The New Capital of European Crosswords?

First, it was Lvov, Ukraine: a city that created a crossword spanning the entire side of a 100-foot-tall residential building.

Now, another country in Eastern Europe is making bold choices with crosswords in mind: Estonia.

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[Image courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica.]

Crosswords are a global phenomenon. We’ve featured puzzle books from Europe on more than one occasion. So, naturally, each country must have its own concept of crosswordese, the curious and strange vocabulary that seems to exist only in the world of crosswords.

In Estonia, the editors behind the puzzle magazine Nuti compiled a list of ten towns and villages that frequently appear in their crosswords. Names like Aseri, Uulu, Erra, and Leisi were among those chosen for the fan vote.

But the winner by a landslide (162 votes!) was…

Aa.

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[Image courtesy of Pohjarannik.]

Yes, that picturesque coastal village in the north of Estonia we all know and love. Where you can see such sights as the Aa manor house and, I kid you not, a sand beach.

According to the 2000 census, the population of Aa was 190. There were nearly as many votes for the village as there are people living there!

And yes, I’m still calling it a landslide victory. The next nearest place, Aseri, had 89 votes. That’s nearly half! The lowest, Erra, garnered only 17 out of the 517 votes cast. That’s a landslide in my book.

Congratulations to the people of Aa. Can’t wait to see how you change the world of Estonian crosswords!

[Check out the original post that inspired this one, a New York Times piece by the marvelous Deb Amlen.]


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Doing Crosswords at Home: The Artistic Way

A few years ago, I wrote about one of the biggest crossword puzzles in the world: the 100-foot-tall Lviv, Ukraine, crossword painted on the side of a building.

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But as it turns out, this isn’t the only supersized crossword to grace the side of a building in Europe. In a book about German street art, I saw a picture of a house with a facade painted to resemble a crossword puzzle.

Doing a bit more research, I discovered that the house was located in Dusseldorf, Germany, on a street called Kiefernstrasse, which is one of the world’s largest graffiti walls. Residents use the walls of their homes and neighboring buildings to make artistic and political statements.

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[Image courtesy of CherylTiu.com.]

It’s a vibrant, fascinating part of the city — one where personal expression trumps traditional aesthetics. Be warned, though: Travel and lifestyle blogger Cheryl Tiu advises tourists to visit only in the daylight hours, and in the company of others. In the 1980s, Kiefernstrasse was home to gangs, political dissidents, and squatters, and it retains some of that anarchic spirit to this day.

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[As a Tsuro fan, I appreciate this work in particular, one of hundreds of works in an overlapping, constantly changing canvas. Image courtesy of CherylTiu.com.]

But the crossword house, located at #31, is what brings us to Kiefernstrasse today.

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[Image courtesy of Daily Dose of German.]

The artists (and residents) of #31 view the house as a microcosm of the world; all of the overlapping, interconnected entries — many of which are political — representing the complexity of our world.

It’s kind of interesting that such a layered statement literally appears in black and white. It feels quite apropos, though, since crosswords are both a cultural barometer — updating and evolving with the times — and a cultural artifact from another time, building upon the knowledge of the past.

As of writing this blog post, it’s unclear whether the piece is actually finished, since the artists said that the final words and clues for the grid were going to be painted on a gate or fence nearby.

Nonetheless, they’ve created a striking and intriguing work of art, one that says as much about crosswords as it does about the world.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: A-maze-ing edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

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

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of building-sized puzzles!

In the past I’ve mentioned some truly monster-sized puzzles, from the apartment building crossword in Ukraine to multi-story games of Tetris played on the sides of office buildings.

Well, another world record has been set for super-sized puzzles, this time in Dubai!

The largest vertical maze in the world (certified by the folks at Guinness!) can be found on the side of a 55-story building aptly known as Maze Tower.

Although LED lights make the maze quite an eye-catching spectacle at night, the maze is also visible in the daytime, since it was physically built along the side of the building.

All it needs is a digital minotaur prowling the corridors to chase off prospective solvers.

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Bigger really is better, sometimes…

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[A massive Sudoku grid, created to promote a Sudoku gameshow in England in 2005.]

There’s just something about puzzles on a grand scale. From the Great Urban Race’s citywide scavenger hunts to the Internet-spanning curiosity that is Cicada 3301, puzzly ambition makes for some truly mindblowing experiences.

But those are puzzles of staggering complexity and scope, not actual physical size. When it comes to sheer dimensions, you have to go building-size.

There is, of course, the solvable crossword from Lviv, Ukraine, where the grid takes up the entire side of an apartment building, with clues hidden all over the city. It’s a brilliant tourism move and a terrific challenge (especially if you don’t read Cyrillic).

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There was also the classic MIT hack from 2012 where ambitious miscreants transformed one side of the Green Building into a multicolored, playable Tetris game. (I recently learned that students from Brown University in Rhode Island accomplished a single-color version of the same feat back in 2000. You can find video of both hacks here.)

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But Javier Lloret has upped the ante with Puzzle Facade, an art installation which transforms the Ars Electronica building in Linz, Austria into a solvable Rubik’s Cube.

Using a small handheld cube as an interface, a solver can manipulate the cube and watch the same changes carried out across two entire sides of the building in full color.

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As you might expect, having only two sides of the cube available makes for a greater solving challenge, but who cares when you’re lighting up a building with every twist and turn!

It’s a fantastic meeting of puzzly fun and electronic wizardry, and the latest in a grand tradition of massive-scale creativity. I cannot wait to see what intrepid puzzlers come up with next.

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I’m gonna need a stepladder.

Plenty of places claim they offer large crosswords for the truly devoted solver, but nobody holds a candle to the Ukraine, whose citizens crafted this 100-foot-tall monument to puzzling.

Located in the city of Lviv (Lvov, to Russian speakers), the puzzle is an art installation perfectly designed to keep visitors thoroughly challenged. The clues are scattered on landmarks throughout the city, further encouraging both tourism and brain-boosting.

The puzzle appears incomplete during the day, but at night, special lighting reveals the answers in fluorescent paint.

I can only hope this will inspire other communities to raise the stakes even higher. Crop crosswords that can only be solved with Google Maps! Landscaping sudoku hedges complete with topiary set numbers! Cowboy-style word searches where you actually lasso words on cattle!

Okay, maybe not that last one. But hey! At least I’m trying! The artists of Lviv have set the bar — not to mention the grid — pretty darn high.