Meet the Daily POP Crosswords Constructors: Robin Stears

One of the Daily POP Crosswords app’s best features is the level of involvement from topnotch constructors. We’ve assembled one heck of a team when it comes to creating terrific, exciting, fresh themed crosswords.

And over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to some of them. Some names you may know, some you may not, but they’re all doing amazing work on these puzzles and deserve a little time in the limelight.

In this installment, allow us to introduce you to constructor Robin Stears!

How did you get started in crosswords?

I’ve been constructing crossword puzzles for about 25 years, since my first daughter was born and I had to figure out a way to work from home. I’ve always enjoyed solving puzzles, ever since I was a child. Constructing puzzles is even more fun.

My puzzles have been in many Penny Press and Dell magazines – they’re my favorites – and also in The LA Times, Games Magazine, and of course, the Daily POP Crosswords app. The restrictions, like not being able to use any crosswordese or even slightly difficult words, adds a bit of a challenge, which of course makes it even more fun!

Personally, I prefer easier-to-medium puzzles rather than very difficult ones. I think puzzle solvers should have a good time and maybe learn something new. There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to finish a crossword – and there’s nothing more satisfying than filling in that final square with the very last answer.

I want everyone who solves one of my puzzles to be able to finish it and enjoy that feeling of a job well done. And, at least once while they’re solving, I’d like them to look up and say, “Wow. That’s cool. I never knew that.”

What do you enjoy about working on Daily POP Crosswords?

The best thing about Daily POP Crosswords is what a joy they are to create. I’m a pop culture fan from way back in the day when I used to read comic books and go to Star Trek conventions, and I still love watching movies and TV shows, listening to music, reading books, and checking out the latest fashions. I still go to two or three pop culture conventions every year.

Recently, I decided to go back to college to finish the degree I started thirty-some years ago, and I find that hanging out with young people helps keep my pop culture knowledge up-to-date. Between classes, we hang out and spill the tea, and mentally I’m taking notes for future crossword puzzles.

Is there a particular theme day that appeals to you most or that you enjoy working on?

I don’t have a particular theme day that I love above all others – I love all kinds of pop culture. I have so much fun deciding who or what is “worthy” of a crossword tribute, and then researching why they’re famous. I do like to celebrate big anniversaries, like the fifty-year birthday that both Hawaii Five-O and Laugh-In will celebrate next year.

So far, my favorite Daily POP Crosswords puzzle is the one I made for Thanksgiving about the Macy’s parade balloons. I learned so much about the balloons, and I was delighted to pass along all the trivia I discovered to my fellow parade fans. I hope everyone enjoyed solving it as much as I enjoyed constructing it.


A huge thank you to Robin for her time! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her puzzles in the Daily POP Crosswords app, free to download for both iOS and Android users!

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Daily POP Crosswords Press Release!

PuzzleNation Announces All-New Pop-Culture Crossword App Daily POP Crosswords with Puzzles from Penny Press and Dell Magazines

New Free App Combines Pop-Culture and Crossword Fun for iOS and Android mobile devices

NORWALK, Conn., Nov. 20, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — PuzzleNation, the leading puzzle game publisher of the popular Penny Dell Crosswords apps, today announced the launch of Daily POP Crosswords. PuzzleNation’s newest addition to its mobile app lineup, which includes Penny Dell Crosswords, one of the highest-rated crossword game apps for iOS and Android mobile devices, provides free themed crossword puzzles daily— a new pop-culture theme every day of the week. Daily POP Crosswords is available on the App Store for iPhone and iPad and the Google Play Store for Android devices.

Daily POP Crosswords combines the high-quality crossword puzzles that hundreds of thousands of users have come to expect from PuzzleNation with entertaining pop-culture themes. Daily themes, including Book Smarts, TV Time, and Movie Madness, provide solvers with the perfect mix of challenge and fun. App users also have the opportunity to build a collection of themed secret emojis by completing daily puzzles.

“We are excited to offer Daily POP Crosswords to crossword lovers, building on the success of our Penny Dell Crosswords app,” says PuzzleNation Director of Digital Games, Fred Galpern. “PuzzleNation has built a reputation providing solvers with free, high-quality puzzles for many years, and we are thrilled to offer another top-notch experience with our Daily POP Crosswords app for iOS and Android devices. Users will enjoy the fun, timely puzzles created by top puzzle constructors. Thanks to the easy-to-use interface and the daily emoji rewards, app users will love coming back to solve new, free puzzles every day!”

For more information about Daily POP Crosswords and PuzzleNation, or to download the app to your device, please visit http://dailypopcrosswords.puzzlenation.com.


[For the official press release, click here.]

Daily POP Crosswords Is Here!

Hello friends and fellow PuzzleNationers! Come one, come all, because we’ve got a very special announcement for you all! So special, in fact, that we’re doing a special Wednesday post for it!

