Delving into the Lollapuzzoola 14 Puzzles!

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The fourteenth edition of Lollapuzzoola, as is tradition, arrived on a Saturday in August, but for the second year in a row, it was hosted online to allow tournament solving from home.

I was not in virtual attendance, but I did sign up for the Next Day Division puzzle packet. Last weekend, I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hands at this year’s tournament puzzles, and I was not disappointed. Lollapuzzoola continues to push the envelope with inventive themes and unique spins on how to bring crosswords to life.

This year’s theme was “This Time, It’s Virtual… Again.” Every puzzle had something to do with social media, social distancing, or some other aspect of virtual life that emerged during the pandemic, and the constructors were clearly inspired in all sorts of ways. Let’s take a look at what they came up with.


hit-me-up

Two rehearsal puzzles served as a warm-up for this year’s tournament crosswords. The first was constructed by Brooke Husic and Sid Sivakumar and entitled “Hit Me Up!” This puzzle immediately reminded solvers that anything could happen at Lollapuzzoola.

Not only were the theme entries reading down — which isn’t that weird, but it’s fairly uncommon — but there were animated GIFs as clues for three of the answers. The theme was fairly accessible: phrases that started off with a method of communication like ZOOM or TEXT, confirmed by the revealer CONTACT HIGH (since the method of contact was the highest part of the down entry). All in all, a puzzle with a solid hook, complimented by good grid fill. Exactly what you want from a warm-up.

The second rehearsal puzzle was constructed by the same duo (but with Sid leading off the byline this time) and entitled “Box Score.”

This was a strong follow-up, featuring the word WIN as a rebus-style single-box entry, which allowed for some devious crossings (like ENTWINE crossing RAW INGREDIENTS). The fill was smooth and I learned that KOREA is the home of the Baekdu-daegan mountains. Neat!

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Puzzle 1: Extremely Casual Friday by Robyn Weintraub

The tournament puzzles kicked off with this enjoyable opener, a 15x grid with clean fill and quite the appropriate theme for a virtual tournament.

Each theme entry was a phrase starting with a type of pants — SWEAT, PAJAMA, YOGA, and hilariously, NO — tied together with the answer word PANTS in the bottom-right corner.

Well constructed, humorous, and a great solve… it’s the recipe for an ideal Lollapuzzoola puzzle #1.

Interesting grid entries included REPLY ALL, SLOPPY JOES, and BEST BET, and my favorite clue was “This puzzle was constructed by Brooke Husic, e.g.” for LIE.

debamlen

[Here, Deb Amlen (blue checkmark and all) demonstrates Twitter tagging.]

Puzzle 2: Tag! by Amanda Rafkin

This 17x puzzle embraced the social media theme by embedding @ symbols in the grid as starters for the theme entries (where @ represented AT, like in @ASTANDSTILL), allowing for some fun crossings.

The theme was encouraged further by the revealer TWITTER MENTIONS, as well as a blue checkmark next to Amanda’s byline. (For the uninitiated, the blue checkmark, aka the blue tick, is used on Twitter to indicate someone is a verified user. It’s often a source of some small social media clout as well.)

With strong fill and some signature Rafkin flare — it’s very Amanda to have a Sondheim reference — this was a great confidence-building solve with a heap of style. I quite enjoyed this puzzle.

Interesting grid entries included AW NUTS, EYE DOC, and STAYED INSIDE, and my favorite clue was “Sound that might drown out some $%!#ing bad words” for BLEEP.

textspeak

Puzzle 3: Get the Message by Sid Sivakumar

This 19x grid with vertical symmetry was a definite step-up in difficulty after the first two puzzles, but it’s also a strong puzzle with a great design.

The theme for this one involved chat/texting slang like TTYL and ROFL, and like the second rehearsal puzzle, it had a rebus element where those abbreviations were contained in a single box, used by two crossing entries. This was supported not only by the cluing — which included a fake username and comment to indicate some chat or textspeak was involved — but the revealer CHATBOX in the middle of the grid.

I probably wouldn’t have realized as quickly that there was a rebus involved if I hadn’t had rebuses on the brain after solving the rehearsal puzzles. But even without all hints, this was a fairly tight grid that made the most of its theme. (I wasn’t a huge fan of IN appearing three times in the grid, but that might be seen as a nitpick.)

