The Rubik’s Cube World Championship!

This past week, Rubik’s Cube enthusiasts from around the world convened in Paris, France, for the Rubik’s Cube World Championship.

The event spanned three days, welcoming over 1,000 competitors from dozens of different countries to test their speed-solving abilities against fellow solvers.

Think about that. Dozens of countries. The Rubik’s Cube is truly ubiquitous these days. (Rubikquitous, perhaps?)

Although the bulk of the competitions were centered around speed, the list of events was pretty impressive, including solving a cube in the fewest moves, solving blindfolded, solving one-handed, and even solving with your feet! Plus there were events where competitors solved variations on the classic cube!

[From left to right, a Skewb, a Megaminx, and a Pyraminx. All three cube variants were used in speed-solving competitions.]

You can check out all of the results from the Championship by clicking here. But I do want to make a point of highlighting just how quick these competitors are.

The speeds we are talking about here? Mind-blowing. The 3×3 cube champion averaged 6.85 seconds across 5 solves. His fastest solve was 5.87 seconds. That’s madness.

And that level of speed was not an outlier. You had to ratchet things up in both size and complexity, all the way to a 6×6 cube, before a championship-winning time exceeded one minute.

But individual achievement was not the only game in town here. For the first time, three-member teams from various countries competed in the Rubik’s Nations Cup.

The competition was modeled around a relay race. The first team member would solve a cube, then the second, then the third, and their aggregate time (as well as individual times) recorded.

72 teams competed in the Nations Cup, but the victory went to one of the German teams! Although it wasn’t a sanctioned event, it was a real crowd pleaser, and something that would definitely offer some puzzly bragging rights on the speed-solving circuit.

And although this was a competition, the spirit of camaraderie and community that infused the event was wonderful. You could really sense that this was an opportunity to make friends, to show off your skills, and to remember that puzzling is a universal language, whether you’re talking crosswords or cubes.

You can check out some of the event highlights, as well as a message from Erno Rubik himself, in this video:

All in all, it looks like an absolute blast was had. Now that’s some quality puzzling.


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Crossword Tournaments Galore!

Crossword fans, be aware! There are TWO crossword tournaments looming in the near future!

The first is a newcomer to the crossword scene, the BosWords Tournament! Sunday, August 6, marks the inaugural event, and registration is officially open!

The format is simple. Three divisions — Expert, Amateur, and Pairs (allowing you to team up to solve) — pit their puzzly minds against clever clues and crafty constructors.

Competitors will complete four themed puzzles made by constructors Laura Braunstein, Andrew Kingsley, John Lieb, Joon Pahk, and Brendan Emmett Quigley, and then the top three solvers will take on a championship themeless by David Quarfoot.

And it’s super affordable! BosWords is asking for $20 for adults and $10 for students. That’s a steal!

You can check out their Facebook page for full details!

[Lollapuzzoola organizer and puzzle constructor Patrick Blindauer,
either counting people down or throwing puzzly gang signs.]

And, of course, it wouldn’t be summer without Lollapuzzoola! And Saturday, August 19, marks the tenth edition of the tournament!

The marvelous indie offspring of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, Lollapuzzoola is a favorite of both solvers and top constructors, all of whom descend upon New York City to enjoy what can only be described as “the best tournament held in New York on a Saturday in August.” (At least, that’s what they say on their website.)

The format is similar to BosWords. Competitors are placed in one of three divisions: Express (solvers with tournament experience), Local (other solvers), and Pairs.

But if you can’t make it to NYC that weekend, worry not! There’s an At-Home Division that will allow you to participate as if you were there! You’ll get your puzzles by email the day after the actual tournament for a very reasonable $15 fee!

It’s one of the highlights of the puzzle world each year, and I’m definitely looking forward to tackling the puzzles! They’re a diabolical treat each and every year! (For a full rundown of the event, check out this interview with Local Division winner and friend of the blog Patti Varol!)

Are you planning on attending BosWords, Lollapuzzoola, or solving from home? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!


