Another Brain Teaser Submitted by Readers For Your Puzzly Pleasure!

[Image courtesy of SharpBrains.com.]

When’s the last time you had your brain properly tied in knots by a riddle?

That’s a pretty common occurrence around here, honestly. In our puzzly explorations of the world, we stumble across all manner of brain teasers, riddles, logic puzzles, math problems, mind ticklers, deduction games, and wordplay-fueled bits of linguistic legerdemain.

Sometimes, we even receive them directly from our fellow PuzzleNationers!

And on those occasions, we happily share them with you, dear reader, so that you can also enjoy the challenge of unraveling whatever fiendish puzzly conundrum has been placed before us.

This time around, a solver named Bethany submitted this riddle she found online. It’s known as the Peppermint Patty Riddle.

Let’s see how we do.


The Peppermint Patty Riddle

You’re facing your friend, Caryn, in a “candy-off,” which works as follows: There’s a pile of one hundred caramels and one peppermint patty. You and Caryn will go back and forth taking at least one and no more than five caramels from the candy pile in each turn. The person who removes the last caramel will also get the peppermint patty. And you love peppermint patties.

Suppose Caryn lets you decide who goes first. Who should you choose in order to make sure you win the peppermint patty?


Now that’s interesting, because it doesn’t ask us specifically HOW to achieve victory. But the question basically demands that you not only achieve victory, but figure out how to do so with your very first move.

Tricky indeed.

Will you be accepting this puzzly challenge from a fellow PuzzleNationer? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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The D’Agapeyeff Cipher, Unsolved for 80 Years!

[Image courtesy of Derek Bruff.org.]

One of my all-time favorite cryptography stories comes from the book The Spy That Couldn’t Spell, a true-life espionage story about a dyslexic man who hid, then encrypted the locations of, thousands of pages of sensitive documents he had stolen from the U.S government.

Why is it one of my favorite stories? Well, because the man in question FORGOT one of the cipher words he used to encrypt the location of his caches.

And it sort of unravels your master plan when you can’t remember a key element of it.

Amazingly enough, this isn’t the only example of a self-trained cryptographer who forgot how to solve his own creation. In fact, one example of this very dilemma remains one of the most famous unsolved codes and ciphers in the world:

The D’Agapeyeff Cipher.

daga

This is the D’Agapeyeff Cipher. This seemingly simple list of numbers contains a secret message. The only problem is… the creator, Alexander D’Agapeyeff, can’t remember how to decrypt it.

When he published a starter book on cryptography — Codes and Ciphers, first edition — D’Agapeyeff included this chain of 5-digit number bundles as a final challenge for the readers to unravel.

One of the first steps many aspiring cryptographers take is to break the numbers down into pairs instead of groups of five:

daga 2

One result of this is the pattern that every pair has 6, 7, 8, 9, or 0 in the tens column and 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 in the ones column, which doesn’t seem like a coincidence.

And see those sequences where the same number appears three times in a row? Some cryptographers believe that is also not a coincidence.

Then, they cut off the two double-zero pairings at the end — because they believe they were nulls, empty space-filling characters simply designed to fit the 5-letter groupings pattern of the original code as a way to throw off codecrackers. (And, to be fair, D’Agapeyeff himself wrote about null entries in the book Codes and Ciphers.)

If you remove those double-zero pairings, you can arrange the numbers into a 14×14 pairing grid, like so:

daga 3

See those sequences where the same number appears three times in a row? More of them now.

Many cryptographers consider this to be the true starting point of cracking the D’Agapeyeff Cipher.

But then what?

Some believe that the key to solving the grid lies in the Polybius Square, another encryption device mentioned by D’Agapeyeff.

Essentially, you place the alphabet into a 5×5 grid, and use those numbers to encrypt the letters. Here’s a straightforward example:

daga 4

In this case, the word PUZZLE would be 35 45 55 55 31 15.

Another way to use the cipher is to pick a keyword to start it. For instance, if you chose POLYBIUS as the key word, then you go across, then down, writing POLYBIUS and then the rest of the unused letters of the alphabet in order, like so:

daga 5

Instead of 1-5 both across and down, you could do 1-5 across the top and 6-0 across the side, reflecting the pairings in the D’Agapeyeff Cipher.

Or, as someone pointed out, perhaps we’re thinking in the wrong language. Triple-letters are uncommon in English words, but more common in Russian words, and D’Agapeyeff was Russian born.

Overlooking simple things like that can make you miss crucial ways into an encrypted message.

So, do you have any thoughts on how to solve this 80-year-old encrypted challenge, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Younger Solvers and Constructors Building Online Crossword Communities!

