It’s Follow-Up Friday: Hashtag Hilarity edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’m posting the results of our #PennyDellPuzzleComedy hashtag game!

You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie, hashtag games on Twitter, or@midnight’s Hashtag Wars segment on Comedy Central.

For the last few months, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleComedy, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles and anything and everything having to do with stand-up comics, film and television comedians, funny movies, funny shows, funny plays… even one-liners or jokes!

Examples include: David Letterboxesman, The Three Anagr-amigos, or “Take a Letter, Please!”

So, without further ado, check out what the puzzlers at PuzzleNation and Penny Dell Puzzles came up with!


Puzzle Comedians!

Rodney Danger-Textfields

George Carlinkwords

“Weird Al”-phagrid Yankovic

Dr. Dementossing and Turning

Fill-In Diller / Phyll-Ins Diller

Kenken Jeong

David Cross Pairs

Lewis Blackout!

Andrew Dice Game

Cryptomedian Adam Scrambler

Rows-anne Garden

Alphabet Soupy Sales

Dan Ayk-wordplay

Gilda-Quote Radner

Rose-anagrams Rose-anagrams Dannagrams


Puzzle Comedy Films!

History of the World, Part One and Only

Happy Fill-in More!

Meet the Frameworks

You Don’t Maze with the Zohan

Austin Flower Powers

April Sillycrostics!

Four Square Weddings and a Funeral

Three from Nine to Five

Roxanne-agrams

Across and Down and Out in Beverly Hills

Alphabet Duck Soup

Animal Crackers House


Puzzle Comedy TV Shows!

A Bits and Pieces of Fry and Laurie

Two for One and a Half Men

Rowan and Martin’s Fill-In

Three of a Kind’s Company

“I Love Loosey Tiles!”

Saturday Night Line ‘Em Up

Sanford and Sunrays

All in the Family Ties

Happy Daisy

Leave It to Weaver Words

The Odds and Evens Couple

[Plus there were a few Seinfeld references in puzzly form:]

“By the way, they’re real, and they’re Sudoku Spectacular!”

“The Bubbles Boy”


Puzzle Jokes and Routines!

“Who’s on first and last?” / “Who’s Calling on first! What’s Left on second!”

Knock, Knock! Who’s Calling?

Why did the chicken cross the Middle of the Road? To get to the other Slide-o-gram!

“Nehh…What’s Left, Doc?”

How do you send a message to a skeleton? By Crypt-O-Gram!

What do you get when you insult a puzzle editor’s work? Cross words!

Have you heard about the most amazing Framework ever constructed? It was a Revelation!

Knock-knock.
Who’s there?
Guess
Guess Who?
Hey, that’s my favorite puzzle!

Knock-knock
Who’s there?
Lotto
Lotto who?
I bet there’s a lotto people entering this hashtag game!

Knock-knock
Who’s there?
The Wizard
The Wizard who?
The Wizard is wise and humorous. Didn’t you read the blurb?

Knock-knock
Who’s there?
Zip It
Zip It who?
Zip it, you! I’ve had enough of your knock-knock jokes


And the PuzzleNation audience got involved as well! @_screenhog tweeted the excellent entries Funny or Diagramless and Patchwords Adams!

Have you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzle Comedy entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

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Cracking the GCHQ Christmas Card!

As you may recall, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, a few months ago, a government organization in England called the GCHQ — Government Communications Headquarters — released a puzzly Christmas card designed to tax even the savviest puzzle solvers.

They’ve finally released the answers to this mind-blowing series of puzzles, and I’d like to go over some of them with you. Partly to marvel at the puzzle wizardry necessary to solve this challenging holiday gift, and partly to gloat about the parts I managed to solve.

So let’s get to it!


Part 1 was a logic art puzzle where you have to deduce where to place black squares on an open grid in order to form a picture.

