Solving Crosswords and Stopping Bad Guys With Superman!

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[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

When you think of comic books and puzzles, one character instantly springs to mind: The Riddler. He’s easily the most iconic puzzly figure in comics, and his many twisty challenges for Batman have ranged from simple word games to death-defying escape rooms.

But did you know that Superman also has some puzzling in his expansive superheroic past?

In fact, Lois Lane’s life once depended on Superman’s ability to complete crossword puzzles!

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[Image courtesy of Superman Fandom Wiki.]

Yes, back in 1948, from April 15th until May 3rd, The Adventures of Superman radio show (aka the Superman Radio Program) featured Superman facing off against a gang of kidnappers and thieves, as well as a devious mastermind, in “The Crossword Puzzle Mystery.”

At that point, the crossword hadn’t even become a daily feature in The New York Times yet. (The first Sunday edition crossword debuted in February of 1942. The daily version wouldn’t appear until 1950.)

So how did crosswords cross paths with The Man of Steel?

Well, it all starts with Lois Lane on an airplane, solving a crossword in order to find out where she’s going. Lois had received a tip from Horatio F. Horn, a local correspondent for The Daily Planet, and now she finds herself on a hunt across (and down) America for her next destination.

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[Image courtesy of DC Comics, via Alpha Coders.]

The puzzle leads her to Moundville, a mining town where Horatio has gone missing. She meets a sinister gold-toothed man, and then goes missing herself. Cub reporter Jimmy Olsen soon arrives in Moundville, trying to locate both Lois and Horatio, but having no luck.

Eventually, Clark Kent gets involved, solving the same crossword puzzle as Lois and heading to Moundville himself. He arrives just in time to save Jimmy Olsen from being dragged off a cliff by a spooked horse. (You know how it is with spooked horses in old mining towns.)

After a hotel fire (an attempt on Jimmy and Clark’s lives), Clark finds three more crossword puzzles, but they’re partially destroyed. So he returns to Metropolis to track down solvable copies of each crossword, hoping they’ll reveal the whereabouts of Lois and Horatio.

Yes, one of the episodic cliffhangers was Clark solving crosswords while Lois and Horatio were held in a secret cave at gunpoint. It’s gloriously silly.

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[Image courtesy of DC Comics, via David Morefield.]

Solving the crosswords leads Superman to believe that someone in Moundville is planning to steal a shipment of gold, so he returns to the town and teams up with Jimmy and a local sheriff to get more information. He deduces that a particular shipment going out that night is the target, and manages to rescue Lois and Horatio from the gang of ruffians planning the theft.

It turns out that the mastermind of the thefts is the owner of a Metropolis newspaper syndicate — who supplies puzzles to all the papers, including The Daily Planet — and would alert a vast network of gangs in the West to various gold shipments going out by putting the name of the town in the puzzle.

That’s how Horatio ended up investigating in the first place: he’s a crossword fan himself and noticed the pattern.

The serial concludes with Superman capturing the rest of the thieves in Moundville while the Metropolis police arrest the nameless puzzle mastermind. Good job, everyone! Another crime spree thwarted, thanks to solving puzzles!


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[Image courtesy of DC Comics, via View Comic.]

The plot of this radio serial is quite similar to the plot of the first Crossword Mysteries film — both featuring thieves informed about targets through the local crossword — and honestly, it tickled me to imagine all these gun-toting ne’er-do-wells scattered throughout the western states, solving crossword puzzles every day and waiting to see where they’d need to go robbing.

This plan also implies that the crossword constructor NEVER mentioned towns or cities at other times, because that would send his goons on wild goose chases. Imagine all the abbreviated Canadian provinces they’d be searching, not to mention the European rivers.

Perhaps this fiasco resulted in The Daily Planet hiring their own crossword editor, because later on in the comics, we see someone in the newspaper offices with a crossword pattern on his wall:

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[Image courtesy of Adam Talking Superman, who offered this caption: Huge fan of the newest Daily Planet character, crossword puzzle guy listening to Perry White’s vocabulary!]

Still, it’s fascinating to know that a major radio program — one with over two THOUSAND episodes — devoted literal weeks of airtime to a crossword-themed mystery.

It also makes you wonder what else is lurking in the daily crossword grids. What other devious crimes are afoot right under our noses?

