Lollapuzzoola 11 is near!

Saturday, August 18, marks the eleventh annual Lollapuzzoola!

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 simple. Four divisions — Express (experienced solvers who have contended in or won tournaments before), Local (solvers with some experience), Rookies, and Pairs (allowing you to team up to solve) — pit their puzzly minds against clever clues and crafty constructors.

With seven tournament puzzles — designed with inimitable style, both fun and befuddling in how often they innovate classic crossword tropes — you’re guaranteed to get your money’s worth as you solve!

And for those who reach the top of mountain, “winners in each division are awarded prizes, which could range from a box of used pencils to a brand new car. So far, no one has ever won a car.

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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! Not only that, but you’ll be able to submit your times (and your number of blank/wrong squares) to be officially ranked in the At-Home Division lineup!

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 attending Lollapuzzoola or solving from home? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you!


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Puzzles in Pop Culture: Garfield

Puzzles are ubiquitous. Once you start looking around for them, you’ll find them in every nook and cranny of popular culture.

Sometimes, they’re the basis for an entire episode of television, as in Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Parks and Rec. Sometimes, they serve as a linchpin metaphor, as they did in Sleepy Hollow. Other times, they’re good for a funny aside, as in Gilmore Girls, or as a prop to reveal deeper character insight, as on The West Wing.

Over the years, I’ve seen puzzles incorporated into storytelling in dozens of ways. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to stumble across puzzle references where I least expected them: the funny pages.

Yes, they’re such a part of the cultural fabric that they’ve even infiltrated comic strips.

The other day, I stumbled across this Garfield comic strip from last year:

Now, it’s meant to be funny, but I think any puzzler who has stood onstage in front of a whiteboard at ACPT, Lollapuzzoola, or another crossword tournament would agree with Jon over Garfield here.

That was one example. As it turns out, when you start digging, you find crossword gags strewn through the Garfield comics.

Like this one from November of 2005:

That’s a pretty simple gag, but it’s also a nice bonding moment for Jon and Garfield, as Jon’s rampant procrastination dovetails nicely with Garfield’s bottomless love for Italian food.

Jon has less luck making a puzzly connection in this comic from February of 1998:

If you ask me, a cookie and a crossword puzzle sounds like an excellent way to spend time with someone interesting. But I’m biased. I love cookies.

And as you can see in this comic from February of 1979, Jon’s crossword struggles have been an ongoing issue for decades now:

But it’s not just crosswords. Sudoku has gotten a fair amount of attention in the Garfield strip over the years. That’s understandable, as it’s one of the most recognizable pencil-and-paper puzzles in the world.

And as someone who isn’t the fastest Sudoku solver in the world, this series of comics from January of 2010 (an entire week’s worth!) speaks to me. I get it, Jon. I get it.

Honestly, it makes sense that Odie would have Sudoku wired. He’s a puzzle dog. He’s been appearing in crossword grids for years.

There’s a lovely callback to that previous crossword gag.

Finally, Jon triumphs! I admire both his resilience and his unwillingness to give up. Though, given that it took a week to complete a Sudoku, maybe Jon should stick to other puzzles.

Heck, our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles have the perfect book for him to try out.

[All images are courtesy of Garfield.com.]


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Tackling the 2018 Indie 500 Puzzles!

June 2 marked the fourth annual Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, hosted in Washington, D.C., by constructors Erik Agard, Neville Fogarty, Andy Kravis, Peter Broda, and Angela Olsen Halsted. The first tournament had a racing theme, the second had a prom theme, the third had a time theme, and this year was fashion-themed!

While I couldn’t attend the tournament, I did download the tournament puzzles, and last weekend I finally had the opportunity to sit down and tackle them. And today, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on those puzzles, for any interested PuzzleNationers who might be considering participating in the event in the future.


Before the official tournament puzzles start, there’s a warm-up puzzle, a 13x grid entitled “Top Gear” by Neville Fogarty and Erik Agard. The hook is simple and accessible — celebrity names where the first name is a type of top, like COTTON MATHER for “crop top” or SHERMAN HEMSLEY for “tank top” — and with good fill and some tricksy cluing, you’ve got a nice pace-setter for the tournament puzzles to come.