Each column and row has a series of numbers in it. These numbers represent runs of black squares in a row, so a 1 means there’s one black square followed by a blank square on either side and a 7 means 7 black squares together with a blank square on either side.

This is mostly a deduction puzzle — figuring out how to place all the strings of black squares with white spaces between them within the space allotted — but no image immediately emerged, which was frustrating. Once the three corner squares started to form though, I realized the answer was a QR code, and the puzzle started to come together nicely.


Part 2 was a series of six multiple-choice brain teasers. I’ll give you the first three questions, along with answers.

Q1. Which of these is not the odd one out?

A. STARLET
B. SONNET
C. SAFFRON
D. SHALLOT
E. TORRENT
F. SUGGEST

Now, if you stare at a list of words long enough, you can form your own patterns easily. Here’s the rationale the GCHQ used to eliminate the odd ones out:

STARLET is an odd one out because it does not contain a double letter.
SONNET is an odd one out because it has 6 letters rather than 7.
SAFFRON is an odd one out because it ends in N rather than T.
TORRENT is an odd one out because it starts with T rather than S.
SUGGEST is an odd one out because it is a verb rather than a noun.

SHALLOT is our answer.

Q2. What comes after GREEN, RED, BROWN, RED, BLUE, -, YELLOW, PINK?
A. RED
B. YELLOW
C. GREEN
D. BROWN
E. BLUE
F. PINK

After playing around with some associative patterns for a while, I realized that somehow these colors must equate to numbers. First I tried word lengths, but 5-3-5-3-4-___-6-4 didn’t make any sense to me. But then, it hit me: another time where colors and numbers mix.

Pool balls. Of course, the colors and numbers didn’t match, because this is a British puzzle, and they don’t play pool, they play snooker.

So the colored balls in snooker become the numbers 3, 1, 4, 1, 5, -, 2, 6. The numbers of Pi. And now the blank makes sense, because Pi reads 3.1415926, and there’s no 9 ball in snooker.

So the next number in the chain is 5, and 5 is the color BLUE.

Q3. Which is the odd one out?
A. MATURE
B. LOVE
C. WILDE
D. BUCKET
E. BECKHAM
F. SHAKA

This one came pretty quickly to me, as the names Oscar Wilde and Charlie Bucket leapt out. And if you follow the phonetic alphabet, you also get Victor Mature, Romeo Beckham, and Shaka Zulu. (I didn’t get Mike Love, however.)

Since Shaka Zulu was the only one where the phonetic alphabet word was the surname, not the first name, SHAKA is the odd one out.

(The other three questions included an encryption puzzle, a number pattern (or progressions puzzle), and a single-letter puzzle.)

Granted, since you could retake this part as many times as you wanted, you could luck your way through or brute force the game by trying every permutation. But managing to solve most of them made this part go much faster.


Part 3 consisted of word puzzles, and was easily my favorite section, because it played to some strengths of mine.

A. Complete the sequence:

Buck, Cod, Dahlia, Rook, Cuckoo, Rail, Haddock, ?

This sequence is a palindrome, so the missing word is CUB.

B. Sum:

pest + √(unfixed – riots) = ?

This one is a little more involved. To complete the formula, you need to figure out what numbers the words represent. And each word is an anagram of a French number. Which gives you:

sept + √(dix-neuf – trois) = ?

Dix-neuf is nineteen and trois is three, so that’s sixteen beneath a square root sign, which equals four. And sept (seven) plus four is eleven.

The French word for eleven is onze, and ZONE is the only anagram word that fits.

C. Samuel says: if agony is the opposite of denial, and witty is the opposite of tepid, then what is the opposite of smart?

This is a terrific brain teaser, because at first blush, it reads like nonsense, until suddenly it clicks. Samuel is Samuel Morse, so you need to use Morse Code to solve this one. I translated “agony” and tried reversing the pattern of dots and dashes, but that didn’t work.

As it turns out, you need to swap the dots and dashes, and that’s what makes “denial” read out. This also worked with “witty” and “tepid,” so when I tried it with “smart,” the opposite was OFTEN.

