PuzzleNation 2020 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2020 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

We’re excited to be bringing you our biggest gift guide ever! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down into categories for ease of searching. We have puzzle books, subscription/downloadable puzzles, puzzles by mail, jigsaw puzzles, brain teasers, puzzle games, board games, card games, dice games, escape room games, party/group games, and miscellaneous puzzle swag.

We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


This year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide is sponsored by Daily POP Crosswords!

Daily POP Crosswords offers a different themed puzzle every single day, spanning everything from TV and film to sports and music!

Available for both Android and iOS users, you get terrific content from some of the world’s top constructors! And the download is free!


Puzzle Books

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

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Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like their Logic Problems Spectacular 3-Pack ($16.95), the Crossword Extravaganza collection ($7.99), or a value pack of Jumble puzzles ($13.95)! Maybe you’d like the ease of printing puzzles at home with Print N’ Solve Seasonal Crosswords ($2.99). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. They’ve got bundles and discounts for days!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–Paolo Pasco’s Crossword Puzzles For Kids ($9.99)

–Eric Berlin’s Puzzlesnacks: More Than 100 Bite-Size Puzzles for Every Solver ($7.79)

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($9.99)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Octopus Crosswords ($6.95)

–Matt Gaffney’s Fast & Fun Mini Crosswords ($7.95)

–Andrew Ries’s Maverick Crosswords ($9.99)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($7.67)

–Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords ($9.95)

USA Today’s Crossword Super Challenge 2 ($9.99)

–Cynthia Morris’s CynAcrostics Volume 6: Imagine That! and American Acrostics Volume 8: Puzzling American Authors ($9.95 each)

USA Today’s Sudoku Super Challenge 2 ($9.99)

–Andy Kravis’s Challenge Accepted!: 100 Word Searches ($6.56)

–Shawn Marie Simmons’s 25 Word Search Puzzles for Classic Literature Lovers and 25 Word Search Puzzles for MODERN Literature Lovers ($6.99 each) [available in a large print bundle as well ($12.99)]

USA Today’s Logic Super Challenge 2 ($9.99)

–Oliver Roeder’s The Riddler: Fantastic Puzzles from FiveThirtyEight ($14.49)

–Andrews McMeel Publishing’s Take Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for Peace, Take Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for Clarity, Take Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for Tranquility, and Take Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for Balance [featuring crosswords and other puzzles] ($8.99 each)

USA Today’s Jumbo Puzzle Book Super Challenge 2 ($12.99)

The Keymaster’s Bundle by Mike Selinker, Gaby Weidling, and Eric Harshbarger

The Maze of Games is one of the most diabolical puzzle books ever conceived. It allows the protagonists AND the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of different puzzles in the hopes of conquering each of the labyrinths within the book.

And The Keymaster’s Bundle combines The Maze of GamesThe Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, the Maze of Games Map, and the Keymaster’s Tome all in one place, along with some bonus digital downloads like the audiobook version of The Theseus Guide and The Gatekeeper’s Variety Hour radio show! It’s the entire Maze of Games experience! ($99.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze of Games!]

Puzzlecraft: How to Make Every Kind of Puzzle by Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder

Updated seven years after the original version hit shelves, the new and improved Puzzlecraft is a self-contained masterclass in puzzle creation. Covering everything from crosswords and Sudoku to logic puzzles and brain teasers, this is the perfect launchpad for any and all aspiring puzzlers and constructors! ($14.95 in PDF, $29.95 in PDF and softcover)

Plus there’s a new Puzzlecraft companion notebook to assist you in all your constructing endeavors! ($4.95 in PDF, $9.95 in PDF and softcover)


Email Subscription/Downloadable Puzzles

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between email subscriptions and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($22 for 1 year)

The Inkubator, edited by Laura Braunstein and Tracy Bennett (crossword puzzles constructed exclusively by women, twice a month, $25 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest (starts at $3 per month on Patreon)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($31 for 1 year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Freestyle themeless crosswords ($15 per year), and Aries Rows Garden ($30 per year) [available as a bundle together for $40]

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year) OR get both for $30!

