A Writing Prompt with a Puzzle/Game Twist!

I’m always on the hunt for different ways that puzzles have found their way into pop culture and society in general, and it never ceases to amaze me how ubiquitous puzzles can be.

I recently stumbled across a puzzly reference in a list of writing prompts intended to spark some creative scribbling:

A long while back, the world came to an end, and with it your favourite newspaper. For years you’ve been filling the idle hours between scrounging and scavenging by solving crosswords puzzles. You’ve got 50 years worth of backlogs, but now you’ve completed every single one.

Every single one except the most recent one. The final one, that is. The crossword puzzle that never got released because the world ended.

So now you’re on a journey through the post-apocalyptic wasteland to find the last puzzle, and finally complete your collection.

A dystopian tale with a puzzly hook? Sounds like a can’t-miss YA book to me!

It’s an intriguing pitch — for a story or a roleplaying campaign — and one that reminds me of David Steinberg and the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, as they’re still on the hunt for 142 missing New York Times crosswords that weren’t published in New York.

And, naturally, since my mind has wandered to puzzle-and-game-fueled scribblings, I simply must include this board game-inspired take on the classic Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First?” that a friend of mine penned. Enjoy!

Customer: Excuse me, do you sell this particular board game whose name I’ve forgotten, it’s like Parcheesi, only smaller and has a Pop-O-Matic dice rolling bubble in the middle.

Clerk: Are you looking for Trouble?

Customer: What? No! Sorry.

Clerk: Ah, we do have that. But without the dice popper.

Customer: What?

Clerk: Sorry.

Customer: No, it’s fine. I just want your opinion of the other game you have, if it’s no trouble.

Clerk: Well, it kind of is. According to some people.

Customer: Sorry?

Clerk: Yes.

Customer: You are fast becoming a source of aggravation.

Clerk: Oh, we have that one, too!

Customer: Argh! What. Game. Were you talking about before, and what’s your opinion?

Clerk: Sorry, and it’s no Trouble, if you ask me.

Customer: Well, great.

Clerk: So do you want that?

Customer: Huh?

Clerk: Or would you prefer Aggravation?

Customer: I’d rather you gave me a clue!

Clerk: Well that game’s nothing like Parcheesi.

Customer: Then why bring it up?

Clerk: I didn’t, you did!

Customer: Look, just… go.

Clerk: We don’t have that, but what about Othello?

Customer: ARGH!


As always, puzzles and games make everything better.

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Puzzle Plagiarism?

[Image courtesy of PlagiarismToday.com.]

Today’s post isn’t the usual Follow-Up Friday fare. Instead of returning to a previous subject, I’d like to discuss a topic that I expect I’ll be returning to in Follow-Up Friday form in the near future.

There is a certain pride and sense of accomplishment you experience as a puzzler when you come up with an exciting, innovative, unexpected theme idea for a puzzle, or when you pen a terrific clue for a word. Whether the wordplay is spot on or you’ve simply found a way to reinvigorate a tired bit of crosswordese, you feel like you’re adding something to the ever-expanding crossword lexicon, leaving a mark on the world of puzzles.

Unfortunately, there’s also the flip side of that coin, and those who would pilfer the hard work of others for their own gain. And in a story broken by the team at FiveThirtyEight, there may be something equally unsavory going on behind the scenes of the USA Today crossword and the Universal syndicated crossword.

You can check out the full story, but in short, an enterprising programmer named Saul Pwanson created a searchable database of crossword puzzles that identified similarities in published crosswords, and it uncovered an irregularly high number of repeated entries, grids, and clues in the USA Today and Universal crosswords, both of which are edited by Timothy Parker.

More than 60 puzzles feature suspicious instances of repetition — the word “plagiarism” comes to mind, certainly — and it has sparked an investigation. In fact, only a day after the story first broke, Universal Uclick (which owns both the USA Today crossword and the Universal syndicated crossword) stated that the subject of the investigation, Parker himself, “has agreed to temporarily step back from any editorial role for both USA Today and Universal Crosswords.”

I’ve heard that oversight of the USA Today crossword has already passed to another editor of note in the crossword world, constructor Fred Piscop (author of last Wednesday’s New York Times crossword), but I wonder if more examples of crossword duplication are lurking out there.

With resources like XWord Info and the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project out there, the history of crosswords is becoming more and more accessible and searchable. I can’t help but wonder if more scandals are lurking down the pike.


