Delving into the BosWords 2019 Crosswords!

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I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hand at the puzzles from the BosWords Crossword Tournament last month. Given the talent involved amongst the organizers and constructors, I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed.

So let’s put those puzzles under the microscope and see what’s what!


Leading Ladies by John Lieb

This unscored opening puzzle served as a fun and pleasant warm-up, getting everyone into the puzzly spirit and ready to solve. The theme entries were five films with female leads (like CLEOPATRA, FOXY BROWN, and CAT BALLOU), and the revealer TITLE NINE nicely tied the five films together through their nine-letter titles.

With good flow and an accessible theme, this is a great confidence booster and a solid puzzle to shake off any nerves going into the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included SAMOANS, ZOWIE, DEEP-SIXED, and LANDO, and my favorite clue was “Got to square 100 first in Chutes and Ladders, e.g.” for WON.

Puzzle 1: Central Intelligence by Claire Rimkus and Andrew Kingsley

As you might expect from the first puzzle in the tournament proper, this puzzle was a fairly easy start, combining an accessible theme with interesting fill. Each of the three-letter words at the center of the theme entries spelled out a different degree one could earn, a la VET reading out in LONG LIVE THE KING.

The circles for the three middle letters in each themed entry are almost unnecessary, as between the title and the themed entries themselves, you could suss out the theme without much trouble.

(But then again, I’m a sucker for circles in a crossword grid, so I liked having them there.)

One of the theme entries was more obscure than the other three, but this was still a breezy solve to get the tournament going.

Interesting grid entries included THE UK, OBERON, SOIREE, and MASHUP, and my favorite clues were “Hacker’s problem?” for COUGH and “You don’t want to be under it” for ARREST.

[Image courtesy of SharpBrains.com.]

Puzzle 2: Don’t Strain Yourself by Ross Trudeau

Normally, you’d expect the difficulty to ratchet upward a bit for puzzle 2, but this one was pretty much on par with the first puzzle. The revealer NO FILTER explained the link between the theme entries (things like EMAIL SPAM and INSTANT COFFEE), but overall, I was a little underwhelmed by this one.

That’s not to say the puzzle wasn’t otherwise well-constructed, because it was. The longer down entries linking the themed entries were executed with finesse, and other than one tough entry (ILLINI), the fill was fair and the cluing solid.

Interesting grid entries included DOOMSDAY, TO THE MAX, IOLANI, AL EAST, and DALLIANCES, and my favorite clue was “Turns into a screenplay, perhaps” for ADAPTS.

Puzzle 3: Plus or Minus by Joon Pahk and Laura Braunstein

The increase of difficulty I was expecting in puzzle 2 arrived with gusto in puzzle 3, as the solver must figure out how to either add or remove a number from the theme entries. With the subtraction clues, it was easier, because you had the number spelled out in the entry (like STONE AGE DOOR, where the -1 in the clue indicates that the word ONE should be removed, making the more familiar STAGE DOOR).

With the addition entries, you had to get a little more creative. For instance, the entry PAT PENDING becomes PATENT PENDING when you add the +10 from the clue. It’s a clever hook, and certainly not the last time we’ll be seeing some puzzly math in this puzzle set.

Interesting grid entries included SEA MONKEYS, SQUEAK, UMAMI, and SAYSO, and my favorite clue was “Something that won’t stay hot” for FAD.

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Puzzle 4: Spill the Tea by John Lieb and David Quarfoot

My favorite gimmick from the tournament puzzles appears in puzzle 4, which took me longer to figure out than it probably should have. In this puzzle, longer theme entries are shortened by having a brand of tea contained in the answer reading down instead of across. So, HOTEL CHAIN reads HOTELCN across, because CHAI is reading down from the C instead.

This sort of visual gag in a crossword is hard to pull off, but Lieb and Quarfoot do so nicely, having five “spills” in the grid. (Cluing each tea reading down as an “Oops” was a nice touch, as was the Boston Tea Party reference in the tagline at the top of the page.)

Interesting grid entries included AP CALC, WIN BIG, UNCLE SAM and X-ACTO KNIFE, and my favorite clue was “Charlatan exposer of film” for TOTO.

Puzzle 5: Get the Picture by Paolo Pasco

The regular tournament concluded with puzzle 5, and Pasco ably brought it home with this film-centric puzzle where the theme entries all ended with synonyms for part of a film (SHOT, SCENE, FOOTAGE, TAKE, and CLIP). The theme is quickly uncovered, but the puzzle is by no means a cakewalk, as solid, creative fill makes for a more challenging solve than you expect.

There’s very little crosswordese — the grid instead focused on unusual entries in a well-constructed grid. (Heck, if Pasco had included J and X, this puzzle would have been a pangram as well!)