Interesting grid entries included PRESS KIT, SASHAY AWAY, SIERRA MIST, and EVIL ONE, and my favorite clue was “Bar, barn, or barrel” for UNIT.

200

Puzzle 4: Connecting… by Brooke Husic

Okay, here we go.

Puzzle 4 was a 15x grid with one doozy of a gimmick. Most of the down clues were replaced with an animated GIF of three dots moving (like the one above), the instantly-recognizable image of a message either being typed or incoming, but that hasn’t arrived yet. (For Next Day Division solvers, there was no animation, just three dots, but the message was still clear.)

All the across clues were still there, and SOME of the down clues as well. The remaining down clues were long, and almost felt like the clues from a cryptic or British-style crossword, because they didn’t seem to quite fit the answers in the grid.

I can only imagine the baffled terror I would have felt in the moment during the tournament if I tackled this puzzle live. I imagine it would have been similar to this poor soul’s experience:

tim pierce

Thankfully, I finally realized what was going on. The down clues weren’t just for their particular coordinate, they were for all of the words in that column. For instance, 55-Down was clued “A+ hosts,” and the answer to 55-Down was MCS. That could fit. But only “hosts” applied to 55-Down. “A” and “+” were the clues for the two down entries above 55-Down: 1-Down ALPHA and 32-Down AND.

Across-only solvers probably got farther than most with this one at the start, and I can imagine the grid would feel almost impenetrable if you didn’t figure out the gimmick.

But man, this is clever as hell and a solving experience nobody is going to forget anytime soon.

Interesting grid entries included HIGGS, OPEN SECRET, and SVELTE, and my favorite clue was either “A+ hosts,” as listed above, or “Get the picture SO much” because “SO” clued BOO and I thought the misdirect was very clever.

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Puzzle 5: You’re Muted by Patti Varol

After a brain-melter like Puzzle 4, Puzzle 5 was clearly designed as a cool-down puzzle before the tournament final. And I’m sure it served that purpose amiably for many solvers.

But for some reason, this theme took me the longest to get, and I felt so dumb when I realized how obvious it was.

This 21x grid featured theme entries where part of the phrase that sounded like “You’re” had been removed. For instance, JUNIOR EXECUTIVES became JUNE EXECUTIVES, and VEGETABLE PUREE became VEGETABLE PAY.

For some reason, the sound aspect of it just blew past me several times on the way to the forum, and I was done with the grid for MINUTES before it finally dawned on me. Patti is going to be so disappointed with me.

The theme is terrific and the grid fill is solid. This was a great capper for the tournament proper, helping bring (most) solvers back down to earth after the whirlwind that was Puzzle 4.

Interesting grid entries included SNIVEL, SINEWED, MOONSTRUCK, PHOTOBOMB, and ALL TIME LOW, and my favorite clues were “Dirt pie ingredient” for OREO and “Notable Ford of the 1970s” for GERALD.

finals

[The tournament finals, live on Twitch!]

Puzzle 6: Finals by Wyna Liu

As always, there were two sets of clues for the Finals puzzle, the Local and the more difficult Express clues. No matter which clues you were working with, you were in for a terrific tournament finale.

This themeless 15x was tough but engaging, featuring lots of long entries and unusual phrases crossing, making for a satisfyingly challenge finale and a suitable final boss for the top contenders. The entry NHL MVP tripped me up more than once, what a brutal combination of letters, but the tight grid and strong cluing for both the Local and Express solvers made this an excellent wrap-up to a great day of puzzling

Interesting grid entries included CRAFT VODKA, THE ROYAL WE, “I’M NOT A CAT” (referencing that amazing online legal proceeding debacle), ACID ROCK, Y-AXES, and LEO X. Both the Local and Express sets of clues had some gems, so I’ll list them separately below:

Local clues:

  • “Saved butt” for ROACH
  • “Ah, this is the life (to Mario and Luigi)!” for ONE-UP
  • “Ones for the books?” for SCHOLARS
  • “Moving parts of a painting on ‘Scooby-Doo'” for EYES

Express clues:

  • “What might require a blunt instrument?” for ROACH
  • “Congress, after adjourning?” for BREAKUPSEX
  • “Video game life form?” for ONE-UP
  • “Cabs, e.g.” for REDS
  • “Whence a popular countdown in Times Sq.” for TRL

There was also a tiebreaker themeless mini by Nam Jin Yoon. The mini was a quick and satisfying solve, anchored around the grid-spanning entries GATECRASHER and READ THE ROOM. Loaded with great vocabulary, this puzzle offered a nice wind-down after a strong tournament and several really engaging puzzles.

