Puzzle Plagiarism: One Year Later

This weekend marked the one-year anniversary of one of the biggest stories in puzzles: the USA Today/Universal Uclick crossword plagiarism scandal, aka #gridgate.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, you can click here for more detail, but 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.

The story originally broke on data analysis website FiveThirtyEight.com thanks to Oliver Roeder, but the real credit belongs to Tausig and Pwanson. The article sparked an investigation, and a day after the story first broke, Universal Uclick (which owns both the USA Today crossword and the Universal syndicated crossword) stated that Parker had agreed to temporarily step back from any editorial role for both USA Today and Universal Crosswords.

We were among the first to report that constructor Fred Piscop would serve as editor in the interim, but after that, the story went quiet for two months.

Then, in early May, Roeder reported that Universal Uclick had completed its investigation, and despite the fact that they’d confirmed some of the allegations of puzzle repetition, they were only giving Parker a three-month leave of absence.

The puzzle community was unhappy with the reaction, and USA Today and Universal Uclick soon felt the pressure from constructors and content creators alike.

Among the most vocal was Mike Selinker, puzzle constructor and president of Lone Shark Games, who stated that he and his team would boycott both USA Today and Universal Uclick until appropriate action was taken:

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.

Many other game companies and constructors joined in the boycott, and less than a week later, Gannett (who publishes USA Today) declared that “No puzzles that appear in Gannett/USA TODAY NETWORK publications are being edited by Timothy Parker nor will they be edited by Timothy Parker in the future.”

We’d never seen anything like this. Not only did it galvanize the puzzle community like nothing before, but it raised the very important issue of creator’s rights when it comes to puzzles. After all, plagiarism isn’t tolerated in publishing or college term papers, so why should the efforts of crossword constructors be considered any less sacrosanct?

And except for the occasional joke on Twitter (or scathingly clever puzzle) referencing the story, that was it. As far as anyone knew, Parker was still employed by Uclick, and they wouldn’t confirm or deny his involvement in any non-USA Today and Gannett-published puzzles in the future.

So naturally, as the one-year anniversary of the story loomed in the distance, I got curious. What had become of Parker? Was he still involved with Universal Uclick?

Sadly, I have no new answers for you. I reached out to Universal Uclick for comment, and they declined to reply. Parker was similarly difficult to reach.

But even without new threads to follow, this is an important story to revisit. It represents the solidarity, pride, and support of the puzzle community. It represents the rights of creators to be respected and to have their hard work respected. It represents the power of concerned citizens speaking up.

It reminded people that crosswords represent much more than a way to pass an idle Sunday morning.


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Kubrick’s Game Continues!

Back in September of last year, I reviewed the novel Kubrick’s Game by Derek Taylor Kent, a puzzly adventure/thriller that incorporated elements of Da Vinci Code-style mysteries, film history, conspiracy theories, and a cracking whodunit.

I also announced that a tie-in game was created for readers and puzzlers to tackle. Known as The Game or Kubrick’s Game, this months-long puzzle hunt started quite innocuously, with a poem introducing solvers to the game, and then the following text:

From Ai to the shiNing, from Two thousAnd and one to dr. Strangelove, from sparTacus to lolIta, from Clockwork oRange to pAths of glory, no director in history has given the Cinema more Enigmatic masterpieces than Director stanley kubrick. Over his Turbulent Career, kubrick produced an Oeuvre that gained him the nickname of the Maestro. So what if this Legendary Artist hid a priceless treasure away Somewhere and left clues to the location within his movies, Hidden away in plain sight? KUBRICKS GAME asks this very question and the answer will blow you away.

Once you’ve found the hidden message, it leads you to an encrypted message that directs you to complete a task that will lead you further into the game.

Each puzzle you solve, as well as each additional side task, riddle, and challenge you complete, is worth points (plus bonuses for being among the first to crack each puzzle). A leaderboard tracks the individuals or teams with the top scores as the game progresses.

The players are currently tackling Puzzle #4, and unlike earlier puzzles, instead of getting bonus points for solving the puzzle faster, points will be determined by how few hints the competitors need in order to crack the puzzle.

