PuzzleNation Blog Looks Back on 2018!

2018 is quickly coming to a close, and as I look back on an eventful year in the world of puzzles and games, I’m incredibly 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 game designers, constructors, artists, YouTubers, and creative types of all kinds.

We unraveled math puzzles and diabolical brain teasers. We pondered optical illusions, Internet memes, and more, even questioning our place in the world of puzzles as AI and solving robots continued to rise in capability.

We delved into puzzle history with posts about ancient board games from centuries ago, Edgar Allan Poe’s secret codes, and the legacy of influential female codebreakers and spymasters previously lost to revisionist history like Elizebeth Smith Friedman and the Countess Alexandrine. We brought to light valuable examples of puzzles in art, comic strips, animation, music, television, film, and popular culture.

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 worthy causes like Queer Crosswords and Women of Letters, as well as amazing projects like new escape rooms, puzzle experiences like The Enigmatist, online puzzle quests, and long-running unsolved treasure hunts.

We celebrated International TableTop Day, offered up puzzly suggestions for Valentine’s Day, attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and dove deep into an ever-expanding litany of puzzle events like the Indie 500, BosWords, and Lollapuzzoola.

We found puzzly ways to celebrate everything from Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas to Star Wars Day and the anniversary of the Crossword, 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 six years of PuzzleNation Blog this year, I’m closing in on my 1000th 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 2018 went well beyond that.

Every month, we delivered quality content for both the Penny Dell Crosswords App and Daily POP Crosswords. Whether it was monthly deluxe sets and holiday bundles for PDCW or the world-class topical puzzles by some of the industry’s best constructors for Daily POP, hundreds of topnotch crosswords wended their way to our loyal and enthusiastic solvers.

And a little more than a week ago, we launched our newest puzzly endeavor — Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate — bringing you a unique, story-driven puzzling experience, complete with gorgeous visuals, atmospheric music, and an immersive mystery to keep you solving!

But whether we’re talking about crosswords, Sudoku, or Wordventures, I’m proud to say that every single puzzle represents our high standards of quality puzzle content crafted for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

And your response has been fantastic! Daily POP Crosswords is thriving, we’re very excited about the response to Wordventures, the blog has over 2300 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.

2018 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. The new year looms large, and we look forward to seeing you in 2019!


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Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Puzzly Delights!

Merry Christmas, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! (And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then Happy December 25th, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!)

I’m a sucker for a festive event, so I’ve got a puzzly double feature lined up for you today.

First, allow me to present a delightful video concocted by friend of the blog Hevesh5. Lily is a domino master who has created numerous domino chains and Rube Goldberg-style machines with elements that fit a given theme. So naturally, given the season, she’s devised a marvelous domino chain with all sorts of holiday elements. Enjoy!

And since we’re on a holiday kick, there’s an anagram challenge for you too!

What are the longest common words you can make from the letters in the following phrase?

M-E-R-R-Y C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S

No plurals or proper nouns are allowed, and you can only use the letters in the phrase. (Meaning, for instance, you can use 3 Rs, but not 4, since there are only 3 in the phrase.)

We came up with one 10-letter word, four 9-letter words, twelve 8-letter words, and thirty 7-letter words.

Let’s see how you do!

Have a marvelous holiday (or day), and happy puzzling to you!


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Crossword History: An Updated Timeline

Back in 2013, we created a timeline of events from crossword history as part of our celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the crossword.

Although 105 isn’t as prestigious as 100, and the anniversary is technically tomorrow, we thought we’d honor the day this year by updating our comprehensive look at the long (yet surprisingly short) road it took to get to that marvelous centennial!

So, without further ado or folderol, we proudly present:

A Brief History of the Crossword (Updated)

16th – 11th century BC

Inscriptions from New Kingdom-era Egypt (Eighteenth to Twentieth Dynasties) of horizontal and vertical lines of text divided into equal squares, that can be read both across the rows and down the columns, are made. These inscriptions are later referred to by Egyptologists as “Egyptian crossword puzzles.”

19th century AD

Rudimentary crosswords, similar to word squares, begin appearing in England, and later elsewhere in Europe.