Interesting grid entries included RAHRAH and TOO SOON, and my favorite clue from the mini was “Some fishy characters?” for MERMEN.

[There was also a meta-puzzle suite AND a collection of ten mini-crosswords dubbed the Mid-Day Mini Meta which was constructed by a small army of strong up-and-coming constructors, both of which are absolutely worth your time.]


The puzzles at Lollapuzzoola always impress, and this year was no exception. The grids were neatly constructed, there was little crosswordese, and the creative themes, grid designs, clues, and puzzle mechanics ensured that not only would fun be had by all, but that the puzzles would linger in your memory. Especially Puzzle 4.

The puzzles were varied and engaging, and the Next Day Division solving experience is always a treat. Congratulations on the competitors and the organizers who made it all happen, especially in a virtual format with so many additional solvers. (Click here to check out the Twitch feed of the entire tournament!)

Lollapuzzoola is only getting more creative, more groundbreaking, and more clever with each passing year, and it’s just awesome to watch it grow and evolve.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year!


dailypopwsicon

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PuzzleNation is Sponsoring This Year’s Lollapuzzoola!

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The summer is always a marvelous time for puzzly events. We just had the Boswords tournament, and next weekend, there’s another online crossword tournament awaiting solvers!

Lollapuzzoola returns on Saturday, August 21st, and this year, we’re proud to announce that PuzzleNation is one of the tournament’s sponsors!

That’s right, we are providing free subscriptions to The Crosswords Club Digital to all twelve of the tournament finalists (12 in all).

Be sure to click the link for more details, or to sign up for this year’s event.

And if you’re unfamiliar with The Crosswords Club Digital, let’s fill you in on the details!

The-Crosswords-Club-Digital-XWCD-ribbon

It’s a digital subscription service that provides you with six Sunday-sized crosswords each month, created by some of the sharpest crossword constructors in the business today, and edited by puzzle luminaries Patti Varol and Brad Wilber.

You can solve them on your desktop, on your tablet, or printed out, and each month is guaranteed to provide you with puzzles as fun as they are challenging. Plus each month, you receive a bonus word puzzle!

Click this link to check out a sample of the terrific puzzles you’ll get through The Crosswords Club Digital.

I have been a huge fan of the The Crosswords Club for years, and their Digital service is another fantastic way to get top-notch puzzles with the click of a button.

You can check out the full details for The Crosswords Club Digital here, and don’t forget to give Lollapuzzoola a chance as well.

They’ve announced the constructors for this year’s tournament, and the field is loaded with talent! This year’s puzzles will be handled by Brooke Husic, Sid Sivakumar, Wyna Liu, Amanda Rafkin, Patti Varol, and Robyn Weintraub. (Plus they’ve assembled a dynamite ten-person team to craft their bonus event, the Mid-day Multi Mini Meta Mayhem.)

Will you be virtually attending Lollapuzzoola, fellow puzzlers? Or checking out The Crosswords Club Digital? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


dailypopwsicon

Have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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Halfway through the Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League!

boswords new

Last night marked the fifth week of competitive puzzly fun in the Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League is a clever weekly spin on traditional crossword tournament-style solving. Instead of cracking through a number of puzzles in a single day (or two), the Fall Themeless League consists of one themeless crossword each week, scored based on your accuracy and how fast you complete the grid.

Each week’s puzzle only has one grid, but there are three sets of clues, each representing a different difficulty level for solvers. Smooth is the least challenging, Choppy is the middle ground, and Stormy is the most challenging. (When solvers registered to participate — which you can still do now! — they chose the difficulty level that suited them best.)