It’s a dynamic, fluid time for crosswords. It feels like we’re on the cusp of a sea change.

Women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are featured more often, although we still have a LONG way to go on all of those fronts where representation is concerned, both for constructors and editorial staff.

Younger voices are rising up the ranks, and helping to influence the direction of crossword language through projects like the Expanded Crossword Name Database. Online resources like more inclusive word lists, free or discounted editing software (often constructed by younger solvers!), and words of guidance from online crossword collaboration groups are more available than ever.

Recently, these topics were tackled in The New York Times itself in an article about younger crossword enthusiasts penned by freelance writer and reporter Mansee Khurana.

mansee

Her article is a terrific snapshot of the modern crossword world.

It discusses the divide between older solvers and younger, and how the content of crosswords doesn’t always serve both sides. It tackles the concept of “evergreen puzzles” — crosswords edited for timeless reprint value, eschewing up-to-date and provocative references that would appeal to younger solvers and underrepresented groups for the sake of republication later.

The article mentions the many virtual and online spaces that are now comfortable haunts for younger crossword fans. Facebook forums, Discord chats, Zoom solving parties, Crossword Twitter, r/crossword on Reddit, and even Tiktok accounts dedicated to crosswords got some time in the sun, and it’s really cool to see how these new spaces have emerged and grown more influential.

[A solve-along video from YouTube, Twitch, and Crossword Tiktok user
Coffee and Crosswords. Actual solving starts around 10 minutes in.]

Several names familiar to crossword solvers were cited as well. Constructors like Sid Sivakumar (mentioned just yesterday in our Lollapuzzoola wrap-up), Nate Cardin, and Malaika Handa were all quoted in the piece, reflecting many of the same concerns we’ve heard from new and upcoming solvers in some of our recent 5 Questions interviews.

I actually remember the author’s post reaching out to the contributors and readers of r/crossword a few months ago, and I was glad to see the subreddit getting some mainstream attention. Yes, like any internet forum, it can be combative and argumentative at times, but that’s a rarity.

Most of the time, it’s a supportive community for crossword fans and aspiring constructors, a place where they share questions, bravely offer up their first attempts for input and criticism, and discuss all things puzzly. It’s genuinely inspiring to see new solvers on a near-weekly basis reaching out and being embraced by fellow solvers and cruciverbalists-in-progress.

I highly recommend you take the time out to read Mansee’s piece. She captures a true sense of not just where crosswords are now, but where they’re headed. And if these young people have anything to say about it, it’s headed somewhere very bright indeed.


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The Newest Twist on Twisty Puzzles!

history

[Picture courtesy of Rubiks.com.]

Rubik’s Cubes and other twisty puzzles come in all shapes and sizes. With the advent of 3-D printing and innovative home designs that can be shared with a few clicks, the field is constantly evolving. This is a huge plus for puzzle fans.

Naturally, there are puzzle designers who aspire to make the largest twisty puzzle possible. In previous blog posts, we’ve chronicled some of these ambitious endeavors.

One of the first to draw the attention of online solvers was Oskar van Deventer’s 17x17x17 cube known as the “Over the Top” Rubik’s Cube.

Here’s a video of someone solving this diabolical design:

This was later topped by a design by corenpuzzle, who created a 22x22x22 cube. The build was so complex that the cube actually exploded (twice!) during construction.

But it’s not only cube-style twisty puzzles that are drawing the attention of designers. There’s also the minx series of twisty puzzles.

These are dodecahedrons rather than cubes. A dodecahedron is a 12-sided shape formed from pentagons. The smallest of this form is known as a kilominx.

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The megaminx version (pictured above) was the first to attract greater attention in the puzzle world. It had 50 moving parts, as opposed to the 20 movable pieces of a standard Rubik’s Cube. You can find all sorts of solving videos on YouTube featuring megaminx puzzles.

The quest to build the largest minx-style twisty puzzle has taken puzzling to strange new places. Gigaminx, Petaminx, and more followed as the puzzles grew increasingly complex.

For a while, the champion of these puzzles was Matt Bahner, who created the Yottaminx. It’s a basketball-sized twisty puzzle that took four months to build. With 2,943 parts, it’s the twisty equivalent of a 15x15x15 cube.

Here you can see Bahner showing off his creation:

No record stands forever, though, and corenpuzzle recently returned to the top of the leaderboards with Atlasminx, the new record holder.

This 19-layer dodecahedron weighs in at over 17 pounds, and was assembled from 4,863 moving parts.

Skip to 1:53 to see the finished version of the puzzle and see it in action.

