It’s Follow-Up Friday: 2016 Countdown edition!

It’s the final Follow-Up Friday of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2016 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


#10 Doomsday Prep

One of the big surprises for me this year was discovering that crosswords and puzzle books were hot-ticket items for doomsday preppers. The idea that crosswords belong next to necessities like food, water, shelter, and knowledge was a revealing one, something that gave me great hope for the future, whether we need those caches or not.

#9 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

#8 A Puzzly Proposal

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles once again pulled off a heck of a puzzly coup when an intrepid fellow puzzler asked them for help proposing to his girlfriend with a special Simon Says puzzle.

I reached out to the lucky fiancé and got his permission to share the story with the PuzzleNation readership, and as I learned more about who was involved and how they’d managed to make it happen, I enjoyed the story more and more. Here’s hoping for many happy puzzly years ahead for the young couple!

#7 Puzzle Fort

For International Puzzle Day, I built a fort out of puzzle books.

It was awesome. Definitely one of my favorite puzzly moments of the year.

#6 The End of Sudoku?

The Sudoku boom may be over, but Sudoku remains one of the most popular puzzles in the world, and I got to thinking… when would we run out? I mean, eventually, statistically speaking, every single Sudoku puzzle permutation would get used at some point, so when would that happen?

So, I crunched the numbers, and it turns out, we’ve got centuries before that happens. Still, it was a fun mental puzzle to unravel.

#5 Murder Mystery

At some point this year, I let slip to my fellow puzzlers that I’d written and staged murder mystery dinners in the past, but it had been a while since I’d done anything like that. Naturally, they volunteered to be participants, urging me to stage something in the office.

Eventually, I accepted their challenge, pitting myself against a half-dozen or so of my fellow puzzlers, allowing some of them to investigate while others played a part in the mystery. It was an enormous undertaking and an absolute blast that lasted three days, and it was definitely a highlight of the year for me.

#4 Puzzle Plagiarism

There was probably no bigger story in crosswords all year than the accusations of plagiarism leveled against Timothy Parker. The editor of puzzles for USA Today and Universal UClick. After numerous examples of very suspicious repetitions between grids were discovered in a crossword database compiled by programmer Saul Pwanson and constructor Ben Tausig, Parker “temporarily stepped back from any editorial role” with their puzzles.

Eventually, Parker was removed from any editorial influence on USA Today’s puzzles, but it remains unknown if he’s still serving in a puzzle-related capacity for Universal Uclick. But the real story here was about integrity in puzzles, as many puzzle and game companies rallied to defend their rights as creators. That’s a cause we can all get behind.

#3 Interviewing the PuzzleNation Team

Our recurring interview feature 5 Questions returned this year, but what made it truly special to me was being able to turn the spotlight on some of my fellow puzzlers here at PuzzleNation as part of celebrating 4 years of PuzzleNation Blog. Introducing readers to our programmer Mike, our Director of Digital Games Fred, and yes, even myself, was a really fun way to celebrate this milestone.

#2 ACPT, CT FIG, and Other Puzzly Events

There are few things better than spending time with fellow puzzlers and gamers, and we got to do a lot of that this year. Whether it was supporting local creators at the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games or cheering on my fellow puzzlers at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, getting out and talking shop with other creators is invigorating and encouraging. It really helps solidify the spirit of community that comes with being puzzly.

#1 Penny Dell Sudoku and Android Expansion

Those were our two biggest app releases this year, and I just couldn’t choose one over the other. This has been a terrific year for us as puzzle creators, because not only did we beef up our library of Android-available puzzle sets to match our terrific iOS library, but we launched our new Penny Dell Sudoku app across both platforms, broadening the scope of what sort of puzzle apps you can expect from PuzzleNation.

It may sound self-serving or schlocky to talk about our flagship products as #1 in the countdown, but it’s something that we’re all extremely proud of, something that we’re constantly working to improve, because we want to make our apps the absolute best they can be for the PuzzleNation audience. That’s what you deserve.

Thanks for spending 2016 with us, through puzzle scandals and proposals, through forts and festivities, through doomsday prepping and daily delights. We’ll see you in 2017.


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PuzzleNation Looks Back at 2016!

The year is quickly coming to a close, and as I look back on an eventful year in the world of puzzles and games, I’m unbelievably proud of the contributions both PuzzleNation Blog and PuzzleNation made to the puzzle community as a whole.

Over the last year, we explored board games and card games, strategy games and trivia games, dice games and tile games, do-it-yourself puzzlers and pen-and-paper classics. We met designers, constructors, authors, artists who work in LEGOs and dominos, and creative types of all kinds.

We unraveled math puzzles and used statistics to play Hangman and Guess Who smarter. We accepted the challenge of diabolical puzzles, optical illusions, Internet memes, and more.

