ACPT 2017 Wrap-Up!

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The 40th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was this weekend, and puzzlers descended on the Stamford Marriott Hotel once again to put their puzzly skills to the test in what is lovingly known as “the Nerd Olympics.”

The tournament takes place over two days, with six puzzles to solve on Saturday, followed by one on Sunday. Then the top three finishers in the A, B, and C brackets solve the championship puzzle on whiteboards in front of the audience.

On Friday and Saturday night, there are often puzzle events, demonstrations, and panels by top puzzlers and figures in the puzzle world as well.

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I made the journey down to Stamford myself Saturday morning. As I arrived at the hotel, I was unexpectedly greeted by an enthusiastic marching band and cheering fans!

As it turns out, they weren’t there for me (or any of the other puzzlers), as the Oregon women’s basketball team was also in attendance. But that was a pleasant, and slightly raucous, surprise. Go Ducks!

Once I had sidestepped the band and revelers and made my way into the hotel, I sat in with my friend Stacey Scarso at the Penny Dell Puzzles booth.

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Our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles had a terrific setup as always, with a metric buttload of magazines to give away, including copies of The Crosswords Club and several flavors of Tournament Variety, Master’s Variety, and Dell Sunday Crosswords.

Plus we held a contest to win a bundle of PDP puzzle swag, including a mug, a tote bag, an umbrella, and a bunch of puzzle magazines! All you had to do was solve a Weaver Words puzzle. (And, yes, in their downtime between tournament puzzles, many competitors DO solve other puzzles. Madness!)

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At 9 AM, the tournament was two hours away, but the marketplace was up and running. There were puzzle magazines galore (including a table of Merl Reagle’s puzzle books), developers showing off their puzzle app Word Squares, and ACPT-themed jewelry, key chains, and other items from All of the Things.

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As competitors readied themselves for the day’s solving, I had plenty of time to see friends of the blog like Crosswords Club editor Patti Varol, constructor Ian Livengood, crossword gentleman Doug Peterson, constructor Joanne Sullivan, and Penny Press variety editor Keith Yarbrough!

Perhaps the best part of attending the tournament is getting to chat with so many members of the puzzle community in one place. There were first-time attendees and enthusiastic rookies, like the two lovely ladies wearing “Monday Puzzlers” t-shirts.

There were long-time puzzle fans who have been competing at ACPT for years, if not decades, many of whom were decked out in puzzle shirts, puzzle scarves, and other grid-heavy accoutrements.

And there were icons of the puzzle community, like NYT Wordplay blogger Deb Amlen, event organizer and made man in puzzles Will Shortz, and programmer Saul Pwanson, who helped reveal the USA Today/Universal Uclick crossword plagiarism scandal last year.

Many of the top constructors in the business were there, names like David Steinberg, Evan Birnholz, Joon Pahk, Peter Gordon, and more, along with former champions and first-rate competitors like Dan Feyer, Tyler Hinman, Howard Barkin, Ellen Ripstein, and Stella Zawistowski.

Getting to connect faces and personalities with names I know from tournaments like the Indie 500 is a real treat, and so so many of the people in the puzzle world are genuinely nice, funny individuals. Not only that, but I also got to meet several fellow trivia fiends from the Learned League community!

The two hours before showtime passed quickly, and soon, the marketplace emptied and the ballroom filled as competitors took their seats for Puzzle 1.

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A jump in attendance from last year saw the room absolutely packed with competitors. Will Shortz joked that there were 624 solvers and 625 chairs. I’ve certainly never seen the room that crowded.

When Puzzle 1 arrived, several competitors I spoke to were surprised at its difficulty. There would be no cracking this puzzle in under 2 minutes, as former champion Dan Feyer did in 2015. Most of the top competitors hovered around the 4 minute mark. And this wouldn’t be the only puzzle that kept solvers on their toes.

Puzzle 2, constructed by veteran puzzler Patrick Berry, received rave reviews for its cleverness and elegant fill, providing a nice counterpoint to Puzzle 1.

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[The rankings after Puzzle 2 (posted as competitors were heading into Puzzle 4)]

Puzzle 3 was constructed by Brendan Emmett Quigley, and following the path set Puzzle 1, proved far more challenging than expected. At this rate, the always-dreaded Puzzle 5 was still looming, and some solvers were more apprehensive than usual about tackling it later in the day. That being said, several competitors were impressed with Quigley’s constructing. (Not a surprise, his puzzles are always excellent.)

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Puzzle 4 was constructed by relative newcomer Julie Berube, who was in attendance and super-excited to see competitors tackle her puzzle. The general consensus of competitors was that this puzzle should have been Puzzle 1.

Finally, it was time for Puzzle 5. This year, constructor Mike Shenk did the honors, and according to competitors, it was as challenging as expected, really putting the craftiness and keen wits of the solvers to the test.

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[One of the puzzly keychains offered by All of the Things. I suspect making it
“I finished Puzzle 5 in the time allotted” would limit the possible customer base.]

After the diabolical Puzzle 5, competitors closed out the day with Puzzle 6 and declared it both fun and fair. The competitors dispersed to rest their brains (or solve more puzzles). We packed up the Penny/Dell table and headed for home.

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[The standings at the end of the day on Saturday.]

And although I wasn’t present for Sunday’s tournament finale, I continued to get updates from friends and fellow puzzlers.

Going into Puzzle 7, constructed by Joel Fagliano, former champion Dan Feyer was on top of the leaderboard, followed closely by constructors Erik Agard and Joon Pahk, both of whom were chasing their first tournament victory, as well as former champion Tyler Hinman, who shared third place with Joon.