Only four players have cracked the puzzle thus far, and impressively, several managed to do so without any clues.

I reached out to several of the players for their insights into the puzzle hunt. For one of the players, Rey, this is a particularly intriguing challenge:

This is my first experience doing it as a contest, which really puts the pressure on and actually makes it more satisfying when I solve one of the puzzles. I started off by getting interested in Escape Room attractions and found that it really piqued my interest trying to figure out how all the little clues connect.

So far the last puzzle (#4) has been the most challenging. Definitely took me the longest to figure out. They have all had their own little bits of difficulty that make them different. The Game Masters really know their stuff and are making this a very interesting contest.

[Game Master Bob Glouberman instructs a batch of competitors
in the Fantastic Race. Image courtesy of The LA Times.]

And speaking of the Game Masters, I had the opportunity to chat with mastermind Bob Glouberman about creating the hunt featured in the book.

I have been obsessed with Kubrick since I first saw The Shining in 1980 when it was released. The idea of a Da Vinci Code with Kubrick’s films at its center was enticing to me. Derek wanted to know if I could invent an elaborate puzzle that went through all of Kubrick’s films and I was so eager to jump in, I said, “no sweat.” Of course it was lots of sweat….but fun sweat.

As for how he actually constructed the puzzles for the novel, well…

I watched all of Kubrick’s films (I had seen them all before multiple times) over again. I bought a white board and I started noticing all of the similarities and tie ins that exist between the films. I then wrote in different colored dry erase marker depending on the film, the connection, and the possibility for a puzzle. I connected all the tie ins with lines which was very reminiscent of Dexter Morgan’s blood spatter strings.

I then watched all the movies a second time and added all of the strange symbols in all of Kubrick’s movies that I didn’t quite understand. I figured those symbols would be ripe for clues. Perhaps if they had meaning for the film, they might also have a subsequent meaning for a puzzle.

I then watched them a third time and added all the scenes that didn’t make sense. Random scribbles on a wall. Scenes that faded out for no apparent reason. Lines of dialogue that appeared clunky. Characters that seemed to go nowhere. These seemingly random elements might have been added for coherence to a puzzle.

And the end result, I believe, is a very satisfying series of puzzles that works well with the films. Naturally, Kubrick didn’t intentionally create a series of puzzles… but he might have. And they may have looked like the puzzle system Derek outlined in Kubrick’s Game.

There’s still time to get in on the hunt for Kubrick’s ultimate prize! Organizers are keeping registration open until March 1st!

You can click here for all the details on the Game and to get started. For more info on author Derek Taylor Kent, click here.

And be sure to check out Bob Glouberman’s other diabolical projects: a treasure hunt company called Fantastic Race and an escape-room company called Get the F Out.

Happy hunting, everyone!


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Gems from 2016 edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

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.

And today, I’d like to revisit the post listing our favorite crosswords and clues from 2016!

[Image courtesy of blog.dictionary.com.]

At the end of the post, I asked readers and fellow puzzlers what their favorites from 2016 were, and several top constructors and puzzle personalities reached out to share the puzzles that caught their eye!

The Crosswords Club editor and friend of the blog Patti Varol shared four crosswords she really enjoyed last year: one from The LA Times, one from The Crosswords Club, and two from Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords puzzles.

Both The LA Times Daily puzzle and the 21x Crosswords Club puzzle were created by constructor Ed Sessa, and Patti considered them two of “the cutest crosswords I’ve solved in a very long time.”

[Image courtesy of Dunkin Donuts.]

The Crosswords Club puzzle, “Made to Order,” had different donuts as themed entries, complete with the all the O’s circled, so that there were actually a dozen donuts in the grid. It was a clever visual gag executed with style.

I enjoyed that one, but I preferred the LA Times puzzle from October 6th, which offered four clues in all caps: OREO, ORE, OR, and O. Those were your themed entries, and the revealer explaining the all-caps entries? ME EAT COOKIE. That was great.

[Image courtesy of District of Calamity.]