With a lineup of top-flight constructors involved and the Boswords team organizing, it was a can’t miss prospect, and hundreds of solvers signed up for the challenge of two months of themeless puzzle solving and a bit of friendly competition.

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Now that we’re officially halfway through the season, it feels like the right time to take a moment and reflect on the last four weeks of puzzling.

I will only be referencing the previous four puzzles — not last night’s Week 5 themeless — so there are only potential spoilers for non-participants. Competitors may read at their leisure.

Although I am quite familiar with crosswords, I am far from the fastest or cagiest solver, nor have I ever competed in any tournament solving, so I opted to enter the Choppy rank.

And I have very much enjoyed the experience thus far. Themeless puzzles always often a fun challenge, mixing long answers — often crossing or stacked with other long answers — with strong cluing, clever grid design, and most notably, no theme around which to frame the grid (or your solve, if you happen to dig into the theme entries immediately).

The cluing feels very fresh, mixing topical entries, meme fodder, and slang with traditional crossword classics and a dash of pop culture references. Although my lack of football knowledge betrayed me in week 1, I’ve made up some ground in weeks 3 and 4, posting my two quickest times, both with clean grids.

My times are far from cheetah-like; the top solvers in the Choppy rankings often solve these puzzles in half the time I do, and manage perfect scores to boot. I am getting faster, it seems, which is probably due to a growing familiarity with the solving interface, wasting less time maneuvering the screen.

I’m definitely finding it challenging. There are plenty of clues I pass over two or three times before coming up with something that fits the entries I’ve already placed, and these diabolical constructors always slip some devious wordplay and a-ha cluing into their puzzles.

In October alone, solvers contended with puzzles from Tracy Gray, Nate Cardin, Amanda Rafkin, and David Quarfoot, each bringing a unique style and flavor to their grid entries and cluing. Each themeless has been a challenge all its own, and once you finally figure out each solver’s tricks, you’re confronted with a new constructor the next week, and you start all over again.

Still, it’s great fun, a nice puzzly touch to the week that feels like you’re part of a community, bolstered not only by a communal solving experience once a week, but by Twitch chats and interactions with the organizers and fellow solvers.

We’re only halfway through, and I’d have to declare the Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League a rousing success. I can’t wait to see what surprises the November puzzles bring, and what awaits the top solvers in the championship round.

Whether you’re competing alongside us or simply enjoying puzzles at your own speed, thanks for visiting. And happy puzzling!


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A New Weekly Crossword League Coming Soon!

boswords new

The internet puzzle community has done an impressive job over the last six months of adapting to the social distancing restrictions of the current COVID-19 crisis, with tournaments like Crossword Tournament From Your Couch, Lollapuzzoola, and Boswords successfully going virtual in 2020.

And now John Lieb and Andrew Kingsley, the creative team behind Boswords, have announced a new tournament-inspired online puzzle project to keep crossword fans engaged for the next few months!

It’s called The Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League, and every Monday night in October and November, a new themeless crossword will be posted for competitors to solve. That’s eight puzzles (plus a championship round to follow), along with a preseason puzzle to get people used to the format.

Although each week’s puzzle only has one grid, there will be three sets of clues, each representing a different difficulty level for solvers. When you register to participate, you’ll choose the difficulty level for your clues.

From least challenging to most challenging, the ranks are called Smooth, Choppy, and Stormy. (Quite appropriate, given that we’re heading into unfamiliar waters here!)

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Each week’s puzzle will be accompanied by a Twitch stream where participants can follow along and discuss all things puzzly with their fellow crossword enthusiasts!

You can compete as an individual or as part of a pair, and with a one-time registration fee of $25 — or $5 for students and those in need — that’s very reasonable indeed!

Not only that, but they’ve already announced the team of constructors assembled for the League, and it is a stacked roster of talent.

Nate Cardin, Emily Carroll, Tracy Gray, David Quarfoot, Amanda Rafkin, Claire Rimkus, Sid Sivakumar, Yacob Yonas, and Stella Zawistowski are all contributing puzzles, and you won’t know ahead of time which constructor’s puzzle you’ll get on a given week, which keeps things interesting.