I guess we better keep solving, folks! Our puzzly vigilance could be a crime-riddled town’s only hope!


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Best (Crossword) Correction Ever: A Six-Month Anniversary

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Last week we marked two fairly auspicious anniversaries in crossword history, celebrating 15 years since the release of Wordplay and 150 years since the birth of crossword inventor Arthur Wynne.

There are loads of crossword-related anniversaries worth celebrating. The birthdays of constructors and influential editors. Anniversaries of events like ACPT, Lollapuzzoola, and others.

Heck, in a few years, we’ll be seeing the centennials for Margaret Farrar’s first book of crosswords for Simon & Schuster AND the invention of the cryptic crossword by Edward Powys Mathers (aka Torquemada), not to mention one hundred years since there was a Broadway musical revue about puzzles!

(Somebody really needs to get to work writing Wordplay: The Musical.)

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[Dancing Will Shortz cameo!]

Well, this week, we have a somewhat less momentous anniversary, but still something that brings a smile to my face when I think of it.

But first, a bit of context.

If you’ve read a newspaper for any length of time, you’ve come across the corrections section. Corrections are part of newspaper publishing. No matter how good your content or how thorough your editing and proofreading, some things slip by on occasion.

This is as true for the crossword as it is for any other section of the paper. Back in April of this year, a Tuesday mini crossword puzzle featured incorrect clues for two across entries, and the correction appeared the next day.

Some corrections are better than others, more memorable, more interesting. And today is the six-month anniversary of what I consider to be the best correction, crossword or otherwise, ever in the New York Times.

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But, hilariously, the story doesn’t end there.

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[Image courtesy of muppet.fandom.com.]

They then had to issue a correction for the correction, which is just icing on the cake:

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Then, a sharp-eyed puzzler on Twitter under the handle @CoolKrista pointed out that the correction was STILL wrong. You see, the first Muppet to lobby Congress was Kermit the Frog in the year 2000.

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[Image courtesy of muppet.fandom.com, specifically an article titled
“Kermit’s political affiliation,” which is just so great.]

(And yet, the water remains potentially muddied. After all, do you consider Big Bird a Muppet? Because Big Bird went to Congress back in 1989.)

These are the sort of minutiae-filled rabbit holes that the Internet was pretty much designed for. How can you not love it?

You can follow the whole saga on the New York Times Wordplay Twitter account. Please enjoy.

Oh, and Happy Six-Month Anniversary, Best Correction Ever. We salute you.


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Say It Ain’t Sudoku: A Puzzly Hashtag Game!

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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 #PennyDellPuzzleQuote. Today’s entries all mash up Penny Dell puzzles with famous quotations!

Examples include: “Be the Changaword you wish to see in the world,” “Loose Blips sink ships,” or “Cogito, ergo Sum Triangles.”

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


One cannot Step by Step in the same river twice.

We’ll Anacross that bridge when we get to it.

One and Only if by land, Two at a Time if by sea.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t Give and Take.

Piece by piece comes from within. Do not Word Seek it without.

It ain’t over ’til it’s Overlaps.

A Penny Press saved is a Penny Press earned.

It takes two to Tanglewords.

The buck Stoplines here.

It’s all right there in Block and White.

Leave no Stepping Stones unturned.

Don’t judge a Bookworm by its cover.

Chain Words are only as strong as their weakest Linkwords.

Picture This…worth a thousand Word Seeks.

A stitch in time saves Three from Nine.

When the going gets Mind Boggler, the Mind Boggler gets going.

When life gives you Share-A-Letter, make Alphabet Soup.

All Four One and one Four-Most.

That’s one small Stepping Stones for man…

You are the Masterwords of your unspoken Word Seeks, but a slave to the Wordfinders you have spoken.

The only thing we have to fear is test-solving forty Codewords in a row.

. . . and go round and round and round in the Circle Sums game.

The pre-type reviewer’s red pen is mightier than the sword.


Members of the PuzzleNation readership also got in on the fun when we spread the word about this hashtag game online!

On Facebook, fellow puzzler Ralph Angelo B. Sinson contributed this quote that he didn’t even have to alter!

“If you come to a Logic show, you get all creeds, colors, religions, and sexual orientations.”


