It’s Puzzle Magic!

[Crossword constructor and magician David Kwong wows an audience.]

There is a certain sense of wonder that accompanies a well-constructed puzzle. The skill and artistry it takes to craft a quality crossword or brain teaser, weaving together words and leaving a finished puzzle in your wake, rather than a bundle of crosswordese and obscurities is truly something remarkable.

But that’s not the sort of puzzle magic we’re discussing today. No, instead, we’re returning to the CW summer series Penn and Teller: Fool Us to observe the magic of another puzzly entertainer at work.

For the uninitiated, Fool Us is a show where magicians and performers from all around the world present their best tricks, illusions, and bits of magical wizardry to try and stump the famous duo.

And on a recent episode, magician John Michael Hinton performed two acts of magical trickery involving a Rubik’s Cube.

Check out this video where he dazzles Penn and Teller:

That final reveal was a thing of beauty!

You can check out more of John Michael Hinton’s magic on his YouTube page! And let me know if you’ve seen any other acts of puzzle magic! I’d love to check them out!


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A Scavenger Hunt with a Dragon at the End?

Although I’m the only one who works in the puzzle field, I’m far from the only member of my family with puzzly skills.

Mom is a whiz at cracking crosswords, Sudoku, and Jumble puzzles. My younger sister demolishes jigsaw puzzles, rules trivia games and bar trivia nights, and has a knack for tackling escape rooms. My older sister loves city-spanning scavenger hunts like The Great Urban Race.

And although the GUR is no longer running, plenty of other events around the country are waiting to be discovered to scratch the puzzly itch of enthusiastic solvers.

One of them is coming up in a few weeks, in fact. If you’re near Boston, you can join the Boxaroo crew for their third annual City Scavenger Adventure, The Dragon of Bostonshire!

On August 19th from 1pm to 5pm, Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park will be the starting point — and final destination — for a quest worthy of the name…

Once upon a present time, in a parallel universe known as Bostonshire, a loud rumbling echoed throughout the land. As the town became concerned, the noble Knights of Bostonshire went to investigate… and lo and behold! They discovered a ferocious, enormous dragon, raging and breathing fire. Alas, the Knights are in dire need of YOUR help- will you and your team be able to help them defeat the dragon before Bostonshire is destroyed?

Teams of up to 5 will race around Boston in order to take pictures, solve puzzles, accomplish tasks, and hopefully collect enough clues to return to the park in order to complete the final challenge and slay the dragon!

I reached out to the Boxaroo team for a bit more detail, and they kindly indulged me, explaining that the scavenger hunt aspect of the quest is a combination of puzzle-solving, running around, and accomplishing tasks. The puzzle-solving ranges from memory games and trivia to logic puzzles, with each location providing a different challenge to overcome in order to earn a clue.

It sounds like an awesome time, and I hope it’s a grand success for the players and organizers alike! Click here for more details!

What do you think, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Will you accept the challenge of the Dragon of Bostonshire? Have you competed in an event like this one? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you?


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When (Cross)Worlds Collide: This Month’s Hashtag Game!

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 #PennyDellSpacePuzzles, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with planets, astronauts, constellations, celestial objects, and more!

Examples include: World Seeks, Buzz All-Four-One-drin, and Tossing & Saturning.

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


Chess Solartaire

Triangle Suns

Diamond Rings of Saturn

Cosmic Sunrays

Space Battleships

Comet Combos

Bookwormholes / Blackout holes

All-Star Worm Seek Hole

Orbits and Pieces

Word Spiral-arm Galaxy

Nebulabyrinth

Nebula Square

Meteorite of Milky Way

Spaces, Please

Places, Pleides

Planets, Please

Polaris, Please

Point the Way Polaris

Point the Milky Way

Bits and Pisces

Hub-ble-caps

How Spaceman-y Triangles

Libra Tiles

Diagonal Orion’s

Penumbra Sleuth

Southern Cross Arithmetic

Scorpiusmaster

Quoteballs of Fire

Space Odysseys and Evens

End of the Karman Line

The Moon’s Shadow

Easy Plutoku

Exploraworld / Explorer 1 Words

A to Z Mars

Mars-bles

Marbles Rover

Four-fit the mission

Michio Kakuro / Michisu Doku

All Foursnax

Antilagrams

Countdown and Pair-blast-off / Pair LiftOff

The Disco-very mission

Headings for space

Alphabetics Centauri / Alpha Centauri Soup

Mission Dominoes / Missioning Dominoes

“Houston we have a Plug-Ins” / “Houston, we have a Deduction Problem!”

