PuzzleNation 2017 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2017 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

We’re excited to be bringing you our biggest gift guide ever! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down into categories for ease of searching. We have puzzle books, downloadable puzzles and puzzles by mail, jigsaw puzzles, puzzle games, board games, card games, dice games, and party games. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


This year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide is sponsored by the new Daily POP Crosswords app!

Daily POP Crosswords offers a different themed puzzle every single day, spanning everything from TV and film to sports and music!

Available for both Android and iOS users, you get terrific content from some of the world’s top constructors! And the download is free!


Puzzle Books

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Logic Problems ($10.50) or the Fill-In Value Pack ($8.95). Or perhaps you like some variety in your solving, and you’d prefer the Home for the Holidays Word Seek set ($32.95), complete with pencils, coffee, and snacks to keep you puzzling, or the Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket Bible Gift Set 2-Pack ($12.50). Or you’d like to unwind with their Coloring Book 4-Pack ($14.95) and sip some coffee from a vibrant Word Nerd mug ($9.50). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. Between 10% and 20% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($7.48)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($8.95)

–Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords ($7.48)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley and Francis Heaney’s Drunk Crosswords ($7.06)

–Cynthia Morris’s American Acrostics Volume 5: Puzzling Holidays and Celebrations and CynAcrostics Volume 3: You Don’t Say? ($9.95 each)

–Foggy Brume’s One-Word Word Searches ($7.50)

The Maze of Games: The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze by Mike Selinker and Gaby Weidling

The Maze of Games is one of the most diabolical puzzle books ever conceived. It allows the protagonists AND the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of different puzzles in the hopes of conquering each of the labyrinths within the book.

The puzzle book has proven so diabolical that they’ve released The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, a hint book designed to help solvers free Samuel and Colleen from the final labyrinth once and for all! ($9.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze of Games!]

The Maze series by Brad Hough

If you’re looking for a first-person maze-solving experience, The Maze is precisely your speed. Dropping the reader in the first room of a maze and describing the scene to you, it’s up to you to mentally put together the map as you progress from page to page (and room to room). With volumes of increasing difficulty and complexity available, you might never find your way out! ($8.49 and up)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze series!]


Downloadable Puzzles and Puzzles by Mail

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers, subscriptions, and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Crosswords Club, edited by Patti Varol (puzzle bundles by mail, available in both regular and large print; $39.95 for 12 issues, $59.95 for large print)

Puzzle Your Kids by Eric Berlin ($5/month, or puzzle sets available starting at $3.99; one free puzzle per week)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($20 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword ($24 per year) and Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords ($20 per year)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($26 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year) OR get both for $30!

–Patrick Blindauer’s Broadway Puzzlefest ($20)

The LA TimesCrossword LA 2017 puzzle pack ($5)

–Bryant Park 2016 and 2017 tournament puzzle pack ($10)


Jigsaw Puzzles

Puzzometry

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available as Puzzometry ($16.50), Puzzometry Jr. ($12), and Puzzometry Squares ($16.50), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

 

Tavern Puzzles / Tucker-Jones House Inc.

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to remove twice as many pieces in a Collaborative Effort or free the triangle from Tridiculous, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($24)

Lightbox (Eric Clough)

A puzzle box unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Lightbox creates different patterns of shadow and light as you shift and arrange the various plastic plates that make up the box. As you twist and reset them, different electrical connections are made, and different plates light up. As gorgeous as it is challenging, Lightbox is a very eye-catching puzzle that always wows new solvers. ($85)

[Check out our full review of Lightbox by clicking here!]


Puzzle Games

//CODE: On the Brink, //CODE: Rover Control, and //CODE: Robot Repair (ThinkFun)

Learning to program is quickly becoming a valuable skill for people of all ages, so why not get your kids started early with games that teach them the basics of coding in fun, accessible ways. The //CODE series of games does precisely that, teaching sequencing with On the Brink, and then moving onto plotting with Rover Control and logical deduction with Robot Repair. These games mix education and puzzle solving to great effect. ($14.99 each)

[Click here to read our full review of the first //CODE series puzzle game, On the Brink!]

GIANT Word Winder (David L. Hoyt)

Created for schools, libraries, and other homes of learning, GIANT Word Winder challenges solvers to locate words within a large word seek-style grid. The end goal? To create a path from one end of the board to the other. A great team puzzling activity for younger solvers, it also comes in a math-fueled version. ($475)

Roller Coaster Challenge (ThinkFun)

Lots of puzzles are all about figuring out which piece goes where, but rarely does a puzzle game then reward you by sending a car racing down your completed puzzle. Roller Coaster Challenge incorporates the logic puzzles synonymous with ThinkFun into a fun, track-building set that will delight solvers of many ages. Who doesn’t want to design their own roller coaster? ($29.99)

[Click here for our full review of Roller Coaster Challenge!]

Color Cube Sudoku (ThinkFun)

For a new twist on Sudoku, look no further than Color Cube Sudoku. Simply place one cube on the tray, and then try to figure out how to place every other cube so that you don’t repeat a color in any row or column. It’s tougher than it looks! ($19.99)

[Click here to read our full review of Color Cube Sudoku!]

Zendo (Looney Labs)

Puzzle games are all about the rules, but what if you don’t know the rules? That’s where Zendo comes in. This puzzle game is all about figuring out a given rule by arranging Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and seeing if those designs fit the mysterious rule. A game of deduction and trial-and-error, Zendo is a very different solving experience. ($40)

[Review coming soon!]

Pinbox 3000 (Cardboard Teck Instantute)

How about the chance to build your own game? Is that puzzle enough for you? Pinbox 3000 provides all the pieces you’ll need, plus valuable advice for brainstorming and creating your very own pinball game. It’s endlessly customizable, so you can make your Pinbox pinball game as simple or as complex as you like! ($49.95)


Board Games

Some of the puzzliest games on the market today are being made by top-flight board game companies, and we’ve got some marvelous games that will appeal to puzzlers of all ages!

Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted (Cheapass Games)

People have been trying to kill Doctor Lucky for over twenty years, but now, ghosts are getting in on the act! Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted is an expansion of Kill Doctor Lucky, so you’ll need the base game to play, but with a new gameboard to explore and new movement mechanics — since all the players are now ghosts — this adds all sorts of new possibilities to a terrific game. ($16)

[Review coming soon!]

castellan1castellan3

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Word-a-Melon, Big Letter Bananagrams, and Qwordie (Bananagrams)

Bananagrams are the uncrowned kings of word-forming tile games, and no matter what sort of speller and anagrammist you are, they’ve got a game for you.

If you like Bananagrams but just want bigger, easier-to-read tiles, then Big Letter Bananagrams has your name on it (or will, when you spell it with the 50% larger tiles). To add a touch of Memory-style strategy to your word-forming gameplay, Word-A-Melon would be right up your alley. And if you prefer a bit of word association with your word-building, then the strategy and quick-thinking of Qwordie is for you. ($19.99 each)

[Click here for our full review of all three games!]

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

walk-byscrabblelexicographerscrabbledrawingroomscrabble

Walk-By Scrabble BoardLexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($29.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($149.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Less (InventedFor)

A strategy game with the speed and simplicity of Checkers but the depth and replayability of Chess, Less is travel-friendlier than both, with a gameboard that breaks down into bar coasters. With new tiles forming the board every time you play, no two games are alike, and even the straightforward task of racing your opponent to the opposite corner becomes a worthwhile challenge. ($17)

[Click here to read our full review of Less!]

tsuro

Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($23.00)

qwirkle

Qwirkle (MindWare)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train DominoesQwirkle is a tile-placing game where you try to maximize your points while minimizing the help you give to your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($19.95)

Tak: A Beautiful Game (Cheapass Games)

Many new games build off of classic mechanics, but very few new games truly feel like they could have been played centuries ago. Tak definitely fits that mold, using simple wooden pieces to create a game that feels both fresh and ancient all at once. Inspired by the eponymous game in Patrick Rothfuss’s KingKiller Chronicles series, Tak is a wonderful two-player game that quickly grows addictive. ($55)

[Click here for our full review of Tak!]