With experienced crossword constructor and editor Brad Wilber as the League’s puzzle editor and the dynamic duo of Lieb and Kingsley as assistant editors and League directors, I have high hopes for this project going forward.

Check out the full informational video on the Boswords homepage, as well as links for further info and registration! (Register by September 28th to participate!)

I think this is an incredibly cool and ambitious project, and a really neat way to bring tournament-style solving in a bite-size format to as many puzzlers as possible.

Will you be taking part in this exciting new puzzle challenge, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Delving into the Lollapuzzoola 13 puzzles!

lolla logo

The thirteenth edition of Lollapuzzoola, as is tradition, arrived on a Saturday in August, but for the first time ever, it was hosted online to allow tournament solving from home. As one of the highlights of the puzzly calendar, I was glad to see it make the virtual jump, as Boswords did before it.

I was not in virtual attendance, but I did sign up for the Next Day Division puzzle packet. Last weekend, I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hands at this year’s tournament puzzles, and I was not disappointed. Lollapuzzoola continues to push the envelope with inventive themes and unique spins on how to bring crosswords to life.

This year’s theme was “Don’t Touch That Dial!” so every puzzle had something to do with television or TV channels, and the constructors were clearly inspired in all sorts of ways. Let’s take a look at what they came up with.


Instead of Brian Cimmet’s usual Twinlets puzzle as a warm-up, this year featured two practice puzzles. The first, constructed by Patrick Blindauer and entitled “I Want My MTV,” allowed solvers to hit the ground running.

The accessible theme — adding the letter M to established TV shows, a la SCOOBYDOOM or AMERICAN MIDOL — is the sort of fun and frivolous idea to spark solver imaginations and ready them for a proper day of puzzling.

Interesting grid entries included DATUM and I’LL BE BACK (as well as some nice misdirection with YEE-haw instead of HEE haw), and my favorite clue was “Traffic cop?” for NARC.

The second practice puzzle, a themeless mini constructed by Brian Cimmet, offered a slight uptick in difficulty and a nice preview of the sort of solving tournament attendees would see in the final.

Interesting grid entries included BOBA TEA, ORCHESTRATE, and ROLLED R (as well as tournament constructor STELLA Zawistowski getting referenced!), and my favorite clue was “One of three in ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day'” for COMMA.

soap opera

Puzzle 1: Soap Operas by Brooke Husic

The competition puzzles kicked off with this terrific opener, a 17×13 grid that showed off the flexibility and creativity of construction and grid design that keeps Lollapuzzoola fresh. (Also, I’m a sucker for a punny start to a tournament, so the theme was a plus for me.)

The themed entries featured commercial soap brands as part of common phrases (like IVORY TOWER and DOVE TAILED), which were then clued as “soap operas” for viewers.

It was a nicely constructed grid that flowed well, and it’s exactly the sort of puzzle to introduce new solvers to tournament puzzles while entertaining the established vets.

Interesting grid entries included DIWALI, ACADIA, and HOPE SO, and my favorite clue was “Card game that can go on and on and on and on and on and on and on, like this clue” for WAR.

Puzzle 2: The Final Countdown by Sid Sivakumar

This tall, thin 12×25 grid (coupled with THAT title) virtually guaranteed that Europe’s faux-epic anthem would be stuck in your head for a good chunk of the tournament, but I’ll forgive Sid, because I really enjoyed this puzzle’s hook.

The theme entries all began with a number (like 4 LETTER WORDS or 3-D TELEVISION), and as you expect, they counted down until reaching the climactic pronouncement AND WE’RE LIVE at the bottom part of the grid. It’s a fun idea that was complimented nicely by the unusual grid, and the puzzle flowed nicely from top to bottom as the entries counted down.

Interesting grid entries included PEARLED, RETURN KEY, MR SULU (which, before I looked at the clue, I kinda hoped would be MR. SHOW), and BUNGALOW. My favorite clues were “[Feed me! Pet me! Feed me! Play with me!] … or actually sometimes [Leave me alone!]” for MEOW and “‘Do not feed the ____’ (advice for bridge travelers and internet users)” for TROLL.

