Meet the Daily POP Crosswords Constructors: Angela Halsted

One of the Daily POP Crosswords app’s best features is the level of involvement from topnotch constructors. We’ve assembled one heck of a team when it comes to creating terrific, exciting, fresh themed crosswords.

And over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to some of them. Some names you may know, some you may not, but they’re all doing amazing work on these puzzles and deserve a little time in the limelight.

In this installment, allow us to introduce you to constructor Angela Halsted!

How did you get started in crosswords?

I solved crosswords off and on when I was a kid but it wasn’t until 2006 that I got obsessed with them. I don’t even remember what puzzle I was doing, but I was Googling for an answer and came upon the Rex Parker blog. I loved the blog and I loved all the commentary, and that made me want to solve puzzles every day so I could participate.

The first time I decided to comment on the blog, I was required to have a username. I wasn’t very creative and I just felt like I was in a hurry to share my thoughts, so I typed in “PuzzleGirl.” Pretty boring. But it’s stuck all these years!

I submitted my first puzzle to The New York Times in December 2008. It was… terrible. But I knew it was something I could be good at if I kept trying. My first published puzzle was a collaboration with Michael Sharp in The Los Angeles Times in January 2011. Since then, I have had puzzles published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The AV Club, The Wall Street Journal, and other venues. Most of those are collaborations with Doug Peterson, though I’ve also collaborated with Jeff Chen and Erik Agard.

The part I have the most trouble with when constructing is coming up with the theme. I think that’s why I collaborate so much. For me, it’s a lot easier (and more fun) to brainstorm and hone a theme with a partner.

What do you enjoy about working on Daily POP Crosswords?

Oh, speaking of themes, one reason I like writing puzzles for Daily POP Crosswords so much is that the themes can be very simple, which I can handle! Also, I feel like I’m getting a lot of practice generating themes so maybe I’ll get better at it with puzzles for other venues too.

But the best thing about writing for Daily POP Crosswords is working with Patti Varol. She is a phenomenal editor. She is so smart, so efficient, and so motivated. I have a blast talking with her about puzzles and I’m learning a LOT from her.

I also really love being a part of this project because the puzzles are accessible to new solvers. That’s who these puzzles target and I hope they appeal to people who might be really interested in trying crosswords but are intimidated by harder puzzles.

When I had my first Friday themeless published in The New York Times earlier this year, I couldn’t really distribute it to my co-workers, you know? It was hard and probably would have just made them feel bad about themselves. But I’m constantly telling people about Daily POP Crosswords because I know the puzzles are accessible to new solvers and there’s a possibility they’ll get hooked!

I guess the last thing I want to mention is that Patti has assembled a great group of constructors that includes many women. She is also very open to themes about women. And I like that because crossword publishing and construction are generally male-dominated.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends are male crossword constructors. But it’s nice to see someone branching out a little. I hope Daily POP Crosswords will inspire women solvers to take up constructing. That would be amazing.


A huge thank you to Angela for her time! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her puzzles in the Daily POP Crosswords app, free to download for both iOS and Android users!

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Answers to our Thanksgiving Logic Puzzle!

It’s been a week since Thanksgiving, so it’s about time we gave you the answer to our Turkey Day logic puzzle!

In case you missed it, here’s the puzzle:

Connor, Emma, Russell, and Taylor are celebrating Thanksgiving together. To save money, each of them is bringing a different side dish (cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, or yams). Each of them is also bringing a different dessert (apple pie, chocolate cream pie, pumpkin pie, or sugar cookies). With the help of the clues below, can you puzzle out who brought which side dish and which dessert?

1. Emma didn’t bring the green beans, but she did bring pumpkin pie.
2. Connor brought the cranberry sauce, but he didn’t bring chocolate cream pie or apple pie.
3. The person who brought the yams also brought the chocolate cream pie.
4. Taylor brought the green beans.


Okay, last chance to solve it before we give you the solution!

Here we go!


Now, this isn’t as difficult as some of the diabolical brain teasers we’ve tackled in the past, but for someone new to logic puzzles and deduction, a puzzle like this can be daunting.

The key to logic puzzles is to organize your information in a simple and efficient way, so that you maximize the amount of information you glean from each clue.

So let’s list out our four holiday guests and all of the possible food options.

Now, let’s proceed through the clues and fill in our chart.

