Upcoming Puzzle Events! The Spring Themeless League, Plus ACPT Going Virtual!

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Most years, the puzzle event season starts with the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in late March/early April, but 2021 is different. We already had the Boswords Winter Wondersolve event last month, and there are plenty of exciting puzzle events on the horizon!

Did you know that there’s still time to sign up for the Boswords 2021 Spring Themeless League? It starts Monday night, and you should check it out!

Last year, Boswords launched the Fall Themeless League, a clever weekly spin on traditional crossword tournament-style solving. Instead of cracking through a number of puzzles in a single day (or two), the Fall Themeless League consisted of one themeless crossword each week, scored based on your accuracy and how fast you completed the grid.

Each week’s puzzle only had one grid, but there were three sets of clues, each representing a different difficulty level for solvers. Smooth was the least challenging, Choppy was the middle ground, and Stormy was the most challenging.

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The Spring Themeless League follows the same format. Every Monday in March and April, a themeless puzzle awaits you!

Not only is there some serious talent among the constructors — Brooke Husic, Aimee Lucido, Rachel Fabi, Patti Varol, Ryan McCarty, Kevin Der, Peter Wentz, Ricky Cruz, and the duo of Brynn Diehl and Mark Diehl — but there’s a great community of solvers out there participating in after-puzzle chats and Twitch streams.

The Fall Themeless League gave me a new appreciation for what themeless crosswords are capable of, and I’m happy to be signed up for the Spring edition!

The Spring Themeless League will conclude with the championship puzzle on April 26th, which will make for a busy few days of puzzle solving, since another puzzle event is set for that very weekend!

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Yes, you might’ve heard that the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament will be hosted online this year.

The 43rd annual edition of the granddaddy of all crossword tournaments will take place April 23rd through the 25th. We’re awaiting further details, but hopefully we’ll know more soon!

So there you go, the next two months of puzzles all planned and set for you, with more to come this summer.

Will you be participating in either the Spring Themeless League or ACPT’s virtual event this year, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comment section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Delving into the 2021 Winter Wondersolve Puzzles!

I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hand at the puzzles from the Winter Wondersolve event a few weeks ago. Given the talent involved amongst the organizers and constructors — as well as the reliable puzzles featured in previous Boswords-hosted events — I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed.

So let’s put those puzzles under the microscope and see what’s what!


Practice Puzzle: Spring Forward by John Lieb

Perennial Boswords warmup puzzle master Mr. Lieb delivers perfect warmup material with this 15x puzzle. The theme entries depict a spring thaw, as the answer phrases progress from FREEZE to COOL to WARM to MELT across the grid.

The theme itself not only fits the winter gimmick, but also feels like shaking off any cobwebs or nerves the solver may have and just getting to work. Mix that with some playful cluing and vocabulary, and you’ve got a terrific puzzle to kickstart solvers’ brains into motion.

Interesting grid entries included VAMOOSE, KEYNOTE, and OH HENRY, and my favorite clue was “Discontinued candy bar too old to have been named for Hank Aaron” for OH HENRY.

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[Image courtesy of Knithacker.]

Puzzle 1: Don’t Forget Your Outerwear! by Sophie Maymudes

The tournament proper launched with this great starter, a 16×17 puzzle that mixed some fun longer entries with a tightly constructed grid that’ll have you looking “out” for the theme answers.

In this case, winter clothing items like SCARF, GLOVES, and COAT were broken up so that half of each word was on the end of a given row. For instance, answers like GLOMS ONTO and SOLVES had GLO VES at the beginning and end. Because they’re “outer” wear! This fun visual gag offered a nice change of pace from traditional themed puzzles, while remaining accessible for less experienced solvers.

As Boswords puzzles tend not to be as difficult as those at Lollapuzzoola or the Indie 500, this was the ideal representation of a Boswords Puzzle #1.

Interesting grid entries included AMIIBO, TOUR BUS, ARE YOU NUTS, and PAPA SMURF, and my favorite clue was either “Affliction for the head or the heart” for ACHE or “Initials with which kids interrupt parents’ honeymoon stories, maybe” for TMI.