–Will Nediger’s Bewilderingly weekly themed and themeless crosswords ($25 for 1 year)

–Paolo Pasco’s Expansion Pack crossword suite (pay what you want for the base set, $10 for the XL version)

–Eric Berlin’s Puzzlesnacks puzzles ($3 per month) and Puzzlesnacks Plus bundle ($7.99)

Crossword LA 2018 puzzle pack ($5)

–Bryant Park 2018 tournament puzzle pack ($5) and 2016/2017 bundle ($10)

Boswords 2020 Fall Puzzle Packet ($10) and previous puzzle packets ($5 each)

Topple puzzle magazine ($1 per issue)

–Lone Shark Games’ Puzzle Vault PDF collections, including Marching Bands, Rows Garden, Crosswords, Cryptics, and more ($7.77 – $14.95)

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Also, there are some wonderful puzzle bundles available in exchange for donations to worthy causes!

Grids for Good, a 42-puzzle bundle supporting coronavirus relief and groups fighting systemic racism

Queer Qrosswords 2, a 32-crossword bundle supporting LGBTQ+ charities and organizations

–Enrique Henestroza Anguiano’s Mexican Midis, a 5-puzzle bundle supporting COVID relief


Puzzles by Mail

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The Crosswords Club

A monthly publication with six Sunday-sized crosswords, The Crosswords Club utilizes some of the sharpest crossword constructors in the business today, and the puzzles are all edited by top constructor Patti Varol. Each bundle is as fun as it is challenging, plus each monthly bundle has an extra word game printed right on the envelope! ($40.95 for 12 issues)

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Wish You Were Here (The Enigma Emporium)

Imagine an entire mystery hidden across a handful of postcards. That’s the multilayered puzzle experience offered by Wish You Were Here, where a series of coded messages awaits you. Unravel all the secrets and discover an exciting tale of danger and spycraft along the way! ($15)

[And if you enjoy Wish You Were Here, there are all sorts of additional puzzle bundles to try out!]

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Cryptogram Puzzle Post (Jack Fallows)

A combination of different puzzles and encrypted messages interwoven together with bits of narrative, each edition of the Cryptogram Puzzle Post is a standalone story steeped in mystery and supernatural elements. But solve them all together, and a grand universe of storytelling unfolds. Sold in seasonal bundles and annual subscriptions, this episodic puzzly adventure is quite unique. (£5 for digital downloads, £20 for seasonal bundles)


Jigsaw Puzzles

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Enigma (The Enigmatist)

A jigsaw puzzle that’s more than meets the eye, Enigma combines traditional jigsaw puzzle solving with hidden codes and a crash course in the history of encryption. Based on David Kwong’s hit interactive puzzle show The Enigmatist, this puzzle teaches you while you solve ($39)

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Puzzometry

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available in seven different styles — Puzzometry ($18.50), Puzzometry Jr. ($14), Puzzometry Squares ($18.50), Puzzometry Hex ($18.50), Puzzometry Steps ($18.50), Puzzometry Six ($18.50), and Puzzometry Jr. 2 ($14) — you’ve got distinct challenges appropriate for all different ages!

[Check out the full review of the original Puzzometry by clicking here!]

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Cathedral Door (Project Genius)

Straddling the line between brain teaser and jigsaw puzzle, Cathedral Door challenges solvers to reassemble this beautiful door by placing all of the pieces of wooden adornment into the stained glass pattern. But the mix of peculiar shapes and colored clues create a more difficult solve than you might expect! ($14.99)

[Check out our review of Cathedral Door here!]