D. The answers to the following cryptic crossword clues are all words of the same length. We have provided the first four clues only. What is the seventh and last answer?

1. Withdraw as sailors hold festive sing-song
2. It receives a worker and returns a queen
3. Try and sing medley of violin parts
4. Fit for capture
5.
6.
7. ?

Now, I’m not a strong cryptic crossword solver, so this part took FOREVER. Let’s work through it one clue at a time.

1. Withdraw as sailors hold festive sing-song

The word WASSAIL both reads out in “withdraw as sailors hold” and means “festive sing-song.”

2. It receives a worker and returns a queen

The word ANTENNA both “receives” and is formed by “a worker” (ANT) and “returns a queen” (ANNE, reading backward).

3. Try and sing medley of violin parts

The word STRINGY is both an anagram of “try” and “sing” and a violin part (STRING).

4. Fit for capture

The word SEIZURE means both “fit” and “capture.”

Those four answers read out like this:

WASSAIL
ANTENNA
STRINGY
SEIZURE

And with three more answers to go, it seemed only natural that three more seven-letter answers were forthcoming. Plus, when you read the words spelling out downward, you notice that the first four letters of WASSAIL, ANTENNA, STRINGY, and SEIZURE were spelling out.

If you follow that thought, you end up with the start of a 7×7 word square:

 WASSAIL
ANTENNA
STRINGY
SEIZURE
ANNU___
INGR___
LAYE___

And the only seven-letter word starting with INGR that I could think of was INGRATE.

WASSAIL
ANTENNA
STRINGY
SEIZURE
ANNU_A_
INGRATE
LAYE_E_

And if the last word is LAYERED…

WASSAIL
ANTENNA
STRINGY
SEIZURE
ANNU_AR
INGRATE
LAYERED

Then the missing word must be ANNULAR. The original question asked for the last word though, so our answer is LAYERED.


This brings us to Part 4, Number Puzzles, where I must confess that I finally tapped out, because I could only figure out the first of the three progressions involved.

Fill in the missing numbers.

A. 2, 4, 8, 1, 3, 6, 18, 26, ?, 12, 24, 49, 89, 134, 378, 656, 117, 224, 548, 1456, 2912, 4934, 8868, 1771, 3543, …

B. -101250000, -1728000, -4900, 360, 675, 200, ?, …

C. 321, 444, 675, 680, 370, 268, 949, 206, 851, ?, …

In the first one, you’re simply multiplying by 2 as you go.

2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16384, 32768, 65536, 131072, 262144, and so on.

But you begin to exclude every other number as you move into double-digits, triple-digits, quadruple-digits, and beyond.

2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16384, 32768, 65536, 131072, 262144, and so on.

So the answer, 512, becomes the real answer, 52.

But, as I said, I couldn’t crack the other two, and I’m already exhausted just running through these four sections!

And, based on the answers they released recently, Part 5 only got more mindbending from there.

As a matter of fact, not a single entrant managed to get every answer in Part 5 correct. Prizes were awarded to the three people who came closest however, and it turns out a staggering 30,000+ people made it to Part 5. Color me impressed!

This was, without a doubt, the most challenging puzzle suite I have ever seen, and I offer heartfelt kudos to anyone in the PuzzleNation Blog readership who even attempted it!

You’re welcome to try it out for yourself, though. I highly recommend using this link from The Telegraph, which allows you to skip to the next part if you get stumped.


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Get thee to a punnery!

Wordplay is an integral part of many puzzles, from anagrams and rhymes to letter-shifting and palindromes. But perhaps the most predominant form of wordplay is the pun. (Where would Wordplay Wednesday be without them?)

Sometimes puns are Cryptogram answers or Anagram Magic Squares solutions. Sometimes they’re fiendish crossword puzzle clues that send you one way when your answer lies elsewhere, or they’re the key to figuring out the theme entries in a Thursday New York Times puzzle.