Puzzle 2: It’s Not THAT Cold! by Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau

Puzzle #2 was only a half-step or so tougher than Puzzle #1, remaining very solver friendly while still peppered with some great vocabulary. This 18x puzzle was well-constructed and had brilliant flow between the across and down entries, offering very little crosswordese for such a densely-packed grid.

The theme was all about punning in the cold, as each themed entry was clued as “Cold something?,” like “Cold war?” for SNOWBALL FIGHT or “Cold air?” for CHRISTMAS CAROL. All in all, a very fun solve.

Interesting grid entries included PANDORA, TLAIB, LAIKA, MUESLIX, and appropriately enough, XWORD, and my favorite clue was either “Underexposed film, perhaps” for INDIE or “Labor party?” for DOULA.

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[Image courtesy of The Whole World is a Playground.]

Puzzle 3: The Arctic Circles by Brendan Emmett Quigley

Puzzle #3 continued to ratchet up the difficulty, but again, solving remained fair and welcoming to newer tournament competitors and less-experienced solvers. This was the toughest so far, but nothing approaching the levels of the dreaded Puzzle #5 at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, for instance.

This 18×17 puzzle featured Across entries that contained the letters IF, but solvers had to ignore them in the Down entries that crossed those letters. As explained by the revealer WHITE OUT CONDITIONS, this blizzard had you mentally “white out” those “conditions” and read the newly revised Down entry.

I could easily see this hook tripping up new solvers, but hey, what is puzzle-solving if not removing all the IFs and seeing what’s left?

Interesting grid entries included CABANA, TOP TEN, NO FUSS, and ARISTOCATS, and my favorite clue was “Exclamation with a Kermit flail” for YAY. It’s rare that you can hear an answer as you read the clue, but that’s definitely the case here.

Puzzle 4 by Joon Pahk

The tournament concludes with the toughest puzzle of the day, a 15x themeless grid that still managed to sneak in some wintry entries alongside a few devious crossings.

Two sets of clues were offered for the final puzzle — FLURRY clues on the easier side and BLIZZARD clues on the tougher side of the spectrum — but both offered their fair share of challenges for solvers of all skill levels.

One particular crossing in the upper-left section of the grid had me stumped for a while, as the Down answer MELD was clued with Mah-jongg and canasta references (neither of which I play) and I was unfamiliar with the crossing phrase IN A PET. I would have guessed correctly, but it definitely slowed down my time.

Interesting grid entries included GEYSER, MIDSCALE, SESTET, I TONYA, E-SPORTS, CAROUSE, and LOOSE CANNON. Both the easier and tougher sets of clues had some gems, so I’ll list them separately below:

FLURRY clues:

  • “Plot that’s rarely nefarious” for GRAPH
  • “Sticks around Aspen?” for SKI POLES
  • “Shake your hand?” for WAVE

BLIZZARD clues:

  • “Drip’s slower relative” for COLD BREW
  • “Team who negotiates a lot?” for VALETS
  • “Necessities for cross-country travel” for SKI POLES
  • “Light or sound, e.g.” for WAVE

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Overall, I quite enjoyed the array of puzzles assembled for this year’s Winter Wondersolve. The gradual rise in difficulty kept me interested and the fun wintry themes all felt different enough for the entire experience to feel crisp and engaging.

The themeless puzzle also felt like a strong refresher for themeless solving in general, as Boswords has their Spring Themeless League coming up soon!

Boswords has truly become the perfect host for events to introduce solvers to tournament-style puzzling, making up for difficulty with accessibility, playfulness, and straight-up solid grid construction.

It’s the right mix of challenge and creativity for solvers accustomed to NYT-style solving, and I think the constructors and organizers did one heck of a job putting together the event, building on the strong continuity of virtual events established last year by the Boswords tournament and the Fall Themeless League. A hearty tip-of-the-hat to the hardworking organizers for pulling this all off!

