5 Questions with Game Designer Andrew Looney

In honor of the 20th anniversary of Looney Labs this weekend, as well as the launch of the LooneyCon event today, we’re doing Follow-Up Friday a little differently today.

And so, welcome to another edition of 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to welcome Andrew Looney as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

[Image courtesy of BoardGameGeek.com.]

Andrew Looney is the chief game designer and co-founder of Looney Labs, a company specializing in games with serious replayability and dynamic rules that make every session a new experience. Founding the company in 1996 with his wife and partner-in-aerospace Kristin, he has gone on to launch such innovative games as Fluxx (and its many variations) and the Looney Pyramids series.

With two decades of experience in game design, he has presided over the growth of a major brand in games, one whose homegrown roots and values are still very much a part of the company’s fabric today.

Andrew was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us in the days before LooneyCon, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions with Andrew Looney

1. You’re celebrating twenty years of Looney Labs innovation and game design this month, and you’ve really cemented a reputation for fun games with a high replay value. How do you know when a game is right for your brand? And what role do you play in bringing these games to market?

I design everything we make myself. So I play a pretty big role. But the decision about what we publish next is not up to me… Ultimately, Kristin makes that call (although she gets input from everyone in the company and beyond).

When I feel that a game design is working, I’ll declare it ready for consideration, at which point it goes into the pool of possibilities. And some of my designs spend a lot of time waiting around in the pool before the company decides to publish them. In other cases, such as when I’m asked to create a game on a specific subject or when I come up with something particularly exciting, I have more deadline pressure.

But the ultimate test of when a game is ready is when everyone who plays it says, “This is great! Let’s play again!”

[The heart and soul of Looney Labs, Andrew and Kristin Looney.
Image courtesy of WindyconBlog.]

2. In the last year, Looney Labs released more games than ever before, with new licensing deals for Fluxx variations like Batman Fluxx and Firefly Fluxx, a Mad Libs game, and a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for Pyramid Arcade, a relaunch of sorts for your Looney Pyramids series. How is Year 20 of Looney Labs different from Year 1, and what lessons have you learned along the way?

Wow, the difference is so vast. Twenty years ago we were still working at our day jobs in the aerospace industry, and learning how to start a company in our spare time. We’re still living in the same house, but the similarities end there. For many years, we ran the business out of our house, but now it’s just our house again, since our company has an 11-room office suite up the road, where our 8 full-time employees work.

Twenty years ago I had an idea for a wacky new card game… now there are almost 20 different versions of that game on the market, that have sold almost 3 million copies, and our games are in about 20 different languages.

Twenty years ago, we were struggling to find a way to manufacture the little plastic pyramids needed for our first game idea. Now we’re about to release an incredible boxed set featuring twenty different games I’ve invented since then for the pyramids.

Plus we have a bunch of other cool games I’ve invented along the way! It’s amazing, I never would have believed it. Where will we be in another twenty years?

[Sample cards from Firefly Fluxx, one of many games
released under the Looney Labs banner.]

3. You’ve created games of your own and helped others bring their games to life. What puzzles and board games, either in game-play style or in the experience of producing them for sale, have most influenced you?

I grew up on the old-school classics, so they were my obvious first influences. Sorry was an early favorite. Another was a sixties board game about the Civil War called Battle Cry. I think my first real game design effort was a small-scale, simplified version of Battle Cry I made as a kid, small and fast enough to be played at a restaurant during a meal. (Sadly, I lost that prototype long ago.)

Another early effort was combining the missile and warhead cards from Nuclear War with the board game Risk. Another of my earliest efforts was coding my own text adventure games, like Colossal Cave, a game so inspirational to me that it also first motivated my desire to program computers.

Kristin and I were independently inspired, during our high school days, by the dice game Cosmic Wimpout. Indie game companies like them are everywhere now, but at the time it was a revelation that such companies could exist. We were particularly inspired by their occasional newsletter and their grassroots approach to marketing.

