The First Viral Handheld Puzzle Game?

It’s fair to say that PuzzleNation knows a little something about the world of mobile puzzling. Mobile apps are our bread and butter, after all, and whether you’re talking about our Daily POP Crosswords App or the Penny Dell Crosswords App, we are connoisseurs of puzzles that fit in your pocket.

Of course, puzzle apps are a relatively new addition to the genre. Mobile puzzles, like matchstick puzzles, have existed for centuries.

In fact, more than a hundred years ago, a mobile puzzle game went “viral” and became a cultural sensation. (And it has made a recent return to prominence thanks to the HBO drama Westworld.)

Today, let’s talk about Pigs in Clover.

Pigs in Clover is a ball-in-a-maze puzzle invented in 1899 by toymaker Charles Martin Crandall. Although puzzle historians aren’t sure if Pigs in Clover was the first ball-in-a-maze puzzle created, it was definitely the first to capture the imagination of consumers.

You’ve probably solved a ball-in-a-maze puzzle at some point in your life. From the flat disc and labyrinth-inspired models to spherical and more complicated three-dimensional versions, they’re a fun test of both dexterity and strategic thinking.

A quick Google image search turns up dozens of variations on the concept, including an iPhone case with two ball-in-a-maze puzzles built into it!

Pigs in Clover was a simpler design, involving only three rings and a center “pen” to herd the “pigs” into. But it’s one that was supposedly so popular upon launch in January of 1889, it impacted the actual operation of the U.S. government.

But how popular was “popular” in 1889?

Well, according to the Waverly Free Press, “The toy works are turning out eight thousand of ‘Pigs in Clover’ a day, and are twenty days behind with their orders.” According to some sources, over a million games were sold by late April 1889!

And one of those games found its way into the hands of William M. Evarts, senator from New York. Depending on the version of events you read, he purchased a copy of Pigs in Clover from either a street vendor or, curiously, an aggressive street fakir.

He then took it home and played with it for hours. At work the next day — and by work, I mean the Senate of the United States — another senator, George Graham Vest, borrowed it and went to the cloak room to try to solve the puzzle game.

Yes, a sitting U.S. senator went and hid in the coats to play this game. It’s sorta like hiding under all the coats at a Christmas party and playing Angry Birds, except in fancier clothing.

Oddly enough, Vest was soon joined in the cloak room by four other senators — Pugh, Eustis, Walthall, and Kenna — who were also interested in trying their hands at the popular game. Apparently, they were too impatient to share Evarts’ copy of the game, since a page was enlisted to go out and buy five more copies of Pigs in Clover for the distracted senators.

Once each had his own game in hand, they engaged in a pig-driving contest. It must’ve been harder than it looks, since it took Vest 30 minutes to herd all of his pigs into the pen.

Yup, at least half an hour of senate business was derailed by a few little metal balls in a cardboard maze. Amazing.

Naturally, the story got out, and a political cartoon in the New York World on March 17th commented on this peculiar delay in President Benjamin Harrison’s agenda, likening the political landscape to the game. With the White House as the pen and various lawmakers as the pigs, the cartoon asked, “Will Mr. Harrison be able to get all these hungry pigs in the official pen?”

It makes you wonder just how many man-hours were lost to Pigs in Clover! After all, a simple game — solved by many — can prove costly.

Remember the Google Doodle in 2010 that allowed you to play Pac-Man? It’s estimated it cost $120 million dollars, and nearly five million hours, in terms of productivity.

Sounds like President Harrison should count himself lucky it was just a half-dozen senators… as far as we know.

[Sources for this article: The Strong Museum of Play, Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop, Le Roy Historical Society, Antique Toy Collectors of America, Wikipedia, and A History of Video Games in 64 Objects.]


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New Puzzle Sets for PDCW App and Daily POP Crosswords!

Hello puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! Happy Friday!

We’re excited to announce new puzzle sets for both of our marvelous crossword puzzle apps! Yes, whether you’re a fan of our Penny Dell Crosswords App or our Daily POP Crosswords app, we’ve got something special for you!

First off, we have the Cheers! Deluxe Set for the Penny Dell Crosswords App!

With special themed puzzles and plenty of great puzzles at all difficulty levels for you to enjoy, it’s the perfect way to cap off the end of summer, the start of the school year, or just a pleasant Friday at home!

And for the Daily POP Crosswords users, we have our latest featured set, Out of This World!

Consisting of ten puzzles, all with space-related themes, this puzzle set offers the fresh, pop culture-savvy cluing you’ve come to expect from PuzzleNation, all in ten terrific puzzles collected for your convenience and enjoyment!

Both are available now for in-app purchase, so don’t miss out on these terrific new puzzle bundles!

