Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Puzzly Delights!

Merry Christmas, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! (And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then Happy December 25th, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!)

I’m a sucker for a festive event, so I’ve got a puzzly double feature lined up for you today.

First, allow me to present a delightful video concocted by friend of the blog Hevesh5. Lily is a domino master who has created numerous domino chains and Rube Goldberg-style machines with elements that fit a given theme. So naturally, given the season, she’s devised a marvelous domino chain with all sorts of holiday elements. Enjoy!

And since we’re on a holiday kick, there’s an anagram challenge for you too!

What are the longest common words you can make from the letters in the following phrase?

M-E-R-R-Y C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S

No plurals or proper nouns are allowed, and you can only use the letters in the phrase. (Meaning, for instance, you can use 3 Rs, but not 4, since there are only 3 in the phrase.)

We came up with one 10-letter word, four 9-letter words, twelve 8-letter words, and thirty 7-letter words.

Let’s see how you do!

Have a marvelous holiday (or day), and happy puzzling to you!


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Storytelling and Puzzles Unite in Wordventures! Available now!

There’s nothing more exciting than announcing a brand-new puzzle app we’ve been working on, and today, we’ve got something truly special for you to enjoy.

Our newest app, Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate is now available for download!

A town’s children have gone missing. A mysterious undead pirate and his ragtag crew lurk nearby. And the only person who can unravel the mystery and find the children is you!

In Wordventures, you can immerse yourself in a investigation while solving word search puzzles to uncover clues, reveal secrets, and move the story forward!

Combining the world-class puzzle solving you expect from PuzzleNation with a multilayered storytelling experience offers the best of both worlds. You’ll explore the town, meet fascinating characters, and even keep notes in a journal as you play through the story!

You control the pace, you control the difficulty, and you push the narrative forward with every puzzle you solve!

Solve a mystery like never before with Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate! Click here to learn more about the app and download it now!


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A Puzzle for Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, PuzzleNationers!

Today is a day for celebrating with family and friends, and giving thanks for all the good things in our lives. And we here at PuzzleNation want to thank you, our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, because you help make PuzzleNation one of the greatest puzzle communities in the world.

When it comes to saying thanks, a Thanksgiving puzzle seems like the perfect offering.

So we’ve cooked up a little Thanksgiving word seek puzzle for you to enjoy!

We’ve hidden a bunch of Thanksgiving foods in the grid below. Each word can be found in a continuous line in an irregularly shaped patch in the grid. Move from letter to letter vertically or horizontally, but not diagonally. Each letter in the grid will be used once; the patches do not overlap.

Here’s your word list:

  • Apple cider
  • Asparagus
  • Autumn salad
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Buttered rolls
  • Butternut squash
  • Corn
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Creamed onions
  • Glazed carrots
  • Gravy
  • Green beans
  • Mac and cheese
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Pecan pie
  • Potato gratin
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Stuffing
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Turkey
  • Turnip
  • Yams

To get you started, we’ve set the word TURKEY. Can you find a full Thanksgiving meal in the grid?

Good luck, and Happy Thanksgiving!


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The Diabolical Art of Bar Bets

We discuss all sorts of time-honored puzzles and brain teasers here on the blog, but it’s not often that those discussions wander into the arena known as bar bets.

Simply put, bar bets are contests between two parties wherein money or free drinks are wagered on one’s ability to accomplish a given task. Sometimes, that task is answering a bit of trivia, or engaging in a feat of strength.

But more often than not, bar bets are brain teasers designed to separate a fool from his money.

And if you approach them like brain teasers, you have a better chance of holding onto your hard-earned dough.

You see, many of these bar bets are designed more like carnival games than fair wagers; there’s usually a trick involved, and your opponent is wagering on you playing by the rules, rather than out-thinking the game itself.

Example: the wager seems simple. There is a drink placed completely beneath a hat. You must drink the drink without touching the hat.