June 22, 1871

Future inventor of the crossword, Arthur Wynne, is born.

March 23, 1897

Future New York Times crossword editor Margaret Farrar is born.

February 25, 1907

Future New York Times crossword editor Will Weng is born.

December 21, 1913

The New York World publishes the first crossword, invented by Liverpool journalist Arthur Wynne. (The puzzle is originally known as a word-cross.)

January 6, 1916

Future New York Times crossword editor Eugene T. Maleska is born.

1920

Margaret Farrar is hired by The New York World as a secretary, but soon finds herself assisting Arthur Wynne with proofreading puzzles. Her puzzles soon exceed Wynne’s in popularity.

Colonel H.W. Hill publishes the first Crossword Dictionary.

1923

Margaret Farrar revises the cluing system for crosswords, sorting them into “Horizontal” and “Vertical” clues by number. (It wouldn’t be until the 1940s that the more familiar “Across” and “Down” terminology became the norm.)

1924

Margaret Farrar publishes the first book of crossword puzzles under contract for Richard L. Simon and Max Schuster, “The Cross-Word Puzzle Book.” It was an instant bestseller, launching Simon & Schuster as a major publisher. (Additional information available below the timeline.)

The Daily Express, founded in 1900, becomes the first newspaper in the United Kingdom to carry crosswords.

Crossword-themed novelty songs hit the airwaves as the puzzle craze intensifies, most notably “Crossword Mama, You Puzzle Me (But Papa’s Gonna Figure You Out).”

The Amateur Crossword Puzzle League of America, a self-appointed group of puzzle enthusiasts, lobbies for rotational symmetry in crosswords, which becomes the standard.

Solver Ruth Franc von Phul becomes a minor celebrity after winning The New York Herald-Tribune’s National All Comers Cross Word Puzzle Tournament at the age of 20. (She would win again 2 years later.)

January 15, 1925

“Felix All Puzzled,” the first animated short to feature a crossword, is released.

February 2, 1925

The crossword-fueled musical revue “Puzzles of 1925” opens on Broadway. It runs until May of 1925.

February 15, 1925

Disney releases a crossword-themed animated short, “Alice Solves the Puzzle.”

1926

The cryptic crossword is invented by Edward Powys Mathers, who publishes under the pseudonym Torquemada. He devises them for The Observer newspaper.

First reported instances of Braille crosswords, as newspapers mention Helen Keller solving Braille crosswords and recommending them to the blind.

1931

Dell Puzzle Magazines begins publishing.
(Dell Publishing itself was founded in 1921.)

1941

Dell Pocket Crossword Puzzles first published.
(The magazine continues to this day.)

February 15, 1942

The New York Times runs its first Sunday edition crossword. (Additional information available below the timeline.)

June 2, 1944

Physics teacher and crossword constructor Leonard Dawe is questioned by authorities after several words coinciding with D-Day invasion plans appear in London’s Daily Telegraph(Additional information available below the timeline.)

1950

The crossword becomes a daily feature in The New York Times.

August 26, 1952

Future New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz is born.

1968

Lyricist Stephen Sondheim begins creating cryptic crosswords for New York Magazine, helping introduce Americans to British-style crosswords.

1969

Will Weng succeeds Margaret Farrar as the second crossword editor for The New York Times.

1973

Penny Press is founded.

1977

Eugene T. Maleska succeeds Will Weng as the third crossword editor for The New York Times.

1978

First year of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, later featured in the documentary Wordplay. 149 contestants compete for the title in the first national crossword tournament since the 1930s.

1979

Howard Garns creates the modern Sudoku puzzle for Dell Magazines (under the name Number Place), the first pen-and-paper puzzle to rival the crossword in popularity (though this spike in popularity would occur decades later under the name Sudoku).

June 11, 1984

Margaret Farrar, while working on the 134th volume in Simon & Schuster’s crossword puzzle book series, passes away.

1993

Will Shortz succeeds Eugene T. Maleska as the fourth crossword editor for The New York Times.

