5 Questions with Crossword Constructor Joanne Sullivan

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 Joanne Sullivan as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

[Joanne stands beside fellow constructor Tracy Bennett at this year’s Indie 500 tournament.]

Joanne is a terrific constructor whose puzzles have appeared in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and numerous other outlets. One of her puzzles is now featured on The New York Times‘ Wordplay Blog as one of their 11 Remarkable Crosswords for New Solvers (each hand-picked by Will Shortz). Her puzzle with Erik Agard at the 2016 Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, “Do I Hear a Waltz?”, was one of my favorite crosswords last year.

She often spends her time teaching crossword classes, spreading not only the love of crossword construction and wordplay to others, but hard-won knowledge and experience from a fun and innovative constructor.

Joanne 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 Joanne Sullivan

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

I’ve enjoyed a variety of puzzles and games ever since I can remember, but I had avoided crossword puzzles for decades. When I was a young adult, I would occasionally take a stab at The Sunday New York Times crossword and would manage to get only a couple of answers after reading every single clue. I was amazed that my father could routinely complete the whole puzzle. I didn’t aspire to match his achievement because I thought that crosswords were filled with useless, arcane information.

When I subscribed to GAMES Magazine, I solved all the puzzles in it except for the crosswords because I had the mistaken assumption that all crosswords were dry and boring. I now realize that I missed out on a lot of fun. The high-quality crosswords in GAMES were part of the new wave of puzzles that were filled with current references and lively phrases.

Many years later an office mate encouraged a group of our fellow coworkers to solve The New York Times crossword together each weekday. I never really enjoyed the computer programming work that I was supposed to be focusing on so I welcomed the diversion. I immediately was surprised at how clever and entertaining the crosswords were.

Like the character in Green Eggs and Ham, I learned that I actually liked the nourishment that I had assumed would be distasteful. In the beginning, my coworkers would pass around the newspaper, and we’d each fill in an answer or two until we managed to complete the whole puzzle. We relied heavily on Google by the time we got to Friday. Solving late week puzzles without help seemed like an impossible dream, but before long that dream became a reality.

[One of Joanne’s New York Times-published puzzles. This one makes excellent use of the black squares by incorporating some of them into the themed entries.
Image courtesy of XWordInfo.]

2. What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle?

I personally love puzzles with inventive, tricky themes and clues. Crosswords have been around for a long time so it’s hard to come up with a new theme or a tricky clue that misdirects the solver in a different way. Even new themes and clues tend to be variations on something that has been done before so I appreciate crosswords that are truly original.

What do you most enjoy — or most commonly avoid — when constructing your own?

Here are crossword constructing tasks in descending order of my preference:

  • Coming up with a theme and finding answers that fit it.
  • Writing clues / Arranging the black and white squares in the grid. (Two very different tasks that I find equally enjoyable.)
  • Filling the grid with non-theme answers.
  • Adding new words to my database of potential crossword answers and rating those words in order of desirability.

Maintaining a good database of potential crossword answers can greatly facilitate crossword construction, but I find database maintenance time-consuming and dreary so I avoid it. I try to rationalize my negligence by telling myself that it’s impossible to add words and assign values to them that will be valid for all audiences.

For example, the word UGLY would be a perfectly fine answer in any mainstream newspaper, but I would try to avoid including it in a personalized puzzle that I was making as a birthday gift because I wouldn’t want the recipient to interpret it as an insult. But deep down I know that my rationalization isn’t valid, and I’m just too lazy to properly maintain my database.

What do you think is the most common pitfall of constructors just starting out?

I think some new constructors might settle for mediocrity instead of pushing themselves to achieve more. I’ve heard that some constructors are afraid to arrange the black and white squares in a grid from scratch. They’ll only use sample grids that they copy from a crossword database. It might take a lot of trial and error, but you’ll probably come up with a better grid if you try to arrange the squares in a way that best suits your theme answers instead of grabbing a prefab grid. I’ll often experiment with dozens of different grid designs before choosing one that fits my theme answers best.

Constructors might also be satisfied with so-so fill (which are the non-theme answers) or clues. I can understand the urge to leave well enough alone, especially when submitting puzzles on spec. It can be really frustrating to spend a lot of time coming up with stellar fill and clues only to be told that your puzzle was dead on arrival because the editor didn’t like the theme. Instead of compromising their standards, constructors might try to seek out the few editors who are willing to preapprove themes. Or they may emulate the many excellent indie constructors who publish their puzzles on their own websites.

[A puzzle, mid-construction. Images courtesy of Crossdown.]

3. Do you have any favorite crossword themes or clues, either your own or those crafted by others?

It’s hard to pick favorites because I’ve solved so many great puzzles and clues over the years so I’ll be self-centered and mention three of my own puzzles.

My Tuesday, February 23, 2010 New York Times crossword will always be close to my heart because it was my first published puzzle. Will Shortz picked it as one of the “11 Remarkable Crosswords for New Solvers,” but novices shouldn’t feel bad if they find it difficult. Most solvers found it harder than an average Tuesday puzzle.

Another special crossword is “Contents Redacted,” which The Chronicle of Higher Education published on October 16, 2015. I’m very grateful to Brad Wilber and Frank Longo for polishing it and working hard to present it in a way that stayed true to my vision. I also appreciate pannonica whose review on the Crossword Fiend blog was clearer and more insightful than any description that I could have written.

(Speaking of blogs, kudos to PuzzleNation Blog, CrosswordFiend, and similar blogs for helping us appreciate puzzles! Thanks for helping us understand the strengths and weaknesses of puzzles you review, explaining tricky themes and clues, and keeping us informed of news such as puzzle tournaments.)

One of my most satisfying experiences was co-writing “Do I Hear a Waltz?” with Erik Agard for the 2016 Indie 500 Crossword Tournament. Working with Erik was a joy. He’s brilliant and extremely kind. You should interview him next!

One great thing about making a puzzle for a tournament was having the flexibility to make an odd-sized grid that best suited our theme. I find that tournament puzzles are often very creative, perhaps because the constructors don’t have the same editorial and size constraints that they do at most other venues. Some of my favorite puzzles came from The Indie 500 and Lollapuzzoola crossword tournaments.