Interesting grid entries included COSTUME CHANGE, GAINER, OMEN II, and THAT TOO. My favorite clue was the Arrested Development-inspired “What you might find in a bag marked ‘DOVE – DO NOT EAT'” for BAR SOAP.

[Image courtesy of Vertigo Mag.]

#1 On the Walk by Angela Olsen Halsted

The tournament proper opened with this terrific puzzle. The grid had solid fill entries with very little crosswordese, making for a marvelous introduction to the high quality level you’ve come to expect from Indie 500 puzzles. The theme entries all contained the word CAT in shaded boxes in the grid, slowly descending the main diagonal path of the grid, making for a literal catwalk.

The comment beneath the title, “Please, no meowing,” is not only a fun hint, but a hilarious callback to the Crossword De-Cat-hlon puzzle from last year’s Lollapuzzoola tournament, which had solvers meowing out loud as part of the solving experience. (That’s immediately what came to mind for me, anyway.)

All in all, a cracking opener for the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included PREGGERS, SABRA, ANITA HILL, and IMAC. My favorite clue was “Something you shouldn’t tell a woman to do” for SMILE.

[Image courtesy of Slideshare.]

#2 Unmentionables by Anna Gundlach

Puzzle 2 immediately raised the difficulty level, layering long interesting entries along the top right and bottom left corners of the grid to challenge the solver a bit more.

Couple that with a hook that required some very tight grid construction: unclued entries (making them “unmentioned”) in the grid like BRIEFS and BRA, each of which appears under the word WEAR in the grid. So you’ve got unmentionables and underwear. A really fun and clever execution of a good hook.

Interesting grid entries included AFAIK, RED STATES, TWENTY-ONE, and ROOMBA. My favorite clue was easily “Things that might come out in a row?” for SWEAR WORDS.

#3 Mall Shook Up by Laura Braunstein

As you might expect from the title, this puzzle involved clothing stores at the mall which had been all jumbled up. For example, one line read SECRET BANANA GAP, referencing Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic, and Baby Gap. So those missing words would end up in other jumbled store listings. Laura went above and beyond in her store mixing, probably providing the most entries I’ve ever seen in a puzzle of this style.

There was one awkward crossing that tripped me up — NEW ME crossing AD WAR — but for the most part, this was a strong puzzle to mark the halfway point for the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included MANTA RAY, NO REPLY, TONSURE, RICOTTA, and BREW PUBS. My favorite clue was “Cat in a Blake poem” for TYGER.

[Image courtesy of Garment Care.]

#4 Tailoring Instructions by Andy Kravis and Sophia Maymudes

Probably the hardest puzzle in the tournament, strictly for its cluing style for the theme entries, which felt more like Crostic clues. Each themed hint would have a straightforward clue, and then in parentheses, tailor’s instructions for how to trim or manipulate the actual answers to fit into the grid.

For instance, the clue “Setting of ‘The Hobbit’ (‘Take this one up a bit’)” takes the full answer reading down, MIDDLE EARTH, and “takes it up a bit,” excluding the bottom two letters and leaving the answer MIDDLE EAR.

Although the vocabulary of the grid itself wasn’t much harder than the usual fare, this was definitely the toughest theme to unravel. Kudos to those who did so in a timely fashion.

Interesting grid entries included GO PRO, RIHANNA, LIAISE, RAIN GOD, and TRANS AM. My favorite clues were “App for a lift but not a Lyft” for UBER and “Word after baby or before cat” for FAT.

[Image courtesy of Cyanide & Happiness.]

#5 Coin Purses by Neville Fogarty

The visual design here — featuring shaded boxes forming u’s in order to create little visual purses, complete with a coin (a box with a circle inside, waiting for a correct answer). Managing to name four five-letter purse brands — GUCCI, COACH, FENDI, and PRADA — each one with a letter inside that spelled out CASH, and the very clever revealer in the center of the grid, reading simply “moneybags.”

Interesting grid entries included IM FED UP, LEFT ARM, DINGUS, TENUTO, DINOS, and SPAMBOT. My favorite clues were probably 2 Down and 44 Down — clues reading that each entry was an anagram of the other — eventually revealing LIMEADE and EMAILED as the anagrammical pair.