Word Domination (Uproarious Games)

Can you steal treasure and amass territory using your spelling and anagram skills? You can in Word Domination, a mix of resource management and word forming that encourages you to steal from and outmaneuver your fellow players. For a James Bondian touch with your Bananagrams, give this one a shot. ($32.99)

[Click here for our full review of Word Domination!]


Card Games

Doctor Who Fluxx (Looney Labs)

Could anything be as chaotic as traveling through time and space with The Doctor in the TARDIS? How about a card game about The Doctor and his adventures where the rules change every turn? Doctor Who Fluxx combines the classic sci-fi franchise with one of gaming’s most flexible rule sets to create an ever-evolving gameplay experience. Fluxx has never been better. ($20)

[Click here for our full review of Doctor Who Fluxx! And be sure to check out other Looney Labs games, like Chemistry Fluxx, Math Fluxx, and Nanofictionary!]

Spaceteam (Timber and Bolt)

Can you repair your ship and get the engines up and running in five minutes before a black hole ends your space adventure forever? That’s the name of the game in Spaceteam, a cooperative, communication-based game where you have to accomplish various tasks with your fellow players while sharing tools. It’s delightful chaos, and the 5-minute timer really adds something to the game play. A definite favorite around here. ($24.99)

Deluxe Pairs (Hip Pocket Games)

Building on the legacy already established by the bar-friendly series of Pairs decks available, Deluxe Pairs offers a new artistic spin on the classic Pairs “Fruit Deck,” as well as a companion booklet with rules for numerous Pairs variants you can play with the deck! This isn’t just one card game, it’s dozens! ($17)

[Review coming soon!]

Unspeakable Words (Playroom Entertainment)

Some word games might drive you mad, but only Unspeakable Words actually makes keeping your sanity part of the gameplay! As you spell different words, you have to make a die roll to see if spelling the word cost you a bit of your sanity. If you lose too much of it, you’ll start uttering unspeakable words, which can be worth more points… if your sanity can take it! A fun twist on Scrabble and other word-forming games. ($19.99; deluxe edition $24)

BRAWL (Cheapass Games)

Fighting games have been all the rage in the video game world for decades, but BRAWL lets you tackle the tactics and action of a fighting game right in your hand! Each character has a signature deck with their own moves, and with 60-second rounds and additional tournament rules, you get a lot of bang for your buck. ($8.50 per deck, two decks to play)

[Review coming soon!]

Scrimish (Nexci)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

timeline-game

Timeline (Asmodee Games)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before or after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99 and up)

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The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]

Better With Bacon and Just Coffee (Looney Labs)

These expansion packs for the sweet-serving card game Just Desserts add new faces and new desserts to keep the gameplay fresh and tasty! Whether you’re adding a bit of bite with the Better With Bacon set or pepping up your treats with the Just Coffee set, these expansions add new life (and calories) to an already terrific game. ($5 each)

[Click here to check out our full review of Just Desserts!]


Dice Games

Tenzi

All of us have rolled dice in games before, but can you roll what you need as fast as possible? That’s the challenge of Tenzi, a game that pits up to four players against each other in tests of speed and dexterity. Can you roll 10 6’s before everyone else? ($14.95)

Knot Dice (Black Oak Games)

Can you twist, turn, and spin these dice to complete beautiful, elaborate patterns inspired by Celtic knots? That’s the name of the game with Knot Dice, a dice game as challenging as it is gorgeous. With single-player and multi-player puzzles included, you’ll be tying yourself in knots for days! ($29.95)

[Click here to check out our full review!]


Party Games

Slapzi (Tenzi)

Slapzi will keep you on your toes. In this quick-reaction game, you’ve got to match your picture cards to the clue cards before your opponents. But with clues like “Not sold in a hardware store” or “Two of the same letter together,” this isn’t as easy as it appears! ($19.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of Slapzi!]

schmoviesleek

Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

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!

PuzzleNation 2017 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Age

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2017 Holiday Gift Guide!

We’re so excited to be bringing you our biggest ever gift guide! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down by age group, so we’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for puzzlers of any age on your list!


This year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide is sponsored by the new Daily POP Crosswords app!

Daily POP Crosswords offers a different themed puzzle every single day, spanning everything from TV and film to sports and music!

Available for both Android and iOS users, you get terrific content from some of the world’s top constructors! And the download is free!


For Ages 6 and Up

Roller Coaster Challenge (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

Lots of puzzles are all about figuring out which piece goes where, but rarely does a puzzle game then reward you by sending a car racing down your completed puzzle. Roller Coaster Challenge incorporates the logic puzzles synonymous with ThinkFun into a fun, track-building set that will delight solvers of many ages. Who doesn’t want to design their own roller coaster? ($29.99)

[Click here for our full review of Roller Coaster Challenge!]

Word-a-Melon (Bananagrams, board game)

To add a touch of Memory-style strategy to your word-forming gameplay, Word-A-Melon is right up your alley. Flip over the tile seeds in the watermelon gameboard, and if you can spell a word with those letters, you claim those seeds, and no one else can use them. But you better remember which letters are where, or your opponents could be enjoying the sweet taste of victory! ($19.99)

[Click here for our full review of Word-a-Melon!]

qwirkle

Qwirkle (MindWare, board game)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train DominoesQwirkle is a tile-placing game where you try to maximize your points while minimizing the help you give to your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($19.95)

GIANT Word Winder (David L. Hoyt, puzzle game)

Created for schools, libraries, and other homes of learning, GIANT Word Winder challenges solvers to locate words within a large word seek-style grid. The end goal? To create a path from one end of the board to the other. A great team puzzling activity for younger solvers, it also comes in a math-fueled version. ($475)


For Ages 7 and Up

Big Letter Bananagrams (Bananagrams, board game)

If you like Bananagrams but just want bigger, easier-to-read tiles, then Big Letter Bananagrams has your name on it (or will, when you spell it with the 50% larger tiles). Let solvers of all age groups and levels of vision indulge in some quick wordplay! ($19.99)

[Click here for our full review of Big Letter Bananagrams!]

timeline-game

Timeline (Asmodee Games, card game)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before or after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99 and up)

Scrimish (Nexci, card game)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

Tenzi (dice game)

All of us have rolled dice in games before, but can you roll what you need as fast as possible? That’s the challenge of Tenzi, a game that pits up to four players against each other in tests of speed and dexterity. Can you roll 10 6’s before everyone else? ($14.95)

tsuro

Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games, board game)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($23.00)

walk-byscrabblelexicographerscrabbledrawingroomscrabble

Walk-By Scrabble BoardLexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer, board games)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($29.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($149.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]


For Ages 8 and Up

Doctor Who Fluxx (Looney Labs, card game)

Could anything be as chaotic as traveling through time and space with The Doctor in the TARDIS? How about a card game about The Doctor and his adventures where the rules change every turn? Doctor Who Fluxx combines the classic sci-fi franchise with one of gaming’s most flexible rule sets to create an ever-evolving gameplay experience. Fluxx has never been better. ($20)

[Click here for our full review of Doctor Who Fluxx! And be sure to check out other Looney Labs games, like Chemistry Fluxx, Math Fluxx, and Nanofictionary!]

