New Puzzle Sets for PDCW App and Daily POP Crosswords!

Hello puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

We’re excited to announce new puzzle sets for both of our marvelous crossword puzzle apps! Yes, whether you’re a fan of our Penny Dell Crosswords App or our Daily POP Crosswords app, we’ve got something special for you!

First off, for Daily POP Crosswords users, we have our latest featured set, Superhero Fun!

Consisting of ten puzzles, all with superpowered themes, this puzzle set offers the smart, pop culture-savvy cluing you’ve come to expect from PuzzleNation, all in ten marvelous puzzles collected for your convenience and enjoyment!

The Avengers might have reached their Endgame, but we’re just getting started!

And for the Penny Dell Crosswords App, we have two new deluxe sets available!

If you’re looking for something sweet, we have the Dessert Deluxe bundle, and if you want a playful twist on crosswords, there’s the Games Deluxe bundle!

With special themed puzzles and loads of great crosswords at all difficulty levels for you to enjoy, these bundles are a fresh and fun way to relax and keep your puzzly wits sharp!

All three are available now for in-app purchase, so don’t miss out on these terrific new puzzle bundles!

Happy puzzling, everybody!


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The Puzzly Legacy of the Game Boy

This week marks thirty years since Nintendo’s handheld travel-friendly Game Boy system launched in stores. This small gray machine with the two-tone greenish-yellow screen, affectionately known as The Brick for its shape and weight, is a part of not only many childhoods for puzzlers and gamers my age and younger, but part of the foundation of mobile gaming as we know it today.

It’s not uncommon for people to play games or solve puzzles away from home these days. A myriad of options now live in your pocket thanks to smartphones — including PuzzleNation’s Daily POP Crosswords and Wordventures! (Oh, I simply cannot resist a shameless plug.)

But the entire mobile gaming/puzzling industry hit the big time because of the Game Boy. From its Nintendo successor the Game Boy Advance and rival Sega’s Game Gear all the way to tablet games, the Playstation PSP, the Nintendo Switch, and app games galore, it all kicked off with the Game Boy.

There are many seminal Game Boy titles — Kirby’s Dream Land, Pokemon Red/Blue, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Wario Land, Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins — many of them topping “best of” lists across the Internet, but you cannot have a conversation about the success of the Game Boy without discussing the iconic puzzle game that was packaged with the system.

Tetris.

I can hear the music right now as I type this blog post.

You can’t help but wonder if the Game Boy would have been as successful or popular without the insanely addictive puzzly gameplay of Tetris packaged with it. I found several comments on the Internet on related articles that stated they would’ve happily glued their Tetris cartridge directly to the Game Boy, because they never played any other games.

Granted, there were plenty of other puzzle titles for the mobile game platform. Alleyway, Boxxle, Catrap, and Pipe Dream come to mind, along with ported classics like Q*bert and some of the early Yoshi games.

But can any of them hold a candle to the puzzly legacy of those seven blocky game pieces and that inimitable music?

Doubtful.

I mean, it’s not coincidence that Tetris has its own dedicated board on our Pinterest page and not any of those other puzzle games.

Really, Tetris and the Game Boy were a match made in heaven. You had one of the most addictive puzzle games of all-time and the perfect long-lasting mobile device to ensure you could keep playing the game wherever and whenever you wished.

And thirty years later, the mobile puzzle game revolution that dynamic duo started is alive and well.

Thank you, Tetris. And thank you, Game Boy. You’re part of PuzzleNation history.


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Crossword Solving Advice, Tournament-Style!

With the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament looming large, newcomers to the tournament and experienced puzzlers alike are trading advice, looking for ways to improve their solving, and gearing up for the latest edition of the Nerd Olympics.

In a similar vein, Lifehacker recently shared a post with advice for how to get better at crosswords. And I thought, with the tournament a little more than a week away, we’d analyze Lifehacker’s suggestions for sharpening your solving game.

1.) Do puzzles every day.

According to article author A.A. Newton, “the only way to improve at crosswords is to do lots of them, and the best way to do that is to work them into your daily routine.” Now, since there is more than one entry in her list, clearly that’s not THE ONLY way to improve.

But this is still valuable advice, especially with the tournament coming up. You see, a fair number of crossword solvers solve them online, either through apps or website interfaces, rather than on paper. But since the tournament puzzles are solved on paper, it’s a good idea to practice the old-fashioned way for a few weeks before the competition, especially if solving time is a priority for you.

2.) Use an app.

Like I said, access to puzzles is a great thing; being able to solve crosswords for all sorts of skill levels at the touch of a button… you can’t beat it. It exposes you to different cluing styles, theme ideas, and all sorts of clever wordplay.

I’d recommend an app that tracks your solving. Several apps like our very own Daily POP Crosswords app track data like your solving times, themes or categories you excel in, and even streaks of days gone without missing a daily puzzle!

