ACPT 2017 Wrap-Up!

The 40th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was this weekend, and puzzlers descended on the Stamford Marriott Hotel once again to put their puzzly skills to the test in what is lovingly known as “the Nerd Olympics.”

The tournament takes place over two days, with six puzzles to solve on Saturday, followed by one on Sunday. Then the top three finishers in the A, B, and C brackets solve the championship puzzle on whiteboards in front of the audience.

On Friday and Saturday night, there are often puzzle events, demonstrations, and panels by top puzzlers and figures in the puzzle world as well.

I made the journey down to Stamford myself Saturday morning. As I arrived at the hotel, I was unexpectedly greeted by an enthusiastic marching band and cheering fans!

As it turns out, they weren’t there for me (or any of the other puzzlers), as the Oregon women’s basketball team was also in attendance. But that was a pleasant, and slightly raucous, surprise. Go Ducks!

Once I had sidestepped the band and revelers and made my way into the hotel, I sat in with my friend Stacey Scarso at the Penny Dell Puzzles booth.

Our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles had a terrific setup as always, with a metric buttload of magazines to give away, including copies of The Crosswords Club and several flavors of Tournament Variety, Master’s Variety, and Dell Sunday Crosswords.

Plus we held a contest to win a bundle of PDP puzzle swag, including a mug, a tote bag, an umbrella, and a bunch of puzzle magazines! All you had to do was solve a Weaver Words puzzle. (And, yes, in their downtime between tournament puzzles, many competitors DO solve other puzzles. Madness!)

At 9 AM, the tournament was two hours away, but the marketplace was up and running. There were puzzle magazines galore (including a table of Merl Reagle’s puzzle books), developers showing off their puzzle app Word Squares, and ACPT-themed jewelry, key chains, and other items from All of the Things.

As competitors readied themselves for the day’s solving, I had plenty of time to see friends of the blog like Crosswords Club editor Patti Varol, constructor Ian Livengood, crossword gentleman Doug Peterson, constructor Joanne Sullivan, and Penny Press variety editor Keith Yarbrough!

Perhaps the best part of attending the tournament is getting to chat with so many members of the puzzle community in one place. There were first-time attendees and enthusiastic rookies, like the two lovely ladies wearing “Monday Puzzlers” t-shirts.

There were long-time puzzle fans who have been competing at ACPT for years, if not decades, many of whom were decked out in puzzle shirts, puzzle scarves, and other grid-heavy accoutrements.

And there were icons of the puzzle community, like NYT Wordplay blogger Deb Amlen, event organizer and made man in puzzles Will Shortz, and programmer Saul Pwanson, who helped reveal the USA Today/Universal Uclick crossword plagiarism scandal last year.

Many of the top constructors in the business were there, names like David Steinberg, Evan Birnholz, Joon Pahk, Peter Gordon, and more, along with former champions and first-rate competitors like Dan Feyer, Tyler Hinman, Howard Barkin, Ellen Ripstein, and Stella Zawistowski.

Getting to connect faces and personalities with names I know from tournaments like the Indie 500 is a real treat, and so so many of the people in the puzzle world are genuinely nice, funny individuals. Not only that, but I also got to meet several fellow trivia fiends from the Learned League community!

The two hours before showtime passed quickly, and soon, the marketplace emptied and the ballroom filled as competitors took their seats for Puzzle 1.

A jump in attendance from last year saw the room absolutely packed with competitors. Will Shortz joked that there were 624 solvers and 625 chairs. I’ve certainly never seen the room that crowded.

When Puzzle 1 arrived, several competitors I spoke to were surprised at its difficulty. There would be no cracking this puzzle in under 2 minutes, as former champion Dan Feyer did in 2015. Most of the top competitors hovered around the 4 minute mark. And this wouldn’t be the only puzzle that kept solvers on their toes.

Puzzle 2, constructed by veteran puzzler Patrick Berry, received rave reviews for its cleverness and elegant fill, providing a nice counterpoint to Puzzle 1.

[The rankings after Puzzle 2 (posted as competitors were heading into Puzzle 4)]

Puzzle 3 was constructed by Brendan Emmett Quigley, and following the path set Puzzle 1, proved far more challenging than expected. At this rate, the always-dreaded Puzzle 5 was still looming, and some solvers were more apprehensive than usual about tackling it later in the day. That being said, several competitors were impressed with Quigley’s constructing. (Not a surprise, his puzzles are always excellent.)

Puzzle 4 was constructed by relative newcomer Julie Berube, who was in attendance and super-excited to see competitors tackle her puzzle. The general consensus of competitors was that this puzzle should have been Puzzle 1.