//CODE: On the Brink, //CODE: Rover Control, and //CODE: Robot Repair (ThinkFun, puzzle games)

Learning to program is quickly becoming a valuable skill for people of all ages, so why not get your kids started early with games that teach them the basics of coding in fun, accessible ways. The //CODE series of games does precisely that, teaching sequencing with On the Brink, and then moving onto plotting with Rover Control and logical deduction with Robot Repair. These games mix education and puzzle solving to great effect. ($14.99 each)

[Click here to read our full review of the first //CODE series puzzle game, On the Brink!]

Better With Bacon and Just Coffee (Looney Labs, card games)

These expansion packs for the sweet-serving card game Just Desserts add new faces and new desserts to keep the gameplay fresh and tasty! Whether you’re adding a bit of bite with the Better With Bacon set or pepping up your treats with the Just Coffee set, these expansions add new life (and calories) to an already terrific game. ($5 each)

[Click here to check out our full review of Just Desserts!]

Color Cube Sudoku (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

For a new twist on Sudoku, look no further than Color Cube Sudoku. Simply place one cube on the tray, and then try to figure out how to place every other cube so that you don’t repeat a color in any row or column. It’s tougher than it looks! ($19.99)

[Click here to read our full review of Color Cube Sudoku!]

Slapzi (Tenzi, party game)

Slapzi will keep you on your toes. In this quick-reaction game, you’ve got to match your picture cards to the clue cards before your opponents. But with clues like “Not sold in a hardware store” or “Two of the same letter together,” this isn’t as easy as it appears! ($19.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of Slapzi!]

Knot Dice (Black Oak Games, dice game)

Can you twist, turn, and spin these dice to complete beautiful, elaborate patterns inspired by Celtic knots? That’s the name of the game with Knot Dice, a dice game as challenging as it is gorgeous. With single-player and multi-player puzzles included, you’ll be tying yourself in knots for days! ($29.95)

[Click here to check out our full review!]


For Ages 9 and Up

Puzzle Your Kids (Eric Berlin, subscription puzzles)

A puzzle subscription designed specifically for children, Puzzle Your Kids is the brainchild of constructor and author Eric Berlin, and guarantees great puzzles emailed right to you, designed with younger solvers in mind! ($5/month, or puzzle sets available starting at $3.99; one free puzzle per week)

The Maze series by Brad Hough (puzzle books)

If you’re looking for a first-person maze-solving experience, The Maze is precisely your speed. Dropping the reader in the first room of a maze and describing the scene to you, it’s up to you to mentally put together the map as you progress from page to page (and room to room). With volumes of increasing difficulty and complexity available, you might never find your way out! ($8.49 and up)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze series!]

Pinbox 3000 (Cardboard Teck Instantute, puzzle game)

How about the chance to build your own game? Is that puzzle enough for you? Pinbox 3000 provides all the pieces you’ll need, plus valuable advice for brainstorming and creating your very own pinball game. It’s endlessly customizable, so you can make your Pinbox pinball game as simple or as complex as you like! ($49.95)

[Note: The box does say 7 and up can play, but CTI recommends 9 and up to construct Pinbox 3000, so we placed it here.]


For Ages 10-12 and Up

Deluxe Pairs (Hip Pocket Games, card game)

Building on the legacy already established by the bar-friendly series of Pairs decks available, Deluxe Pairs offers a new artistic spin on the classic Pairs “Fruit Deck,” as well as a companion booklet with rules for numerous Pairs variants you can play with the deck! This isn’t just one card game, it’s dozens! ($17)

[Review coming soon!]

Zendo (Looney Labs, puzzle game)

Puzzle games are all about the rules, but what if you don’t know the rules? That’s where Zendo comes in. This puzzle game is all about figuring out a given rule by arranging Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and seeing if those designs fit the mysterious rule. A game of deduction and trial-and-error, Zendo is a very different solving experience. ($40)

[Review coming soon!]

Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted (Cheapass Games, board game)

People have been trying to kill Doctor Lucky for over twenty years, but now, ghosts are getting in on the act! Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted is an expansion of Kill Doctor Lucky, so you’ll need the base game to play, but with a new gameboard to explore and new movement mechanics — since all the players are now ghosts — this adds all sorts of new possibilities to a terrific game. ($16)

[Review coming soon!]

Spaceteam (Timber and Bolt, card game)

Can you repair your ship and get the engines up and running in five minutes before a black hole ends your space adventure forever? That’s the name of the game in Spaceteam, a cooperative, communication-based game where you have to accomplish various tasks with your fellow players while sharing tools. It’s delightful chaos, and the 5-minute timer really adds something to the game play. A definite favorite around here. ($24.99)

Less (InventedFor, board game)

A strategy game with the speed and simplicity of Checkers but the depth and replayability of Chess, Less is travel-friendlier than both, with a gameboard that breaks down into bar coasters. With new tiles forming the board every time you play, no two games are alike, and even the straightforward task of racing your opponent to the opposite corner becomes a worthwhile challenge. ($17)

[Click here to read our full review of Less!]

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games, board game)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

castellan1castellan3

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games, board game)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Unspeakable Words (Playroom Entertainment, card game)

Some word games might drive you mad, but only Unspeakable Words actually makes keeping your sanity part of the gameplay! As you spell different words, you have to make a die roll to see if spelling the word cost you a bit of your sanity. If you lose too much of it, you’ll start uttering unspeakable words, which can be worth more points… if your sanity can take it! A fun twist on Scrabble and other word-forming games. ($19.99; deluxe edition $24)

Puzzometry (jigsaw puzzle)

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available as Puzzometry ($16.50), Puzzometry Jr. ($12), and Puzzometry Squares ($16.50), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

BRAWL (Cheapass Games, card game)

Fighting games have been all the rage in the video game world for decades, but BRAWL lets you tackle the tactics and action of a fighting game right in your hand! Each character has a signature deck with their own moves, and with 60-second rounds and additional tournament rules, you get a lot of bang for your buck. ($8.50 per deck, two decks to play)

[Review coming soon!]

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The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys, card game)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]

Word Domination (Uproarious Games, board game)

Can you steal treasure and amass territory using your spelling and anagram skills? You can in Word Domination, a mix of resource management and word forming that encourages you to steal from and outmaneuver your fellow players. For a James Bondian touch with your Bananagrams, give this one a shot. ($32.99)

[Click here for our full review of Word Domination!]

Tak: A Beautiful Game (Cheapass Games, board game)

Many new games build off of classic mechanics, but very few new games truly feel like they could have been played centuries ago. Tak definitely fits that mold, using simple wooden pieces to create a game that feels both fresh and ancient all at once. Inspired by the eponymous game in Patrick Rothfuss’s KingKiller Chronicles series, Tak is a wonderful two-player game that quickly grows addictive. ($55)

[Click here for our full review of Tak!]


For Ages 13-14 and Up

The Maze of Games: The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze by Mike Selinker and Gaby Weidling (puzzle book)

The Maze of Games is one of the most diabolical puzzle books ever conceived. It allows the protagonists AND the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of different puzzles in the hopes of conquering each of the labyrinths within the book.

The puzzle book has proven so diabolical that they’ve released The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, a hint book designed to help solvers free Samuel and Colleen from the final labyrinth once and for all! ($9.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze of Games!]