Interesting grid entries included SATYRS, CYBER, KAPOW, ME DAY, and GUIDE DOG, and my favorite clue was “Write this answer as EER, say” for ERR.

boswordsfinal

[Image courtesy of @StalkingSarah.]

Championship Themeless by Finn Vigeland

After two years of championship puzzles being shepherded by the ambitious grids of David Quarfoot, Finn Vigeland steps up to the plate with a very intimidating themeless grid loaded with lots of long entries. With 3 nine-letter words in each corner and 3 thirteen-letter entries stacked in the middle of the grid, this one would probably give any solver pause at the outset, let alone those solving on stage in front of an audience.

Those long entries were bolstered by a lot of terrific crossings that made use of the open grid, making for a mostly great solving experience, save one or two specious phrases (AREN’T I?, ick).

But the impressive ones far outweigh the occasional clunkers, and Vigeland’s first championship themeless for BosWords will most likely not be his last.

Interesting grid entries included PR FARM, FUTURAMA, I CAN’T EVEN, and ARMREST, and my favorite clue was “One of a breakfast trio” for SNAP.


Bonus puzzle: Do the Math by John Lieb

Although this wasn’t an official tournament puzzle, I have to mention it because this bonus grid was my favorite in the entire set. Treating common hyphenated phrases with numbers as if they were equations, the theme entries in this puzzle required a little outside-the-box thinking to come up with the correction solutions.

For instance, “Combo from Rocky Balboa” would normally be “ONE-TWO PUNCH,” but since we’re thinking mathematically, ONE minus TWO is NEGATIVE ONE, so our themed answer is actually NEGATIVE ONE PUNCH.

The revealer DIFFERENCE MAKERS was just the icing on the cake for a puzzle that took something in plain sight and turned it on its head in a clever way. It was the perfect conclusion to a day of enjoyable puzzling.

Interesting grid entries included ELIXIR, RELAXED FIT, YIKES, and K’NEX, and my favorite clues were “Pricey place for a fan” for SKYBOX and “Improvises musically” for VAMPS.


Overall, I was mostly impressed by the array of puzzles assembled for this year’s tournament. There were tricky themes, visual themes, and math themes, all of which made great use of both the cluing and the grids themselves. Yes, one or two puzzles didn’t connect with me as strongly as the others, but the entire gauntlet of puzzles were challenging and creative in their design without being off-putting or getting too esoteric.

BosWords is probably the tournament that is friendliest to new solvers in terms of puzzle difficulty — not nearly as challenging as those at Lollapuzzoola or The Indie 500, but increasingly just as experimental and inventive — while still remaining engaging.

It’s the right mix of challenge and creativity for solvers accustomed to NYT-style solving, and I think the constructors and organizers did one heck of a job putting together the tournament.

Can’t wait to see what they cook up for us next year.


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Unlikely Ways to Escape an Escape Room!

[Image courtesy of I Googled Israel.]

Solving an escape room is a unique experience, one that immerses you in a story and surrounds you with tasks to complete and puzzles to unravel. Although there are some similarities between rooms (as well as solving techniques you can learn to be better at solving all sorts of escape rooms), each one has its own flavor, its own challenges, and its own quirks.

The same can be said for those groups who tackle the escape room experience. They all have different skill levels, different styles, and different approaches. Some players are terrific at the hide-and-seek portion of a room — discovering hidden compartments, secret caches, and so on. Others are better at identifying and solving puzzles. Still others can be strong abstract thinkers who look outside the box and recognize where patterns are formed and where they are absent.

But sometimes, players think too far outside the box, surprising escape room managers and designers with their curious efforts to complete the game.

[Image courtesy of Snorg Tees.]

In a post on Quora Digest, someone asked what was the weirdest or most unexpected thing that has happened during an escape room event?

One commenter, the owner/operator of an escape room, said that a player once snuck a Swiss army knife into the room, used it to unscrew the boxes containing keys to some of the major lockboxes, and escaped the room in five minutes. Naturally, to the disappointment and chagrin of his friends, he skipped the vast majority of the game itself, missing the point entirely by doing so.

Figuring that there had to be more stories like this out there in the world of escape rooms, I reached out to some of the escape room companies we’ve connected with on Twitter, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s plenty of escape room weirdness to go around!

For instance, the crew at Boxaroo, based in Boston, Massachusetts, have had to deal with the opposite problem: people sneaking things OUT of an escape room:

We’ve had interesting things stolen from our rooms. The usual locks, keys, and even a light bulb once. But the most bizarre was an entire lockbox that went missing. About 4″ by 5″ by 11″.

We had no idea how the person snuck it out until we checked our security tape footage. It was someone sticking it in their trenchcoat, old-school style.

