Codecrafting with Crosswords!

We’ve discussed ciphers and codecracking numerous times in the past, and rightly so. It’s a style of puzzling that has literally affected the outcomes of battles, helped shape key historical moments, and changed the face of spycraft.

And it’s a puzzle form that continues to evolve to this day. We’ve moved far beyond the simple one-to-one replacement encryptions of your standard newspaper cryptogram, and intrepid solvers are always looking for newer and more devious ways to conceal their messages.

Tumblr user Cipherface has cooked up a pretty ingenious system that actually uses another style of puzzling in its execution: crosswords.

Here’s how it works. You write your message out in the open spaces of the crossword, ignoring the black squares.

Then, map out this diagonal path as the first step to encrypting your message.

Do the same with the puzzle’s answer key, and you’ve got your running key, the text used to substitute letters for the letters in your actual message.

Then you run your message through the tabula recta, a table where you use the letter you want revealed and the letter in your running key to pick the letter in your encryption.

Here, we can see Cipherface mapping out the encrypted message using this method.

From the Tumblr writeup:

The idea is to use a crossword puzzle for the transposition and the answers to the previous weeks puzzle as a running key. And the blank spaces are used to insert nulls into the final ciphertext. You then mail it to a friend who uses the date it was mailed to decide which puzzle to use for decryption.

It’s a pretty clever way to leave your encryption key in plain sight, and yet keep your messages secret. The running key keeps changing, so it’s more effective than traditional running keys, which stayed the same for longer periods of time.

Not to mention, using the puzzle’s publishing date? What a quick and easy way to keep your friend informed in an innocuous way. You’d just need to decide ahead of time which newspaper to use.

And it figures. The best way to make a puzzle better? Add another puzzle.


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Pun in the Sun! It’s a Summer Wordplay Party!

Oh yes, it’s that time again! It’s 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 @midnight’s Hashtag Wars segment 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 #PennyDellSummerPuzzles, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles and vacations, the summer months, surf movies, camp, activities… anything and everything you associate with summer!

Examples include Summer Triangles, Beach Blanket Bingo, or Suntan-glewords!

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


Summertime, and the Living is Easy Sudoku

School’s Out of Place for Summer

Camp Tanglewood

Which Way to San Jose Words

Summer lovin’, had me a blips

You’re invited to a neighborhood block party; come at 6’s and 7’s

Cancellations my reservation

Summerdoku

Picknic and Choose

Hopscotch the globe

Middle of the Road Warrior

Sisterhood of the Traveling Spanners

Grand Tourist Trap

The End-of-the-Line-less Summer

Rods & Wheels

Word Maze Runner

Kakuro Vs. the Volcano

A Perfect Hang Ten

Annetagrams Funicello

Fiddler’s Crab Frame

Surfs-Up and Downs

Ups and Dunes

Sun’rays’ burn

Junebox Jumble

Abagust

I Know What You Did First and Last Summer / Insiders Know What You Did Last Summer

Catalina Caperfect Fit

Bit Sand Pieces

Bricks Sand Mortar / Bricks and S’mortar

Surfin’-sert-a-Bird

Take a Letter from Camp

Point the Way Home


There were a few submissions that deserve their own section, as several of our intrepid puzzlers went above and beyond.

-Glossing and Burning in Extreme Sundoku

-Exchange Boardwalks featuring Ice Cream Dots and Dashes

-Have a nice cool “coco nutty crossword” smoothy!

-“Rapid Reader Encounters Bookworms on Word Trails; You Can Take It From There”

And one solver took it to an entirely unexpected rhyming level:

Kellermans we come together, Simon Says as one
We have Shared-a-Letter seasons Takeout, Piggybacks, and fun.
Summer days will soon be Odds & Evens, soonly Autumn starts
And tonight our Mixmaster whispers softly in our Heads & Tails.


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

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5 Questions for Artist and Game Designer Jennifer Hrabota Lesser

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to welcome Jennifer Hrabota Lesser as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Jennifer Hrabota Lesser is an artist. Whether it’s commissioned artwork, passion projects of her own, or design work for board games and video games, she adds a personal touch to every piece she works on.

Initially getting into the game industry as a way to pay off student loans, she has since gone on to build a small board game company, Wild Power Games, with her husband. She also teaches a summer class on game design at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Jennifer was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Jennifer Hrabota Lesser

1.) How did you first get into puzzles and games?

I’ve always loved puzzles and games. I think that I’ve always found them to be very calming. As a kid, puzzle books were a great way to get through long car rides. (Back in the days before iPhones!) These days, they are a way to unwind and calm down.

I am definitely a gamer, I adore board games and table top games. I also find Sudoku very soothing and meditative.