My favorite card game from way back is Hearts, and certain elements of that game still inspire me, most notably the way it has two paths to victory (avoid taking points vs. take all the points).

Lastly, Fluxx was inspired by a conceptual game engine called Nomic, in which the game rules are created by the players as the game is played. I found Nomic to be an interesting idea, but felt I could do better…

I think a lot of game designers, and indeed inventors of every stripe, are driven by this sort of inspiration, the desire to improve on what someone else did, to go even further with the idea.

4. What’s next for Andrew Looney and Looney Labs?

Well, the very next thing is LooneyCon, a micro-convention for fans of our games which we’re running this weekend! And as mentioned, this fall we’ll be releasing Pyramid Arcade, the culmination of everything we’ve been doing with the pyramid system these past 20 years.

Well, almost — it doesn’t include Zendo, which is too big to fit in Pyramid Arcade. But a new standalone edition of that game is something we’re planning separately, and we have some pretty neat ideas for that, too.

And I’ve got other exciting stuff planned for the future, including 3 completely new board games I’ve been developing for the past few years. Sorry, I can’t even tell you their names yet, let alone when they will be released, but I’m pretty satisfied by each one.

5. If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring game designers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

“Don’t get left behind when the car goes into town.”

This is something my mom used to say (which I actually only learned at her funeral). It was a lesson she’d learned as a kid in rural Kansas, and it literally just refers to the limited availability of opportunities to catch a ride from the farm into town.

But I love it as a mantra for every fleeting chance we get at doing something fun. Pay attention to everything, because doors sometimes open and close quickly, and always say yes to travel and excitement!

Life is one big game, and whoever has the most fun wins!


A huge thank you to Andy for his time. Be sure to check out the Looney Labs site for updates on all things Looney, and check out their Facebook to keep up on all the activities for this weekend’s LooneyCon event, which starts today and runs through Sunday July 24, the actual 20th anniversary! I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us next!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

5 Questions with Constructor and Editor Patti Varol!

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to welcome Patti Varol as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

If you’ve solved crosswords anywhere other than the New York Times for the last few years, you’re bound to have encountered Patti Varol’s clever constructing and crafty cluing. A regular of The Washington Post and other outlets, Patti is a topnotch constructor and a crossword pro.

She’s also no stranger to PuzzleNation Blog, as she has previously contributed advice for constructing your own crosswords and shared her victory at Lollapuzzoola two years ago with the PuzzleNation audience.

Patti was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Patti Varol

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

I solved all kinds of puzzles with my grandparents when I was a kid, and games were a big part of family time when I was growing up. A few years after I finished college, I answered an ad for an editorial job with the crossword/variety department at Penny Press — the puzzle test and the interviews for that position, and then taking that job, well, that changed my life. Suddenly, puzzles and games were something to study from the inside out, to take apart and put back together better, to make from scratch. And that was just as much fun as solving them…and I was getting paid to do it.

2. You keep awfully busy when it comes to puzzles. Can you fill the PuzzleNation audience in on your various puzzle jobs and how they differ from each other?

I do! I’m Rich Norris’s assistant at the L.A. Times Crossword, which means that I write some of his correspondence (I let constructors know what Rich likes or doesn’t like about the puzzles they’ve sent him), and I pre-edit some of the daily puzzles. I also send out the monthly constructor schedule notices and do some of our testing and fact checking.

I’m also the editor of The Crosswords Club, which is a monthly publication with six Sunday-sized crosswords. The puzzles are made by some of the best constructors in the business, so they are as fun as they are challenging. Each monthly envelope also has an extra word game, and all of the puzzles have explanatory blurbs with some trivia and etymology. It’s a really neat product – there’s really nothing else like it on the market.