Happy puzzling, everybody!


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The Penny Dell Crosswords App Summer Sale!

Hey there, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers. I’ve got a quick question for you…

Have you been solving the free daily puzzle in the Penny Dell Crosswords App that shows up every day like clockwork?

If you have been, then you’re already in the know.

But if you haven’t, you really should.

Because not only is there a terrific free crossword delivered right to your phone every single day, but every day for the entire month of June, we’re throwing in a bonus deal exclusively for PDCW solvers!

That’s right, folks! By solving the free puzzle of the day, you’ll then be notified of that day’s awesome deal! It could be a deep discount on a puzzle bundle OR a limited time offer for a rare puzzle set or app upgrade! Some of the deals are worth up to 75% off!

And the only way to find out about these fantastic deals is to solve the daily puzzle every day!

As if a free daily puzzle in your pocket wasn’t incentive enough, right?

Keep puzzling, friends!


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Puzzle Fight? Them’s Fightin’ Words!

In this blog, I try to talk about puzzles in all their forms. We’ve explored everything from puzzle games and mechanical brain teasers to pencil-and-paper puzzles, from riddles and deduction puzzles to escape rooms and puzzle hunts. That covers a pretty impressive swath of puzzly varieties.

Naturally, I’ve spent some time talking about puzzle apps as well. Not only our own marvelous offerings — like Daily POP Crosswords and Penny Dell Crosswords App — but others as well that’ve piqued the interest of our in-house app reviewer, Sherri.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject, because there’s a curious subset of puzzle apps that I didn’t even know existed: puzzly fighting games.

[Image courtesy of Mario’s Hat.]

Now, your standard fighting game has a simple concept: two fighters go head-to-head in a match, and the first to drain his opponent’s life bar wins.

There are numerous famous fighting games across many video game systems. Franchises like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Soul Calibur, Tekken, Dead or Alive, Darkstalkers, and Marvel vs. Capcom have built devoted followings with eyecatching fighters, innovative attack combos, and ever-improving graphics.

But in a puzzle fighting game, the outcome of the fight does not depend on button-mashing skill, tricky combinations, or well-timed strikes… it depends on your puzzly talents.

[Image courtesy of YouTube.]

Take, for example, the standard bearer for the genre: Puzzle Fighter.

The layout probably looks familiar. The game combines the aesthetics of Tetris — blocks dropping into a contained play area and being rotated and placed by the player — with the gameplay of Bejeweled, Candy Crush, and other color-matching puzzle games.

You want to group pairs of blocks (or gems) together, because you can clear them from the play area by using “crash gems,” which wipe out any neighboring gems of that color. So, with proper planning, you can wipe out huge sections of your board.

As you clear gems from your play area, your fighter does battle with the opponent’s fighter, succeeding or struggling based on how well you’re doing with your puzzling. (You can play against other opponents online in multiplayer mode or against computer-controlled opponents on your own.)

[Image courtesy of Emu Paradise.]

Puzzle Fighter was followed by a sequel, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, a fun reference to the Street Fighter franchise, which also allows some of its characters to appear as sprites in this puzzly spinoff. There was also a short-lived WWE wrestling-related app  that was more like Tetris in its gameplay, but similar in execution to the Puzzle Fighter series.

It’s an intriguing idea, if only because other head-to-head puzzle games like Dr. Mario and Tetris Arena feel a touch less adversarial. In head-to-head Tetris, it’s simply who’s the better puzzler. In Dr. Mario, as you eradicate the little viruses with color-matching pills, you can also bury your opponent under pill pieces, which adds a form of interaction to the gameplay.

[Watch the player on the left engineer chain reactions that hinder the player on the right.]

In Puzzle Fighter, the game goes two steps further. Not only are you allowed to visualize how you’re winning or losing based on the character sprites fighting above the play area, but your successful use of crash gems will send additional gems into your opponent’s play area, with only a limited amount of time to neutralize them.

But an upcoming entry in the genre has added a curious wrinkle to the puzzly fighting experience: magic.

[Image courtesy of Kotaku.]

The World Next Door features characters actually running across a shared game board featuring all sorts of colored runes. Your goal is to swap and connect runes of the same color so that they form chains of runes that can be activated.

Each colored rune represents a different attack, which means that, like in Dr. Mario and Puzzle Fighter, a crafty puzzler can create chain reactions where wiping out one set of runes causes another set to connect, triggering another attack.

In The World Next Door, this can lead to devastating combination attacks.

Of course, since you’re sharing a game board with your opponent, there’s the additional elements of defense and sabotage. While you’re building your rune chains, you’re going to want to defend them from your opponent while also disrupting their own attempts to form chains. Defense can truly become a strong offense, if you choose to play that way.

