Puzzle Romance!

Hello there, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

It’s Valentine’s Day, and in lieu of our usual post touting different ideas for celebrating love in a puzzly way — since it’s a bit short-notice for those ideas — we thought we’d share some of our favorite tales of puzzle romance.

(Of course, if you ARE looking for ideas, you’re welcome to click here. Just saying.)

In the past, I’ve had the privilege of reporting on two puzzly proposals that were quite brilliantly facilitated by our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles. Each time, the gentleman in question — both times named Bryan, oddly enough — asked that the proposal be hidden in a favorite puzzle, slipped into one of their puzzle books. The first time, it was Escalators, the second, Simon Says.

Both times, the plans were executed to perfection, and both times, the lovely fiancees-to-be said yes.

(We’ve also previously shared the stories of proposals couched in a game of Monopoly and a Rubik’s Cube.)

But my favorite story of puzzle romance involves two friends of mine who are both devotees of cryptic crosswords. (For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call them Carol and George.)

Carol and George are one of those brilliantly matched couples that makes you smile just thinking of them. Marvelously compatible interests and senses of humor and general weirdness that makes relationships worthwhile.

George had several gifts picked out for Carol, but he wanted to surprise her with a little something extra, a bit of diabolical sweetness only a true puzzle devotee would love.

So, before Carol received each small token of affection, she was given a cryptic crossword (also known as a British-style crossword) clue to solve. Cryptic crossword clues involve both cunning wordplay and a definition. The number after the clue provides the number of letters in the answer word.

[A cryptic crossword by constructors Cox and Rathvon,
courtesy of National Post Cryptic Crossword Forum.]

Here are the clues George created. Hopefully you can figure out the answers just as Carol did!

Really glitchy web address loaded between Tuesday and first of year (5)

Found, amidst mishap, pyramid’s content (5)

Begin tortured existence (5)

Thine enemy, in the end, belonging to us both (5)

Plus, there’s an added bonus: the four five-letter answers, when placed in order, form a phrase.

Hopefully, there will be some wonderful new stories of puzzle romance to come. Maybe even tonight! If you have a story to share, comment below! We’d love to hear it!


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: 2016 Countdown edition!

It’s the final Follow-Up Friday of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2016 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


#10 Doomsday Prep

One of the big surprises for me this year was discovering that crosswords and puzzle books were hot-ticket items for doomsday preppers. The idea that crosswords belong next to necessities like food, water, shelter, and knowledge was a revealing one, something that gave me great hope for the future, whether we need those caches or not.

#9 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

#8 A Puzzly Proposal

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles once again pulled off a heck of a puzzly coup when an intrepid fellow puzzler asked them for help proposing to his girlfriend with a special Simon Says puzzle.

I reached out to the lucky fiancé and got his permission to share the story with the PuzzleNation readership, and as I learned more about who was involved and how they’d managed to make it happen, I enjoyed the story more and more. Here’s hoping for many happy puzzly years ahead for the young couple!

#7 Puzzle Fort

For International Puzzle Day, I built a fort out of puzzle books.

It was awesome. Definitely one of my favorite puzzly moments of the year.

#6 The End of Sudoku?

The Sudoku boom may be over, but Sudoku remains one of the most popular puzzles in the world, and I got to thinking… when would we run out? I mean, eventually, statistically speaking, every single Sudoku puzzle permutation would get used at some point, so when would that happen?

So, I crunched the numbers, and it turns out, we’ve got centuries before that happens. Still, it was a fun mental puzzle to unravel.

#5 Murder Mystery

At some point this year, I let slip to my fellow puzzlers that I’d written and staged murder mystery dinners in the past, but it had been a while since I’d done anything like that. Naturally, they volunteered to be participants, urging me to stage something in the office.

Eventually, I accepted their challenge, pitting myself against a half-dozen or so of my fellow puzzlers, allowing some of them to investigate while others played a part in the mystery. It was an enormous undertaking and an absolute blast that lasted three days, and it was definitely a highlight of the year for me.

