(F)right This Way: Caption Contest Results!

Long-time readers know that we periodically invite our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers to show off their wordplay skills with puzzly prompts like our recurring hashtag game. We even invite our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles to participate!

A few months ago, we did things a little differently. A member of the Penny Dell crew cooked up an image for us, New Yorker-style, and we challenged our friends and readers to compose the perfect caption for it.

Well, in honor of Halloween, we held another Caption Contest, and this time, there were three images to choose from!

So, without further ado, let’s check out what all these clever folks conjured up!


#1

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“Knew my old American Crossword Puzzle Tournament costumes would come in handy someday!”

“Well if if isn’t Sum-Bob Squarepants and Ed-Word Pencilhands!”

Penny Press version of “The Little Match Girl”: “Now don’t come home until every last PennyDell pencil is sold!”

“Seriously, I can’t believe you found an alternate solve on my outfit without even trying testsolving my puzzle grid outfit first!”

“So what do we have here? Edward Pencilhands and a Boy Named Sue-Doku?”

“You’ve heard of Edward Scissorhands? Well, this is his lesser known third cousin, Bobby Pencil-Fingers!”

“Sorry to tell you kid, but you’re not solvable, no matter how many pencils you use.”

“Nine rows, nine columns, nine boxes, nine pencils, nine TREATS?” Forget it, kid, try your warped Aristotelian logic on the McDermots next door!

So then I said, “If you still can’t guess what I am supposed to be, the solution is on page 130!”


#2

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“Ah, so you’re the thief who’s been stealing toilet paper from the 3rd floor bathroom!”

Chasing down the mystery behind rising paper costs, puzzle publishers are squeezing the Charmin.

“I gotcha, Mr. or Mrs. Toilet Paper Bandit!” I’m so glad they didn’t use banana peels as their get away disguise.”

“Whodunnit solved! You need a pedicure!”

“Not so fast, toilet paper man! I heard that Dell Blockbuster Sudoku just hit the newsstands and there’s no way you’re beating me to it!”

“Next time, you may want to try gauze instead of Toilet Paper!”

“What does The Riddler dress up as on Halloween? A puzzle wrapped in an Enigma, of course!”

“You may be a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but I can still read you like an open book!”

“Hold still, I’m trying to decrypt you!”

“Let me follow you to your Cryptogram!”

“Just wait until your Mummy finds out the Pyramid Words you said!”

“Hold still, the clues are unfolding before me!”


#3

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“After seeing the final ingredient for the soup, Gretel realized very quickly that making friends with the witch was only going to land her in hot water.”

“Eenie-meeni chili-beanie – I think this cauldron needs more pepper.”

“This isn’t like the Alphabet Soup on the Penny Press app at all!”

“The recipe for Alphabet Soup calls for a bay leaf, not eye of newt!”

“Matilda you fool! When I said “Eye of Newt”, I didn’t mean the 50th Speaker of the House!”

“Double, puzzle, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Puzzles appear in a slimy puddle–
Maybe the clue is ‘Barney Rubble’.”

“This isn’t how you find the Missing Vowels for the curse; I’ll look it up on the Penny Dell website on my iPhone!”

“I can’t ever remember what goes into this Alphabet Soup!”

“It keeps saying to start the Alphabet Soup with ‘Conjecture’ but I don’t understand where they are getting the E,C and T from!” the short witch exclaimed, as she read the directions aloud.


RECIPE TIME: WIZARD WORD STEW

In a large cauldron pour in ALPHABET SOUP, BITS AND PIECES of a SPIDER’S WEB, Lizard HEAD & TAILS, and a dash of HOCUS POCUS. Recite CODEWORDS until stew boils and BUBBLES and then serve with CRACKERS.


Have you come up with any fun captions for these images? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

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The New Capital of European Crosswords?

First, it was Lvov, Ukraine: a city that created a crossword spanning the entire side of a 100-foot-tall residential building.

Now, another country in Eastern Europe is making bold choices with crosswords in mind: Estonia.

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[Image courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica.]

Crosswords are a global phenomenon. We’ve featured puzzle books from Europe on more than one occasion. So, naturally, each country must have its own concept of crosswordese, the curious and strange vocabulary that seems to exist only in the world of crosswords.

In Estonia, the editors behind the puzzle magazine Nuti compiled a list of ten towns and villages that frequently appear in their crosswords. Names like Aseri, Uulu, Erra, and Leisi were among those chosen for the fan vote.