November 5, 1996

One of the most clever and famous crosswords of all time is published, the election-preceding crossword where either BOB DOLE ELECTED or CLINTON ELECTED could read out, depending on the solver’s answers.

1998

The Wall Street Journal adds a crossword to its newspaper, and Mike Shenk is appointed editor.

June 23, 2006

Wordplay documentary hits theaters, featuring celebrity solvers of crosswords as well as the participants and organizers of the 2005 edition of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

February 29 – March 2, 2008

Thanks in part to the Wordplay documentary, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament outgrows its previous setting and moves to Brooklyn.

June 6, 2008

Matt Gaffney launches his Weekly Crossword Contest (MGWCC).

August 2008

Lollapuzzoola, a crossword-solving tournament with a more tongue-in-cheek, freeform style, launches in Jackson Heights, New York.

October 6, 2008

Patrick Blindauer’s famous dollar bill-inspired crossword puzzle is published.

2009

The city of Lvov, Ukraine, creates a crossword that spans an entire side of a 100-foot-tall residential building, with clues scattered around the city’s major landmarks and attractions. It’s awesome.

October 11, 2011

PuzzleNation.com goes live.

June 2012

David Steinberg launches the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, designed to compile a complete database of every New York Times crossword.

August 13, 2012

PuzzleNation Blog is launched.

June 14, 2013

Matt Gaffney celebrates five years of MGWCC,
stating that MGWCC will run for 1000 weeks
(which puts the final edition around August 6th, 2027).

December 21, 2013

The Crossword officially turns one hundred years old.


Additional information:

1924: The publishing house Simon & Schuster, agreed to a small (3,600-copy) run of a crossword puzzle book, prompted by founder Richard L. Simon’s aunt, who wanted to give such a book to a friend. It became “a runaway bestseller.”

In no time the publisher had to put the book back on press; through repeated printings, it sold more than 100,000 copies. Soon a second collection followed, and then a third and a fourth. In 1924 and 1925 the crossword books were among the top 10 nonfiction bestsellers for the year, besting, among others, The Autobiography of Mark Twain and George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan.

February 15, 1942: The New York Times initially regarded crosswords as frivolous, calling them “a primitive form of mental exercise”; the motivating impulse for the Times to finally run the puzzle (which took over 20 years even though its publisher, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, was a longtime crossword fan) appears to have been the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

In a memo dated December 18, 1941, an editor conceded that the puzzle deserved space in the paper, considering what was happening elsewhere in the world and that readers might need something to occupy themselves during blackouts. The puzzle proved popular, and Sulzberger himself would author a Times puzzle before the year was out.

June 2, 1944: The words Omaha (codename for one of Normandy’s beaches), Utah (another Normandy beach codename), Overlord (the name for the plan to land at Normandy on June 6th), mulberry (nickname for a portable harbor built for D-Day), and Neptune (name for the naval portion of the invasion) all appeared in Daily Telegraph crosswords during the month preceding the D-Day landing.

This has been attributed to either an incredible coincidence or Dawe somehow overhearing these words (possibly slipped by soldiers involved) and incorporating them into puzzles unwittingly.


Do you have any suggestions for additions for our Crossword Timeline? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

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Storytelling and Puzzles Unite in Wordventures! Available now!

There’s nothing more exciting than announcing a brand-new puzzle app we’ve been working on, and today, we’ve got something truly special for you to enjoy.

Our newest app, Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate is now available for download!

A town’s children have gone missing. A mysterious undead pirate and his ragtag crew lurk nearby. And the only person who can unravel the mystery and find the children is you!

In Wordventures, you can immerse yourself in a investigation while solving word search puzzles to uncover clues, reveal secrets, and move the story forward!

Combining the world-class puzzle solving you expect from PuzzleNation with a multilayered storytelling experience offers the best of both worlds. You’ll explore the town, meet fascinating characters, and even keep notes in a journal as you play through the story!

You control the pace, you control the difficulty, and you push the narrative forward with every puzzle you solve!

Solve a mystery like never before with Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate! Click here to learn more about the app and download it now!


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Brevity is Not Always the Soul of Wit

I was looking over some of the crossword puzzles I’ve saved over the last year — in preparation for my yearly Favorite Puzzles of the Year post — and I noticed something.

