Delving into the BosWords 2019 Crosswords!

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I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hand at the puzzles from the BosWords Crossword Tournament last month. Given the talent involved amongst the organizers and constructors, I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed.

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


Leading Ladies by John Lieb

This unscored opening puzzle served as a fun and pleasant warm-up, getting everyone into the puzzly spirit and ready to solve. The theme entries were five films with female leads (like CLEOPATRA, FOXY BROWN, and CAT BALLOU), and the revealer TITLE NINE nicely tied the five films together through their nine-letter titles.

With good flow and an accessible theme, this is a great confidence booster and a solid puzzle to shake off any nerves going into the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included SAMOANS, ZOWIE, DEEP-SIXED, and LANDO, and my favorite clue was “Got to square 100 first in Chutes and Ladders, e.g.” for WON.

Puzzle 1: Central Intelligence by Claire Rimkus and Andrew Kingsley

As you might expect from the first puzzle in the tournament proper, this puzzle was a fairly easy start, combining an accessible theme with interesting fill. Each of the three-letter words at the center of the theme entries spelled out a different degree one could earn, a la VET reading out in LONG LIVE THE KING.

The circles for the three middle letters in each themed entry are almost unnecessary, as between the title and the themed entries themselves, you could suss out the theme without much trouble.

(But then again, I’m a sucker for circles in a crossword grid, so I liked having them there.)

One of the theme entries was more obscure than the other three, but this was still a breezy solve to get the tournament going.

Interesting grid entries included THE UK, OBERON, SOIREE, and MASHUP, and my favorite clues were “Hacker’s problem?” for COUGH and “You don’t want to be under it” for ARREST.

[Image courtesy of SharpBrains.com.]

Puzzle 2: Don’t Strain Yourself by Ross Trudeau

Normally, you’d expect the difficulty to ratchet upward a bit for puzzle 2, but this one was pretty much on par with the first puzzle. The revealer NO FILTER explained the link between the theme entries (things like EMAIL SPAM and INSTANT COFFEE), but overall, I was a little underwhelmed by this one.

That’s not to say the puzzle wasn’t otherwise well-constructed, because it was. The longer down entries linking the themed entries were executed with finesse, and other than one tough entry (ILLINI), the fill was fair and the cluing solid.

Interesting grid entries included DOOMSDAY, TO THE MAX, IOLANI, AL EAST, and DALLIANCES, and my favorite clue was “Turns into a screenplay, perhaps” for ADAPTS.

Puzzle 3: Plus or Minus by Joon Pahk and Laura Braunstein

The increase of difficulty I was expecting in puzzle 2 arrived with gusto in puzzle 3, as the solver must figure out how to either add or remove a number from the theme entries. With the subtraction clues, it was easier, because you had the number spelled out in the entry (like STONE AGE DOOR, where the -1 in the clue indicates that the word ONE should be removed, making the more familiar STAGE DOOR).

With the addition entries, you had to get a little more creative. For instance, the entry PAT PENDING becomes PATENT PENDING when you add the +10 from the clue. It’s a clever hook, and certainly not the last time we’ll be seeing some puzzly math in this puzzle set.

Interesting grid entries included SEA MONKEYS, SQUEAK, UMAMI, and SAYSO, and my favorite clue was “Something that won’t stay hot” for FAD.

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Puzzle 4: Spill the Tea by John Lieb and David Quarfoot

My favorite gimmick from the tournament puzzles appears in puzzle 4, which took me longer to figure out than it probably should have. In this puzzle, longer theme entries are shortened by having a brand of tea contained in the answer reading down instead of across. So, HOTEL CHAIN reads HOTELCN across, because CHAI is reading down from the C instead.

This sort of visual gag in a crossword is hard to pull off, but Lieb and Quarfoot do so nicely, having five “spills” in the grid. (Cluing each tea reading down as an “Oops” was a nice touch, as was the Boston Tea Party reference in the tagline at the top of the page.)

Interesting grid entries included AP CALC, WIN BIG, UNCLE SAM and X-ACTO KNIFE, and my favorite clue was “Charlatan exposer of film” for TOTO.