But the winner by a landslide (162 votes!) was…

Aa.

estoniaaa

[Image courtesy of Pohjarannik.]

Yes, that picturesque coastal village in the north of Estonia we all know and love. Where you can see such sights as the Aa manor house and, I kid you not, a sand beach.

According to the 2000 census, the population of Aa was 190. There were nearly as many votes for the village as there are people living there!

And yes, I’m still calling it a landslide victory. The next nearest place, Aseri, had 89 votes. That’s nearly half! The lowest, Erra, garnered only 17 out of the 517 votes cast. That’s a landslide in my book.

Congratulations to the people of Aa. Can’t wait to see how you change the world of Estonian crosswords!

[Check out the original post that inspired this one, a New York Times piece by the marvelous Deb Amlen.]


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The Beale Ciphers: A Puzzly Treasure Hidden Since the 1800’s?

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There’s nothing quite like a treasure hunt to spark the imagination. From The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to the adventures of Indiana Jones, from tales as far back as Poe’s “The Gold-Bug” to stories as recent as an episode of NCIS: New Orleans last year, a treasure hunt can turn a crime story or an adventure tale into an irresistible narrative for the ages.

Thankfully, there are a few treasure hunts lurking out there in the real world, offering clever solvers the chance to live out their own adventure. In the past, we’ve explored the mystery of Forrest Fenn’s Rocky Mountain treasure, we’ve chronicled efforts to locate all of Byron Preiss’s The Secret treasures, and we’ve suggested tactics for cracking Jason Rohrer’s A Game for Someone hunt.

But as intriguing as those hunts are, none of them have spanned more than a century of searching. (Without resulting in unfortunate demises, that is. We’re looking at you, Oak Island.)

No, that singular honor belongs to a treasure hunt known as the Beale Ciphers.

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As the story goes, a man named Thomas J. Beale buried a treasure trove of gold and silver somewhere in Bedford County, Virginia, in the early 1800s. Beale then encrypted the location of the treasure, the contents of the treasure, and the names of those he wished to have the treasure. Beale handed off those encryptions to an innkeeper, then vanished, never to be seen again. (His promise of later providing the key for the ciphers was never fulfilled.)

The innkeeper failed to crack the ciphers, then held onto them for decades before passing them along to an unnamed friend before his death. The unnamed friend spent twenty more years trying to unravel the encryptions (managing to solve the second of the three encrypted messages). Eventually, the friend published the encryptions and the story of Beale’s treasure in a pamphlet he began selling in 1885.

So, how do the ciphers work?

It’s simple, really. Take a book, pick a given page, and number all of the words on the page. (Or just start at the beginning of the book.)

If you’re using A Tale of Two Cities, for instance:

1 It
2 was
3 the
4 best
5 of
6 times,
7 it
8 was
9 the
10 worst
11 of
12 times…

So, using the first letters of each word (and the corresponding number), the word BOW could be encrypted 4 11 8 or 4 11 2 or 4 11 10.

This grants people in the know two advantages. The code is incredibly difficult to break on its own, because unlike a cryptogram (or any other message encrypted with a Caesar cipher or a one-to-one relationship between coded letters), each appearance of a given letter could be a different number, not the same one over and over.

Plus, if you know the key (the book and page number), decoding it requires no puzzly skill at all.

It’s diabolical and effective, as proven by Beale’s trio of ciphers, since only one has been cracked (because the solver stumbled upon the Declaration of Independence as the key).

[The second Beale cipher.]

The decrypted text from the second cipher:

I have deposited in the county of Bedford, about four miles from Buford’s, in an excavation or vault, six feet below the surface of the ground, the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number three, herewith:

The first deposit consisted of ten hundred and fourteen pounds of gold, and thirty-eight hundred and twelve pounds of silver, deposited Nov. eighteen nineteen. The second was made Dec. eighteen twenty-one, and consisted of nineteen hundred and seven pounds of gold, and twelve hundred and eighty-eight of silver; also jewels, obtained in St. Louis in exchange to save transportation, and valued at thirteen thousand dollars.

The above is securely packed in iron pots, with iron covers. The vault is roughly lined with stone, and the vessels rest on solid stone, and are covered with others. Paper number one describes the exact locality of the vault, so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.

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Of course, there are some problems there, even with the cipher that treasure hunters consider solved. You see, there are some irregularities with the solution. Not only are there four misspellings in the translation, but a variation on the original Declaration of Independence must be used or the cipher doesn’t decode correctly.

