What crosswords have taught me

I’m a huge proponent of puzzles not just being fun, but being great for the brain as well. There are numerous studies (and PuzzleNation blog posts) touting the ways that certain puzzles can keep you sharp and perhaps even stave off developmental issues later in life.

Whether it’s crosswords helping with retrieval of previously learned information or Sudoku exercising your concentration, attention, and formation of new memories, puzzles are good brain food.

[Please note that I am making no promises about potential health benefits of our puzzles; I’m simply reporting on the results of certain studies regarding puzzles and brain health. The jury is definitely still out on this subject.]

And then there are the curious facts and new words we learn simply by solving crosswords and other puzzles.

In the decade plus that I’ve been constructing and editing puzzles, I’ve encountered all sorts of strange vocabulary and interesting trivia that wouldn’t have crossed my path in other fields.

Through proper crossword cluing and fact-checking, I’ve learned the difference between Inuit and Eskimo (and why they are not interchangeable). I’ve learned which Hawaiian islands the nene calls home.

I now know that cows are fed magnets in order to cope with the random bits of wire and other metals that they unintentionally swallow. A puzzle about rationing during World War II taught me that an ordinary piano contains enough steel, copper wire, and brass to make a dozen bayonets, a corps radio, and sixty-six thirty-caliber cartridges.

My Latin has certainly improved from years of studying word etymologies. Did you know that “ita erat quando hic adveni” is Latin for “it was like that when I got here?” That’s a handy phrase to have in your back pocket.

Heck, I now know how pineapples grow because of crosswords. How cool is that?

And it doesn’t stop there.

Crosswords provoke your curiosity and lead you down unexpected avenues of thought. Crossword clues cause you to ask questions you probably never would otherwise, like “Is ‘L.A. Law’ two words or three?” or “Is ‘bat-signal’ hyphenated?”

(Both of those are actual topics of discussion for puzzles of mine in the past.)

What sorts of interesting facts and weird vocabulary have crosswords introduced you to, fellow puzzlers? Let me know! I’d love to hear about it!

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!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: New Puzzles 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 want to spread the word about our latest Penny Dell Crossword App content!

PuzzleNation Facebook followers got advance notice of this a day or two ago, and it’s time everyone heard! We have two new collections of crosswords available for purchase!

The first is Collection 3, which offers 150 new puzzles across 5 puzzle sets: three under the Penny Press brand (Easy, Medium, and Hard) and two under the Dell brand (Easy and Medium). And all of these puzzles feature our Alternate Clue feature!

And the second is our Winter 2014 Deluxe Set, which offers 30 Easy, Medium & Hard puzzles, as well as 5 unlockable bonus puzzles! The bonus puzzles are revealed after solving puzzles in the set, and to add to the challenge, there are no alternate clues!

Both of these puzzle sets are available for in-app purchase right now!

We’re thrilled to add to our library of quality downloadable content for you, and we can’t wait to show you what else is up our sleeves.

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!

PuzzleNation “You Like Us, You Really Like Us!” Giveaway

Hello fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

It’s been an awesome year for PuzzleNation, and a much of the credit for that success goes to you, the PuzzleNation audience.

We appreciate everything you’ve done: your comments and feedback, your enthusiasm and support, the puzzly spirit of everyone who reads these blog posts, everyone who enjoys our Pinterest page and follows us on Twitter and hits up Facebook every week for Wordplay Wednesday or Follow-Up Friday.

To show our thanks, and continue growing PuzzleNation, we’re launching a Contest to build the PuzzleNation audience! Just Like our Facebook page to enter!

We’ve organized some outstanding prizes to give away, and we’ll be randomly drawing names from our list of Facebook followers to receive great prizes!

At 1,000 likes, two randomly chosen followers will receive a free Classic Word Search app for Android/Kindle Fire devices! ($2.99 value, per app)

At 1,250 likes, a randomly chosen follower will receive a free Penny Dell Jumbo Crosswords app for iOS devices! ($9.99 value)

At 1,500 likes, we’ll give away three more Classic Word Search apps PLUS two more Penny Dell Jumbo Crosswords apps!

At 2,000 likes, we’ll give away five more Classic Word Search apps and three more Penny Dell Jumbo Crosswords apps!

Just imagine the possibilities. If every person who follows this blog likes the PuzzleNation Facebook page, we would blow through those first few targets!

And if you’ve already liked our FB page, you’re automatically entered in the giveaway! (But if you share this Contest with friends and they Like our Facebook page to enter, make sure they message us and tell us you recommended them!)

This promotion is live today and will run until 11:59 PM Eastern Time on November 30! Winners will be announced on Facebook and the PuzzleNation Blog on December 1st!

For full contest rules, click here.

Good luck, fellow puzzlers! We can’t wait to give away some prizes and see the PuzzleNation audience grow and flourish!

Prep for College the Puzzly Way!

It’s summer here in the United States, which means many high-school graduates are already looking forward to starting college. But for those soon-to-be freshmen, as well as high schoolers looking for an edge before university, have you considered puzzles and board games?

Now, it comes as no shock to me, but this article from the U.S. News and World Report website might surprise some, since it lists puzzles and board games as two of its five tools to develop critical thinking skills before college!

Naturally, I’ve been an advocate of puzzles as a learning tool for a long time, so it’s gratifying to see a major publication sharing the same views and ideas.