Qwordie (Bananagrams, board game)

If you prefer a bit of word association with your word-building, then the strategy and quick-thinking of Qwordie is for you. Strategically grab tiles from the pile — or steal them from your opponent — in order to spell a word that fits your given category (color, for instance) before the other players can! ($19.99)

[Click here for our full review of Qwordie!]

schmoviesleek

Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze, party game)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]

 

Tavern Puzzles / Tucker-Jones House Inc. (jigsaw puzzles)

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to remove twice as many pieces in a Collaborative Effort or free the triangle from Tridiculous, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($24)

Lightbox (Eric Clough, jigsaw puzzle)

A puzzle box unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Lightbox creates different patterns of shadow and light as you shift and arrange the various plastic plates that make up the box. As you twist and reset them, different electrical connections are made, and different plates light up. As gorgeous as it is challenging, Lightbox is a very eye-catching puzzle that always wows new solvers. ($85)

[Check out our full review of Lightbox by clicking here!]


For Ages 18 and Up

Most puzzle books would probably fall in the Age 9-10 and Up range, but oftentimes, the cluing is geared toward an older audience, so to avoid confusion, I’ve bundled the majority of the puzzle books here.

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Logic Problems ($10.50) or the Fill-In Value Pack ($8.95). Or perhaps you like some variety in your solving, and you’d prefer the Home for the Holidays Word Seek set ($32.95), complete with pencils, coffee, and snacks to keep you puzzling, or the Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket Bible Gift Set 2-Pack ($12.50). Or you’d like to unwind with their Coloring Book 4-Pack ($14.95) and sip some coffee from a vibrant Word Nerd mug ($9.50). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. Between 10% and 20% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($7.48)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($8.95)

–Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords ($7.48)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley and Francis Heaney’s Drunk Crosswords ($7.06)

–Cynthia Morris’s American Acrostics Volume 5: Puzzling Holidays and Celebrations and CynAcrostics Volume 3: You Don’t Say? ($9.95 each)

–Foggy Brume’s One-Word Word Searches ($7.50)

And that doesn’t even cover the many great by-mail and downloadable puzzle books and sets available this holiday season!

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers, subscriptions, and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Crosswords Club, edited by Patti Varol (puzzle bundles by mail, available in both regular and large print; $39.95 for 12 issues, $59.95 for large print)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($20 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword ($24 per year) and Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords ($20 per year)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($26 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year) OR get both for $30!

–Patrick Blindauer’s Broadway Puzzlefest ($20)

The LA Times’ Crossword LA 2017 puzzle pack ($5)

–Bryant Park 2016 and 2017 tournament puzzle pack ($10)


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

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!

PuzzleNation 2017 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: Grab Bag!

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2017 Holiday Gift Guide!

We’re so excited to be bringing you our biggest ever gift guide! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is a grab bag of all sorts of dice games, puzzle games, card games, puzzle books, party games, and board games, the perfect random assortment for any puzzle fan you need ideas for! We’re sure you’ll find the right gift for any puzzler on your list!


This year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide is sponsored by the new Daily POP Crosswords app!

Daily POP Crosswords offers a different themed puzzle every single day, spanning everything from TV and film to sports and music!

Available for both Android and iOS users, you get terrific content from some of the world’s top constructors! And the download is free!


Let’s start off with some puzzle books before we get into the grab bag of games, puzzles, and other terrific holiday treats!

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Logic Problems ($10.50) or the Fill-In Value Pack ($8.95). Or perhaps you like some variety in your solving, and you’d prefer the Home for the Holidays Word Seek set ($32.95), complete with pencils, coffee, and snacks to keep you puzzling, or the Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket Bible Gift Set 2-Pack ($12.50). Or you’d like to unwind with their Coloring Book 4-Pack ($14.95) and sip some coffee from a vibrant Word Nerd mug ($9.50). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. Between 10% and 20% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($7.48)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($8.95)

–Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords ($7.48)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley and Francis Heaney’s Drunk Crosswords ($7.06)

–Cynthia Morris’s American Acrostics Volume 5: Puzzling Holidays and Celebrations and CynAcrostics Volume 3: You Don’t Say? ($9.95 each)

–Foggy Brume’s One-Word Word Searches ($7.50)

And that doesn’t even cover the many great by-mail and downloadable puzzle books and sets available this holiday season!

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers, subscriptions, and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Crosswords Club, edited by Patti Varol (puzzle bundles by mail, available in both regular and large print; $39.95 for 12 issues, $59.95 for large print)

Puzzle Your Kids by Eric Berlin ($5/month, or puzzle sets available starting at $3.99; one free puzzle per week)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($20 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword ($24 per year) and Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords ($20 per year)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($26 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year) OR get both for $30!

–Patrick Blindauer’s Broadway Puzzlefest ($20)

The LA Times’ Crossword LA 2017 puzzle pack ($5)

–Bryant Park 2016 and 2017 tournament puzzle pack ($10)


And here is our grab bag of puzzle games and products galore!

Doctor Who Fluxx (Looney Labs, card game)

Could anything be as chaotic as traveling through time and space with The Doctor in the TARDIS? How about a card game about The Doctor and his adventures where the rules change every turn? Doctor Who Fluxx combines the classic sci-fi franchise with one of gaming’s most flexible rule sets to create an ever-evolving gameplay experience. Fluxx has never been better. ($20)

[Click here for our full review of Doctor Who Fluxx! And be sure to check out other Looney Labs games, like Chemistry Fluxx, Math Fluxx, and Nanofictionary!]

Pinbox 3000 (Cardboard Teck Instantute, puzzle game)

How about the chance to build your own game? Is that puzzle enough for you? Pinbox 3000 provides all the pieces you’ll need, plus valuable advice for brainstorming and creating your very own pinball game. It’s endlessly customizable, so you can make your Pinbox pinball game as simple or as complex as you like! ($49.95)

BRAWL (Cheapass Games, card game)

Fighting games have been all the rage in the video game world for decades, but BRAWL lets you tackle the tactics and action of a fighting game right in your hand! Each character has a signature deck with their own moves, and with 60-second rounds and additional tournament rules, you get a lot of bang for your buck. ($8.50 per deck, two decks to play)

[Review coming soon!]

Color Cube Sudoku (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

For a new twist on Sudoku, look no further than Color Cube Sudoku. Simply place one cube on the tray, and then try to figure out how to place every other cube so that you don’t repeat a color in any row or column. It’s tougher than it looks! ($19.99)

[Click here to read our full review of Color Cube Sudoku!]

Knot Dice (Black Oak Games, dice game)

Can you twist, turn, and spin these dice to complete beautiful, elaborate patterns inspired by Celtic knots? That’s the name of the game with Knot Dice, a dice game as challenging as it is gorgeous. With single-player and multi-player puzzles included, you’ll be tying yourself in knots for days! ($29.95)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Big Letter Bananagrams (Bananagrams, board game)

If you like Bananagrams but just want bigger, easier-to-read tiles, then Big Letter Bananagrams has your name on it (or will, when you spell it with the 50% larger tiles). Let solvers of all age groups and levels of vision indulge in some quick wordplay! ($19.99)

[Click here for our full review of Big Letter Bananagrams!]

The Maze of Games: The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze by Mike Selinker and Gaby Weidling (puzzle book)

The Maze of Games is one of the most diabolical puzzle books ever conceived. It allows the protagonists AND the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of different puzzles in the hopes of conquering each of the labyrinths within the book.

The puzzle book has proven so diabolical that they’ve released The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, a hint book designed to help solvers free Samuel and Colleen from the final labyrinth once and for all! ($9.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze of Games!]

