Who Do You Want to See in Crosswords? Make Yourself Heard!

Crossword-Puzzle-Eustace

Crosswords have long been considered the domain of older white men. It’s a stigma on the entire industry, one that has sadly been encouraged by years and years of non-inclusive thinking.

Thankfully, the wheels of change are in motion. We still have a long way to go, but the push for greater representation has never been more aggressive or possessed more momentum than it does right now.

Outlets like Queer Qrosswords, Women of Letters, and The Inkubator are all encouraging female constructors, constructors of color, and LGBTQIA+ constructors. Editors like Erik Agard and David Steinberg are actively recruiting new voices, while constructors like Rebecca Falcon continue to advocate for greater exposure.

But representation isn’t just needed behind the scenes. It’s needed within crosswords themselves. The cluing and the grid entries should also reflect our incredibly diverse, colorful, ever-evolving, spectrum-spanning society.

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We wrote about this in November when The Pudding published the results of a statistical analysis of commonly referenced people in crossword answers.

Well, now there’s a way for you to not only push for greater inclusion, but to actually make suggestions: The Expanded Crossword Name Database.

A Google Form has been created where you can submit the names of women, non-binary individuals, trans individuals, or people of color that you’d like to see in crosswords. They can be contemporary people or historical figures.

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This is one of the coolest things about the Internet. We can crowd-source our ideas and get feedback instantly.

I reached out to Erica Wojcik, who is spearheading the ECND, and she said that there have been over one hundred new submissions in the last week alone!

Click here to check out the form AND to submit your suggestions. You should only submit one name at a time, but you can submit as many times as you like!

I can’t wait to see what sorts of submissions are sent to the ECND. What a marvelous way for everyone to expand their vocabularies and work for greater inclusion in crosswords.

Who would you like to see appear as crossword answers, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to submit them to the ECND! We, and they, would love to hear from you.


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Can You Decode This Colonial Chicken Scratch?

simpsons

We’ve joked in the past about how bad or unclear handwriting can create quite the puzzly experience. Well, if you have a knack for deciphering the scribblings of others, then there’s a gig waiting for you in North Carolina.

The State Archives of North Carolina are looking to transcribe dozens of documents from the colonial period, and they’ve turned to crowd-sourcing to accomplish this meticulous, Herculean task.

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[One example of a crowd-sourced translation.]

Among the many documents are contracts, reports, records, and more, some of which concern local business dealings, and even the slave trade.

According to the organizers, “The handwriting can be quirky and the terms antiquated. Transcribing them will be like solving a word puzzle.”

nc doc

It’s an impressive project that has already attracted numerous volunteers, but there’s plenty of work to be done. And as you can see, some pages are in far worse shape than others.

You can save a few pages of work as a guest translator or sign up to be part of the team and contribute more to the endeavor.

For more information, or to try your hand at some freelance puzzly transcription, click here!


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The Coronavirus Hits the Board Game Industry

coronavirus

[Image courtesy of NBC News.]

The coronavirus has dominated the news recently. Health organizations in numerous states and countries have posted informational guides on identifying the virus and the stock market has taken a hit due to an upswing in reported cases.

After a few weeks of reporting, we’re starting to get news stories about the global economic impact of the coronavirus, as boats loaded with shipping containers from China are being held up (if the warehouses and factories have been allowed to ship out products at all).

This has hit the board game industry particularly hard.

As you might expect, many board games are manufactured in China due to the competitive pricing available there, but the one-two punch of Chinese New Year and the coronavirus have left many game companies in the lurch with regard to product availability.

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[Image courtesy of How Stuff Works.]

Chinese New Year is a period of tremendous turnover for staffing in factories in China, so production is often shutdown entirely or severely curtailed during the holiday. As new employees are hired, their training time also eats into production time.

Additionally, the Chinese government mandated that all “non-essential” companies stay closed until February 9th, and board game production is naturally considered non-essential. The ports are similarly either closed or dramatically reduced in staff.

Oh, and for many companies, that directive has been extended until March 2nd at the earliest. (Some publishers have speculated that delays of three months could be looming.)

So even in the areas where employees and manufacturers are thankfully healthy, they can’t work. I’ve gotten updates from a half-dozen different board game Kickstarter projects regarding coronavirus-related delays. Whether they’re trying to start production or they’ve got all their games printed, but trapped in warehouses waiting for shipment, they’re in limbo during this crisis.

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[Image courtesy of AGU.]

Our hearts go out to those affected by the virus. Here’s hoping the hard-working folks in those factories stay healthy, and can return to work soon.

But if you’re wondering why your Kickstarter goodies haven’t been delivered yet, or why your favorite game’s latest expansion isn’t on shelves yet, here’s why.


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Last Kickstarter Roundup for 2019!

Oh yes, it’s that time again.

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

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


The first is Peter Gordon’s Fireball Newsflash Crosswords.

Culturally timely clues and entries are a hallmark of this marvelous variation on Gordon’s long-running Fireball Crosswords brand, and you can rest assured that each Fireball Newsflash Crossword grid will be well-constructed and cleverly clued.