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Geode Puzzle (Uncommon Goods)

Forget looking for the edge pieces, because these nature-based puzzles take jigsaws beyond the usual patterning. Geode Puzzle‘s flowing, unusual shapes and vibrant colors create a unique solving experience. ($65)

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Gearjits Roller Coaster (Gearjits)

Bring your puzzle skills to life as you assemble a working roller coaster from these wooden pieces. Assembling handcranks and gears to operate the machine along with the structure of the roller coaster itself makes this 3-D puzzle more exciting and satisfying than the average 3-D puzzle. ($40.95)

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Wooden Fractal Tray Puzzles (Martin Raynsford)

Laser-cut precision and patterns built on fractal designs make these wooden tray puzzles as maddening as they are beautiful. The pieces fall so seamlessly into place that they practically vanish… that is, if you can puzzle out how to place them all into the tray. ($35.99)


Brain Teasers

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Sword in Stone (Project Genius)

Just twist and turn the sword until it slips from the stone. Sounds simple, right? When you’re talking about one of the brain teasers from the Constantin Puzzle series, what appears simple quickly becomes a proper puzzly challenge. ($15.99)

[Check out our review of Sword in Stone here!]

 

Tavern Puzzles / Tucker-Jones House Inc.

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to remove twice as many pieces in a Collaborative Effort or free the triangle from Tridiculous, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($26.50 each)

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Pocket Brainteasers (ThinkFun)

How good is your spatial awareness? You’re about to find out with this quartet of puzzlers, each its own obstacle for you to overcome. Can you reposition the four pieces into a smaller space in 4-T Puzzle or the wi-fi bars of Rec-Tangle into a new arrangement? Can you separate the 4-Piece Jigsaw, or combine the four chairs into The Fifth Chair? These bite-sized brain teasers will certainly keep you guessing. ($6.99 each)

[Click here to check out our review of all four Pocket Brainteasers!]

Lightbox (Eric Clough)

A puzzle box unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Lightbox creates different patterns of shadow and light as you shift and arrange the various plastic plates that make up the box. As you twist and reset them, different electrical connections are made, and different plates light up. As gorgeous as it is challenging, Lightbox is a very eye-catching puzzle that always wows new solvers. ($85)

[Check out our full review of Lightbox by clicking here!]

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Grecian Computer (Project Genius)

Can you crack this wooden brain teaser? That’s the question posed by Grecian Computer, a twisty puzzle where the correct solution requires all twelve columns to add up to 42 at the same time. Ready your puzzle skills and your math know-how for this one, or it’ll leave twisted and all turned around! ($14.99)

[Check out our review of Grecian Computer here!]


Puzzle Games

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Mystic Market (ThinkFun)

It’s a tough market out there, even for a skilled potion master. So you’ll have to be a wiz or a whiz at buying and selling magical ingredients at the right time to take advantage of the Mystic Market. This bright and cerebral game will require you to react to both your opponents’ actions and the ever-shifting demands of the game moment-by-moment in order to achieve victory. Can you find the winning recipe? ($19.99)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Zendo (Looney Labs)

Puzzle games are all about the rules, but what if you don’t know the rules? That’s where Zendo comes in. In this puzzle game, you arrange Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and then see if those designs conform to a mysterious rule. A game of deduction and trial-and-error, Zendo is a very different solving experience. ($40)

Plus there are two expansion packs available for Zendo, each offering additional rules and varying in difficulty! ($5 each)

[Check out our full review for Zendo here!]

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Lexicon-GO! (Winning Moves UK)

Are you a word-forming pro? Take your speed-solving skills and try them out with Lexicon-GO!, a Scrabble-style tile game suitable for solvers of all ages. And those very distinctive letter tiles are available in more ways than ever! You can enjoy Lexicon-GO! in its classic form, in Harry Potter style, or in famous Jumble style! ($14.95 in classic form)

[Click here for our full review of Lexicon-GO!]