“Houston: the Crozzle has landed.”

Pulling-Strings theory

Board the space Shuffle

Lucky Rover

Lucky Shooting Star

Sputnik Satellites

Bull’s-Eye Spiral Galaxy

Scramble Across the Universe

Planet in the Round

Around the Sun

In and Around the World

World Ways

Mystery World

A Few Choice Worlds

Star Worlds

Battlestarships Galactica

“Not so expert and the Challenger crosswords”

“GROUND CONTROL TO MAJOR STEPHEN HAWKING’S BRAIN BOOSTER PACK”


Naturally, the intrepid puzzlers who submitted these marvelous puns couldn’t resist taking a crack at Neil Armstrong’s iconic words:

  • Two for One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.
  • One small Step by Step for man; one giant leap for mankind.
  • One small Step by Step for man; one giant leap for Three of a Kind.
  • One small Step by Step for man; one Puzzler’s Giant leap for mankind.

And to close out today’s entry, a special shout-out to several sci-fi savvy puzzlers!

The first offered a delightful take on a famous TV monologue:

Space: the final Mind Tickler. This is the Grand Tour of the Lucky Star-ship Penny. Its Five-Alive mission: to Explora-strange-new-worlds, to Word Seek out new Face-to-Face Puzzlers and new Cryptobotanies, to Bowl Game where no solver has Word Gamed before.

The second, more movie-minded contributor said: All I could think about when I read the theme was space was the Spaceballs theme song…

If you’re livin’ in a Build-a-Pyramid and you haven’t got a Connection
Well, you’re gonna be in Double Trouble cause we’re gonna Split & Splice your air
‘Cause what you Give is what we Take and all we do is dirty Decisions
We’re the Spaceballs, What’s Next! cause we’re the Spaceballs
We’re the Mixmaster of space
Hey, Don’t mess Around the Block with the Spaceballs!


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

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A New Feature! Citizen Shoutouts!

Welcome to the first installment of a brand-new monthly feature on the blog, Citizen Shoutouts!

Each edition of Citizen Shoutouts is an opportunity to say thank you, to put the spotlight on folks in the PuzzleNation community who contribute to the world of puzzles and games.

And in our inaugural edition, I’d like to highlight a few intrepid puzzlers who regularly make their presence felt across our social media feeds.

As many of you well know, we have a recurring feature on Facebook and Twitter, the Crossword Clue Challenge. Every weekday, a word from that day’s free puzzle for the Penny Dell Crosswords App is selected, and we use it to test the puzzly skills of our followers on social media.

Not only does it highlight the clever cluing and expansive vocabulary you can expect from our app puzzles, but it gives members of the PuzzleNation readership a chance to show off their chops, filling in the blanks Wheel of Fortune-style and revealing each day’s answer.

Over on Facebook, we have a number of devoted solvers who regularly accept the Crossword Clue Challenge.

On any given weekday, you’re likely to see correct answers from PuzzleNationers Diane Wood, Sherri Strayer, and Mary Hayes, alongside fellow puzzlers Francis Ichihara and our two resident Crossword Carols, Carol Dawn Whittaker and Carol Tucker!

And I just wanted to take a moment today to thank them for their enthusiasm and their involvement in the game. It always brings a smile to my face to see their names pop up in our feed, alongside the new solvers trying their hand at the CCC for the first time.

But Twitter also has a Crossword Clue Challenge master who deserves a shoutout.

If you follow the CCC on Twitter, you’re bound to have seen one name pop up again and again. No matter how crafty the clue, no matter how many or how few letters I provide as a starter, one solver stands head and shoulders above the rest.

His name is Joshua Heckert, and he definitely merits a hearty round of applause for his puzzly skills and a thank you for accepting the Crossword Clue Challenge as often as he does. Ever since he first followed our Twitter account months ago, he has been a CCC contributor, and he rarely, if ever, misses a day. That enthusiasm certainly merits a Citizen Shoutout!

All of these folks, my fellow puzzlers, help make PuzzleNation one of the best puzzle communities on the Internet today, and I’m proud to highlight them in our first Citizens Shoutout post.

But what about next month? I’m glad you asked.

In the future, I’d like to take suggestions from my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers for those we highlight in each month’s post.

It could be a puzzler or designer who inspires you, a constructor who challenged you or surprised you with a puzzle, or someone who did something kind in a puzzly way.

Maybe you have a favorite local game shop where you meet other puzzlers, or that introduced you to a favorite game.