Finally, it was time for Puzzle 5. This year, constructor Mike Shenk did the honors, and according to competitors, it was as challenging as expected, really putting the craftiness and keen wits of the solvers to the test.

[One of the puzzly keychains offered by All of the Things. I suspect making it
“I finished Puzzle 5 in the time allotted” would limit the possible customer base.]

After the diabolical Puzzle 5, competitors closed out the day with Puzzle 6 and declared it both fun and fair. The competitors dispersed to rest their brains (or solve more puzzles). We packed up the Penny/Dell table and headed for home.

[The standings at the end of the day on Saturday.]

And although I wasn’t present for Sunday’s tournament finale, I continued to get updates from friends and fellow puzzlers.

Going into Puzzle 7, constructed by Joel Fagliano, former champion Dan Feyer was on top of the leaderboard, followed closely by constructors Erik Agard and Joon Pahk, both of whom were chasing their first tournament victory, as well as former champion Tyler Hinman, who shared third place with Joon.

Not far behind them were familiar names like David Plotkin, Al Sanders, Francis Heaney, Stella Zawistowski, and last year’s winner, Howard Barkin.

Puzzle 7 was smooth, a good capper to the official tournament puzzles. But it would prove to be a heartbreaker for one solver in particular. An error by Erik Agard dropped him out of finals contention, opening the door for a former champion who missed out on the finals last year.

It would be Dan Feyer (6 time champion), Tyler Hinman (5 time champion) and Joon Pahk in the finals.

But first, there would be an Oscars-style flub for the B-level finalists, as they were given the A-level clues for the final puzzle.

A quick rundown of the finals: there are three sets of clues written for the final puzzle, labeled A, B, and C. The A-level clues are the hardest, and the C-level clues are the easiest. So the B-level contenders were given much harder clues than intended.

But guess what? All three competitors (including one rookie solver) completed the final, even with the harder clues! That is some impressive solving!

Naturally, this led to some discussion of how to make things tougher for the A-level competitors. I suggested that all their clues should be written in Esperanto, but perhaps the best suggestion came from Ophira Eisenberg, who suggested that we don’t give them any clues, and only reveal the Zs in the grid as hints. Fiendishly clever!

You can watch the final puzzle being solved below:

Tyler Hinman would complete the puzzle first, and by a fairly wide margin, but unfortunately he had an error in the puzzle.

In the end, Dan Feyer would reclaim the crown, tying Jon Delfin for most tournament wins with 7!

And it was a strong showing for many other familiar names! Doug Peterson placed 18th, David Steinberg placed 28th, Patti Varol placed 103rd (up from last year’s showing!), Kathy Matheson 228th (also up from last year’s performance!), and Keith Yarbrough 238th (again, up from last year!) out of a field of over 600 participants.

It’s always great fun to spend time with fellow puzzlers and wordplay enthusiasts, immersing myself in the puzzle community and enjoying all the charm and camaraderie that comes with it.

We’ll see you next year!


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ACPT and New Puzzle Sets: A Perfect Crossword Pairing!

The 40th edition of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is this weekend!

Puzzlers from all over are sharpening their pencils and their wits as they gear up for what is affectionately known as the Nerd Olympics, and we here at PuzzleNation wish all of the competitors the best of luck!

Here’s hoping Puzzle #5 isn’t as diabolical as it has been in previous years!

And since we’re on the subject of crosswords, we’re happy to announce the latest additions to our lineup of terrific puzzle sets for the Penny Dell Crosswords App!

For prolific puzzlers and savvy solvers alike, we’ve got a puzzle bundle tailor-made for you. Collection 20 offers 150 easy, medium, and hard puzzles designed to challenge and satisfy any crossword enthusiast!

With bundles of puzzles organized by difficulty, no matter what your skill level, there’s something here for you!

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

Happy solving, everyone! And stay tuned! Next week, we’ll have more terrific puzzle sets for your enjoyment! The April Deluxe editions are coming soon!


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Birds have a monopoly on Monopoly!

The folks at Monopoly are constantly trying new things in order to stay relevant in today’s ever-evolving game market.

When they celebrated Monopoly’s 80th anniversary in 2015, some of the games were sent out with real money instead of Monopoly money, which is a fantastic idea to promote the game.

In 2013, though, they tried something different, offering a more permanent change. They replaced the token of the iron with a token of a cat. Hazel the Cat. I was less enthused with this change.

But, hey, it’s just one token. No big loss. You’ve still got Scottie the dog, the thimble, the race car, the boot, the battleship, the wheelbarrow, and the top hat.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

Well, that’s no longer the case.

Back in January, Hasbro launched an Internet poll to determine a new lineup of tokens for editions of the game going forward. You could vote to keep the current lineup, or you could select nominees from a list of dozens of possible replacements.