And I also do puzzle testing/proofreading for a few other venues, including some crossword tournaments and puzzle magazines. And I’m a puzzle constructor for the CrosSynergy puzzle syndicate; my crosswords appear in The Washington Post roughly once a month. I also construct puzzles for the LA Times and Crosswords Club occasionally, and I mentor new constructors who seek out my help.

Every venue I work for has a different style guide and different target audience, so it’s a job in itself to keep them all straight. All of these different puzzle jobs have made me a strong, confident editor and constructor. I love what I do, and I love being good at what I do. And I’m only good at what I do because I’ve had the privilege to work with and learn from the best.

[Image courtesy of Wikihow.com.]

3. What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle? What do you most enjoy — or most commonly avoid — when constructing your own? What do you think is the most common pitfall of constructors just starting out?

A great puzzle has a spark to it — you know right away that it’s something original, fresh, and special. You learn something new, or you see something familiar from a new angle. It’s that aha! moment, that pop. I’m being maddeningly vague here, I realize, but the elements of a great puzzle are elusive and subjective.

That same pop comes when constructing a puzzle, too. Getting a tough grid to come together cleanly, realizing that the right pieces are finally all there in the right order — that can be even more satisfying than solving someone else’s puzzle.

New constructors always seem to start off with more than they can handle: they try to make a Sunday puzzle (21x) before they’ve mastered the smaller daily format, or they try to do a low-word-count themeless before they’re fully comfortable with the 15x themed format. Or they try to cram too much theme in a grid.

Start small, aim big, and you’ll get better with every grid.

4. Between the Timothy Parker plagiarism scandal and the recent Slate article about insensitivity and tone-deafness in cluing in the New York Times crossword, accountability has been a major topic this year in the world of puzzles. As a gatekeeper to getting published yourself, what changes would you like to see made in order to bring crosswords into the 21st century?

Change is already underway, and it’s exciting, because crosswords just keep getting better and better. Just as language evolves — words and their meanings can be as fluid as they can be subjective — so, too, do the media and art forms that rely on language.

[Image courtesy of HomeSchoolSuccess.com.]

The conversations about crosswords, online and offline, illustrate clearly that the crossword community is made up of some of the smartest, most language-sensitive, funniest people you’ll ever meet. We’re in love with our craft, and sometimes we take ourselves and our work too seriously, which is what happens when you’re passionate about what you do. But it’s so important to remember that puzzles are entertainment, a happy diversion, and if we use language incorrectly or insensitively, we’re not providing that diversion. We have to take our fun very seriously!

When we’re polishing a puzzle, crossword editors have a very specific audience in mind — we know our solvers because we listen to them and because we’re solvers ourselves. Because of this larger, ongoing conversation, we know that our solving audience is bigger and more diverse than ever.

This presents an interesting challenge: how do you make every crossword accessible and fun for every solver, regardless of race, gender, or age? Maybe not every clue and every entry will resonate with every single solver, but as long as I’m not actively alienating a solver, and as long as I’m stretching, testing, and entertaining most of my solvers, I’m doing my job.

And there are so many crosswords available now! In addition to the newspaper dailies, there are paper subscription services like The Crosswords Club, plus email/blog subscriptions by so many talented constructors, and more puzzle books and magazines available on newsstands than ever before.

We’ll always have good, old-fashioned puzzles, but now we also have lively, fresh puzzles with more current pop-culture references. This, too, is what happens when you’re passionate about what you do: your art naturally reflects and includes the community it is a part of.

5. If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring constructors, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Solve all the puzzles. All of them. Even the puzzles that, at first glance, look like the kind you don’t like, solve them. And if you don’t know the answers, look them up. There’s no such thing as cheating at a puzzle — it’s all simply research that makes you better at puzzles.

The more you look up, the more you will learn and remember for the next puzzle you solve. And if you want to learn how to make puzzles, or to get better at making puzzles, nothing will teach you more about how a puzzle works than getting stuck — and then unstuck — while solving one.


