# Do you accept the Cryptiq challenge?

Normally, this would be a Follow-Up Friday post. But since Follow-Up Friday is all about continuing or expanding upon previous topics we’ve covered, and I suspect today’s post will be something we’ll return to in the future, it gets the nod this week.

I’ve written about puzzle contests plenty of times in the past, whether they’re single crosswords to solve or elaborate multi-step puzzle suites to unravel. Constructors are constantly innovating, and we’ve reached a point where you can tackle amazing puzzly challenges without even leaving your favorite chair.

So if you’re looking for a diabolical new puzzle series you can sink your teeth into from the comfort of your own home, Cryptiq fits the bill nicely.

Cryptiq is a collection of puzzles — available both on their website and in book form — designed to test your puzzly mettle. There are dozens of logic, deduction, and visual puzzles involved, and the designers have clearly set a very high bar for solvers.

From the Cryptiq website:

To win the game you must solve all the puzzles on the given pages on http://www.cryptiq.com or in the book Cryptiq. Once you solve the puzzles you will be left with a code that has 6 values. Be the first to enter these 6 values, in the correct order, on the code input page and you will be moved forward to the verification step. The game can only be won through skill.

After you have entered the correct code, you will be prompted to supply a written solution showing that your solve of the puzzles was not by chance. Once your solve is verified as skill, you will be declared the winner and receive the prize.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a puzzle contest that requires written explanation of the solve in order to prove your skills, but when you consider that the winning purse is \$5,000 — and there’s a chance that prize could increase — the team at Cryptiq wants to be sure that someone EARNS that prize, rather than getting lucky.

[Kind of Cunning, one of Cryptiq’s many mind-bending obstacles.]

Best of all? There is no purchase necessary to enter or to win the game. Everything you need to play is right there online. (The book version costs \$20, but has all the same information as the website.)

So, fellow friends and PuzzleNationers, will you accept the Cryptiq challenge? Let me know if you do! I’d love to hear about it!

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# My Favorite Crosswords and Clues for 2016!

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the crossword — the one hundred and third, to be precise — and I thought I would celebrate the day by sharing some of my favorite crossword puzzles and clues from this year.

I solved more crosswords this year than any other year I can remember. From The New York Times, The LA Times, and The Washington Post to Peter Gordon‘s Fireball Newsflash Crosswords and our own Free Daily Puzzle on the Penny Dell Crosswords app, I tried to sample as many constructors and outlets as I could.

I want to start with Ben Tausig’s “Gender-Fluid” quantum puzzle from The New York Times in September. In a year that saw the Times called out several times for tone-deaf and insensitive cluing, to have a puzzle dedicated to the increasing awareness of other gender options was great.

And it certainly didn’t hurt that Ben’s grid was tightly constructed and each of the variable M or F entries worked well. (You can check out my full post on the puzzle here.)

“Eliminating the Competition” by Barany and Friends was another strong crossword with clever letterplay involved. The puzzle paid tribute to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament by dropping the letters A, C, P, and T, respectively from the four theme entries in the grid.

Not only that, but there were no As, Cs, Ps, or Ts to be found anywhere else in the puzzle grid, which I thought was not only clever, but impressively challenging as a constructing gimmick. It was one of the most ambitious grids I saw all year. (You can check out my full post on the puzzle here.)

On the flip side — a puzzle that was more about the clues than the grid — there was the cryptic crossword from Neil Patrick Harris’s Choose Your Own Autobiography.

With clues like “Sounds like an assortment of taxis in which you were the MC (7)” (for CABARET) and “Costar a large, fake amount of money? (7)” (for FILLION), this puzzle not only rewarded attentive readers, but it severely taxed my (admittedly less-than-daunting) skills at unraveling cryptic clues. (You can check out my full post on the puzzle here.)

Oh, and on the topic of cryptic clues, I asked some constructors if there were any clues or puzzles that caught their eye this year, and David Kwong mentioned a doozy of a cryptic clue by master constructors Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon that he considered the most diabolical he’d ever seen.

The clue? “Emphatically, the key to making bozos boss? (9)”

The answer? SFORZANDO, which parses as “S for Z and O.”

That’s awesome. Doug Peterson did a variation on that in this year’s Lollapuzzoola tournament, “What Happened?”, which featured words or phrases where the letter H had been replaced with either a T or a Y. He revealed this with the entry “HISTORY” breaking down “H is T or Y.” I really dug this puzzle.