#6 Addition by Subtraction by Lily Silverstein and Erik Agard

The final puzzle provided a really solid challenge for the solve, but otherwise was relatively straightforward. The revealer here was POCKET SQUARE, and indeed, there were four black squares that served as hidden pockets for missing letters throughout the grid. For instance, when applied to the bottom left corner, the answers TIE and NEON, as well as URS reading down, became TIE ONE ON and OURS.

And wouldn’t you know it, those pocket letters spelled out the word DONE when solvers were done. A challenging and worthy finale for the event.

Interesting grid entries included E-SHARP, ALDO GUCCI, ATTAQ, and ICE PLANET. My favorite clues were a tie between “Simba’s kingdom” for ANIMALIA and “Figure with two axes, perhaps” for GRAPH.

It was a strong closing puzzle — and the clues on both the Outside Track and Inside Track were well-written and clever — but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the bonus puzzles in the packet.

The Tiebreaker concept made for a theme that was brilliant in its literalness. The grid featured shaded boxes, each split by a black square, which “broke” types of ties. AS/COT (alas and cotton), BO/LO (garbo/locke), and CRA/VAT (fulcra/vats) were all tiebreakers. A marvelous visual gag. I loved it.


Overall, this was the best edition of the Indie 500 yet. The puzzles mingled the inventiveness of the previous three tournaments with strong grid design, clever clues, and a real willingness to play around with crossword conventions.

The constructors made the most of the fashion theme, resulting in some super-impressive wordplay and theme ideas. All in all, this was an engaging and worthy series of puzzles, designed to delight and challenge solvers in equal measure.

I look forward to its return next year, and hopefully some of you will join me in accepting the Indie 500 challenge!

Note: There were additional puzzles included in the puzzle packet, but since they were outside the regular tournament puzzles, I didn’t review them. But believe me, they are worth your time.


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The BosWords Crossword Tournament Returns Soon!

Sunday, July 29th, from noon to 5 PM, puzzlers from all over will gather at The Roxbury Latin School in West Roxbury, Massachusetts for the second edition of the BosWords Tournament, and registration opens today!

With three divisions to choose from — Red Sox (Expert), Paw Sox (Amateur), and Pairs — puzzlers of all ages and experience levels will have the opportunity to test their puzzly wits.

The five themed puzzles in regular competition have been constructed by Laura Braunstein, Andrew Kingsley, John LiebJoon Pahk, and Brendan Emmett Quigley, and after the scores from those puzzles are tabulated, a championship themeless crossword by David Quarfoot awaits the top three solvers in each division!

BosWords is asking for $20 for adults, $20 for pairs, and $10 for students to attend and compete, which is a real bargain!.

You can check out their Facebook page for full details!

Will you be attending the BosWords tournament, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you!


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The Penny Dell Crosswords App Summer Sale!

Hey there, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers. I’ve got a quick question for you…

Have you been solving the free daily puzzle in the Penny Dell Crosswords App that shows up every day like clockwork?

If you have been, then you’re already in the know.

But if you haven’t, you really should.

Because not only is there a terrific free crossword delivered right to your phone every single day, but every day for the entire month of June, we’re throwing in a bonus deal exclusively for PDCW solvers!

That’s right, folks! By solving the free puzzle of the day, you’ll then be notified of that day’s awesome deal! It could be a deep discount on a puzzle bundle OR a limited time offer for a rare puzzle set or app upgrade! Some of the deals are worth up to 75% off!

And the only way to find out about these fantastic deals is to solve the daily puzzle every day!

As if a free daily puzzle in your pocket wasn’t incentive enough, right?

Keep puzzling, friends!


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Puzzle Fight? Them’s Fightin’ Words!

In this blog, I try to talk about puzzles in all their forms. We’ve explored everything from puzzle games and mechanical brain teasers to pencil-and-paper puzzles, from riddles and deduction puzzles to escape rooms and puzzle hunts. That covers a pretty impressive swath of puzzly varieties.

