A Wordle a Day Keeps the Burnout Away

If you’re like me, in the past few weeks your Twitter timeline has become a parade of yellow, green, and black-or-white squares all lined up in rows like Madeline and her schoolmates walking through the streets of Paris. Early on, I discovered that the squares were part of a game called “Wordle,” but I initially assumed that arranging the squares was itself the game, that there was some kind of subtle pattern creation at work. Plugging “Wordle” into a search engine led to trying to solve one Wordle puzzle, just to see what all the fuss was about, and that immediately led to making Wordle an essential part of my daily routine (just like Madeline’s daily walks).  

As demonstrated by those squares on Twitter—and by a recent flurry of news coverage— I’m not alone. Maybe you too are riding the Wordle wave, eagerly waiting for midnight, when you’ll be granted a new chance to deduce a secret five-letter-word. On the surface, the fact that we only get one Wordle challenge each day seems like it could be a point of frustration. In a pop culture landscape dominated by the model of “binging” media, we tend to always want more, more, more of what we enjoy. So why have so many people become riveted by a website that not only doesn’t ask for more than a little slice of your day but actively doesn’t allow you to participate for more than a single six-guess puzzle at a time? 

Sarah Demarest, a library youth services provider in western Massachusetts, theorized to me that our overfamiliarity with binging the latest trends is exactly why something like Wordle can catch on; a large part of its charm is its model’s rarity. She explained, “For me a lot of the appeal is in the fact that you can’t just play nonstop. You get a new episode every day.” Picking up on her television analogy, I pointed out that this meant Wordle was like a return to classic patterns of TV consumption, and she agreed, adding, “I have always been a strong believer that we need an equal mix of serialized and bingeable TV. But I have never thought about how that applies to other trends too.”

You watched Tiger King for five straight hours. Didn’t that bother you? Maybe!

A tweet by screenwriter Eden Dranger @Eden_Eats with more than 4,000 retweets and 44,000 likes places Wordle in a list of “Covid Eras” beginning with the Netflix documentary series Tiger King. Both have been pandemic sensations, topics of memes and group-chat conversations alike, but this shift from Tiger King to Wordle, taking Sarah’s theory into account, indicates that maybe we are seeing an overall shift from a passion for the bingeable to a passion for the serialized. At a time when so many of us are burned out for larger, heavier reasons than a pop culture trend, do we really need to be inviting more of that exhaustion into our brains?

The game’s creator, Josh Wardle, is conscious of how his site fits into our greater historical context, explaining on an episode of Spectacular Vernacular that the choice to remove attention-manipulating features like push notifications and endless play “had this effect where the game feels really human . . . And that really resonates, you know, [with] where we’re at right now in the world in light of Covid.” When we ourselves are so often, on Zoom, reduced to little squares on a screen, a different set of little squares on a screen has the ironic power to remind us of our humanity. After all, not being able to binge means having to move at the same speed as everyone else. We are all walking next to each other. 

A New York Times article about Wardle and his game states that the limit on one game per day “enforced a sense of scarcity . . . which leaves people wanting more.” There’s probably some truth to that, but in spite of what the creator of the copycat website Wordle Unlimited might think, maybe we’re just ready to pace ourselves instead of being deluged with constant streams of entertainment.

Pacing ourselves instead of binging is our philosophy when it comes to our Daily POP crosswords and word search puzzles. You know that we love pop culture enough to consume our favorite pieces of media for five—or twenty-six—straight hours ourselves. However, in this binging-saturated world, we’re happy to provide something steady and serialized for contrast. So, after you finish tweeting your Wordle squares for the day, why not hop on over to Daily POP and continue your slow-burn love affair with word puzzles?


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Do You Accept the Challenge of “The Impossible Crossword”? You absolutely should!

Part of the challenge for many crossword solvers is that you can’t adjust the difficulty of the cluing on a given day. The clues you get are the clues you get.

New York Times crossword solvers are intimately familiar with this, talking about Tuesday puzzles and Saturday puzzles and understanding what each means in terms of expected puzzle difficulty.

Our own Penny Dell Crosswords App offers free puzzles across three difficulty levels each day, but those are three distinct puzzles, not three different clue sets for one particular puzzle.