And speaking of Lollapuzzoola, I absolutely loved Francis Heaney‘s “Quote Boxes” puzzle from this year’s tournament. It was an 18×18 grid jam-packed with entries, and he used an interesting mechanic to fill the grid.

There were five 2×2 boxes shaded with different shapes, and each of the four cells in those 2×2 boxes contained a word from a famous four-word movie quote, allowing him to place longer entries in the grid. It was the highlight of Lollapuzzoola for me this year. Great stuff.

But before I get to the final crossword on my list, I’d like to run down some of my favorite crossword clues from this year.

• “Island country that becomes a geometric solid if you change its last letter to an E” for CUBA (from Patrick Blindauer‘s Piece of Cake Crosswords. A super-long clue, but very fun.)
• “Struggle with hopelessness?” for LISP (from Brendan Emmett Quigley)
• “The Sky, Sun, and Stars play in it” for WNBA (from Peter Gordon)
• “Answers, on ‘Jeopardy!'” for ASKS (I don’t recall where I saw this one. Let me know if you know, so I can correct this!)
• “Some people do it for kicks” for KARATE (Again, no idea where I saw this one. Let me know if you know, so I can correct this!)
• “Characters often found to be up in arms?” for YMCA (from Sam Trabucco’s Indie 500 puzzle)

And cluing tied into my final choice for favorite crossword of the year with Erik Agard and Joanne Sullivan’s puzzle “Do I Hear a Waltz?” from the Indie 500 tournament.

In this puzzle, the words ONE, TWO, and THREE were missing from sequential clues, providing a hidden one-two-three count for the puzzle’s titular waltz. For instance, 36-Across clued TRUMP as “Up,” 37-Across clued BIKINI as “Piece, say,” and 38-Across clued TITLES as “Peat makeup.” As you’d expect, those clues make much more sense when you add the hidden one-two-three: One-up = TRUMP; Two-piece, say = BIKINI; Threepeat makeup = TITLES.

Hiding the beat within the cluing was absolutely brilliant, and one of the highlights in crosswords for me this year.

Now I’m sure there were great clues or puzzles that I missed, since I’m hardly a prolific solver. Let me know which puzzles and clues from 2016 were your favorites! I’d love to hear from you!

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# It’s Follow-Up Friday: Subway Time Travel edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of puzzly events!

I’m a huge fan of events where puzzly-minded people get together and create something new. Whether it’s a festival of indie games or a Rube Goldberg machine about Passover, a prom-themed puzzle tournament or a crossword contest about a crossword contest, anything is possible when folks with a mind for puzzle fun collaborate.

The team at Improv Everywhere know this better than most, as they’ve put together some terrific live experiences to entertain unsuspecting strangers.

In the past, they’ve staged a repeating time loop at a coffee shop, recreated the opening of Star Wars on a subway, and (my personal favorite) made a cabbie the hero of a reunion right out of a romantic comedy.

This time around, they faked time travel with four sets of twins. Check it out!

You can explore the full details of the prank/performance here, as well as many other “missions” from their past, but sufficed to say, it took a fair amount of puzzly skills and improvisational style to pull this off!

I wonder what delightful trickery they’ll attempt next.

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# ACPT 2016 Wrap-Up!

ACPT LOGO

The 39th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was this weekend, and puzzlers descended on the Stamford Marriott Hotel to put their puzzly chops to the test in what is lovingly called “the Nerd Olympics.”

The tournament takes place over two days, with six puzzles to solve on Saturday, followed by one on Sunday. Then the top three finishers solve the championship puzzle on white boards in front of the audience.

On Friday and Saturday night, there are often puzzle events, demonstrations, and panels by top puzzlers and figures in the puzzle world as well.

(This year, Friday night featured author and puzzler Eric Berlin hosting an Escape the Room-themed puzzle hunt that received rave reviews from participants, and Saturday night saw the first Merl Reagle Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award in crossword construction presented to constructor Maura Jacobson. Her husband accepted on her behalf from Merl’s widow, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.)

I made the journey down to Stamford myself Saturday morning and sat in with my friend, proofreader and puzzler Debra Yurschak Rich, at the Penny Dell Puzzles booth.