2.) I had the pleasure of scrolling through the art on your website, and there’s a really wonderful trend of reaching out that seems to suffuse many of your works. People holding each other, or finding themselves enveloped by things like flowers. Is that an intentional theme, either for your site or for your art in general, or just something I pulled from this sampling of your work?

Connection is an ongoing theme in my work, both connection with other people and connection with nature. I try to portray my subjects in transitional moments, where they may be at a point of finding a deeper connection with someone, or they may feel as if something has just been lost — the moments of feeling untethered. I believe understanding our connection with those around us is important to our health and happiness as individuals and as a society.

3.) How does your art inform your work in games, and vice versa?

My work is strongly influenced by mythology and fables, and the games I work on are often character-centered. I really enjoy working on games that have a story, and I think the same applies to my artwork. There is often an implied narrative in the work I’m doing.

I often like to portray strong female characters, finding their power. Years ago I got to design some great female characters for Guitar Hero 2, which was a blast because I love playing guitar and women tend to be underrepresented in rock. More recently I was able to design some of my favorite goddesses for our tabletop game High Heavens. I particularly loved painting Nut and Isis from the Egyptian pantheon. Illustrating The Mother of Dragons for a recent Game of Thrones expansion was also pretty great.

4.) What’s next for Jennifer Hrabota Lesser?

I am working on a poker deck that will be featuring my artwork, which is going to be an intense undertaking, but one that I am excited about!

5.) If you could give the readers, writers, artists, aspiring game designers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Whatever your creative path is, find time to do it every day. Create when you are inspired, but create when you are uninspired, push through the times when you aren’t feeling it, to get into the habit of working. I love the quote by Pablo Picasso: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

We work and work, and sometimes when we least expect it, something amazing happens. It won’t happen if you aren’t doing the work in the first place.


A huge thank you to Jennifer for her time. Be sure to check out her website for the latest updates on all her marvelous endeavors!

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The Diabolical Long Division Brain Teaser!

From time to time, I’ll receive an email with a brain teaser I’ve never seen before. Sometimes they come from friends, or fellow puzzlers. Other times, PuzzleNationers will ask for my assistance in solving a puzzle that has flummoxed them.

That was the case with today’s puzzle, and I’ll admit, this one was a bit of a doozy to unravel.

Yup, an entire long division problem with only a single digit set. No letters or encryption to let us know which digits were repeated, as there are in Word Math puzzles published by our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles.

Just a 7 and a bunch of asterisks. “Is this doable?” the sender asked.

Yes, this is entirely doable, friend. Let’s break it down step by step.

First, we need to know our terminology. The 8-digit number being divided is our dividend. The 3-digit number we’re dividing into it is the divisor. The 5-digit number on top is our quotient.

For the other lines, let’s label them A through G for ease of reference later.

There we go. Now, where do we go from here? We start with what we know.

We know that 7 is the second digit in our quotient.

So our divisor, times 7, equals the number on line C. That’s a 3-digit number, which means the first number in our divisor is 1. Why? Because if it was 2, 2 times 7 would give us 14, which would be a 4-digit number on that line.

That means the quotient is somewhere between 100 and 142. (Why 142? Easy. I divided 1000 by 7, and 142 is the last 3-digit number you can multiply 7 against and still end up with a 3-digit answer for line C. 143 times 7 is 1001, which is too high.)

What else do we know from the puzzle as it stands?

Well, look at lines E and F. We bring both of the last two digits in the dividend down for the final part of the equation. What does that mean?

Remember how long division works. You multiply the divisor by whatever number gets you closest to the given digits of the dividend, subtract the remainder, bring down the next digit from the dividend, and do it all over again until you get your answer.

You multiply the first digit of the quotient times the divisor to get the number on line A. You multiply 7 times the divisor to get the number on line C. You multiply the third digit of the quotient times the divisor to get the number on line E.

Following this route, you would multiply the fourth digit of the quotient against the divisor to get the number on line G. But bringing just one digit down didn’t give us a number high enough to be divided into. Instead of needing more lines (H and I, in this case), we bring the last digit of the dividend down and press onward.

That means the fourth digit of the quotient is 0, because the divisor went into the dividend zero times at that point.

And there’s more we can glean just from the asterisks and what we already know. We know that every one of those 4-digit numbers in the equation begin with the number 1.

How do we know that? Easy. That first number in the divisor. With a 1 there, even if the divisor is 199 and we multiply it times 9, the highest possible answer for any of those 4-digit numbers is 1791.

So let’s fill those numbers in as well:

Now look at lines D, E, and F. There’s nothing below the 1 on line D. The only way that can happen is if the second digit in line D is smaller than the first digit on line E. And on line F, you can see that those first two columns in lines D and E equal zero, since there’s nothing on line F until we hit that third column of digits.