And I can’t wait to see what they cook up for us next.


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Happy (Inter)National Puzzle Day!

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It’s National Puzzle Day, also known as International Puzzle Day, depending on where you are and whether your puzzly activities extend across borders.

Maybe your puzzly Zoom group spans several countries. Maybe you and a friend are using remote-controlled robots to play Jenga. Maybe you’ve gotten hooked on Polish crosswords you’re solving through Google Translate. These are some of most common international ways to enjoy puzzling, of course. I’m sure you have plenty of additional suggestions.

But whether your Puzzle Day is National or International, we have some fun puzzly events and information to share with our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers.

The first is that tomorrow marks the latest virtual puzzle event being hosted by the ever-inventive Boswords crew. After the wild success that was the Fall Themeless League, they’re hosting a one-day puzzle event on Sunday, the Winter Wondersolve.

Participants will have four puzzles awaiting them — three themed crosswords and a themeless — designed by top-notch constructors, and it’s only $20 to compete live! (If you just want to solve the puzzles outside the tournament, that’s only $10!)

Considering how terrific both the 2020 Boswords tournament and the Fall Themeless League were, I’m expecting a great day of puzzling from the Winter Wondersolve.

Speaking of puzzly events, the long-awaited fourth installment in the Crossword Mysteries series is debuting on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries on Sunday, February 14th at 8 PM Eastern.

And what would be more perfect for Valentine’s Day than a crossword-themed murder mystery about an elevator accident entitled Terminal Descent?

Exactly.

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Of course, the easiest way to celebrate your (Inter)National Puzzle Day is to solve with us! Whether you enjoy crosswords, Sudoku, word seeks, or story-driven puzzling, we’ve got you covered with the click of a button!

Names like Normal Mailer, Mike Mussina, Beverly Sills, Neil Patrick Harris, and many more are proud puzzle fans, so I thought I’d whip up a quick little puzzle about famous crosswords solvers.

Below is a list of eight names.

As you can see, there are letters missing from each name. Coincidentally, those missing letters spell out the phrase CELEBRITY CROSSWORD ENTHUSIASTS.

Can you place the letters in the correct spots to reveal this octet of puzzle-solving celebs?

Good luck and happy solving!


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Puzzling in the Past with the Fantastic Club Drosselmeyer Radio Show!

Over the previous four years, the organizers of Club Drosselmeyer have hosted an event in Boston set in a nightclub during World War II. The events have featured era-appropriate costumes, music, puzzle solving, dancing, and even a swing-time version of the Nutcracker Suite!

But given the current global circumstances, this year they redesigned their magical December event, and for the first time, folks outside the Boston area took part in a virtual Club Drosselmeyer puzzle experience presented as a radio show from the same era.

The first event was this Saturday, and your friendly neighborhood puzzle blogger was in attendance. And I just have to say… I was absolutely blown away by the show.

I’ve done a lot of puzzle-from-home things, from crossword tournaments to escape rooms, but none of them had the same style, ambiance, and energy as the Club Drosselmeyer Radio Show.

Allow me to explain a bit more.

Participants could either order a box of physical material to be delivered to the house (your Drosselbox) or download and print the necessary materials. But either way, you had puzzles and helpful items in front of you during the show.

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[Some of the contents of your Drosselbox.
Puzzle materials excluded to avoid spoilers.]

Then you log into your account online, which gives the Club Drosselmeyer team your phone number and sets up your unique radio show page, which you have running online.

Every participant — or group, since you could play with up to five people (or more if people wanted to share roles) — had a scheduled two-hour window for the full solving experience. The radio show itself serves as musical performance, ambiance, and a built-in two-hour timer for your solve!

Plus you would periodically call into the Drosselmeyer Industries Switchboard with your phone to interact with prerecorded performances with the characters. A push-button system allowed you to answer questions and input puzzle solutions, which is already really cool. But, during the scheduled performance times, at points, you would be kicked over to the ACTUAL PERFORMER who voiced the prerecording you had just interacted with!