Not far behind them were familiar names like David Plotkin, Al Sanders, Francis Heaney, Stella Zawistowski, and last year’s winner, Howard Barkin.

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Puzzle 7 was smooth, a good capper to the official tournament puzzles. But it would prove to be a heartbreaker for one solver in particular. An error by Erik Agard dropped him out of finals contention, opening the door for a former champion who missed out on the finals last year.

It would be Dan Feyer (6 time champion), Tyler Hinman (5 time champion) and Joon Pahk in the finals.

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But first, there would be an Oscars-style flub for the B-level finalists, as they were given the A-level clues for the final puzzle.

A quick rundown of the finals: there are three sets of clues written for the final puzzle, labeled A, B, and C. The A-level clues are the hardest, and the C-level clues are the easiest. So the B-level contenders were given much harder clues than intended.

But guess what? All three competitors (including one rookie solver) completed the final, even with the harder clues! That is some impressive solving!

Naturally, this led to some discussion of how to make things tougher for the A-level competitors. I suggested that all their clues should be written in Esperanto, but perhaps the best suggestion came from Ophira Eisenberg, who suggested that we don’t give them any clues, and only reveal the Zs in the grid as hints. Fiendishly clever!

You can watch the final puzzle being solved below:

Tyler Hinman would complete the puzzle first, and by a fairly wide margin, but unfortunately he had an error in the puzzle.

In the end, Dan Feyer would reclaim the crown, tying Jon Delfin for most tournament wins with 7!

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And it was a strong showing for many other familiar names! Doug Peterson placed 18th, David Steinberg placed 28th, Patti Varol placed 103rd (up from last year’s showing!), Kathy Matheson 228th (also up from last year’s performance!), and Keith Yarbrough 238th (again, up from last year!) out of a field of over 600 participants.

It’s always great fun to spend time with fellow puzzlers and wordplay enthusiasts, immersing myself in the puzzle community and enjoying all the charm and camaraderie that comes with it.

We’ll see you next year!


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ACPT 2016 Wrap-Up!

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The 39th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was this weekend, and puzzlers descended on the Stamford Marriott Hotel to put their puzzly chops to the test in what is lovingly called “the Nerd Olympics.”

The tournament takes place over two days, with six puzzles to solve on Saturday, followed by one on Sunday. Then the top three finishers solve the championship puzzle on white boards in front of the audience.

On Friday and Saturday night, there are often puzzle events, demonstrations, and panels by top puzzlers and figures in the puzzle world as well.

(This year, Friday night featured author and puzzler Eric Berlin hosting an Escape the Room-themed puzzle hunt that received rave reviews from participants, and Saturday night saw the first Merl Reagle Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award in crossword construction presented to constructor Maura Jacobson. Her husband accepted on her behalf from Merl’s widow, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.)

I made the journey down to Stamford myself Saturday morning and sat in with my friend, proofreader and puzzler Debra Yurschak Rich, at the Penny Dell Puzzles booth.

Our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles had a terrific setup as always, with great books and tote bags for purchase and a metric buttload of magazines to give away, including copies of The Crosswords Club, Will Shortz’s Sudoku, and several flavors of Tournament Variety, Master’s Variety, and Dell Sunday Crosswords!

And they didn’t mind at all when I conquered and annexed the middle of the table for PuzzleNation’s in-person version of Friday’s View a Clue crossword animals puzzle. Many competitors stopped by the table to try their luck, allowing some to thoroughly impress their fellow puzzlers with their knowledge of African antelopes, while others were flummoxed trying to match names they’d written into grids dozens of times with images of the actual animal!

(One woman told me she’d seen many of these animals during a trip to South Africa, and even EATEN some of them, but she couldn’t identify them by name. I imagine it’s quite rare to know what an animal tastes like but not what it LOOKS like.)

At 9 AM, the tournament was two hours away, but the marketplace was up and running. In addition to the usual ACPT swag, the marketplace included Hayley Gold and her Across & Down comics, the aforementioned Eric Berlin (repping his Winston Breen books and Puzzle Your Kids subscription puzzles), a collection of Merl Reagle’s puzzle books, and an impressive selection of puzzly titles from the marvelous crew at The Village Bookstore in Pleasantville, New York!

Plus I got to see friends of the blog like Crosswords Club editor Patti Varol, constructor Ian Livengood, crossword gentleman Doug Peterson, and Penny Press variety editor Keith Yarbrough!

Another treat of the tournament is getting to chat with numerous puzzle luminaries I’ve gotten to know through PuzzleNation Blog, like New York Times Wordplay blogger Deb Amlen, constructor and Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project curator David Steinberg, constructor Joon Pahk, top solver and former champion Ellen Ripstein, constructor George Barany, Evan Birnholz of Devil Cross, top competitor Tyler Hinman, and, of course, New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz.

The two hours before showtime passed quickly, and soon, the marketplace emptied and the ballroom filled as competitors took their seats for Puzzle 1.

Puzzle 1 didn’t stagger any of the participants, although there was no repeat of Dan Feyer’s blisteringly fast under-two-minute solve like last year. Three minutes seemed to be the benchmark for the top performers this year.

But Puzzle 2 had a crossing that flummoxed several solvers: CORTANA crossing CONTE. Constructor Patrick Blindauer, not in attendance, was no doubt on the receiving end of some Puzzle 5-level heat for that one. But when Doug reached out to Blindauer, it turns out that THAT wasn’t Blindauer’s corner! It had been edited, with MONTANA becoming CORTANA.

I had no idea puzzles accepted for the tournament were edited that much!