A huge thank you to Patti for her time. Be sure to check out The Crosswords Club, and follow her on Twitter for baseball tweets and updates on her latest projects! (Her website is currently under construction.) I cannot wait to see what she has in store for us next!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

5 Questions with Author Elizabeth Singer Hunt!

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to welcome Elizabeth Singer Hunt as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Elizabeth Singer Hunt is the author behind the globe-spanning Jack Stalwart books, a young adult series featuring a nine-year-old secret agent, with over two million books sold to her credit! She’s recently expanded into the world of puzzles with the publication of the Secret Agent Training Manual, a terrific introductory guide to codecracking and concealment.

Anagrams, ciphers, scytales, and encoding with other letters, numbers, or symbols are all explained with easy-to-understand instructions and plenty of examples. She even provides sample encryptions to crack, letting readers practice their newfound skills and techniques, giving young readers the chance to become their own Jack Stalwart-style secret agents!

Elizabeth was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Elizabeth Singer Hunt

1. What inspired the adventures of Jack Stalwart?

As a young girl, I struggled to read. It wasn’t so much that reading was a problem for me. I couldn’t find any books that I identified with. I grew up in a small town in Louisiana, and spent most of my weekends fishing, crabbing, playing with frogs and tossing around footballs. Basically, I was a tomboy. It was difficult to find books that I could relate to since most of the ‘girl’ books were about friendship issues, horses and fairies.

At around that same time, Raiders of the Lost Ark opened in theatres. That movie introduced me to archaeology and adventure, and showed me that there was a world outside of Louisiana. As a southern girl, I had no idea that places like ‘Nepal’ and ‘Peru’ even existed!

When I was in my late twenties, I decided to take a crack at writing a children’s book series. I drew upon my childhood experiences and inspirations to create the series’ main character, nine-year-old Jack Stalwart. Jack moonlights as a junior secret agent for the Global Protection Force, or GPF. In every book, he’s sent on a mission to an exotic locale in order to protect one of the world’s most precious treasures.

Millions of children around the world have fallen in love with Jack, largely because they identify with him and want to be like him. He’s like a pint-size Indiana Jones, sprinkled with a bit of James Bond and written for the nine-year-old ‘reluctant reader’ me.

Did they, in turn, inspire the Secret Agent Training Manual, or was that meant to be a standalone creation?

Over the years, I have received thousands of emails from children asking how they can become a secret agent like Jack. So I thought it would be fun to create a series that introduced them to basic secret agent/spy skills. Code-breaking seemed a natural place to start! The first book in the series is called How to Make and Break Top Secret Messages. Subsequent books will discuss basic spy craft and the history of intelligence gathering.

2. Are you a puzzle fan yourself, or did your aptitude with encryption and codebreaking puzzles come out of your research and work as a writer?

A little bit of both! I have always had an affinity and aptitude for word puzzles. My favorite game growing up was Boggle and to this day, I am the family Boggle Champion! Recently, my children and I discovered Bananagrams.

It’s right up my alley, since it relies on the ability to quickly arrange and re-arrange letter tiles into words. That being said, I didn’t know too much about the world of cryptography (except for some of the basics) until I began researching for this book.

Do you have a favorite method of encryption or one that didn’t make it into the SATM?

I am fascinated by all of the methods of encryption featured in the book because each has its use depending upon the situation. I suppose my favorite is the ‘cipher’ because it’s ever-changing and difficult for the average person to solve without a key.

3. Let’s talk a little bit about your writing process, since composing a novel is a puzzle in itself. Do you start with characters, plot, certain scenes in your head already? How do you approach the process of writing a book?

Good question! It depends upon the type of book that I am writing.

For my (fiction) Jack Stalwart chapter book series, I have a fairly unorthodox way of writing. I establish the setting, mission and villain and then I start writing! Everything is free-flowing, and little is planned. I love movies and am extremely influenced by film, so in a way I am writing as though I am watching a film play out before my eyes.