As a solver, my favorite clues are the ones that make me think, “What on earth can this mean?” One recent clue that gave me that reaction came from Brendan Emmett Quigley’s 9/20/17 AV Club crossword (which is titled “The Lay of the Land”). At first, I couldn’t make sense of the clue [Like slightly firm elbows, e.g.] When I read it, I thought, “What the heck is a slightly firm elbow? … Hmm … AKIMBO doesn’t fit … Hmm …” Eventually I achieved a great aha moment — AL DENTE!

I also love clues that put a fresh spin on old crosswordese or teach me interesting pieces of trivia. I find that The Chronicle of Higher Education and Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords are particularly strong in that regard.

[Joanne poses with members of a crossword seminar,
showing off prizes from our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles.]

4. What’s next for Joanne Sullivan?

I’m currently focusing on giving crossword puzzle seminars. For years I had mistakenly assumed that crosswords were boring and impossible to solve. Now I enjoy showing skeptics how fun crosswords can be and giving people tips that help them improve their solving skills. I love hearing from novices who tell me that I inspired them to start solving crosswords and veteran solvers who say that my tips helped them tackle more difficult puzzles.

I recently taught my first children’s classes and was blown away by the kids’ intelligence and enthusiasm. I’m so glad those children caught the puzzle bug early and didn’t waste decades avoiding crosswords as I did.

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

Read Patrick Berry’s PDF publication Crossword Constructor’s Handbook. The former print version of that book (Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies) taught me more about constructing crosswords than any other source.

Cruciverbalists might find the information about crossword construction interesting even if they don’t aspire to create puzzles themselves. The book includes 70 crosswords by Patrick Berry (who many crossword aficionados consider the preeminent crossword constructor) so it’s worth the $10 for the puzzles alone.


A huge thank you to Joanne for her time. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her puzzles and her crossword seminars!

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!

PuzzleNation 2016 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2016 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

We’re so excited to be bringing you our biggest ever gift guide! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down into categories for ease of searching. We have puzzle apps, puzzle books, downloadable puzzles and puzzles by mail, jigsaw puzzles, puzzle games, board games, card games, party games, and trivia games. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


Puzzle Apps

The Penny Dell Crossword App, available for both iOS and Android users, not only features bundles of terrific puzzle content, but it offers a free daily puzzle to all solvers!

Our new Penny Dell Sudoku app is also available for both Android and iOS, and offers four different difficulty levels: Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert! Whether you’re a newbie to Sudoku or a master, you’ll find the right puzzles for you!

You can check out our full line of puzzle apps on the PuzzleNation website!


Puzzle Books

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Logic Problems ($10.50) or the Fill-In Value Pack ($8.95). Or perhaps you like some variety in your solving, and you’d prefer the Stocking Stuffer Pack ($9), complete with pencils to keep you puzzling, or the Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket Puzzle 4-Pack ($24.50). Or you’d like to unwind with their Coloring Book 4-Pack ($17.95) and sip some coffee from a vibrant Word Nerd mug ($9.50). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. 15% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($6.88)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Easy Like Monday Morning Crosswords ($6.26) and Easy Breezy Crosswords ($8.95)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($8.95)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley and Francis Heaney’s Drunk Crosswords ($7.95)

–Patrick Berry’s Son of the Crypt Cryptic Crosswords ($15)

–David L. Hoyt’s Word Winder ($6.95) and Jumble Puzzles ($9.95)

–Cynthia Morris’s American Acrostics, CynAcrostics, and AnimaCrostics ($9.95)

The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker

And we simply have to mention one of the most innovative puzzle books in recent memory, the interactive puzzle novel The Maze of Games! Now going into its second edition, this delightfully challenging read allows solvers to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of puzzles, this is a one-of-a-kind solving experience. Factor in the Wil Wheaton-read audiobook and Austin Wintory’s soundtrack, and you have a real winner here. ($49.95)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Collins Little Book of Bananagrams

Are you a Bananagrams fan who’s looking for something to give you an edge? The Collins Little Book of Bananagrams might be just what you need! With a list of words you might not otherwise think of, suggestions for other games to play with Bananagrams tiles, and techniques for speeding up your gameplay, you’re sure to be Top Banana with this handy guide in your pocket. ($9.95)

Secret Agent Training Manual by Elizabeth Singer Hunt

Looking for a terrific introductory guide to codebreaking and encryption for younger solvers? Check out the Secret Agent Training Manual, covering anagrams, ciphers, and other forms of encryption, complete with codes for readers to crack themselves! ($6.99)

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin

Join intrepid young puzzler Winston in unraveling an unexpected mystery in The Puzzling World of Winston Breen! Crack puzzles alongside him as he tries to uncover who’s behind a hometown puzzle hunt that’s gone unsolved for 25 years! And if you enjoy this one, there are two follow-up books to keep you engaged and solving! ($7.99)

[Check out our review of The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by clicking here!]


Downloadable Puzzles and Puzzles by Mail

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers, subscriptions, and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Crosswords Club, edited by Patti Varol (puzzle bundles by mail, available in both regular and large print; $39.95 for 12 issues, $59.95 for large print)

Puzzle Your Kids by Eric Berlin ($18 for 3 months, $32 for 6 months, $60 for 1 year)

Piece of Cake Crosswords by Patrick Blindauer ($30 for 1 year)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($20 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword ($24 per year) and Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords ($12 per year)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($25 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Various Themed Puzzlefests ($15 each)

–The LA Times’ Crossword LA 2016 puzzle pack ($5)

–Patrick Merrell’s Punchline Puzzles ($10) and Aha! Word Puzzles ($10)


Jigsaw Puzzles

Puzzometry

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available as Puzzometry ($16), Puzzometry Jr. ($11), and Puzzometry Squares ($16), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

Tavern Puzzles

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to free your heart from the tangled pieces of Heart’s Desire or remove the ring from the Iron Maiden, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($22)


Puzzle Games

These one- and two-player puzzle games are perfect to train your brain and keep you guessing!

Clue Master, Circuit Maze, and Back Spin (ThinkFun)

ThinkFun meshes learning and gameplay with three logic games ready to challenge kids and adults alike. Whether it’s the Rubik’s-inspired twisty-turny solve of Back Spin ($14.99), the Sudoku-style deduction of Clue Master ($12.99), or the electrical grid-building challenge of Circuit Maze ($29.99), young minds and older minds will soon be in fighting trim for puzzling!

[Check out our full product reviews of Back Spin by clicking here, Clue Master by clicking here, and Circuit Maze by clicking here!]