#4 Puzzle Plagiarism

There was probably no bigger story in crosswords all year than the accusations of plagiarism leveled against Timothy Parker. The editor of puzzles for USA Today and Universal UClick. After numerous examples of very suspicious repetitions between grids were discovered in a crossword database compiled by programmer Saul Pwanson and constructor Ben Tausig, Parker “temporarily stepped back from any editorial role” with their puzzles.

Eventually, Parker was removed from any editorial influence on USA Today’s puzzles, but it remains unknown if he’s still serving in a puzzle-related capacity for Universal Uclick. But the real story here was about integrity in puzzles, as many puzzle and game companies rallied to defend their rights as creators. That’s a cause we can all get behind.

#3 Interviewing the PuzzleNation Team

Our recurring interview feature 5 Questions returned this year, but what made it truly special to me was being able to turn the spotlight on some of my fellow puzzlers here at PuzzleNation as part of celebrating 4 years of PuzzleNation Blog. Introducing readers to our programmer Mike, our Director of Digital Games Fred, and yes, even myself, was a really fun way to celebrate this milestone.

#2 ACPT, CT FIG, and Other Puzzly Events

There are few things better than spending time with fellow puzzlers and gamers, and we got to do a lot of that this year. Whether it was supporting local creators at the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games or cheering on my fellow puzzlers at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, getting out and talking shop with other creators is invigorating and encouraging. It really helps solidify the spirit of community that comes with being puzzly.

#1 Penny Dell Sudoku and Android Expansion

Those were our two biggest app releases this year, and I just couldn’t choose one over the other. This has been a terrific year for us as puzzle creators, because not only did we beef up our library of Android-available puzzle sets to match our terrific iOS library, but we launched our new Penny Dell Sudoku app across both platforms, broadening the scope of what sort of puzzle apps you can expect from PuzzleNation.

It may sound self-serving or schlocky to talk about our flagship products as #1 in the countdown, but it’s something that we’re all extremely proud of, something that we’re constantly working to improve, because we want to make our apps the absolute best they can be for the PuzzleNation audience. That’s what you deserve.

Thanks for spending 2016 with us, through puzzle scandals and proposals, through forts and festivities, through doomsday prepping and daily delights. We’ll see you in 2017.


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A Monopoly Game Unlike Any Other

I’m always on the lookout for great puzzly stories, and a friend of mine passed along this link to a puzzly holiday proposal from last year that totally fits the bill.

This story comes from a reddit user named Justinlebon26, who was looking for a meaningful and unique way to propose to his girlfriend Michal.

Check out what he came up with:

That’s right, he designed a Monopoly board all about their relationship. After all, the two of them enjoyed playing Monopoly so much that their handmade board fell apart. And with that, a plan slowly came together.

He designed new property cards to go along with the new spaces on the board. Some were places they’d gone on vacation, others were the streets where they’d grown up. How they met, their first date — all were immortalized on the board.

New Chance and Community Chest cards would follow, with one special addition to the deck.

With a friend’s help constructing the board, our young romantic’s gift was done. (Complete with the secret lurking beneath the Luxury Tax space)

He waited until Christmas day to unveil his gift, and they celebrated with an inaugural game.

So… how did it all turn out?

This is easily the happiest ending to a Monopoly game in history. Kudos to Michal and Justinlebon26, and here’s hoping they have many happy years of gaming ahead of them.


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A proposal most puzzly!

Tuesday’s post was all about the chaos and unpleasantness ensuing from a puzzly misunderstanding, so let’s make today’s post about puzzles bringing people together.

Oh yes, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, we’ve got a puzzle-fueled engagement on our hands!

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles were contacted by a fellow named Bryan who wanted their assistance in crafting a puzzly proposal for his girlfriend.

Bryan provided information and ideas for the folks at Penny to utilize, and a special Simon Says puzzle was constructed for the proposal and slipped into a short run of magazines during production. That way, the proposal would be concealed amidst many other puzzles, and his girlfriend wouldn’t suspect a thing! Diabolical!

