Night at the Museum (with giant crosswords!)

[All images courtesy of Robert Mordzon.]

The National Museum in Warsaw is taking an intriguing approach to introducing children to the value of museum-driven learning.

They’ve launched the “Anything Goes” museum, an educational experiment wherein children select, develop, and curate the museum’s main exhibit for a period of time.

According to the announcement on the National Museum’s website:

A group of 69 children aged 6–14 was divided into six curatorial teams. Over six months, the participants got to know the Museum and worked on the exhibition during weekly 4-hour meetings. The teams of junior-curators prepared the scripts and selected almost 300 works to be displayed….

The exhibition, which is divided into six individual segments, features works from all museum collections: ancient and Oriental artefacts, craft objects, old and contemporary sculptures, photographs, drawings and prints, coins and medals, clothes and paintings created in various periods. Many of these works have never been presented to the public. The children say that they “found and liberated them from the museum’s storeroom”.

And part of the “Anything Goes” museum is a dazzling audiovisual creation of technology pro Robert Mordzon: a giant interactive crossword puzzle.

Clues are placed in front of light-up blocks in the grid which indicate the number of letters in each answer.

When a letter is placed correctly, the space will turn green. If a letter is placed incorrectly, the space turns red. And when a word is completed, an animation related to the word is projected onto the wall.

If all 130 boxes are filled in and the grid is completed, sounds and a celebratory “disco light show” are played.

Not only is this an awesome way to bring puzzling to a newer audience, but it’s an impressive meld of science, technology, and wordplay. The fact that industrious children were behind bringing it to life is just the icing on the cake.

This is accessible puzzling at its most vivid and inspiring. Clearly when “Anything Goes,” anything is possible.

[A big thank you goes out to Kathy Matheson, aka Crossword Kathy, who brought this story to my attention.]


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Puzzle Romance!

Hello there, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

It’s Valentine’s Day, and in lieu of our usual post touting different ideas for celebrating love in a puzzly way — since it’s a bit short-notice for those ideas — we thought we’d share some of our favorite tales of puzzle romance.

(Of course, if you ARE looking for ideas, you’re welcome to click here. Just saying.)

In the past, I’ve had the privilege of reporting on two puzzly proposals that were quite brilliantly facilitated by our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles. Each time, the gentleman in question — both times named Bryan, oddly enough — asked that the proposal be hidden in a favorite puzzle, slipped into one of their puzzle books. The first time, it was Escalators, the second, Simon Says.

Both times, the plans were executed to perfection, and both times, the lovely fiancees-to-be said yes.

(We’ve also previously shared the stories of proposals couched in a game of Monopoly and a Rubik’s Cube.)

But my favorite story of puzzle romance involves two friends of mine who are both devotees of cryptic crosswords. (For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call them Carol and George.)

Carol and George are one of those brilliantly matched couples that makes you smile just thinking of them. Marvelously compatible interests and senses of humor and general weirdness that makes relationships worthwhile.

George had several gifts picked out for Carol, but he wanted to surprise her with a little something extra, a bit of diabolical sweetness only a true puzzle devotee would love.

So, before Carol received each small token of affection, she was given a cryptic crossword (also known as a British-style crossword) clue to solve. Cryptic crossword clues involve both cunning wordplay and a definition. The number after the clue provides the number of letters in the answer word.

[A cryptic crossword by constructors Cox and Rathvon,
courtesy of National Post Cryptic Crossword Forum.]

Here are the clues George created. Hopefully you can figure out the answers just as Carol did!

Really glitchy web address loaded between Tuesday and first of year (5)

Found, amidst mishap, pyramid’s content (5)

Begin tortured existence (5)

Thine enemy, in the end, belonging to us both (5)

Plus, there’s an added bonus: the four five-letter answers, when placed in order, form a phrase.

Hopefully, there will be some wonderful new stories of puzzle romance to come. Maybe even tonight! If you have a story to share, comment below! We’d love to hear it!


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A husband’s puzzly tribute takes a century to solve!

Some people immortalize their loved ones in poetry or song. Doctor Samuel Bean chose a different path, immortalizing his wives with a 15×15 puzzle grid on a marble tombstone dedicated to them both.