Puzzles 3 and 4 passed without incident, and people seemed to enjoy both the camaraderie of the event and the opportunity to compete against their own best times from previous years.

[In our downtime, Debra and I indulged in a round or two of Bananagrams, because it was a day for wordplay of all sorts.]

Then Patrick Berry’s Puzzle 5 arrived, complete with zigzagging entries and a thoroughly impressive fill. (“Wow” was uttered several times by competitors describing their impression of the always-dreaded fifth puzzle of the day.)

Between puzzles 5 and 6, I handed out prizes for our View a Clue crossword animals game: copies of Scrimish, donated by that game’s terrific design team!

Two copies went to our top performers — one got ALL TEN and another got nine out of ten — and two copies went in a drawing from all of the players who gave it their best shot. So congratulations to Robert Moy (who pitched a shut-out), Robert Kern, Abbie Brown, and the man known only as Dan (who got all but one)!

After the diabolical inventiveness of Puzzle 5, Puzzle 6 was tackled by the solvers, who declared it a fun and fair end to the day’s competition. The solvers dispersed to rest their brains; we packed up the table, and headed for home.

And although I wasn’t present for Sunday’s tournament finale, I continued to get updates from friends and fellow puzzlers.

The day started off with Lynn Lempel’s Puzzle 7, which received strong reviews, but did little to alter the standings of the top competitors.

Soon, it was time for the finalists to be announced. When it came time for the top three to solve on their whiteboards in front of their fellow competitors, two of the names were quite familiar to attendees: Dan Feyer, defending six-time champion, and Howard Barkin, four-time champion and perennial participant in the finals.

Conspicuous by his absence was another familiar name and former champion, the performer who made last year’s finals such a nail-biting showdown: Tyler Hinman. An unfortunate error in Puzzle 2 took him out of the running, so the final member of the live-solving trio would be David Plotkin. (Joon Pahk, Francis Heaney, Al Sanders, Jon Delfin and other regular key performers were also near the top.)

He and Howard prepared for a thoroughly wordy and daunting battle with Mr. Feyer, whose excellent performance in the seven previous puzzles had him leading his competitors by three minutes.

You can watch the final puzzle being solved below:

In a stunning upset, Howard Barkin did the seemingly impossible, besting Dan Feyer and claiming the top spot! The room erupted for him as others sat by, stunned that the expected seventh straight win for Dan was not to be.

[Howard poses with his well-earned trophy.]

But that’s not all! Friend of the blog and crossword gentleman Doug Peterson placed 13th overall AND won the finals for Division B! Congratulations to Doug!

And it was a strong showing for many other familiar names! Patti Varol placed 97 (up from last year’s 109 showing), David Steinberg 113th, Kathy Matheson 237th, and Keith Yarbrough 266th out of a field of nearly 600 participants.

It was certainly a day for surprises, strong emotions, and puzzly camaraderie. It’s always great fun to spend time with fellow puzzlers and wordplay enthusiasts, immersing myself in the puzzle community and enjoying all the charm and weirdness that comes part and parcel with it.

That would’ve been my closing statement, but I think the final word belongs to competitor Ben Smith:


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PuzzleNation 2015 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2015 Holiday Gift Guide!

We’re overjoyed to have 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 apps, puzzle books, downloadable puzzles and puzzles by mail, jigsaw puzzles, puzzle games, board games, card games, and party games. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


Puzzle Apps

Naturally, you’ll forgive us for starting off with a link for a familiar puzzle app!

The Penny Dell Crossword App not only features bundles of terrific puzzle content, but it offers a free daily puzzle to all users! You can check out the full details on the PuzzleNation website!


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!

Whether it’s the Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Brain Boosters ($10.50, also available with Logic Puzzles!), the Splash of Color Christmas Special (and its sister title, Flying Colors, both $6.99), the Logic Problems Spectacular collecting more than a hundred brain teasing puzzly challenges ($8.99), or their Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket series — with a crossword edition (pictured above), a Fill-In editiona Sudoku edition, and a Word Seek edition ($7.95 each) — Penny Dell has you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter for the entire holiday season. 15% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

And for more specialized puzzle books, some high-level constructors have books of their own for your perusal! With New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some puzzlers within these pages!

–Ian Livengood’s Sit & Solve® Sports Crosswords ($5.95)

–Rich Norris’s A-to-Z Crosswords ($8.95)

–Doug Peterson’s Easy ABC Crosswords ($8.95)

–Jeff Chen’s puzzles for bridge enthusiasts ($12.95)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Sit & Solve® Marching Bands ($5.95) and Diagramless Crosswords ($20.98)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Sit & Solve® Quick-As-A-Wink Crosswords ($5.95) and Wide-Screen Crosswords ($8.95)

–Dale Maron’s Pentdoku Puzzles: Volume 1 ($12.95)

The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker

And we simply have to mention one of the most innovative puzzle books released this year, the interactive puzzle novel The Maze of Games! Now going into its second edition, this delightfully challenging read allows solvers to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of puzzles, this is a one-of-a-kind solving experience. Factor in the Wil Wheaton-read audiobook and Austin Wintory’s soundtrack, and you have a real winner here. ($49.95 in hardcover, $20 in ebook form)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Collins Little Book of Bananagrams

Are you a Bananagrams fan who’s looking for something to give you an edge? The Collins Little Book of Bananagrams might be just what you need! With a list of puzzle words you might not otherwise think of, suggestions for other games to play with Bananagrams tiles, and techniques for speeding up your gameplay, you’re sure to be Top Banana with this handy guide in your pocket. ($9.95)


Downloadable Puzzles and Puzzles by Mail

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

The Uptown Puzzle Club (puzzle bundles by mail) ($35 for 12 issues)

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

David Steinberg’s Chromatics (color-themed puzzles)

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

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

–Bassey Godwin’s Will Sudoku (PDF puzzle bundle, full review here!) ($10)


Jigsaw Puzzles

Puzzometry

For a next level jigsaw-style 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), Puzzometry Jr. ($11), and Puzzometry Squares ($16), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

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

Tavern 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 free your heart from the tangled pieces of Heart’s Desire or remove the ring from the Iron Maiden, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($22)


Puzzle Games

These one- and two-player puzzle games are perfect to train your brain and keep you guessing!