Those potential replacements included a goldfish, a trumpet, a telephone, a monster truck, a life preserver, a beach ball, a set of cufflinks, a bulky old cellphone, a bunny slipper, and several emoji faces.

Hasbro announced the results of their poll, and several of the original tokens didn’t make the cut.

[Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.]

That’s right. Not only did Hazel the Cat stick around — ugh! — but the boot, the wheelbarrow, and the thimble are gone.

They’ve been replaced with a rubber duck, a penguin, and a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Now, let’s be fair. A T-rex token is awesome. I can get behind that. But a rubber duck and a penguin? Were all the voters really really into Batman Returns or something? (As they pointed out on Gizmodo, all of the winners are weird birds.)

Granted, I for one am grateful that none of the stupid emoji characters — like the crying-laughing face or the smooch face — made it into the game.

But to see the thimble go hurts. I conducted an informal poll among my fellow game fans and puzzlers, and the thimble and Scottie the dog were far and away the most popular.

Oh well. At least now there’s the option for a rule about a T-rex stomping someone’s house and causing property damage. That would be one heck of a Chance card.


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So Many Puzzle Brands, So Little Timex!

After a few months off to rest up and recharge our punny brains, on Monday we were happy to announce the return of our monthly Puzzle Hashtag Game!

And today, I’m posting the results of our #PennyDellPuzzlyBrands hashtag game!

You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie, hashtag games on Twitter, or @midnight’s Hashtag Wars segment on Comedy Central.

For over a year now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzlyBrands, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles and products, companies, and slogans!

Examples include Pep-say that again, Dorito the Nines, and Campbell’s Alphabet Soup!

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


Puzzly Food Brands!

Countdown Chocula

Lucky Star Charms

Observation Post Raisin Bran

Alpha-Bits and Reese’s Pieces

Cadburied Treasure

Zigzag nut candy bar

KenKen mints

HubbaBubbacaps

Crypto-Teddy-Grahams

Teddy-Graham-less Crostic

Keebler Anagram Crackers

Slide-O-Gram Crackers

PhasaGram Crackers

Nabisco Ana-graham Crackers

Nabiscrosswords

Missing Domino Sugar

Swiss Miss-ing Trios / Swiss Missing Vowels

Coca-Bowl-a Game

Discocacola

Tropicancellations

Letter Powerade

Capri Sunrays

Red Bulls-Eye Spiral

CryptoSeagrams

Orville Redenblockbuilders

Pop Secret Words

Common Combos

Wise Potato Chips

Ritz Crackers

Fancy Five Guys

Chick-fil-A to Z Maze

Trade-Off Joe’s

Missing Dominoes Pizza

Domino Theory Pizza

Extra Cheesy Domino Theory Breadsticks

Goo Goo Crozzle

Kibbles ‘n Bits ‘n Pieces

Fancy Fives Feast

Flower Power Bars

King Arthur Flour Power

Treasure Hunt’s Tomato Sauce

Double Up Oreos

Funyunscramblers

Triscuit Figures

Starkist Words

Blue Diamond Ring Almonds

Hormel Word Spiral Ham

Spammers

PollyO Pulling Strings Cheese

Maze-ola corn oil

Mrs. Dash-It

Vlasic Variety Pickles Plus Crosswords

Eggland’s Best Logic Problems


Puzzly Brands!

Build-A-Pyramid Workshop

Nikeywords

FedHexagams

Missing Chevroletters / Chevrolet Word Trailsblazer

Dixon Pencil Pusher / Ticonderoga Pencil Pusher

Pop-O-Matic Double Trouble

Dell Crazy Glue Clues

Stay-free Maxi-Points (with wings!)

Ty-D-Bol Game

New York Stock Exchange Boards

Kiss My Face to Face

VOSS Arithmetic

Pur-In A Word

Silly-Putty-bility

Anderson Window Boxes

InstaQuotagrams

Hot Wheels

SpellBounty

Right of Way-Gard

Double Uptree

Around the Blockbuster

Bob the Blockbuilders

Bubbles Wrap

FrisBe-fore and After

Photoshop Finish

All Four One-sies

Matchbox-Up / Mathbox cars

Zip-lock It

Tylenol for One

Missing Listerine

Ginsudoku

Anagram Magic Bullet

Calvin Klein ‘Em Up

Tidy Categories

Rolex the Dice

Armor All Fours

Lorealpha Quotes

Aquaphor-Fit

Whirlpool Words

Thom McAnagrams

Pinecone-sol

Quick & Febreze-y Crosswords

Take-a-Breakstone’s Word Seeks


Puzzly Brands and Slogans!