Strata Sphere (Family Games America)

Can you crack the three-dimensional challenge of Strata Sphere? First you place each of the sliding bars into the gridwork, then you try to free all of your spheres before your opponent can do the same! A terrific, mind-bending puzzle unlike anything else! ($30.97)

[Check out our full product review of Strata Sphere by clicking here!]

LEGO Ideas: Maze (LEGO)

Combine the classic puzzly hand-eye coordination of a wooden labyrinth with everyone’s favorite building toys, and you’ve got the Lego Ideas: Maze. Customizable with all sorts of different maze layouts and obstacles, this one is both fun to build and fun to solve! ($69.99)

[Check out our full product review of LEGO Ideas: Maze by clicking here!]


Board Games

Some of the puzzliest games on the market today are being made by top-flight board game companies, and we’ve got some marvelous games that will appeal to puzzlers of all ages!

Kill Doctor Lucky: Deluxe 19.5th Anniversary Edition (Cheapass Games)

You might be skilled at unearthing murderers in games like Clue, but how are you at committing them? In Kill Doctor Lucky, your only goal is to dispatch the fortuitous fellow without being seen by anyone! Strategy and timing are key in this wickedly enjoyable game. ($40)

[Check out our full product review of Kill Doctor Lucky by clicking here!]

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

[Review coming soon!]

Quarto (Gigamic Games)

Four-in-a-row puzzle games are a staple of the genre, but rarely are they as beautiful or as diabolically simple as Quarto. With blocks of different shapes, sizes, and colors to choose from, you can attack the game from any angle. But watch out, or a crafty opponent just might beat you at your own game! ($34.99)

[Check out our full product review of Quarto by clicking here!]

Walk-By Scrabble Board, Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($29.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($149.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Slideways (R&R Games)

Take Connect Four-style puzzling to the next level with Slideways! Not only can you shift pieces to the side here, but you can flip your opponent’s moves to your own color! It’s a race to four-in-a-row in this easily-portable game that will have you thinking five steps ahead! ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of Slideways by clicking here!]

Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($29.99)

Qwirkle (MindWare)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train Dominoes, Qwirkle is all about placing your tiles to maximize points and minimize helping your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($34.99)

Pyramid Arcade (Looney Labs)

With 22 different games in one box, Pyramid Arcade takes the Looney pyramid series above and beyond anything you’ve seen before. Challenge yourself or other players with strategy games, Tic-Tac-Toe-style competitions, stacking challenges, and more! ($77)

[Review coming soon!]


Card Games

Scrimish (Nexci)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

Get Lucky (Cheapass Games)

At a very peculiar dinner party, everyone is trying to kill Doctor Lucky, but can you outwit your opponents and Get Lucky first? Practice makes perfect in this game of persistence where every murder attempt increases your chances of knocking off the most desirable target in all of gaming! ($17)

[Check out our full product review of Get Lucky by clicking here!]

Schrodinger’s Cats (9th Level Games)

In this wagering game based on the famous scientific thought experiment, you have to figure out how many of Schrodinger’s Cats survived the experiment! And just like in poker, you can share some information while you wager in the hopes of improving your chances of success! With shameless card puns and opportunities for bluffing, this isn’t your usual card game! ($19.22)

[Check out our full product review of Schrodinger’s Cats by clicking here!]

Firefly Fluxx (Looney Labs)

The purveyors of sweet-tooth strategy game Just Desserts and quick-draw pattern-matching game Loonacy return to their flagship brand with one of the most beloved sci-fi shows in recent memory with Firefly Fluxx. Tackle the ever-changing rules in the hopes of finding the two cards you need for victory, all while enjoying inside jokes and references to this one-season wonder of a TV show! ($20)

[Check out our full product review of Firefly Fluxx by clicking here!]

Noueni (263 Games)

You’ll need all of your strategy and cunning to win Noueni, a game of connections, overlaps, and careful card placement. Can you claim more territory than your opponents, or will they outthink you and steal your spotlight at a key moment? ($12.99)

[Check out our full product review of Noueni by clicking here!]

Timeline (Asmodee Games)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before OR after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99)

Oh My Gods! (Gameworthy Labs)

Take Clue to the next level with Oh My Gods! as you investigate a crime on Mount Olympus! Play cards to reveal information or increase your chances for success, but please, try not to tick off the gods! ($24.98)

The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]


Party Games

Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]

Mad Libs: The Game (Looney Labs)

Looking for a family-friendly alternative to Cards Against Humanity? Something that traffics in silliness instead of shock value? Mad Libs: The Game has got you covered. Draw cards to fill in the blanks and craft hilarious sentences to amuse one and all! ($20)

[Check out our full product review of Mad Libs: The Game by clicking here!]

Movie Buff (Golden Bell Entertainment)

How well do you know your movies, actors, characters, and famous quotes? Movie Buff will put your knowledge to the test, but instead of answering questions, you’re trying to make connections between films! It’s a fast-paced version of Six Degrees of Separation, but in a fun and frantic card game! ($24.95)


Trivia Games

Linkee (Bananagrams/Big Potato Games)

Something connects a series for four trivia questions. Can you figure out what? If you can, Linkee is right up your alley. This trivia game is about more than answering questions, challenging players to make associative connections before the other trivia buffs in the room can! ($22.49)

[Check out our full product review of Linkee by clicking here!]

Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout (Bananagrams/Big Potato Games)

Put your knowledge to the test in Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout as two teams compete to name more entries on a Family Feud-style list. If you do, you win a drink! Collect five different drinks, and you win! A game of trivia and opportunity perfect for a group setting! ($19.99)

[Check out our full product review of Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout by clicking here!]


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

And 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!

PuzzleNation 2016 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Age

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2015 Holiday Gift Guide!

We’re so excited to be bringing you our biggest ever gift guide! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down by age group, so we’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for puzzlers of any age on your list!


