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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5 Questions with PuzzleNation Programmer Mike O’Neil

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!)

For the entire month of August, I’ll be introducing the PuzzleNation readership to many of the members of the PuzzleNation team! So every Thursday this month, you’ll meet a new name and voice responsible for bringing you the best puzzle apps on the market today!

And I’m excited to kick things off with Mike O’Neil as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Mike is part of our dynamite programming team, maintaining the high level of quality we know PuzzleNationers expect of us and helping push us into new puzzly arenas. A musician and long-time video-game fan as well, Mike is enthusiastic, sharp, and immensely capable, part of the well-oiled machine that makes PuzzleNation a brand to watch!

Mike was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions with Mike O’Neil

1. How did you get started with puzzles and games?

I’ve been a video-game addict my whole life, so when I got to college I eventually decided to make them for a living. Puzzles and puzzle solving have always been a part of being a big-time gamer, so I’ve been puzzle solving since I got the gamer bug as a kid, though my favorite magazine-type puzzles are word searches.

2. Programming, puzzles, and music all demand a strong sense of balance and flow to create an immersive and productive experience. As a musician, does that ever influence your work in unexpected or insightful ways?

I would say that it’s more of the opposite, where programming has influenced my musicianship. The biggest common feature of all three is patience, so growing up solving puzzles was good training for practicing guitar.

Also, working on a piece of music can actually be like solving a puzzle because every person is different, so I often need to “solve the puzzle” to figure out exactly how I’m going to be able to pull off a particular riff/lick/lead/etc, which could be radically different from how the next person would do it.

3. What do you do in your off-time? What helps you relax or mentally recharge after a long week of puzzling?

My biggest off-time activities are video games and music, though those can all be a bit mentally challenging and not often the greatest unwinding activity. If things get really heavy I often do some urban hiking around NYC. It’s very stimulating and can last for hours (I once walked all 33 miles around the perimeter of Manhattan. My feet hated me for a week.)

4. What’s next for Mike O’Neil?

What’s next is working with the PN team to get more and more types of puzzle apps out there. Crosswords are great, but we have so much potential with our tools and team that the sky’s the limit. I’m looking forward to seeing what we come up with.

[Crosswords ARE great! Have you checked out the Penny Dell
Crosswords App for both iOS and Android devices? /shameless plug.]

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

One piece of advice is to make sure that the solution you come up with for your current problem is the best one, not necessarily the fastest or most slick. When I was mentoring students back at the Electronic Arts Academy, my main goal was to make sure that they don’t start implementing solutions for simple tasks with the super fancy, super complicated-type things you do in school. A good general rule is to imagine someone has to take over your work the next day, so make sure it’s easily understandable.

A huge thank you to Mike for his time. I can’t imagine a better way to introduce a month of PuzzleNation-fueled interviews and content!

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!