3.) Know when — and how — to cheat

Now, this one is a little bit clickbait-y, since it’s only cheating if you look up answers during actual competition. I don’t consider it cheating to admit defeat on a clue you can’t get or a reference you don’t know, and looking it up in order to educate yourself.

Many apps offer hints — either by offering additional letters or entire words that are stumping you — which allows you to continue solving and get past a roadblock in your crossword knowledge.

And if you’re solving a paper puzzle, there are numerous crossword clue sites on the Internet with databases of previously used clues for you to peruse. Not only does this help you with the troublesome clue at hand, but it shows you the different variations of clues you might see for a given entry, which is helpful in the long run.

Of course, you can’t actually do this sort of thing at the ACPT. (Though you can utilize “Google tickets” at other tournament events like Lollapuzzoola, where instructors will silently provide an answer for you so you can keep solving.)

4.) Study up

There are all sorts of crossword resources out there. The article namedrops a few, like Rex Parker’s blog, XWordInfo, and several online guides to crosswordese.

I would also recommend Wordplay, the companion blog to The New York Times crossword. Not only does Deb Amlen break down each day’s puzzles, but there are articles collecting words that will help you become a better solver. Musical terms, authors, plants, opera terms, French rivers, characters from Greek mythology… the whole series is packed with common crosswordese and little obscurities that crossword solvers have come to know and, if not love, then at least tolerate.

But there is other tournament-specific advice I would offer:

  • Have pencils and erasers handy. Maybe a sharpener as well, though there are a few scattered around the competition space. (And we always have one available for use at the Penny Dell / PuzzleNation table in the marketplace!)
  • Bring a clipboard or other writing surface, since the solving space is often tableclothed, which can interact poorly with sharp pencils and paper puzzles.
  • Talk to fellow puzzlers. There’s nothing better than the experience of other solvers, many of whom are also constructors or tournament regulars.
  • Everyone approaches the actual solving process differently. Some people scan the clues for fill-in-the-blank clues or people’s names and fill those in first. Others read through the clues sequentially and fill in what they can. Some solvers even try to solve using only the Down clues, and then double-check their solve with the Across clues. My advice is to try different techniques and see what works best for you.

Whether it’s your first time attending a tournament or you’ve got a few seasons under your belt, there are always new tricks to learn and new techniques to try out.

Do you have any solving advice we missed? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!


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How Far Away Are Computer-Generated Crosswords?

[Image courtesy of ESLTower.]

There’s no denying that computers play a large role in the world of crosswords today.

Some companies use computer programs to generate their unthemed crosswords, no human intervention necessary. Computer programs like Crossword Compiler aid constructors in puzzle design and grid fill, allowing them to build and cultivate databases of words with which to complete their grids.

And, of course, with those little computers in your pocket, you can solve all kinds of crosswords (like those in our Daily POP Crosswords and Penny Dell Crosswords apps).

Heck, computers are even getting pretty good at solving crosswords — just look at Matt Ginsberg’s evolving crossword program, “Dr. Fill.

An article in Smithsonian Magazine posed the question, “why haven’t computers replaced humans in crossword creation?”

The answer, as you’d expect, is simple: computers are just fine at plugging words into established grids and generating basic, unthemed crosswords.

But unthemed is the key word there.

When people think of The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The American Values Club, The Crosswords Club, or any of the other well-respected crossword outlets in the market today, I doubt unthemed puzzles are what comes to mind.

And when it comes to creating themes, innovating, and playing with the conventions of crosswords in order to create puzzles that surprise and challenge solvers, computers simply don’t have the chops.

They might be able to solve puzzles, but as far as I can tell from my research, there’s no program out there capable of generating and executing a theme with any sort of wordplay element involved.

[Image courtesy of Crossword Compiler.]

There is an art to creating an exciting grid, an intriguing theme, or a new puzzle mechanic that solvers have never seen before. The creativity of constructors is truly boundless.

And, it seems, the potential for crossword grids is just as boundless.

Recently, Oliver Roeder of FiveThirtyEight challenged the puzzle fans in his readership to calculate how many different crossword puzzle grids were possible.

He offered the following conditions:

  • They are 15-by-15.
  • They are rotationally symmetric — that is, if you turn the grid upside down it appears exactly the same.
  • All the words — that is, all the horizontal and vertical sequences of white squares — must be at least three letters long. All the letters must appear in an “across” word and a “down” word.
  • The grid must be entirely connected — that is, there can be no “islands” of white squares separated from the rest by black squares.

Now, obviously, all of those rules can be violated for the sake of an interesting theme. We’ve seen grids with vertical symmetry, islands of white squares, and more. Heck, plenty of grids allow words to go beyond the grid itself, or allow multiple words to share puzzle squares.

[“Cutting Edge” by Evan Birnholz. A puzzle where answers extend
beyond the grid. Image courtesy of The Washington Post.]