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Minecraft Magnetic Travel Puzzle (ThinkFun)

Minecraft Magnetic Travel Puzzle pits the player against devious deduction puzzles with elements of the Minecraft universe included. Can you arrange three swords, pickaxes, and pieces of armor — all different colors — on the 3×3 crafting table to fit each challenge card? It’s Sudoku plus Minecraft in this travel-friendly puzzler! ($14.99)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

Pinbox 3000 (Cardboard Teck Instantute)

How about the chance to build your own game? Is that puzzle enough for you? Pinbox 3000 provides all the pieces you’ll need, plus valuable advice for brainstorming and creating your very own pinball game. It’s endlessly customizable, so you can make your Pinbox pinball game as simple or as complex as you like! ($49.95)


Board Games

Some of the puzzliest games on the market today are being made by top-flight board game companies, and we’ve got some marvelous games that will appeal to puzzlers of all ages!

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Martian Chess (Looney Labs)

Easy to learn but hard to master, Martian Chess reimagines a game we all know, and transforms it into one that challenges you in unexpected ways, like getting rid of checkmates and players losing control of pieces if you cross into your opponent’s territory! Can you outmaneuver your opponent and rack up enough captured pieces to win? Try chess from another world with Martian Chess! ($20)

[Check out our full review of Martian Chess here!]

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Catch the Moon (Bombyx Games)

Balance games like Jenga are all well and good, but none of them elicit the same mix of charm and tension as Catch the Moon. In this game, players take turns adding ladders to a ramshackle structure according to the roll of a die. But be careful! If you cause any ladders to fall, you’ll make the moon cry! This beautiful game is fun, elegant, and stressful all at once, and has quickly become a favorite. ($14.95)

The Island of Doctor Lucky (Cheapass Games/Greater Than Games)

People have been trying to kill Doctor Lucky for over twenty years, and this time around, you’re visiting his exotic island estate to try your murderous luck against the titular Doctor! The Island of Doctor Lucky offers a new gameboard to explore, new movement mechanics, and a very distracting cat. This is the best addition to the series yet! ($10)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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Castellan (Steve Jackson Games)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

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Chicken War (ThinkFun)

To win Chicken War, you’ll need to be more observant and more devious than the other players to either complete your army or be the last player standing. And it all hinges on your ability to observe your opponents’ moves while hiding your own. It’s deduction meets strategy in the barnyard! ($20.77)

[Read our full review of Chicken War here!]

The Abandons (Puzzling Pixel Games)

Can you escape a dangerous labyrinth that changes every time you explore it? The Abandons pits the solver against a random deck, where luck, quick decision making, and puzzly skill all must be on your side if you ever want to see daylight again.  ($15)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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Bunny Kingdom (IELLO)

There are plenty of board games where you control resources, build cities, and achieve glory. But how many of them let you do that while being BUNNIES? In Bunny Kingdom, a game combining drafting and area control mechanics, each player builds a fiefdom and tries to outmaneuver their fellow players in managing territory, materials, and trade. The most cunning bunny wins with the most points wins and captures the title “Big Ears!” ($39.45)

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

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Homeworlds (Looney Labs)

Let’s take to the stars in this complex space game where survival is the name of the game! In Homeworlds, each player is the leader of a galactic empire, and you must protect your homeworld while striking out against your opponent’s fleet. This marvelously intricate game offers a huge amount of gameplay in a tiny package and feels like epic space opera the whole time! ($20)

[Review coming soon!]

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Walk-By Scrabble BoardTile Securing Travel Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including Tile Securing Travel Scrabble for those who want to solve on the go ($39.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($249.95), but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Tak: A Beautiful Game (Cheapass Games/Greater Than Games)

Many new games build off of classic mechanics, but very few new games truly feel like they could have been played centuries ago. Tak definitely fits that mold, using simple wooden pieces to create a game that feels both fresh and ancient all at once. Inspired by the eponymous game in Patrick Rothfuss’s KingKiller Chronicles series, Tak is a wonderful two-player game that quickly grows addictive. ($30)

[Click here for our full review of Tak!]