We delved into puzzle history with posts about Bletchley Park, puzzle graffiti from ancient Greece, Viking board games, and modern mysteries like the Kryptos Sculpture and the Voynich Manuscript. We separated fact from fiction when it comes to puzzles and brain health, avoiding highfalutin promises and sticking to solid science.

We spread the word about numerous worthwhile Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, watching as the puzzle/game renaissance continued to amaze and surprise us with innovative new ways to play and solve. We shared amazing projects and worthy causes like Humble Bundles and puzzle/game donation programs for schools that allowed puzzle lovers to help others.

We celebrated International TableTop Day, built a puzzle fort in honor of International Puzzle Day, attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games, and dove deep into puzzle events like the Indie 500, the UK Sudoku Championship, the 2016 UK Puzzle Championship, and Lollapuzzoola. We even celebrated a puzzly wedding proposal, and we were happy to share so many remarkable puzzly landmark moments with you.

It’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to explore the world of puzzles and games with you, my fellow puzzle lovers and PuzzleNationers. We marked four years of PuzzleNation Blog this year, I’m approaching my 650th blog post, and I’m more excited to write for you now than I was when I started.

And honestly, that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune, hard work, and accomplishments in 2016 went well beyond that.

In April, we launched Penny Dell Crosswords Jumbo 3 for iOS users, and in May, we followed that with Penny Dell Crosswords Jumbo for Android. In November, we launched our new Penny Dell Sudoku app on both Android and iOS.

But the standout showpiece of our puzzle app library remains the Penny Dell Crossword App. Every month, we release puzzle sets like our Dell Collection sets or the themed Deluxe sets for both Android and iOS users, and I’m proud to say that every single puzzle represents our high standards of quality puzzle content for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

We even revamped our ongoing Crossword Clue Challenge to feature a clue from each day’s Free Daily Puzzle in the Crossword app, all to ensure that more puzzle lovers than ever have access to the best mobile crossword app on the market today.

And your response has been fantastic! The blog is closing in on 2000 followers, and with our audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms continuing to grow, the enthusiasm of the PuzzleNation readership is both humbling and very encouraging.

2016 was our most ambitious, most exciting, and most creatively fulfilling year to date, and the coming year promises to be even brighter.

Thank you for your support, your interest, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. Have a marvelous New Year. We’ll see you in 2017!


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A puzzle in your pocket

Brain teasers come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s one particular brand of brain teaser that fits in your pocket. Today we’re talking about matchstick puzzles (or toothpick puzzles).

Matches as we know them (relying on friction to ignite, rather than dipping or crushing) were invented in 1826 by English chemist John Walker, and in the decades that followed, numerous improvements were made, especially in terms of safety and ease of use. Matchsticks soon grew ubiquitous and match companies started putting little puzzles on their boxes.

And the matchstick puzzle was born.

(I have no historical documentation to back me up on this, but I suspect that bar bets also played a role in the rise of matchstick puzzles, because the sort of cleverness and trickery that goes into solving some of these puzzles would be perfectly at home in the repertoire of someone looking to con a few free drinks out of fellow tipplers.)

So, for the uninitiated, what are matchstick puzzles?

These are rearrangement or transformation puzzles, where you’re given a certain shape (laid out in matchsticks, toothpicks, straws, pencils, or anything else of equal length), and you have to move the items into another shape or configuration. Sometimes, it’s simply about placing the matchsticks economically, but other times, you have to get crafty and think outside the box to complete your task.

For instance, here’s the first matchstick puzzle I ever remember seeing:

[This image, and the one below, courtesy of Matchstick Puzzles on Blogspot.]

You have two triangles formed from six matchsticks. Move one matchstick to make four triangles.

Now, you could easily use all of these matchsticks to make four triangles, but that would involve moving more than one of them. So clearly there’s something else at work here if you only need to move one to solve the puzzle.

That something, in this case, is a little visual trickery.

As you can see, you turn one triangle into a numeral four, making the matchsticks literally read out “4 triangle.” Sneaky sneaky.

There are literally hundreds of these puzzles if you go hunting for them. (I found a treasure trove of them here.)

A curious variation, though, applies the same rules to mathematical formulas laid out in matchstick form.

Here’s one that’s been making the rounds on Facebook recently:

Now, the big difference between these mathematical ones and the shape ones mentioned above, as far as I’ve found, is that the math ones are far more alternate prone.

For instance, this equation puzzle has at least four solutions that I’ve found:

  • You can move one match to make the 6 a 0, so that 0+4=4.
  • You can move one match from the 6 to the second 4 to make the 6 a 5 and the 4 a 9, so that 5+4=9.
  • You can move one match from the plus sign to the 6 to make the plus sign a minus sign and the 6 an 8, so that 8-4=4.
  • You can move one match from the plus sign to the equal sign to make the plus sign a minus sign and the equal sign a doesn’t-equal sign, so that 6-4 does not equal 4.