For Ages 6 and Up

Qwirkle (MindWare, board game)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train Dominoes, Qwirkle is all about placing your tiles to maximize points and minimize helping your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($34.99)


For Ages 7 and Up

Collins Little Book of Bananagrams (puzzle book)

Are you a Bananagrams fan who’s looking for something to give you an edge? The Collins Little Book of Bananagrams might be just what you need! With a list of puzzle words you might not otherwise think of, suggestions for other games to play with Bananagrams tiles, and techniques for speeding up your gameplay, you’re sure to be Top Banana with this handy guide in your pocket. ($9.95)


For Ages 8 and Up

Clue Master, Circuit Maze, and Back Spin (ThinkFun, puzzle games)

ThinkFun meshes learning and gameplay with three logic games ready to challenge kids and adults alike. Whether it’s the Rubik’s-inspired twisty-turny solve of Back Spin ($14.99), the Sudoku-style deduction of Clue Master ($12.99), or the electrical grid-building challenge of Circuit Maze ($29.99), young minds and older minds will soon be in fighting trim for puzzling!

[Check out our full product reviews of Back Spin by clicking here, Clue Master by clicking here, and Circuit Maze by clicking here!]

Pyramid Arcade (Looney Labs, board game)

With 22 different games in one box, Pyramid Arcade takes the Looney pyramid series above and beyond anything you’ve seen before. Challenge yourself or other players with strategy games, Tic-Tac-Toe-style competitions, stacking challenges, and more! ($77)

[Review coming soon!]

Strata Sphere (Family Games America, puzzle game)

Can you crack the three-dimensional challenge of Strata Sphere? First you place each of the sliding bars into the gridwork, then you try to free all of your spheres before your opponent can do the same! A terrific, mind-bending puzzle unlike anything else! ($30.97)

[Check out our full product review of Strata Sphere by clicking here!]

Firefly Fluxx (Looney Labs, card game)

The purveyors of sweet-tooth strategy game Just Desserts and quick-draw pattern-matching game Loonacy return to their flagship brand with one of the most beloved sci-fi shows in recent memory with Firefly Fluxx. Tackle the ever-changing rules in the hopes of finding the two cards you need for victory, all while enjoying inside jokes and references to this one-season wonder of a TV show! ($20)

[Check out our full product review of Firefly Fluxx by clicking here!]

Timeline (Asmodee Games, card game)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before OR after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99)

AnimaCrostics series (Cynthia Morris, puzzle book)

These collections of easy, animal-themed puzzles for kids and new acrostic solvers are perfect to introduce a different style of puzzling to puzzlers who might only know crosswords, word seeks, and the like. With vocabulary and topics geared for younger readers, AnimaCrostics are a terrific source of puzzle fun for family solving! ($9.95)

Quarto (Gigamic Games, board game)

Four-in-a-row puzzle games are a staple of the genre, but rarely are they as beautiful or as diabolically simple as Quarto. With blocks of different shapes, sizes, and colors to choose from, you can attack the game from any angle. But watch out, or a crafty opponent just might beat you at your own game! ($34.99)

[Check out our full product review of Quarto by clicking here!]

Scrimish (Nexci, card game)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games, board game)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($29.99)

Walk-By Scrabble Board, Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer, board games)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($29.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($149.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Slideways (R&R Games, board game)

Take Connect Four-style puzzling to the next level with Slideways! Not only can you shift pieces to the side here, but you can flip your opponent’s moves to your own color! It’s a race to four-in-a-row in this easily-portable game that will have you thinking five steps ahead! ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of Slideways by clicking here!]

Oh My Gods! (Gameworthy Labs, card game)

Take Clue to the next level with Oh My Gods! as you investigate a crime on Mount Olympus! Play cards to reveal information or increase your chances for success, but please, try not to tick off the gods! ($24.98)

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen (Eric Berlin, puzzle novel)

Join intrepid young puzzler Winston in unraveling an unexpected mystery in The Puzzling World of Winston Breen! Crack puzzles alongside him as he tries to uncover who’s behind a hometown puzzle hunt that’s gone unsolved for 25 years! And if you enjoy this one, there are two follow-up books to keep you engaged and solving! ($7.99)

[Check out our review of The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by clicking here!]


For Ages 9 and Up

Puzzle Your Kids (Eric Berlin, subscription puzzles)

A puzzle subscription designed specifically for children, Puzzle Your Kids is the brainchild of constructor and author Eric Berlin, and guarantees two puzzles a week emailed right to you, designed with younger solvers in mind! ($18 for 3 months, $32 for 6 months, $60 for 1 year)


For Ages 10-12 and Up

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games, board game)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

[Review coming soon!]

LEGO Ideas: Maze (LEGO, puzzle game)

Combine the classic puzzly hand-eye coordination of a wooden labyrinth with everyone’s favorite building toys, and you’ve got the Lego Ideas: Maze. Customizable with all sorts of different maze layouts and obstacles, this one is both fun to build and fun to solve! ($69.99)

[Check out our full product review of LEGO Ideas: Maze by clicking here!]

Noueni (263 Games, card game)

You’ll need all of your strategy and cunning to win Noueni, a game of connections, overlaps, and careful card placement. Can you claim more territory than your opponents, or will they outthink you and steal your spotlight at a key moment? ($12.99)

[Check out our full product review of Noueni by clicking here!]

Kill Doctor Lucky: Deluxe 19.5th Anniversary Edition (Cheapass Games, board game)

You might be skilled at unearthing murderers in games like Clue, but how are you at committing them? In Kill Doctor Lucky, your only goal is to dispatch the fortuitous fellow without being seen by anyone! Strategy and timing are key in this wickedly enjoyable game. ($40)

[Check out our full product review of Kill Doctor Lucky by clicking here!]

Secret Agent Training Manual (Elizabeth Singer Hunt, puzzle book)

Looking for a terrific introductory guide to codebreaking and encryption for younger solvers? Check out the Secret Agent Training Manual, covering anagrams, ciphers, and other forms of encryption, complete with codes for readers to crack themselves! ($6.99)

Mad Libs: The Game (Looney Labs, party game)

Looking for a family-friendly alternative to Cards Against Humanity? Something that traffics in silliness instead of shock value? Mad Libs: The Game has got you covered. Draw cards to fill in the blanks and craft hilarious sentences to amuse one and all! ($20)

[Check out our full product review of Mad Libs: The Game by clicking here!]

Get Lucky (Cheapass Games, card game)

At a very peculiar dinner party, everyone is trying to kill Doctor Lucky, but can you outwit your opponents and Get Lucky first? Practice makes perfect in this game of persistence where every murder attempt increases your chances of knocking off the most desirable target in all of gaming! ($17)

[Check out our full product review of Get Lucky by clicking here!]

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games, board game)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review of Castellan by clicking here!]