Having options for more than one set of clues is fairly rare. Lollapuzzoola has two difficulty-levels for their final tournament puzzle, Local and Express. GAMES Magazine previously offered two sets of clues for their themeless crossword, entitled The World’s Most Ornery Crossword.

The tournament final of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament offers different clue difficulties for three separate divisions. The Boswords Spring and Fall Themeless Leagues work in a similar manner, offering three levels of clue difficulty — Smooth, Choppy, and Stormy — for competitors to choose from.

The concept of Easy and Hard clues is not unheard of… it’s just rare.

And it’s only natural that someone, eventually, was going to take this concept and dial it up to a Spinal Tap 11.

The pair of someones in question are Megan Amram and Paolo Pasco.

Paolo is fairly well-known around crossword circles, having contributed puzzles to the American Values Club crossword, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other outlets, while also serving as associate crossword editor for The Atlantic.

And Megan is an incredibly talented television and film writer who has written for Parks and Rec, The Simpsons, and The Good Place. Anytime you saw a hilariously shameless punny name for a store in The Good Place, it was undoubtedly one of Megan’s.

Together, they unleashed The Impossible Crossword in the print edition of The New Yorker‘s December 27 issue, its first ever Cartoons & Puzzles issue. (It was made available on the website the week before.)

The instructions are simple: This crossword contains two sets of clues to the same answers. Toggle to the set labelled “Hard” to impress people looking over your shoulder. (And toggle to “Easy” when they look away.)

This 9×9 crossword’s Easy clues were fair and accessible, but the Hard clues were the real stars. They ricocheted between immensely clever, wildly obscure, and hilarious parodies of themselves.

For instance, the word JEST was clued on the Easy side as “Infinite ____” but received the brilliantly condescending add-on “Infinite ____” (novel that’s very easy to read and understand) in the Hard clues as a reference to the famously dense and impenetrable nature of the novel.

For the word APPS, the Easy clue was “Programs designed to run on mobile devices,” while the Hard clue was “Amuse-gueules, colloquially.”

(I had to look that one up. An amuse-gueule is “a small savory item of food served as an appetizer before a meal.”)

And those are just two examples.

When you finally finish the puzzle, this is your reward:

“You’re a genius! You can tell your mom to get off your case about going to law school.”

All at once, The Impossible Crossword manages to be a fun puzzle to solve on its own, a riotously fun gimmick that lampoons clue difficulty in general, and the most meta puzzle I’ve solved all year.

Kudos to Megan and Paolo for pulling it off. What a way to welcome the Cartoons & Puzzles era of The New Yorker while the rest of us close out another year of puzzling.


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Sweep Your Eyes Across These Ugly Puzzly Sweaters!

proper ugly sweater

It’s December, and you’ve probably already received an invitation to some sort of holiday event. Maybe it’s a housewarming, or a holiday luncheon, or a game night. But, maybe, it’s an ugly sweater party.

Ugly sweater parties used to be events that ironically appreciated sweaters that were made with genuine affection, but simply didn’t please the eye. But once ugly sweaters became a part of pop culture, they became, as all things do, a cottage industry, and now companies release “ugly” Christmas sweaters for every pop culture property imaginable.

Most of them are simply underwhelming — and a few are often actually quite lovely — but none of them really capture the spirit of the original ugly sweater party ideal.

abominable sweater

Of course, there are exceptions.

And then, there are the ones I’m on the fence about. Check out this Minesweeper-inspired ugly sweater from Microsoft:

minesweeper sweater

It’s not garish by any means. It’s cleverly designed and weirdly festive. But I also can’t imagine anyone buying it.

It’s certainly unique.

But it raised the question…

What other puzzly ugly sweaters are out there? Would they all feel too corporate like the modern ugly sweater patternings, or could I find some genuine diamonds in the rough?

Let’s find out, shall we?


Of course, when you type “puzzle ugly sweater” into Google, you find an amazing array of jigsaw puzzles featuring ugly sweater designs. And honestly, what a great idea for an image for a jigsaw. The riot of colors alone would make for a pretty fun jigsaw solving experience.

So I started pairing different puzzle brands with “ugly sweater” in my searches, and I began to yield some results, however mixed.

rubiks color sweater

There’s this Rubik’s sweater design, which I find a bit meh. It’s nice, it’s unoffensive. But it’s not the colorful visual assault I was hoping for.