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PN Product Review: Godzilla: Tokyo Clash

Today’s board game review was selected by the PuzzleNation readership through polls on social media!

Would you like more polls to determine reviews, pop culture recaps, and other blog content? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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Godzilla returned to theaters this year for the umpteenth time with Godzilla vs. Kong, and after 67 years of cinematic dominance, the King of the Monsters is still an incredibly popular figure in pop culture.

That being said, Godzilla’s board game resume isn’t nearly as impressive. In fact, it’s mostly the pits. Surprisingly, making a good board game about monsters fighting each other is harder than you’d think. (Only two come to mind — King of Tokyo and Smash City — and sadly, neither features cinema’s most iconic city-smashing monster.)

Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that this dilemma might’ve just been solved by a very unlikely source, a company more famous for their collectible figurines than their games: Funko.

In today’s blog post, we’re reviewing a Godzilla game that finally got it right, as we explore Godzilla: Tokyo Clash.

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Not only do you have four famous film kaiju (aka monsters) to choose from — Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, and Megalon — but the game board is different every time you play, thanks to the tile design that allows for numerous different arrangements.

Each of the monsters has a special ability unique to that monster, as well as a deck of action cards that are specifically designed for your monster. Whoever is playing as Godzilla will have different moves, tactics, and attacks than the person playing as Mothra, King Ghidorah, or Megalon, and this adds further replay value to the game.

Plus you randomly choose two ways that the city tries to fight back against the monsters, adding further variety to the wrinkles that color the game play on multiple playthroughs.

You have an energy bar, which is used to control how much you attack the vehicles, buildings, and other kaiju around you. So, in addition to planning for the moves other players make — as well as the moving vehicles on the game board — you also have to manage your attacks based on your available energy.

Smashing buildings and vehicles gives you energy, which you can use to attack the other monsters on the board. Successful attacks give you trophies, which count toward your overall Dominance point total. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.

That’s right! Every player stays active for the whole game — unlike many other monster-fighting games, where players can be eliminated and then you just sit around and watch the rest of the game.

The art is gorgeous, evoking a vibrant style inspired by classic Godzilla movie posters (and don’t worry, the instructions are in English). The miniatures are marvelously detailed, and the game is loaded in references to the films. You don’t have to know them to play the game, but for diehard Godzilla fans like myself, it’s vindication after years of mediocre kaiju-themed games.

And the game is very reasonably priced, considering the quality of the miniatures, the game board tiles, and the overall art. This ticks a lot of boxes for both board game fans and Godzilla enthusiasts.

That being said, the game does have some downsides. The two-player version is far less engaging than the three- or four-player versions, because your tactics are so limited by just throwing vehicles back and forth at each other and smashing buildings. The strategic moves and planning are deeper and far more enjoyable with more targets, threats, and things to consider.

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It might sound silly, but in this game about monsters smashing things, it’s simply more fun when there are other people smashing stuff too.

Also, I’m not a huge fan of the Dominance system, since it’s a little distracting  to have two sets of numbers to keep track of — the energy and the victory points — but I confess I can’t think of another mechanic that would still allow all of the players to keep playing.

All in all, I was very impressed by this game. It’s easy to pick up, fun to master, and offers a ton of variety for new and experienced players. Plus there’s a surprising amount of tactical puzzling involved, which elevates the game beyond a simple you-go-then-I-go mentality.

This game is a win.

[Godzilla: Tokyo Clash is available from Funko Games and other participating retailers.]


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The WORST Puzzle Solvers in Pop Culture

We celebrate puzzles here at PuzzleNation, and for the most part, we really try to keep the mood light and the overall tone a positive one. Because puzzles are great, and the people who make them are creative, brilliant, innovative, funny wordsmiths who labor for hours just to bring us some delightful challenges in black-and-white grid form.

As part of the general spirit of PuzzleNation Blog, we’ve been doing a series of posts where we shout-out the best puzzle solvers from the realms of fiction, be it horror movies, classic literature, television, YA novels, and children’s books.

But in all fairness, for some reason, a lot of not-so-great puzzle solvers have also been featured in pop culture. Sometimes, a crossword puzzle is the perfect prop for a bit of comic relief. Other times, the crossword serves as a lens for the character, providing valuable insight into their personality.

And if it’s true that you can’t truly enjoy the sunshine without having experienced a little bit of rain now and then, well, let’s rain on a few characters for the sake of fun, shall we?