Naturally, I’ve spent some time talking about puzzle apps as well. Not only our own marvelous offerings — like Daily POP Crosswords and Penny Dell Crosswords App — but others as well that’ve piqued the interest of our in-house app reviewer, Sherri.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject, because there’s a curious subset of puzzle apps that I didn’t even know existed: puzzly fighting games.

[Image courtesy of Mario’s Hat.]

Now, your standard fighting game has a simple concept: two fighters go head-to-head in a match, and the first to drain his opponent’s life bar wins.

There are numerous famous fighting games across many video game systems. Franchises like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Soul Calibur, Tekken, Dead or Alive, Darkstalkers, and Marvel vs. Capcom have built devoted followings with eyecatching fighters, innovative attack combos, and ever-improving graphics.

But in a puzzle fighting game, the outcome of the fight does not depend on button-mashing skill, tricky combinations, or well-timed strikes… it depends on your puzzly talents.

[Image courtesy of YouTube.]

Take, for example, the standard bearer for the genre: Puzzle Fighter.

The layout probably looks familiar. The game combines the aesthetics of Tetris — blocks dropping into a contained play area and being rotated and placed by the player — with the gameplay of Bejeweled, Candy Crush, and other color-matching puzzle games.

You want to group pairs of blocks (or gems) together, because you can clear them from the play area by using “crash gems,” which wipe out any neighboring gems of that color. So, with proper planning, you can wipe out huge sections of your board.

As you clear gems from your play area, your fighter does battle with the opponent’s fighter, succeeding or struggling based on how well you’re doing with your puzzling. (You can play against other opponents online in multiplayer mode or against computer-controlled opponents on your own.)

[Image courtesy of Emu Paradise.]

Puzzle Fighter was followed by a sequel, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, a fun reference to the Street Fighter franchise, which also allows some of its characters to appear as sprites in this puzzly spinoff. There was also a short-lived WWE wrestling-related app  that was more like Tetris in its gameplay, but similar in execution to the Puzzle Fighter series.

It’s an intriguing idea, if only because other head-to-head puzzle games like Dr. Mario and Tetris Arena feel a touch less adversarial. In head-to-head Tetris, it’s simply who’s the better puzzler. In Dr. Mario, as you eradicate the little viruses with color-matching pills, you can also bury your opponent under pill pieces, which adds a form of interaction to the gameplay.

[Watch the player on the left engineer chain reactions that hinder the player on the right.]

In Puzzle Fighter, the game goes two steps further. Not only are you allowed to visualize how you’re winning or losing based on the character sprites fighting above the play area, but your successful use of crash gems will send additional gems into your opponent’s play area, with only a limited amount of time to neutralize them.

But an upcoming entry in the genre has added a curious wrinkle to the puzzly fighting experience: magic.

[Image courtesy of Kotaku.]

The World Next Door features characters actually running across a shared game board featuring all sorts of colored runes. Your goal is to swap and connect runes of the same color so that they form chains of runes that can be activated.

Each colored rune represents a different attack, which means that, like in Dr. Mario and Puzzle Fighter, a crafty puzzler can create chain reactions where wiping out one set of runes causes another set to connect, triggering another attack.

In The World Next Door, this can lead to devastating combination attacks.

Of course, since you’re sharing a game board with your opponent, there’s the additional elements of defense and sabotage. While you’re building your rune chains, you’re going to want to defend them from your opponent while also disrupting their own attempts to form chains. Defense can truly become a strong offense, if you choose to play that way.

[Here, you can see the result of a rune spell, the small black hole in the corner, waiting for a sprite to wander too close. Image courtesy of The World Next Door.]

This is probably the most direct iteration of puzzly fighting I’ve encountered thus far, since you’re still using puzzle skills to make your attacks, but you’re also interacting head-to-head with your opponent’s game board AND sprite, which really ratchets up both the tension level and the challenge factor.

I’m definitely interested in seeing how this relatively minor subset of puzzle games continues to evolve and grow. The World Next Door is an impressive step up in complexity and style, and with this sort of creativity and innovation at play, the sky is truly the limit.

And let me know if you’d like us to discuss more puzzle apps, puzzly video games, or other related topics on the blog in the future!


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