The other two puzzles were a double-header from March 12th. “Can You Read Me?” was constructed by Andrew Ries and “Copy That” by Jared S. Erwin.

“Can You Read Me?” was a solid puzzle with a three-part quotation (I CAN’T WRITE FIVE WORDS BUT THAT I CHANGE SEVEN) and the speaker (DOROTHY PARKER) as the featured entries.

But the fun really began when you solved “Copy That,” which featured the same quote, but cited TIMOTHY PARKER as the speaker. And there were seven words in total changed from “Can You Read Me?”

This one-two punch of puzzling is a savagely clever reference to the crossword plagiarism scandal we covered in detail in the blog. Very well played, Andrew and Jared.

[Image courtesy of Jake Silverstein’s Twitter.]

We’ve got one last puzzle to highlight, recommended by constructor and friend of the blog David Steinberg. It was the absolutely monstrous puzzle pictured above, a 50×50 puzzle by Frank Longo that appeared in the special Puzzle Mania section in The New York Times.

I haven’t had the pleasure of tackling this one yet, but David said, “I’ve never solved such a big puzzle before, and it was amazingly smooth and entertaining!”

And with that, we wrap up our look at 2016 and look forward to all the puzzly creativity and inventiveness coming in 2017!


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My Favorite Crosswords and Clues for 2016!

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the crossword — the one hundred and third, to be precise — and I thought I would celebrate the day by sharing some of my favorite crossword puzzles and clues from this year.

I solved more crosswords this year than any other year I can remember. From The New York Times, The LA Times, and The Washington Post to Peter Gordon‘s Fireball Newsflash Crosswords and our own Free Daily Puzzle on the Penny Dell Crosswords app, I tried to sample as many constructors and outlets as I could.

I want to start with Ben Tausig’s “Gender-Fluid” quantum puzzle from The New York Times in September. In a year that saw the Times called out several times for tone-deaf and insensitive cluing, to have a puzzle dedicated to the increasing awareness of other gender options was great.

And it certainly didn’t hurt that Ben’s grid was tightly constructed and each of the variable M or F entries worked well. (You can check out my full post on the puzzle here.)

“Eliminating the Competition” by Barany and Friends was another strong crossword with clever letterplay involved. The puzzle paid tribute to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament by dropping the letters A, C, P, and T, respectively from the four theme entries in the grid.

Not only that, but there were no As, Cs, Ps, or Ts to be found anywhere else in the puzzle grid, which I thought was not only clever, but impressively challenging as a constructing gimmick. It was one of the most ambitious grids I saw all year. (You can check out my full post on the puzzle here.)

On the flip side — a puzzle that was more about the clues than the grid — there was the cryptic crossword from Neil Patrick Harris’s Choose Your Own Autobiography.

With clues like “Sounds like an assortment of taxis in which you were the MC (7)” (for CABARET) and “Costar a large, fake amount of money? (7)” (for FILLION), this puzzle not only rewarded attentive readers, but it severely taxed my (admittedly less-than-daunting) skills at unraveling cryptic clues. (You can check out my full post on the puzzle here.)

Oh, and on the topic of cryptic clues, I asked some constructors if there were any clues or puzzles that caught their eye this year, and David Kwong mentioned a doozy of a cryptic clue by master constructors Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon that he considered the most diabolical he’d ever seen.

The clue? “Emphatically, the key to making bozos boss? (9)”

The answer? SFORZANDO, which parses as “S for Z and O.”

That’s awesome. Doug Peterson did a variation on that in this year’s Lollapuzzoola tournament, “What Happened?”, which featured words or phrases where the letter H had been replaced with either a T or a Y. He revealed this with the entry “HISTORY” breaking down “H is T or Y.” I really dug this puzzle.

And speaking of Lollapuzzoola, I absolutely loved Francis Heaney‘s “Quote Boxes” puzzle from this year’s tournament. It was an 18×18 grid jam-packed with entries, and he used an interesting mechanic to fill the grid.

There were five 2×2 boxes shaded with different shapes, and each of the four cells in those 2×2 boxes contained a word from a famous four-word movie quote, allowing him to place longer entries in the grid. It was the highlight of Lollapuzzoola for me this year. Great stuff.