Qwordie (Bananagrams, board game)

If you prefer a bit of word association with your word-building, then the strategy and quick-thinking of Qwordie is for you. Strategically grab tiles from the pile — or steal them from your opponent — in order to spell a word that fits your given category (color, for instance) before the other players can! ($19.99)

[Click here for our full review of Qwordie!]

Roller Coaster Challenge (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

Lots of puzzles are all about figuring out which piece goes where, but rarely does a puzzle game then reward you by sending a car racing down your completed puzzle. Roller Coaster Challenge incorporates the logic puzzles synonymous with ThinkFun into a fun, track-building set that will delight solvers of many ages. Who doesn’t want to design their own roller coaster? ($29.99)

[Click here for our full review of Roller Coaster Challenge!]

Lightbox (Eric Clough, jigsaw puzzle)

A puzzle box unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Lightbox creates different patterns of shadow and light as you shift and arrange the various plastic plates that make up the box. As you twist and reset them, different electrical connections are made, and different plates light up. As gorgeous as it is challenging, Lightbox is a very eye-catching puzzle that always wows new solvers. ($85)

[Check out our full review of Lightbox by clicking here!]

Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted (Cheapass Games, board game)

People have been trying to kill Doctor Lucky for over twenty years, but now, ghosts are getting in on the act! Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted is an expansion of Kill Doctor Lucky, so you’ll need the base game to play, but with a new gameboard to explore and new movement mechanics — since all the players are now ghosts — this adds all sorts of new possibilities to a terrific game. ($16)

[Review coming soon!]

Spaceteam (Timber and Bolt, card game)

Can you repair your ship and get the engines up and running in five minutes before a black hole ends your space adventure forever? That’s the name of the game in Spaceteam, a cooperative, communication-based game where you have to accomplish various tasks with your fellow players while sharing tools. It’s delightful chaos, and the 5-minute timer really adds something to the game play. A definite favorite around here. ($24.99)

Zendo (Looney Labs, puzzle game)

Puzzle games are all about the rules, but what if you don’t know the rules? That’s where Zendo comes in. This puzzle game is all about figuring out a given rule by arranging Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and seeing if those designs fit the mysterious rule. A game of deduction and trial-and-error, Zendo is a very different solving experience. ($40)

[Review coming soon!]

Scrimish (Nexci, card game)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

Less (InventedFor, board game)

A strategy game with the speed and simplicity of Checkers but the depth and replayability of Chess, Less is travel-friendlier than both, with a gameboard that breaks down into bar coasters. With new tiles forming the board every time you play, no two games are alike, and even the straightforward task of racing your opponent to the opposite corner becomes a worthwhile challenge. ($17)

[Click here to read our full review of Less!]

Slapzi (Tenzi, party game)

Slapzi will keep you on your toes. In this quick-reaction game, you’ve got to match your picture cards to the clue cards before your opponents. But with clues like “Not sold in a hardware store” or “Two of the same letter together,” this isn’t as easy as it appears! ($19.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of Slapzi!]

Better With Bacon and Just Coffee (Looney Labs, card games)

These expansion packs for the sweet-serving card game Just Desserts add new faces and new desserts to keep the gameplay fresh and tasty! Whether you’re adding a bit of bite with the Better With Bacon set or pepping up your treats with the Just Coffee set, these expansions add new life (and calories) to an already terrific game. ($5 each)

[Click here to check out our full review of Just Desserts!]

//CODE: On the Brink, //CODE: Rover Control, and //CODE: Robot Repair (ThinkFun, puzzle games)

Learning to program is quickly becoming a valuable skill for people of all ages, so why not get your kids started early with games that teach them the basics of coding in fun, accessible ways. The //CODE series of games does precisely that, teaching sequencing with On the Brink, and then moving onto plotting with Rover Control and logical deduction with Robot Repair. These games mix education and puzzle solving to great effect. ($14.99 each)

[Click here to read our full review of the first //CODE series puzzle game, On the Brink!]

schmoviesleek

Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze, party game)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]

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The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys, card game)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]

qwirkle

Qwirkle (MindWare, board game)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train DominoesQwirkle is a tile-placing game where you try to maximize your points while minimizing the help you give to your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($19.95)

GIANT Word Winder (David L. Hoyt, puzzle game)

Created for schools, libraries, and other homes of learning, GIANT Word Winder challenges solvers to locate words within a large word seek-style grid. The end goal? To create a path from one end of the board to the other. A great team puzzling activity for younger solvers, it also comes in a math-fueled version. ($475)

timeline-game

Timeline (Asmodee Games, card game)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before or after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99 and up)

Tenzi (dice game)

All of us have rolled dice in games before, but can you roll what you need as fast as possible? That’s the challenge of Tenzi, a game that pits up to four players against each other in tests of speed and dexterity. Can you roll 10 6’s before everyone else? ($14.95)

Word-a-Melon (Bananagrams, board game)

To add a touch of Memory-style strategy to your word-forming gameplay, Word-A-Melon is right up your alley. Flip over the tile seeds in the watermelon gameboard, and if you can spell a word with those letters, you claim those seeds, and no one else can use them. But you better remember which letters are where, or your opponents could be enjoying the sweet taste of victory! ($19.99)

[Click here for our full review of Word-a-Melon!]

Deluxe Pairs (Hip Pocket Games, card game)

Building on the legacy already established by the bar-friendly series of Pairs decks available, Deluxe Pairs offers a new artistic spin on the classic Pairs “Fruit Deck,” as well as a companion booklet with rules for numerous Pairs variants you can play with the deck! This isn’t just one card game, it’s dozens! ($17)

[Review coming soon!]

Tak: A Beautiful Game (Cheapass Games, board game)

Many new games build off of classic mechanics, but very few new games truly feel like they could have been played centuries ago. Tak definitely fits that mold, using simple wooden pieces to create a game that feels both fresh and ancient all at once. Inspired by the eponymous game in Patrick Rothfuss’s KingKiller Chronicles series, Tak is a wonderful two-player game that quickly grows addictive. ($55)

[Click here for our full review of Tak!]

 

Tavern Puzzles / Tucker-Jones House Inc. (jigsaw puzzles)

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to remove twice as many pieces in a Collaborative Effort or free the triangle from Tridiculous, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($24)

Unspeakable Words (Playroom Entertainment, card game)

Some word games might drive you mad, but only Unspeakable Words actually makes keeping your sanity part of the gameplay! As you spell different words, you have to make a die roll to see if spelling the word cost you a bit of your sanity. If you lose too much of it, you’ll start uttering unspeakable words, which can be worth more points… if your sanity can take it! A fun twist on Scrabble and other word-forming games. ($19.99; deluxe edition $24)

walk-byscrabblelexicographerscrabbledrawingroomscrabble

Walk-By Scrabble BoardLexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer, board games)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($29.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($149.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

The Maze series by Brad Hough (puzzle books)

If you’re looking for a first-person maze-solving experience, The Maze is precisely your speed. Dropping the reader in the first room of a maze and describing the scene to you, it’s up to you to mentally put together the map as you progress from page to page (and room to room). With volumes of increasing difficulty and complexity available, you might never find your way out! ($8.49 and up)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze series!]

Puzzometry (jigsaw puzzle)

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available as Puzzometry ($16.50), Puzzometry Jr. ($12), and Puzzometry Squares ($16.50), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games, board game)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

castellan1castellan3

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games, board game)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Word Domination (Uproarious Games, board game)

Can you steal treasure and amass territory using your spelling and anagram skills? You can in Word Domination, a mix of resource management and word forming that encourages you to steal from and outmaneuver your fellow players. For a James Bondian touch with your Bananagrams, give this one a shot. ($32.99)

[Click here for our full review of Word Domination!]

tsuro

Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games, board game)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($23.00)


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

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!