Whether it’s a groaner or one that makes you laugh out loud, a pun can add humor and style to a puzzle.

Some of my fellow puzzlers have some classics to their credit, like Penny Press editor Keith Yarbrough’s “Public hanging” for ART, or crossword guru Eileen Saunders’ “Wombmates?” for TWINS.

But it’s not just in puzzles. Social media has given the art of punnery a new lease of life. Several YouTubers have made puns their stock in trade, like My Drunk Kitchen’s Hannah Hart and You Deserve a Drink’s Mamrie Hart. (No relation.)

Check out this video by musician and pun enthusiast Andrew Huang:

Twitter is also home to some monstrously talented punsmiths. Here are two recent favorites I stumbled across:

And did you know there are even contests and prizes for great puns?

Every May, the O. Henry Pun-Off attracts wordplay aficionados from all over to ply their trade in front of a live audience!

For a primo example, here’s a video of champion Jerzy Gwiazdowski busting out a flurry of geography puns:

What are some of your favorite puns, fellow puzzlers? Are they from puzzles, jokes, Internet memes? Leave them in the comments!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

Puzzles in Plain Sight: Coded Puzzles!

Given the nature of my line of work, I think about puzzles a lot. But, as it turns out, even when I’m not thinking about puzzles, puzzles seem to find me anyway.

As followers of our Instagram account know, last night I was reading a collection of supernatural short stories, Dark Detectives, edited by Stephen Jones. Partway through a story titled “Vultures Gather,” I encountered the following passage:

That’s right, an encrypted passage smack dab in the middle of my supernatural mystery story!

As it turns out, our investigators uncover a message left behind by the deceased, indicating that he was murdered! Not only that, but he makes a cagey reference to one of my favorite horror movies in order to provide a method for both exposing and punishing his duplicitous attackers.

It all starts with a letter and two pieces of parchment with Greek lettering. The letter entrusts the paper and their secret contents to the two men, in case anything suspicious should happen. (Fortuitous!)

The investigators, with the help of two of their friend’s books — The Boy’s Book of General Knowledge and The Boy’s Book of Puzzles and Brain Teasers — try to crack it with a simple transposition code, meaning one letter or number represents another. This is the basis of standard cryptograms and many other crypto-puzzles.

[Leela tackling an alien code in Futurama.]

But this only yields gibberish. That is, until they remember something from the letter he left them: “The locks are my favorite books, the key is seven.”

The seventh letter is G, meaning that should be the starting letter of their transposition pattern.

Unraveling the encryption reveals some sinister-sounding magical incantations, which they put aside for the moment.

Then they turn their attention to the remaining bits of code in the letter: the strings (5,2,2,5) and 831214926142252425798. Assuming their friend would want these codes cracked quickly, they employ a simple alphanumeric cipher.

Now, alphanumerics can work several ways.

  • Sometimes, the numbers coincide with those of a push-button telephone, meaning 5 can be J, K, or L.
  • Other times, the numbers represent that letter’s position in the alphabet. A is 1, B is 2, Z is 26, etc.
  • They can also be transposition codes, where each letter corresponds to a random number. This is the case in Codewords.

8312149261422524225798 uses the second style of alphanumeric code. So 8 would be H, 3 would be C…

Wait, that doesn’t work! Unless you remember that “the key is seven,” as mentioned above. Which means that G would be 1, H would be 2, etc.

So now, with some trial and error, 831214926142252425798 becomes 8/3/1/2/14/9/26/14/2/25/24/25/7/9/8, or NIGHTOFTHEDEMON. As it turns out, (5,2,2,5) is a hint to breaking up your answer into words, like the indicator of word length that follows a British-style crossword clue or cryptic crossword clue. This makes the answer NIGHT OF THE DEMON.

[Unfortunately, no one in the story seems to notice that THE is 3 letters, and the clue should’ve read (5,2,3,5). Oops.]


