An Act of Puzzly Generosity

[Image courtesy of Solutions for Change.]

Instead of the usual Follow-Up Friday post, in the spirit of the season, I wanted to talk about an act of generosity that touched my heart.

The puzzle and game audience is one of the kindest, most inclusive groups I can think of. Just this year, I’ve done several blog posts involving different donations and charity efforts spearheaded by puzzlers and game companies.

Back in January, I talked about StrataSphere, a Kickstarter game campaign that allowed supporters to use their contributions to donate copies of the game to schools.

And in July, Mike Selinker and the crew at Lone Shark Games organized a Humble Bundle loaded with terrific puzzle suites to raise money for WorldBuilders, the It Gets Better project, and Child’s Play.

Heck, just last week, I wrote about how all the proceeds from this year’s GCHQ puzzle book will be going to charity.

Those were only two of many generous campaigns. Today, I’d like to put the spotlight on another company doing good.

The folks at Ceaco and Gamewright recently donated $3 million in games and puzzles to the Toy Industry Foundation’s annual Holiday Toy Drive!

According to Nora Meiners, Ceaco’s marking coordinator, “It is important for Gamewright and Ceaco to donate to the Toy Industry Foundation’s Toy Drive because we know that our puzzles and games are presents that kids can grow and learn from; it would be unfortunate if that wasn’t equally accessible for all kids regardless of the income barriers in their families. We are gifted to work in an industry that offers wholesome family entertainment so we donate and spread that joy further when we can.”

It’s an amazing gesture, one that is so incredibly typical of the puzzle/game community, a community I’m proud to count myself a part of.

For more information on the Toy Industry Foundation, click here.

And happy holidays to you and yours, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

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Halloween Hallowhimsy!

[The Gatekeeper from Lone Shark Games’ The Maze of Games,
one of the more macabre puzzly characters in history.]

Hello there, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

It’s Halloween, that spookiest of holidays, and I’ve got two puzzly videos loaded with today’s traditional tricks and treats!

The first video comes from musician and comedian Ali Spagnola, who has created a masterful mashup of 20 tunes loaded with Halloween spirit! Can you name all 20 songs?

I’m a little disappointed that Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” didn’t make the cut, but otherwise, this is awesome.

The second video comes from domino artist and friend of the Blog Hevesh5, who has created a new domino chain to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve in eerie, energetic fashion!

Whether it’s ghosts or goblins, ditties or dominoes, we hope you have a marvelous Halloween!

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Puzzle Plagiarism, Part 2: Uclick Responds

It’s Follow-Up Friday, but it doesn’t feel right to open this post with our usual exuberant intro.

Today, I’m returning to the subject of Timothy Parker and the USA Today/Universal Uclick plagiarism scandal.


You know, when I first wrote about this topic, I suspected I’d be returning to it in Follow-Up Friday fashion, and sadly, that’s proven true.

If you don’t recall, or you hadn’t heard, here’s a quick rundown of what happened. Programmer Saul Pwanson and constructor Ben Tausig uncovered a pattern of unlikely repeated entries in the USA Today and Universal crosswords, both of which are edited by Timothy Parker.

Eventually, more than 65 puzzles were determined to feature “suspicious instances of repetition” with previously published puzzles in the New York Times and other outlets, with hundreds more showing some level of repetition.

Back in March when I first blogged about this, Parker “agreed to temporarily step back from any editorial role for both USA Today and Universal Crosswords.”


Well, Oliver Roeder from FiveThirtyEight has reported that Universal Uclick has completed its investigation, and despite the fact that they’ve CONFIRMED some of the allegations of puzzle repetition — they don’t explain which allegations they’ve confirmed — they’re only giving Parker a three-month leave of absence.

According to the Universal Uclick press release:

During his leave, Mr. Parker will confirm that his process for constructing puzzles uses the best available technology to ensure that everything he edits is original. We will work with Mr. Parker on this effort and redouble our editorial process so that there is a stronger second level of review.

Roeder points out that Universal also doesn’t say if the last two months count toward Parker’s three-month leave of absence, since Fred Piscop has been serving as interim editor since the scandal broke.

As you might expect, some in the puzzle-game community are underwhelmed, to say the least, with Universal Uclick’s decision.

For instance, Mike Selinker, puzzle constructor and head honcho of Lone Shark Games, sent out a release last night regarding Parker’s situation, stating that he and his team will boycott both USA Today and Universal Uclick.

From their Tumblr post:

But USA Today and Universal Uclick, two important providers of puzzles to the world, have abandoned all pretense that originality and credit for content is important to them. So we’re abandoning them. As of today, we’re boycotting both companies.

Up until now, we liked USA Today. We thought that a newspaper of its size would be violently opposed to plagiarism. But they do not appear to be. It’s way past time for USA Today and Universal Uclick to take a stand against plagiarism and for creators’ rights, and maybe it takes some creators to stand up for those. So we’re doing it.

I suspect Mike and the wonderful crew at Lone Shark Games won’t be the only ones giving USA Today and Universal Uclick the cold shoulder. Kudos to them for taking a stand against plagiarism and standing with friends and colleagues in the puzzle community.

You’d think a major publication like USA Today would be against plagiarism instead of downplaying it like this. I doubt they’d tolerate plagiarism anywhere else in their paper.

It will certainly be interesting to see where the story goes from here. Here’s hoping Universal Uclick does the right thing and stands with content creators, not against them.