5 Questions with Crossword Constructor Joanne Sullivan

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 Joanne Sullivan as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

[Joanne stands beside fellow constructor Tracy Bennett at this year’s Indie 500 tournament.]

Joanne is a terrific constructor whose puzzles have appeared in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and numerous other outlets. One of her puzzles is now featured on The New York Times‘ Wordplay Blog as one of their 11 Remarkable Crosswords for New Solvers (each hand-picked by Will Shortz). Her puzzle with Erik Agard at the 2016 Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, “Do I Hear a Waltz?”, was one of my favorite crosswords last year.

She often spends her time teaching crossword classes, spreading not only the love of crossword construction and wordplay to others, but hard-won knowledge and experience from a fun and innovative constructor.

Joanne 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 Joanne Sullivan

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

I’ve enjoyed a variety of puzzles and games ever since I can remember, but I had avoided crossword puzzles for decades. When I was a young adult, I would occasionally take a stab at The Sunday New York Times crossword and would manage to get only a couple of answers after reading every single clue. I was amazed that my father could routinely complete the whole puzzle. I didn’t aspire to match his achievement because I thought that crosswords were filled with useless, arcane information.

When I subscribed to GAMES Magazine, I solved all the puzzles in it except for the crosswords because I had the mistaken assumption that all crosswords were dry and boring. I now realize that I missed out on a lot of fun. The high-quality crosswords in GAMES were part of the new wave of puzzles that were filled with current references and lively phrases.

Many years later an office mate encouraged a group of our fellow coworkers to solve The New York Times crossword together each weekday. I never really enjoyed the computer programming work that I was supposed to be focusing on so I welcomed the diversion. I immediately was surprised at how clever and entertaining the crosswords were.

Like the character in Green Eggs and Ham, I learned that I actually liked the nourishment that I had assumed would be distasteful. In the beginning, my coworkers would pass around the newspaper, and we’d each fill in an answer or two until we managed to complete the whole puzzle. We relied heavily on Google by the time we got to Friday. Solving late week puzzles without help seemed like an impossible dream, but before long that dream became a reality.

[One of Joanne’s New York Times-published puzzles. This one makes excellent use of the black squares by incorporating some of them into the themed entries.
Image courtesy of XWordInfo.]

2. What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle?

I personally love puzzles with inventive, tricky themes and clues. Crosswords have been around for a long time so it’s hard to come up with a new theme or a tricky clue that misdirects the solver in a different way. Even new themes and clues tend to be variations on something that has been done before so I appreciate crosswords that are truly original.

What do you most enjoy — or most commonly avoid — when constructing your own?

Here are crossword constructing tasks in descending order of my preference:

  • Coming up with a theme and finding answers that fit it.
  • Writing clues / Arranging the black and white squares in the grid. (Two very different tasks that I find equally enjoyable.)
  • Filling the grid with non-theme answers.
  • Adding new words to my database of potential crossword answers and rating those words in order of desirability.

Maintaining a good database of potential crossword answers can greatly facilitate crossword construction, but I find database maintenance time-consuming and dreary so I avoid it. I try to rationalize my negligence by telling myself that it’s impossible to add words and assign values to them that will be valid for all audiences.

For example, the word UGLY would be a perfectly fine answer in any mainstream newspaper, but I would try to avoid including it in a personalized puzzle that I was making as a birthday gift because I wouldn’t want the recipient to interpret it as an insult. But deep down I know that my rationalization isn’t valid, and I’m just too lazy to properly maintain my database.

What do you think is the most common pitfall of constructors just starting out?

I think some new constructors might settle for mediocrity instead of pushing themselves to achieve more. I’ve heard that some constructors are afraid to arrange the black and white squares in a grid from scratch. They’ll only use sample grids that they copy from a crossword database. It might take a lot of trial and error, but you’ll probably come up with a better grid if you try to arrange the squares in a way that best suits your theme answers instead of grabbing a prefab grid. I’ll often experiment with dozens of different grid designs before choosing one that fits my theme answers best.

Constructors might also be satisfied with so-so fill (which are the non-theme answers) or clues. I can understand the urge to leave well enough alone, especially when submitting puzzles on spec. It can be really frustrating to spend a lot of time coming up with stellar fill and clues only to be told that your puzzle was dead on arrival because the editor didn’t like the theme. Instead of compromising their standards, constructors might try to seek out the few editors who are willing to preapprove themes. Or they may emulate the many excellent indie constructors who publish their puzzles on their own websites.

[A puzzle, mid-construction. Images courtesy of Crossdown.]

3. Do you have any favorite crossword themes or clues, either your own or those crafted by others?

It’s hard to pick favorites because I’ve solved so many great puzzles and clues over the years so I’ll be self-centered and mention three of my own puzzles.

My Tuesday, February 23, 2010 New York Times crossword will always be close to my heart because it was my first published puzzle. Will Shortz picked it as one of the “11 Remarkable Crosswords for New Solvers,” but novices shouldn’t feel bad if they find it difficult. Most solvers found it harder than an average Tuesday puzzle.

Another special crossword is “Contents Redacted,” which The Chronicle of Higher Education published on October 16, 2015. I’m very grateful to Brad Wilber and Frank Longo for polishing it and working hard to present it in a way that stayed true to my vision. I also appreciate pannonica whose review on the Crossword Fiend blog was clearer and more insightful than any description that I could have written.

(Speaking of blogs, kudos to PuzzleNation Blog, CrosswordFiend, and similar blogs for helping us appreciate puzzles! Thanks for helping us understand the strengths and weaknesses of puzzles you review, explaining tricky themes and clues, and keeping us informed of news such as puzzle tournaments.)

One of my most satisfying experiences was co-writing “Do I Hear a Waltz?” with Erik Agard for the 2016 Indie 500 Crossword Tournament. Working with Erik was a joy. He’s brilliant and extremely kind. You should interview him next!

One great thing about making a puzzle for a tournament was having the flexibility to make an odd-sized grid that best suited our theme. I find that tournament puzzles are often very creative, perhaps because the constructors don’t have the same editorial and size constraints that they do at most other venues. Some of my favorite puzzles came from The Indie 500 and Lollapuzzoola crossword tournaments.

As a solver, my favorite clues are the ones that make me think, “What on earth can this mean?” One recent clue that gave me that reaction came from Brendan Emmett Quigley’s 9/20/17 AV Club crossword (which is titled “The Lay of the Land”). At first, I couldn’t make sense of the clue [Like slightly firm elbows, e.g.] When I read it, I thought, “What the heck is a slightly firm elbow? … Hmm … AKIMBO doesn’t fit … Hmm …” Eventually I achieved a great aha moment — AL DENTE!

I also love clues that put a fresh spin on old crosswordese or teach me interesting pieces of trivia. I find that The Chronicle of Higher Education and Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords are particularly strong in that regard.

[Joanne poses with members of a crossword seminar,
showing off prizes from our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles.]

4. What’s next for Joanne Sullivan?

I’m currently focusing on giving crossword puzzle seminars. For years I had mistakenly assumed that crosswords were boring and impossible to solve. Now I enjoy showing skeptics how fun crosswords can be and giving people tips that help them improve their solving skills. I love hearing from novices who tell me that I inspired them to start solving crosswords and veteran solvers who say that my tips helped them tackle more difficult puzzles.

I recently taught my first children’s classes and was blown away by the kids’ intelligence and enthusiasm. I’m so glad those children caught the puzzle bug early and didn’t waste decades avoiding crosswords as I did.

