There’s a Little Something Extra in These X-Words…

Crossword constructors can be fiendishly clever, so there’s often something extra lurking inside a crossword grid, if you know where to look.

Sometimes it’s easy to spot. There are shaded areas or circled letters to reveal the hidden bonus answers that add a touch of pizzazz to a grid.

For instance, our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles have a recurring crossword variant, Revelation, which conceals a quotation in a standard crossword grid.

The New York Times crossword has also featured this gimmick in puzzles plenty of times, perhaps most notably in a May 2015 puzzle where both poet WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS and the title of his poem THE LOCUST TREE IN FLOWER read down the sides of the grid, and the circled letters within the grid concealed the poem in full!

[Image sourced from Amy Reynaldo’s Diary of a Crossword Fiend.]

For his puzzle featured in an episode of The Simpsons, constructor Merl Reagle famously snuck a message into another New York Times crossword puzzle, allowing Homer to apologize to Lisa for his transgressions in the most public puzzly forum possible.

If you went diagonally from the upper left to the lower right of the grid, the statement “Dumb dad sorry for his bet” could be found.

[Image courtesy of The Guardian.]

Whether it’s a hidden quotation or a secret message hiding amidst the black squares and crisscrossing entries, these bonus answers offer a final little twist that wow solvers, leaving them shaking their heads at the cleverness and skill of constructors.

A puzzle in The Wall Street Journal recently reminded me of another surprise that a crafty constructor can spring on an unsuspecting solver.

This particular puzzle from September 28th of this year had instructions instead of the usual themed answers. If you read 22 Across, 61 Across, and 105 Across, you received the following message: Find the names of ten gems / hidden within the puzzle / grid in word search style.

wordsearchxwd

[Image courtesy of Reddit.]

Yes, the appropriately titled “Treasure Hunt” by Mike Shenk had jewels hidden among the answers in the grid, reading horizontally, vertically, and diagonally, just as they would in a word seek or word search.

Although this led to a few awkward entries — GOT ENRAGED is a bit clunky for an answer, even if the goal is to hide GARNET backwards within it — the grid is mostly great, and the spread of gems — from DIAMOND and EMERALD to ONYX and TOPAZ — is impressive. (I particularly liked RUBY reading out backwards in HURLYBURLY.)

I haven’t encountered many of these word search-style crossword surprises over the years, but there is one other prominent example that came to mind.

In his second appearance in today’s post, Merl Reagle constructed a special puzzle to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the crossword in 2013.

His puzzle was converted into a solvable Google Doodle — you can still solve it here! — and Merl added a crafty word search element by hiding the word FUN multiple times in the grid.

Why “fun,” you ask? Because that was the set word in Arthur Wynne’s original “word-cross” puzzle over one hundred years ago.

Believe me, constructing a great crossword grid is taxing enough. Adding touches and tricks like these just ratchet up both the difficulty involved and the skill level required to make the whole endeavor a harmonious success.

Kudos to those, past and present, who have pulled it off with such style.


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The Puzzly Legacy of the Game Boy

This week marks thirty years since Nintendo’s handheld travel-friendly Game Boy system launched in stores. This small gray machine with the two-tone greenish-yellow screen, affectionately known as The Brick for its shape and weight, is a part of not only many childhoods for puzzlers and gamers my age and younger, but part of the foundation of mobile gaming as we know it today.

It’s not uncommon for people to play games or solve puzzles away from home these days. A myriad of options now live in your pocket thanks to smartphones — including PuzzleNation’s Daily POP Crosswords and Wordventures! (Oh, I simply cannot resist a shameless plug.)

But the entire mobile gaming/puzzling industry hit the big time because of the Game Boy. From its Nintendo successor the Game Boy Advance and rival Sega’s Game Gear all the way to tablet games, the Playstation PSP, the Nintendo Switch, and app games galore, it all kicked off with the Game Boy.

