour to complete round 1 (and 16 competitors crammed into the conference room), time was of the essence.

My group was first to compete in Bananagrams, and as the sole representative for PuzzleNation in the tournament, I was determined to make a strong showing for the brand.

Things started off smoothly. We had 21 tiles to start with, and I quickly formed a strong anchor word with DONKEY. But before long, my puzzly competitors proved their own skills were formidable, as cries of “Peel!” began to ring out, and the tile pile quickly diminished.

Honestly, I don’t think I said “Peel” once. I was always close to completing my grid, but never fast enough. But I seized my chance once the tile pile was empty. I only had a few letters left, and some quick anagramming had me confident. I called “Bananas!” and the judges came over to check my grid.

But alas, I’d made an error. I had originally played the word MAKO in part of the grid, then stole the M and A to form other words, intending to come back and fix that part later. But in my overzealousness, I left KO in the grid, which is not a word, so I was disqualified. Curses!

The player to my left was only about a half-second behind me, and she made no clumsy errors. Her grid was clean, and she was declared the first winner from our group to move on.

I would have to try my luck at On the Dot if I hoped to salvage the day.

We switched games with the other competing foursome at the table, and distributed the clear cards for the next contest: On the Dot.

Although I was disappointed with my performance in Bananagrams, I remained confident going into On the Dot, since I’m fairly strong in pattern-matching and similar forms of puzzling.

The first pattern to match was revealed, and we were off!

On the Dot really consists of two skills: being able to place the cards so the dots are in the right places AND hiding the dots and colors you don’t need. That second part can be more difficult than simply matching the pattern, honestly. If you need a yellow dot in a certain spot and nothing near it, it’s not good enough to have a yellow dot in that spot and a purple one right beside it.

I quickly cracked the first pattern, earning 1 point (and a few groans from the other competitors in my quartet).

I was able to follow that with two more victories, earning three points and a clean sweep. I was officially bound for Round 2. Huzzah!

Several other competitors that day turned in similarly dominating performances in On the Dot, while other rounds were hotly contested and came down to the wire.

The rounds of Bananagrams were a little bit slower, but still interesting. I wasn’t the only competitor who was snake-bit by improper words in Bananagrams that day. NAT disqualified one competitor, while NI disqualified another. (At least, according to the online Scrabble Dictionary we were using as our source. No matter what those knights say.)

One of the games ended in a deadlock, as neither player remaining could complete their grid. Another ended in so contentious a fashion that a tiebreaker game was needed to determine a winner!

Fortunately, the judges were prepared for this possibility, and a quick round of Slapzi was used to settle any such ties/issues.

Slapzi is a quick-reaction game where each player is dealt five double-sided cards. Each card has a unique image on each side — everything from dogs and fire hydrants to ladybugs and lawnmowers. Then a description card is played — “has two syllables” or “made of wood,” for instance — and the first person to play one of their cards that matches the description drops that card from their hand. The first person to empty their hand wins.

Between the three games, eight competitors moved on to round 2 (including last year’s champ), one step closer to a grand prize of a Game Night Gift Pack, complete with snacks!

But that’s not all. The winner would also get a crown and scepter to carry around, in order to better lord their victory over their vanquished foes!

With a prize pack and a shot at becoming Tabletop Tournament Royalty on the line, things just got a lot more interesting.

To be continued…

[You can check in on the next round of the tournament live on Tuesday on our Instagram account!]


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The New York Times Crossword, Accordion to Weird Al

 In February of 2017, The New York Times celebrated a landmark in the history of puzzles: the 75th anniversary of the NYT crossword.

And ever since, to commemorate that puzzly milestone, top constructors and Times favorites have been pairing up with celebrity fans and puzzle enthusiasts to co-construct puzzles for the Times!

This year, you might’ve encountered some of these collaborations, like news pundit Rachel Maddow’s March 2nd puzzle with constructor Joe DiPietro, or “How I Met Your Mother” star Josh Radner’s meditation-themed puzzler from January 31st with constructor Jeff Chen.

Over the last year, names as diverse as John Lithgow, Elayne Boosler, Joy Behar, Mike Selinker, Lisa Loeb, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Bill Clinton have contributed their puzzly efforts to this marvelous project.

And yesterday, another famous wordsmith and master of punnery made his New York Times debut.

[Image courtesy of Instagram.]

Yes, the immortal “Weird Al” Yankovic teamed up with Puzzle Your Kids mastermind and friend of the blog Eric Berlin for a cheese-themed Wednesday outing that delighted fans and solvers alike.

Al has certainly been keeping busy lately, launching his Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour — his words, not mine; I loved the show I attended! — and working with Lin-Manuel Miranda to create The Hamilton Polka, an ambitious and hilarious take on the wildly successful musical.

The puzzle was Eric’s 40th Times puzzle, and Al’s first. Not only did the puzzle feature those signature cinematic cheese puns — like A FEW GOUDA MEN and THE PELICAN BRIE — but there was plenty of nerd culture featured in the fill and cluing.

Tom Lehrer and John Cleese were both name-dropped, as well as Legolas, Wile E. Coyote, WALL-E, Mr. Clean, and Bones from the original Star Trek.