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Tackling the 2017 Indie 500 Puzzles!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

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

June 3 marked the third annual Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, hosted in Washington, D.C., by constructors Erik Agard, Neville Fogarty, Andy Kravis, and Angela Olsen Halsted. The first tournament had a racing theme, the second had a prom theme, and this year was time-themed!

While I couldn’t attend the tournament, I did download the tournament puzzles, and after a few weeks, I had the opportunity to sit down and tackle the six puzzles prepared for the event. And today, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on those puzzles, for any interested PuzzleNationers who might be considering participating in the future.


[Image courtesy of IW Magazine.]

Puzzle 1: Before and After by Angela Olson Halsted

The opening puzzle got solvers off to a quick start with a well-constructed grid and some very accessible cluing. The theme had phrases where both words were connected when the word “TIME” was placed between them. For instance, HAMMER BANDITS combined HAMMER TIME and TIME BANDITS.

The hook made for a terrific introductory puzzle, setting the stage for more challenging crosswords to come. It was an excellent way to set the pace.

Interesting grid entries included SLIM JIMS, LAPDOG, and FAJITA, and my favorite clue was “Fourth name on a typical list of Santa’s reindeer” for VIXEN.

Puzzle 2: Jam Session by Paolo Pasco

The second puzzle of the day was all about CRUNCH TIME (as the revealer explained), and solvers had to figure out how to “jam” the correct theme answers into the limited grid space. Savvy solvers glommed onto the fact that each compressed entry (placing two letters in a single grid box) included a period of time (WEEK for FASHION WEEK, DECADE for THE ME DECADE, etc.).

Pasco’s CRUNCH TIME wordplay was well-represented in the cluing as well, as the last ten down clues were “rushed” — printed with spelling errors and other shortcuts. It was a fun way to reflect the theme further, and added a lot of personality to the cluing.

Interesting grid entries included NOT SO FAST, ALL THAT, LAUTRECA, and ALI PASHA, and my favorite clue was either “Connecting words?” for I DO or “The few, the proud (and the abbreviated)” for USMC.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

Puzzle 3: This Mashup’s for the Byrds by Tracy Bennett

Tracy Bennett brought a lyrical touch to the proceedings with this puzzle which not only namedropped a few time-based song titles, but also had punny themed clues written in the style of The Byrds’ song Turn Turn Turn. For instance, the clue “a time to be borne” led solvers to THE RAPTURE.

There was also a very impressive bit of wordplay involving how the 4 themed clues were written. Each was modified with a single letter — “a time to trend” instead of “a time to rend,” for example. These extra letters spelled out the answer RENT in 80-down (which was cited in another down clue). That’s some quality construction right there.

Interesting grid entries included BROAD CITY, TOE TAP, ISSA RAE (across two answers) and FEMINISTA, and my favorite clue was either “Cheap but inviting letters” for BYO, “Change one’s locks?” for DYE, or “Norman patronymic with ‘Gerald’ or ‘Hugh'” for FITZ.

Puzzle 4: Non-Linear Narratives by Erik Agard featuring Allegra Kuney

The toughest puzzle of the tournament thus far, Puzzle 4’s theme entries involved phrases which included animals, but not only were the animals replaced with their younger or older versions (KANGAROO for JOEY in PAL JOEY, for instance), but the animal portion of the phrase also read backward! So in the case of FROG IN ONE’S THROAT, the actual answer read ELOPDAT IN ONE’S THROAT.

Those entries were supported by the revealers GETTING UP THERE (for KANGAROO and RABBIT, since they were progressing from baby to adult) and BUTTONING UP (for TADPOLE and HATCHLING, since they were progressing from adult to baby like Benjamin Button). And all four were cited in the answer JUMPING AROUND IN TIME, offering a final touch of wordplay for solvers to enjoy.

Interesting grid entries included LENINIST, AM I HIGH, TIRAMISU, RING SIZE, and CHEERIO, and my favorite clue was either “Spot for a banjo” for KNEE or “Poet hidden (not very well) in this clue” for POE.

[Image courtesy of tutsplus.com.]

Puzzle 5: In Search of Lost Time by Neville Fogarty

The manipulation of time and space continued in Puzzle 5, as the word ERA was removed from some themed entries and inserted in others, giving us answers like OP(era)TION DESERT STORM and (ERA)SURE THING.