With twenty puzzles sent to you by email — one every two to three weeks — you’ll always have some terrific puzzling to look forward to.

Gordon has a knack for melding flowing grid design with sharp, topical entry words, and much of the time, you’ll not only be impressed by how much material makes it into the grid, but by what major and minor events you’ve missed recently! Gordon’s history of topnotch puzzles is all the incentive you need to contribute.

75% funded with 5 days to go, this project is a yearly favorite of mine, and I always look forward to supporting it.

13monsters

Our second project is a game called 13 Monsters.

A game that takes the strategy of a monster-building game like Bears vs. Babies or Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards and adds a memory component to the gameplay, 13 Monsters requires luck, skill, and tactics in order to assemble monsters and battle your fellow players for dice-rolling, monster-making supremacy.

Because you can only build your monster by finding matching pieces — which you do by flipping tiles and remembering where matching parts are, like in Memory or Concentration — experienced players and newbies have an equal chance at the game’s outset of making moves that seriously impact the game.

With fun mechanics, delightful art, and a clever premise, 13 Monsters looks like a blast.

77% funded with three days to go, 13 Monsters could easily cross the finish line in time, and if more people watched the incredibly charming How to Play video on the Kickstarter page, I think they’d be funded already.

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Our third project adds an artistic touch to a classic game tool: dice.

Dragon and Celtic Laser Dice allow you to augment your games — or your game-centric decor — with beautifully designed and intricately realized wooden and metal dice. With laser-cut precision, these dice are eye-catching and could inspire the creation of whole new games just for these dice alone.

Understandably, the project has already reached its funding goals with 24 days to go, but I still think it’s a gorgeous product that will appeal to game fans all over.

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Our fourth and final project today doesn’t focus on game fans all over, instead opting to focus on game fans in one particular area: Chattanooga, Tennessee.

You see, the dynamic duo of Gina and Janay want to open a gamer-friendly coffee shop — The Game Over Cafe — that mixes classic store elements with video game regalia and programming.

Proposing to be a “Gamer-friendly establishment offering quality coffee and beverages, delicious tea, snacks, and sandwiches,” The Game Over Cafe has potential to be a marvelous new business and networking spot for games and gamers.

A quarter of the way to their funding goal with 29 days to go, I think there’s a solid chance this project will find support and fulfill its mission.


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

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(F)right This Way: Caption Contest Results!

Long-time readers know that we periodically invite our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers to show off their wordplay skills with puzzly prompts like our recurring hashtag game. We even invite our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles to participate!

A few months ago, we did things a little differently. A member of the Penny Dell crew cooked up an image for us, New Yorker-style, and we challenged our friends and readers to compose the perfect caption for it.

Well, in honor of Halloween, we held another Caption Contest, and this time, there were three images to choose from!

So, without further ado, let’s check out what all these clever folks conjured up!


#1

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“Knew my old American Crossword Puzzle Tournament costumes would come in handy someday!”

“Well if if isn’t Sum-Bob Squarepants and Ed-Word Pencilhands!”

Penny Press version of “The Little Match Girl”: “Now don’t come home until every last PennyDell pencil is sold!”

“Seriously, I can’t believe you found an alternate solve on my outfit without even trying testsolving my puzzle grid outfit first!”

“So what do we have here? Edward Pencilhands and a Boy Named Sue-Doku?”

“You’ve heard of Edward Scissorhands? Well, this is his lesser known third cousin, Bobby Pencil-Fingers!”

“Sorry to tell you kid, but you’re not solvable, no matter how many pencils you use.”

“Nine rows, nine columns, nine boxes, nine pencils, nine TREATS?” Forget it, kid, try your warped Aristotelian logic on the McDermots next door!

So then I said, “If you still can’t guess what I am supposed to be, the solution is on page 130!”


#2

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“Ah, so you’re the thief who’s been stealing toilet paper from the 3rd floor bathroom!”

Chasing down the mystery behind rising paper costs, puzzle publishers are squeezing the Charmin.

“I gotcha, Mr. or Mrs. Toilet Paper Bandit!” I’m so glad they didn’t use banana peels as their get away disguise.”

“Whodunnit solved! You need a pedicure!”

“Not so fast, toilet paper man! I heard that Dell Blockbuster Sudoku just hit the newsstands and there’s no way you’re beating me to it!”

“Next time, you may want to try gauze instead of Toilet Paper!”

“What does The Riddler dress up as on Halloween? A puzzle wrapped in an Enigma, of course!”

“You may be a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but I can still read you like an open book!”

“Hold still, I’m trying to decrypt you!”

“Let me follow you to your Cryptogram!”

“Just wait until your Mummy finds out the Pyramid Words you said!”

“Hold still, the clues are unfolding before me!”


#3

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“After seeing the final ingredient for the soup, Gretel realized very quickly that making friends with the witch was only going to land her in hot water.”

“Eenie-meeni chili-beanie – I think this cauldron needs more pepper.”

“This isn’t like the Alphabet Soup on the Penny Press app at all!”

“The recipe for Alphabet Soup calls for a bay leaf, not eye of newt!”