For the (non-fiction) Secret Agent Training Manual book, things needed to be a lot more structured. Research was done, notes were taken and the book was organized from the most basic cryptographic methods to those that took a bit more time and thought to decode. Most of this book was handwritten, while many of my fiction books are typed onto a computer screen from the get-go.

4. What’s next for Elizabeth Singer Hunt?

I’m excited to say that Costco is planning an exclusive nationwide launch of the Jack Stalwart series in volume form next month, i.e. in April of 2016. That means that children across the country will be able to enjoy the Jack Stalwart series four books at a time in a specially produced keepsake volume.

Besides this news and the launch of the Secret Agent Training Manual book, I’ve also recently published the first book in a new middle grade series called Swamp Mysteries: The Treasure of Jean Lafitte. The series chronicles the adventures of four twelve-year-old friends as they solve paranormal mysteries in the swamps and bayous of Louisiana. It’s a bit like Scooby-Doo with a southern twist.

5. If you could give the readers, writers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

As my mother always says, “There’s always a solution to everything. Persevere!”

When I first had the idea for the Jack Stalwart series, I shopped it around to various agents and publishers and they promptly rejected it. I could have felt sorry for myself and given up. But I believed in the idea and in myself. So, I found a solution to the problem. I published it myself, i.e. hired an editor, illustrator, designer and found a local printer to produce the books. I printed thousands of Jack Stalwart books, and sold them personally to as many booksellers as I could find.

After five months of hard work, the series caught the attention of an agent and the head of children’s fiction at Random House UK. (I was living in England at the time). Random House acquired the Jack Stalwart series, and commissioned me to write a total of fourteen books.

The rest as they say is history. Had I listened to the naysayers, Jack Stalwart never would have existed and I never would have had a career as an author. Thankfully, I took my mother’s advice. It’s the same advice that I would give to anyone with a dream. Never give up. Be resourceful, and persevere.


A huge thank you to Elizabeth for her time. Be sure to visit her website for updates on her latest projects. I cannot wait to see what she has in store for us next!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

5 Questions with LEGO Artist Mike Doyle!

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to welcome Mike Doyle as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Mike Doyle is a fantastic representative of the constantly expanding independent LEGO builder community on the Internet. Pushing the limits of what people can create with LEGO bricks, Mike has created some iconic pieces, and exhibitions of his work have even appeared at the Columbus Museum of Art!

He’s also one of the driving forces behind the Beautiful LEGO series of photography books, chronicling the amazing non-official designs — I hesitate to call them “amateur” when you see the level of style, dedication, and sophistication involved — being brought to life by LEGO enthusiasts around the world.

Here’s a little lingo for you. These works are often marked MOC — My Own Creation — and creators like Mike are often called an ALE (Adult LEGO Enthusiast), AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO), or ALH (Adult LEGO Hobbyist).

Mike was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Mike Doyle

1. What is your process when creating one of these ambitious sculptures? How much planning goes into them before the first brick is laid? How do you know if you’re heading in the right direction or if you need to stop, reassess, and try something else?

I always have an idea before I begin. For the Abandoned Houses series, it was to emphasize the textural aspect of houses falling apart. Also I wanted to comment on the mortgage crisis at the time. The burning newspaper building was a comment on the sensationalist, fearful reporting of the media. All the pieces have a social/political or spiritual aspect to them.

[This stunning piece is “Sign of the Times: Failure of the Fourth Estate.”
Click here for a larger image and a closer look at the rich detail.]

Next, I research for interesting, inspirational images. I begin to assemble a basic idea of what I’m looking for in my head and start building from there. In this way, it is an organic process where I go with the flow until a strong look begins to emerge.

The wonderful thing about working with LEGO, is it is a one-step process in terms of visualization. No cutting, sanding, gluing or painting needed. After a small section of the model is looking good, I can stand back and take a look at that section of the finished product. From there, I can assess if the textures are working hard enough or conveying the message I want.