The construction is topnotch and the fill interesting, making for a nice palate cleanser and a really fun solve after the more strenuous efforts of Puzzle 4.

Interesting grid entries included MR. MOTO, NABBIT, HEE HAW, and FIERI, and my favorite clue was easily “Word clued as ‘Modern messages’ in a 1995 New York Times crossword” for FAXES.

Puzzle 6: Downs Only? by Andy Kravis

The closing puzzle of the tournament was offered in two difficulty levels: the Inside Track (designated for solvers who finished in the top 25% of the field in a crossword tournament with published standings in the past 5 years) and the Outside Track (designated for everyone else). I opted for the Inside Track, then looked over the cluing for the Outside Track.

The closing puzzle of the tournament is usually the most difficult, but this year, they threw a curveball at the competitors:

You will not receive all the clues at the start of this puzzle. Instead, you will start the puzzle with only the down clues. However, you may be able to figure out what happened to the rest of the clues while you are solving the puzzle. If you think you have figured out what happened to the rest of the clues, tell the official standing next to you. If you are correct, you will immediately be given the rest of the clues.

Some solvers make a habit of attempting to solve a crossword with only one set of clues, so using only the down clues wouldn’t trip up the most elite solvers. But for the rest of us, what a diabolical twist! (The theme entries spelled out that the missing Across clues were on the back of the whiteboard the competitors were filling in.)

The grid itself was packed long entries, but the tight construction left little room for crosswordese or obscurity to throw you off-track. It’s a great grid with some brutal cluing.

Interesting grid entries abounded in this one, including CAIMAN, MIND ERASER, YUCATAN, GESTAPO, and OSSO BUCO, and my favorite clues were either “The planets, e.g.” for OCTET (alas, poor Pluto), “Part of many a wedding toast” for ANECDOTE, or “Sea whose eastern basin dried up completely in 2014” for ARAL. (That area so often clued as a sea is in fact now referred to as the Aralqum Desert, and it’s nice to see crossworders picking up on that.)


Overall, this was the best Indie 500 yet. The puzzles mixed the inventiveness of the first two tournaments with a steadier hand and some really clever cluing. The constructors made the most of the time theme, resulting in some super-impressive wordplay and theme ideas. All in all, this was an engaging and worthy series of puzzles, designed to delight and challenge solvers in equal measure.

I look forward to its return next year, and hopefully some of you will join me in accepting the Indie 500 challenge!

Note: There were additional puzzles included in the puzzle packet, but since they were outside the regular tournament puzzles, I didn’t review them. But believe me, they are worth your time, particularly Tracy Bennett’s immensely fun “To Everything There Is a Season” companion puzzle.


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The Indie 500 Crossword Tournament returns tomorrow!

That’s right! Tomorrow, June 3rd, will mark the third annual edition of the tournament, and although registration is closed (because the event is full!), you can still participate from home for only $10! Click here for details!

Not only that, but once again they’ve whipped up a meta-suite of puzzles to boot, and you name your own price for it!

I expect great things from the immensely talented team of constructors and directors they’ve assembled: Tracy Bennett, Erik Agard, Angela Olson Halsted, Andy Kravis, Paolo Pasco, Allegra Kuney, and Neville Fogarty. With a curious time-centric theme, topnotch constructors, and pie (there’s always pie), you can’t go wrong!

You can click here for the Indie 500 home page, and click here for a rundown of last year’s puzzles!

Will you be competing? Or participating from home? Let us know in the comments below!


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Presidential Puzzling

The New York Times Crossword celebrated 75 years of puzzles back in February, and ever since, they’ve been commemorating that puzzly milestone with a series of established constructors collaborating with celebrity guests to create special monthly puzzles.

It started on February 15th, the 75th anniversary, with a collaboration by Patrick Blindauer and actor Jesse Eisenberg offering some food for thought.

On March 20th, astronomer and affable Pluto slayer Neil deGrasse Tyson joined Andrea Carla Michaels in creating a punny look at the stars.

Classical pianist Emanuel Ax teamed up with Brad Wilber to pen a music-minded puzzler on April 19th.