When asked about their most peculiar moment with players, the team at ESC Escape Rooms, based in North Hollywood, Los Angeles, shared a story that explores the dangers of getting into character and immersing yourself too deeply into the setting of a game.

One of the employees was overseeing a game from outside, and instructed the player to go through a door. That’s all, just use the door as you would any other.

The player responded by creating a fake door — like a mime or an actor in an improv show — and pretending to step through it, as if acting out the instruction was somehow part of the solve.

Much like the escape room supervisor who witnessed this, I’m totally baffled.

Sometimes players take instruction in a manner you wouldn’t expect. Other times, they take those instructions all too literally.

Just ask the folks at Red House Mysteries in Exeter, England, who lost visual contact with the solvers in one escape room scenario.

The room had a suspended ceiling, and apparently, this created a blind spot for one of the cameras used to monitor the room.

After not being able to see the players on the CCTV for a good 5 minutes and getting no response on the radio, they went into the room to see if everything was ok.

They found the team of 3 people standing on each others shoulders, having removed the ceiling tiles, and currently climbing into the roof cavity above.

“Whilst technically this is escaping, it’s not really the spirit of the game scenario. Nor do I have any idea where they were going to go from there. Needless to say, they didn’t manage to escape…”


To close out this sojourn into the world of escape room shenanigans, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something that happened during my very first escape room.

We broke something. We broke one of the mechanisms that released a hidden key.

As a group of ten or so players, we quickly scattered around the room and began looking for clues, hidden compartments, hints on how to proceed, and so on. One team member, an acquaintance of my sister I didn’t know, spotted a small statuette on the mantel.

It was meant to be turned 90 degrees, releasing a hidden key below. Not knowing this, she lifted it off of its small base instead, triggering the hidden key.

And since there was a matching statuette nearby, the group surmised that lifting it would release another key on the other side.

It didn’t.

My best guess is that she managed to lift AND turn the first statuette when she picked it up, triggering the release. The second statuette was lifted straight up, leaving the hidden key still untriggered.

As it turns out, the statuettes weren’t intended to be lifted off their bases, and we’d broken the second release trigger. One of us managed to trigger it with a quarter and free the key, but we didn’t realize we’d actually damaged the game room until the session was over.

Here’s hoping it was a quick and easy repair job. I still cringe when I think about it.

Needless to say, I’ve been far more cautious in all of my subsequent escape room attempts.

Have you ever had or seen any strange escape room moments, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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A Scavenger Hunt with a Dragon at the End?

Although I’m the only one who works in the puzzle field, I’m far from the only member of my family with puzzly skills.

Mom is a whiz at cracking crosswords, Sudoku, and Jumble puzzles. My younger sister demolishes jigsaw puzzles, rules trivia games and bar trivia nights, and has a knack for tackling escape rooms. My older sister loves city-spanning scavenger hunts like The Great Urban Race.

And although the GUR is no longer running, plenty of other events around the country are waiting to be discovered to scratch the puzzly itch of enthusiastic solvers.

One of them is coming up in a few weeks, in fact. If you’re near Boston, you can join the Boxaroo crew for their third annual City Scavenger Adventure, The Dragon of Bostonshire!

On August 19th from 1pm to 5pm, Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park will be the starting point — and final destination — for a quest worthy of the name…

Once upon a present time, in a parallel universe known as Bostonshire, a loud rumbling echoed throughout the land. As the town became concerned, the noble Knights of Bostonshire went to investigate… and lo and behold! They discovered a ferocious, enormous dragon, raging and breathing fire. Alas, the Knights are in dire need of YOUR help- will you and your team be able to help them defeat the dragon before Bostonshire is destroyed?

Teams of up to 5 will race around Boston in order to take pictures, solve puzzles, accomplish tasks, and hopefully collect enough clues to return to the park in order to complete the final challenge and slay the dragon!

I reached out to the Boxaroo team for a bit more detail, and they kindly indulged me, explaining that the scavenger hunt aspect of the quest is a combination of puzzle-solving, running around, and accomplishing tasks. The puzzle-solving ranges from memory games and trivia to logic puzzles, with each location providing a different challenge to overcome in order to earn a clue.

It sounds like an awesome time, and I hope it’s a grand success for the players and organizers alike! Click here for more details!

What do you think, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Will you accept the challenge of the Dragon of Bostonshire? Have you competed in an event like this one? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you?


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Kickstarter Roundup!

Oh yes, it’s that time again. For several years now, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been hotbeds of innovative puzzle and game design, and I’m always happy to spread the word about worthy projects that I think will delight and amaze my fellow PuzzleNationers.

So let’s take a look at some projects that are currently seeking funding and see if any pique your interest!