But before I get to the final crossword on my list, I’d like to run down some of my favorite crossword clues from this year.

  • “Island country that becomes a geometric solid if you change its last letter to an E” for CUBA (from Patrick Blindauer‘s Piece of Cake Crosswords. A super-long clue, but very fun.)
  • “Struggle with hopelessness?” for LISP (from Brendan Emmett Quigley)
  • “The Sky, Sun, and Stars play in it” for WNBA (from Peter Gordon)
  • “Answers, on ‘Jeopardy!'” for ASKS (I don’t recall where I saw this one. Let me know if you know, so I can correct this!)
  • “Some people do it for kicks” for KARATE (Again, no idea where I saw this one. Let me know if you know, so I can correct this!)
  • “Characters often found to be up in arms?” for YMCA (from Sam Trabucco’s Indie 500 puzzle)

And cluing tied into my final choice for favorite crossword of the year with Erik Agard and Joanne Sullivan’s puzzle “Do I Hear a Waltz?” from the Indie 500 tournament.

In this puzzle, the words ONE, TWO, and THREE were missing from sequential clues, providing a hidden one-two-three count for the puzzle’s titular waltz. For instance, 36-Across clued TRUMP as “Up,” 37-Across clued BIKINI as “Piece, say,” and 38-Across clued TITLES as “Peat makeup.” As you’d expect, those clues make much more sense when you add the hidden one-two-three: One-up = TRUMP; Two-piece, say = BIKINI; Threepeat makeup = TITLES.

Hiding the beat within the cluing was absolutely brilliant, and one of the highlights in crosswords for me this year.

Now I’m sure there were great clues or puzzles that I missed, since I’m hardly a prolific solver. Let me know which puzzles and clues from 2016 were your favorites! I’d love to hear from you!


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5 Questions for Constructor Doug Peterson

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 Doug Peterson as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Crossword gentleman and constructor Doug Peterson is a regular in the Los Angeles Times and many other outlets, offering topnotch grids and brilliantly fun, pop-culture-savvy cluing. Doug was also one of the constructors in this year’s Lollapuzzoola crossword tournament and a winner at this year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Anytime you encounter one of his puzzles, you’re guaranteed a great solve.

Doug 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 Doug Peterson

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

Like many others, I caught the puzzle bug from older family members, specifically my dad and maternal grandmother. I’d spend summers at my grandparents’ house, and my grandma always had a stack of Dell puzzle books on hand. My favorite thing was to tackle one of the huge 21×21 crosswords, which would literally take me days to finish. And that was great, because I had a lot of long, boring days to get through.

2. What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle? What do you most enjoy — or most commonly avoid — when constructing your own? What do you think is the most common pitfall of constructors just starting out?

I think the most important element in a puzzle is craftsmanship, meaning that significant effort has gone into making that puzzle as enjoyable as possible. I realize that’s a little vague, but it’s like the old line about pornography: “I know it when I see it.” Basically, the theme, fill, and clues should all demonstrate care and a personal touch.

I’m not the best at coming up with themes, so I strive to make my fill and clues pick up the slack, so to speak. There’s plenty I avoid in my grids, and I’m getting pickier all time. For the record, I’ve never used ÉTÉ in a grid. I don’t trust three-letter words with two accent marks. Also on my “banned list” are IDI, AMIN, and ULEE. I’m not going there. I hate brutal dictators, and bees kinda scare me.

The most common pitfall I’ve found among newbies is trying to do too much right out of the gate. My advice is to get a few 15×15’s under your belt before trying to construct that 21×21 triple rebus with five meta-answers and a tribute to your favorite band hidden diagonally. My first published puzzles are embarrassing to look at now. I used PATLY in my debut puzzle. PATLY? That barely resembles a word that a human would use. But I got better, and by the time I was ready to tackle something truly challenging, I had some constructing chops.

Teaser: I’ll give my best advice to newbies (and all constructors) in my answer to Question 5.