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Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Try not to meet any other dragons or fly off the board! It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($30)

Chessplus

The first thing you learn in chess is how the pieces move. But what if that could change? What if you could make new pieces that move in unexpected ways? How would that change the game? With Chessplus, you’ll find out, as you mix and match chess pieces in order to capture your opponent’s king. The possibilities really are endless! ($44.95)

[Click here for our full review of Chessplus!]

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Qwirkle (MindWare)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train DominoesQwirkle is a tile-placing game where you try to maximize your points while minimizing the help you give to your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($14.99)

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Cheapass Games in Black and White (Cheapass Games/Greater Than Games)

Yes, we’ve got a book in the Board Game section. Allow us to explain.

The library of Cheapass Games is expansive, but even diehard fans don’t have the majority of the company’s original game library. Unless, that is, they own Cheapass Games in Black and White, a hardcover compendium of every game from the black-and-white era. Featuring the rulebooks for famous titles like Button Men and Kill Doctor Lucky, alongside more obscure entries like Escape from Elba, this is a terrific resource for any game fan. ($50)


Card Games

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Top Trumps Pub Quiz (Winning Moves UK)

Bar trivia has come home with Top Trumps Pub Quiz, a sharply packaged game of question-fueled competition. Each team opens their drawer on the carrying case and removes five cards, each with a different topic. Will your team triumph or will the other team’s trivia smarts win the day? ($14.95)

[Check out our full review here!]

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Star Trek: Voyager Fluxx (Looney Labs)

The chaos and ever-changing rules of Fluxx venture farther than ever before as they tackle the crew of far-flung Federation starship Voyager. Work with Janeway and her team to outwit the Kazon, the Borg, time travelers, and more, all in a card game that boldly goes where only a few other versions of Fluxx have gone before! ($20)

And if Star Trek isn’t your style, maybe you’d enjoy Astronomy Fluxx, Spongebob Fluxx, or any of the other marvelous variations on this classic quick-changing card game!

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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Codenames (Czech Games)

It’s a race against time to locate all of your spies before your opponents. But in order to do so, you need to communicate information with a single word. Codenames will put your word association skills to work as you try to find secret agents disguised with code words, while avoiding innocent citizens and dangerous assassins along the way! ($19.95)

[Read our full review of Codenames here!]

Deluxe Pairs (Hip Pocket Games/Greater Than Games)

Building on the legacy already established by the bar-friendly series of Pairs decks available, Deluxe Pairs offers a new artistic spin on the classic Pairs “Fruit Deck,” as well as a companion booklet with rules for numerous Pairs variants you can play with the deck! This isn’t just one card game, it’s dozens! ($5)

[Click here for our full review of Deluxe Pairs!]

Spaceteam (Timber and Bolt)

Can you repair your ship and get the engines up and running before a black hole ends your space adventure forever? That’s the name of the game in Spaceteam, a cooperative, communication-based game where you have to accomplish various tasks with your fellow players while sharing tools. It’s delightful chaos, heightened by the five-minute hourglass timer counting down your dwindling seconds before disaster strikes! A definite favorite around here. ($26.95)

Unspeakable Words (Playroom Entertainment)

Some word games might drive you mad, but only Unspeakable Words actually makes keeping your sanity part of the gameplay! As you spell different words, you have to make a die roll to see if spelling the word cost you a bit of your sanity. If you lose too much of it, you’ll start uttering unspeakable words, which can be worth more points… if your sanity can take it! A fun twist on Scrabble and other word-forming games. ($26.94)

Constellations (Xtronaut Enterprises)

Sometimes, we can move heaven and earth! Constellations is all about collecting stars and building famous constellations, then placing them in the night sky! The more effective your constellation-building, the higher your score! ($30)

[Check out our full review of Constellations here!]