Verwald’s Treasures is a puzzle hunt designed by Nathan Curtis that can be solved either from home or in a live puzzle hunt event held in the Boston area.

Curtis promises that the puzzle hunt will involve over thirty different puzzles, including three-dimensional challenges to really test your puzzly mettle.

For a smaller donation, you’ll receive a number of variety pencil puzzles (unconnected to the puzzle hunt itself), but in order to participate in the hunt itself, pledges start at $60. The campaign is about halfway funded with 22 days to go, and should provide a puzzly challenge outside the norm for solvers accustomed to pencil-and-paper puzzles.

Another puzzle-filled project is The Conjurer’s Almanaq, touted as an escape room in a book. It is a self-contained puzzling experience that will test all sorts of puzzly skills, masquerading as a book of magic. Clearly a great deal of storytelling and homework has gone into this one, including cryptic tales of the great Qdini, who created the book.

Plus this Kickstarter edition of the book will be different from the mass market version to come. Not only will more of the pages be in color, but backers will receive their copy of the book at least a month before the mass market version goes on sale.

This seems like a really intriguing campaign, and it’s already over 200% funded with two weeks to go, so your chances of seeing the campaign come to fruition are already pretty good.

Let’s switch gears from puzzles to games and check out The Mansky Caper, a heist game from Ray Wehrs at Calliope Games.

There are safes to crack, explosives to acquire, loot to hide, and other members of an ambitious mob family to contend with. You can forge alliances with other players too, but be careful… if you press your luck too far, you might just fall victim to an explosive booby trap.

This looks like great fun, and it’s three-quarters of the way funded with over three weeks to go in the campaign.

For a game with more of a social element — heavy on negotiation — there’s Black Hole Council. Every player is a member of council that allocates resources to different planets — and consigns some to destruction in a black hole.

Each player has their own agenda they’d like to advance, and as the role of “leader” passes from player to player, deals are negotiated, bribes are offered, arguments are made, and votes are held to see just how the various planets are arranged. Can you convince your fellow players to make moves that are to your advantage, or will these planets slip from your fingertips?

The game is already funded and chasing stretch goals at this point (with over two weeks to go), and it looks like a nice step up in complexity from other deceit and negotiation games like Coup or The Resistance.

We’ll conclude today’s Kickstarter roundup with a music-minded strategy game, Re-Chord.

In this game, you’re a guitarist pursuing the top of the charts, and you do so by playing actual chords to complete songs and build your level of fame. You can learn music while you play!

The game is 200% funded with over 20 days to go — which means they’re well on their way to funding expansions to the game, additional chord cards, and more — and it seems like a clever mix of music and tactics, the perfect bridge to bring non-gamers to the table.


Have any of these games hooked you? Let us know which ones you’re supporting in the comments section below! And if there are any campaigns you’re supporting that we missed, let us know!

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Crossword Tournaments Galore!

Crossword fans, be aware! There are TWO crossword tournaments looming in the near future!

The first is a newcomer to the crossword scene, the BosWords Tournament! Sunday, August 6, marks the inaugural event, and registration is officially open!

The format is simple. Three divisions — Expert, Amateur, and Pairs (allowing you to team up to solve) — pit their puzzly minds against clever clues and crafty constructors.

Competitors will complete four themed puzzles made by constructors Laura Braunstein, Andrew Kingsley, John Lieb, Joon Pahk, and Brendan Emmett Quigley, and then the top three solvers will take on a championship themeless by David Quarfoot.

And it’s super affordable! BosWords is asking for $20 for adults and $10 for students. That’s a steal!

You can check out their Facebook page for full details!

[Lollapuzzoola organizer and puzzle constructor Patrick Blindauer,
either counting people down or throwing puzzly gang signs.]

And, of course, it wouldn’t be summer without Lollapuzzoola! And Saturday, August 19, marks the tenth edition of the tournament!

The marvelous indie offspring of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, Lollapuzzoola is a favorite of both solvers and top constructors, all of whom descend upon New York City to enjoy what can only be described as “the best tournament held in New York on a Saturday in August.” (At least, that’s what they say on their website.)

The format is similar to BosWords. Competitors are placed in one of three divisions: Express (solvers with tournament experience), Local (other solvers), and Pairs.

But if you can’t make it to NYC that weekend, worry not! There’s an At-Home Division that will allow you to participate as if you were there! You’ll get your puzzles by email the day after the actual tournament for a very reasonable $15 fee!

It’s one of the highlights of the puzzle world each year, and I’m definitely looking forward to tackling the puzzles! They’re a diabolical treat each and every year! (For a full rundown of the event, check out this interview with Local Division winner and friend of the blog Patti Varol!)

Are you planning on attending BosWords, Lollapuzzoola, or solving from home? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!


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