I must confess, I was startled virtually every time a voice said “Hello?” and then called me by name.

The interactions were so cool, and really immersed you in this fun roleplay aspect of the game as you gave them your solutions and were directed what to do next. The performers weren’t just professional, they were charming and helpful and it was an absolute treat to have these unique interactions with them.

Plus, your phone interactions would affect your individual radio show as you listened. You could trigger plot-specific updates and one of SEVEN different conclusions based on your contributions to the night’s events!

Oh, and what were the night’s events? Well…

In this scenario, puzzlers take on the role of an air raid warden and a civilian defense unit during World War II. It’s supposed to be a quiet night in Massachusetts while you listen to your favorite radio show. But suddenly, an air raid siren blares into the night, and you’re called into action!

I won’t go into the puzzles themselves, since solvers can still interact with the automated system, but I do want to highlight the radio show itself.

The music and sound design were absolutely top-notch, really adding to the whole experience. The music varied from soft lilting pieces to absolute big-band bangers, and it all felt so perfect for the time period. (I actually had to go back to listen to some of the song performances afterward, because I was so in-the-zone with my puzzle solving that I barely registered them.)

There was a post-show videochat so that players and performers could show off their period-specific costumes and interact, and I had the pleasure of speaking to several of the performers. They were incredibly welcoming and interested in the players’ solving experiences, and the mellow after-show aspect was a delight.

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[Just some of the characters you interact with through prerecorded messages AND live chats during the actual show!]

I inquired whether they’d be doing another Club Drosselmeyer Radio Show in the future, but the performers seemed quite anxious to get back to their usual live show format. I can appreciate that, but I sincerely hope they do this again. Eschewing videochats for a pure radio show-style feel was so engaging and felt so fresh and vibrant, and the phone interaction system (both automated and live) was truly impressive.

I simply cannot say enough good things about this experience. The puzzles were cleverly designed and varied in challenge (to allow for easier solving paths for less-experienced players or puzzle-light listening experiences), and the performances were outstanding. The entire team, from puzzlers to technicians to performers to musicians, should be very proud.

The Club Drosselmeyer Radio Show was an absolute blast. I loved every minute of it. (Yes, even the minutes wasted making dumb mistakes on a puzzle. *laughs*)

[Please check out their website here for all things Club Drosselmeyer.]


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The Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League Has Come to a Close!

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After two months of delightful weekly solving, the Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League has come to a close.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League was a clever weekly spin on traditional crossword tournament-style solving. Instead of cracking through a number of puzzles in a single day (or two), the Fall Themeless League consisted of one themeless crossword each week, scored based on your accuracy and how fast you complete the grid.

Each week’s puzzle only had one grid, but there were three sets of clues, each representing a different difficulty level for solvers. Smooth was the least challenging, Choppy was the middle ground, and Stormy was the most challenging. (When solvers registered to participate, they chose the difficulty level that suited them best.)

Hundreds of solvers signed up for the challenge of two months of themeless puzzle solving and a bit of friendly competition, and now that it’s over, I’d like to share a few thoughts about my experience in the League.

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I confess, I was skeptical about entering the league. No, it didn’t have anything to do with the puzzles themselves. I knew the constructing team was top-notch, and with John Lieb, Andrew Kingsley, and Brad Wilber running things, I knew the competitors were in excellent hands.

I simply don’t solve themeless puzzles that often. In fact, this tournament probably marks the most themeless puzzles I’ve ever solved in this short an amount of time. They’re simply not part of my usual solving rotation, save for championship themeless puzzles in various tournament packets, and the occasional puzzle here and there (like Doug Peterson and Patti Varol’s Friday NYT themeless last week, congrats on your debut, Patti!).

But I really enjoyed seeing what creative constructors could do with crosswords once freed from the shackles of a theme. The long, crossing entries can certainly be intimidating at the start — especially if you read three or four clues in a row and feel like your brain has gone blank — but the sheer inventiveness of the entries you get to see, often stacked close together, is really cool.