(For the uninitiated, Simon Says is an instruction puzzle where you start with a phrase, follow various instructions on how to manipulate and change the letters in the phrase, and you end up with a completely new phrase, usually a pun or a play on the starting phrase.)

In this case, the puzzle started with an affectionate HEY BOO BOO, and 19 steps later, you end up with the fateful question WILL YOU MARRY ME MIA?

So… how did it go, you ask?

Success!

Bryan later told his puzzly cohorts:

The day couldn’t have turned out any better and the fact that she said yes definitely helped. We actually completed around half the book prior to the engagement and she had no clue that page was special. She was completely surprised as well as her parents and it took her until Line 17 to finally figure out what it said. Kudos to you guys for being able to draw it on for that long!

Congratulations to Bryan and Mia! I wish them nothing but the absolute best, and I hope they have many many happy years of love and puzzling ahead of them.

Our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles really outdid themselves on this one. Kudos indeed.

[For the story on the proposal the PDP crew assisted on last year, for another fellow named Bryan, click here!]


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Puzzle Romance!

Valentine’s Day is only a few days away, and a friend who knows I write a weekly puzzle blog asked if I’d be penning anything in particular for the blog regarding the holiday.

I replied that I was working on a post about puzzly ideas for Valentine’s Day gifts and experiences, similar to the post I did last year. And he laughed at the very idea of puzzle romance, the poor fool.

“Sir, how dare you doubt the power of puzzles to sway the heart of someone special!” I bellowed back, caught up in the moment.

I mean, seriously. Does this guy not realize that we’ve featured several wonderful stories of puzzle romance in this blog alone?

Heck, one of my favorite posts last year was about a puzzly proposal that our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles helped orchestrate.

You can get the full story here, but in short, a puzzler in love reached out to PDP for their assistance in hiding his proposal within one of his girlfriend’s favorite puzzles, Escalators. They even did a small print run just for him to camouflage the proposal in a puzzle book!

It was a marvelous team effort, brilliantly executed…oh, and she said yes.

Plus there’s this terrific story about a friend of mine who composed some cryptic-crossword-style clues as part of a gift for his longtime girlfriend. When she solved all of the clues, they spelled out the message “Truly happy being yours.”

There are all sorts of thoughtful and romantic puzzle ideas out there, from a relationship scavenger hunt like the one from Parks and Recreation to this video of a Rubik’s Cube-themed proposal at a speed-solving event:

With a little ingenuity — and maybe some puzzly friends — you can create a unique and wonderful experience for someone you love. Puzzle romance is real, my friends. Just look at this happy couple, united by their mutual love of puzzles:


I wanted to close this post out with a little something for all the puzzlers and PuzzleNationers out there. And with Valentine’s Day coming up, it seemed appropriate to whip up a Matchmaker puzzle for you to solve. Enjoy!

Fill in the missing first letter of each word in the column on the left. Next, look for a related word in the group at the right and put it in the blank in the second column. When the puzzle is completed, read the first letters of both columns in order, from top to bottom, to reveal a romantic song lyric.


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website, like our Valentine’s Day-themed puzzle set!

A New Year’s Eve Countdown!

It’s New Year’s Eve, and we are literally counting down the hours until 2016, so why not celebrate the end of 2015 with a little countdown of our own?

Here are my 10 favorite blog posts from 2015!


#10 Rubik ‘Round the World

One of the most amazing things about the world today is how interconnected we all are. The Internet has made it easily to not only keep in touch with far-flung friends, but to forge new, meaningful friendships and connections with staggering ease.

And I confess, I am a total sucker for those heartwarming clickbait videos that spread the message that we are all the same. (The one of that guy doing the same dance in countries across the world comes to mind.) So seeing people from all over the world solve a Rubik’s Cube one move at a time…what can I say? It got me.

#9 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

#8 Music and Puzzles

Talking about how puzzles are relevant to daily life is one of my favorite subjects for blog posts. Brain health, stress relief, the long-term benefits of puzzle solving…we’ve discussed all these topics and more during my time as lead blogger.