For nearly forty years, Bean refused to explain his tribute to his lost wives. In fact, he took the secret to his grave when he drowned during a vacation to Cuba in 1904.

The headstone remained in place, unsolved for decades to follow. Many puzzlers attempted to crack the puzzle, but the only person who claimed to solve it was the groundskeeper of the cemetery in 1942. (Naturally, he didn’t share his solution, leaving his claim unverified.)

Decades more followed with no solution in sight.

Finally, in the 1970s, a woman in her 90s who lived in a nearby retirement home shared her solution for the headstone puzzle, solving a mystery that had lasted over a century.

If you want a shot at cracking it yourself, you’re welcome to scroll up and look at the headstone again.

Go ahead. I’ll be right here when you get back.

Welcome back. Did you solve it? No? That’s okay. I can give you a hint, if you like.

There you go. I’ve highlighted the names of both wives in the grid. “Susanna” reads out like a standard word search entry, but “Henrietta” makes you work a little harder, zigzagging across part of the grid.

Okay, give it another shot. Good luck!

Hey there, welcome back! Whether you solved it or not, this is your warning that I’ll be discussing the solution below. So if you want to remain unspoiled, STOP READING HERE.

Last warning before spoilers!

Okay, hi there!

The zigzagging pattern revealed by “Henrietta” in the grid is really the key to unraveling this grid. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the message starts seven places in and seven places down. (Perhaps because the number rhymes with heaven? Maybe that’s what “reader meet us in heaven” means.)

Five straight lines in an expanding spiral spell out the words “In memoriam,” and then the zigzagging pattern takes over for the word “Henrietta,” continuing the spiral.

But the zigzagging pattern grows a little more complex at each corner of the spiral, jumping from one letter to another in an L shape (like a knight’s move in chess).

The zigzag spiral continues outward for four more stretches, before reverting to the straight lines that started the spiral. Those straight lines take over for five stretches of the spiral, and then the zigzag pattern returns (plus those knight-style corners) until the grid is completely filled in.

And what was Dr. Bean’s message?

In memoriam: Henrietta, Ist wife of S. Bean, M.D., who died 27th Sep. 1865, aged 23 years, 2 months and 17 days, and Susanna, his 2nd wife, who died 27th April, 1867, aged 26 years, 10 months and 15 days. 2 better wives 1 man never had, they were gifts from God but are now in Heaven. May God help me, S.B., to meet them there.

A lovely message that Bean clearly wanted strangers to work for. Nicely played, doctor.

[You can get more details on the lives of Samuel, Susanna, and Henrietta in this article (but be aware that they have a mistake in their recording of Bean’s message).]


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International Puzzle Day is almost here!

This Sunday, January 29th, is International Puzzle Day (aka National Puzzle Day), a day dedicated to all things puzzly — be it crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, riddles, or other brain teasers — and there are plenty of fun ways you could celebrate.

For instance, last year, we commemorated the day by building a puzzle fort!

Now, if you don’t have dozens of puzzle books handy, don’t despair! You could bust out an old jigsaw puzzle (or a new one!), try your hand at a Rubik’s cube, or tackle a puzzle you’ve never tried before!

If you’re looking for more of a group activity, you’ve got the Internet at your fingertips. You could find your nearest hobby shop and try out a new puzzle, or track down an Escape Room or Puzzle Hunt event near you!

For instance, I stumbled upon this link for a National Puzzle Day Jigsaw Competition in Mobile, Alabama this Sunday! Race to see who can solve a 1,000 piece jigsaw the fastest!

And that’s just one of dozens of events happening around the country this Sunday.

Need a place to start? Check the event calendar for your local library! Many libraries host events open to public on days like International Puzzle Day, and you might meet fellow puzzlers in your area!

And if there’s not an event in your area, why not host one? You could host a team puzzle-solving challenge, a scavenger hunt, a crossword contest, or a night of trivia!

This year, we opted to do something a little different, whipping up some puzzly bouquets of Daisy, Flower Power, and other floral puzzles, and handing them out to friends! Just a little way to brighten someone’s day! (This excellent suggestion came from puzzler and friend of the blog Jen Cunningham.)