And for the May installment of this celebrity series, none other than former president Bill Clinton tried his hand at creating a crossword alongside judge and constructor Victor Fleming for the May 12th edition of the puzzle.

The puzzle was offered free online by The New York Times. Although the Friday puzzle is usually themeless, there was a link between three of the main answers, DON’T STOP, THINKING ABOUT, and TOMORROW, which of course spell out the title of his campaign song.

Will Shortz offered further details on the creative process:

In the case of today’s puzzle, Judge Fleming constructed the grid, with some input from Mr. Clinton. The president wrote most of the clues. When the judge proposed tweaks to certain clues, Mr. Clinton objected: “Too easy and boring. Might as well print the answers in the puzzle.”

I found it to be a pretty fair solve, although there were a few outlier answers that were much, much tougher than the rest of the field. (Either that or I need to bone up on my Indonesian geography.)

Shortz also offered a glimpse of the celebrity constructors to come, teasing readers with mentions of “a pop singer with a No. 1 hit, a noted fashion designer, a standup comedian, a venerable TV journalist, a morning TV host, a six-time Emmy-winning actor, and a sitting U.S. senator, among others.”

It’ll be interesting to see which celebrity solvers have accepted the challenge of constructing a puzzle of their own.


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Solving the Rebel Roundup Brain Teaser!

Fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, we celebrated Star Wars Day (aka May the Fourth Be With You) last week by sharing a puzzly brain teaser.

Today, let’s go through how to solve it!

Rebel Roundup

The Empire came up with a brilliant plan in order to trap various members of the Rebel Alliance: creating a fake Rebel summit. Each Imperial agent involved would invite a Rebel to the summit while posing as one of the Rebels being invited.

It would have worked perfectly, except for the fact that Admiral Ozzel posed as the person that he had invited. OOPS. Courtesy of Ozzel’s bumbling, the Rebels were warned ahead of time and armed themselves, hoping to turn the tables on the Empire.

Thanks to Han Solo’s timely warning, Luke had hidden his lightsaber and a vibroknife with R2-D2 and C-3PO respectively. These extra weapons allowed the seven Rebel agents of them to escape. It also helped that Admiral Ackbar arrived last in his ship, Home One.

Each Rebel arrived in a different spaceship, but two Rebels hitched a ride with fellow agents, so only five spaceships were involved.

Answer these questions:

  • Who traveled with Leia?
  • Who traveled with Luke?
  • What vehicle did each Rebel arrive in?
  • Which Imperial invited which Rebel?
  • Who did each Imperial pose as?
  • What weapon did each Rebel carry?

Here are your clues:

1. Leia, having been warned by Han, carried a concealable Holdout Blaster. She did not arrive in an X-Wing, nor did she fly the Millennium Falcon.

2. Han wouldn’t let anyone fly his baby. Han carried his Heavy Blaster Pistol, ready to shoot the Imperial who invited him while posing as him. This naturally made Han suspicious.

3. When Admiral Ackbar saw who invited him, he put his Force Pike to the Imperial’s throat. He was not invited by Darth Vader, who had posed as R2-D2.

4. C-3PO arrived on the Tantive IV, along with another passenger. This was not the ship Lando used.

5. The Lady Luck was flown by the man invited by Admiral Piett. Its pilot, who traveled alone, carried a Blaster Rifle with him. He gambled a bit, and almost crashed into Luke’s X-Wing. The Imperial who invited him posed as Admiral Ackbar.

6. Grand Moff Tarkin invited Admiral Ackbar. He did not pose as Luke Skywalker, nor did he pose as Leia.

7. General Veers invited R2-D2. Veers posed as R2-D2’s best friend. Captain Needa did not pose as Lando.

8. Leia was led to believe that Luke invited her to the summit. Emperor Palpatine invited Luke while posing as Leia. R2-D2 delivered his weapon to the Rebel so he could keep his father busy long enough for everyone to escape.


Now, the first step is going through the clues and listing all of the options for every variable. This will help us with the second step: building a grid to help us organize information.