[Two of Doug’s books currently available on Amazon: Sit & Solve© Brain-Straining Crosswords and Sit & Solve© Lickety-Split Crosswords.]

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

We’re living in a golden age of crosswords, and there are so many superb themes and clues out there, and of course I can’t think of anything specific off the top of my head right now… I solve a crapload of puzzles, more than 20 per week, so honestly it’s hard to single out themes or clues that made me say “Oooh!”

Constructors whose themes I admire include Brendan Emmett Quigley, Andrew Ries, and Erik Agard. They’re at the top of my “why the hell didn’t I think of that?” list. BEQ publishes two free high-quality puzzles a week, which boggles my mind. And he used to do three a week! Just recently, he posted puzzle #900. I would have burned out years ago. BEQ’s puzzles are a blast to solve, and they’re hip without being eye-rolly.

Andrew Ries publishes a weekly crossword (www.ariesxword.com) that’ll run you $12 bucks a year (a steal!) and consistently features fresh themes and clues. It’s often my favorite puzzle of the week. And then there’s Erik Agard over at gluttonforpun. Mind-bending, multi-level themes and clues that make me laugh out loud. This dude is the next wave of crossword puzzles.

The best venue for stand-out themes by a variety of constructors is Fireball Crosswords, edited and sometimes constructed by Peter Gordon. Shameless plug: I constructed the first Fireball puzzle of 2017, which will hit solvers’ in-boxes in January. It’s a theme that’d been bouncing around in my brain for over two years, and I finally got off my lazy butt and made the puzzle.

Cool entries do tend to stick in my head, and a couple recent entries I loved (and wish I’d thought to use myself) were BEER O’CLOCK and DC UNIVERSE. Both were in puzzles by another of my favorite constructors, C.C. Burnikel. She turns out quality puzzles on a regular basis. In fact, on a more-than-regular basis. C.C. is remarkably prolific. Nary a week goes by that I don’t solve a well-crafted Burnikel puzzle in one of the major outlets.

4. What’s next for Doug Peterson?

On the constructing front, I’d like to branch out a little and create more non-American style crossword puzzles. I love constructing cryptic crosswords. I had a couple published in the New York Times ages ago, and then I drifted away from them. I got my start writing cryptic clues back in the Dark Ages in the rec.puzzles.crosswords Usenet group. (Psst, constructors. No one remembers USENET anymore, so stop putting it in your grids. SYSOP, too.) And maybe I’ll try my hand at constructing a Rows Garden or a Marching Bands puzzle. Something outside my comfort zone.

[A. A familiar Sudoku grid; B. A Kakuro (or Cross Sums) grid; C. A Nurikabe
grid, a variation on Minesweeper-style solving; D. A Hashiwokakero grid,
which readers might remember from this year’s UK Puzzle Championship.]

Speaking of comfort zones, on the solving front, I want to get much better at solving logic puzzles. And by “get much better at,” I mean “actually be able to solve.” I’m talking about Sudoku, Kakuro, Nurikabe, Hashiwokakero (yes, that’s an actual puzzle type I just found on Google), all the puzzles with Japanese names and little lines and boxes and circles. I’ve solved maybe ten Sudoku puzzles in my life, and it would be cool to stretch my brain in another direction or many other directions.

And hey, it will open up a whole new world of puzzles that I can print out and never quite get around to solving!

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

To aspiring constructors, my best advice is: Solve puzzles! I cringe when I hear a constructor say that they don’t solve puzzles or “can’t” solve puzzles. Just looking at answer grids or reading reviews of puzzles isn’t enough. To me, solving is the only way to figure out what sorts of things make a puzzle enjoyable. There’s a reason I don’t use ULEE in my grids, aside from my slight apiphobia. It’s because it bugs me when I see it in a puzzle I’m solving.

Create the kinds of puzzles that you enjoy solving, and you can’t go wrong. (Unless you like solving really crappy puzzles for some reason.) And if you’re interested in being published and getting paid a few bucks for your hard work, it’s essential to solve puzzles from the venue you’re submitting to.

OK, I’ve rambled on long enough. Look for my été-free puzzles in all the usual places. Thanks for reading. Peterson out.