“Matilda you fool! When I said “Eye of Newt”, I didn’t mean the 50th Speaker of the House!”

“Double, puzzle, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Puzzles appear in a slimy puddle–
Maybe the clue is ‘Barney Rubble’.”

“This isn’t how you find the Missing Vowels for the curse; I’ll look it up on the Penny Dell website on my iPhone!”

“I can’t ever remember what goes into this Alphabet Soup!”

“It keeps saying to start the Alphabet Soup with ‘Conjecture’ but I don’t understand where they are getting the E,C and T from!” the short witch exclaimed, as she read the directions aloud.


RECIPE TIME: WIZARD WORD STEW

In a large cauldron pour in ALPHABET SOUP, BITS AND PIECES of a SPIDER’S WEB, Lizard HEAD & TAILS, and a dash of HOCUS POCUS. Recite CODEWORDS until stew boils and BUBBLES and then serve with CRACKERS.


Have you come up with any fun captions for these images? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

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Complex Puzzles and the Importance of Double-Checking

Puzzles are constantly evolving, and in the age of the Internet, the only thing more impressive than the multi-stage brain-melting complexity of some puzzles is the ability of people to work together to solve them.

There are the in-person examples, like escape rooms, scavenger hunts, and puzzle hunts, where people gather together to unravel a series of puzzles in order to accomplish a task.

But when it comes to the hidden challenges concealed within some video games, the Internet itself becomes the gathering place for dedicated puzzlers to come together and crack these ingeniously devised brain teasers.

We’ve talked about several of these puzzle hunts in the past. There was the Gravity Falls cipher hunt that led to an actual statue of the show’s villain Bill Cipher in the woods of Reedsport, Oregon. (And a mayoral position for the first person to find him and shake his hand!)

There was the puzzle-turned-global-scavenger hunt from Trials Evolution that won’t be completed until 2113 at the base of the Eiffel Tower. And there was the Destiny 2 puzzle hunt that led to a replica of one of the game’s most famous weapons.

[Just one of the codes employed in the Trials Evolution puzzle.]

What’s amazing about these elaborate puzzly challenges is the complexity involved. There are different codebreaking techniques applied, levels upon levels of deduction, bits of word association, pattern recognition, and more, all of which must be executed to perfection in order to arrive at the correct solution.

But as a puzzle editor myself, I can’t stop focusing on how that complexity only increases for the puzzlesmiths themselves. After all, they have to create these clues, reverse engineering a challenging, multi-layered series of puzzles resulting in the answer they want, and along the way, make sure that it’s actually solvable.

I mean, creating a challenge is one thing. But striking a balance is remarkably difficult. You have to offer breadcrumbs and clues so that solvers know how to proceed (or that they’re on the correct path), and you can’t make it too easy, or it doesn’t feel like a worthy challenge. But make it too hard, and you risk solvers becoming frustrated, or worse, not discovering your creation at all, which feels like a wasted effort.

Threading the needle in this fashion is an awesome task in every sense of the word, and every time I see one of these puzzle hunts unearthed and completed blows my mind. The folks who solve them are the coolest, and the folks who create them are badasses.

But with all these elaborate puzzles, I couldn’t help but wonder… what happens when something goes wrong?

I mean, we’ve all seen crosswords with incorrect clues, or cases where more than one answer to a riddle or a puzzle makes sense. These things can happen, no matter how hard you try, or how often you test-solve and beta-test.

Recently, that question was answered.

The crew behind Destiny 2 — the same game that featured the impressive Warmind puzzle from last year — unleashed a new fiendish puzzle as part of their Black Armory content pack. That puzzle, Niobe Labs, served as a lock, and until the puzzle was solved by at least one player, none of the online players could access the adventures that lay beyond it.

The puzzle was released last Tuesday, and last Thursday — less than two full days after the release — the company decided that it was unfair to have regular players waiting for those with world-class puzzly skills to unravel the secret behind the puzzle, and they opened the full download for everyone.

Now, that might seem like a knee-jerk reaction, given that it was less than two days afterward. But it’s worth noting that these online crowd-solving efforts can work remarkably quickly, since so many people are not only trying it, but sharing their discoveries with each other.

In fact, in less than 24 hours after the original release, players had completed six out of the seven puzzles in Niobe Labs, involving complex ciphers, visual patterns, and references to sources as disparate as “Frere Jacques” and Victor Hugo.

Level Seven had the entire community stymied. And with good reason.

The puzzle was broken.

As it turns out, a piece of coding connected to the Level Seven puzzle had been deleted from the game’s code, making the puzzle unsolvable.

The Destiny 2 designers offered a new hint late Friday night to solvers, consisting of six cryptic sentences. And within hours, the intrepid solvers pooled their collective skills and knowledge to crack the final puzzle.

It never ceases to amaze me what puzzlers can accomplish when they put their minds to it, particularly when they work together.

And, of course, it makes me grateful for the test-solvers and beta-testers out there making sure our puzzles actually work as intended. Although this might’ve been embarrassing for the crew behind Destiny 2, it’s a valuable lesson.

Don’t be afraid to have someone check it one more time.


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