That means the second digit on line D is either a 0 or a 1, and the first digit on line E is a 9. It’s the only way to end up with a blank space there on line F.

I realize there are a lot of asterisks left, but we’re actually very close to knowing our entire quotient by now.

Look at what we know. 7 times the divisor gives us a 3-digit answer on line C. We don’t yet know if that’s the same 3-digit answer on line E, but since it’s being divided into a 4-digit number on line E and only a 3-digit number on line C, that means the third digit in our quotient is either equal to or greater than 7. So, it’s 7 or 8.

Why not 9? Because of the 4-digit answers on lines A and G. Those would have to be higher than the multiplier for lines C and E because they result in 4-digit answers, not 3. So the digit in the first and fifth places in the quotient are higher than the digit in the third. So, if the third digit in the quotient is 7 or 8, the first and fifth are either 8 or 9.

So how do we know whether 7 or 8 is the third digit in the quotient?

Well, if it’s 7, then lines C and E would have the same 3-digit answer, both beginning with 9. But line C cannot have an answer beginning with 9, because line B is also 3 digits. The highest value the first digit in line B could have is 9, and 9 minus 9 is zero. But the number on line D begins with 1, ruling out the idea that the numbers on lines C and E are the same.

That makes the third digit in the quotient 8, and the first and fifth digits in the quotient 9.

We know our quotient now, 97809. What about our divisor?

Well, remember before when we narrowed it down to somewhere between 100 and 142? That’s going to come in handy now.

On line F, we know those first two digits are going to be 141 or below, because whatever our divisor is, it was larger than those three digits. That’s how we ended up with a 0 in our quotient.

So, the number on line D minus the number on line E equals 14 or below. So we need a 900-something number that, when added to a number that’s 14 or below, equals 1000 or more. That gives us a field from 986 to 999.

And that number between 986 and 999 has to be divisible by 8 for our quotient to work. And the only number in that field that fits the bill is 992. 992 divided by 8 gives us 124, which is our divisor.

From that point on, we can fill out the rest of the equation, including our lengthy dividend, 12128316.

And there you have it. With some math skills, some deduction, and some crafty puzzling, we’ve slain yet another brain teaser. Nice work everyone!

[After solving the puzzle, I did a little research, and apparently this one has been making the rounds after being featured in FiveThirtyEight’s recurring Riddler feature, so here’s a link.]


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Rise of the Machines!

I don’t mean to alarm you, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, but the machines may be taking over.

First, there was Deep Blue, defeating Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov under standard chess tournament time constraints.

Then, there was IBM’s supercomputer Watson, sitting at the buzzer on Jeopardy!, besting previous champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings to nab a million-dollar prize.

An AI program called Deep Mind can play several Atari games with superhuman proficiency.

These days, you can design robots with LEGOs that are capable of solving Rubik’s Cubes in seconds flat.

And, of course, crossword fans probably know of Dr. Fill, the crossword-solving computer program that competes at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament each year. In a matter of five years, it has jumped from 141st place in the 2012 tournament to 11th place in the 2017 tournament.

Now, the machines are coming for Go players next. Google has developed an artificial intelligence known as AlphaGo which twice conquered Ke Jie, the 19-year-old Go tournament champion ranked number one in the world.

This strategy board game is played with white and black gamepieces called stones, and the objective is to surround a greater total amount of territory on the game board than your opponent. Along the way, you can surround your opponent’s pieces in order to capture them and remove them from play.

Wikipedia aptly describes the depth and difficulty of the game:

Despite its relatively simple rules, Go is very complex, even more so than chess, and possesses more possibilities than the total number of atoms in the visible universe. Compared to chess, Go has both a larger board with more scope for play and longer games, and, on average, many more alternatives to consider per move.

People have been playing Go for over 2,500 years, and yet, machines have already surpassed our greatest player.

Science fiction movies have been warning us about this for years. I just never expected them to come after our games and hobbies first.


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The Indie 500 Crossword Tournament returns tomorrow!

That’s right! Tomorrow, June 3rd, will mark the third annual edition of the tournament, and although registration is closed (because the event is full!), you can still participate from home for only $10! Click here for details!

Not only that, but once again they’ve whipped up a meta-suite of puzzles to boot, and you name your own price for it!

I expect great things from the immensely talented team of constructors and directors they’ve assembled: Tracy Bennett, Erik Agard, Angela Olson Halsted, Andy Kravis, Paolo Pasco, Allegra Kuney, and Neville Fogarty. With a curious time-centric theme, topnotch constructors, and pie (there’s always pie), you can’t go wrong!

You can click here for the Indie 500 home page, and click here for a rundown of last year’s puzzles!

Will you be competing? Or participating from home? Let us know in the comments below!


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