Houdini, Gravity Maze, and Laser Maze Jr. (ThinkFun)

ThinkFun meshes learning and gameplay with three logic games ready to challenge kids and adults alike. Whether it’s the ropes and locks challenging nimble fingers in Houdini ($19.99), the marble-dropping path-building of Gravity Maze ($24.99), or the study of optics and mirrors with an actual laser in Laser Maze Jr. ($29.99), young minds and older minds will soon be in fighting trim for puzzling!

[Check out our full product reviews of Houdini by clicking here, Gravity Maze by clicking here, and Laser Maze Jr. by clicking here!]

Word Winder (David L. Hoyt)

Word Winder (also available in app, puzzle book, and GIANT versions!) is a game of finding chains of hidden words in an ever-changeable grid! Put your strategy and spelling skills to the test! ($19.95)


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!

Stuff and Nonsense (Cheapass Games)

Many games are about grand adventures, but only Stuff and Nonsense is about pretending to go on grand adventures while scamming your fellow would-be adventurers. Can you sneak around London and gather the props you need for your impressive lie, all while avoiding the fiendishly clever Professor Elemental? Great fun and quick to learn. ($25)

[To check out the full review of Stuff and Nonsense, click here!]

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!]

Zip It (Bananagrams)

Bananagrams is already pretty travel-sized, but if you’re looking for a game you can play on an airplane tray table, you need to check out Zip It. This 24-cube game works on Bananagrams rules AND allows you to use the carrying case to keep score! For puzzling in your pocket, you can’t go wrong. ($12.99)

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. ($29.99)

Walk-By Scrabble Board, Lexicographer’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!]

Qwirkle (MindWare)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train Dominoes, Qwirkle is all about placing your tiles to maximize points and minimize helping your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump right into! ($34.99)

Tak•tak (Twizmo Games)

If you’re looking for a game that combines the strategy of chess and the mechanics of Upwords, Tak•tak is right up your alley. Score points by stacking and attacking your opponent’s pieces in this game that’s more than meets the eye! ($18.95)

[Check out our full product review of Tak•tak by clicking here!]


Card Games

These card games add a bit of friendly competition to some splendid strategizing for puzzlers of all sorts!

Pairs (Hip Pocket Games)

A simple card game with a lot of strategy behind it, Pairs is about NOT scoring points and avoiding pairing your cards at all costs. With new deck styles arriving all the time — like the Goddesses of Cuisine deck and the Lord of the Fries deck — complete with numerous variant games available, Pairs is a perfect group card game you can pick up quickly. ($10)

Give Me the Brain (Cheapass Games)

In this revamped version of a lesser-known classic, you and your fellow players are zombies running a fast food joint, competing to complete your tasks first. Unfortunately, there’s only one brain for all of you to share. A mix of strategy and luck, Give Me the Brain is the most fun you can having working in fast food, undead or not! ($25)

[Review coming soon!]

The Stars Are Right (Steve Jackson Games)

Build an army of followers and change the stars themselves in The Stars Are Right, a thoroughly enjoyable card game where the goal is summoning an elder god and destroying the world. As you do. ($27.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Batman Fluxx, Retro Loonacy, and Just Desserts (Looney Labs)

The folks at Looney Labs are all about games where the rules can change in an instant. They’ve broadened their library of Fluxx card decks with a marvelous Batman-fueled version ($20), as well as putting a new twist on their fast-play matching game with Retro Loonacy ($15)! Plus, you can always put your culinary skills to the test in the deliciously busy Just Desserts! ($18)

[Check out our full product reviews of Batman Fluxx here, Retro Loonacy here, and Just Desserts here, plus reviews for Adventure Time Fluxx and Fluxx Dice here!]

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)

Adorable Pandaring (Asmadi Games)

We can all agree that pandas are adorable, but in Adorable Pandaring, you only earn points if your pandas are adorable, so you need to change the rules to favor the pandas in your hand. This game might have some mighty cute art, but don’t be fooled — it is all about timing and strategy. ($12)

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

Compose Yourself (ThinkFun)

For a card game that’s marvelously musically different, try your hand at Compose Yourself. It’s designed to teach people of all ages the magic of music, and you can use the cards included to compose your own pieces, performed by an actual orchestra! I sincerely doubt you’ve ever seen — or heard — anything like it. ($14.99)

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


Party Games

Some puzzles are best enjoyed in groups, so here are a few fun options for party puzzling!

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!]

ROFL! (Cryptozoic)

Challenge your friends to decode famous movie lines, catchphrases, and song lyrics in Cryptozoic’s game ROFL!, created by Dork Tower‘s John Kovalic! Put your texting and abbreviation skills to the test in this laugh-out-loud party treat! ($35)

[Check out our full product review here!]


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in our holiday 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 2015 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Age

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2015 Holiday Gift Guide!

We’re overjoyed to have so many tremendously fun and puzzly projects 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!