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And, like a jigsaw puzzle, the solving experience sneaks up on you. You get a few words here, a few letters there, and suddenly everything starts to fall into place. Clues that eluded you make total sense on a second or third reading, or the now-obvious wordplay punches you in the face.

Eventually, you’re left with a full grid and a real sense of accomplishment. (Not to mention a growing sense of wonder that the constructor managed to make all those crossings work.)

This tournament showed me how much I’d been missing by not solving themeless crosswords more often.

And with the promise of future Boswords-hosted events in 2021 like the Winter Wondersolve and the Spring Themeless League to come, it’s nice to have exciting puzzle events to look forward to in the near future.

I ended up placing 85th out of 400 or so competitors, which I am pretty pleased with! And now I’ll try to do better in the next one. It’s always good to have goals.

Kudos to everyone who helped bring this marvelous project together, and kudos to everyone who participated. It was a blast.


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A Puzzly Radio Broadcast From the Past… Coming Soon!

As one of the strangest years in recent memory begins drawing to a close, puzzlers continue to adapt and innovate to ever-changing circumstances.

Trivia nights, scavenger hunts, and escape rooms have gone virtual across Facebook, Zoom, YouTube, Twitch, and other platforms.

By going online, crossword puzzle tournaments have hosted more than a thousand participants at the same time. And it’s not only one-day events like Lollapuzzoola and Crosswords Tournament From Your Couch, but larger ventures as well, including the ongoing Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League, which has now entered its fourth week of competition.

And now, a group of intrepid puzzlers are embracing the technology of the present to take solvers on a journey to the past for a unique puzzly experience coming in December: The Club Drosselmeyer Radio Hour.

Over the previous four years, the organizers of Club Drosselmeyer have hosted an event in Boston set in a nightclub during World War II. The events have featured era-appropriate costumes, music puzzle solving, dancing, and even a swing-time version of the Nutcracker Suite!

But given the current global circumstances, they’ve redesigned their magical December event, and for the first time, folks outside the Boston area can take part in a virtual Club Drosselmeyer event presented as a radio show from the same era.

You can buy tickets online to participate, and not only will you gain access to the radio show, but the puzzles as well. Depending on what tickets you buy, you can get downloadable puzzles or a physical kit sent to your home (the Drosselbox). Either way, you’ll be solving in real time as the radio show goes on, and even interacting with the performers on occasion.

From the FAQ page on the Club Drosselmeyer website:

The Club Drosselmeyer Radio Hour will have three parts: the Radio Show, the Drosselmeyer Industries Switchboard and the Puzzles. As a player, you can plan the ultimate holiday evening gathered around the radio and interact at whatever level you feel comfortable. There will be no video camera watching you (no Zoom!) and our Drosselmeyer Switchboard will respond to how you play. Engage with all three parts of the production, or only with some of it- however you’d like!

The radio show will sound a lot like a 1943 radio show: songs, skits, performances and commercials. (Think of the Jack Benny or Bing Crosby Radio Hour.) However, there may be some surprises during the show and you’ll be called upon to help out.

Yes, you can actually call in during the event as part of the solving experience, engaging with a mix of prerecorded messages and live interactions with the actors.

You don’t, of course, have to participate on the day in question. The puzzles and prerecorded features will continue to run for months, so you can solve at your leisure. But for anyone solving on that special day, you’ll get a unique puzzly experience unlike anything I’ve heard of before.

This should be fantastic fun. Eschewing videocall-style visuals for a fully audio experience is such a cool idea, one that really embraces the spirit of the time period and adds tons of atmosphere. When you factor in the slang and delightful verbiage of the time period — plus the musical element — it sounds like an absolute blast. I’ve already purchased my ticket — and I wanted to spread the word. You can check out more details on Club Drosselmeyer here!

But be quick about it. As far as I know, the team is hoping to lock down their Drosselbox orders by November 1st in order to have everything locked and loaded for early December when the Radio Show takes place.

Will you be participating in the Club Drosselmeyer Radio Hour, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Or do you have other puzzly plans for the rest of the year? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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