Movie Buff (Golden Bell Entertainment, party game)

How well do you know your movies, actors, characters, and famous quotes? Movie Buff will put your knowledge to the test, but instead of answering questions, you’re trying to make connections between films! It’s a fast-paced version of Six Degrees of Separation, but in a fun and frantic card game! ($24.95)

Schrodinger’s Cats (9th Level Games, card game)

In this wagering game based on the famous scientific thought experiment, you have to figure out how many of Schrodinger’s Cats survived the experiment! And just like in poker, you can share some information while you wager in the hopes of improving your chances of success! With shameless card puns and opportunities for bluffing, this isn’t your usual card game! ($19.22)

[Check out our full product review of Schrodinger’s Cats by clicking here!]

Puzzometry (jigsaw puzzle)

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available as Puzzometry ($16), Puzzometry Jr. ($11), and Puzzometry Squares ($16), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys, card game)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]


For Ages 13-14 and Up

The Maze of Games (Mike Selinker, puzzle book)

And we simply have to mention one of the most innovative puzzle books in recent memory, the interactive puzzle novel The Maze of Games! Now going into its second edition, this delightfully challenging read allows solvers to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of puzzles, this is a one-of-a-kind solving experience. Factor in the Wil Wheaton-read audiobook and Austin Wintory’s soundtrack, and you have a real winner here. ($49.95)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Linkee (Bananagrams/Big Potato Games, trivia games)

Something connects a series for four trivia questions. Can you figure out what? If you can, Linkee is right up your alley. This trivia game is about more than answering questions, challenging players to make associative connections before the other trivia buffs in the room can! ($22.49)

[Check out our full product review of Linkee by clicking here!]

Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze, party game)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]

Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout (Bananagrams/Big Potato Games, trivia game)

Put your knowledge to the test in Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout as two teams compete to name more entries on a Family Feud-style list. If you do, you win a drink! Collect five different drinks, and you win! A game of trivia and opportunity perfect for a group setting! ($19.99)

[Check out our full product review of Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout by clicking here!]

Tavern Puzzles (jigsaw puzzles)

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to free your heart from the tangled pieces of Heart’s Desire or remove the ring from the Iron Maiden, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($22)


For Ages 18 and Up

Most puzzle books would probably fall in the Age 9-10 and Up range, but oftentimes, the cluing is geared toward an older audience, so to avoid confusion, I’ve bundled the majority of the puzzle books here.

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Logic Problems ($10.50) or the Fill-In Value Pack ($8.95). Or perhaps you like some variety in your solving, and you’d prefer the Stocking Stuffer Pack ($9), complete with pencils to keep you puzzling, or the Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket Puzzle 4-Pack ($24.50). Or you’d like to unwind with their Coloring Book 4-Pack ($17.95) and sip some coffee from a vibrant Word Nerd mug ($9.50). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. 15% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($6.88)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Easy Like Monday Morning Crosswords ($6.26) and Easy Breezy Crosswords ($8.95)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($8.95)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley and Francis Heaney’s Drunk Crosswords ($7.95)

–Patrick Berry’s Son of the Crypt Cryptic Crosswords ($15)

–David L. Hoyt’s Word Winder ($6.95) and Jumble puzzles ($9.95)

–Cynthia Morris’s American Acrostics, CynAcrostics, and AnimaCrostics ($9.95)

And that doesn’t even cover the many great by-mail and downloadable puzzle books and sets available this holiday season!

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers, subscriptions, and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Crosswords Club, edited by Patti Varol (puzzle bundles by mail, available in both regular and large print; $39.95 for 12 issues, $59.95 for large print)

Piece of Cake Crosswords by Patrick Blindauer ($30 for 1 year)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($20 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword ($24 per year) and Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords ($12 per year)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($25 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Various Themed Puzzlefests ($15 each)

–The LA Times’ Crossword LA 2016 puzzle pack ($5)

–Patrick Merrell’s Punchline Puzzles ($10) and Aha! Word Puzzles ($10)

And naturally, PuzzleNation offers terrific puzzle apps for the discerning puzzle solver!

The Penny Dell Crossword App, available for both iOS and Android users, not only features bundles of terrific puzzle content, but it offers a free daily puzzle to all solvers!

Our new Penny Dell Sudoku app is also available for both Android and iOS, and offers four different difficulty levels: Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert! Whether you’re a newbie to Sudoku or a master, you’ll find the right puzzles for you!

You can check out our full line of puzzle apps on the PuzzleNation website!


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

And 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!

PuzzleNation 2016 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: Grab Bag!

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2016 Holiday Gift Guide!

We’re so excited to be bringing you our biggest ever gift guide! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is a grab bag of all sorts of trivia games, puzzle games, card games, puzzle books, party games, and board games, the perfect random assortment for any puzzle fan you need ideas for! We’re sure you’ll find the right gift for any puzzler on your list!


Naturally, you’ll forgive us for starting off with a few links for a pair of familiar puzzle apps!

The Penny Dell Crossword App, available for both iOS and Android users, not only features bundles of terrific puzzle content, but it offers a free daily puzzle to all solvers!

Our new Penny Dell Sudoku app is also available for both Android and iOS, and offers four different difficulty levels: Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert! Whether you’re a newbie to Sudoku or a master, you’ll find the right puzzles for you!

You can check out our full line of puzzle apps on the PuzzleNation website!

And we’ll follow up with some puzzle books before we get into the grab bag of games, puzzles, and other terrific holiday treats!

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Logic Problems ($10.50) or the Fill-In Value Pack ($8.95). Or perhaps you like some variety in your solving, and you’d prefer the Stocking Stuffer Pack ($9), complete with pencils to keep you puzzling, or the Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket Puzzle 4-Pack ($24.50). Or you’d like to unwind with their Coloring Book 4-Pack ($17.95) and sip some coffee from a vibrant Word Nerd mug ($9.50). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. 15% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($6.88)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Easy Like Monday Morning Crosswords ($6.26) and Easy Breezy Crosswords ($8.95)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($8.95)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley and Francis Heaney’s Drunk Crosswords ($7.95)

–Patrick Berry’s Son of the Crypt Cryptic Crosswords ($15)

–David L. Hoyt’s Word Winder ($6.95) and Jumble puzzles ($9.95)

–Cynthia Morris’s American Acrostics, CynAcrostics, and AnimaCrostics ($9.95)

And that doesn’t even cover the many great by-mail and downloadable puzzle books and sets available this holiday season!