There are many seminal Game Boy titles — Kirby’s Dream Land, Pokemon Red/Blue, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Wario Land, Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins — many of them topping “best of” lists across the Internet, but you cannot have a conversation about the success of the Game Boy without discussing the iconic puzzle game that was packaged with the system.

Tetris.

I can hear the music right now as I type this blog post.

You can’t help but wonder if the Game Boy would have been as successful or popular without the insanely addictive puzzly gameplay of Tetris packaged with it. I found several comments on the Internet on related articles that stated they would’ve happily glued their Tetris cartridge directly to the Game Boy, because they never played any other games.

Granted, there were plenty of other puzzle titles for the mobile game platform. Alleyway, Boxxle, Catrap, and Pipe Dream come to mind, along with ported classics like Q*bert and some of the early Yoshi games.

But can any of them hold a candle to the puzzly legacy of those seven blocky game pieces and that inimitable music?

Doubtful.

I mean, it’s not coincidence that Tetris has its own dedicated board on our Pinterest page and not any of those other puzzle games.

Really, Tetris and the Game Boy were a match made in heaven. You had one of the most addictive puzzle games of all-time and the perfect long-lasting mobile device to ensure you could keep playing the game wherever and whenever you wished.

And thirty years later, the mobile puzzle game revolution that dynamic duo started is alive and well.

Thank you, Tetris. And thank you, Game Boy. You’re part of PuzzleNation history.


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Happy One Year Anniversary, Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory!

It’s funny how crosswords can seem like a solitary pursuit — and are often depicted as such in pop culture — and yet, there’s such a sense of camaraderie that comes with being a solver.

I talk a lot about the PuzzleNation community and my fellow PuzzleNationers, or about the puzzle community in general, because it’s one of my favorite aspects of being a puzzle guy.

Whether it’s engaging in a puzzly activity with friends (like an escape room or a D&D adventure), hanging out with fellow puzzlers at events like the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (registration is open now!), or just teaming up with a pal to crack a particularly devious puzzle or brain teaser, those moments of shared experience are as encouraging as they are welcome.

So it’s very cool to see one of the newer parts of the puzzle community celebrating its one-year anniversary: The Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory.

This Facebook group is part gathering place for established and aspiring constructors and part resource for constructors of all skill levels.

Over the last year, people have posted and shared information about everything from grid construction, editing programs, and cluing advice to networking, test-solving, and encouraging feedback.

[Some constructors even offer visual aids when answering questions!]

Inexperienced and aspiring constructors meet and collaborate with established names. Obstacles, problems, and questions are handled with equal care and support. Heck, some constructors have even posted rejection notices they’ve received in order to share the valuable feedback it contains.

And some members of the group have greater ambitions for the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory, hoping to encourage more constructors from underrepresented groups to construct and submit their puzzles, bringing a genuine level of equality and equal representation in the world of puzzles.

It’s a place to learn, to network, to grow, to celebrate one’s successes, and learn from one’s setbacks. One of the regular visitors of the group even managed to cross off one of her New Year’s resolutions last year by submitting a crossword to The New York Times, thanks in part to the resources and support provided by this marvelous group of people.

And that’s definitely something worth celebrating.


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Answers to Our 6th Anniversary Instagram Brain Teasers!

Last week, we celebrated six years of PuzzleNation Blog by announcing a week-long puzzly social media blitz.

Facebook and Twitter saw twice-daily alerts for the puzzle of the day for both Daily POP Crosswords and Penny Dell Crosswords App, cuing solvers to contact us with the answers to particular across and down clues.

Instagram solvers were encouraged to tackle a series of brain teasers, and today, we’ve got all the answers for you! Let’s jump right in.


We started off on Tuesday with this relatively straightforward brain teaser: How can you add eight 4s together so that the total adds up to 500?

We got the most responses to this one, and it’s no surprise, as we have some very crafty followers on Instagram. The trick here is number placement. By grouping 4s, you create larger numbers that make it easier to add to your total.