HeinekenKen – You can finish the beer or the puzzle, but not both.

Just SuDoKu It. – Pennikey (after the merger, obviously)

A Diamond Rings is Forever…or until you finish the puzzle – DeBeers

Imagination at Framework – General Electric

Because you’re Wordsworth it. – L’oreal

All the News That’s Four-Fit to Print – NY Times

Good to the Last Letterdrop – Maxwell House

Connecting Poetic People – Nokia

A DeBeer’s Diamond Mine…Where A Penny Puzzle is Forever.

Bounty paper towels jingle: “When puzzle spills are at their worst, Bounty is at it’s best – Bounty the quicker Picker-Upper!”

Target’s Bull Terrier puzzle mascot “Bull’s-Eye Spiral”


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

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PuzzleNation Product Review: Slapzi

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

One of my favorite games that we featured in our New York Toy Fair posts was the dice game Tenzi. The mix of strategy, luck, and quick reaction times made for a perfect storm of chaotic fun.

So, when I found out that the team behind Tenzi also had a card game, Slapzi, I figured it was worth a look.

Slapzi’s concept is simple. There are two kinds of cards: picture cards and clue cards.

You are dealt five picture cards, each one bearing a picture of an object on the front and a picture of a different object on the back. Your goal is get rid of the five cards in your hand.

Each turn, a clue card is flipped over, revealing a quality of certain objects (“Not sold in a hardware store”) or a quality of certain objects’ names (“Two of the same letter together”).

You need to quickly look at your picture cards and determine which one fits the clue card. The first player to slap a picture card down over the clue card successfully gets rid of that card.

The sheer variety of objects on the picture cards — ranging from “hammock” and “teddy bear” to “eagle” and “sandwich” — means that there are plenty of chances to match the clue cards as they come up, but only if your reflexes are fast enough.

The creators also included plenty of variant rules, including ones where you match two clue cards at the same time, ones where you avoid matching the clue cards, and even one where every clue card is in play at the same time, with all players racing to empty their hands first.

Naturally, we couldn’t resist putting a slightly puzzlier spin on the game by playing with only one side of each picture card available to players. This added a level of strategy to the game, since you had to decide which objects might prove most beneficial.

After all, if you don’t have a living creature in your hand, you could find yourself out of luck with many of the clue cards. This restrictive gameplay introduced a more tactical element than some of the other rule variants.

That being said, every version of the game that we tried was a lot of fun. The rush to slap cards down, the excitement as your hand dwindles, and even the occasional pause where someone tries to justify an odd choice (like “teddy bear” for “thinner than a pizza box” by arguing about teddies who have lost their stuffing) made for great moments and plenty of laughs.

If you’re looking for a quick-reaction card game for all ages with loads of variation for more strategic solvers, Slapzi is an excellent choice.

Slapzi is available on Amazon, at various online retailers like The Good Toy Group, and in stores now.


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Pi Day and Puzzly Foods!

It’s Pi Day — March 14th, a.k.a. 3.14 — and as one of the nerdiest days of the year, we happily celebrate it here at PuzzleNation.

A friend of the blog asked if we’d be celebrating Pi Day with some apple pi pie, and sent me this video from YouTuber Rosanna Pansino:

That gave me an idea. Why not dedicate an entire blog post to puzzly foods?

Naturally, I have to start with some Rubik’s-inspired foods. It’s blocky style lends itself to foodly imitations, and in previous blog posts, we’ve shown off both Rubik’s fruit salads (like the one above) and Rubik’s cakes.

And while we’re talking about cakes, that brings me to another puzzly product that is easily replicated in food form: Tetris.

These cupcakes adorned with Tetris pieces are a perfect puzzly dessert, and a simple way to marry puzzling and food.

But if you’re looking for something a bit more challenging and involved, check out this Tetris bento box, crafting Tetrominoes into blocky veggies on a bed of rice for lunchtime enjoyment!

And puzzly foods only get more creative and complicated from here. Let’s talk about bagels.

Yes, there is a way to cut a bagel to leave two interconnected pieces. In fact, there are several ways to cut a bagel allowing for a more mathematical eating experience! It’s the mobius bagel!

But if you’re looking for the puzzliest food I can find, look no further than the Churroduo: two interlocked churro pyramids.

I think this excerpt from a write-up on Geekologie sums up the appeal of the Churroduo nicely:

Still, the best thing about the Churroduo is that you don’t have to feel bad about eating the whole thing, because you only ordered ONE of something, you can’t help that it’s actually like twelve churros stuck together.

Do you have any examples of puzzly foods that I missed? Are you celebrating Pi Day in a puzzly way? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

Happy Pi Day, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!


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