For Ages 5 and Up

Laser Maze Jr. (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

Nothing brings home the study of optics and mirrors quite like an actual working laser! In Laser Maze Jr., ThinkFun has redesigned their classic reflective puzzle game, not only making it more accessible for young minds, but safer too! ($29.99)

[Check out our full product review of Laser Maze Jr. by clicking here!]


For Ages 6 and Up

Qwirkle (MindWare, board game)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train Dominoes, Qwirkle is all about placing your tiles to maximize points and minimize helping your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump right into! ($34.99)

Compose Yourself (ThinkFun, card game)

For a card game that’s marvelously musically different, try your hand at Compose Yourself. It’s designed to teach people of all ages the magic of music, and you can use the cards included to compose your own pieces, performed by an actual orchestra! I sincerely doubt you’ve ever seen — or heard — anything like it. ($14.99)

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


For Ages 7 and Up

Zip It (Bananagrams, board game)

Bananagrams is already pretty travel-sized, but if you’re looking for a game you can play on an airplane tray table, you need to check out Zip It. This 24-cube game works on Bananagrams rules AND allows you to use the carrying case to keep score! For puzzling in your pocket, you can’t go wrong. ($12.99)

Collins Little Book of Bananagrams (puzzle book)

Are you a Bananagrams fan who’s looking for something to give you an edge? The Collins Little Book of Bananagrams might be just what you need! With a list of puzzle words you might not otherwise think of, suggestions for other games to play with Bananagrams tiles, and techniques for speeding up your gameplay, you’re sure to be Top Banana with this handy guide in your pocket. ($9.95)


For Ages 8 and Up

Batman Fluxx, Retro Loonacy, and Just Desserts (Looney Labs, card games)

The folks at Looney Labs are all about games where the rules can change in an instant. They’ve broadened their library of Fluxx card decks with a marvelous Batman-fueled version ($20), as well as putting a new twist on their fast-play matching game with Retro Loonacy ($15)! Plus, you can always put your culinary skills to the test in the deliciously busy Just Desserts! ($18)

[Check out our full product reviews of Batman Fluxx here, Retro Loonacy here, and Just Desserts here, plus reviews for Adventure Time Fluxx and Fluxx Dice here!]

Pairs (Hip Pocket Games, card game)

A simple card game with a lot of strategy behind it, Pairs is about NOT scoring points and avoiding pairing your cards at all costs. With new deck styles arriving all the time — like the Goddesses of Cuisine deck and the Lord of the Fries deck — complete with numerous variant games available, Pairs is a perfect group card game you can pick up quickly. ($10)

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)

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. ($29.99)

 

Walk-By Scrabble Board, Lexicographer’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!]

Word Winder (David L. Hoyt, puzzle game)

Word Winder (also available in app, puzzle book, and GIANT versions!) is a game of finding chains of hidden words in an ever-changeable grid! Put your strategy and spelling skills to the test! ($19.95)

Houdini (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

The master escape artist is in your hands in HoudiniTackle dozens of tricky scenarios as your nimble fingers and puzzly wits are pitted against ropes, locks, and other obstacles to Houdini’s freedom! ($19.99)

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

Tak•tak (Twizmo Games, board game)

If you’re looking for a game that combines the strategy of chess and the mechanics of Upwords, Tak•tak is right up your alley. Score points by stacking and attacking your opponent’s pieces in this game that’s more than meets the eye! ($18.95)

[Check out our full product review of Tak•tak by clicking here!]

Gravity Maze (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

Can you bend gravity to your will? Gravity Maze pits the solver against increasingly difficult puzzles where the goal is to place the towers so that a dropped marble will end up in the red goal square. Can you unravel each maze without losing your marbles? ($24.99)

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

ROFL! (Cryptozoic, party game)

Challenge your friends to decode famous movie lines, catchphrases, and song lyrics in Cryptozoic’s game ROFL!, created by Dork Tower‘s John Kovalic! Put your texting and abbreviation skills to the test in this laugh-out-loud party treat! ($35)

[Check out our full product review here!]


For Ages 10-12 and Up

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!]

Adorable Pandaring (Asmadi Games, card game)

We can all agree that pandas are adorable, but in Adorable Pandaring, you only earn points if your pandas are adorable, so you need to change the rules to favor the pandas in your hand. This game might have some mighty cute art, but don’t be fooled — it is all about timing and strategy. ($12)

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

Puzzometry (puzzle game)

For a next level jigsaw-style 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), Puzzometry Jr. ($11), and Puzzometry Squares ($16), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

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

Give Me the Brain (Cheapass Games, card game)

In this revamped version of a lesser-known classic, you and your fellow players are zombies running a fast food joint, competing to complete your tasks first. Unfortunately, there’s only one brain for all of you to share. A mix of strategy and luck, Give Me the Brainis the most fun you can having working in fast food, undead or not! ($25)

[Review coming soon!]

The Stars Are Right (Steve Jackson Games, card game)

Build an army of followers and change the stars themselves in The Stars Are Right, a thoroughly enjoyable card game where the goal is summoning an elder god and destroying the world. As you do. ($27.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Stuff and Nonsense (Cheapass Games, board game)

Many games are about grand adventures, but only Stuff and Nonsense is about pretending to go on grand adventures while scamming your fellow would-be adventurers. Can you sneak around London and gather the props you need for your impressive lie, all while avoiding the fiendishly clever Professor Elemental? Great fun and quick to learn. ($25)

[To check out the full review of Stuff and Nonsense, click here!]