  • Rebels: Ackbar, C-3PO, Han, Lando, Leia, Luke, R2-D2
  • Imperials: Needa, Ozzel, Palpatine, Piett, Tarkin, Vader, Veers
  • Ships: Home One, Lady Luck, Millennium Falcon, Tantive IV, X-Wing
  • Weapons: Blaster Rifle, Force Pike, Heavy Blaster Pistol, Holdout Blaster, Lightsaber, Vibroknife

Okay, let’s build our grid. Now, we could list every intersection of information, like a full logic problem grid, but I don’t think that’s necessary here. We can simplify.

Now let’s fill in what we know from the clues. From the introduction, we know that R2-D2 has the Lightsaber and C-3PO has the Vibroknife. We also know that Ackbar arrived on the ship Home One.

We also know that Leia has a Holdout Blaster (clue #1), and that Han has the Heavy Blaster Pistol (clue #2). Clue #2 also tells us that Han arrived in his baby, the Millennium Falcon. Han was also invited by the Imperial who posed as him, and from the introduction, we know that Ozzel mistakenly pretended to be the man he invited, so that means he posed as Han to invite Han.

So far so good. What else?

We know that Ackbar has a Force Pike (clue #3), that C-3PO arrived on the Tantive IV (clue #4), that Ackbar was invited by Tarkin (clue #6), that R2-D2 was invited by Veers and that Veers posed as his best friend, C-3PO (clue #7).

Finally, we know that Leia believed she was invited by Luke, and Palpatine invited Luke while posing as Leia (clue #8).

That’s a lot of information, and we can immediately use it to resolve clue #5. The Lady Luck was flown by the man invited by Admiral Piett. This clue gives us a linked Imperial and Ship pairing, and only Leia and Lando have both of those pieces of information missing. But since the Lady Luck was flown by a man, we can eliminate Leia and determine that clue #5 applies to Lando.

Not only does this allow us to fill Lando’s entire row, but we also learn that Luke piloted an X-Wing.

There’s another pairing that we can fill in from here. In clue #3, we learn that Darth Vader posed as R2-D2, and that information only fits in C-3PO’s row.

By process of elimination, that gives us Captain Needa as the Imperial who invited Leia and Lando as the person Tarkin posed as.

We also know that R2-D2 delivered his weapon — a Lightsaber — to the Rebel so he could keep his father busy long enough for everyone to escape (clue #8). Luke fits this description.

Finally, we know that Leia didn’t arrive in an X-Wing or the Millennium Falcon (clue #1). The Lady Luck is also out, as Lando traveled alone (clue #5). The introduction states that Ackbar arrived last, implying he traveled alone as well, so that only leaves the Tantive IV as Leia’s possible ship. (Clue #4 states that C-3PO arrived with another passenger.)

That leaves us with R2-D2. From our deliberations about Leia, we can remove the Lady Luck, Home One, and the Tantive IV from the list of options, leaving only Luke’s X-Wing and Han’s Millennium Falcon.

Now, one of the questions we need to answer is “Who traveled with Luke?” That implies someone did, which would mean R2-D2, but again, that could be a trick question, and the answer would be “no one.”

There’s also the information in clue #2 that Han wouldn’t let anyone fly his baby. Does that mean he flew alone? It’s not clear.

But we also know that R2-D2 carried Luke’s Lightsaber. If they traveled together, what’s the point of R2 having the Lightsaber? Luke could just carry it himself. That seems to imply they traveled apart.

So how do we resolve this? Look at the patterns of who invited who.

Tarkin invited Ackbar while posing as Lando. Piett invited Lando while posing as Ackbar. Needa invited Leia while posing as Luke, and Vader invited C-3PO while posing as R2-D2, and they traveled together. Meanwhile, Palpatine invited Luke while posing as Leia, and Veers invited R2-D2 while posing as C-3PO. These parallel invitations line up if R2 travels with Luke.

It’s an elegant plan, only screwed up because Ozzel invited Han while posing as Han.

So, to wrap it all up, let’s answer those questions.

Who traveled with Leia? C-3PO. Who traveled with Luke? R2-D2. And the other four questions? We covered them nicely with our completed grid.

So, how did you do? Did you crack the Rebel Roundup puzzle? Let us know in the comments below!


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