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Puzzle History: The first NYT crossword

[A sculpture masquerading as a stack of newspapers.]

I like to think of December as Crossword History Month. It’s rather fitting, seeing as the anniversary of the crossword is celebrated on December 21. (It’ll be 102 this year!)

So it’s only appropriate that David Steinberg, friend of the blog and mastermind of the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, recently published some newly revealed information about another intriguing part of crossword history: the first crossword puzzle published by The New York Times.

On February 15, 1942, a puzzle by Charles Erlenkotter was the very first, starting a long tradition of proud puzzlehood for the Times. (He ended up having eight puzzles featured in the New York Times.) His puzzles were also published by The Washington Post, The New York Herald Tribune, and Simon & Schuster, among many others. In fact, dozens of puzzles are credited to Mr. Erlenkotter.

All of the information released by David gels nicely with the research I did for our Crossword History timeline. In a memo dated December 18, 1941, an editor for the New York Times 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.

David and his contact Donald Erlenkotter, grandnephew of Charles, theorize that Margaret Farrar was behind choosing Erlenkotter’s puzzle. When Farrar was recruited to be the first puzzle editor for the Times, she wouldn’t have been able to use one of her own puzzles as the inaugural puzzle for the newspaper, since that would conflict with her work with Simon & Schuster.

But no doubt Charles had heard of her through her S&S work, contacted her with his own puzzles, and voila! He becomes the first of many constructors to test the puzzly mettle of crossword fans for decades to come!

I’ve long said that one of the most amazing things about the Internet is that connections can now be made that no other technology would’ve allowed for, and this is one more example. Due diligence, keen research, marvelous resources, and the ability to reach out to others with similar interests has added one more vibrant piece to the mosaic of puzzle history.

It’s moments like this that make me the history buff I am.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: New Years Resolutions edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, with the new year freshly started, it seems all too appropriate to return to the subject of new years resolutions.

Last year, I asked several prominent puzzlers about their resolutions for 2014. It’s one year later, so let’s see how they did!

Constructor Robin Stears resolved “to interact more with puzzle fans…, to attend some crossword tournaments and trivia nights and spend some time getting to know the contestants and finding out what kinds of puzzles they like.” How did that resolution go for her?

Well, I really missed the boat on that resolution. There weren’t any crossword tournaments in my area, and I couldn’t convince my local librarian to host one. But thanks to PuzzleNation, I’ve been able to keep up with what’s new in the puzzle world. The hottest thing this year was the emoji; in fact, emoji were so popular, I made up a bunch of emoji crossword puzzles.

And since I couldn’t attend any tournaments in person, I scoured the Internet for puzzle blogs and puzzle forums, and still managed to interact with puzzle fans in the virtual world. Puzzle fans are the nicest people, and they always have great ideas.

Constructor (and field marshal of The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project) David Steinberg resolved to “finish the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project’s litzing stage and to construct more Sunday crosswords.” How did that resolution go for him?

The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project’s litzing stage is now complete. We’ve litzed all the available puzzles–16,077 of them! We’re missing 148 puzzles, though, most of which weren’t published in New York because of newspaper strikes.

The proofreading stage is well on its way — 24 years of proofread puzzles are now up on XWord Info. A two-month proofreading contest is currently in progress, and we’re almost done proofreading the 1969 puzzles. I’ve also been busy constructing more Sunday crosswords, one of which was recently accepted by the Times.

Puzzle poet Peter Valentine resolved to “get up early and finish the poem before anyone else is awake.” How did that resolution go?

Sadly I did terribly on that resolution and can probably count on one hand the number of times that happened. Nevertheless, still keeping up with them daily when kids are in school! (Holidays are a wash.)

Baffledazzle creator Rachel Happen made several resolutions for 2014. How did she do?

1. Exercise brain as much as body — I’d give myself an 11 out of 10 on this one. The first Baffledazzle Kickstarter campaign was a problem-solving obstacle course that demanded all sorts of brain agility! Now that I’m post-campaign, I’m back in puzzle research/development mode and maxing out my library card again. So yes, mission accomplished there.

2. Make puzzles for friends / family birthday gifts — I’d give myself 7 out of 10! I did make a ton of custom puzzly things for gifts though I missed a few months when I was in the thick of Baffledazzle production. Next year, summer-birthday-friends, there will be puzzles for all!