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

Read Patrick Berry’s PDF publication Crossword Constructor’s Handbook. The former print version of that book (Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies) taught me more about constructing crosswords than any other source.

Cruciverbalists might find the information about crossword construction interesting even if they don’t aspire to create puzzles themselves. The book includes 70 crosswords by Patrick Berry (who many crossword aficionados consider the preeminent crossword constructor) so it’s worth the $10 for the puzzles alone.


A huge thank you to Joanne for her time. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her puzzles and her crossword seminars!

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Delving into the Lollapuzzoola 10 puzzles!

Lollapuzzoola celebrated ten years of puzzling this year, and although I was not in attendance, I did sign up for the Solve At Home puzzles. Last weekend, I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hands at this year’s tournament puzzles, and I was not disappointed. Lollapuzzoola continues to push the envelope with topnotch themes and unique spins on how to bring crosswords to life.

This year’s theme was “Passing the Torch,” so every puzzle had something Olympic or athletic about it, and the constructors were clearly inspired in all sorts of ways. Let’s take a look at what they came up with.


Warm-Up: Twinlets by Brian Cimmet

This puzzle felt more like hitting the ground running than warming up, but it definitely got the creative juices flowing. The solver is presented with two identical grids and two sets of clues, and you have to figure out which grid each answer applies to.

This was complicated by the fact that several of the clues were the same for multiple entries. For example, the clue to 1 Across for both grids was “Olympic season.” The grids themselves also made for a tough solve, since there were several sections only connected by a single word, so you had fewer ins to tell you which answer applied.

That being said, the Olympic theme was well-executed and working back and forth made for an enjoyable solve.

Interesting grid entries included BALLSY, ONE-NIL, BIONIC and A-MINOR, and my favorite clues were “Asian river (or mountains) (or maybe both, I can never remember)” for URAL and “One might check it at the door” for EGO.

[Image courtesy of The Odyssey Online.]

Puzzle 1: Let the Games Begin by Paolo Pasco

The tournament proper gets off to a strong start with Puzzle 1, a really clever opening solve where the letters in various Olympic events have been removed from the other entries along that row. For instance, the first answer in the top row, JUDO, has each of its letters removed from the four subsequent entries: (J)ABS, FA(U)ST, (D)RIPS, and GO(O)DS.

This technique made for a curiously sized grid — 23×13 — but an impressive grid overall, since each of the words with missing letters still formed actual words. BENCHED became BEND and TRYOUTS became TOUTS when the CHE and RY were removed to be part of ARCHERY.

Interesting grid entries included K-POP, LABOR DAY, NASCAR DAD, and SIREE, and my favorite clues were “Mythological character who had a problem with hot wings?” for ICARUS, “Prop for Fred Astaire or Yoda” for CANE, and “Pair in a boat” for OARS.

Puzzle 2: Crossword De-Cat-hlon by C.C. Burnikel

Puzzle 2 was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It was a relatively easy solve, one that most solvers would no doubt finish well before the end of the 20 minutes allotted. But it was also hilariously interactive. The themed entries were instructions for different catlike actions for you to perform aloud!

For instance, MEOW FOR SOME MILK was one answer, and the clue instructed you to do so nine times, one for each “life.” It’s a very funny idea that no doubt must have made for a fairly unique and chaotic experience at the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included HOOKUP, PALE ALE, and HEEHAW, and my favorite clues were “Palindromic Swedish band with a palindromic hit” for ABBA and “Car mechanic’s wiper” for RAG.

Puzzle 3: Gym Playlist by Erik Agard

We take a break from the Olympics specifically to focus on music in Puzzle 3, where we have song titles broken into two parts on different lines, like NINETOFIVE, which would have read out in order, except TOFIVE was one row lower. Why? Well, because they become UNEVEN BARS, as the revealer explains.

It’s a very playful theme that mixed well with some engaging grid fillers, and a really fun solve overall.

Interesting grid entries included MAURITANIA, SCHMOE, MENUDO, MEDICO, and POUFS, and my favorite clues were “Titular thief of literature” for GRINCH and “Singer Lavigne who allegedly died in 2003 and was replaced by a lookalike” for AVRIL. (Now that’s some trivia!)

[Image courtesy of YouTube.]

Puzzle 4: New Biathlons by Francis Heaney

Probably the toughest puzzle of the tournament, save for the finals, Puzzle 4’s themed clues felt more like clues for a cryptic puzzle than a regular crossword. There were essentially two clues for each answer. The first was a “new biathlon” — a sport formed by combining two events into one hybrid event, like skiing and shooting — bookended by parts of an additional word. The second clue was a description of the word chain also formed both those letters.

For instance, 20 Across was clued “Indian instrument + new biathlon = Caption of a photo in which reviewer Gene and an alien sit atop a carpet, next to a sailor.” That’s a LOT of information, but it does make sense when you complete the answer: SISKELETONRUGBYTAR. You have SITAR with SKELETON RUGBY inside it, and you also have SISKEL ET ON RUG BY TAR.

Couple that with some hard grid fill, and you have a difficult but really engaging puzzle.

Interesting grid entries included CATARRH, UNICEF, ESTADOS, LAUNDROMAT, and TELL ME THIS, and my favorite clues were “When repeated, ‘Look, Senorita Sorvino’!” for MIRA and “What the wicked get” for NO REST.

Puzzle 5: Stick the Landing by joon pahk

The tournament puzzles closed with joon pahk’s immensely clever Puzzle 5, which presented four themed entries that vaulted the black squares between neighboring spaces on the same row in order to complete the answer. You see, each black square represented a pole vault, and those poles — MAY, SOUTH, SKI, and TOTEM — were found elsewhere in the grid. So 86 Across, MAY, bridged the gap between 24 Across’s JOHNM and YER to form JOHNMAYER.

This gimmick meant that, for instance, there was no 25 Across clue, because 25 Across was part of 24 Across, just separated by a black square, which I confess was confusing at the outset until I figured out the puzzle’s hook. Still, it was a very satisfying solve and one of the highlights of the day.

Interesting grid entries included BROUHAHA, I GOT THIS, UM OK, DC AREA, and DASHIELL, and my favorite clues were “Insult that Bugs Bunny mistakes for ‘maroon’” for MORON and “Cow who hasn’t had a cow” for HEIFER.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org.]

Puzzle 6: Finals by Mike Nothnagel and Doug Peterson

As always, there were two sets of clues for the Finals puzzle, the Local and the more difficult Express clues. But this year, there was an additional challenge to tackle.

As both solvers in person and at home were warned, “Each finalist will have a personal Marker Caddy. The Marker Caddy will be holding a cup of several markers. We aren’t going to say anything else, except that we’ve never had Marker Caddies before. Just this year. That is all.” Non-finalists were provided with a small four-pack of crayons containing a green, a red, a blue, and a yellow crayon.

Those colors would come in handy, as there were four O’s in the grid that needed to be marked with the colored markers. The first O in LOW RESOLUTION was blue, so that OSTATES would really be BLUE STATES, just as the last O in LOW RESOLUTION was red, so that OPEPPER was really RED PEPPER.

The same followed for the O in AS TO and the O in OUTS, so that BIGOTAXI would read BIG YELLOW TAXI and THEOMILE would read THE GREEN MILE.

Couple that with some very tough cluing — in the Express Finals anyway — and you’ve got one heck of a finale to the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included SQUAWKS, HEY WAIT, LA PLATA and GAMETE, and my favorite clues were “Station not popular with Rush fans” for MSNBC and “Nancy who solved ‘The Clue in the Crossword Cipher'” for DREW.