Some crossword clues are really REALLY long.

Now, this is obviously not huge news to anyone. Although short clues offer plenty of opportunities to be clever and play with words, longer clues grant a constructor much more freedom.

After all, for every vague reference of “Wading bird,” you could have “Medium-sized wading bird with a long straight bill.” Details are a nice touch.

With long clues, you can make elaborate scholarly references, or provide multiple examples, often juxtaposing two statements in an amusing way.

Sometimes, they present the opportunity to quote the clue’s subject directly:

Other quotation clues simply allow the constructor to go outside the box in cluing a word commonly seen in crosswords.

In the New York Times crossword from January 15, 2017, ARC was clued “The ___ of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”: M.L.K.”

June 11th’s NYT puzzle from this year is another fine example: “George Bernard Shaw wanted his to read ‘I knew if I stayed around long enough, something like this would happen'”

Sometimes, they’re hilariously self-referential, like this one I saw on Instagram:

This year’s Lollapuzzoola tournament puzzles really made the most of some long clues, utilizing both humor and clever construction.

In the warm-up puzzle, several entries had the same long clue, carefully worded to apply in more than one situation: “One party in an after-school one-on-one encounter.”

In the first puzzle, we saw clues like “Movies, and some comics, but *definitely* not video games, according to some” for CANON, and “Axle attachments that always make me think of the world record holder for the 100-meter dash” for U-BOLTS.

In the final, A POST was clued “‘I have to write ____ on my blog tonight, mostly to complain about this atrocious partial in the Lollapuzzoola tiebreaker.’” (I also want to give a shout-out to the clue “Mother’s father’s daughter’s son’s daughter” for NIECE. Good lord.)


It seems like long clues are only growing longer and more creative. I wonder where this trend will take us. Will there be a puzzle where every single clue (save one) has to be short, because one massive clue will take up an entire column? Who knows.

What’s the longest clue you’ve encountered in the crossword wild, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.


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A World of Puzzle Luxury

As recreational pastimes go, puzzles are pretty affordable.

A New York Times crossword subscription runs you $40 for the year. Many top constructors — like those featured in our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide — offer outstanding puzzles on a weekly basis for less than that.

Puzzle magazines like those from our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles run $5 to $10 (even for the big ones!) and puzzle collections by constructors and puzzle outlets rarely crack double digits.

(Heck, our apps are free downloads!)

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw some constructors on Twitter discussing a subscription service called Puzzlelux that costs nine hundred dollars a year!

[In this actual photo from the website, a woman from a 1990s Calvin Klein TV ad appears to be mildly inconvenienced by an elegant puzzlenado that has swept her into the air, risking all sorts of luxurious papercuts.]

Yes, Puzzlelux offers seasonal bundles of puzzles — Sudoku, crosswords, Cryptograms, and word scrambles — for $75 a month.

Now, not having solved any of their puzzles, I cannot fairly judge whether they’re worth that kind of cash splashing. But I am skeptical, given that I can get awesome puzzles elsewhere for 1/30th that price.

I mean, $899 dollars is pretty steep. A trip on Cunard’s crossword cruise last year was cheaper than that!

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised that someone came along to corner the market on high-end puzzlesmithing, since in the past, I have encountered a few examples of puzzle luxury items in my travels.

Every year in the Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, I jokingly mention that the folks at Hammacher Schlemmer offer a $12,000 Scrabble game in their catalog.

Yes, The World’s Largest Scrabble Game takes up an entire wall of your home, but the odds are slimmer that you’ll ever misplace one of the game tiles in your couch cushions.

Then again, $12,000 looks reasonable next to $100,000, which was the price tag for a specialty version of Monopoly produced for FAO Schwarz.

With a solid gold board, emeralds and sapphires embedded in the board (as well as in hotels and houses), and real U.S. currency in place of the play money, this might be the peak of puzzle-game excess.

Unless, of course, you commission your own labyrinth, or want to solve Sudoku in space, or something like that. But who knows what the future holds for super-wealthy puzzlers out there?


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!