We have a brand new puzzle app for your enjoyment! Say hello to the best new crossword app on the market today: Daily POP Crosswords!

Available for both iOS and Android users, Daily POP Crosswords takes the topnotch cluing and well-constructed grids you expect from PuzzleNation and goes one step further. We’re talking about pop culture-fueled themed puzzles from world-class constructors!

Free themed daily crossword puzzles right in your pocket every day! Each day has a different pop culture theme, running the gamut from music and movies to sports and history, so no matter what piques your interest, we’re guaranteed to have a puzzle for you!

And yes, we did use the magic word. Daily POP Crosswords is free to download and free to play!

Plus, you get all of the terrific features you know and love!

The pop-up clue screen keeps your grid clear and easy to access! Our optional Smart Step navigation helps you fill the grid by jumping from one entry to the next, building upon the letters you’ve already placed! Our Hint feature can reveal letters or even whole words if you get stuck!

Daily POP Crosswords is without a doubt our best app yet, but you know what? Don’t take my word for it. Check out this quick video preview of the app in action!

With fantastic new free content every single day, you can’t go wrong with Daily POP Crosswords!


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These Are Some Sweet Puns!

Oh yes, it’s that time again! It’s time to unleash our puzzly and punny imaginations and engage in a bit of sparkling wordplay!

You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie, hashtag games on Twitter, or the Hashtag Wars segment that used to run on @midnight on Comedy Central.

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleSweets, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with all sorts of sweets, candy, desserts, and anything else that satisfies your puzzly sweet tooth!

Examples include: Four Candy Corn-ers, Twix and Mingle, and Ice Cream Dell Sundae Crosswords.

So, without further ado, check out what the puzzlers at PuzzleNation and Penny Dell Puzzles came up with!


Kit Kategories

Letter Skor

Middle of the Rocky Road

Tootsie Roll of the Dice / Swiss Roll of the Dice / Rolo of the Dice

Top to Black Bottom Pie

Pineapple Ups and Downs Cake

Petit Foursomes / Finish the Petit Fours / Petit Four Square

Ladyfiggurits

Key Line’ Em Up Pie / Keyword Lime Pie

Point the Milky Way / Right of Milky Way

Little Twizzlers

Everlasting Gobstoplines

Double Fudge Delight

Flan Words

Wacky Nerds

Pecancellations Pie

Animal Crackers

Starspell Burst / Starburst Words / Lucky Starburst

Starbursts and Airheads

Airheads and Tails

LemonHeads & Tails

Jigsaw Lemon Squares / Lemon Squares / Circles in the Lemon Square

Lemon Drop-Ins / Lemon Dropouts

GumDrop-Ins / Gum Drop-Outs

Puzzle Derby Pie

Chess Words Pie

Quotagraham Crackers / Quotagrahams / Graham Crackers

S’more AnaGraham Crackers, please!

S’moremaster

Carry-Turnovers

Tart and Finish

Hub-Sno-Caps

Bottle HubCaps

Family Pies

Parfait Fit

Around the Black Forest Cake

Bit-o-Honeycombs

Bits o’Honey & Reese’s Pieces

Reese’s Piece by Pieces

Pie of Diamonds

Rapid GingerbReader House

100 Grand Tour

Wonka’s Whipple Scrumptious Fudgemallow Double Delight Chocolate

ZigZagNut Candy Bar

Piggybakes Cheesecakes

Three to One Musketeer / Three Musketeers of a Kind

Cannoligrams Plus

Diamond Ringpops / Diamond Ring-Dings

Ring-Dingers / Ring Ding Master

Ring Pop Master

Doublemint Trouble Gum

Neccodewords Wafers

Fancy Give and Take Fives

Chicletterboxes

Cryptic-Tac Crossword

Spellbounty Bar

Puzzle Twin Bing

Banana Split Personalities / Banana Split and Splice

Sudo-Kudos

Make the Confection

Anagram Magic Cookie Squares

Hot Cross Sums

Chunky Mon-Keyword

Double Bubble

Ice Cream Sudoku

Do-Si-Doku

Kakoreo

Ka-churro

Creme BRoulette

Cream Fill-In

Mousse Tile

Frostics

Here & Eclair

Give and Bake

Stepping Scones

Mixed Twixes / Twixed Sixes

Caramelflage

Jell-O-Gram

Tart Game

One and Sconely

Chips Ahoy!

GhirarDELLi Logic Problems

DileM&Ma: Which color to eat first

Dim Sum-doku


Have you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzle Sweets entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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New Puzzle App Sets for October and Beyond!

Halloween looms near, fellow puzzlers, but we’ve got our tricks and treats for you early! That’s right, our newest puzzle sets for the Penny Dell Crosswords App!