Maybe you’d like to give a shout-out to an escape room you think others would enjoy, or to someone who went above and beyond to make a puzzly experience truly memorable.

You can submit your suggestions for the next Citizen Shoutouts post on Facebook, on Twitter, or in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.


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Introducing New Players to Roleplaying Games!

A month or so ago, there was a marvelous article on Amazing Tales about how to make your child’s first role-playing game amazing.

Although the article was geared toward introducing younger players to the world of roleplaying games, the advice can be easily adapted and expanded to include new players of all ages. So today, I thought I would take the five points introduced by Amazing Tales and do just that.

So if you’re a new or inexperienced game-runner / dungeon master, or if you’ve only run games for people with previous experience playing roleplaying games, this is the place for you.

(And this advice should fit no matter what sort of game you’re running. Is it classic Dungeons & Dragons? Supernatural? Zombie horror? Space adventure? Knights of the Round Table? Explorers? Pirates? Monster hunters? Modern spies? Thieves in the Victorian era? No matter what setting or characters, this advice is universal.)

#1 Keep cool

It’s easy for the person running a roleplaying game to have high expectations for themselves and the story they want to craft. You want your new players to have fun. You want them to immerse themselves in telling a story. You want them to be excited and come back for more.

But that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, and a stressed or nervous game master can lead to stressed or nervous players. So don’t set the bar so high. Sit back and let the players interact; sometimes, you can engineer a scenario that allows for this, like a tavern scene. Or you can create an instant threat and let them jump into the action and work together to solve a problem as a bonding experience.

Don’t be afraid to take opportunities to ask if anyone’s confused. A first game is introductory by nature, and if someone feels left behind early on, it can be hard to catch them up later, or to make them feel included if they’re not gelling with the other players.

Sometimes when I’m starting a new game with new players, I’ll hold what I call a “session zero,” a safe game before the game kicks off, where the characters can play in the environment, interact, and test out the actual mechanics of playing (particularly if there’s a magic system or some other aspect of the game that might not be intuitive).

#2 Keep it small

You want your players to feel immersed but not overwhelmed, so party size (the number of players) is an important consideration. I try to keep my number of new players to three or fewer, because it can be hard to give meaningful attention to a larger number of players. It’s like a classroom; you want the ratio of experienced voices to students to be as small as possible, so you can get that one-on-one time to answer questions and help them find their footing.

For me, the ideal group for a newcomer-heavy game is two (or three) new players, one (or two) experienced players, and myself running the game. That way, each new player is balanced by someone with greater experience. You can even have a buddy system to get them acclimated.

A smaller group also means less time for players to sit out while other players get the spotlight. Never let the new players feel shortchanged or like their voices aren’t as important as those of the more experienced players. After all, if you’re an experienced player, you’re going to feel more comfortable speaking up and venturing forward than a new player might.

[Image courtesy of Lewis Brown.]

#3 Say yes to their ideas

Now, obviously, you can’t say yes to every idea a player has or the story could descend into nonsense. But trust your players’ instincts.

Let them wander down the paths they find most interesting. It might not be the path you intended, and it might take them longer to get to the desired end point, but it’s always better for players to reach a story point organically, rather than railroading them to the place and time you want. Even new players can sense when they’re being strong-armed in a certain direction, and that can leave a bad taste in players’ mouths.

Be flexible. I’ve always found that, no matter how thoroughly I think I’ve mapped out an adventure, my players (both new and experienced) excel at finding paths I hadn’t considered. That requires me to be quick on my feet, and I enjoy the challenge of pitting my wits, improvisational skills, and imagination against those of my players.

A roleplaying game is like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel writ large… whenever possible, let them feel in control of their players, their story, and their destiny.

[Image from Stranger Things courtesy of The Verge.]

#4 Take them where they want to go

This might feel like a repeat of the previous note, but it’s not. This point is a reminder to always consider the characters your players are playing. What are their strengths? What goals do they have? What are they hoping to experience and accomplish?

Plenty of game runners, myself included, can get so wrapped up in the story WE want to tell that we forget that it might not mesh with the story our players want to participate in.

Give them moments to shine. Give the fighters a chance to fight, give the magicians opportunity to ply their craft, and give the puzzlers puzzles to solve. If characters have wings, let ’em fly.

[Image courtesy of Digital Trends.]

#5 Make the ending awesome

No matter how simple the adventure starts — a theft, a murder, the discovery of a treasure map, the descent into a trap-laden dungeon — make sure the ending is memorable. You want the quest, however short or long, to feel worthwhile.