You could literally spend a lifestyle twisting and turning that puzzle and never reach the end.

These mindbending designs continue to wow solvers everywhere while pushing the creative envelope in clever new ways, and I’m definitely not alone in saying we cannot wait to see what comes next.


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How People Used Puzzles and Games to Endure the Pandemic

Puzzles and games have been there for many people during the pandemic.

Many puzzle and game companies offered (and continue to offer) “COVID discounts” and giveaways to help people financially impacted by the crisis. Companies released free online or zoom-compatible versions of their products to help people get by.

There are all sorts of articles out there about how Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games have served as critical socializing tools in virtual hangouts. Bar-style trivia, zoom games, Jackbox, Board Game Arena, Fall Guys, Among Us… lots of communal activities went virtual as puzzles and games filled a rapidly growing niche.

Whether solved alone or with other members of the household, jigsaw puzzles sales increased 500% or more. Online sites to coordinate trades sprang up, allowing people to swap puzzles they’d solved before for ones new to them.

At a terrible time for many people, puzzles and games helped us cope.

And honestly, if you know the history of games and puzzles, it makes sense. Many of them have been born out of unpleasant circumstances.

Monopoly was a hit during the Great Depression, offering an escape and the illusory feeling of being rich. The game itself only cost two dollars, so it was a solid investment with a ton of replay value.

Candy Land was created to entertain children with polio (although that fact wasn’t commonly known for 50 years). Clue was designed during air raid drills as a way to pass the time. The Checkered Game of Life (later The Game of Life) was inspired by Milton Bradley’s own wild swing of business misfortune.

Risk and other conflict-heavy games weren’t popular in postwar Germany, so an entire genre of games that avoided direct conflict was born: Eurogames.

It’s just as true in the modern day. What game was flying off the shelves during COVID-19 lockdowns? Pandemic.

That combination of escapism and social interaction is so powerful. Games are low-stakes. They offer both randomness (a break from monotony) and a degree of control (something sorely missing during lockdown).

Puzzles too assisted folks in maintaining their mental health. And isn’t it interesting that crossword solving, something viewed by many as a solitary endeavor — I guess they never needed to ask someone else 5-Down — helped fill a crucial social role for people?

Constructors stepped up in interesting, inventive ways. The sense of community fostered by online crossword events like Crossword Tournament From Your Couch (which filled the void of ACPT in 2020) and the Boswords Themeless League was absolutely invaluable to puzzlers who couldn’t attend some of the highlights of the puzzle calendar year.

As I said before, there are numerous articles out there celebrating the benefits of roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and more.

Roleplaying games certainly helped keep me sane during lockdown. It might sound ridiculous, but dealing with world-threatening threats, fiercely dangerous monsters, and sinister plots that I could DO something about was medicinal. It was escape in its truest form. It recharged me, allowing me to lose myself in storytelling with friends.

The last 18 months were hard. There may be hard months ahead. But I’m grateful for the puzzle/game community — and the many marvelous pastimes they’ve created — for helping me and many others get by. To smile. To cope. To socialize. And to enjoy.

What games and puzzles have helped you deal with unpleasant circumstances, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.


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Go Go Letter Power Rangers: A Puzzly Theme Song Contest!

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Every month, we play some sort of game with not only our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, but with our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles as well.

Often, this takes the form of a hashtag game, mashing up the topic of the month with entries to Penny Press and Dell Magazines puzzles, titles, and so on.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, they’re punny costume ideas, or puzzly opening lines for novels, or attractions for a puzzle-fueled zoo!

This time around, we had a different challenge in mind: coming up with a puzzle-infused theme song for Penny Dell Puzzles!

And friends, they certainly did not disappoint.

So, without further ado, check out what these puzzlers came up with!


We start off today’s collection with some punny takes on classic TV theme songs!

I’ll Be Here & There For You

Love Is All Around the Block

Welcome Back, Kakuro

Where Everybody Knows Your Crypto-Names

Keep It Movin’ On Up / Movin’ On Ups and Downs

There’s No Places, Please Like Home

Split & Splice is Painless

Tossing & Turning and Scrambled Up

Three from Nine to Five

We’re the Chipsmunks

Nothing’s Gonna Stoplines Me Now


From this point forward, it’s not just titles, it’s puzzly lyrics as well!

Check out this brief yet delightful entry, to the tune of Britney Spears:

Oops I did it again
I wrote with a pen, got lost in the grid
Oh Penny, Penny
Oops you think I’m so lost
Switched Down with Across
I need a-nother hint


One intrepid puzzler pitched a nostalgic look at the puzzly past. This one is to the tune of “Those Were The Days” from “All In The Family.”