I mean, look at this Rubik’s hoodie on Amazon. At least that seems to be trying to overwhelm your senses.

ugly rubik hoodie

So what about Tetris? Tetris is part of the fabric of modern puzzling. Surely there must be some Tetris-fueled designs for ugly sweaters.

tetris moscow sweater orig

The first result I found was this pattern, which is actually quite lovely. It’s discontinued in its original sweater form, but lives on as a print for t-shirts.

tetris stack shirt

There’s also this festive message delivered in the style of the monumentally successful Game Boy Tetris version of the puzzle classic. (I’ll probably end up ordering this shirt.)

These are festive, but hardly fit the ugly sweater criteria.

falling tetris sweater

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. It’s not particularly Christmas-y, but it does manage to barrage the eyes with color.

ugly tetris sweater

I found this one on Poshmark, and supposedly it won some sort of ugly sweater contest. Not sure who judged that one. This isn’t great, but it’s hardly ugly.

Alas, where else can we look?

math sweater

Well, there’s this ugly sweater-patterned take on the math puzzles that periodically circulate on social media. I couldn’t find it in actual sweater form, but it’s a start.

(It also exemplifies the unsatisfying corporate nature of the modern ugly sweater pattern. Festive borders on the top and bottom, and the hook in between. Nothing on the sleeves or back, no real effort involved.)

Finally, I turned my attention to crossword-specific sweaters, and I struck gold. None of these are particularly festive, but you could slap a bow on them and get past any discerning bouncer at the ugly sweater party of your choice in these.

pas de mer crossword sweater

This pas de mer sweater feels like you’re looking at a cryptic crossword grid through a funhouse mirror.

poshmark diffusion crossword sweater

I also found this sweater on Poshmark. You’ll be heartbroken to discover it’s already been sold. But man, you could easily wear this one at the crossword tournament or ugly sweater party of your choice and turn a few heads.

ebay ugly sweater

I wish I could find a bigger picture of this one somewhere. It was clearly made with love, and it’s one of the few that actually feels like a proper crossword grid.

crossword sweater vest

What is it about a sweater vest that somehow makes this worse than a normal sweater? Maybe it’s how the boxes don’t quite line up, or the two-letter words trailing off near the armpits. Man, this is pretty bad.

boating crossword sweater

And this one, fellow puzzlers, was the pièce de résistance. The random crisscross placement. The color palette. The way the lighthouse beam doesn’t make it past the center buttons, condemning the proud cross-legged sailor nearby to a disastrous collision with the rocks near the shore.

This might not be a Christmas sweater, but man, does it fit the bill in every other way.

Do you have any favorite ugly sweater designs? Are any of them puzzle-fueled? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Another A-maze-ing Visit to Animal Crossing: New Horizons!

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There are plenty of terrific video game puzzles out there. Whether you’re talking about video games where the vast majority of the gameplay is puzzle solving (like Myst, Portal, The Witness) or games in other genres that still use puzzles in creative ways (Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Uncharted), puzzles are part of the fabric of video games.

But sometimes, it’s almost more interesting when people introduce puzzly elements to non-puzzle games, because it shows off the creativity, cleverness, and skill of the designer.

People have designed escape room-style puzzles in Super Mario Maker (not to mention working calculators!) and Minecraft is known for its user-generated puzzly challenges.

But I don’t think I ever expected Animal Crossing: New Horizons to end up as a refuge for puzzly minds.

animal-crossing-new-horizons-switch-hero

For the uninitiated, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a game where each player gets their own island, on which they can build a house, create their own paradise, and interact with fellow players. You can collect animals, plants, fruit, and other resources to craft items. There are tasks to complete, and more characters will arrive to explore your island.

We previously reported on Animal Crossing back in May of 2020 when guest blogger Jen Cunningham discussed their May Day event. During the event, game designers created a special island with a maze and a series of tasks for players to complete as they solved the twisty turny path before them. It was a big success, one of many for the game in 2020.

But as it turns out, that’s not the only maze to be found if you go island-hopping in this popular game.

No, a user named Avery Monsen spent about two weeks turning his island into a diabolical labyrinth of his own design. After deep diving into the game, the creation of Avery’s maze was driven by two factors:

1. It was more fun than the traditional game play
2. It would make the game virtually unplayable, which would make it easier to put down for a while.

And it looks like his plan succeeded. Once the maze was finished, he put the game away. (He recently returned to the game to check out a programming update.)