For Ages 13-14 and Up

The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker (puzzle book)

And we simply have to mention one of the most innovative puzzle books released this year, the interactive puzzle novel The Maze of Games! Now going into its second edition, this delightfully challenging read allows solvers to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of puzzles, this is a one-of-a-kind solving experience. Factor in the Wil Wheaton-read audiobook and Austin Wintory’s soundtrack, and you have a real winner here. ($49.95 in hardcover, $20 in ebook form)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

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 (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 free your heart from the tangled pieces of Heart’s Desire or remove the ring from the Iron Maiden, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($22)


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!

Whether it’s the Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Brain Boosters ($10.50, also available with Logic Puzzles!), the Splash of Color Christmas Special (and its sister title, Flying Colors, both $6.99), the Logic Problems Spectacular collecting more than a hundred brain teasing puzzly challenges ($8.99), or their Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket series — with a crossword edition (pictured above), a Fill-In editiona Sudoku edition, and a Word Seek edition ($7.95 each) — Penny Dell has you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter for the entire holiday season. 15% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

And for more specialized puzzle books, some high-level constructors have books of their own for your perusal! With New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some puzzlers within these pages!

–Ian Livengood’s Sit & Solve® Sports Crosswords ($5.95)

–Rich Norris’s A-to-Z Crosswords ($8.95)

–Doug Peterson’s Easy ABC Crosswords ($8.95)

–Jeff Chen’s puzzles for bridge enthusiasts ($12.95)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Sit & Solve® Marching Bands ($5.95) and Diagramless Crosswords ($20.98)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Sit & Solve® Quick-As-A-Wink Crosswords ($5.95) and Wide-Screen Crosswords ($8.95)

–Dale Maron’s Pentdoku Puzzles: Volume 1 ($12.95)

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 and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Uptown Puzzle Club (puzzle bundles by mail) ($35 for 12 issues)

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

David Steinberg’s Chromatics (color-themed puzzles)

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

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

–Bassey Godwin’s Will Sudoku (PDF puzzle bundle, full review here!) ($10)

And naturally, PuzzleNation offers a terrific puzzle app for the discerning puzzle solver!

The Penny Dell Crossword App not only features bundles of terrific puzzle content, but it offers a free daily puzzle to all users! You can check out the full details on the PuzzleNation website!


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in our holiday 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 2015 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: Grab Bag!

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2015 Holiday Gift Guide!

We’re overjoyed to have 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 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!


Naturally, you’ll forgive us for starting off with a link for a familiar puzzle app!

The Penny Dell Crossword App not only features bundles of terrific puzzle content, but it offers a free daily puzzle to all users! You can check out the full details on the PuzzleNation website!

And we’ll follow up 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!

Whether it’s the Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Brain Boosters ($10.50, also available with Logic Puzzles!), the Splash of Color Christmas Special (and its sister title, Flying Colors, both $6.99), the Logic Problems Spectacular collecting more than a hundred brain teasing puzzly challenges ($8.99), or their Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket series — with a crossword edition (pictured above), a Fill-In editiona Sudoku edition, and a Word Seek edition ($7.95 each) — Penny Dell has you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter for the entire holiday season. 15% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

And for more specialized puzzle books, some high-level constructors have books of their own for your perusal! With New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some puzzlers within these pages!

–Ian Livengood’s Sit & Solve® Sports Crosswords ($5.95)

–Rich Norris’s A-to-Z Crosswords ($8.95)

–Doug Peterson’s Easy ABC Crosswords ($8.95)

–Jeff Chen’s puzzles for bridge enthusiasts ($12.95)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Sit & Solve® Marching Bands ($5.95) and Diagramless Crosswords ($20.98)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Sit & Solve® Quick-As-A-Wink Crosswords ($5.95) and Wide-Screen Crosswords ($8.95)

–Dale Maron’s Pentdoku Puzzles: Volume 1 ($12.95)

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 and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Uptown Puzzle Club (puzzle bundles by mail) ($35 for 12 issues)

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

David Steinberg’s Chromatics (color-themed puzzles)

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

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

–Bassey Godwin’s Will Sudoku (PDF puzzle bundle, full review here!) ($10)


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

Compose Yourself (ThinkFun, card game)

For a card game that’s marvelously musically different, try your hand at Compose Yourself. It’s designed to teach people of all ages the magic of music, and you can use the cards included to compose your own pieces, performed by an actual orchestra! I sincerely doubt you’ve ever seen — or heard — anything like it. ($14.99)

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

Zip It (Bananagrams, board game)

Bananagrams is already pretty travel-sized, but if you’re looking for a game you can play on an airplane tray table, you need to check out Zip It. This 24-cube game works on Bananagrams rules AND allows you to use the carrying case to keep score! For puzzling in your pocket, you can’t go wrong. ($12.99)

Batman Fluxx (Looney Labs, card game)

The folks at Looney Labs are all about games where the rules can change in an instant. They’ve broadened their library of Fluxx card decks with a marvelous Dark Knight-fueld version that puts a superheroic twist on the rapid-fire rule changes and ever-shifting objectives of the usual Fluxx fun! ($20)

[Check out our full product review of Batman Fluxx here, plus reviews for other Fluxx variants like Adventure Time Fluxx and Fluxx Dice here!]