You can try the old cliffhanger trick in the hopes of leaving them wanting more, but that can come back to bite you if the players are dissatisfied that their first adventure doesn’t feel complete. Instead, give them a sense of accomplishment.

Martin at Amazing Tales said it well:

Make sure your child’s first ever role-playing game features an epic ending. Face to face with the villain on a cliff edge as the counter ticks toward zero; returning the stolen jewels to the temple moments before sunset while pursued by ghosts; wrestling the controls of the star-ship from the pirate moments before it crashes into the sun. That kind of epic.

You don’t necessarily need to go epic, but certainly make it memorable. Nothing sells a big win like giving the bad guy a funny line before he turns to ash.


Here’s hoping this advice encourages aspiring dungeon masters and storytellers to get out there, find some players, and spin some marvelous adventure yarns. (Or maybe it’s inspired some new players to try roleplaying themselves!)

What’s your favorite memory from your early roleplay sessions, fellow puzzlers? (Either as a game runner or player.) Let us know in the comments section below!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

Winning Monopoly With Math!

I’m always on the hunt for tips to make myself a better puzzler and gamer. Sometimes you stumble across those tips in unexpected places.

For instance, I was reading, of all things, a book about mathematics and Christmas — The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus: The Mathematics of Christmas — and inside, I found a statistical analysis of the best strategy for winning a game of Monopoly.

Yes, we’ve discussed this topic before, but even that previous deep-dive into the mechanics of the game wasn’t as thorough or as revealing as the work by Dr. Hannah Fry and Dr. Thomas Oleron Evans in this Christmas-fueled tome of facts and figures.

They started with a breakdown of how your first turn could go, based on dice rolls. This is the same breakdown as in our previous post, but with some important differences. For instance, they also considered the chances of going to jail after multiple doubles rolls.

Also, they covered the statistical impact of how landing on card spaces can affect where you land on your first turn. The Community Chest is a curveball, because of the possible sixteen cards, three will send you somewhere on the board: Go, Mediterranean Ave, and Jail.

A simple statistical analysis is complicated even further by the Chance cards — nearly half of the sixteen cards send you elsewhere: Go, Income Tax, St. Charles Place, Pennsylvania Railroad, Illinois Ave., Jail, and Boardwalk.

If you extrapolate forward from this point, you uncover some interesting patterns:

The orange property set benefits from all the ex-cons leaving their cells, and after their next turn the reformed criminals will likely end up somewhere between the reds and yellows… Illinois Avenue, with its own dedicated Chance card directing people to it, gets an extra boost, making it the second most visited square on the board.

The property that is visited least frequently is Park Place, where players spend just 2.1% of their time.

Check out this graph. This shows potential earnings from each complete color set, with the dotted line marking the point where your purchase of the property is canceled out by how much the property has earned in rent thus far. Everything above that is profit.

As you can see, blue and brown properties start close to the dotted line, because they’re affordable to buy and build on. The standouts on this graph are New York Avenue (which earns $30 a roll up through thirty rolls statistically) and Boardwalk, which is an expensive investment, but pays off handsomely down the line, remaining the top earning spot past thirty rolls.

Of course, that’s only single properties, and you can’t build on single properties. Let’s look at a chart for full color set revenue:

Some of our previous findings change radically. Boardwalk’s rating drops significantly, because of Park Place’s relative infrequency of being landed on (as we mentioned above).

So which properties should you nab to give yourself the best chance of winning? Well, that depends on how long the game lasts.

The average game of Monopoly takes approximately thirty turns per player, so the larger the number of players, the longer the game will last.

So, for a two-player game, your best bet is to go after the light blue or orange sets, since they’re better in the short term, and the odds are in your favor if the game stays short.

In a three- or four-player game, the orange and red sets are better, because the game is likely to last a while.

And if five or more people are playing, you’re really playing the long game, so the green set becomes your best chance for success.

What about building on those properties? Well, Fry and Evans considered that as well. If you’re playing against multiple opponents and know you’ll be in for a long game, then you definitely want to buy and place houses. But don’t fear if the first house takes a long time to start paying for itself.

As it turns out, your best strategy is to put three houses on your properties as quickly as possible, because the third house is the fastest to recoup on investment. So once the three houses are in place on each property, you can rest for a bit and regenerate your bank before investing further.

And there you have it. Better gaming through mathematics! The only thing better would be, well, playing practically any other game.

Kidding! (But not really.)


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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!