Scrimish (Nexci)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

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Timeline (Zygomatic Games)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before or after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99)

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The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($12.79)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]


Dice Games

Knot Dice and Knot Dice Squared (Black Oak Games)

Can you twist, turn, and spin these dice to complete beautiful, elaborate patterns inspired by Celtic knots? That’s the name of the game with Knot Dice, a dice game as challenging as it is gorgeous. With single-player and multi-player puzzles included, you’ll be tying yourself in knots for days! ($34.99, available in green or blue)

And you can add new wrinkles and patterns to your solving with Knot Dice Squared, an expansion set with 26 additional dice, new rules, and more! ($44.99)

[Click here to check out our full review of both games!]

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Bananagrams Duel (Bananagrams)

Bananagrams specializes in crossword-inspired fun for groups, but what if you’re looking for a head-to-head challenge? Well then, Bananagrams Duel might be what you’re looking for. Utilizing letter cubes instead of tiles, you’ll have to build a grid of related words fitting a given theme before your opponent can! It’s a new twist on an old classic! ($8.99)

[Click here for our full review!]

Sagrada (Floodgate Games)

One of the most beautiful strategy games on the market today, Sagrada is a singularly peaceful gaming experience. Compete with other players to build the most beautiful stained glass window, but with dice instead of glass! Unique and challenging, Sagrada is something else. ($39.95)

Tenzi

All of us have rolled dice in games before, but can you roll what you need as fast as possible? That’s the challenge of Tenzi, a game that pits up to four players against each other in tests of speed and dexterity. Can you roll ten 6’s before everyone else? ($14.95)


Escape Room Games

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Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse (ThinkFun)

Can you construct and then escape one of the most fully realized home escape room games on the market today? The Cursed Dollhouse is a diabolical and immersive puzzly experience, encompassing five rooms and a host of different puzzles to unravel in the hopes of escaping a horrible fate! ($42.99)

[Check out our spoiler-free review here!]

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Exit: The Game: Dead Man on the Orient Express (Kosmos)

Exit: The Game products create an escape room experience by combining a deck of cards, a guidebook, a sliding decoder ring, an interactive phone app, and miscellaneous items to be used throughout the game. What sets Dead Man on the Orient Express above and beyond is that there’s a mystery to solve in the background, even as you tackle all the delightful escape room-style puzzles! ($10.59)

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Unlock!: Squeek and Sausage (Asmodee)

Unlock! games consist of entirely of a deck of cards and your app. The cards provide locations, challenges, helpful items, solutions, and warnings, all identified with numbered or lettered cards in the deck. And while there are numerous Unlock! escape games to try — covering everything from haunted houses to desert islands — we recommend the mad scientist-fueled Squeek and Sausage, which is enjoyably silly and still a satisfying challenge! ($11.99)


Party/Group Games

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Cracker Games: The Imp Box (The Dark Imp)

Six unique family games in a reusable box that looks like a Christmas cracker? What an idea! Voting, collecting, observation, and trading are among the gameplay styles you’ll find in The Imp Box, and this neat little package packs a lot of variety into a small space! (£19.99)

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Smart10 (Bananagrams)

Can you pick one correct answer from a field of possibilities? Smart10 challenges you and a group of friends to do just that by selecting correct answers from a list of possible responses. It’s tougher than it sounds, and it’ll test your trivia skills and your ability to think under pressure. ($19.99)

[Check out our full review here!]

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GolfWords (David L. Hoyt)

Combining the skill of golf with a love of wordplay, GolfWords takes puzzles off the page and into your home, testing you both mentally and physically! Complete with the letter mat, putters, golf balls, scoring pads, and other accessories, this unique combination of puzzle and sport can be played solo or by the whole family! ($299.99)

Slapzi (Tenzi)

Slapzi will keep you on your toes. In this quick-reaction game, you’ve got to match your picture cards to the clue cards before your opponents. But with clues like “Not sold in a hardware store” or “Two of the same letter together,” this isn’t as easy as it appears! ($19.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of Slapzi!]