As you can see, with matchstick puzzles,  the possibilities are endless and the building blocks — whether matches, toothpicks, Q-Tips, or straws — are easily accessible.

I’ll leave you one more to ponder, this time provided by the folks at IO9:

Using six matchsticks of equal length, create four identical, equilateral triangles. There’s no need for snapping, burning, or otherwise altering the matchsticks.

Good luck!


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!

Puzzles in Pop Culture: Die Hard With a Vengeance

die-hard-with-a-vengeance-original

It’s summer, and when it comes to Hollywood, summer means big blockbuster action movies. One of my favorites is the Bruce Willis / Samuel L. Jackson modern classic Die Hard With a Vengeance.

For those who are unfamiliar with the film — shame on you! — it’s the third installment of the Die Hard franchise, featuring catchphrase-spouting New York City cop John McClane battling terrorists, criminals, and all sorts of unsavory characters.

In Die Hard With a Vengeance, a bomber named Simon is terrorizing the city and McClane is one of his playthings, forced to play Simon Says and accomplish increasingly difficult tasks that Simon sets before him. As McClane (and electrician Zeus Carver, who saves McClane from the first of Simon’s games) race around the city trying to prevent other bombs from going off, Simon enacts an elaborate scheme to rob the city.

Thankfully, McClane and Zeus have a knack for brain teasers and riddles, because several of Simon’s devious tasks require quick thinking and sharp puzzle skills.

diehardwithavengeance1

[One of the last movies to feature payphones as a key plot point…]

First, Simon hits them with a math problem:

As I was going to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives. Each wife had seven sacks, every sack had seven cats, every cat had seven kittens. Kittens, cats, sacks, wives. How many were going to St. Ives?

As McClane fervently tries to do multiplication in his head, Zeus realizes this isn’t a word problem, it’s a riddle. The man was going to St. Ives when he met this man, meaning the man was coming from St. Ives. So the wives, sacks, cats, and kittens are irrelevant. Only the narrator is going to St. Ives, so the answer to the riddle is 1.

stives-1886892

[Seems like a nice place to take your many wives…]

In their second puzzly task, Simon offers the following question:

“What has four legs and always ready to travel?”

McClane doesn’t get it, but Zeus immediately identifies it as an elephant joke for kids (although he doesn’t actually deliver the punchline: an elephant, because it has four legs and a trunk).

They quickly spot a nearby fountain with an elephant statue. Awaiting them is a suitcase bomb and two empty jugs. When McClane opens the suitcase, he accidentally arms the bomb, and Simon calls to inform them that the only way to disarm the bomb is to fill one of the jugs with exactly four gallons of water and place it on the scale in the suitcase.

die-hard-vengeance-laptop

[And they say what we learn in school has no practical, real-world applications…]

The problem is the two jugs hold 3 gallons and 5 gallons, respectively. Simon has set them up with another brain teaser, but one with a dire time limit to solve.

Thankfully, there are two ways to solve this brain teaser.

Method #1

  • Fill the 3-gallon jug and pour the water into the 5-gallon jug.
  • Refill the 3-gallon jug and pour the water into the 5-gallon jug until the 5-gallon jug is full, leaving 1 gallon in the 3-gallon jug.
  • Empty the 5-gallon jug and pour the 1 gallon of water from the 3-gallon jug into the 5-gallon jug.
  • Fill the 3-gallon jug again and empty it into the 5-gallon jug, leaving exactly 4 gallons in the 5-gallon jug.

Method #2

  • Fill the 5-gallon jug and pour that water into the 3-gallon jug until the 3-gallon jug is full, leaving 2 gallons in the 5-gallon jug.
  • Empty the 3-gallon jug and pour the 2 gallons of water from 5-gallon jug into the 3-gallon jug.
  • Refill the 5-gallon jug and pour that water into the 3-gallon jug until the 3-gallon jug is full, leaving 4 gallons in the 5-gallon jug.

Either way, you’ve disarmed the bomb. Good job!

140-billion-die-hard

[While Simon has McClane and Zeus run
all over the city, he has one specific goal…]

The final riddle Simon gives Zeus and McClane is another brain teaser masquerading as a math problem:

“What is 21 out of 42?”

At the time of the film’s release, there had been 42 presidents, so 21 out of 42 was President Chester A. Arthur, and Chester A. Arthur Elementary School was where Simon had hidden one of his bombs (a fake one, as it turns out) as a distraction.

In the end, McClane and Zeus outwit the cunning Simon, and once again, puzzle-solving skills save the day! Hooray!

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 our library of PuzzleNation apps and games!