Boy, the way Word Seeks are made
The clever way that Tiles are laid
Solvers like us, we got it made
These are Word Games
And you know Say That Again
Even do ’em with a pen
Cryptograms can be done, even a page of KenKen
You don’t need no calculator
When you solve your Sudoku later
Gee, all our Fill-Ins look greater
These are Word Games!


I’ll let our next contributor handle their own introduction. Take it away, fellow puzzler!

You want a theme song?
Hold onto your wimple, Maria!
I’ve got your theme song right here:

♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪
How do you solve a puzzle like a crossword?
How do you fill a grid, across and down?
What’s a five-letter word that means “an earth tone”?
An ochre? An umber? A camel? A beige? A brown?

Many a thing you know you’d like to write there,
Many a clue you ought to understand.
A book that can make you think:
Use pencil or pen and ink!
How do you choose the best from your newsstand?

Oh, how do know you’ve got the tops in puzzles?
Penny Press made the book that’s in your hand!
♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪


Another marvelous entry was set to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and is known simply as… the Solver’s Theme:

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final clue
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll take my prize, of which I’m due
I’ve solved the puzzles full
Fraught with joy and dismay
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
I penned each solve complete
Each careful letter along the way
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

Yes, there were times, that Crypto-Zoo
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and finished Turnabout
I faced it all, and I stood tall
And did it my way

I’ve circled, I’ve erased and cried
I’ve had my Fill-Ins, Tossing and Turning
And now, as tears subside
I find that I am always learning
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh, no, oh, no, not me
I did it my way

For what is a solver, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say he finished Spinwheel
But sought help for Square Deal
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

Yes, it was my way


Here’s a toe-tapping puzzly entry submitted to the tune of “867-5309”:

Penny, Penny has puzzles for you
Our magazines have a ton of fun clues
Sudoku, Word Seeks, and Crosswords galore
Your favorite puzzles, oh we’ve got them all!

Penny, you’ve got our number
When you need Three from Nine
Penny, just call our number

Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight
Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight
Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight
Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight

Penny, Penny has Puzzle Derby
Fill-Ins and Places, Please will make you so happy
Try out Double Trouble or Blockbuilders
Challenge your imagination with Exploraword

Penny, you’ve got our number
When you need Diamond Mine
Penny, just call our number

Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight
Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight
Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight
Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight

We’ve got it (We’ve got it) We’ve got it
Tiles, Place Your Number, and Quotefalls
We’ve got it (We’ve got it) We’ve got it
For a Good Time, for a Good Time call!


As a closer, here’s one the kids can enjoy, as one creative puzzler submitted a piece to the tune of “Old McDonald Had a Farm”:

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one
With a COLORING BOOK here
and a COLORING BOOK there,
here a COLORING BOOK
there a COLORING BOOK
everywhere you see a COLORING BOOK

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one
With a CROSSWORD here
and a CROSSWORD there,
here a CROSSWORD
there a CROSSWORD
everywhere you see a CROSSWORD

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one
With a FILL-IN here
and a FILL-IN there,
here a FILL-IN
there a FILL-IN
everywhere you see a FILL-IN,

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one
With a LOGIC here
and a LOGIC there,
here a LOGIC
there a LOGIC
everywhere you see a LOGIC,

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one
With a VARIETY here
and a VARIETY there,
here a VARIETY
there a VARIETY
everywhere you see a VARIETY,

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one
With a WORD SEEK here
and a WORD SEEK there,
here a WORD SEEK
there a WORD SEEK
everywhere you see a WORD SEEK,

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one
With a WORD SEEK here
and a WORD SEEK there,
here a WORD SEEK
there a WORD SEEK
everywhere you see a WORD SEEK,

a VARIETY here
and a VARIETY there,
here a VARIETY
there a VARIETY
everywhere you see a VARIETY,

a LOGIC here
and a LOGIC there,
here a LOGIC
there a LOGIC
everywhere you see a LOGIC,

a FILL-IN here
and a FILL-IN there,
here a FILL-IN,
there a FILL-IN
everywhere you see a FILL-IN,

a CROSSWORD here
and a CROSSWORD there,
here a CROSSWORD,
there a CROSSWORD
everywhere you see a CROSSWORD,

a COLORING BOOK here
and a COLORING BOOK there,
here a COLORING BOOK
there a COLORING BOOK
everywhere you see a COLORING BOOK …

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one


Did you have a favorite Penny Dell Puzzly Theme Song, fellow puzzlers? Or an idea of your own? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

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