Our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles had a terrific setup as always, with great books and tote bags for purchase and a metric buttload of magazines to give away, including copies of The Crosswords Club, Will Shortz’s Sudoku, and several flavors of Tournament Variety, Master’s Variety, and Dell Sunday Crosswords!

And they didn’t mind at all when I conquered and annexed the middle of the table for PuzzleNation’s in-person version of Friday’s View a Clue crossword animals puzzle. Many competitors stopped by the table to try their luck, allowing some to thoroughly impress their fellow puzzlers with their knowledge of African antelopes, while others were flummoxed trying to match names they’d written into grids dozens of times with images of the actual animal!

(One woman told me she’d seen many of these animals during a trip to South Africa, and even EATEN some of them, but she couldn’t identify them by name. I imagine it’s quite rare to know what an animal tastes like but not what it LOOKS like.)

At 9 AM, the tournament was two hours away, but the marketplace was up and running. In addition to the usual ACPT swag, the marketplace included Hayley Gold and her Across & Down comics, the aforementioned Eric Berlin (repping his Winston Breen books and Puzzle Your Kids subscription puzzles), a collection of Merl Reagle’s puzzle books, and an impressive selection of puzzly titles from the marvelous crew at The Village Bookstore in Pleasantville, New York!

Plus I got to see friends of the blog like Crosswords Club editor Patti Varol, constructor Ian Livengood, crossword gentleman Doug Peterson, and Penny Press variety editor Keith Yarbrough!

Another treat of the tournament is getting to chat with numerous puzzle luminaries I’ve gotten to know through PuzzleNation Blog, like New York Times Wordplay blogger Deb Amlen, constructor and Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project curator David Steinberg, constructor Joon Pahk, top solver and former champion Ellen Ripstein, constructor George Barany, Evan Birnholz of Devil Cross, top competitor Tyler Hinman, and, of course, New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz.

The two hours before showtime passed quickly, and soon, the marketplace emptied and the ballroom filled as competitors took their seats for Puzzle 1.

Puzzle 1 didn’t stagger any of the participants, although there was no repeat of Dan Feyer’s blisteringly fast under-two-minute solve like last year. Three minutes seemed to be the benchmark for the top performers this year.

But Puzzle 2 had a crossing that flummoxed several solvers: CORTANA crossing CONTE. Constructor Patrick Blindauer, not in attendance, was no doubt on the receiving end of some Puzzle 5-level heat for that one. But when Doug reached out to Blindauer, it turns out that THAT wasn’t Blindauer’s corner! It had been edited, with MONTANA becoming CORTANA.

I had no idea puzzles accepted for the tournament were edited that much!

Puzzles 3 and 4 passed without incident, and people seemed to enjoy both the camaraderie of the event and the opportunity to compete against their own best times from previous years.

[In our downtime, Debra and I indulged in a round or two of Bananagrams, because it was a day for wordplay of all sorts.]

Then Patrick Berry’s Puzzle 5 arrived, complete with zigzagging entries and a thoroughly impressive fill. (“Wow” was uttered several times by competitors describing their impression of the always-dreaded fifth puzzle of the day.)

Between puzzles 5 and 6, I handed out prizes for our View a Clue crossword animals game: copies of Scrimish, donated by that game’s terrific design team!

Two copies went to our top performers — one got ALL TEN and another got nine out of ten — and two copies went in a drawing from all of the players who gave it their best shot. So congratulations to Robert Moy (who pitched a shut-out), Robert Kern, Abbie Brown, and the man known only as Dan (who got all but one)!

After the diabolical inventiveness of Puzzle 5, Puzzle 6 was tackled by the solvers, who declared it a fun and fair end to the day’s competition. The solvers dispersed to rest their brains; we packed up the table, and headed for home.

And although I wasn’t present for Sunday’s tournament finale, I continued to get updates from friends and fellow puzzlers.

The day started off with Lynn Lempel’s Puzzle 7, which received strong reviews, but did little to alter the standings of the top competitors.

Soon, it was time for the finalists to be announced. When it came time for the top three to solve on their whiteboards in front of their fellow competitors, two of the names were quite familiar to attendees: Dan Feyer, defending six-time champion, and Howard Barkin, four-time champion and perennial participant in the finals.

Conspicuous by his absence was another familiar name and former champion, the performer who made last year’s finals such a nail-biting showdown: Tyler Hinman. An unfortunate error in Puzzle 2 took him out of the running, so the final member of the live-solving trio would be David Plotkin. (Joon Pahk, Francis Heaney, Al Sanders, Jon Delfin and other regular key performers were also near the top.)