The Stars Are Right (Steve Jackson Games, card game)

Build an army of followers and change the stars themselves in The Stars Are Right, a thoroughly enjoyable card game where the goal is summoning an elder god and destroying the world. As you do. ($27.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Word Winder (David L. Hoyt, puzzle game)

Word Winder (also available in app, puzzle book, and GIANT versions!) is a game of finding chains of hidden words in an ever-changeable grid! Put your strategy and spelling skills to the test! ($19.95)

Pairs (Hip Pocket Games, card game)

A simple card game with a lot of strategy behind it, Pairs is about NOT scoring points and avoiding pairing your cards at all costs. With new deck styles arriving all the time — like the Goddesses of Cuisine deck and the Lord of the Fries deck — complete with numerous variant games available, Pairs is a perfect group card game you can pick up quickly. ($10)

Tak•tak (Twizmo Games)

If you’re looking for a game that combines the strategy of chess and the mechanics of Upwords, Tak•tak is right up your alley. Score points by stacking and attacking your opponent’s pieces in this game that’s more than meets the eye! ($18.95)

[Check out our full product review of Tak•tak by clicking here!]

The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker (puzzle book)

And we simply have to mention one of the most innovative puzzle books released this year, the interactive puzzle novel The Maze of Games! Now going into its second edition, this delightfully challenging read allows solvers to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of puzzles, this is a one-of-a-kind solving experience. Factor in the Wil Wheaton-read audiobook and Austin Wintory’s soundtrack, and you have a real winner here. ($49.95 in hardcover, $20 in ebook form)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

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. ($29.99)

ROFL! (Cryptozoic, party game)

Challenge your friends to decode famous movie lines, catchphrases, and song lyrics in Cryptozoic’s game ROFL!, created by Dork Tower‘s John Kovalic! Put your texting and abbreviation skills to the test in this laugh-out-loud party treat! ($35)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Puzzometry (puzzle game)

For a next level jigsaw-style 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), Puzzometry Jr. ($11), and Puzzometry Squares ($16), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

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

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!]

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!]

 

Walk-By Scrabble Board, Lexicographer’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!]

Laser Maze Jr. (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

Nothing brings home the study of optics and mirrors quite like an actual working laser! In Laser Maze Jr., ThinkFun has redesigned their classic reflective puzzle game, not only making it more accessible for young minds, but safer too! ($29.99)

[Check out our full product review of Laser Maze Jr. by clicking here!]

Retro Loonacy (Looney Labs, card game)

If you’re looking for a fast-play combination of Memory and Slapjack with a lot more options, then Retro Loonacy is for you! It’s a manic pattern-matching good time for groups of all sizes, now revamped with a stylish retro theme! ($15)

[Check out our full product review of Retro Loonacy here!]

Collins Little Book of Bananagrams (puzzle book

Are you a Bananagrams fan who’s looking for something to give you an edge? The Collins Little Book of Bananagrams might be just what you need! With a list of puzzle words you might not otherwise think of, suggestions for other games to play with Bananagrams tiles, and techniques for speeding up your gameplay, you’re sure to be Top Banana with this handy guide in your pocket. ($9.95)

Houdini (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

The master escape artist is in your hands in HoudiniTackle dozens of tricky scenarios as your nimble fingers and puzzly wits are pitted against ropes, locks, and other obstacles to Houdini’s freedom! ($19.99)

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

Just Desserts (Looney Labs, card game)

Put your culinary skills to the test in the deliciously busy Just Desserts! Can you cobble together the perfect dessert treats for your hungry customers before the other players, or will you be feasting on humble pie instead? ($18)

[Check out our full product review of Just Desserts here!]

Stuff and Nonsense (Cheapass Games, board game)

Many games are about grand adventures, but only Stuff and Nonsense is about pretending to go on grand adventures while scamming your fellow would-be adventurers. Can you sneak around London and gather the props you need for your impressive lie, all while avoiding the fiendishly clever Professor Elemental? Great fun and quick to learn. ($25)

[To check out the full review of Stuff and Nonsense, click here!]

Adorable Pandaring (Asmadi Games)

We can all agree that pandas are adorable, but in Adorable Pandaring, you only earn points if your pandas are adorable, so you need to change the rules to favor the pandas in your hand. This game might have some mighty cute art, but don’t be fooled — it is all about timing and strategy. ($12)

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

Gravity Maze (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

Can you bend gravity to your will? Gravity Maze pits the solver against increasingly difficult puzzles where the goal is to place the towers so that a dropped marble will end up in the red goal square. Can you unravel each maze without losing your marbles? ($24.99)

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

 

Tavern Puzzles (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 free your heart from the tangled pieces of Heart’s Desire or remove the ring from the Iron Maiden, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($22)

Give Me the Brain (Cheapass Games, card game)

In this revamped version of a lesser-known classic, you and your fellow players are zombies running a fast food joint, competing to complete your tasks first. Unfortunately, there’s only one brain for all of you to share. A mix of strategy and luck, Give Me the Brainis the most fun you can having working in fast food, undead or not! ($25)

[Review coming soon!]

Qwirkle (MindWare, board game)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train Dominoes, Qwirkle is all about placing your tiles to maximize points and minimize helping your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump right into! ($34.99)

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)


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in our holiday 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!

ACPT Wrap-up!

The 38th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was this weekend, and puzzlers descended on the Stamford Marriott Hotel in the hopes of putting their puzzly chops to the test in what has been dubbed “the Nerd Olympics.”

The tournament takes place over two days — with six puzzles to solve on Saturday, followed by one on Sunday — and then the championship puzzle, which the top 3 solve on white boards in front of the audience. On Friday and Saturday night, there are often puzzle events, demonstrations, and panels by top puzzlers and figures in the puzzle world as well.

I ventured down to Stamford myself Saturday morning amidst some unexpected snow flurries and sat in with my friends from Penny/Dell Puzzles at their booth.