Now, mistakes happen. (As we learned with the story of Brian Patrick Regan.) But if there are mistakes in the two unsolved ciphers as well, that only makes the chances of finding the proper key even slimmer, because a mistake in the early numbers of the code might convince someone that they’ve got the wrong key, even if they have the right one!

Do you find that challenge daunting, fellow puzzlers? It’s understandable if you do. The other two ciphers have resisted the best efforts of even master cryptographers and cryptanalysts.

Given that the Declaration of Independence was the key for the second cipher, many aspiring treasure hunters have tried using other famous historical documents as possible keys for the other ciphers, including the Magna Carta, the Constitution, the Monroe Doctrine, and more, as well as the plays of Shakespeare and the Lord’s Prayer.

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There are also plenty of reasons to doubt that this treasure exists at all. (The same question marks hang over some of the other treasure hunts we’ve mentioned, like Forrest Fenn’s.)

There are questions regarding the language in the pamphlet, where the gold was supposedly found, why Beale would bother encrypting the names of the people he wanted to inherit the treasure, and even whether Beale himself ever existed in the first place. (Famous skeptic and investigator of the supernatural Joe Nickell believes the pamphlet is a fraud.)

But does that mean the ciphers are? Not necessarily.

An analysis in 1970 by Dr. Carl Hammer of Sperry-UNIVAC indicated that the number patterns are not random. He believed that further attempts at cracking the ciphers would be worthwhile.

Heck, even our old codebreaking friends Elizebeth Smith Friedman and her husband William tried to unravel the Beale ciphers, but without success. She called the ciphers “a diabolical ingenuity designed to lure the unwary reader.”

And, of course, not every hunter has come away empty-handed. One team of treasure hunters stumbled upon a cache of Civil War artifacts while hunting for Beale’s trove.

So what do you think, PuzzleNationers? Is the Beale treasure real? Will it ever be found? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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A Clued Sudoku Puzzle? It’s More Than Meets the Eye

cryptic

The hunt is always on for the next big puzzle idea.

Sometimes, it’s an old idea that gets repackaged and catches fire. That’s what happened with Sudoku, a puzzle that had been around since the late ’70s, but only rose to prominence decades later.

Other times, it’s a combination of different puzzle types that yields something special. Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles, for instance, have a popular puzzle called Anagram Magic Square, which combines crossword-style cluing, anagrams, and the mathematical element of a magic square to create an engaging puzzle experience you can solve from several angles.

Whether a puzzle is destined for superstardom or not depends on a lot of factors: difficulty, the type of solving it involves, how intuitive the solving is (i.e. needing a lengthy explanation vs. getting the gist of the puzzle from a glance), visual aesthetics, and more.

As a puzzler, it’s always exciting to try out a new puzzle. Wholly original ideas are rare, to be sure, but even a single twist on an old classic can be enjoyable if executed well.

Today, we’re taking a look at a puzzle that combines Sudoku with cryptic crosswords (aka British-style crosswords). It’s called Cluedoku, and it was created by cryptic constructor Charlie Methven, better known in solving circles as Chameleon, a contributor to British puzzle outlets like The Guardian.

cluedoku

[Just a sample of the puzzle. Check out the entire puzzle here.]

Like Sudoku, Cluedoku involves placing the digits 1 through 9 into each row, column, and 3×3 square in the grid. But unlike Sudoku, there are no set letters.

Instead, you have 81 clues, one for every cell in the grid, utilizing cryptic-style cluing to hint toward which of the nine numbers goes in a given cell.

Once you’ve unraveled a clue and placed a number in the grid, standard Sudoku rules apply: that number will only appear once in a row, column, or 3×3 square.

But that’s easier said than done. These clues run the gamut of slyly clever to almost baffling. Even when you consider that there are only nine possible answers for each clue, it’s still a challenge. (Plus, not all of the clues adhere to the standard cryptic cluing mechanic of having both a definition AND a wordplay clue included.)

That being said, you’ll find lots of traditional cryptic cluing tricks at play here.

Now, we’re going to be discussing specific clues and answers from this puzzle, so this is your spoiler warning.

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Last chance to solve without spoilers!

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Okay, here we go.

In terms of traditional cryptic cluing gimmickry, we see hidden words, anagrams, homophones, word reversals, and more.

In clue 6 — Axis revolves without beginning to accelerate — we revolve (aka reverse) axis to spell SIXA, and then drop the A (“without beginning to accelerate”) to spell SIX.

In clue 8 — Prime cut from sloth reeks — the answer hides in plain sight, as a prime number (three) reads out in sloTH REEks (and can be cut out of it).

