How People Used Puzzles and Games to Endure the Pandemic

Puzzles and games have been there for many people during the pandemic.

Many puzzle and game companies offered (and continue to offer) “COVID discounts” and giveaways to help people financially impacted by the crisis. Companies released free online or zoom-compatible versions of their products to help people get by.

There are all sorts of articles out there about how Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games have served as critical socializing tools in virtual hangouts. Bar-style trivia, zoom games, Jackbox, Board Game Arena, Fall Guys, Among Us… lots of communal activities went virtual as puzzles and games filled a rapidly growing niche.

Whether solved alone or with other members of the household, jigsaw puzzles sales increased 500% or more. Online sites to coordinate trades sprang up, allowing people to swap puzzles they’d solved before for ones new to them.

At a terrible time for many people, puzzles and games helped us cope.

And honestly, if you know the history of games and puzzles, it makes sense. Many of them have been born out of unpleasant circumstances.

Monopoly was a hit during the Great Depression, offering an escape and the illusory feeling of being rich. The game itself only cost two dollars, so it was a solid investment with a ton of replay value.

Candy Land was created to entertain children with polio (although that fact wasn’t commonly known for 50 years). Clue was designed during air raid drills as a way to pass the time. The Checkered Game of Life (later The Game of Life) was inspired by Milton Bradley’s own wild swing of business misfortune.

Risk and other conflict-heavy games weren’t popular in postwar Germany, so an entire genre of games that avoided direct conflict was born: Eurogames.

It’s just as true in the modern day. What game was flying off the shelves during COVID-19 lockdowns? Pandemic.

That combination of escapism and social interaction is so powerful. Games are low-stakes. They offer both randomness (a break from monotony) and a degree of control (something sorely missing during lockdown).

Puzzles too assisted folks in maintaining their mental health. And isn’t it interesting that crossword solving, something viewed by many as a solitary endeavor — I guess they never needed to ask someone else 5-Down — helped fill a crucial social role for people?

Constructors stepped up in interesting, inventive ways. The sense of community fostered by online crossword events like Crossword Tournament From Your Couch (which filled the void of ACPT in 2020) and the Boswords Themeless League was absolutely invaluable to puzzlers who couldn’t attend some of the highlights of the puzzle calendar year.

As I said before, there are numerous articles out there celebrating the benefits of roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and more.

Roleplaying games certainly helped keep me sane during lockdown. It might sound ridiculous, but dealing with world-threatening threats, fiercely dangerous monsters, and sinister plots that I could DO something about was medicinal. It was escape in its truest form. It recharged me, allowing me to lose myself in storytelling with friends.

The last 18 months were hard. There may be hard months ahead. But I’m grateful for the puzzle/game community — and the many marvelous pastimes they’ve created — for helping me and many others get by. To smile. To cope. To socialize. And to enjoy.

What games and puzzles have helped you deal with unpleasant circumstances, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.


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Answers to our International Tabletop Day Puzzle (Plus a Special Offer!)

a story to die for box

Before we start with today’s blog post, we’ve got a special offer for you from the puzzly folks at ThinkFun!

Have you checked out our reviews of their new unsolved crime series of puzzle games? In Cold Case, you’re tasked with going through the evidence and solving the case!

There are two editions of Cold Case; A Story to Die For is available for preorder now, and A Pinch of Murder will be available for preorder on June 14th!

And if you click this link and use the promo code 20COLDCASE, you’ll get the puzzle game for 20% off!

Enjoy!


tabletopday_logo

Last week, we celebrated International Tabletop Day with some puzzly recommendations, suggestions, and an anagram mix-and-match puzzle, all in the spirit of celebrating gathering with friends and loved ones — in person or virtually — to play games together.

The challenge was to unscramble the names of famous board game characters from the entries on the left, and then match them up with the correct board game from the list on the right.

We’re sure you managed to unravel all those jumbled phrases, but just in case, let’s take a look at the solution.

First, let’s look at the anagrams.