Apparently, the maze is complex enough to cause travel from any key location to any other key location to last ten minutes. And for a game where you’re free to explore wherever, ten minutes to get from place to place is an eternity.

“I wouldn’t say I forgot about my maze, but I definitely forgot how much of a hassle it is. It’s a nightmare,” Monsen said. “So, I took a few screenshots and posted them to my Twitter. I was very quickly flooded with people who were impressed by my dedication and terrified by my obsession. Both of these reactions are valid.”

He has shared the address code so that other players can visit his island and try their hand at his now-famous labyrinth. “I hope people enjoy my island and I hope it doesn’t make me look totally nuts,” he said.

Who knows what other puzzly works are lurking out there in the world of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, just waiting to be revealed?


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Ooooh woooooo, Werewolves and Puzzlin’: A Puzzly Hashtag Game

You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie or hashtag games on Twitter.

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 #PennyDellScaryPuzzles. Today’s entries all mash up Penny Dell puzzles, magazines, and products with scary movies, costume ideas, monsters… anything spooky or Halloween-fueled!

Examples include Carrie-Overs, Fright Angles, or Ghost Star Framework.

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


Scary Puzzly Movies!

SudoCujo

Nightmare Around the Block from Elm Street

Creature from the Blackout! Lagoon

Little Puzzler of Horrors

Strateg-eepers Creepers

Frankenstein’s Monster: Assembly Required

Tales from the Cryptic Crossword / Cryptogram / Crypt-o Zoo

The Picture This of Dorian Gray

What’s the Last House on the Left?

Who’s Calling From Inside the House?

Whatever Happened to Baby Chain Words?

The Texas Chain Words Saw Massacre / The Texas Jigsaw Puzzle Massacre

I Know What You Did Last Sum-Doku

At 6’s and Se7en’s

Se7en-Up

The Murders in the Rue-lette

Bricks And Mortar (In The Cask Of Amontillado) / The Cask of Amontillado II: Brick by Brick

The Living and the Dead Colors

Colorful Escapes from Witch Mountain

Rows Garden’s Baby

Friday the 13xt

Out of a Quiet Place / A Quiet Place, Please

The Ringers

The Blair Which Way Words Project

Children of the Four Corners

Invasion of the Mix and Matchers

The Triplexorcist

Triple Child’s Play

Psychode Names

The Wizard of A to Z Maze (with The Wicked Witch Way Words of the West)

Addams Family Ties

First and Last Horror Movie

A Nightmare on 3 Across

Night of the Living Heads & Tails


Puzzly Monsters and Menaces!

Slay That Again?

Quote Draculator

Word-A-Bat

Scoremonster

Black Categories

Goblips

Bricks and Morticia

Werewolf Are They Now?

Frank the Rabbits and Pieces

Crypt-Keeper Frame

How Many Tarantulas

Insert A Worm

Lucky Cleaver

Aba-chupacabra-cus!

Sudoghoul

Spook-Doku

Clown Around the Bend

Leatherface to Face

Witch Way Words

Ghoulette


Puzzly Spooky Stuff and Halloween Fun!

Casting a Spelldown

Anagram Black Magic Squares

Crypt Crossword

Pushing Up Daisy

Summoning Circle Sums

Die-agramless Fill-In

Esc-Hell-ators

Four Coroners

Candy Bowl Game

Four Candy-Corners

Caramel Bits & Reese’s Pieces

Three-D Corn Maze

Tricks and Mortar

Bricks and Horror

Pumpkin Patchwords

Fear & Scare Word Seek

Missing Howls Word Seek

On the Ghost Word Seek

Itt Figures

Haunted Mirror Image

Crypto-Curse

Trade-Coffin

Double, Double Toil and Trouble

“Double Trouble! Double Trouble! Fingers burn through all them puzzles!”


As always, one of our contributors went above and beyond, creating a cryptic crossword clue AND still managing to slip in some #PennyDellScaryPuzzle-themed wordplay! Check it out

Question: Abandoned Louisiana home, runs to find a change of scene? (6)
Answer: Ruston

How cool is that? They also offered up this explanatory fun fact:

The city of Ruston, Louisiana is mentioned several times on the HBO series True Blood, an American fantasy horror drama TV show about vampires. It is also home to the Screaming Woods Haunted Trails, a spooky 2-mile Halloween trail that is lit up only by tikis!