1. Emma didn’t bring the green beans, but she did bring pumpkin pie.

Since we know nobody brought the same dessert as Emma, we can black out pumpkin pie for everyone else, as well as blacking out the other dessert options for Emma, since each person only brought one dessert.

2. Connor brought the cranberry sauce, but he didn’t bring chocolate cream pie or apple pie.

When you add Connor’s info to Emma’s, you not only get his side dish and his dessert, since he didn’t bring chocolate cream pie, apple pie, or Emma’s pumpkin pie.

3. The person who brought the yams also brought the chocolate cream pie.

At first, this clue doesn’t seem to tell us much, because we don’t know who brought the yams or the chocolate cream pie. But we do know that Emma didn’t bring the chocolate cream pie, so she didn’t bring the yams either.

And if she didn’t bring the yams, the green beans, or Connor’s cranberry sauce, by process of elimination, she brought the mashed potatoes.

4. Taylor brought the green beans.

This last clue ties it all together. If Taylor brought the green beans, then Russell had to bring the yams. And since the person who brought the yams brought the chocolate cream pie, we know that was Russell as well, and Taylor brought the apple pie by default.

And there you have it. All that info in four simple clues.

We hope you enjoyed our little Thanksgiving logic puzzler!


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A Puzzle For Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, PuzzleNationers!

On a day dedicated to celebratingwith family and friends, giving thanks for all the good things in our lives, we here at PuzzleNation want to thank and celebrate our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, because you help make PuzzleNation one of the greatest puzzle communities in the world today.

And when it comes to saying thanks, a Thanksgiving puzzle seems like the perfect offering.

So we’ve cooked up a little Thanksgiving logic puzzle for you to enjoy!

Can you unravel this holiday puzzler?

Connor, Emma, Russell, and Taylor are celebrating Thanksgiving together. To save money, each of them is bringing a different side dish (cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, or yams). Each of them is also bringing a different dessert (apple pie, chocolate cream pie, pumpkin pie, or sugar cookies). With the help of the clues below, can you puzzle out who brought which side dish and which dessert?

1. Emma didn’t bring the green beans, but she did bring pumpkin pie.
2. Connor brought the cranberry sauce, but he didn’t bring chocolate cream pie or apple pie.
3. The person who brought the yams also brought the chocolate cream pie.
4. Taylor brought the green beans.

Good luck, and Happy Thanksgiving!


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These Puzzly Puns Will Echo Through Eternity…

Oh yes, it’s that time again! It’s time to unleash our puzzly and punny imaginations and engage in a bit of sparkling wordplay!

You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie, hashtag games on Twitter, or the Hashtag Wars segment that used to run on @midnight on Comedy Central.

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleHistory, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with historical figures, historical moments, and historical quotations!

Examples include: Daisy Defeats Truman, V-Words-Day, or “Ask not what your mystery country can do for you…”

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


Penny Dell Puzzle Historical References!

Oregon Word Trails

Monrows Garden Doctrine

Woodstock Flower Power

Right of Wayflower Compact

Christopher Explore-a-word Columbus

Samson says and Dilemma

Lucky Star of Bethlehem

Lincolnwords

Federalist-a-Crostic Papers

Hannibal Crisscrossing the Alps

Washington Cross Pairs the Delaware

Military Sudo-coup

Alan Turing’s Codebreaking and Cryptocrossing during WWII

Fancy Ninety-Five Theses / Ninety-Five of Diamonds

Transcontinental Railroad Ties

Circles in the Tiananmen Square

Enigmatch-up Machines (for making Codewords)

Middle of the Silk Road

Boston Three-D Party

Sum Totals of ’69

Spanners Armada

The Treaty of Versyllability

The Stars-Spangled On Parade Word Search Banner


Penny Dell Puzzle History Quotes!

“Four Letter Score and seven years ago” / “Plus fours scorewords and seven-up years ago…”

“Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the Word Play?

“Read my Blips: No new text messages…”

“The Buck Stoplines Here” / “The Buck Stops Here & There”

“Ich bin ein Berlinkworder…”

Napoleon: “Never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a Give-and-Take.”

Churchill: “The Battleship of Britain is about to begin.”

“Letterboxes them eat cake!”

Bill Parcells: “No matter how much you’ve won, no matter how many games, no matter how many championships, no matter how many Super Bowls, you’re not winning now, so you stink.”

Even Shakespeare can get into the hashtag game! From The Tempest:

ALONSO
And Trinculo is reeling ripe. Where should they
Find this grand liquor that hath gilded ’em?—
How camest thou in a pickle?