  • Resist Clams = Miss Scarlet
  • Screenplay Bunching = Rich Uncle Pennybags
  • Niceness Fir Sport = Princess Frostine
  • I, Hyphen Pro = Henry Hippo
  • Air Ma = Maria
  • AI Zag Rug = Gigazaur
  • Cam Sat Ivy = Cavity Sam
  • Be Brother = The Robber

And now, for a splash of color, here is the solution for the matching portion of the puzzle.

tabletop-day-mix-and-match-solution

How did you do with the puzzle? Did you enjoy International Tabletop Day? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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Answers to our Double Feature Movie Title Opposites Game!

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Last Friday, we closed out the week with a movie title game for you. We paired off film titles that were opposites, and offered a few clues for each pairing.

With only the genre of each film, the year of release for each, and one star from each film, could you puzzle out each double feature?

We posted fifteen pairings for you to figure out! Let’s go to the movies and see the results!


#1
-Comedy, Romcom
-1985, 1995
-Madeline Kahn, Paul Rudd
(Bonus hint: Tim Curry, Alicia Silverstone)

double feature 1

#2
-Action/Crime, Drama/Crime
-1995, 1990
-Will Smith, Robert DeNiro
(Bonus hint: Martin Lawrence, Joe Pesci)

double feature 2

#3
-Holiday/Musical, Horror
-1954, 1974
-Rosemary Clooney, Margot Kidder
(Bonus hint: Bing Crosby, Olivia Hussey)

double feature 3

#4
-Western, Fantasy/Romance
-1952, 2008
-Gary Cooper, Kristen Stewart

double feature 4

#5
-Comedy, Comedy
-1985, 1994
-Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey

double feature 5

#6
-Drama/Musical, Action
-1980, 2021
-Irene Cara, Bob Odenkirk

double feature 6

#7
-Comedy/Drama, Drama
-2006, 1988
-Steve Carell, Tom Cruise
(Bonus hint: Abigail Breslin, Dustin Hoffman)

double feature 7

#8
-Holiday/Comedy, Animation/Adventure
-1990, 2001
-Macauley Culkin, Hayao Miyazaki

double feature 8

#9
-Romcom, Sci-Fi/Action
-1986, 2014
-Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise

double feature 9

#10
-Drama/Biographical, Action
-1993, 1988
-Ethan Hawke, Bruce Willis

double feature 10

#11
-Sci-Fi/Comedy, Comedy(?)
-1997, 2004
-Tommy Lee Jones, Marlon Wayans

double feature 11

#12
-Horror, Romance
-1987, 1995
-Bill Paxton, Ethan Hawke

double feature 12

#13
-Comedy, Horror
-1989, 2018
-John Travolta, Emily Blunt

double feature 13

#14
-Action/Crime, Horror
-1973, 2017
-Bruce Lee, Daniel Kaluuya

double feature 14

#15
-Drama, Sci-Fi/Comedy
-1994, 1993
-Winona Ryder, Daryl Hannah

double feature 15


How many did you figure out, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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What Are Your Board Game House Rules?

house-rules

[Image courtesy of Bell of Lost Souls.]

Many board games are meticulously designed, every aspect playtested dozens if not hundreds of times to ensure the optimal play experience no matter what choices the players make, how the dice roll, or how the various game mechanics interact.

But, of course, any game that becomes a household favorite is bound to be played so often that new rules and styles of play emerge. Maybe they’re designed to even the playing field for new or younger players. Maybe they’re designed to extend the gameplay time. Maybe they’re designed to inject new life into a game that has lost some of its sparkle.

We call these modifications “house rules,” and virtually every household has them, for one game or another.

There’s arguably no game that’s subject to more house rules than Monopoly.

Did you grow up with the rule that all fees and fines collected go in the center of the board, and are then collected by the first player to land on Free Parking? I certainly did. (And interestingly, studies have shown that this house rule lengthens an already long game experience, rather than shortening it or evening the playing field, potentially making the game worse.)