A huge thank you to Doug for his time. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for the latest updates on all his puzzly creations!

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PuzzleNation 2016 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2016 Holiday Puzzly 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 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, party games, and trivia games. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


Puzzle Apps

The Penny Dell Crossword App, available for both iOS and Android users, not only features bundles of terrific puzzle content, but it offers a free daily puzzle to all solvers!

Our new Penny Dell Sudoku app is also available for both Android and iOS, and offers four different difficulty levels: Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert! Whether you’re a newbie to Sudoku or a master, you’ll find the right puzzles for you!

You can check out our full line of puzzle apps 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!

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 Stocking Stuffer Pack ($9), complete with pencils to keep you puzzling, or the Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket Puzzle 4-Pack ($24.50). Or you’d like to unwind with their Coloring Book 4-Pack ($17.95) 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. 15% 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 ($6.88)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Easy Like Monday Morning Crosswords ($6.26) and Easy Breezy Crosswords ($8.95)

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

–Brendan Emmett Quigley and Francis Heaney’s Drunk Crosswords ($7.95)

–Patrick Berry’s Son of the Crypt Cryptic Crosswords ($15)

–David L. Hoyt’s Word Winder ($6.95) and Jumble Puzzles ($9.95)

–Cynthia Morris’s American Acrostics, CynAcrostics, and AnimaCrostics ($9.95)

The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker

And we simply have to mention one of the most innovative puzzle books in recent memory, 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)

[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 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)

Secret Agent Training Manual by Elizabeth Singer Hunt

Looking for a terrific introductory guide to codebreaking and encryption for younger solvers? Check out the Secret Agent Training Manual, covering anagrams, ciphers, and other forms of encryption, complete with codes for readers to crack themselves! ($6.99)

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin

Join intrepid young puzzler Winston in unraveling an unexpected mystery in The Puzzling World of Winston Breen! Crack puzzles alongside him as he tries to uncover who’s behind a hometown puzzle hunt that’s gone unsolved for 25 years! And if you enjoy this one, there are two follow-up books to keep you engaged and solving! ($7.99)

[Check out our review of The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by clicking here!]


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 ($18 for 3 months, $32 for 6 months, $60 for 1 year)

Piece of Cake Crosswords by Patrick Blindauer ($30 for 1 year)

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 ($12 per year)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($25 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Various Themed Puzzlefests ($15 each)

–The LA Times’ Crossword LA 2016 puzzle pack ($5)

–Patrick Merrell’s Punchline Puzzles ($10) and Aha! Word Puzzles ($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), 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!

Clue Master, Circuit Maze, and Back Spin (ThinkFun)

ThinkFun meshes learning and gameplay with three logic games ready to challenge kids and adults alike. Whether it’s the Rubik’s-inspired twisty-turny solve of Back Spin ($14.99), the Sudoku-style deduction of Clue Master ($12.99), or the electrical grid-building challenge of Circuit Maze ($29.99), young minds and older minds will soon be in fighting trim for puzzling!

[Check out our full product reviews of Back Spin by clicking here, Clue Master by clicking here, and Circuit Maze by clicking here!]

Strata Sphere (Family Games America)

Can you crack the three-dimensional challenge of Strata Sphere? First you place each of the sliding bars into the gridwork, then you try to free all of your spheres before your opponent can do the same! A terrific, mind-bending puzzle unlike anything else! ($30.97)

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

LEGO Ideas: Maze (LEGO)

Combine the classic puzzly hand-eye coordination of a wooden labyrinth with everyone’s favorite building toys, and you’ve got the Lego Ideas: Maze. Customizable with all sorts of different maze layouts and obstacles, this one is both fun to build and fun to solve! ($69.99)

[Check out our full product review of LEGO Ideas: Maze by clicking here!]


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!

Kill Doctor Lucky: Deluxe 19.5th Anniversary Edition (Cheapass Games)

You might be skilled at unearthing murderers in games like Clue, but how are you at committing them? In Kill Doctor Lucky, your only goal is to dispatch the fortuitous fellow without being seen by anyone! Strategy and timing are key in this wickedly enjoyable game. ($40)

[Check out our full product review of Kill Doctor Lucky 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!]