But assuming these rules are standard, what total did solvers come up with?

None. They couldn’t find a total.

One solver managed to calculate that there were 40,575,832,476 valid 13-by-13 grids following the above conditions, but could not apply the same technique to 15-by-15 grids.

40 billion valid grids. For a comparison, there are 5,472,730,538 unique solutions for a 9×9 Sudoku grid, and I previously calculated it would take 800 years to use every possible 9×9 Sudoku grid.

Of course, that’s 40 billion 13-by-13 grids. The number of possible 15-by-15 grids must be orders of magnitude larger.

Consider this: There were 16,225 puzzles published in The New York Times before Will Shortz took over the NYT crossword. The current number of NYT crosswords in the XWordInfo database is somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 puzzles.

And they’re one of the oldest crossword outlets in the world. Even when you factor in the number of newspapers, magazines, subscription services, and independent outlets for crosswords there are these days, or have been in the past, we barely scratch the surface of a number like 40 billion.

Maybe by the time we’ve run through that many, AI constructors will have caught up.


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In Crossword Clue Parlance, it’s M, or K, or Grand

[Image courtesy of BikeNoob.com.]

A thousand of anything is a lot. Sure, the Proclaimers made it sound longer by mentioning 500 miles and then 500 more, but we’re still talking about 1000 miles there. That’s a lot of miles.

I wrote my first post for PuzzleNation Blog in August of 2012, nearly six and a half years ago.

This week, I uploaded my one-thousandth blog post on this site.

You might think after three posts a week for years, I’d be burned out. But it’s quite the opposite. I enjoy exploring the world of puzzles, delving into history, cracking the memes and riddles that go viral, interviewing all sorts of puzzle creators and fans, trying out new games and puzzles, talking about our awesome puzzle apps like Daily POP Crosswords and Wordventures

And sharing all of that with the PuzzleNation audience.

It’s a privilege, it really is. In many ways, I’ve become the voice of PuzzleNation, and I take that responsibility seriously. I try to both inform and entertain, and I’m constantly hunting for something new and unexpected to offer you.

[Image courtesy of Forbes.com.]

And speaking of you, the PuzzleNation readership, it kind of blows my mind how many different ways I get to interact with you.

I mean, first and foremost, there’s PuzzleNation Blog. Three times a week (and sometimes more), I meander up and down the seemingly endless avenues of the puzzle world and discuss them with you. What a treat.

And then there’s Facebook and Twitter, where I not only discuss all of our projects, but I can play games like the Crossword Clue Challenge every weekday and try to outwit you. (Spoiler alert: I rarely do.)

I also have opportunities to answer questions, share posts and information from fellow puzzlers, and engage with people one-on-one, something that feels increasingly elusive these days.

There’s Pinterest and Instagram, as well as in-person events like the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games.

And honestly, I want more of that. So let me ask you something, fellow PuzzleNationer…

What do you want to see from PuzzleNation Blog in 2019?

Is it brain teasers? Original puzzles for you to solve? Behind the scenes content about our apps? Tutorials on how to solve various puzzles? More interviews with constructors and other puzzle/game designers? More puzzle history? More reviews?

Comment below, or on social media, or even in person. Tell us what you want to see. Let’s make the most of this platform, shall we? =)

[Image courtesy of Bogoreducare.org.]

I’ve gotta say, it’s a little daunting to be celebrating one thousand blog posts with you.

I know some of you have been with us since practically the beginning, and I’m grateful. I know some of you have only recently started following us, and I’m happy to welcome you. Some of you I know by name, and many of you I don’t know at all — but I’m hoping to change that in the future.

In any case, thank you for your support, your enthusiasm, your ideas, your comments, your feedback, your shares and likes and clicks and hearts and thumbs up and app downloads and reviews and everything else we’ve shared. I look forward to many many more.


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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!

Answers to our National Puzzle Day Starspell!

For National Puzzle Day (aka International Puzzle Day), we laid down the gauntlet for you, fellow puzzlers.

We challenged you to put your vocabulary skills and your word-forming knowhow to the test with a Starspell puzzle specially constructed for the holiday (as it featured all the letters in the phrase INTERNATIONAL PUZZLE DAY)..

The goal was to form common six-letter words by moving from letter to connected letter in the Starspell diagram. You were allowed to repeat letters, but only so long as you left the letter first and then came back to it.

We found 28 six-letter words. Did you find more than that?

Here’s our list: ALATED, ATONED, DEALER, DELETE, DENIED, DENOTE, DEPEND, EATERY, ELATED, EYELET, LAUREL, LENDED, LENDER, NEATEN, NEATER, NOTATE, PEALED, PENDED, REDEAL, RED-EYE, REINED, RELATE, RENDED, RENDER, REPEAL, REPEAT, TENDED, TENDER.

Did you find any that we missed? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!


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