Maybe you get a bonus if you land directly on Go. Maybe your assets are frozen when you’re in jail and you can’t collect any rent money you earn. Maybe you allow the utilities to collect 5% of any player-to-player transactions over $200. But certainly, there’s at least one variant rule that your family considers standard.

(Monopoly once held a contest where players submitted house rules and five of them were added to a special House Rules edition of the game.)

The best house rule for Monopoly I’ve encountered is called “the mugging rule.” If someone lands on a space that is currently occupied, that player can choose to mug the player already there. They take turns rolling the dice, and if the mugger rolls higher, they steal $100. If the person being mugged rolls higher, the mugger goes to jail.

unocards

Another game rife with house rules is Uno.

Back in 2019, I wrote a post about the official Uno Twitter account declaring that you cannot stack Draw 2 or Draw 4 cards.

It turns out, one of the most famous rules in Uno is a house rule. An incredibly common one, to be sure, but not standard at all.

And there are a host of other house rules in Uno. Playing a Zero card rotates everyone’s hands in the direction of play. So if the game is going left, you hand your cards to the player on your left and receive the hand from the player on your right.

Playing a 7 allows you to swap hands with the player of your choice.

Instead of drawing a single card if you can’t play, some households require you to keep drawing until you can play a card. Which would cause your hand to balloon quickly!

The crew at No Rolls Barred tried out a classic rules Uno game versus an all-house rule game, and a single round of the house rules game lasted nearly an hour!

HiveMind

[Image courtesy of The Board Game Family.]

Naturally, our in-office game group has all sorts of house rules we’ve added to games we play frequently.

My favorite is probably the bonus rule we added to Hive Mind.

Hive Mind is kind of like Scattergories, where you have a given topic and you’re trying to write an answer down for it. But instead of being unique, your goal is to match as many other players as possible.

Unfortunately, sometimes that doesn’t work out, and if you have a knack for not matching players — like I do — then our house rule comes in handy.

Everyone votes on their favorite answer that didn’t match anyone, and that person gets bonus points. It’s rarely enough to tip the scales entirely, but it often ensures that players last longer, and in Hive Mind, that’s always a plus.

stack of games

[Image courtesy of StoreMyBoardGames.com.]

What are some of your favorite board game house rules, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers?

Do you let the person who can make the longest word go first in Scrabble, ensuring lots of places to add letters? Do you try to chase the killer down in Clue after they’re revealed?

Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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It Was His Sister, In the Living Room, With the…

We’re one week into 2021, but if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’d like to share one last bit of puzzle fun from 2020.

Every household has their holiday traditions. Maybe it’s who you see on Christmas Eve or who puts the star on the tree, who lights the first candle on the menorah or who says grace at the dinner table.

It’s no different when it comes to puzzly holiday traditions. One friend challenges his kids to a puzzle hunt Christmas morning before they open their gifts. Another couple I know gives each other games for Christmas, and then invites certain friends over that evening for a holiday game night. (Naturally, this year, they did so over Zoom.)

I recently stumbled across another puzzle/game-fueled holiday tradition and I wanted to share the story with my fellow PuzzleNationers.

One Christmas, six years ago, a young man received a candlestick from his sister as one of his gifts. It was in a black box with a purple ribbon. He was very confused. He didn’t understand this gift at all.

The next year, he received another strange gift: a spool of rope.

And so it went each year. Another Christmas, another strange gift.

He soon cottoned on to the pattern, though, and began to look forward to each year’s new offering.

This year, she completed the set for him:

Yes, every Christmas, his sister got him one of the weapons from Clue, a favorite movie from their childhood, inspired by the classic board game Clue/Cluedo. Pictured above are the gifts in order, from the candlestick first to the revolver last.

One can’t help but wonder what their parents thought when the pipe, the knife, or the revolver arrived. But hey, maybe they’re Clue enthusiasts as well.

A lot of people plan ahead for Christmas. But planning ahead for six years? Now that’s puzzly commitment.