And, hey, if you need something a bit more extreme, you could celebrate like this guy and solve a Rubik’s cube while skydiving!

Now, I won’t be doing that, but that doesn’t mean you can’t.

So, how are you celebrating International Puzzle Day? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!


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An Excluded Solver Strikes Back!

Many people find crossword puzzles daunting.

For some, it’s the crosswordese, those obscure or curious words that you only encounter in crossword grids. Whether it’s European rivers or needlecases, these entries never make casual conversational appearances.

For others, it’s the pop culture that often feels dusty and out-of-touch. It’s not like many silent movie stars are household names these days.

Thankfully, many current outlets and constructors have moved away from this stodgy approach to grid construction and cluing, working hard to keep cultural references fresh and up-to-date, and striving for fluid grid-filling entries that remain both accessible and interesting.

Unfortunately, the reputation of crosswords as behind-the-times is still prevalent in many circles, including among younger solvers.

But I was amused to find one younger solver who sought to balance the scales a bit by taking matters into her own hands.

Tumblr user Greater-than-the-Sword created and shared her own crossword. (Well, technically a criss-cross to puzzle aficionados like ourselves, but the average person would call this a crossword.)

In her own words:

Tired of your parents always doing better than you at crossword puzzles just because they’re old and get the ancient pop culture references? I made this Millennial’s Crossword Puzzle™. Guaranteed to make your parents feel old and less smug.

Sample clues included “is either white and gold or blue and black” for DRESS (referencing the optical illusion that took over the Internet for a day or two) and “Popular Youtuber” for PEWDIEPIE.

Although the puzzle didn’t make me feel old or less smug, it did make me laugh, since I found several of the entries completely baffling and impenetrable. It also reminded me of how amazingly fast cultural references emerge and vanish in the age of the Internet. I got about half of the reference in the puzzle, many of which applied to memes and pop culture from the last few years.

(Though I must confess that it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize the clue “bendy cabbage patch” meant BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH.)

I was unable to reach Greater-than-the-Sword to ask her what sort of feedback she received on the puzzle — either from millennials or from older solvers who accepted the challenge — but I found it to be a delightful response to lazy crossword construction.

You’re welcome to try your luck against the puzzle here.


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Do you accept the Cryptiq challenge?

Normally, this would be a Follow-Up Friday post. But since Follow-Up Friday is all about continuing or expanding upon previous topics we’ve covered, and I suspect today’s post will be something we’ll return to in the future, it gets the nod this week.

I’ve written about puzzle contests plenty of times in the past, whether they’re single crosswords to solve or elaborate multi-step puzzle suites to unravel. Constructors are constantly innovating, and we’ve reached a point where you can tackle amazing puzzly challenges without even leaving your favorite chair.

So if you’re looking for a diabolical new puzzle series you can sink your teeth into from the comfort of your own home, Cryptiq fits the bill nicely.

Cryptiq is a collection of puzzles — available both on their website and in book form — designed to test your puzzly mettle. There are dozens of logic, deduction, and visual puzzles involved, and the designers have clearly set a very high bar for solvers.

From the Cryptiq website:

To win the game you must solve all the puzzles on the given pages on http://www.cryptiq.com or in the book Cryptiq. Once you solve the puzzles you will be left with a code that has 6 values. Be the first to enter these 6 values, in the correct order, on the code input page and you will be moved forward to the verification step. The game can only be won through skill.

After you have entered the correct code, you will be prompted to supply a written solution showing that your solve of the puzzles was not by chance. Once your solve is verified as skill, you will be declared the winner and receive the prize.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a puzzle contest that requires written explanation of the solve in order to prove your skills, but when you consider that the winning purse is $5,000 — and there’s a chance that prize could increase — the team at Cryptiq wants to be sure that someone EARNS that prize, rather than getting lucky.

[Kind of Cunning, one of Cryptiq’s many mind-bending obstacles.]

Best of all? There is no purchase necessary to enter or to win the game. Everything you need to play is right there online. (The book version costs $20, but has all the same information as the website.)

So, fellow friends and PuzzleNationers, will you accept the Cryptiq challenge? Let me know if you do! I’d love to hear about it!


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