Our October Deluxe puzzle set just launched for both iOS and Android users, and it offers the quality solving experience you’ve come to expect from PuzzleNation!

Scare up some puzzles for yourself and indulge in this marvelous puzzle bundle, designed for any skill level!

Offering 30 easy, medium, and hard puzzles, plus 5 October-themed bonus puzzles to please solvers of all skill levels, the October Deluxe puzzle set is full of frightfully great crosswords for everyone!

But that’s not all!

That’s right, double down on puzzle goodness with the October Deluxe Combo! That’s 70 puzzles, including October-themed bonus crosswords for your puzzly pleasure!

But maybe you need more! Maybe, just maybe, your puzzly sweet tooth isn’t satisfied quite yet.

And if you want the most bang for your buck, we’ve got you covered with the October Deluxe Bundle! That’s 105 puzzles, three times the costumed clues and creepy crosswords, ready for you to solve!

And if the October motif just isn’t for you, worry not! We’ve also released two Bonus Boxes loaded with additional puzzles!

There’s the 35-puzzle Deluxe Bonus Box, which includes 5 themed puzzles, or our Deluxe Bonus Box Bundle with TRIPLE the puzzles! That’s right, 105 puzzles, including special themed ones you won’t find anywhere else!

You can’t go wrong with these awesome deals! PuzzleNation is dedicated to bringing you the best puzzle-solving experience available, with world-class puzzles right in your pocket, ready to go at a moment’s notice! That’s the PuzzleNation guarantee.

Happy solving everyone!


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!

5 Questions with Crossword Constructor Joanne Sullivan

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 Joanne Sullivan as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

[Joanne stands beside fellow constructor Tracy Bennett at this year’s Indie 500 tournament.]

Joanne is a terrific constructor whose puzzles have appeared in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and numerous other outlets. One of her puzzles is now featured on The New York Times‘ Wordplay Blog as one of their 11 Remarkable Crosswords for New Solvers (each hand-picked by Will Shortz). Her puzzle with Erik Agard at the 2016 Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, “Do I Hear a Waltz?”, was one of my favorite crosswords last year.

She often spends her time teaching crossword classes, spreading not only the love of crossword construction and wordplay to others, but hard-won knowledge and experience from a fun and innovative constructor.

Joanne 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 Joanne Sullivan

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

I’ve enjoyed a variety of puzzles and games ever since I can remember, but I had avoided crossword puzzles for decades. When I was a young adult, I would occasionally take a stab at The Sunday New York Times crossword and would manage to get only a couple of answers after reading every single clue. I was amazed that my father could routinely complete the whole puzzle. I didn’t aspire to match his achievement because I thought that crosswords were filled with useless, arcane information.

When I subscribed to GAMES Magazine, I solved all the puzzles in it except for the crosswords because I had the mistaken assumption that all crosswords were dry and boring. I now realize that I missed out on a lot of fun. The high-quality crosswords in GAMES were part of the new wave of puzzles that were filled with current references and lively phrases.

Many years later an office mate encouraged a group of our fellow coworkers to solve The New York Times crossword together each weekday. I never really enjoyed the computer programming work that I was supposed to be focusing on so I welcomed the diversion. I immediately was surprised at how clever and entertaining the crosswords were.

Like the character in Green Eggs and Ham, I learned that I actually liked the nourishment that I had assumed would be distasteful. In the beginning, my coworkers would pass around the newspaper, and we’d each fill in an answer or two until we managed to complete the whole puzzle. We relied heavily on Google by the time we got to Friday. Solving late week puzzles without help seemed like an impossible dream, but before long that dream became a reality.

[One of Joanne’s New York Times-published puzzles. This one makes excellent use of the black squares by incorporating some of them into the themed entries.
Image courtesy of XWordInfo.]

2. What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle?

I personally love puzzles with inventive, tricky themes and clues. Crosswords have been around for a long time so it’s hard to come up with a new theme or a tricky clue that misdirects the solver in a different way. Even new themes and clues tend to be variations on something that has been done before so I appreciate crosswords that are truly original.

What do you most enjoy — or most commonly avoid — when constructing your own?

Here are crossword constructing tasks in descending order of my preference:

  • Coming up with a theme and finding answers that fit it.
  • Writing clues / Arranging the black and white squares in the grid. (Two very different tasks that I find equally enjoyable.)
  • Filling the grid with non-theme answers.
  • Adding new words to my database of potential crossword answers and rating those words in order of desirability.

Maintaining a good database of potential crossword answers can greatly facilitate crossword construction, but I find database maintenance time-consuming and dreary so I avoid it. I try to rationalize my negligence by telling myself that it’s impossible to add words and assign values to them that will be valid for all audiences.