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The Great Crossword Debate: Overused Vs. Obscure

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Making a great crossword puzzle is not easy. Heck, making a GOOD crossword puzzle is not easy.

You want the theme to be creative, innovative even, but still something that can be intuited from a clever title and crafty clues.

You want the clues to be engaging, challenging, funny, tricky, and loaded with wordplay and personality.

And you want the grid fill to be fresh and interesting, yet accessible. You want to avoid obscurities, abbreviations, nonsensical partial-phrases, and the dreaded Naticks where two difficult entries cross.

But you also want to add to the lexicon of grid fill, leaving behind the tired vowel-heavy words that have become cliche or crosswordese.

Even if you accomplish all that, you also want your puzzle to have an overall consistent level of difficulty. Having a bunch of easy words in the grid only highlights the hard words necessitated when you construct yourself into a corner. A sudden spike in vocabulary and eccentricity is always noticeable.

So completing every grid becomes a balancing act between new and old, pop culture-loaded and traditional, obscure and overused.

This raises the question posed in a Reddit thread recently:

Which bothers you more, words that you probably wouldn’t know without a dictionary OR filling out OLEO and ARIA for the millionth time?

Both options had their proponents, so I’d like to give you my thoughts on each side of this cruciverbalist coin.


obscure_language

Obscure Over Overused

A well-constructed grid can overcome the occasional obscure entry. After all, since you have Across and Down entries, several accessible Across answers can hand you a difficult Down answer that you didn’t know.

You can assist with an informative clue. It might get a little lengthy, but like a well-written trivia question, you can often provide enough context to get somebody in the ballpark, even if they don’t know the exact word or phrase they need. If it FEELS fair, I think solvers will forgive some peculiar entries, as long as you don’t go overboard.

Also, if you’re a crossword fan, you’re probably a word nerd, and who doesn’t like learning new words?

As one contributor to the thread said, “I’d rather eke out a solution than fill in EKE OUT or EKE BY again.”


News-Keep-Calm-and-Carry-This-Overused-Phrase-to-the-Grave-for-College-Students

Overused Over Obscure

The very nature of crosswords demands letter arrangements that are conducive to building tight grids. Your vowel-heavy entries, your alternating consonant-vowel ABAB patterns, the occasional all-consonants abbreviation or all-vowels exhalation or size measurement… these are necessary evils.

But that doesn’t mean the cluing has to be boring. I absolutely love it when a constructor finds a new twist on an entry you’ve seen a billion times. I laughed out loud when Patti Varol clued EWE as “Baa nana?” because it was a take I’d never seen before.

Here are a few more examples of really smart ways I’ve seen overused entries clued:

  • “It’s never been the capital of England (and it surely won’t be now)” for EURO (Steve Faiella)
  • “Name-dropper’s abbr.” for ETAL (Patrick Berry)
  • “It’s three before November” for KILO (Andy Kravis)
  • “Fix plot holes, maybe” for HOE (Peter Gordon)
  • “50/50, e.g.” for ONE (Michael Shteyman). This one really plays with your expectations.
  • “Hawaiian beach ball?” for LUAU (George Barany)

Still, this is no excuse for going incredibly obtuse with your cluing just to be different. Making an esoteric reference just to avoid saying “Sandwich cookie” for OREO might be more annoying to a solver than just the overused answer itself.

On the flip side, you can treat them as gimmes, cluing them with familiar phrasing and letting them serve as the jumping-off points for longer, more difficult entries or the themed entries the puzzle is constructed around. Some familiar words are always welcome, particularly if a solver is feeling daunted with a particular puzzle’s or day’s standard difficulty.

(One poster even suggested pre-populating the grid with common crosswordese like OLEO, kinda like the set numbers in a Sudoku. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that approach before.)


conman1112

So, have we come to any conclusions today? Probably not.

As I said before, it’s a tightrope every constructor must walk on the way to finishing a crossword. Every constructor has a different method for getting across, a different formula for success. Some even manage to make it look effortless.

What do you think, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Do you favor overused entries or obscure ones? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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