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

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Halloween is almost here, and we have some spookily good deals for you to check out. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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Crosswords as Pop Culture Shorthand?

In television and movies, there are a lot of different techniques for revealing character traits. While some shows spend time developing their characters and slowly revealing their traits to the audience, other shows rely on visual shorthand. You often see a letterman’s jacket for a jock, or glasses for a nerdy boy or a mousy girl.

The act of solving a crossword puzzle has also become visual shorthand in pop culture. Crosswords often serve as a universal sign of intelligence.

In an episode of Jimmy Neutron, Sheen is shown solving a crossword puzzle in ink. This is an instantaneous sign that his brainpower has increased. (And when Cindy points out that her dad does the same thing, Sheen one-ups her by saying the puzzle is from The Beijing Times.)

It could have been math or organization or memorization, but instead, they went with crosswords.

In The Wire, the show uses a scene with a crossword to reveal that there’s more to street-smart Omar Little than meets the eye. Before testifying at Bird’s trial, he helps the bailiff with a crossword clue, identifying the Greek god of war as Ares. The scene immediately punches holes in several stereotypes both characters and viewers might have about the character.

This also happens on Mad Men, where one of the founders of the company is solving a crossword, only to be corrected by one of the secretaries. For that brief moment, the playing field has been levelled.

And because crosswords are seen as this visual shorthand for intelligence, they’re also used as a intellectual measuring stick, for better or for worse.

Rachel on Friends struggled with a crossword for an entire episode to prove she didn’t need anyone’s help, but still has to obliquely obtain information from others to finish the puzzle.

In an episode of House, M.D., House goes speed-dating, and is initially intrigued by a woman who brought a crossword puzzle with her. But when he notices she’s filled in random words instead of actually solving it — in order to pass herself off as someone she’s not — he quickly bursts her bubble in typically acerbic fashion.

P.G. Wodehouse loved to reveal the intelligence — or lack thereof — of characters through the use of crossword clues as fodder for banter. And that’s because it works. The audience draws conclusions based on these interactions.

In a fifth-season episode of Angel, a doctor is shown asking his receptionist for random crossword clues, only to fail at answering several. This immediately colors the audience’s opinion of him.

Crosswords can also be used as a mirror to reflect differences between characters. On The West Wing, President Bartlet couldn’t get past his own presuppositions and assumptions to properly complete the puzzle, while the First Lady had no problem navigating the same puzzle because of her own diplomatic skills.

Similarly, the parents in an episode of Phineas and Ferb show off their dynamic while solving a crossword. The father implies that every answer is obvious, and then waits for his wife to actually provide the answer. It says volumes about him, her, and the two of them as a pair.

But all of this raises the question: is this fair? Is the one-to-one association of crosswords and intelligence in pop culture valid?

[Check out this stock image from Deposit Photo.]

Crosswords are, essentially, piles of trivia and information, crisscrossing vocabulary locked behind clever or vague cluing. But are intelligence and access to information the same thing?

I mean, we’ve discussed the issue of crossword accessibility in the past. Many female constructors, constructors of color, and LGBTQIA+ constructors are helping to change the language used in crosswords, but plenty of people still see them as the domain of older white men. Which implies it’s not actually intelligence, just what older white men deem to be reflective of intelligence.

For a long time, pop culture clues were considered unwelcome or verboten. Beneath the crossword, even. Different editors bring different definitions of what’s appropriate for the puzzle.

And if people associate crosswords with intelligence because of this visual shorthand, and they don’t see themselves reflected in the puzzle, then they suffer from that jagged flip side of the pop culture coin. They’re excluded because of the measuring stick.

I realize most of the examples I cite above are intended to be humorous. Bartlet’s wrong answers are meant to be funny, as is Rachel’s struggle or the dad’s inability to answer on Phineas and Ferb.

But it’s worth mentioning that anyone who feels like they’ve been rapped across the knuckles by the measuring stick carries that with them. I’ve seen it plenty of times when I tell somebody that I work in puzzles. If they “can’t do them,” they look down when they say it. They already carry that visual shorthand with them.

While it’s fascinating that crosswords are part of that immediately recognizable pop culture lexicon, I also kinda wish that they weren’t.


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Well, summer’s over, but we still have deals galore for you to check out. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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