He and Howard prepared for a thoroughly wordy and daunting battle with Mr. Feyer, whose excellent performance in the seven previous puzzles had him leading his competitors by three minutes.

You can watch the final puzzle being solved below:

In a stunning upset, Howard Barkin did the seemingly impossible, besting Dan Feyer and claiming the top spot! The room erupted for him as others sat by, stunned that the expected seventh straight win for Dan was not to be.

[Howard poses with his well-earned trophy.]

But that’s not all! Friend of the blog and crossword gentleman Doug Peterson placed 13th overall AND won the finals for Division B! Congratulations to Doug!

And it was a strong showing for many other familiar names! Patti Varol placed 97 (up from last year’s 109 showing), David Steinberg 113th, Kathy Matheson 237th, and Keith Yarbrough 266th out of a field of nearly 600 participants.

It was certainly a day for surprises, strong emotions, and puzzly camaraderie. It’s always great fun to spend time with fellow puzzlers and wordplay enthusiasts, immersing myself in the puzzle community and enjoying all the charm and weirdness that comes part and parcel with it.

That would’ve been my closing statement, but I think the final word belongs to competitor Ben Smith:

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# It’s Follow-Up Friday: Crossword Contest Conclusion edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’m returning to the subject of crossword contests!

Last month, I announced the latest crossword contest from the topnotch puzzlers at Barany and Friends. The contest, titled Eliminating the Competition, wrapped up on February 8, but the answer to the meta puzzle concealed within each grid was only revealed this week!

As it turns out, the crafty cruciverbalists paid tribute to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament by dropping the letters A, C, P, and T from the theme entries in the grid! Not only that, but there were no As, Cs, Ps, or Ts to be found anywhere else in the puzzle grid! Diabolical!

• They are left over after division: REMINDERS (“Remainders” with the A eliminated)
• Lack of affection, say: HILLINESS (“Chilliness” with the C eliminated)
• A cylindrical utensil used to flatten dough: ROLLING IN (“Rolling pin” with the P eliminated)
• They’re often found in churches or on campuses: BELL OWERS (“Bell towers” with the T eliminated)

They also hid the reveal, MHU, in the lower right corner. (Fiendishly, MHU is MATCHUP with A, C, P, and T eliminated!)

You can check out the full details of the meta puzzle here, including the theme answers for both the Open Division puzzle and the Master Division puzzle, which was a doozy!

But there’s more! They’ve also announced the prizes for the winners, which include paid registrations to the ACPT, puzzle e-books, crossword subscriptions, autographed puzzle books, and specialized crossword puzzles with the winner’s name built into the grid!

They’ve truly gone all out this year to make the Eliminating the Competition contest something special. Kudos to George Barany, Ralph Bunker, John Child, Michael Hanko, and Roy Leban for creating a terrific challenge and a puzzly feast for solvers.

Did you accept the Barany and Friends challenge this year, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know if you did! We’d love to hear from you!

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# A crossword contest!

Regular readers of the blog probably know the name George Barany. He’s a top-flight puzzle constructor and one of the masterminds behind the Barany and Friends puzzle group.

Last year, George launched the Enigma Variations puzzle contest, and this year, he’s got another terrific crossword contest for ambitious solvers! And he reached out to PuzzleNation Blog to help spread the word!

It’s called Eliminating the Competition, and it’s the brainchild of George, Ralph Bunker, John Child, Michael Hanko, and Roy Leban.

There are two levels of difficulty, the open division and the master division. The open division is classified as a mid-week New York Times difficulty level, while the master division is late-week difficulty.

And both puzzles have a meta puzzle hidden within that you’ll have to unravel to win the contest:

Contest (Open Division): Explain this puzzle’s theme, including its title. Specifically, explain the answers to the four indicated clues.

Contest (Master Division): Explain this puzzle’s theme, including its title, and any nuances you see. Bonus for Grandmaster level solvers: How was the “reveal” chosen?

Prizes include crossword books and subscriptions, as well as some prizes to be posted after the contest is over!

You’re welcome to try your luck against either puzzle! The contest ends Monday, February 8, at midnight, so the deadline is looming, but hey, that just adds a little drama to the proceedings, doesn’t it?

You can find the full details of the contest here. And good luck!

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