The WORST Puzzle Solvers in Pop Culture

We celebrate puzzles here at PuzzleNation, and for the most part, we really try to keep the mood light and the overall tone a positive one. Because puzzles are great, and the people who make them are creative, brilliant, innovative, funny wordsmiths who labor for hours just to bring us some delightful challenges in black-and-white grid form.

As part of the general spirit of PuzzleNation Blog, we’ve been doing a series of posts where we shout-out the best puzzle solvers from the realms of fiction, be it horror movies, classic literature, television, YA novels, and children’s books.

But in all fairness, for some reason, a lot of not-so-great puzzle solvers have also been featured in pop culture. Sometimes, a crossword puzzle is the perfect prop for a bit of comic relief. Other times, the crossword serves as a lens for the character, providing valuable insight into their personality.

And if it’s true that you can’t truly enjoy the sunshine without having experienced a little bit of rain now and then, well, let’s rain on a few characters for the sake of fun, shall we?

Here’s a quick look at some of the worst puzzlers in pop culture.


President Jed Bartlet, The West Wing

Bartlet is an incredibly intelligent and well-read individual, which makes it all the more entertaining to watch him struggle with a crossword during the third-season episode “Dead Irish Writers.” He overthinks one entry, is outwitted by another — coming up with TEA for the clue “It may be bitter” instead of END — and even coloring in a square when an answer doesn’t fit the grid.

That’s not the point of the scene, of course. It’s a showcase of Bartlet’s relationship with his wife and how they’re both confronting a crisis in different ways.

But still… Jed, you’re bad at crosswords.

Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse) – Mad Men _ Season 7, Gallery – Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Bert Cooper, Mad Men

I haven’t seen all of Mad Men, so I can’t be certain, but I only recall one character with a deft hand when it comes to crosswords: Don Draper’s secretary Miss Blankenship. And she serves as the perfect foil for Mad Men‘s worst puzzle solver, Bert Cooper.

One of the top brass at advertising agency Sterling Cooper, Bert is solving a crossword and asks for “a three-letter word for a flightless bird.” Anyone with crossword experience will answer as Miss Blankenship does, with “emu.” Cooper replies, “Nope, it starts with an L,” to which Miss Blankenship responds, “The hell it does.” Clearly Mr. Cooper has already gone astray with this solve.

It’s a funny juxtaposition to have someone in a lower position speak so bluntly to a higher-up, and it also fits perfectly with Miss Blankenship’s abrupt style.

[Image courtesy of SyFy Wire.]

Marjory the Trash Heap, Fraggle Rock

Also known as Madame Trash Heap, this sentient compost heap claims to have all wisdom, and serves as a strange oracle for the nearby Fraggles. Although she possesses some magical powers and her advice usually turns out okay, this doesn’t prevent her from making some pretty silly mistakes. And that includes working on crosswords.

In one episode, Marjory needed an 11-letter word for “life of the party.” Proving both her faulty reasoning and her egocentric view of the world, she confidently claims the answer is her uncle, MAXIMILIAN. (It’s spelled with a silent Q, of course.)

Yes, this is a kids show, and yes, it’s not meant to be taken seriously, but it does make you question her view of the world, no matter how good her intentions are.

[Image courtesy of Screenrant.]

Eugene H. Krabs, Spongebob Squarepants

Mr. Krabs, owner of the Krusty Krab restaurant, is obsessed with money and views pretty much everyone and everything around him in terms of monetary value. This even extends to his recreational activities, as we see in one episode of the show where he is solving a crossword puzzle — well, a crisscross, but this happens in TV all the time — and puts the word “money” as the answer to every single five-letter space in the grid.

Unfortunately for Mr. Krabs, there’s one place in the grid where it wouldn’t work, spoiling the solve. (It is convenient for him that MONEY fits in so many of the five-letter spaces in the grid, though.)

I’m fairly certain Mr. Krabs doesn’t care, but hey, if you’re solving a crossword or a crisscross, you should care. A little. (At least he doesn’t color in grid squares like Jed Bartlet.)

[Image courtesy of Bill Watterson.]

Calvin, Calvin and Hobbes

There’s no denying that Calvin is a very clever boy. He creates games like Calvinball, builds some hilariously morbid snowmen, examines the world with a unique perspective that flummoxes and surprises in equal measure. But one Calvin and Hobbes comic strip reveals that he’s not necessarily a good crossword solver.

In response to the incredibly vague clue “bird,” Calvin says, “I’ve got it! ‘Yellow-bellied sapsucker!'” When Hobbes points out that there are only five boxes, Calvin brushes him off with a casual, “I know. These idiots make you write real small.”

On the one hand, Calvin would have no problem with rebus-style crosswords that put more than one letter into the grid. But on the other hand, no sane constructor would jam twenty letters into five boxes. (Hopefully.)