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers, subscriptions, and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Crosswords Club, edited by Patti Varol (puzzle bundles by mail, available in both regular and large print; $39.95 for 12 issues, $59.95 for large print)

Puzzle Your Kids by Eric Berlin ($18 for 3 months, $32 for 6 months, $60 for 1 year)

Piece of Cake Crosswords by Patrick Blindauer ($30 for 1 year)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($20 for 1 year)–Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword ($24 per year) and Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords ($12 per year)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($25 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Various Themed Puzzlefests ($15 each)

–The LA Times’ Crossword LA 2016 puzzle pack ($5)

–Patrick Merrell’s Punchline Puzzles ($10) and Aha! Word Puzzles ($10)


And here is our grab bag of puzzle games and products galore!

The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys, card game)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]

Noueni (263 Games, card game)

You’ll need all of your strategy and cunning to win Noueni, a game of connections, overlaps, and careful card placement. Can you claim more territory than your opponents, or will they outthink you and steal your spotlight at a key moment? ($12.99)

[Check out our full product review of Noueni by clicking here!]

Kill Doctor Lucky: Deluxe 19.5th Anniversary Edition (Cheapass Games, board game)

You might be skilled at unearthing murderers in games like Clue, but how are you at committing them? In Kill Doctor Lucky, your only goal is to dispatch the fortuitous fellow without being seen by anyone! Strategy and timing are key in this wickedly enjoyable game. ($40)

[Check out our full product review of Kill Doctor Lucky by clicking here!]

Back Spin (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

Can you twist and turn and roll each of the colored spheres back into the correct spots? It’s tougher than it looks! Back Spin will put your Rubik’s skills to the test! ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of Back Spin by clicking here!]

Firefly Fluxx (Looney Labs, card game)

The purveyors of sweet-tooth strategy game Just Desserts and quick-draw pattern-matching game Loonacy return to their flagship brand with one of the most beloved sci-fi shows in recent memory with Firefly Fluxx. Tackle the ever-changing rules in the hopes of finding the two cards you need for victory, all while enjoying inside jokes and references to this one-season wonder of a TV show! ($20)

[Check out our full product review of Firefly Fluxx by clicking here!]

Strata Sphere (Family Games America, puzzle game)

Can you crack the three-dimensional challenge of Strata Sphere? First you place each of the sliding bars into the gridwork, then you try to free all of your spheres before your opponent can do the same! A terrific, mind-bending puzzle unlike anything else! ($30.97)

[Check out our full product review of Strata Sphere by clicking here!]

Schrodinger’s Cats (9th Level Games, card game)

In this wagering game based on the famous scientific thought experiment, you have to figure out how many of Schrodinger’s Cats survived the experiment! And just like in poker, you can share some information while you wager in the hopes of improving your chances of success! With shameless card puns and opportunities for bluffing, this isn’t your usual card game! ($19.22)

[Check out our full product review of Schrodinger’s Cats by clicking here!]

Movie Buff (Golden Bell Entertainment, party game)

How well do you know your movies, actors, characters, and famous quotes? Movie Buff will put your knowledge to the test, but instead of answering questions, you’re trying to make connections between films! It’s a fast-paced version of Six Degrees of Separation, but in a fun and frantic card game! ($24.95)

Scrimish (Nexci, card game)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

The Maze of Games (Mike Selinker, puzzle book)

And we simply have to mention one of the most innovative puzzle books in recent memory, the interactive puzzle novel The Maze of Games! Now going into its second edition, this delightfully challenging read allows solvers to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of puzzles, this is a one-of-a-kind solving experience. Factor in the Wil Wheaton-read audiobook and Austin Wintory’s soundtrack, and you have a real winner here. ($49.95)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games, board game)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($29.99)

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games, board game)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

[Review coming soon!]

Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout (Bananagrams/Big Potato Games, trivia game)

Put your knowledge to the test in Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout as two teams compete to name more entries on a Family Feud-style list. If you do, you win a drink! Collect five different drinks, and you win! A game of trivia and opportunity perfect for a group setting! ($19.99)

[Check out our full product review of Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout by clicking here!]

Puzzometry (jigsaw puzzle)

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available as Puzzometry ($16), Puzzometry Jr. ($11), and Puzzometry Squares ($16), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games, board game)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review of Castellan by clicking here!]

Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze, party game)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]

LEGO Ideas: Maze (LEGO, puzzle game)

Combine the classic puzzly hand-eye coordination of a wooden labyrinth with everyone’s favorite building toys, and you’ve got the Lego Ideas: Maze. Customizable with all sorts of different maze layouts and obstacles, this one is both fun to build and fun to solve! ($69.99)

[Check out our full product review of LEGO Ideas: Maze by clicking here!]

Walk-By Scrabble Board, Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer, board games)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($29.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($149.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Mad Libs: The Game (Looney Labs, party game)

Looking for a family-friendly alternative to Cards Against Humanity? Something that traffics in silliness instead of shock value? Mad Libs: The Game has got you covered. Draw cards to fill in the blanks and craft hilarious sentences to amuse one and all! ($20)

[Check out our full product review of Mad Libs: The Game by clicking here!]

Clue Master (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

Looking to introduce a younger solver to Sudoku-style deduction? Well, look no further than Clue Masteran easily-portable puzzle game full of pooch puzzles that will challenge young minds and savvy solvers alike! ($12.99)

[Check out our full product review of Clue Master by clicking here!]

Get Lucky (Cheapass Games, card game)

At a very peculiar dinner party, everyone is trying to kill Doctor Lucky, but can you outwit your opponents and Get Lucky first? Practice makes perfect in this game of persistence where every murder attempt increases your chances of knocking off the most desirable target in all of gaming! ($17)

[Check out our full product review of Get Lucky by clicking here!]

Collins Little Book of Bananagrams (puzzle book)

Are you a Bananagrams fan who’s looking for something to give you an edge? The Collins Little Book of Bananagrams might be just what you need! With a list of puzzle words you might not otherwise think of, suggestions for other games to play with Bananagrams tiles, and techniques for speeding up your gameplay, you’re sure to be Top Banana with this handy guide in your pocket. ($9.95)

Slideways (R&R Games, board game)

Take Connect Four-style puzzling to the next level with Slideways! Not only can you shift pieces to the side here, but you can flip your opponent’s moves to your own color! It’s a race to four-in-a-row in this easily-portable game that will have you thinking five steps ahead! ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of Slideways by clicking here!]