In clue 22 — Scenes in X-Men Origins reveal how many claws Wolverine has! — the phrase “origins reveal” points towards the first letters of the words that precede it proving the answer, meaning that SIX is the number of claws Wolverine has (three on each hand).

There is a similar game in clue 67 — With only seconds remaining, Officer Columbo outwits crook — which has the second digits of “Officer Columbo outwits crook” spelling out FOUR.

In clue 27 — UFO demolished third of Parliament Square — the letter R (“third of Parliament”) gets mixed up with UFO to make FOUR, a square.

crossword1

But other clues would be familiar to crossword solvers in America.

Clue 29 — Number of Romans in the New Testament? — is simple wordplay for 6, since Romans is the SIXth book. (Similarly, clue 62 — Number of lines taken by bar staff — is a reference to the FIVE lines that make up a staff in sheet music.)

Clue 34 — Top score in Scrabble — is a bit more devious, requiring you to know that T is worth 1 point, O is worth 1 point, and P is worth 3 points, making the correct answer FIVE.

Clue 48 — Man’s arms’ legs’ digit — feels like a clue you’d see at the Indie 500 or Lollapuzzoola, because it’s initially baffling, but then reveals itself as merely clever and challenging. You see, there are THREE legs on the coat of arms for the Isle of Man. But that’s concealed by the wordplay involving three different words that don’t mean what you’d think.

This mix of American and British-style clues made for a fun solve that mixed and mingled two worlds of cluing nicely.

I think my favorite clue was Clue 39 — 192+284 — because it was built like one of those magazine word puzzles, the ones where “rockcaughthardplace” means “caught between a rock and a hard place.” In this case, you have “2+2” literally in 1984. And for anyone familiar with George Orwell’s famous novel, 2+2 in 1984 equalled FIVE.

Although obviously Cluedoku isn’t really sustainable as a recurring puzzle — you’d burn out your anagrams and homophones pretty quickly, as Chameleon himself stated in an interview — it is an impressive marriage of two different puzzles that rarely interact otherwise.

But he did raise the possibility of another variation in the future:

If I did another Chameleon cluedoku, I think I’d use the seven colours of the rainbow plus black and white, as solvers could then colour in each square as they solved. How’s “Cry over Norwich’s core Canary”?

That sounds like a fun follow-up to an interesting puzzle.

What did you think of Cluedoku, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.


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A Puzzle Hunt at a Wedding Reception?

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We’ve seen our fair share of puzzly romance here on the blog over the years, particularly when it comes to proposals. There was the Rubik’s Cube proposal, the Monopoly proposal, and of course, the two proposals facilitated by our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles.

Heck, just recently, YouTuber and author Hannah Witton proposed to her partner using some Fluxx cards she created especially for the occasion!

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But in today’s blog, we’ve got a new twist on things. We’ve seen puzzly proposals… but how about a puzzle-fueled wedding reception?

When Laser Webber (half of the wonderful musical duo The Doubleclicks) and Richard Malena got married, they decided to celebrate the day with a puzzly reception, since they love puzzles and games, and they knew some of their guests were diehard puzzle/game fans as well.

So, what’s the perfect hook for a wedding reception puzzle?

Simple. Their rings had gone missing, and it was up to the puzzlers in attendance to find them!

laserwedding2

Each table at the reception had a theme — Dungeons & Dragons, Oregon, Lord of the Rings, etc. — and on the back of each placemat was a letter. The letters spelled out a word related to another table’s theme, leading to certain tables teaming up. (There were also bonus letters on some of the placemats, which would be used in the next clue.)

So, say there were nine tables, and those nine tables boiled down to three teams (three tables per team), those teams could then combine the bonus letters from their tables to spell a bonus word.

The three bonus words, when combined, formed the phrase “ringing present interior.”

A-ha! A clue must be lurking on the present table!

The solvers made their way there, and shook the presents. Although several of them made interesting noises, only one contained a bell that rang out in suspicious fashion. The guests paused for a second, then tore into the paper and opened the box, revealing a Rubik’s Cube.

laserwedding4

Naturally, this one had been personalized for the event, with letters or star stickers on it in addition to the usual colors. When solved, from left to right, the cube read:

THESECRETCOD
EBEHINDTHECO
NSTELLATIONS

or

“the secret code behind the constellations.”

The eyes of solvers immediately turned to the paintings of constellations that decorated the reception area. Or, more specifically, to what was behind the paintings. With a touch more destruction — paper backings to the paintings, rather than wrapping paper this time — a number of playing cards were revealed, each with bits of a message painted on.