So, in the end, not only did I get a great supernatural detective story (with mystical revenge to boot!), I got a brief refresher on some of the most popular encryption styles employed by puzzlers today.

Not too shabby at all.

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One Letter Makes All the Difference

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the power of words, and rightly so. Words are the foundation of civilization. They’re how we communicate, how we express ourselves, how we interpret and process and quantify the world around us.

And playing with them is a cornerstone of entertainment. Jokes and puns depend on wordplay, as do riddles, brain teasers, and so many puzzles. Whether they’re being crossed, anagrammed, or shared with friends on an online Scrabble board, words are puzzle power.

That’s true even of letters. A single letter can not only speak volumes, it can be the key to unlocking an entire puzzle.

For instance, let’s talk crosswords. Knowing one across entry is a plural often allows you to place an S, giving you an anchor for the down entry that crosses it.

Cryptograms often offer a single letter as a hook to get you started. In addition, anytime you see a lone letter in a quote, you know it’s an I or an A.

Numerous anagram puzzles involve adding a single letter to a word, anagramming the result, and getting something new and unexpected.

That sort of letter addition reminds me of a brain teaser:

There’s a word in the English language in which the first 2 letters signify a male, the first 3 signify a female, the first 4 signify a great man, and the whole word signifies a great woman. What is that word?

In all of these examples, single letters are part of a greater puzzle. But what about puzzles composed entirely of single letters?

Easy. I can think of two.

In the first, single letters are the first letters of words forming some sort of pattern. Can you deduce the pattern AND provide the next entry in the series?

  • O, T, T, F, F, S, S, E, ?
  • J, F, M, A, M, J, J, A, S, O, N, ?
  • S, M, H, D, W, M, ?
  • M, V, E, M, J, S, U, ?
  • D, K, P, C, O, F, G, ?

In the second, the single letters are still the first letters of words, but we’ve added numbers and it’s up to you to deduce what the letters represent.

  • 3 F in a Y
  • 366 D in a LY
  • 12 S in the Z
  • 4 Q in a D
  • 13 C in a S

All of this, sprung from a single letter. Pretty impressive, isn’t it? No wonder we can accomplish so much with words, given building blocks like these.

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Deck the Halls with Loads of Puzzles!

Merry Christmas, puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! I hope you’re having a marvelous holiday!

One of the integral parts of the holiday season is decorating, decking your halls in all manner of festive holiday fun. Whether it’s Santas or garland, mistletoe or sleigh bells, a Christmas village or little dancing reindeer, everyone expresses their holiday spirit differently.

Naturally, around here, we couldn’t resist adding some puzzly flavor to our holiday decorating. I put my origami skills to the test to come up with some puzzle ornaments for the tree my friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles were putting together, and I think the end result was something pretty terrific.

Here’s the tree in progress. You can already see some puzzly touches like a Mega Sudoku front and center there, as well as a wreath on the wall behind the tree!

Let’s take a closer look at that wreath! Darcy did an outstanding job on it, and you can see a lot of flagship Penny/Dell puzzles represented here, like Cross Sums (Kakuro), Codewords, Cryptograms, and Word Games Puzzles!

Here’s a close-up on some of those puzzlier ornaments, including a Crossword star and a Cryptogram crane (one of my contributions) soaring above the Mega Sudoku. (The tree was also liberally garnished with coupon offers!)

A few more ornaments, including a Flower Power grid in the lower left corner!

Here’s the tree in its finished state, all lit up and decked out with gifts. It looks great! The mix of traditional ornaments and puzzly ones really makes for a unique display.

And check out this word search-wrapped gift just waiting for someone! I wonder if the recipient’s name is hidden in the grid! (Maybe they can’t open it until they find themselves!)

Are there any puzzly decorations on your tree this year, fellow puzzlers? Let us know! Send us a picture! We’d love to see it!

Have a terrific holiday!