At this point, I noticed that both Puzzle 1 and 2 had an all-caps clue where the answer was a TV network. This feature continued throughout the tournament as a nice little through line, though its ultimate purpose wouldn’t reveal itself until after Puzzle 5. Stay tuned.

toy story

[Image courtesy of Pixar.]

Puzzle 3: Flipping Channels by Rachel Fabi

A swapping-themed puzzle is practically a tradition at Lollapuzzoola at this point, so I wasn’t at all surprised to see that idea adapted for TV with Puzzle 3’s hook. Each pair of theme entries not only included the names of channel, but swapped the second halves of phrases including those channels. For instance FOXGLOVES and OXYGENMOLECULES became OXYGENGLOVES and FOXMOLECULES.

As I solved, I wasn’t sure if these would be random pairs swapped, mirrored pairs swapped, or a continuous chain of swaps throughout the puzzle, so it took me a little longer to complete the grid. This was a definite step-up in difficulty from Puzzle 1 and 2, but not excessively so. (Some of the vocabulary also slowed me down, since I didn’t know NITTANY or INFODEMIC.) Still, it was a solid puzzle and an appropriate challenge for the midway point of the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included NOGOODNIK, CHEETO, HOT POCKET, GO GREEN, and the aforementioned INFODEMIC, and my favorite clues were “Nanjiani’s ‘The Lovebirds’ costar” for RAE and “Bisexual Greta of Old Hollywood” for GARBO, two clues that felt very fresh and topical, particularly for entries that solvers have seen plenty of times before.

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[Image courtesy of Game Show Network.]

Puzzle 4: Deal or No Deal by joon pahk

A big jump in difficulty and complexity, Puzzle 4 was an immensely clever and well-executed grid that took a familiar crossword concept — removing or adding letters from entries — and mined it for unexpected depth. On the left-hand side of the grid, a letter was added to both the clue AND the entry. For example, “Entranced cover” clued DAWNING. [Bolding is my own to highlight the added letter.]

On the right-hand side of the grid (but in the same row, one black square away), that entry was complemented by the same letter subtracted from both clue AND entry. The example above, for instance, was matched by “Go _own a spout” cluing _RAIN OUT. [Again, spacing added is my own to highlight the missing letter.]

These letter trades — the deal or no deal of the title — were tightly executed and made total sense to the solver without any explanation needed. Not only that, but the added/missing letter was always taken from the same part of the word on the other side! (Third letter E in FREIGHT was the missing third letter in SH_ARING next door.)

It’s incredibly impressive construction that is nicely balanced by solid fill and strong cluing. This is easily my favorite joon pahk puzzle I’ve ever solved, and will no doubt make my list of top puzzles of the year.

Interesting grid entries included GONZAGA, MEERKAT, NIP/TUCK, TWYLA, and SCHLEP, and my favorite clues were “Slightly subpar, ironically” for ONE OVER, “Wednesday the third?” for SILENT D, and “Snow or paint, in certain arenas” for AMMO.

conman1112

Puzzle 5: Schedule Swaps by Stella Zawistowski

This 21x marked the end of the regular tournament puzzles, and it felt like a suitable final boss for most solvers in the competition. The grid was dense, well-constructed, and challenging, featuring another smartly-executed swapping gimmick. This time around, the theme was common phrases where one of the words was also a TV show, but that show was replaced with another TV show to make a new phrase.

For example, the phrase BIRTHING COACH became BIRTHING SCRUBS as COACH was relocated elsewhere in the grid. Fitting in all these themed entries — six of them! — plus their accompanying TV shows was no doubt a hefty challenge for the constructor, but Zawistowski made it feel effortless in this demanding but well-made puzzle.

Interesting grid entries included GALILEO, SAN PEDRO, DISCIPLE, PETSIT, AIRPOPS, and SO SUE ME (as well as the thoroughly baffling ONE O’ CAT, which I had to look up after), and my favorite clue was “‘Silver Springs,’ to ‘Go Your Own Way'” for B-SIDE.

As for the all-caps TV network clues we spotted earlier? They also appeared in Puzzles 3, 4, and 5, and it turns out, they were part of a clever little metapuzzle hidden in the tournament grids.