Here’s a quick look at some of the worst puzzlers in pop culture.


President Jed Bartlet, The West Wing

Bartlet is an incredibly intelligent and well-read individual, which makes it all the more entertaining to watch him struggle with a crossword during the third-season episode “Dead Irish Writers.” He overthinks one entry, is outwitted by another — coming up with TEA for the clue “It may be bitter” instead of END — and even coloring in a square when an answer doesn’t fit the grid.

That’s not the point of the scene, of course. It’s a showcase of Bartlet’s relationship with his wife and how they’re both confronting a crisis in different ways.

But still… Jed, you’re bad at crosswords.

Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse) – Mad Men _ Season 7, Gallery – Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Bert Cooper, Mad Men

I haven’t seen all of Mad Men, so I can’t be certain, but I only recall one character with a deft hand when it comes to crosswords: Don Draper’s secretary Miss Blankenship. And she serves as the perfect foil for Mad Men‘s worst puzzle solver, Bert Cooper.

One of the top brass at advertising agency Sterling Cooper, Bert is solving a crossword and asks for “a three-letter word for a flightless bird.” Anyone with crossword experience will answer as Miss Blankenship does, with “emu.” Cooper replies, “Nope, it starts with an L,” to which Miss Blankenship responds, “The hell it does.” Clearly Mr. Cooper has already gone astray with this solve.

It’s a funny juxtaposition to have someone in a lower position speak so bluntly to a higher-up, and it also fits perfectly with Miss Blankenship’s abrupt style.

[Image courtesy of SyFy Wire.]

Marjory the Trash Heap, Fraggle Rock

Also known as Madame Trash Heap, this sentient compost heap claims to have all wisdom, and serves as a strange oracle for the nearby Fraggles. Although she possesses some magical powers and her advice usually turns out okay, this doesn’t prevent her from making some pretty silly mistakes. And that includes working on crosswords.

In one episode, Marjory needed an 11-letter word for “life of the party.” Proving both her faulty reasoning and her egocentric view of the world, she confidently claims the answer is her uncle, MAXIMILIAN. (It’s spelled with a silent Q, of course.)

Yes, this is a kids show, and yes, it’s not meant to be taken seriously, but it does make you question her view of the world, no matter how good her intentions are.

[Image courtesy of Screenrant.]

Eugene H. Krabs, Spongebob Squarepants

Mr. Krabs, owner of the Krusty Krab restaurant, is obsessed with money and views pretty much everyone and everything around him in terms of monetary value. This even extends to his recreational activities, as we see in one episode of the show where he is solving a crossword puzzle — well, a crisscross, but this happens in TV all the time — and puts the word “money” as the answer to every single five-letter space in the grid.

Unfortunately for Mr. Krabs, there’s one place in the grid where it wouldn’t work, spoiling the solve. (It is convenient for him that MONEY fits in so many of the five-letter spaces in the grid, though.)

I’m fairly certain Mr. Krabs doesn’t care, but hey, if you’re solving a crossword or a crisscross, you should care. A little. (At least he doesn’t color in grid squares like Jed Bartlet.)

[Image courtesy of Bill Watterson.]

Calvin, Calvin and Hobbes

There’s no denying that Calvin is a very clever boy. He creates games like Calvinball, builds some hilariously morbid snowmen, examines the world with a unique perspective that flummoxes and surprises in equal measure. But one Calvin and Hobbes comic strip reveals that he’s not necessarily a good crossword solver.

In response to the incredibly vague clue “bird,” Calvin says, “I’ve got it! ‘Yellow-bellied sapsucker!'” When Hobbes points out that there are only five boxes, Calvin brushes him off with a casual, “I know. These idiots make you write real small.”

On the one hand, Calvin would have no problem with rebus-style crosswords that put more than one letter into the grid. But on the other hand, no sane constructor would jam twenty letters into five boxes. (Hopefully.)

Walt Tenor, Stuck on You

A pair of conjoined twins in this comedy film from 2003, Bob is the quiet shy brother and Walt is the outgoing one driven to seek success in Hollywood. To further illustrate the differences between the two brothers and the central personality conflict between them, crosswords are mentioned twice in the film.