Oh My Gods! (Gameworthy Labs, card game)

Take Clue to the next level with Oh My Gods! as you investigate a crime on Mount Olympus! Play cards to reveal information or increase your chances for success, but please, try not to tick off the gods! ($24.98)

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen (Eric Berlin, puzzle novel)

Join intrepid young puzzler Winston in unraveling an unexpected mystery in The Puzzling World of Winston Breen! Crack puzzles alongside him as he tries to uncover who’s behind a hometown puzzle hunt that’s gone unsolved for 25 years! And if you enjoy this one, there are two follow-up books to keep you engaged and solving! ($7.99)

[Check out our review of The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by clicking here!]

Quarto (Gigamic Games, board game)

Four-in-a-row puzzle games are a staple of the genre, but rarely are they as beautiful or as diabolically simple as Quarto. With blocks of different shapes, sizes, and colors to choose from, you can attack the game from any angle. But watch out, or a crafty opponent just might beat you at your own game! ($34.99)

[Check out our full product review of Quarto by clicking here!]

Linkee (Bananagrams/Big Potato Games, trivia games)

Something connects a series for four trivia questions. Can you figure out what? If you can, Linkee is right up your alley. This trivia game is about more than answering questions, challenging players to make associative connections before the other trivia buffs in the room can! ($22.49)

[Check out our full product review of Linkee by clicking here!]

Circuit Maze (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

From the minds that brought you the tumbling challenge of Gravity Maze and the mirror-fueled brain teasers of Laser Maze Jr. comes the next logic and deduction puzzle game from ThinkFun: Circuit Maze! Complete each circuit and light up the relays to complete each maze! Can your youngster crack this electric game? ($29.99)

[Check out our full product review of Circuit Maze by clicking here!]

Tavern Puzzles (jigsaw puzzles)

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to free your heart from the tangled pieces of Heart’s Desire or remove the ring from the Iron Maiden, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($22)

Pyramid Arcade (Looney Labs, board game)

With 22 different games in one box, Pyramid Arcade takes the Looney pyramid series above and beyond anything you’ve seen before. Challenge yourself or other players with strategy games, Tic-Tac-Toe-style competitions, stacking challenges, and more! ($77)

[Review coming soon!]

Qwirkle (MindWare, board game)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train Dominoes, Qwirkle is all about placing your tiles to maximize points and minimize helping your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($34.99)

Secret Agent Training Manual (Elizabeth Singer Hunt, puzzle book)

Looking for a terrific introductory guide to codebreaking and encryption for younger solvers? Check out the Secret Agent Training Manual, covering anagrams, ciphers, and other forms of encryption, complete with codes for readers to crack themselves! ($6.99)

Timeline (Asmodee Games, card game)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before OR after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99)


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

And 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 Indie 500 Crossword Tournament returns soon!

Last year, a new crossword tournament joined the ranks of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and Lollapuzzoola, immediately carving out its own niche in the puzzle world. The Indie 500 offered top-notch puzzles and a pie-fueled solving experience both live in Washington, D.C., and for solvers at home.

And it’s back! The second edition of The Indie 500 is happening on Saturday, June 4, and this year, it’s all decked out in a prom motif.

I reached out to the team behind last year’s event, and constructor/director Andy Kravis was happy to answer my questions and offer some insight into this year’s event.

Andy has been published in the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Los Angeles Times, and other venues, and he was excited to discuss this year’s tournament with the PuzzleNation audience.

1.) I’m very glad to see The Indie 500 returning for a second year. What did you learn from the inaugural event, and what are you hoping to change/improve?

We’re glad to be back! Here’s a list of things we learned from the inaugural Indie 500:

How to run a crossword tournament.

None of us had ever done anything like this before, so every step was brand new to us. We all went into it knowing that building our own crossword tournament from the ground up was going to be a lot of work, but I don’t think any of us fully appreciated how much work it would be until we were already neck-deep in it. We started planning about a year in advance, and one thing I learned is that it takes almost exactly a year to plan a successful Indie 500, even with a team of five directors and a ton of wonderful volunteer test-solvers and staffers.

As for the tournament itself, a lot of our more ambitious ideas — writing a meta suite to raise funds for the tournament, using a new scoring system, having a contest to find a tourney puzzle by a new constructor — worked out really well, so we brought them back this year. We got some great feedback from attendees about which puzzles they enjoyed most, which parts of the program worked well, and so on, all of which we incorporated into our planning for this year. On the whole, the tournament will look a lot like last year’s: five preliminary puzzles of varying difficulty, plus a finals puzzle for the top three scorers in both divisions.

I would say the most visible change we’re making is getting lots of new faces involved. After last year’s event, Evan Birnholz was hired as the Washington Post‘s new crossword constructor (whoo!), and Neville Fogarty entered the last year of his Ph.D program, so they both had to step away from their directorial duties. We were thrilled to bring on Angela Olson Halsted, who’s been a terrific addition to our team, and we’ve also gotten to work with a lot of really talented constructors this year as well.

We’re always open to ideas of how to improve the tournament experience, so feel free to e-mail us at xwordtournament@gmail.com if you have suggestions.

[Andy, alongside Sara Nies, solves at the 2015 Lollapuzzoola event.]

2.) Last year’s theme was racing, and this year’s theme is prom. What about prom appealed to the team more than other possibilities?

We knew almost immediately after wrapping last year’s tournament that we wanted this year’s Indie 500 to be prom themed. The biggest upside, and the main reason we chose it as our theme, is that we really wanted to see what we could do when working with other new constructors in teams. By bringing on prom dates, we now have the opportunity to showcase not just the work of our contest winner but also of the additional constructors we’ve invited. Some of our constructing teams bring very different voices to the constructing process, and it’s been really cool to see how those styles have meshed. And of course you don’t have to take a date to prom — you can go solo, or you can go with a group — and we’ve also kept that in mind while planning the tournament.

We also love the aesthetics of prom. As we tossed around ideas for this year’s tournament, we kept returning to the similarities between a disco ball and a crossword grid, and Raina Zheng did an awesome job designing this year’s logo with that idea in mind. It was easy for us to see the aesthetics of crosswords in disco balls, tuxedos, limousines, and dance floors, and it’s also fun for us to think of ways to inject some of the colorful elements of prom back into a crossword tournament.