This year I continued that tradition with this post about how listening to music can make you a more effective solver. It’s always interesting for me to do some research and really delve into a topic — especially scientific ones because they’re often so drastically misreported or misinterpreted by mainstream outlets — and give the PuzzleNation audience the straight story.

#7 The Dress

One of the most bizarre moments of 2015 was when someone shoved their iPhone in my face and asked me what color a dress was. It wasn’t until a few moments later that I found out this was a big thing on the Internet that people were vociferously debating.

The chance to explain exactly what was going on in the photo through one of my favorite puzzly mediums — the optical illusion — was too much fun to resist, and it resulted in one of the year’s most popular, most shared blog posts.

#6 The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

Although it’s a highlight of the puzzly calendar every year, this year’s ACPT was extra special for me because it was the first I attended in person.

Not only did I get to meet a lot of top names in crosswords — in many cases, finally getting a chance to put names to faces after many emails and tweets exchanged — but I got to enjoy the Big Fight feel of seeing so many friends and puzzlers test their mettle against some great puzzles.

#5 A Puzzly Wedding Proposal

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles pulled off one heck of a puzzly coup when an intrepid fellow puzzler asked them for help proposing to his girlfriend with a special Escalators puzzle.

I reached out to the lucky fiancé and got his permission to share the story with the PuzzleNation readership, and as I learned more about who was involved and how they’d managed to make it happen, I just became more and more enamored with the story. I have no doubt that years from now, this will still be one of my favorite blog posts.

#4 Max Reviews the Boston Festival of Indie Games

Guest bloggers are nothing new to PuzzleNation Blog, as Sherri regularly pops in with her app reviews, but Max Galpern pushed things to another level with his appearances throughout the year. Not only did he pioneer our first video review (with assistance from Fred), but he took over the blog for an entire day with his review of the Boston Festival of Indie Games.

Here’s hoping we can get Max back for 2016 a few times, though I suspect he’ll be in high demand.

#3 Will Sudoku

We do a lot of reviews (board game and card game reviews, puzzle reviews, tournament reviews, app reviews, etc.) and I thoroughly enjoy introducing new puzzly products and events to my fellow PuzzleNationers and sharing my thoughts on them.

But it’s rare that we get the first shot at introducing a brand-new never-before-seen puzzle or product, and that’s what separates the Will Sudoku post from many others. Serving as the debut outlet for a new puzzle was great fun and very exciting, one of those rarities that made 2015 such a terrific year.

#2 Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Island Seesaws

Brain teasers were a big part of 2015 for the blog, since several challenging ones went viral this year. But I don’t think any of them taxed my brain — both to solve AND to explain how to solve — like the island seesaw brain teaser from an episode of Fox’s sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine did.

It is an epic-length blog post — one I needed a mathematician friend of mine to help me write — but it broke down a tough puzzle bit-by-bit and explained every step. In a year of brain-melting puzzle posts, it still stands out.

#1 Announcing Free Daily Puzzles for the Penny Dell Crosswords App

I almost put announcing the Android release for the App here instead — because so many people had been asking about it for so long — but in the end, the free daily puzzle announcement won out, and not simply because it was a terrific new feature for the App, one that I feel would draw a lot of new eyes to the product.

Getting to interview Fred and talk about not just what we’ve been working on for years, but where we were headed in the future, made it feel like a special event for the PuzzleNation Team as a whole. Plus it was a chance to introduce all of you to another member of the team, something I hope to do more of in 2016.

It may sound self-serving or schlocky to talk about our flagship product as #1 in the countdown, but it’s something that we’re all extremely proud of, something that we’re constantly working to improve, because we want to make it the absolute best it can be for the PuzzleNation audience. That’s what you deserve.

Thanks for spending 2015 with us, through logic problems and love stories, through dresses and debuts, through Rubik’s Cubes and revelations. We’ll see you in 2016.


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!