3. Try a new puzzle / puzzly game each month — Oh man I get a 3 out of 10 for this one, but maybe a 5 out of 10 for intention!! My pile of Springboks [jigsaw puzzles] has only gotten taller… sigh. 😉

4. Make puzzles the new black — Ah, ∞ out of 10. This one’s a life-long mission!! Full speed ahead into another year of puzzling!


What about you, fellow puzzlers? Did you make any resolutions this year, puzzly or not? Let me know! I’d love to hear about them!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

New Year’s Resolutions!

It’s New Year’s Eve, and around this time, people start making resolutions for the new year. Goals, plans, even the occasional scheme, all in the hopes of being a better version of themselves.

And I instantly began wondering if anyone was making puzzly resolutions. So, like all great philosophers, I asked the folks on Twitter.

Right after I posted the question, my friend Candice replied, “Spooky timing. Had just added ‘set aside a few hours every week to do puzzles’ to my list.”

As it turns out, plenty of people had puzzly resolutions for 2014, including a few familiar faces!

Puzzle poet Peter Valentine resolved to “Get up early and finish the poem before anyone else is awake — I wonder how many puzzler parents use this tactic for solving the puzzle?”

[Glenn’s note: Probably more than you suspect, Peter.]

Constructor Patrick Blindauer tweeted, “In 2014, I resolve to solve more, use fewer black squares, and never, ever use TREEN.”

[Glenn’s note: A quick dictionary search reveals that TREEN is anything made of wood, especially cookware or utensils. Diabolical crosswordese!]

Friend of the blog Krud tweeted, “I resolve to embed an anagram into every tweet. Aye, mint tea lovers drown beige meat near vote.”

Crossword blogger Kathy Matheson (a.k.a. Crossword Kathy) declared that “My resolution for the New Year is to construct and submit at least three daily-size crosswords to Will Shortz — so I better get to work!”

Constructor and Puzzle Historian David Steinberg resolved to “finish the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project’s litzing stage and to construct more Sunday crosswords, since I’ve been doing mostly dailies.”

[Glenn’s note: Litzing is the PSPP term for converting print puzzles into an archivable electronic format.]

Friend of the blog (and YouTuber!) BaffleDazzle had a stack of puzzly resolutions:

“1. Exercise brain as much as body (easier, no weights/special clothes required)
2. Make puzzles for friends/family birthday gifts
3. Try new puzzle/puzzly game each month (growing stack of old Springboks + new Looney Labs discoveries!)
4. Make puzzles the new black!”

Constructor Robin Stears also offered a pretty ambitious list of puzzly resolutions:

“Next year, my resolution is to interact more with puzzle fans. I hope to attend some crossword tournaments and trivia nights and spend some time getting to know the contestants and finding out what kinds of puzzles they like. There will be more digital collections this year, more contests, and more freebies for Team StearsWords.”

As for me, I have a few resolutions of the puzzlerific variety. I resolve to:

  • Anagram more. New Years resolution = Now to rerun easy lies.
  • Play more board games. Working on the blog has reignited my love of board games, and I hope to get a regular game night going.
  • Write fewer pop culture-related palindromes, particularly involving Kim Kardashian’s advice to her daughter. “Nori West nods. ‘Moms don’t sew, iron’.”
  • Fight crime, but with puzzles. Probably through the clever use of origami and paper cuts.
  • Take PuzzleNation PuzzleInternational! (Not really sure how to go about this yet. It’ll probably involve some scheming.)

Happy New Year, my fellow puzzlers! May 2014 be as delightful, surprising, and occasionally baffling as you desire!

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Tumblr, download our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

Crossword History: A Timeline

The hundredth anniversary of the crossword is nearly upon us, and we at PuzzleNation Blog thought we’d take a look at the long (yet surprisingly short) road it took to get to this marvelous centennial!

And so, without further ado or folderol, we proudly present:

A Brief History of the Crossword
(by Glenn Dallas and the PuzzleNation Team)

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

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.

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.

The Sunday Express becomes the first newspaper in the United Kingdom to carry crosswords.

1926

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

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. (Click here to read more about this.)

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. (Click here to read more about this.)

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.

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.

June 23, 2006

Wordplay documentary hits theaters, featuring both celebrity solvers of crosswords and the participants and organizers of the 2005 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 6th, 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 11th, 2011

PuzzleNation.com goes live.

June 2012

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

August 13th, 2012

PuzzleNation Blog is launched.

June 14th, 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 21st, 2013

The Crossword officially turns one hundred years old.


Additional information:

February 15th, 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 2nd, 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.


Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!