2. What are some of your favorite Mike Doyle originals? And what creations of others have most impressed or inspired you? Did putting together the Beautiful LEGO books introduce you to new builders and designers, or was it more of a chance to highlight the work of others you admired?

I love all of my pieces like children, so it is hard to pick a favorite. But the ones I find that have drawn my eye the most over time are “Sign of the Times: Failure of the Fourth Estate” and the large sci-fi cityscape called “Odan.”

The power of the smoke and explosion rising over the building is arresting and is not what one would expect for a LEGO model. For Odan, the sheer scale of it all and detailing is still mesmerizing for me. Also, the story behind it is filled with metaphysical principles that are of interest to me.

[Odan, in all its glory. Click here for a bigger picture to get a true sense of scale.]

When I began taking up LEGO, I looked online to see if there were others working creatively in this medium. A quick search uncovered a large group of individuals passionate about their unique LEGO creations.

As I began putting together the Beautiful LEGO books, I found more and more works and designers that were of interest to me. An example of a few of them are Moko’s shiny, sparkling “Fenix”, all of MisaQa’s little 15-30 piece micro works, Mike Nieves‘ organic sculptural representations of animals and the bizarre world of Mihai Marius Mihu.

3. Was it always LEGO for you, or did other puzzles and games play a role in forging the creator you are today?

LEGO is a relatively new interest for me. I picked it up 5 1/2 years ago after visiting Legoland, CA. While there, it suddenly hit me that this little plastic ‘toy’ could be used to create serious art. I have to say though that board games have been my lifelong passion. Every month I look forward to my game group meetings where we play the latest hot Euro games.

[One of Mike’s Abandoned Houses designs.]

4. What’s next for Mike Doyle?

I continue to work with LEGO — though at a slower pace than previous years. Right now I’m exploring a series of abstract works based on metaphysical/spiritual principles. I also look forward to building some more epic cityscapes in the Odan theme.

5. If you could give the readers, puzzle fans, and LEGO building enthusiasts in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

The only advice I ever give is to go with the heart. An abundance of creative energy can always be found within one’s passion. Whether it be artistic, work, play, or societal, we all have potential to thrive in our own ways.


A huge thank you to Mike for his time. You can follow his work on his blogspot page, and be sure to check out Beautiful LEGO, Beautiful LEGO: Dark, and Beautiful LEGO: Wild! for some absolutely stunning creations. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

The Year Ahead

Normally today I would be doing a Follow-Up Friday post, but since it’s the first day of 2016, instead of looking back, I thought I would look forward and talk a little bit about what’s to come in 2016!

On the PuzzleNation Blog side of things, I’ve got some great stuff planned for the new year.

For instance, game and puzzle reviews. Good lord, I have the fruits of so many Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns to show you, plus 2016 is promising to be a great year for both puzzles and games, so I have no doubt there are many surprises and terrific solving experiences awaiting the PuzzleNation audience next year.

I’m also bringing back our interview segment 5 Questions. In the past, we’ve had musicians, comedians, puzzle constructors, and even a game-show host appear for 5 Questions, and I’ve already lined up a few interviews that should really interest the readership.

Also, after the positive response to the interview we did with Fred when we announced the addition of a free daily puzzle to the Penny Dell Crosswords App, I’m hoping to interview the rest of the PuzzleNation Team in 2016 and give our fellow PuzzleNationers a glimpse behind the curtain!

On the app side, Fred and the PuzzleNation Team are keeping mum when it comes to new apps and features, but that’s simply because they know I’d immediately run to you guys with any news I heard. *laughs*

But our 2015 Deluxe Combo puzzle set AND the new Penny Dell Crosswords App for Android devices should tide you over until I can pry a few juicy secrets from Fred and the team.

And, of course, I’d love to hear from you! What sorts of posts would you like to see from PuzzleNation Blog in 2016? Let me know!