I’ll conclude this post the same way the team at Lone Shark Games concluded their release:

If you share this on Twitter or Facebook, please tag @usatoday and @UniversalUclick to tell them that you stand with the puzzlemakers, and add the hashtag #gridgate. Or, if you want to talk to USA Today directly, send them a note addressed to Reader Feedback/Letters saying that you find plagiarism in any department unacceptable. Now would be awesome.

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PuzzleNation Review: The Maze of Games


Today’s review is going to be a little bit different. You might have noticed that I didn’t title this a product review or a book review, and that’s because today’s subject, The Maze of Games, defies classification.

It’s billed as an interactive puzzle novel, and it lives up to that description, combining the long-form narrative of a novel with a topnotch puzzle book and a strong element of choose-your-own-adventure flavoring on top. This is not a mystery with a few crosswords tossed in; this is a novel where the puzzle-solving is integral to the reading experience. And I can honestly say it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.

The novel opens in the late 1800s with siblings Samuel and Colleen Quaice at the library, where Colleen is on a mission to read something macabre and engaging. After being offered the newest offering by Bram Stoker — a tome called Dracula — Colleen stumbles upon a slim volume tucked away in the stacks: The Maze of Games.


Soon, Samuel and Colleen are swept into the realm of the Gatekeeper — a dapper, witty, and unforgiving skeletal game master who delights in challenging the unsuspecting to fiendish puzzle challenges — and they’re left to navigate the first of the book’s mazes: the Castle Maze.

As you roam the labyrinth with Colleen and Samuel, you encounter puzzles to be solved, each of which provides you with a keyword you’ll need for later. From word searches and crosswords to logic puzzles and code-breaking challenges, your puzzly chops will be put to the test and then some by the Gatekeeper’s many mind-bending obstacles. (Although meant for adolescents and teens, I think adults would also thoroughly enjoy many of the Gatekeeper’s puzzles.)

Once you’ve reached the end of the labyrinth, a final puzzle awaits you, and you must use your collected keywords and puzzly skills to escape the maze and move onward.


Five mazes stand between you and victory over the Gatekeeper, all of them steeped in mythology, genre storytelling, and adventure-tinged backstory. (And several of which offer some wickedly barbed humor.)

This is a terrific concept, and brilliantly executed. The sheer variety of puzzles, not to mention the creative hooks that tie into the narrative, makes for a puzzle book that will keep puzzlers busy for quite a while.

And the novel aspect is just as enjoyable. Samuel and Colleen are no mere placeholders. They’re rich, fully-formed characters in their own right, bickering, bantering, and bringing different skills to every challenge they face. (Their ongoing banter with the Gatekeeper in his sporadic appearances is easily the highlight of the narrative.)


Lush, atmospheric art backs up the storytelling, bringing the novel to life and adding wonderful personality to the characters. (Not to mention there’s both an ebook edition and an audiobook version read by Wil Wheaton!)

And if you’re still not puzzled out after tackling The Maze of Games (or you just need a break), there’s a bundle of bonus puzzles in the back of the book, featuring such familiar names as Ken Jennings, Will Shortz, Patrick Blindauer, and Brendan Emmett Quigley.

All of these factors contribute to as immersive a puzzle book as I’ve ever seen, and a testament to the sort of forethought, complexity, and creativity a first-class puzzler can weave into a singular solving experience.

Mike Selinker has been a fixture in the board game and puzzle world for years, and he’s really outdone himself with The Maze of Games.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

The greatest gift exchange there never was…

It’s Christmas Eve, so hopefully you’ve perused our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide and completed all your shopping in a timely and not-at-stress-inducing, hair-tearing-out manner.

But if not, fear not! Some of the puzzliest and cleverest people in the artistic, board game, and puzzle communities may have just come up with the perfect last-minute solution for you.

You’re probably familiar with the concept of the White Elephant gift exchange, wherein everyone supplies a gift, and then a game of keeping or swapping takes over, allowing people to take turns, develop friendly little rivalries, and generally enjoy a bit of holiday frivolity.

But have you ever heard of a White Heffalump exchange?

This year, numerous game designers, artists, and puzzlers were recruited by Mike Selinker, the head of Lone Shark Games, to participate in a White Elephant gift exchange. But this exchange had a marvelous twist: every gift was imaginary.

So everyone involved — including such names as James Ernest (head of Cheapass Games, publishers of Veritas), John Kovalic (artist for Munchkin and creator of ROFL!) and puzzler constructions Eric Berlin and Brendan Emmett Quigley — created an imaginary gift for the exchange.

And then they all played the game on Twitter, so fans and friends could enjoy the madcap holiday cheer.

Here are a few of the “gifts” created for the White Heffalump gift exchange:

It’s easy to imagine a trip with The Doctor would be a highly sought-after prize.

What’s more heartwarming than retroactively sharing a friendship since first grade? (And possibly an iron-clad alibi, should you need one…)

It’s like one of those grab-the-money booths from an old game show, but with SWEETS!

A formidable steed and a delicious meal all in one. You can’t lose!

And the wily Matt Forbeck offered up the ideal machine for generating presents for next year’s White Heffalump exchange.

From “time to play with toys” and a dapper platypus to a 29-word crossword and a wish-granting pocket pet, the gifts were hilarious, innovative, and absolutely ridiculous, and the gameplay back and forth as people traded and stole gifts was just as entertaining.

[For more details on the exchange, check out Matt Forbeck’s write-up here or Mike Selinker’s incredibly thorough recap here.]

So, if you’re still struggling with gift ideas, you can always go the White Heffalump route. It’s creative, low-budget, and loads of fun. Enjoy!

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