The PN Blog 2021 Countdown!

2022

It’s the final blog post of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2021 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


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#10 The Man Who Found Forrest Fenn’s Treasure

One of 2020’s most baffling stories was the announcement that Forrest Fenn’s treasure, a mystery sought by thousands for most of a decade, had been found, but the lucky solver was remaining anonymous. Lawsuits were filed, fraud was claimed, and what should have been the resolution to a great mystery ended up sparking several more.

This year, we finally received some information from the solver himself, and it seemed to resolve those lingering questions and quiet the conspiracy theorists (for the most part, anyway). It seems poetic to start off our countdown with the conclusion of another puzzly endeavor.

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#9 Bringing People Back to Puzzles

It’s always disappointing when one bad experience with a new hobby or endeavor spoils an entire world for someone. I’ve seen it happen with puzzles more than once, and I always consider it a privilege to get a second chance at introducing someone to the world of puzzles.

So it was a real treat to write this post and offer some advice to other puzzle fans, helping to equip them when and if the opportunity arose to reintroduce a friend to one of our favorite pastimes.

#8 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

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#7 First Look: The Case of the Golden Idol

Sometimes, we get to be pioneers, trying out new games, new products, and new puzzles before anybody else, and that’s always a treat.

This time around, not only did we get an early look at an in-progress investigation-style puzzle game, but we brought in a friend of the blog to give it the full review treatment. (We’ve done this in the past with video game and app reviews.) We get to share new voices with our marvelous readership and venture into exciting new puzzly frontiers while we do it.

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#6 Board Game House Rules

It’s always fun to ask the PN readership to contribute to posts, and this was a fun topic to explore with the readers. We asked for house rules used in popular board games, and the sheer variety and creativity employed by game fans to spice up classic board games made for a terrific blog post and one of our favorite discussions of the entire year.

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#5 5 Questions

Across dozens of interviews over the years, we’ve talked to game designers, pop culture figures, and puzzle luminaries about what makes them tick, and each time, we learn something new about puzzling and those who puzzle.

This year, we focused mostly on folks that were relatively new to puzzles, not only to give them greater exposure, but to get a glimpse of where the world of puzzles is headed in the future. And based on those we had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with, the future of puzzles is very very bright.

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#4 Superman and Crosswords

Puzzles are lurking anywhere and everywhere in popular culture if you know where to look. Often I find them in television shows, mystery novels, odd historical moments, and many other places, and I thoroughly enjoy chronicling those experiences for the readership.

And one of the highlights of the year for me was discovering an old Superman radio show adventure where he literally had to solve crosswords in order to save Lois Lane and stop the bad guys. It was silly and delightful all at once, providing yet another example of how puzzles find their way into all aspects of life.

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#3 Puns

Puns come in all shapes and sizes, running the gamut from clever and hilarious to shameless and groan-inducing. So it was long overdue to write a post discussing the role of puns in puzzles and defending puns from some of their many detractors.

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#2 Ten Years

We marked ten years of PuzzleNation this year, and to get to celebrate that milestone with our loyal fellow solvers was absolutely a high point of the year.

We delved behind the curtain for a brief history of the company, and released a special puzzle pack for readers to enjoy.

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#1 Fairness and Accessibility

Throughout the year, we discussed efforts to make puzzles more inclusive and accessible than ever. More women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are constructing than ever before, and we happily contributed to the discussion of fairness in puzzles wherever possible.

One of my favorite posts on the topic this year was our dissection of the concept of “the average solver,” and pointing out how this concept can be helpful or hurtful, depending on how it’s employed. We received a lot of great feedback and some very kind words of support on these posts, and it was incredibly worthwhile to participate in these discussions with our fellow puzzlers.


Thanks for spending 2021 with us, through brain teasers and big ideas, through treasure hunts and trips to the past, through puzzle launches and landmark moments. We’ll see you in 2022.

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Treat yourself to some delightful deals on puzzles. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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Who Is The “Average Solver”?

In crossword forums, the comment sections of crossword blogs, and virtually any other online space where people share their thoughts on puzzles, you’re bound to see the same criticism over and over.

“The average solver wouldn’t know ____.”

I saw a comment on a r/crossword reddit forum recently, regarding the November 11 USA Today puzzle. 10-Down was clued “Spoons,” and the answer word was ENERGY. The poster was baffled.

(If you’re among those who didn’t get the reference, this clue references Spoon Theory, a concept common to those who suffer from chronic pain, fatigue or other debilitating conditions, regarding how many “spoons” a certain activity costs. It’s a way of quantifying how their condition affects their daily life.)

After it was explained, the poster asserted that “nobody” would make the connection between spoons and energy.

Now, no matter what you think of that clue — I personally would have gone with something like “Spoons, to some” or “Spoons, metaphorically” — it’s plainly false that NOBODY would make that connection.

Is it commonplace? Depends on how old you are and in what circles you travel, it seems. (Based on an informal poll I conducted, people 35 and younger are far more likely to know it.)

But one must never mistake their own unfamiliarity with a term for genuine obscurity. And I don’t say this out of judgment. It’s a mistake I’ve made myself on more than occasion. Heck, earlier this year, I did so when reviewing a tournament puzzle. I felt an entry (a hybrid fruit) was too obscure, only to discover others found it fairly common. Live and learn!

Another example where someone questioned the “average solver” was recently shared on Twitter. Constructor Malaika Handa shared part of a Crossword Fiend review:

She pointed out that this assumes that the “average solver” isn’t of Latino descent.

(It’s also worth noting that AREPAS is a more interesting entry than ARENAS, but I digress.)

What do you picture when you imagine the “average solver,” I wonder?

Because I think about those two nebulous measuring sticks a lot: “nobody” and “the average solver.” While they can be valuable to consider, they’re also very misleading.

I mean, what does the “average solver” know? European rivers? Football players? Greek letters? Classical composers or K-Pop bands? How many people would know ETUI if not for crosswords? It’s hardly commonplace.

Do they know those things AND solve crosswords, or do they know those things BECAUSE they solve crosswords? If constructors start regularly cluing or referring to spoons or arepas, then they become part of crossword vernacular, and then the “average solver” might be expected to know them.

Quite a slippery slope when you really start digging, isn’t it?

Plus, there’s more than one average solver, depending on how you look at it. Every outlet has a different “average” solver, and they’ll change over time.

Take PuzzleNation for example. Our Facebook audience is different from our Twitter audience, which is different from our blog audience. But there is overlap. We know there are Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search solvers among all of those groups. But that’s five different “average solvers” to consider at the minimum.

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That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Every crossword constructor walks a tightrope, trying to keep their puzzles fresh while still appealing to solvers.

And, as recently pointed out in a New York Times piece, the Internet has accelerated the proliferation of new slang and terminology. Words become part of the modern vernacular much faster now. (And every time The Oxford English Dictionary adds new words, we get a sense of how deeply some of these new terms have embedded themselves.)

Personally, I think crosswords are better when we’re learning from them. I’d rather have to look up a word or assemble it from familiar crossings — and broaden my own vocabulary and knowledge — than see the same old fill. Those European rivers. Those composers. Those Greek letters.

More spoons and arepas, please. If there is an ideal average solver out there, let’s teach them something new.


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Treat yourself to some delightful deals on puzzles. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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