Thank you for all your support in 2015. On behalf of PuzzleNation, I can promise you that 2016 will be our best, most ambitious year yet!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

(More Than) 5 Questions: Escape the Room edition!

Welcome to a very special edition of 5 Questions!

Usually, 5 Questions is simply that: five individual questions answered by our guest. But this time around, we’ve ditched the 5 Q format in lieu of a more relaxed, conversational interview. I hope you enjoy!


Escape the Room games started as a video-game phenomenon, but have since moved into the real world with great success as teams are tasked with physically finding clues and solving puzzles in order to escape!

[Darcy, right, poses with another solver, complete with
deerstalker and Meerschaum pipe a la Sherlock Holmes.]

Penny Dell Puzzles social media coordinator (and friend of the blog) Darcy recently tackled the challenge posed by Mission Escape Games, and she was gracious enough to take the time out to answer some questions about this intriguing puzzle-solving experience.

So without further ado, let’s get to it in a very special edition of 5 Questions!


So, Darcy, correct me if I’m wrong, but your friend invited you to be locked in a room with her, with only your wits and cunning to help you both escape within a certain amount of time? How did this come about?

As unfavorable as it may seem, it was actually a birthday gift. My husband bought me tickets to Mission Escape Games in NYC, and we went with a group of friends.

Oh, so how many of you could be in a given escape room? (I’m assuming there is more than one.)

There are a few rooms. We had 9 people in our room. Our group was teamed up with another group to find out what happened to Dr. Jekyll before Mr. Hyde showed up.

All the other rooms have other themes, and the owners try to change up the challenges frequently. That’s so people can keep coming back and playing something fresh, but also so others who have played won’t give away the secrets of how to escape

So your group and another team are all in a room together. What does the room look like? Is there someone there to guide you and answer questions, or are you on your own?

You’re on your own! We were told that we had an hour to escape and to look everywhere — and they mean everywhere — for clues. We walked into a small Victorian-era room with a fireplace and other period props and just started searching. We upended tables, took out drawers, you name it.

Many clues didn’t make sense at first, but as the game progressed, we realized every clue was there for a reason. There was also a small TV screen in the corner of the room that very ominously counted down your time.

But as we found out, the TV screen served a dual purpose. We had someone watching us the entire time who would provide clues, if necessary, through the screen.

Can you give us an example of some of the clues you found, and how they made more sense as the game progressed?

Not to give too much away, but we found a key that seemed to have no relevance at first, since it didn’t open the only door in the room. We soon discovered our little room was not as small as it seemed.

Most clues turned out to be more than they seemed at first. There were a lot of puzzles solved by trying to find out what was missing, rather than where something was hiding.

You said that the people running the game could give you clues through the television. Could you elaborate on that?

If we got stuck, we could ask for a hint. At one point, we were all standing over a chess board, befuddled because we knew it needed to come into play, we just didn’t know how. After discussing chess moves for a while, the TV screen showed us a poem using the words “King,” “Queen,” and “Knight.”

This reminded us that much earlier, we had found a deck of cards, so we knew that the deck of cards and the chess board were both necessary to solving that part of the puzzle.

How long did you have to escape?

One hour.

And did you?

Technically, no. But we came so close, our “handler” gave us an extra two minutes to finish.

Do you feel like a bigger or smaller group would have helped more?

You know, at first I wasn’t so sure about working with complete strangers, but by the end of the mission, I felt that every single person contributed in some way.

In my case, the more people present, the more knowledge brought to the table. For instance, I’m terrible with numbers, but others in the group used their very strong math skills to keep us afloat. My strength is in brain teasers and optical illusions, so I could help identify some of the riddles and visual tricks.

So you would definitely go again?

Absolutely! We had such a good time! We made new friends and, despite not escaping in time, we still felt very proud of ourselves.


Many thanks to Darcy for her time and her story about Mission Escape Games! You can check out her social media skills on the Facebook and Twitter accounts for Penny Dell Puzzles!

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