The five TV networks, one in each puzzle, turned out to be TBS, VH1, SyFy, ESPN, and TNT. And if you take the first letter of each, you get the hidden answer TV SET.

Very nicely done, constructors!

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Puzzle 6: Finals by Robyn Weintraub

As always, there were two sets of clues for the Finals puzzle, the Local and the more difficult Express clues. No matter which clues you were working with, you were in for a terrific tournament finale.

With a pair of 12-letter entries from classic children’s television as anchors for the puzzle — MISTER ROGERS and BERT AND ERNIE — Weintraub delivered a tight grid with some strong fill and plenty of long, crossing entries in the corners to keep solvers guessing.

For me, this was a nice tournament landmark, as I powered through the Express clues and completed the grid without having to reference the easier Local clues once. I know this is commonplace for the top solvers, but it was a nice confidence boost for me as an enthusiastic solver, but hardly the fastest or the most competent.

It was a perfect final puzzle to wrap up one of the most consistent and enjoyable puzzle sets they’ve ever assembled for the tournament. With over 1,000 solvers participating through the online format, I can’t think of a better way to introduce them to the spirit and style of Lollapuzzoola than this year’s puzzles. Nicely done, team!

Interesting grid entries included WENT TO BED, SQUARE PEG, FALSE ALARM, PECOS, and NSFW. Both the Local and Express sets of clues had some gems, so I’ll list them separately below:

Local clues:

  • “Big cheese with the bacon” for CFO
  • “Escape room finds” for KEYS
  • “Month in which National ‘Twilight Zone’ Day is observed” for MAY
  • “‘____ Pressure’ (‘Baywatch’ episode with a punny title)” for PIER

Express clues:

  • “Place after place” for SHOW
  • “Canal zone?” for EAR
  • “‘Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ‘Aina i ka Pono’ or ‘Excelsior'” for STATE MOTTO
  • “PBS ‘Viewers Like You'” for DONORS
  • “‘Panic at Malibu ____’ (‘Baywatch’ pilot episode) for PIER

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[Top(less) puzzlers.]

There was also a tiebreaker themeless mini by Amanda Rafkin (who we recently interviewed!). The mini was a quick and satisfying solve, loaded with great vocabulary, offering a nice cooldown after a strong tournament and several really engaging puzzles.

Interesting grid entries included MACARONI ART and SO EXTRA, and my favorite clue from the mini was “One paying dollars for quarters” for TENANT.


The puzzles at Lollapuzzoola always impress, and this year was no exception. The grids were tight, there was little crosswordese, and the creative themes, grid designs, and puzzle mechanics ensured that not only would fun be had by all, but that the puzzles would linger in your memory.

Mission accomplished, and congratulations on the competitors and the organizers who made it all happen, especially in a virtual format with so many additional solvers. Lollapuzzoola is only getting more creative, more groundbreaking, and more clever with each passing year, and it’s just awesome to watch it grow and evolve.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year!


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5 Questions for Crossword Constructor Amanda Rafkin

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 we’re excited to welcome Amanda Rafkin as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

rafkin

When she’s not contributing to musical theater with her deft piano performances (or entertaining herself with various showtunes), Amanda constructs crosswords for various outlets including her own puzzle website, Brain Candy, where she posts a new puzzle every day. She also features other constructors, providing a valuable platform for her fellow cruciverbalists!

She has been published in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Universal, The Inkubator, and many other outlets, and recently contributed a puzzle to the 2020 Boswords crosswords tournament (which just so happened to be your lead blogger’s favorite puzzle from this year’s tournament).

Amanda 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 Amanda Rafkin

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

I really started loving puzzles at some point in my pre-teen years when I would confiscate my mom’s half-finished puzzles when she would step out of the room. I think she eventually got so fed up with me stealing her puzzles that she bought me my own book of variety puzzles, and since then I’ve been off to the races.

I became interested in constructing a couple of years ago when I got more serious with my crossword solving and felt that crossword construction could fall in that blissful middle-of-the-Venn-diagram area between something I might be good at and something I might love. I guess who’s good at anything is a matter of opinion, but I’m happy to report that I was wildly correct about the love part.