TRINCULO
I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last that,
I fear me, will never out of my bones. I shall not fear flyblowing.


There were also several submissions that deserve their own section, as these intrepid puzzlers went above and beyond.

One player offered this historical summation: HubCaptain Smith Who Became More than a Blip When He Ventured Across and Down with His Ship: A Titanic Tradeoff

Another player created his own puzzly Pledge of Allegiance:

“I pledge Accordion Words, to the flag, of the Untied Mystery States of America.
And to the republic, for which it Anagrams, one nation under Guess Who,
in Decisions, with liberty and Jigsaw Puzzles for all.”


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

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Designing Your Own Escape Room Event!

One of the most interactive puzzly challenges available to modern solvers is the escape room.

Although themes and scenarios vary greatly, the basic idea is this: a group of people are locked in a room, and tasked with escaping from it within a certain time frame (usually an hour).

They do so by searching for clues, completing tasks, unraveling riddles, and finally, unlocking the door to escape. Some rooms employ riddles. Others use word puzzles. Others still involve working together to overcome obstacles. (For instance, I hear about one escape room where the group was split in two and separated, and they had to work together to unlock the door that separated them.)

There are endless variations available to the intrepid puzzler. And a week or so ago, I had a go at creating my own and running it for a friend’s birthday. I’d never run an escape room per se, but having run roleplaying events before — as well as murder mystery dinners — I was excited to pit my dastardly puzzly mind against a worthy group of heroes and miscreants.

And so, I thought I’d offer a few tips on creating your own puzzly escape experience.


1.) Know your audience.

If your players aren’t engaged, the event is pointless. So you have to make sure that whatever obstacles you lay before them will interest them. If they aren’t partial to brain teasers, mechanical puzzles, or physical challenges, they’ll quickly lose any investment in completing the game.

In my case, I tried to use every puzzly tool at my disposal. There were riddles, puzzle boxes, combination locks to crack, door locks to “pick”, and tricky clues to unravel.

[I drafted two puzzle boxes from my collection into the game.]

2.) Give everyone something to do.

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to things like this. So use that to your advantage. Let the hardcore puzzlers tackle the puzzles, while the less puzzly people complete tasks like uncovering backstory, hunting for hidden items, or even doing battle with threats to the players.

Adding a live-action roleplay element like combat can not only add flavor to your game, but it allows players to contribute without having to struggle with puzzles that might not be their strong suit.

If everyone feels like they’re contributing, all successes feel shared. And shared successes are the best ones.

3.) Let imagination drive the game.

When tackling an event like this, it can be easy to splash out on locks, puzzle boxes, and all sorts of trappings for the game. After all, you want it to be an immersive experience, but that sort of immersion can grow expensive very quickly. And you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to create a great solving adventure.

[A 5-digit combination lock that lets you spell words (or mix letters and numbers), a directional combination lock, and two standard four-digit locks]

I had a small budget, so I bought a few combination locks, four small briefcases (so there was something to unlock and open), and some other bits and bobs. Locks run between $6 and $12, but there are few things more satisfying than cracking a puzzle, dialing in your answer, and feeling the lock open in your hand. The sign of a job well done.

But you can build one without spending much money at all. Get creative with it! You can replicate practically anything with a piece of paper — locks, puzzles, riddles — and a little imagination. Any box can become a treasure chest or a lockbox. Any room can become a laboratory or a dungeon or a high-security vault.

[I picked up this little lock for cheap on Amazon, drew the various characters in the combination on little slips of paper, and hid them around the room. It was up to the players to find them, put them in the correct order, and open the lock.]

The low-budget solutions are often the most satisfying. For instance, I mentioned above that, in my escape room, there were door locks to “pick.” I used quotation marks because I didn’t buy door locks to actually pick. Instead, I swapped in another, simpler method for testing someone’s digital dexterity: Jenga.

I stacked up a Jenga tower, removed 8 or 9 pieces, and then challenged the group’s lockpick to remove two or three pieces per door they “picked.” This simulated both the tension of the act and the level of skillful manipulation necessary, and for a fraction of the possible cost.

4.) Tell a story.

I’m a roleplaying fan. I love telling stories in my gameplay. And, to me, nothing adds flavor and depth to an escape room like a story. My favorite escape room experience was a Houdini-themed room that was loaded with the famous magician’s history and trappings — shackles, a straitjacket, and more — and all those little touches added so much to the atmosphere and the tension of the game itself.