They were armed to the teeth with tote bags, magazines, pencils, and freebie copies of The Crosswords Club, The Uptown Puzzle Club, Will Shortz’s Sudoku, and some of the tougher Penny Press and Dell Magazines titles. It was a sumptuous buffet of puzzly goodness, to be sure.

Joining me behind the tables were Penny Press proofreader and puzzler Debra Yurschak Rich and PuzzleNation‘s very own Director of Game Development, Fred Galpern, who was on hand to show off the Penny Dell Crosswords App.

We had a few hours before Puzzle #1 would kick off the tournament, so I wandered around, checked out the ballroom where the competition would take place, surveyed the other booths, and chatted with many tournament competitors and puzzlers.

Not only did I get to see friends of the blog like Uptown Crossword Club editor Patti Varol, author and puzzler Eric Berlin, constructor Ian Livengood and Penny Press variety editor Keith Yarbrough, but it was a great opportunity to match names and faces, since I’d had the chance to tweet, email, and otherwise interact with many of them online over the last few years, but never actually met them in person.

Among the folks I got to meet were crossword gentleman Doug Peterson, New York Times Wordplay blogger Deb Amlen, constructor and Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project curator David Steinberg, constructor Joon Pahk, top solver and former champion Ellen Ripstein, Los Angeles Times crossword editor Rich Norris, constructor Alan Olschwang, Evan Birnholz of Devil Cross, top competitor and former champion Tyler Hinman, and New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz.

[Will stops in at the Penny/Dell Puzzles booth, and poses with his namesake titles.]

One of my favorite things about the tournament is the absolute and unabashed puzzle love shown by so many competitors. I saw crossword-patterned sweaters, ties, shirts, and earrings, as well as punny t-shirts of all kinds. One guy even dressed up in full papal regalia, but with a crossword theme!

[Fred poses with the eye-catching Puzzle Pope. In nomine puzzle…]

Finally, it was time for the tournament to begin, so the competitors filed into the ballroom where Will Shortz introduced Puzzle #1, created by Tracy Bennett, which would be a Monday difficulty puzzle.

It’s an excellent warm-up puzzle for competitors, and rarely one that poses a significant challenge. Dan Feyer, reigning five-time champion, set a new tournament record by completing Puzzle #1 in under two minutes. WOW.

But, as it turns out, there was a bit of a kerfuffle surrounding the first puzzle. From the Puzzle Brothers blog:

A weird scoring anomaly took place when the Puzzle 1 results were announced, when a solver named William Hall appeared to have solved Puzzle 1 a full four minutes before Dan Feyer did. Since Dan solved the puzzle in less than two minutes – believed to be an ACPT first – that meant that Hall would have had to do some serious messing with the time-space continuum to finish the puzzle TWO MINUTES BEFORE HE EVEN STARTED.

[I believe I met a third of the names on this list over the course of the day.]

The glitch was soon resolved and Dan Feyer returned to his proper spot at the top of the leaderboard.

Puzzles #2 and #3 (constructed by Joel Fagliano and Merl Reagle, respectively) proceeded without any scoring scandals, and throughout the day, I was getting great insight into the puzzles themselves and the energy of the room with post-puzzle updates from Keith, Patti, Doug, and some of the other competitors.

After a break for lunch, the ballroom filled once more for Puzzle #4, Paula Gamache’s contribution to the tournament. And then, it was time for Puzzle #5.

If you recall my report from last year’s tournament, Puzzle #5 is routinely the toughest puzzle in the tournament. While Brendan Emmett Quigley’s puzzle last year was widely regarded to be a brutally challenging one, Will Shortz said this year’s entry (constructed by Jeff Chen) was “easy for Puzzle #5.” Which is akin to calling something “the friendliest volcano” or “the warmest Eskimo.”

I happened to bump into Dan Feyer outside the ballroom after he completed Puzzle #5, and he jokingly inquired, “Where is everyone?” I looked at him point-blank and replied, “You know exactly where everyone is, Dan!”

Not long after, I received the following text, from another competitor: Puzzle 5. *sad trombone*

The day’s puzzle wrapped up with Puzzle #6, a Lynn Lempel creation that helped set the stage for Sunday’s remaining two crosswords: Patrick Berry’s Puzzle #7 and Byron Walden’s championship closer.

And although I wasn’t present for Sunday’s tournament finale, I continued to get updates from friends and fellow puzzlers throughout the day. When it came time for the top three to solve on their white boards in front of their fellow competitors, a familiar trio of names were listed: Dan Feyer, Tyler Hinman, and Howard Barkin.

Due to his performance over the previous seven puzzles, Dan began with a 5-second head start over Tyler. And that made all the difference.

Watch as Dan and Tyler race to the finish:

Only a half-second separated Dan and Tyler’s times, a nail-biter in ANY competition, but Dan Feyer locked up his sixth straight ACPT championship!

Not only did he top Tyler’s streak of 5 straight wins, but he’s put himself in contention to match Jon Delfin’s record of seven tournament victories next year! Names like Anne Erdmann, Francis Heaney, Joon Pahk, and Al Sanders were not far behind.

And out of more than 560 competitors, friends of the blog had a strong showing themselves! David Steinberg ranked 36th overall, and was named the Division C champion, the youngest ever!

Patti Varol placed 109th, and only a few steps behind her was Eric Berlin at 112th! Keith Yarbrough placed 177th, and Doug Peterson was the top performer in our little cabal of puzzlers, delivering some outstanding solves and placing 14th overall!

(In case anyone was curious, the Puzzle Pope placed 463rd.)

I’ve never experienced anything quite like the ACPT, but I’m definitely going back next year. Congratulations to all the competitors!

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