Solution: 444 + 44 + 4 + 4 + 4 = 500


Wednesday’s puzzle involved placing the numbers 1 through 8 into the grid above. Consecutive numbers cannot appear in an adjacent or diagonal box.

This puzzle was actually created and submitted by a PuzzleNationer named Sanjana, so kudos to you, Sanjana, as you made one heck of a brain teaser!

Here’s the solution. (Using the same numbers in reverse or flipped layout creates four different variations on the same solution.)


Thursday’s brain teaser put your Scrabble and Upwords skills to the test, as we played a round of Quad-Doku! The goal is to play each tile, one at a time, onto the board, forming a new common word (or words) each time. Do this with all 8 tiles in any order. By the end, all four corners will have changed.

This is a nice chain-solving puzzle, and here’s the solution we came up with:

F makes FOUR/FIND, S makes FINS/SEEM, A makes SEAM, B makes FIBS, C makes SCAM, W makes SWAM, L makes FOUL/LOOM, and P makes LOOP/SWAP.


On Friday, we posted a riddle to test your puzzly skills. Once I am 24, twice I am 20, three times I am unclean. What am I?

Solution: The answer is X. It’s the 24th letter of the alphabet, two X’s makes 20 in Roman numerals, and three X’s marks something as inappropriate for some viewers.


Monday brought us our final brain teaser, a matchstick puzzle (or, in this case, a toothpick puzzle). Can you move four toothpicks in order to change the zigzag path into 2 squares? The two squares do not have to be equal in size.

In the image above, we’ve circled the four toothpicks to move.

And here is the completed puzzle, with two squares of unequal size.


How did you do, intrepid solvers? Well, based on the responses we received, pretty darn well! We’ll be reaching out to contest winners later this week!

But in the meantime, we’d like to thank everyone who participated in our PN Blog 6th Anniversary event. You help make this the best puzzle community on the planet, and we are forever grateful.


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Six Years of PuzzleNation Blog (Plus a Contest)!

[Image courtesy of Bogoreducare.org.]

Yes, we’re celebrating today, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

We’re celebrating because it is the sixth anniversary of the very first post here on PuzzleNation Blog! Yes, we’ve been on this puzzly journey together since August of 2012, and in my admittedly biased yet humble opinion, it’s been a brilliant one.

In those six years, we’ve published over a thousand posts! (More than nine hundred of them penned by yours truly.) We’ve delved into puzzle history, cracked diabolical brain teasers, marked milestones like the centenary of the crossword, and even rejoiced at puzzly proposals of marriage!

And to celebrate six years of PuzzleNation Blog, we’ve got a week of activities planned for our marvelous readers and fellow puzzlers!

For starters, we’re loading over a hundred new pins to our Pinterest account for your viewing pleasure!

And we’re launching a promotion across all of our social media platforms to celebrate the anniversary. It’s our PuzzleNation 6th Anniversary Contest!

[Image courtesy of Ad Libbing.]

Starting today, and every day for the next five days, we’ll be posting a different brain teaser on Instagram.

Also starting today, keep your eyes peeled on Facebook and Twitter, because each day for the next five days, we’ll be asking for a single answer from that day’s Daily POP Crosswords App puzzle and that day’s Penny Dell Crosswords App puzzle.

(These will be separate from the usual Crossword Clue Challenge posts, and we’ll mark them with “PuzzleNation 6th Anniversary Contest” to distinguish them.)

Message us on FB or Twitter with the answer, or message us on Instagram with the answer to a brain teaser, and you’ll go into a drawing for a terrific prize! (And yes, since there are different brain teasers each day and different answers for each of the two daily puzzles, you can enter multiple times to increase your odds of winning!)

Enjoy the contest, fellow puzzlers. It’s a small thank you for being a part of the PuzzleNation community.


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The New York Times Crossword, Accordion to Weird Al

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

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

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

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

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

[Image courtesy of Instagram.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the record, I needed the clues.


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