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)

[Review coming soon!]

Quarto (Gigamic Games)

Four-in-a-row puzzle games are a staple of the genre, but rarely are they as beautiful or as diabolically simple as Quarto. With blocks of different shapes, sizes, and colors to choose from, you can attack the game from any angle. But watch out, or a crafty opponent just might beat you at your own game! ($34.99)

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

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!]

Slideways (R&R Games)

Take Connect Four-style puzzling to the next level with Slideways! Not only can you shift pieces to the side here, but you can flip your opponent’s moves to your own color! It’s a race to four-in-a-row in this easily-portable game that will have you thinking five steps ahead! ($14.99)

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

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)

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 into! ($34.99)

Pyramid Arcade (Looney Labs)

With 22 different games in one box, Pyramid Arcade takes the Looney pyramid series above and beyond anything you’ve seen before. Challenge yourself or other players with strategy games, Tic-Tac-Toe-style competitions, stacking challenges, and more! ($77)

[Review coming soon!]


Card Games

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!]

Get Lucky (Cheapass Games)

At a very peculiar dinner party, everyone is trying to kill Doctor Lucky, but can you outwit your opponents and Get Lucky first? Practice makes perfect in this game of persistence where every murder attempt increases your chances of knocking off the most desirable target in all of gaming! ($17)

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

Schrodinger’s Cats (9th Level Games)

In this wagering game based on the famous scientific thought experiment, you have to figure out how many of Schrodinger’s Cats survived the experiment! And just like in poker, you can share some information while you wager in the hopes of improving your chances of success! With shameless card puns and opportunities for bluffing, this isn’t your usual card game! ($19.22)

[Check out our full product review of Schrodinger’s Cats by clicking here!]

Firefly Fluxx (Looney Labs)

The purveyors of sweet-tooth strategy game Just Desserts and quick-draw pattern-matching game Loonacy return to their flagship brand with one of the most beloved sci-fi shows in recent memory with Firefly Fluxx. Tackle the ever-changing rules in the hopes of finding the two cards you need for victory, all while enjoying inside jokes and references to this one-season wonder of a TV show! ($20)

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

Noueni (263 Games)

You’ll need all of your strategy and cunning to win Noueni, a game of connections, overlaps, and careful card placement. Can you claim more territory than your opponents, or will they outthink you and steal your spotlight at a key moment? ($12.99)

[Check out our full product review of Noueni by clicking 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)

Oh My Gods! (Gameworthy Labs)

Take Clue to the next level with Oh My Gods! as you investigate a crime on Mount Olympus! Play cards to reveal information or increase your chances for success, but please, try not to tick off the gods! ($24.98)

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!]


Party Games

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!]

Mad Libs: The Game (Looney Labs)

Looking for a family-friendly alternative to Cards Against Humanity? Something that traffics in silliness instead of shock value? Mad Libs: The Game has got you covered. Draw cards to fill in the blanks and craft hilarious sentences to amuse one and all! ($20)

[Check out our full product review of Mad Libs: The Game by clicking here!]

Movie Buff (Golden Bell Entertainment)

How well do you know your movies, actors, characters, and famous quotes? Movie Buff will put your knowledge to the test, but instead of answering questions, you’re trying to make connections between films! It’s a fast-paced version of Six Degrees of Separation, but in a fun and frantic card game! ($24.95)


Trivia Games

Linkee (Bananagrams/Big Potato Games)

Something connects a series for four trivia questions. Can you figure out what? If you can, Linkee is right up your alley. This trivia game is about more than answering questions, challenging players to make associative connections before the other trivia buffs in the room can! ($22.49)

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

Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout (Bananagrams/Big Potato Games)

Put your knowledge to the test in Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout as two teams compete to name more entries on a Family Feud-style list. If you do, you win a drink! Collect five different drinks, and you win! A game of trivia and opportunity perfect for a group setting! ($19.99)

[Check out our full product review of Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout by clicking here!]


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

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