2. In addition to your crossword constructing, you’re also a musician, which seems to be a recurring theme among some constructors (Patrick Blindauer, Brian Cimmet) and tournament solvers (Dan Feyer, John Delfin). Do your musical skills ever influence your puzzling, or do you ever find yourself relying on your puzzly skills while performing or composing?

This is something I’ve heard many times (the relationship between crossword constructing and musicianship) to the point that I, myself, wonder if there’s something to it! If there is, it’s not something I’m aware of at all. For me, the two things are pretty separate experiences in my life.

The one exception to this I guess would be my theater-themed puzzles that I’ve grown so fond of. Every Thursday on my website is “Theatre Thursday”, where I post a midi-sized Broadway-themed puzzle, often accompanied by a bunch of relevant musical theater information that no one asked for. I also have a couple of Broadway-themed midi packs on the horizon. One is completed and will be released sometime in the (probably) not-too-distant future, and the other is a midi pack centering around each of Sondheim’s 19 major works, which I’m working on right now.

sondheim

[Sondheim constructed cryptic crosswords for New York Magazine,
so Amanda certainly finds herself in good company!]

3. To call the last few months tumultuous is an understatement, considering public unrest and pushback against infringements on civil rights. In a similar vein, there has been a more strenuous push in crosswords recently (Women’s March, for instance) for greater representation for women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community. In your estimation, how are the major outlets faring regarding inclusion?

Well there’s a loaded question! The numbers will tell you that, by and large, they are faring rather poorly. There are of course some exceptions (notably, the USA Today, which publishes far more puzzles by women than men). If you’re looking at the major outlet (The New York Times), this can feel challenging to assess in some ways.

If we’re acknowledging a recent push for inclusion, then we also have to take into consideration the often 18-month delay between the time of construction and the time of publication. As a result, the things that are happening now may not reveal themselves to us until over a year from now. None of this is an excuse for not having implemented a more inclusive system long ago, but I do think that even the major outlets with a shorter queue than The New York Times may not reveal to us any of aforementioned representational shifts until months from now.

I hope this is something that we as constructors and solvers continue to keep our eyes on, so that we can continue to work on opening doors that may have previously felt closed, and offering equal opportunities to anyone and everyone interested in the endeavor of crossword construction.

I think, as a whole, the general industry is still struggling to understand the difference between “I personally don’t know this because of my own life experiences” and “This isn’t gettable/knowable/likeable for solvers”. Inclusion begets inclusion, as exclusion begets exclusion. By leaving certain things/people/customs etc. out of puzzles, we continue this cycle in perpetuity. The more different kinds of people we have making puzzles, the more likely it is that any given solver will be able to do a puzzle and see themselves within it. And, at least for me, that is a goal that I always try to keep in mind when constructing.

rafkat

[Solving runs in the family.]

4. What’s next for Amanda Rafkin?

I wish Amanda Rafkin knew the answer to that question as well. Given how things are going, it seems it will be a while before I’ll be doing much in the way of music again. So, for now, I’m going to continue to do what I’ve been doing for most of quarantine: making puzzles, putting them into the world, and hoping that they bring some kind of joy to folks during a time when joy can be a tricky thing to come by. Would it be awesome to be able to make a living solely from making crossword puzzles? HECK YES! So maybe that’s a goal for sometime in the future as well.

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

No matter who you are, no matter how much you know, no matter where you went to school, no matter who your friends are, no matter the experiences you’ve had in your life, no matter how woke you think you are, you have blind spots. We all have blind spots. And sometimes, in the wake of these blind spots can come decisions that hurt other people. We are imperfect but lifelong students on this collective journey to betterment.

Be open to feedback, specifically from people who have had different life experiences than you. Feedback is not criticism; it’s the space from which we all grow. So get feedback on your work and actually listen. Resist the urge to be defensive. Collaborate with other people. If they differ from you in some way, even better.

Oh, and if you’ve been tossing around the idea of constructing for a while but haven’t actually taken the leap…jump. The kindest and most supportive people are on the other side waiting to catch you.


A huge thank you to Amanda for her time. You can follow her on Twitter for updates on her puzzly and musical endeavors, and be sure to visit her puzzle website Brain Candy for all sorts of puzzle goodness. We can’t wait to see what she cooks up 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!