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When properly arranged, the message on the cards read, “What did that hobbits ask when he tricksed me?”

How clever is that? Not just a Lord of the Rings reference (one sure to delight LOTR fans in attendance), but a reminder of what they were looking for… the lost rings of the newly married couple.

The solvers then confronted the emcees and asked the crucial question, “What have I got in my pocket?” and the emcees revealed they had the rings all along.

The guests had triumphed and reunited the couple with their rings!

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It was a really unique way of celebrating being together with friends and loved ones — and doing something you love in a big, fun, silly, personalized way as well — and we here at PuzzleNation Blog are forever impressed by the creativity and puzzly ingenuity of our fellow puzzlers.

[For the full story, including a hilarious mishap during the placemat portion of the puzzle hunt, check out Richard’s blog post about the reception here.]


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A Puzzle Zoo Created By You!

As you know, from time to time we host puzzly contests. Oftentimes, those contests involve not only our in-house personnel (as well as our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles), but the marvelous PuzzleNation community as well.

This time around, we challenged our fellow puzzlers to come up with animals and attractions for a Puzzly Zoo. The entries had to involve puzzles featured either by Penny/Dell Puzzles or PuzzleNation, and we thought we’d collect all of the entries here for everyone’s enjoyment!

And we ended up with a menagerie of different submissions, including carnival barker-esque promotional announcements, animals, drawings, and even a poem! (Good thing it’s not a petting zoo, people would be cutting themselves on the razor-sharp wit around here!)

Shall we see what zoo-rific delights our fellow puzzlers cooked up for us? Let’s go!


“Welcome and thanks for Dropping-In! Today, I’ll be your Grand Tour guide as we Explore-A-World full of excitement around the Penny Publications Zoo!

The list of activities includes a visit to the Accordion Worms farm, a sneak peak at the North & South polar bear exhibit, and taking an unforgettable trip to the Crackerjack-rabbits den.

To finish up, we’ll have just enough of a Timed Frame to stop at the aquarium and see the Starfish and Arrow show. Be sure to take many Pictures of This wonderful Place & Please give us a Thumbs Up no matter Which Way you Pair Off! We hope you have a Lion’s Share-A-Fun!”

donkeyword

[It’s a Don-keyword!]

Take a Grand Tour of our Crypto-Zoo!

Bull’s-Eye Spirals!
Cat-egories!
Fiddler’s Crab Frames!
Cracker-jackals!
Beaver Words!
Piggybacks!
Kakura-burras!

Watch as they Pair off Two by Two on All Fours.
Feed them Animal Crackers, just watch where you Two-Step.
(And don’t eat the yellow snow!)

zegrid

Other attractions!

Adder One

Diamond Mine-A-Taurus

Diamond Rings-Tailed Lemur

Platypuz

Around the Block Ness Monster

Jig(saw)foot

Mongolian Bookworm

Sudokupacabra

Word Mathman (like the Mothman, but better with numbers)

And a more detailed look at the rare and mysterious threyakros:

The threyakros is an elusive creature, found only within the borders of the PuzzleNation. It can only be viewed once all other animals living within its habitat have been discovered as its camouflage derives from copying the physical attributes of animals around it.

Because of its unique camouflage, no one knows what a threyakros actually looks like, and any renderings of its likeness on paper have resulted in completely contrary results; additionally, attempts to sketch a threyakros solely in ink are seen as risky and pretentious.

zoobook

At Penny we don’t have an ordinary zoo.
The creatures featured here are quite an unusual crew.
We’ve got animal CRACKERS walking ’round on ALL FOURS.
In our TIME MACHINE you can observe dinosaurs.

Here’s your ONE & ONLY chance to see PAIRS IN RHYME.
There are hogs & dogs, cats & bats. Stop on by at lunchtime.
They’re fed only the best – fresh green LUCKY CLOVER.
You may get to try some if there’s any left over.

Our resident magician is an amazing baboon.
He creates his own sculptures from colorful balloons.
Trained by Tony Spero, he’s got talent to spare.
His lovely assistant is HOCUS POCUS the hare.

Come visit the exhibit we call HEADS AND TAILS.
See our two-headed double-tailed whale with gold scales.
PICTURE THIS: A most lovely day spent with us.
So order your tickets and hop on the bus!

annelida

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What do you think of the submissions, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Do you have a favorite? Or a suggestion of your own?

Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!


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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!