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Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($16.99)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]

Decrypto (IELLO)

Can you covertly communicate with your teammates without revealing your secret code to the opponent team? That’s the name of the game in Decrypto, a party game all about word association and deduction. The first team to crack the opposing team’s codes twice wins! ($22.68)


Miscellaneous Puzzle Swag

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Flying Colors coloring book (Penny Press)

Our puzzly pals at Penny Press know that sometimes, you need a break from puzzles, so why not unwind with their Flying Colors coloring book ($6.99).

All of the Things

If you’re looking for puzzly coasters, pins, earrings, teddy bears, and more, the team at All of the Things have puzzle treats for you! Their table has been a highlight of the marketplace at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament for several years now, and we’re happy to welcome them back to the Gift Guide this year!


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

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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.


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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.”


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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.)


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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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Crosswordese in a Random Picture

It’s always fun when you encounter crosswordese in the wild. By definition, crosswordese involves words you only see in crosswords, so a real-world encounter is a rare and curious thing.

Someone posted the following picture on Reddit, in a post titled “How NYT constructors dress, presumably.”

(It differs wildly depending on the constructor, by the way.)

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much to it. But there are several classic crossword entries in this picture.

The A-LINE dress, the YSL on the purse, the ECRU shade. Quite the OLIO of puzzly elements.

Sure, the dress isn’t MIDI — though the coat might be! — but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

Naturally, the commenters on that page suggested other crossword entries that might be out of sight, joking there’s an ETUI in her purse, an OBI missing from her coat, an EPEE in her concealed right hand, or ESTEE perfume in the air.

I for one suspect she’s close to her destination, her ETA just a SEC or two away.

Is she in EUR. somewhere? Perhaps near the RHINE or the RHONE or the AARE? Is she in OSLO?

Can you find any other examples of crosswordese lurking in this photo, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Or maybe you have another picture packed with puzzly potential? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

How Much Puzzle Can You Fit on a Single Page?

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If you’ve ever picked up a puzzle magazine or downloaded a puzzle suite, you can’t help but be impressed by how much puzzle content can be offered in a relatively small space.

Across a half-dozen or dozen pages, you might encounter loads of different puzzly challenges to test you in various ways. Math puzzles, deduction puzzles, trivia, word searches, anagrams, spatial acuity… all of these puzzly disciplines and more could be covered in a single puzzle packet.

But it does make me wonder… what if it was confined to a single page? How much puzzling can you cram onto a single 8.5 x 11 piece of paper?

Let’s start simple.

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A single, untouched crossword puzzle. Freshly printed. 15x, probably. Perhaps 17x. Maybe you have a subscription service. Maybe you nabbed a PDF online from any number of talented constructors.

Three or four columns of clues fill the page, along with that pristine grid, waiting patiently for you to start filling in answers.

But there’s still a lot of white space on that page. We can probably fit more puzzle on that page.

Check out this Crostic puzzle, published by our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles:

crostic puzzle

Read the clues, fill in the answers, and then fill in the corresponding letters in the grid below to build some trivia.

Not only is it a straightforward puzzle, but it fills the page nicely, and you’re hardly losing any real estate to explanations or anything other than the puzzle itself.

But I think we can still fit a bit more puzzle onto the page.

rows garden

How about a Rows Garden puzzle, like this one from our friends at Lone Shark Games?

Between that visually impressive grid, the across clues, and all the different bloom clues, that page is starting to fill up nicely.

But can we go further?

Indeed, we can, if we delve into the world of one-page RPGs.

year of one page

[Click here for more details on this bundle.]

Yes, we’re talking about an entire roleplaying game — rules, setting, character details, and gameplay — distilled onto a single piece of paper.

There are all sorts of places to hunt down one-page RPGs to fit whatever kind of game you’d like to play. Sarcastic or serious, fantasy or sci-fi, quick-play or long-form, clever game designers have got you covered.

One of my favorites is Grant Howitt, who creates both longer roleplaying games and one-page games to keep your roleplaying experiences fresh.

Perhaps his greatest creation when it comes to one-page RPGs is a little game called Honey Heist.

honey heist

[That is a LOT of detail jammed into a small space.
Click here for a larger version you can actually read.]