There was also a tiebreaker puzzle I quite enjoyed, especially with clues like “Do goo” for GEL and “Boxing great, or her father” for ALI.


The puzzles at Lollapuzzoola always impress, and this year was no exception. The grids were tight, there was very little crosswordese, and the creative puzzle gimmicks — the markers, the cat activities, the athletics in the grids (like pole vaunting or uneven bars) — ensured that not only would fun be had by all, but that the unique puzzles would linger in your memory longer.

Mission accomplished, and congratulations on the competitors and the organizers who made it all happen. The tenth year of the tournament showed that Lollapuzzoola is only getting more creative, more groundbreaking, and more clever with each passing year.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year!


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Tackling the 2017 Indie 500 Puzzles!

indie5002017

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

June 3 marked the third annual Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, hosted in Washington, D.C., by constructors Erik Agard, Neville Fogarty, Andy Kravis, and Angela Olsen Halsted. The first tournament had a racing theme, the second had a prom theme, and this year was time-themed!

While I couldn’t attend the tournament, I did download the tournament puzzles, and after a few weeks, I had the opportunity to sit down and tackle the six puzzles prepared for the event. And today, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on those puzzles, for any interested PuzzleNationers who might be considering participating in the future.


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[Image courtesy of IW Magazine.]

Puzzle 1: Before and After by Angela Olson Halsted

The opening puzzle got solvers off to a quick start with a well-constructed grid and some very accessible cluing. The theme had phrases where both words were connected when the word “TIME” was placed between them. For instance, HAMMER BANDITS combined HAMMER TIME and TIME BANDITS.

The hook made for a terrific introductory puzzle, setting the stage for more challenging crosswords to come. It was an excellent way to set the pace.

Interesting grid entries included SLIM JIMS, LAPDOG, and FAJITA, and my favorite clue was “Fourth name on a typical list of Santa’s reindeer” for VIXEN.

Puzzle 2: Jam Session by Paolo Pasco

The second puzzle of the day was all about CRUNCH TIME (as the revealer explained), and solvers had to figure out how to “jam” the correct theme answers into the limited grid space. Savvy solvers glommed onto the fact that each compressed entry (placing two letters in a single grid box) included a period of time (WEEK for FASHION WEEK, DECADE for THE ME DECADE, etc.).

Pasco’s CRUNCH TIME wordplay was well-represented in the cluing as well, as the last ten down clues were “rushed” — printed with spelling errors and other shortcuts. It was a fun way to reflect the theme further, and added a lot of personality to the cluing.

Interesting grid entries included NOT SO FAST, ALL THAT, LAUTRECA, and ALI PASHA, and my favorite clue was either “Connecting words?” for I DO or “The few, the proud (and the abbreviated)” for USMC.

20170607020601the_byrds_in_1965

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

Puzzle 3: This Mashup’s for the Byrds by Tracy Bennett

Tracy Bennett brought a lyrical touch to the proceedings with this puzzle which not only namedropped a few time-based song titles, but also had punny themed clues written in the style of The Byrds’ song Turn Turn Turn. For instance, the clue “a time to be borne” led solvers to THE RAPTURE.

There was also a very impressive bit of wordplay involving how the 4 themed clues were written. Each was modified with a single letter — “a time to trend” instead of “a time to rend,” for example. These extra letters spelled out the answer RENT in 80-down (which was cited in another down clue). That’s some quality construction right there.

Interesting grid entries included BROAD CITY, TOE TAP, ISSA RAE (across two answers) and FEMINISTA, and my favorite clue was either “Cheap but inviting letters” for BYO, “Change one’s locks?” for DYE, or “Norman patronymic with ‘Gerald’ or ‘Hugh'” for FITZ.

Puzzle 4: Non-Linear Narratives by Erik Agard featuring Allegra Kuney

The toughest puzzle of the tournament thus far, Puzzle 4’s theme entries involved phrases which included animals, but not only were the animals replaced with their younger or older versions (KANGAROO for JOEY in PAL JOEY, for instance), but the animal portion of the phrase also read backward! So in the case of FROG IN ONE’S THROAT, the actual answer read ELOPDAT IN ONE’S THROAT.

Those entries were supported by the revealers GETTING UP THERE (for KANGAROO and RABBIT, since they were progressing from baby to adult) and BUTTONING UP (for TADPOLE and HATCHLING, since they were progressing from adult to baby like Benjamin Button). And all four were cited in the answer JUMPING AROUND IN TIME, offering a final touch of wordplay for solvers to enjoy.

Interesting grid entries included LENINIST, AM I HIGH, TIRAMISU, RING SIZE, and CHEERIO, and my favorite clue was either “Spot for a banjo” for KNEE or “Poet hidden (not very well) in this clue” for POE.

time

[Image courtesy of tutsplus.com.]

Puzzle 5: In Search of Lost Time by Neville Fogarty

The manipulation of time and space continued in Puzzle 5, as the word ERA was removed from some themed entries and inserted in others, giving us answers like OP(era)TION DESERT STORM and (ERA)SURE THING.

The construction is topnotch and the fill interesting, making for a nice palate cleanser and a really fun solve after the more strenuous efforts of Puzzle 4.

Interesting grid entries included MR. MOTO, NABBIT, HEE HAW, and FIERI, and my favorite clue was easily “Word clued as ‘Modern messages’ in a 1995 New York Times crossword” for FAXES.

Puzzle 6: Downs Only? by Andy Kravis

The closing puzzle of the tournament was offered in two difficulty levels: the Inside Track (designated for solvers who finished in the top 25% of the field in a crossword tournament with published standings in the past 5 years) and the Outside Track (designated for everyone else). I opted for the Inside Track, then looked over the cluing for the Outside Track.

The closing puzzle of the tournament is usually the most difficult, but this year, they threw a curveball at the competitors:

You will not receive all the clues at the start of this puzzle. Instead, you will start the puzzle with only the down clues. However, you may be able to figure out what happened to the rest of the clues while you are solving the puzzle. If you think you have figured out what happened to the rest of the clues, tell the official standing next to you. If you are correct, you will immediately be given the rest of the clues.

Some solvers make a habit of attempting to solve a crossword with only one set of clues, so using only the down clues wouldn’t trip up the most elite solvers. But for the rest of us, what a diabolical twist! (The theme entries spelled out that the missing Across clues were on the back of the whiteboard the competitors were filling in.)

The grid itself was packed long entries, but the tight construction left little room for crosswordese or obscurity to throw you off-track. It’s a great grid with some brutal cluing.

Interesting grid entries abounded in this one, including CAIMAN, MIND ERASER, YUCATAN, GESTAPO, and OSSO BUCO, and my favorite clues were either “The planets, e.g.” for OCTET (alas, poor Pluto), “Part of many a wedding toast” for ANECDOTE, or “Sea whose eastern basin dried up completely in 2014” for ARAL. (That area so often clued as a sea is in fact now referred to as the Aralqum Desert, and it’s nice to see crossworders picking up on that.)


Overall, this was the best Indie 500 yet. The puzzles mixed the inventiveness of the first two tournaments with a steadier hand and some really clever cluing. The constructors made the most of the time theme, resulting in some super-impressive wordplay and theme ideas. All in all, this was an engaging and worthy series of puzzles, designed to delight and challenge solvers in equal measure.

I look forward to its return next year, and hopefully some of you will join me in accepting the Indie 500 challenge!

Note: There were additional puzzles included in the puzzle packet, but since they were outside the regular tournament puzzles, I didn’t review them. But believe me, they are worth your time, particularly Tracy Bennett’s immensely fun “To Everything There Is a Season” companion puzzle.


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