For example, the word UGLY would be a perfectly fine answer in any mainstream newspaper, but I would try to avoid including it in a personalized puzzle that I was making as a birthday gift because I wouldn’t want the recipient to interpret it as an insult. But deep down I know that my rationalization isn’t valid, and I’m just too lazy to properly maintain my database.

What do you think is the most common pitfall of constructors just starting out?

I think some new constructors might settle for mediocrity instead of pushing themselves to achieve more. I’ve heard that some constructors are afraid to arrange the black and white squares in a grid from scratch. They’ll only use sample grids that they copy from a crossword database. It might take a lot of trial and error, but you’ll probably come up with a better grid if you try to arrange the squares in a way that best suits your theme answers instead of grabbing a prefab grid. I’ll often experiment with dozens of different grid designs before choosing one that fits my theme answers best.

Constructors might also be satisfied with so-so fill (which are the non-theme answers) or clues. I can understand the urge to leave well enough alone, especially when submitting puzzles on spec. It can be really frustrating to spend a lot of time coming up with stellar fill and clues only to be told that your puzzle was dead on arrival because the editor didn’t like the theme. Instead of compromising their standards, constructors might try to seek out the few editors who are willing to preapprove themes. Or they may emulate the many excellent indie constructors who publish their puzzles on their own websites.

[A puzzle, mid-construction. Images courtesy of Crossdown.]

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

It’s hard to pick favorites because I’ve solved so many great puzzles and clues over the years so I’ll be self-centered and mention three of my own puzzles.

My Tuesday, February 23, 2010 New York Times crossword will always be close to my heart because it was my first published puzzle. Will Shortz picked it as one of the “11 Remarkable Crosswords for New Solvers,” but novices shouldn’t feel bad if they find it difficult. Most solvers found it harder than an average Tuesday puzzle.

Another special crossword is “Contents Redacted,” which The Chronicle of Higher Education published on October 16, 2015. I’m very grateful to Brad Wilber and Frank Longo for polishing it and working hard to present it in a way that stayed true to my vision. I also appreciate pannonica whose review on the Crossword Fiend blog was clearer and more insightful than any description that I could have written.

(Speaking of blogs, kudos to PuzzleNation Blog, CrosswordFiend, and similar blogs for helping us appreciate puzzles! Thanks for helping us understand the strengths and weaknesses of puzzles you review, explaining tricky themes and clues, and keeping us informed of news such as puzzle tournaments.)

One of my most satisfying experiences was co-writing “Do I Hear a Waltz?” with Erik Agard for the 2016 Indie 500 Crossword Tournament. Working with Erik was a joy. He’s brilliant and extremely kind. You should interview him next!

One great thing about making a puzzle for a tournament was having the flexibility to make an odd-sized grid that best suited our theme. I find that tournament puzzles are often very creative, perhaps because the constructors don’t have the same editorial and size constraints that they do at most other venues. Some of my favorite puzzles came from The Indie 500 and Lollapuzzoola crossword tournaments.

As a solver, my favorite clues are the ones that make me think, “What on earth can this mean?” One recent clue that gave me that reaction came from Brendan Emmett Quigley’s 9/20/17 AV Club crossword (which is titled “The Lay of the Land”). At first, I couldn’t make sense of the clue [Like slightly firm elbows, e.g.] When I read it, I thought, “What the heck is a slightly firm elbow? … Hmm … AKIMBO doesn’t fit … Hmm …” Eventually I achieved a great aha moment — AL DENTE!

I also love clues that put a fresh spin on old crosswordese or teach me interesting pieces of trivia. I find that The Chronicle of Higher Education and Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords are particularly strong in that regard.

[Joanne poses with members of a crossword seminar,
showing off prizes from our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles.]

4. What’s next for Joanne Sullivan?

I’m currently focusing on giving crossword puzzle seminars. For years I had mistakenly assumed that crosswords were boring and impossible to solve. Now I enjoy showing skeptics how fun crosswords can be and giving people tips that help them improve their solving skills. I love hearing from novices who tell me that I inspired them to start solving crosswords and veteran solvers who say that my tips helped them tackle more difficult puzzles.

I recently taught my first children’s classes and was blown away by the kids’ intelligence and enthusiasm. I’m so glad those children caught the puzzle bug early and didn’t waste decades avoiding crosswords as I did.

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

Read Patrick Berry’s PDF publication Crossword Constructor’s Handbook. The former print version of that book (Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies) taught me more about constructing crosswords than any other source.

Cruciverbalists might find the information about crossword construction interesting even if they don’t aspire to create puzzles themselves. The book includes 70 crosswords by Patrick Berry (who many crossword aficionados consider the preeminent crossword constructor) so it’s worth the $10 for the puzzles alone.


A huge thank you to Joanne for her time. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her puzzles and her crossword seminars!

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!