Plus, our tradition of playing entrance music for our finalists makes possibly more sense with a prom theme than it did with a racing theme.

In a broad metaphorical sense, I think prom is more in line with what we’re about than racing anyway. Racing seems like a natural fit for a crossword tournament — it’s an individual pursuit that’s about speed (plus the checkered flag and the Indy/Indie pun were too good to resist). But I think what’s great about crossword tournaments is that crossword people have an excuse to get together and have fun and celebrate.

[Possible crossword prom looks?]

3.) One of my favorite aspects of The Indie 500 is that you hold a contest for constructors to join the team and contribute a puzzle to the tournament. Last year’s winner was Finn Vigeland, and this year’s winner is puzzle newcomer Sam Trabucco. What sort of response did you get when you announced this year’s contest, and what made Sam stand out?

Those of you who solved last year’s puzzles know just how lucky we were to get Finn’s submission. We got a lot of excellent puzzles that year, quite a few of which we’ve since been pleased to see published in venues like AV Club and Fireball Crosswords.

We chose Finn’s puzzle because it had a unique combination of clean and lively fill, clues with a clear voice, and a tricky theme that had the potential to incorporate a unique visual element (namely, the candy bars that ended up going in the grid). The version of the puzzle that ran during the tournament ended up being one of my favorite puzzles that year.

[One of the candy bars from Finn Vigeland’s Indie 500 puzzle.]

We didn’t get quite as many submissions this year, and yet picking a winner was just as tough. After narrowing the group of submissions to four or five entries that stood out to us as the best of the bunch, we debated for a long time before picking the puzzle that turned out to be Sam’s. Without giving too much away, what we liked about Sam’s submission was that the theme was something we hadn’t seen before, and the fill was really fresh and showed a point of view.

One thing I want to mention is that after we unblinded the submissions, we were really disappointed not to have received more entries from women and people of color. We’ve already started talking about what we can do to encourage more submissions from that pool of talent next year. This is a top priority for us in running the best indie crossword tournament we can.

4.) Finally, and most importantly, will there still be pie?

Yes, there will be pie. In fact, we’re considering a Pie-Only division in 2017.

Thanks to Andy for taking the time out to answer my questions! You can check out the full details on The Indie 500 by clicking here!

(I’m already signed up to solve from home, and I can’t wait to see this year’s puzzles.)


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5 Questions with constructor Patrick Blindauer!

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, board game creators, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole. (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to have Patrick Blindauer as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Any list of the top constructors in crosswords today simply has to include Patrick Blindauer. His puzzles have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the American Values Club Crossword, GAMES Magazine, and numerous other outlets, and Patrick is known for his devilishly clever themes and challenging puzzle grids.

As a regular contributor to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and co-host of this year’s Lollapuzzoola, Patrick represents both classic crossword traditions and the enterprising spirit of today’s most innovative constructors, pushing boundaries and continuing to explore just how devious and delightful crosswords can be.

Patrick 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 Patrick Blindauer

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

My parents instilled my love of puzzles and games from an early age. I remember my mom got me an educational toy called Mr. Light, and my dad had a subscription to GAMES Magazine, which I would flip through when he was done with it. I loved the visual puzzles and the contests, but I didn’t get into crosswords until many years later when I decided to give up cigarettes and take up solving.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made, simultaneously improving my health and leading me to a new hobby and eventually to a new career. After a year of solving I tried constructing, and after a year of constructing something clicked and I made my first sale (a Thursday for the NYT, which ran on 7/21/05).

2.) Whether it’s the New York Times or the American Values Club Crossword, you’ve created some truly innovative and diabolical puzzles, like your famous dollar-bill-shaped crossword (featured above) or the New York Times puzzle from last year where multiple movie titles shared boxes. Do you have any favorite puzzles or clues, either your own or constructed by others? And on the flip side, what’s your least favorite example of crosswordese?

Thanks! Those are certainly the 2 New York Times crosswords which have gotten the most attention. Other favorites which spring to mind are my 7/4/07 New York Times puzzle*, the 12/17/09 New York Times puzzle I made with Francis Heaney, and the stuff I wrote for the NY Sun when I started out, which are collected in the book Patricks’ Puzzle Pandemonium: A Cavalcade of Crossword Craziness.

[*Glenn’s note: The 7/4/07 crossword was designed so that the letters “USA” could be found when certain boxes were shaded. It was no doubt a beast to construct. The 12/17/09 crossword was Noah’s Ark-themed, and animal names appeared side-by-side in the grid.]

I’m also the proud poppa of 5 Puzzlefests (interconnected xword suites with a final answer), which I offer through my website, and I’ve written a bunch of puzzle books (“Crossword Word Search” and “Wide-Screen Crosswords” are two of my favorites).

There are lots of other constructors whose work I enjoy, especially those who devise novel gimmicks that really push the envelope.

[Here, Patrick stands beside fellow puzzle constructor
(and game designer!) Mike Selinker.]

My least favorite xwordese is probably LST, though I try to avoid all xwordese when I can. Coming up with a fresh SST clue is tough too, so I just avoid putting it in the grid in the first place.

[Glenn’s note: LST is an abbreviation for an amphibious military craft, short for Landing Ship Tank. SST is an abbreviation for supersonic transport, like the former Concorde.]

3.) You’re also a musician, and both the best puzzles and enjoyable musical performances often have a sense of flow and elegance about them. Do you ever find yourself relying on your more puzzly skills while performing, conducting, or teaching?

Not consciously, no, but maybe I should!

4.) What’s next for Patrick Blindauer?

I actually have something very exciting to announce: I’ve been commissioned to write a 6-puzzle set for the New York Times! It will run Monday-Saturday sometime this fall, and the plan is to make it a contest, as well. I’m thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to do something like this. Wish me luck!

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

Keep your pencil sharp and your mind even sharper.


Many thanks to Patrick for his time. You can check out his PuzzleFests and other puzzly works on his website, and be sure to follow him on Twitter (@pblindauer) to keep up on all things Patrick. (You can also learn more about the Lollapuzzoola tournament at BeMoreSmarter.com.) No doubt, Patrick will have something fiendishly fun for solvers soon.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!