Eric offered some insight into the puzzle’s creation while discussing the puzzle with Wordplay’s Deb Amlen:

My very first attempt at the grid included one of my favorites from his list, QUESOBLANCA. I was under the misapprehension that queso is not just the Spanish word for cheese but also a specific kind of cheese. Whoops, not quite. (This was entirely on me, I should note — Al, not knowing during his brainstorming that the end result would be restricted to specific cheeses, had several cheese-adjacent puns in his list, including FONDUE THE RIGHT THING and CHEESY RIDER.)

And appropriately enough, Al had a bit of fun promoting the puzzle on his Instagram, claiming, “If you’re REALLY good, you don’t NEED the clues!”

For the record, I needed the clues.


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The Healing Power of Tetris

Despite the wealth of data out there — and all the “brain-boosting” apps and products claiming they’ll keep your brain in fighting trim — the verdict is still out on whether puzzle-solving can prevent or positively impact Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other age-related mental issues.

But that doesn’t mean that puzzles and puzzle games can’t help in other ways.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have been treating people suffering from traumatic flashbacks — a form of accident-induced post-traumatic stress disorder — by having them play Tetris.

 Originally, the researchers tested this concept by showing unpleasant videos to test subjects and having them play Tetris for twenty minutes afterward. Their research showed that people who played the game — versus a control group that wrote about how they spend their time — suffered from fewer unpleasant and intrusive flashbacks or memories over the following week.

Apparently, the act of playing the game interferes with how people form the visual component of flashbacks. The gameplay doesn’t interfere with actual formation of memories, simply whether the brain will recall those unpleasant memories.

As it turns out, this might be a quality unique to Tetris or Tetris-style games. The same research team discovered that playing a quiz-style game made the flashbacks worse for those subjects than for the subjects who played no game at all after a traumatic event.

It appears that not only did Alexey Pajitnov create one of the most popular games of all-time, but that his legacy may also include helping the victims of traumatic events with their healing process. Amazing stuff.


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April Fools! (Update: Solve Puzzles Like Never Before!)

Alas, we’re sad to inform you that PNVR — PuzzleNation Virtual Reality — the hot new tech on the puzzle scene, is just a delightful conjuring of the PN development crew. There’s no such thing.

(Not yet, anyway. Though, given how Ready Player One is performing in theaters, we might bump PNVR up the priority list.)

But we hope you enjoyed our little April Fools Day prank, particularly the free bonus coins for Daily Pop Crosswords at the end of the proverbial rainbow. It was great fun to cook up and execute, and the response from the PuzzleNation audience was terrific.

Thanks for a fun day, and keep your eyes peeled, because there are always fun, surprising ways to earn bonus coins and other great deals from PuzzleNation!

We’ll see you again soon, friends.

And please remember that puzzling and bike riding don’t mix.


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Solve Puzzles Like Never Before!

That’s right, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! We have something truly special for you today, necessitating that rarest of occurrences: a weekend post!

We were hoping to reveal this marvelous new puzzly breakthrough at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament last weekend, but alas, all was not quite ready, and we had to hold off seven more days for the grand unveiling.

Until today.

Today, we bring you the next step forward in puzzles. Yes, with Daily POP Crosswords, we put the best puzzles in the world in your pocket, at your fingertips.

But, with PNVR, we bring those puzzles to life!

PNVR. PuzzleNation Virtual Reality. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen! Words leap to life with a wave of your hand! Clues emerge from the ether, floating just beyond your fingertips!

Simply slip on the special PNVR Headset™ — sleek, ergonomic, and suitable for any outfit or occasion — and in an instant, you’re whisked away on a hundred different solving adventures!

Crack crosswords side by side with a robot pal from the comfort of your own home with PNVR! Solve Sudoku from the summit of Mount Everest or K2!

Enjoy a leisurely bike ride through a grid-dappled meadow, plucking puzzles from the grassy hills and dales on a warm summer day! Soar like an eagle and loop answers in word seeks that stretch across the sky!

With PNVR, the possibilities are endless! (As long as your wi-fi is solid and grandma doesn’t hog the headset, that is!)

What are you waiting for? Click here for more details on the greatest thing to happen to puzzles since the mechanical pencil!


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Puzzles for a Good Cause!

[Image courtesy of Pinterest.]

The puzzle community is really amazing. It’s an incredibly open, friendly, and welcoming band of creators, miscreants, wordsmiths, and trivia buffs from all walks of life, united by a love of wordplay and the satisfying discovery of a solution, be it to a puzzle or a problem.

Basically, if you’re in a bind, if you need help, there’s usually a puzzler there by your side to back you up.

This blog has given me plenty of opportunities to detail wonderful charitable programs spearheaded by puzzlers in the past, and today, it’s my pleasure and my privilege to bring another to your attention, my fellow PuzzleNationers.

Like last year’s Puzzles for Progress (which inspired it!), Queer Crosswords is all about providing a small puzzly incentive to do some good and reach out.

Once you’ve donated to one of the worthy causes detailed here — including the ACLU, PFLAG, The Trevor Project, the Trans Women of Color Collective, and others — you can send a copy of your charitable receipt to Nate Cardin at queerqrosswords@gmail.com.

And in return, you’ll receive a PDF loaded with 22 pages of original puzzles by great constructors like Tracy Bennett, Todd Gross, Mark Halpin, Andrew Ries, Trip Payne, Jenna LaFleur, Andy Kravis, and more.

It’s a little puzzly thank you for playing your part in building a better world, and I applaud everyone involved in this venture.

[You can click here for full details on Queer Crosswords.]


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