[Here, you can see the result of a rune spell, the small black hole in the corner, waiting for a sprite to wander too close. Image courtesy of The World Next Door.]

This is probably the most direct iteration of puzzly fighting I’ve encountered thus far, since you’re still using puzzle skills to make your attacks, but you’re also interacting head-to-head with your opponent’s game board AND sprite, which really ratchets up both the tension level and the challenge factor.

I’m definitely interested in seeing how this relatively minor subset of puzzle games continues to evolve and grow. The World Next Door is an impressive step up in complexity and style, and with this sort of creativity and innovation at play, the sky is truly the limit.

And let me know if you’d like us to discuss more puzzle apps, puzzly video games, or other related topics on the blog in the future!


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Brand New! Starter Sets for the Penny Dell Crosswords App!

Hello, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

That’s right, we’ve got a bonus Friday post for you, because we just couldn’t wait until the weekend to announce the latest addition to the Penny Dell Crosswords App lineup!

Say hello to our new Starter Sets!

These bite-size bundles of puzzly delight are the perfect appetizer for any solver. Each set consists of 5 puzzles: 2 easy, 2 medium, and 1 hard, so it’s a great introductory set for solvers of any experience level!

They’re available for both Android and iOS users right now!

And best of all, they’re only 99 cents!

With razor-sharp clues and the world-class construction you’ve come to expect from PuzzleNation, you can’t go wrong with this fantastic deal!

We’re dedicated to bringing you the best puzzle-solving experience available, right in your pocket, ready to go at a moment’s notice! That’s the PuzzleNation guarantee.

Happy solving everyone!


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Meet the Daily POP Crosswords Constructors: Angela Halsted

One of the Daily POP Crosswords app’s best features is the level of involvement from topnotch constructors. We’ve assembled one heck of a team when it comes to creating terrific, exciting, fresh themed crosswords.

And over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to some of them. Some names you may know, some you may not, but they’re all doing amazing work on these puzzles and deserve a little time in the limelight.

In this installment, allow us to introduce you to constructor Angela Halsted!

How did you get started in crosswords?

I solved crosswords off and on when I was a kid but it wasn’t until 2006 that I got obsessed with them. I don’t even remember what puzzle I was doing, but I was Googling for an answer and came upon the Rex Parker blog. I loved the blog and I loved all the commentary, and that made me want to solve puzzles every day so I could participate.

The first time I decided to comment on the blog, I was required to have a username. I wasn’t very creative and I just felt like I was in a hurry to share my thoughts, so I typed in “PuzzleGirl.” Pretty boring. But it’s stuck all these years!

I submitted my first puzzle to The New York Times in December 2008. It was… terrible. But I knew it was something I could be good at if I kept trying. My first published puzzle was a collaboration with Michael Sharp in The Los Angeles Times in January 2011. Since then, I have had puzzles published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The AV Club, The Wall Street Journal, and other venues. Most of those are collaborations with Doug Peterson, though I’ve also collaborated with Jeff Chen and Erik Agard.

The part I have the most trouble with when constructing is coming up with the theme. I think that’s why I collaborate so much. For me, it’s a lot easier (and more fun) to brainstorm and hone a theme with a partner.

What do you enjoy about working on Daily POP Crosswords?

Oh, speaking of themes, one reason I like writing puzzles for Daily POP Crosswords so much is that the themes can be very simple, which I can handle! Also, I feel like I’m getting a lot of practice generating themes so maybe I’ll get better at it with puzzles for other venues too.

But the best thing about writing for Daily POP Crosswords is working with Patti Varol. She is a phenomenal editor. She is so smart, so efficient, and so motivated. I have a blast talking with her about puzzles and I’m learning a LOT from her.

I also really love being a part of this project because the puzzles are accessible to new solvers. That’s who these puzzles target and I hope they appeal to people who might be really interested in trying crosswords but are intimidated by harder puzzles.

When I had my first Friday themeless published in The New York Times earlier this year, I couldn’t really distribute it to my co-workers, you know? It was hard and probably would have just made them feel bad about themselves. But I’m constantly telling people about Daily POP Crosswords because I know the puzzles are accessible to new solvers and there’s a possibility they’ll get hooked!

I guess the last thing I want to mention is that Patti has assembled a great group of constructors that includes many women. She is also very open to themes about women. And I like that because crossword publishing and construction are generally male-dominated.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends are male crossword constructors. But it’s nice to see someone branching out a little. I hope Daily POP Crosswords will inspire women solvers to take up constructing. That would be amazing.


A huge thank you to Angela for her time! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her puzzles in the Daily POP Crosswords app, free to download for both iOS and Android users!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!