Walt Tenor, Stuck on You

A pair of conjoined twins in this comedy film from 2003, Bob is the quiet shy brother and Walt is the outgoing one driven to seek success in Hollywood. To further illustrate the differences between the two brothers and the central personality conflict between them, crosswords are mentioned twice in the film.

In both cases, the obvious correct answer — provided by the more timid and thoughtful Bob — comes as a surprise to Walt, who has come up with more inappropriate potential answers. I can’t share either of them with you, fellow puzzler, because we try to keep it family-friendly here on PN Blog, but sufficed to say, the answers tell you what’s on Walt’s mind most of the time, to the detriment of both his relationship with his brother and his ability to actually complete a crossword.

By ignoring the common sense answers and always twisting the clues to suit what he’s thinking about, Walt shares several of the bad qualities seen in other people on this list. He might just be the worst puzzle solver in pop culture.

Can you think of any bad solvers in popular culture that we missed? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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Puzzles in Pop Culture: Comic Strips

Two weeks ago, we took a puzzly detour into the world of comic strips and explored all the puzzly references we could find in the annals of Garfield publishing history.

In the course of compiling those comics, I stumbled across many others that referenced crosswords and other puzzles. As it turns out, plenty of iconic comic strips have had something to say about puzzles. It makes sense, really, given that crosswords and comic strips are both synonymous with reading the newspaper every day.

So naturally, I couldn’t resist putting some comic strips aside for the PuzzleNation readership to enjoy.


We start off today with this Fred Basset comic strip, wherein a mischievous dog saves the most important part of the paper for his owner.

In this Beetle Bailey strip, we’re not only reminded of the true power behind the General, but of the power of crosswords to eat up your free time.

In the Peanuts comics, many of Snoopy’s best jokes are visual gags, given that most of the other characters can’t understand him. In this case, the joke is on us, as Snoopy and Woodstock crack a curious crossword entry together.

Calvin and Hobbes also had their fun with filling in crosswords, as Calvin takes his usual outside-the-box approach and applies it to our favorite puzzles. (He’d clearly be a whiz at Double Trouble and other crossword variants.)

In this strip by artist Dave Coverly, he reimagines crosswords in an earlier era. (And makes me wonder what an all-symbol crossword would be like.)

There’s a marvelous sense of accomplishment that comes with solving your first crossword. In this comic from Mother Goose and Grimm, the celebration is a bit more enthusiastic.

Many comic strips have fun with the difficulty of crosswords or the wordplay involved in the cluing. But this one by J. Gravelle presents the trouble you can get into by making assumptions while letters are still missing.

In this comic from John Deering’s Strange Brew, the human condition — and the rat condition — are summed up in one poignant quote.

And speaking of The New York Times crossword… we’ve all felt like this at one point or another.

Finally, we get a little meta with this one. But it makes sense, given that the funnies page and the daily crossword are usually in close proximity.

I hope you enjoyed this brief sojourn into comic strip — and puzzle — history. Do you have any comic strips mentioning puzzles that we missed? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you!


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Making a Profit Through Puzzly Vandalism!

[Image courtesy of Thoibao.today.]

Hey there, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers. Do you remember that post I did a month or two ago about the woman who defaced a piece of crossword-inspired art?

If you don’t recall, a 91-year-old woman was visiting the Neues Museum in Nuremberg with a senior citizens group when she found the piece, “Reading-work-piece” by artist Arthur Koepcke, and began filling in the empty grid, mistakenly thinking it was an interactive art work.

The museum was none too pleased with her efforts, and restored the piece to its original condition.

But as it turns out, that’s not the end of the story.

You see, the woman claims — in a seven-page rebuttal to the German police’s investigation of her vandalism — that she has not harmed the work, instead arguing that she has brought the work greater public attention thanks to her efforts, reinvigorating interest in the piece and increasing its value.

[Image courtesy of Bill Watterson.]

Amazingly, that is not all. According to Ars Technica UK:

Frau K.’s lawyer claimed that her additions meant that she now held the copyright of the combined artwork — and that, in theory, the private collector might sue the museum for destroying that new collaboration by restoring it to its original state.

Yes, they assert that the private collector who loaned the Koepcke work to the Neues Museum might not only approve of her defacement of the piece, but be angry with the museum for their efforts to ensure that the piece was returned to him in the same condition.

Well, that’s certainly doubling down on your hand. It takes a certain confidence and bombast to make a claim like that, but the woman believes she’s in the right artistically.

The argument is based around the spirit of Koepcke’s work, which was part of the Fluxus movement. They go on to explain that “Fluxus artists did not agree with the authority of museums to determine the value of art, nor did they believe that one must be educated to view and understand a piece of art.”

It will certainly be interesting to see where the case goes from here. Naturally, I can’t help but wonder. Heck, if Da Vinci had been a Fluxus devotee. I could’ve drawn a mustache on the Mona Lisa and made millions.


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