Puzzle 5: Get the Picture by Paolo Pasco

The regular tournament concluded with puzzle 5, and Pasco ably brought it home with this film-centric puzzle where the theme entries all ended with synonyms for part of a film (SHOT, SCENE, FOOTAGE, TAKE, and CLIP). The theme is quickly uncovered, but the puzzle is by no means a cakewalk, as solid, creative fill makes for a more challenging solve than you expect.

There’s very little crosswordese — the grid instead focused on unusual entries in a well-constructed grid. (Heck, if Pasco had included J and X, this puzzle would have been a pangram as well!)

Interesting grid entries included SATYRS, CYBER, KAPOW, ME DAY, and GUIDE DOG, and my favorite clue was “Write this answer as EER, say” for ERR.

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[Image courtesy of @StalkingSarah.]

Championship Themeless by Finn Vigeland

After two years of championship puzzles being shepherded by the ambitious grids of David Quarfoot, Finn Vigeland steps up to the plate with a very intimidating themeless grid loaded with lots of long entries. With 3 nine-letter words in each corner and 3 thirteen-letter entries stacked in the middle of the grid, this one would probably give any solver pause at the outset, let alone those solving on stage in front of an audience.

Those long entries were bolstered by a lot of terrific crossings that made use of the open grid, making for a mostly great solving experience, save one or two specious phrases (AREN’T I?, ick).

But the impressive ones far outweigh the occasional clunkers, and Vigeland’s first championship themeless for BosWords will most likely not be his last.

Interesting grid entries included PR FARM, FUTURAMA, I CAN’T EVEN, and ARMREST, and my favorite clue was “One of a breakfast trio” for SNAP.


Bonus puzzle: Do the Math by John Lieb

Although this wasn’t an official tournament puzzle, I have to mention it because this bonus grid was my favorite in the entire set. Treating common hyphenated phrases with numbers as if they were equations, the theme entries in this puzzle required a little outside-the-box thinking to come up with the correction solutions.

For instance, “Combo from Rocky Balboa” would normally be “ONE-TWO PUNCH,” but since we’re thinking mathematically, ONE minus TWO is NEGATIVE ONE, so our themed answer is actually NEGATIVE ONE PUNCH.

The revealer DIFFERENCE MAKERS was just the icing on the cake for a puzzle that took something in plain sight and turned it on its head in a clever way. It was the perfect conclusion to a day of enjoyable puzzling.

Interesting grid entries included ELIXIR, RELAXED FIT, YIKES, and K’NEX, and my favorite clues were “Pricey place for a fan” for SKYBOX and “Improvises musically” for VAMPS.


Overall, I was mostly impressed by the array of puzzles assembled for this year’s tournament. There were tricky themes, visual themes, and math themes, all of which made great use of both the cluing and the grids themselves. Yes, one or two puzzles didn’t connect with me as strongly as the others, but the entire gauntlet of puzzles were challenging and creative in their design without being off-putting or getting too esoteric.

BosWords is probably the tournament that is friendliest to new solvers in terms of puzzle difficulty — not nearly as challenging as those at Lollapuzzoola or The Indie 500, but increasingly just as experimental and inventive — while still remaining engaging.

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 tournament.

Can’t wait to see what they cook up for us next year.


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100 FREE Coins for Daily POP Word Search? Tell me more!

Yes, it’s a special Saturday post, because we’ve got a special limited time offer for our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

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Daily POP Word Search launched this week for iOS and Android users, and it’s only a click away!

Yes, the Daily POP Word Search app is FREE!

And this weekend — and this weekend only! — you can also get 100 FREE coins as part of a special promotion!

Just click this link and follow the instructions! It couldn’t be easier!

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The Daily POP Word Search app is 100% Free, the coins are Free… what are you waiting for? =)

Click here to participate and enjoy the best new puzzle app on the market today!

[Promotion ends at Midnight ET on Sunday, August 18, 2019.]


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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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Presidential Puzzling

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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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