There are two things you need to know in Honey Heist:

1. You and your fellow players are attempting to pull off the greatest heist ever.
2. You are a BEAR.

Yes, in Honey Heist, every player portrays a criminal bear trying to steal a king’s ransom in honey from a honey convention.

Some of my favorite roleplaying moments over the last few months have been in games of Honey Heist. It’s a very silly idea, yes, but also one that allows for strategic gameplay, immersive roleplaying, and memorable experiences. What more could you ask for?


We’re sure there are other puzzles or puzzle experiences that also do an impressive job of condensing a metric ton of puzzling into a single page.

Can you think of any that we missed? Do you have any favorite one-page puzzles or games you’d like to see in the spotlight? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.

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Let’s Play Crossword Bingo!

Crossword.

If you solve enough crosswords, you’re bound to encounter some words more often than others.

Maybe the word has grid-friendly letters or a letter pattern that facilitates editing. Maybe it’s an otherwise obscure item that crosswords have kept in the zeitgeist.

Or maybe it’s a just three-letter word with vowels on either end, be it a female sheep, a tavern drink, a mine find, or fury, and that corner just won’t be completed without one of them.

Some solvers find fault with those words, the constructors who use them, or the outlets that publish puzzles featuring them. Other solvers, however, find fun ways to acknowledge their ubiquity.

For instance, a reddit user under the handle “atleasttheresmusic” created a bingo card based on words that crop up regularly in The New York Times crossword:

xwd bingo 1

Not only did they hit some classic examples of crosswordese, but they even managed to categorize their entries, highlighting crossword tropes like “short, poetic words” and the frequent use of abbreviations.

Between the bingo card itself and the many suggestions shared by fellow puzzlers in the comments, I couldn’t resist taking a crack at making a crossword bingo card of my own:

xwd bingo 2

As you can see, I’ve also organized the columns by category; from left to right, there’s abbreviations, names, vowel-heavy words, 3-letter entries, and non-U.S. terminology.

I couldn’t fit every entry I wanted to — EKE/IKE fell by the wayside, as did EWER — but I managed to jam a fair amount of crosswordese and personal pet peeves onto the card. Plus, given how often ALEE and ALOE appear, they’re basically a free space in the center of the card.

So how did I do, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? What words should I have included? Did the cleaner card created by “atleasttheresmusic” win out over mine, or did we both succeed in having some fun at the expense of crosswords?

And, most importantly, how quickly would you get BINGO if you used one of our cards? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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ACPT Cancelled (Again): More Crossword Tournament Updates!

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We can’t close out June without a bit more news, it seems.

Two weeks ago, we updated you on the state of the puzzle industry as it pertains to crossword tournaments. We were able to share the sad news that Lollapuzzoola would not be happening this year — a solve-at-home event is in the works — as well as the happier news that BosWords would be hosting an online tournament this year on Sunday afternoon, July 26.

We also made passing reference to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament‘s original date in March being cancelled, and a prospective date of the weekend of September 11-13 for a rescheduled tournament.

Unfortunately, yesterday Will Shortz confirmed through the NY Times Wordplay social media platforms that the 2020 ACPT has been scrapped for the year:

Over the past few months we kept modifying our plans for the event, as the pandemic persisted, but now it has become clear that it cannot be held this year at all.

We believe we have already refunded all registrations for the in-person tournament. If somehow we overlooked yours, please let us know (msmithacpt@gmail.com).

Registrations for at-home solving of the 2020 ACPT puzzles — either by mail or online — will be rolled over until next year. If you would like a refund instead, let us know that, too.

Originally, a weekend in late March was announced, but those posts were later replaced by updates stating that the tentative date for the 43rd ACPT is now the weekend of April 23-25, 2021.

Here’s hoping that the world will be in a better, healthier state and allow us to enjoy puzzling in public with our fellow puzzlers and cruciverbalists once again.

Something to look forward to.


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!