From the article:

Collections of crossword puzzles, logic problems, riddles, sudoku, word problems and word searches can be found at your local bookstore or library. The puzzles in these books are a wonderful strategy to activate different parts of your brain for a round or two of mental gymnastics, and many collections even discuss what each puzzle is meant to target within the mind.

Allow me to expand on this for a bit. Different puzzles can target different skills, so which puzzles you solve can make a big difference when it comes to critical thinking.

Crosswords encourage deduction (figuring out words from a few common letters) and a facility with wordplay (dealing with crafty clues and alternate definitions), while word searches offer great practice in pattern recognition and quick reaction times.

And the demand that Sudoku puzzles place on active attentiveness and concentration exercises parts of the brain associated with forming new memories, encouraging better memory retention.

[All three of the above pics come from our line of puzzle apps! Perfect for puzzly pre-college practice! Shameless plug now concluded!]

But the article also mentioned that certain board games can be excellent tools for honing valuable mental skills for college.

Choose board games that require more than luck – namely, strategy – for players to win. Any game where players must carefully consider their next move, recognize patterns and remember details will aid in honing critical thinking skills.

The article goes on to suggest some classics, like Chess, Checkers, and Mastermind for learning chain-thinking (planning several steps ahead) as well as Scrabble and Boggle (speedy information analysis, as well as word formation) and Clue and Risk (anticipating and reacting to the gameplay of others).

But I think they’re excluding some prime examples of board games that could benefit younger minds.

  • You could pick a cooperative game like Pandemic or Forbidden Island, which not only encourage strategic thinking, but teamwork and the free exchange of ideas (something that forced group exercises in school never really managed).
  • You could choose a rapid-change game like Fluxx (either the board game or the card game), which forces the players to adapt quickly to constantly changing rules and gameplay (a perfect microcosm of problem-solving in the real world, where things rarely remain static for long).
  • You could select a mixed-play game like The Stars Are Right, which incorporates several forms of gameplay (in this case, pattern-forming, tile-shifting, and a strategic card game akin to Magic: The Gathering or Munchkin) and forces players to exercise different forms of strategy and puzzle-solving all at once.

Just think about it. You could turn Family Game Night or Family Puzzle Time into College Prep Time in a snap. It’s win-win, or perhaps even win-win-win. What could be simpler, or more fun, than that?

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!

It’s Follow-Up Friday!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

For those new to PuzzleNation Blog, Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and update the PuzzleNation audience on how these projects are doing and what these people have been up to in the meantime.

Today, I’ve got two short updates for you.

First, there’s a new page on the blog for information about our apps and iBooks. For pictures, links, and details on our crossword, sudoku, and word seek puzzles, click here!

And be sure to bookmark it, since new apps will be added to the page as they’re released!

Second, a PuzzleNationer requested an update on this year’s Cicada 3301 puzzle.

Back in January, I wrote about the mysterious Cicada 3301, an elaborate multilayered scavenger hunt across the Internet that involves cryptography, research, and some serious cleverness to unravel.

It first appeared in January of 2012, until a few diligent and dedicated solvers unraveled its secrets, and the puzzle was shut down. Then in January of 2013, a new Cicada 3301 puzzle emerged, similarly challenging and just as short-lived.

January 2014 was no different, as the latest Cicada 3301 puzzle appeared. Unfortunately, as far as we know, no one has yet cracked it.

But one of the code wizards who solved Cicada 3301’s 2012 puzzle has come forward to offer advice to aspiring Cicada solvers:

Make sure that you have a good understanding of every part of the previous Cicada 3301 puzzles. If there is a subject you are not already well acquainted with, take your time to read and learn more about it.

Try to solve as much as possible of the earlier puzzles by yourself rather than just reading through a write-up.

For parts you do read, make sure you understand each step completely and try to think about how you would have arrived at the same conclusions by yourself.

Last but not least, enjoy the ride.

Are there any stories or features from the PuzzleNation Blog you’d like an update on? Let us know and your suggestion could be the focus of our next Follow-Up Friday!

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

PuzzleNation & Penny/Dell apps, iBooks, and games!

Check out our ever-expanding library of puzzle games for your mobile devices!

Classic Sudoku

With four levels of difficulty (easy, medium, hard, and expert), a touch-to-scroll feature for entering numbers, and a timed option for competitive scoring, Classic Sudoku is available for the iPad and ready for solvers of all skill levels.

Plus, with our Candidates feature, you can list possible solutions in a box without jeopardizing your score or your time!

Penny/Dell Crosswords App and Jumbo Crosswords App

Featuring 150 all-new crosswords, Penny/Dell Jumbo Crosswords has several difficulty levels and all the topnotch features in the original Penny/Dell Crossword app!

The original Penny/Dell Crossword App is available for iPad and iPhone. It features smart navigation to move you to partially filled-in entries and an alternate-clue option to help you solve!

Classic Word Search app and iBooks

The perfect word search experience is at your fingertips with Classic Word Search!

With all sorts of delightful themed word lists, this is the word search solving you know and love, made easy with the touch of a fingertip! Just drag your finger along the words in the grid to loop them, and watch as they’re crossed off the word list one by one!

Also available for Android tablets and Kindle Fire, Classic Word Search puzzles are appropriate for all ages and come complete with interesting trivia for each themed word list.

And don’t forget that Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 are all available as iBooks for the iPad’s eReader app! With plenty of puzzles to keep you busy, Classic Word Search is a terrific way to pass the time!

And stay tuned, fellow puzzle fiends. We look forward to adding new puzzles to our library soon!