In both cases, the obvious correct answer — provided by the more timid and thoughtful Bob — comes as a surprise to Walt, who has come up with more inappropriate potential answers. I can’t share either of them with you, fellow puzzler, because we try to keep it family-friendly here on PN Blog, but sufficed to say, the answers tell you what’s on Walt’s mind most of the time, to the detriment of both his relationship with his brother and his ability to actually complete a crossword.

By ignoring the common sense answers and always twisting the clues to suit what he’s thinking about, Walt shares several of the bad qualities seen in other people on this list. He might just be the worst puzzle solver in pop culture.

Can you think of any bad solvers in popular culture that we missed? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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Cultural Sensitivity and Crosswords: Where Is The Line?

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A few days ago, an entry in The New York Times Crossword caught the eye of a solver. That solver posted about it in the Facebook group “The Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory,” which is dedicated to encouraging new constructors to make and submit puzzles.

That post kicked off an intense debate about problematic entries and how to handle them. Not only is this topic far from settled, but it’s emblematic of a larger question: where is the line?

You see, one of the advantages of our modern Internet-savvy culture is that feedback is virtually instantaneous now. If someone is offended or troubled by an entry or clue in the Monday crossword, it doesn’t take days for a letter to the editor to arrive at the paper. It takes seconds to post online and reach a potential audience.

Of course, that rapid response is a double-edged sword, because hot takes and rush-to-judgment commentary are just as quick to spread.

Both sides of that double-edged sword were in full effect as the replies piled up on that original Facebook post. As those in agreement with the original poster offered their support, counterpoints rolled in, either in defense of the entry or the clue.

(Naturally, given that this is the Internet, some chose to expand on the topic in general disagreement with a culture they claimed was too sensitive and quick to condemn every little thing that offended them. But since those people are an incredible waste of time and energy and have little interest in genuine discussion, this will be my last mention of them.)

Other posters focused on the mechanics of the puzzle itself, pointing out easy fixes that would have prevented the potentially problematic word from appearing at all. Some of these folks sided with the original poster, pointing out that a word that is potentially problematic should be edited out, and it’s part of a constructor’s job to think of these things.

And that’s the question. How much should constructors and editors be taking the potentially problematic aspects of words into consideration when constructing?

True, it’s not always possible to anticipate every negative response to the words filling your grid or the accompanying clues. (Heck, we have numerous examples of words and clues slipping through that catch fire with part of the audience in the worst possible way.)

But is that part of a constructor’s job?

In my opinion, yes, it is.

Crosswords should be inclusive. They should be an engaging activity that evokes occasional frustration but eventual satisfaction, whether you’re completing a grid, unraveling a particularly tricky theme, or besting your previous solving time. It should be fun. It should be entertainment, a distraction.

It should NOT be a place where people feel excluded, or where personal or historical traumas surface because of cluing or grid fill.

For example, I don’t believe CHINK should appear in crosswords, even as “flaw in one’s armor,” because anyone casually glancing at the grid will only see that word, not necessarily the context.

We can do better.

[Image courtesy of Bogoreducare.org.]

Originally, I wasn’t going to mention the specific clue/entry at all, because the issue is larger than this one example. But knowing the word that offended our original poster adds context.

The entry was NOOSE, and the clue was “End of a hangman’s rope.”

For the poster, the associations surrounding both clue and entry were troubling. But, for the most part, the main reason for posting appeared to be twofold:

1. Pointing out that the word’s inclusion in the grid was easily avoidable
2. Asking if other constructors/aspiring constructors found the entry as problematic as she did

She wasn’t calling for peoples’ heads. She was opening a dialogue and inviting discussion. She made her personal feelings clear — by using the word “appalled” — but made the discussion about something larger than her individual reaction.

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Some replies concerned the clue more than the entry, pointing out that the noose was used for many other, non-negative uses. The general association of nooses with lynching was brought up, with some instantly making the connection while others felt it was unfair or hypersensitive to make that association. Others brought up the word LYNCH, asking if the entry was problematic even if the cluing was about director David or actress Evanna.

These aren’t easy questions to answer. This is obviously not a debate that will be concluded anytime soon. But it’s one worth having.

And when it comes to conclusions to draw from all this, I think the original poster said it best in one of her replies: “In my opinion, it’s better to err on the side of empathy.”

Amen.


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