So craft a story! Why are the players there? Why do they need to escape? Is there a villain? A curse? An evil artificial intelligence to battle? A diabolical millionaire or a mad scientist with an axe to grind?

All those elements can add to the experience. The escape room I designed and ran centered around a evil wizard and the aftermath of his reign of terror. My players warded off ghosts, avoided automated traps, and even held a Beauty-and-the-Beast-inspired seance — since the wizard had turned several of his staff into furniture — as they moved from place to place.

[The remains of a room well-escaped.]

With a little ingenuity, forethought, and creativity, you can craft a one-of-a-kind puzzle experience.


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PuzzleNation Product Reviews: Big Letter Bananagrams, Qwordie, & Word-A-Melon

[Note: I received a free copy of these games in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. /end disclaimer]

When it comes to word-forming tile games, the folks at Bananagrams are the masters. Their fruit-inspired packaging is synonymous with that particular brand of puzzling, giving Scrabble a run for its money in terms of letter-tile games. And they have an uncanny knack for putting new spins on classic puzzle-game tropes, breathing new life into the genre.

In today’s post, we’ll take a look at three of their latest efforts: Big Letter Bananagrams, Qwordie, and Word-A-Melon.

Big Letter Bananagrams is pretty much the tried-and-true Bananagrams model you already know: solvers pull tiles from a central pile and use them to build a grid of overlapping words, hoping to be the first to use up all of their letters.

The difference here is simple but important: Big Letter Bananagrams offers greater visibility for solvers with visual impairments. The tiles are 50% larger than those in the regular Bananagrams set — complete with a bold, easily discernable font — ensuring that older generations of puzzlers will still get to enjoy family game night.

Plus, a portion of the sale of each set of Big Letter Bananagrams goes to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation.

Qwordie takes the word-forming basics of Bananagrams and adds a twist: solvers must use their own letter tiles (as well as ones pilfered from a central pile, a can of extra tiles, or another player’s personal tiles) in order to form a word that fits a certain category.

For instance, say the given card asks you to spell one of the five senses. Each player draws tiles from the central pile or the can of extra tiles and tries to spell a word that satisfies the card on the table. The first player to do so adds those tiles to their stack. The first player whose stack of winning letters passes the finish line on the side of the game tin wins!

Qwordie works at a slower pace than traditional Bananagrams games, since there’s a bit of a wagering aspect to grabbing new tiles. Sure, the quickest speller usually still wins, but the gamesmanship offers players more options than the regular game, since you can use wild card tiles (the platypus tiles), steal tiles from other players (the robber tile), or chose from several piles of extra letter tiles to pull.

This more methodical pace offers a distinctly different play experience for players familiar with more rapid-fire Bananagrams-style solving, and skews the game slightly older than most other Bananagrams products.

The categories come in easy and hard sets, allowing you to tailor the game to whichever group of puzzlers you play with. Qwordie is a smart hybrid of word-building games and Family Feud-style name-something-that-fits-this-category games, combining them for a fun solving experience for puzzlers.

Finally, we’ve got Word-A-Melon, one of the most cleverly designed and realized games in the Bananagrams game library.

Not only are the instructions of the game disguised as a watermelon rind cover for the game board, but the game board itself can be used to store the game’s tiles and die for easy transport.

Players race to claim seeds — aka letter tiles — by flipping over random tiles on the watermelon-shaped game board and using those seeds to spell out the longest word possible. You then claim the tiles used in that word and remove them from the board, adding them to your stash of seeds.

A roll of the die determines how many tiles you get to reveal on the board, but any letters you can’t use are turned back over. This adds a marvelous Memory-style mechanic to the word forming, one that adds a bit more strategy to everyone’s gameplay.

As you spell words, you remove those letters from the watermelon board, and the player with the most tiles (or seeds) at the end of the game wins.

You can also tailor the game’s difficulty to your liking: excluding common letters makes it harder to form words during the game, while excluding the tougher, rarer letters (like Q) makes for less of a challenge for younger solvers.

Between these three games, solvers of all ages and levels of experience have a word-forming game that fits them, encouraging group gameplay while challenging the anagram and resource management skills of each and every puzzler. Factor in the high replay value built into all of these games, and you’ve got a trio of winners for any puzzle fan.

The Bananagrams crew has done it again (and again, and again).


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