It seems impossible, but that’s where you must get creative. You can crouch down near the hat and make a slurping noise, and then declare that you’ve succeeded in drinking the drink. Your curious opponent is forced to lift the hat to check, and at that moment, grab the drink, down it, and you’ve won.

You adhered to the letter of the wager, but not the spirit. But that’s the name of the game.

Be careful, because some bar bets are based solely on wordplay.

Example: Tell your opponent to get a coin out of their pocket and set it under a drink coaster, ensuring that you don’t see it. The wager? That you’ll be able to tell them the date.

As you wave your hand over the coaster, as if doing a magic trick, simply announce today’s date. After all, you weren’t specific. You just said you’d tell them the date, not necessarily the date on the coin.

A similar one involves wagering that you can stay underwater for any particular length of time. Once you make the wager, simply hold a glass of water over your head for that amount of time.

A little cheap? Sure. But hey, a bar bet is a bet. And the devil is in the details.

Some bar bets, though, come down to technique. You present a seemingly impossible task, and then accomplish it in a clever way.

For example, my favorite bar bet: You have a glass (a wine glass, a shot glass, whatever), with a coaster (or business card) on top of it. Atop the coaster is a cigarette, standing on end. And atop the cigarette is a coin.

The wager? Put the coin into the glass without touching the glass, coaster, cigarette, or coin.

There’s no wordplay, no trickery, and no deceit here. This one is all about gravity.

You see, the coaster and the cigarette are light, while the coin is not. If you crouch down below the glass and blow upward, you’ll be able to push aside the coaster and cigarette, leaving the coin to fall straight down into the now-open glass.

Easy. Once you know how it’s done, that is.


What’s your favorite puzzly wager, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Do you have a favorite bar bet, trick, or crafty challenge up your sleeve that leaves others befuddled?

Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Puzzles in Pop Culture: Felix the Cat

It’s fun to uncover little puzzly bits of history, but when history, puzzles, and entertainment intertwine, it always makes for intriguing viewing.

So when friend of the blog Darcy Bearman showed me a Felix the Cat cartoon from the 1920s that centered around an unsolved crossword puzzle, naturally I was intrigued.

It wasn’t hard to track down a copy, given how practically everything seems to be on YouTube these days.

Here are the official details:

Felix All Puzzled (1924)

  • Director: Pat Sullivan
  • Animator: Otto Messmer
  • Distributor: M.J. Winkler Productions

Originally Released on January 15, 1925.

Felix is hungry, but his owner won’t feed him until he finishes his crossword puzzle. And he’s fixated on the down clue that will complete the puzzle, “Vertical. Found chiefly in Russia.”

Pondering what the answer could be Felix, the cat laments that he could eat if only he could get to Russia and uncover the missing word.

A nearby mule kicks Felix all the way to Russia, seemingly out of spite — clearly a Moscow Mule — and Felix lands in a small hut. Momentarily mistaken for a bomb, he leaves the hut and heads into town.

He sees two Russians leaning over some papers, and presumes that the answer will be on those papers. But after sneaking into the building, he’s accused of spying, shot at, and chased out. As it turns out, these two men are plotting a revolution, and they toss bombs at Felix.

After avoiding several of them, Felix is blown into the air by the last one, and ends up back in America.

His owner, the ungrateful boor, immediately asks if Felix found the answer. He doesn’t ask how his trip was, or if he’s alright, or hey, can I get you a bite to eat after your mule-and-bomb-propelled world tour. What a jerk.

And Felix’s snarky reply turns out to be the correct answer.

Felix laughs. His owner does a little victory dance. And the cartoon ends.

Naturally, I can’t help but ask… DID YOU FEED FELIX NOW THAT YOUR PUZZLE IS DONE, YOU SELFISH DOOFUS? I mean, come on. It’s the whole reason that Felix bothers going to Russia. He wants to eat. Feed him!

But I digress.

You may have noticed that the cartoon is a little choppy. If you did, kudos to you. As it turns out, most of the copies of this cartoon that are in circulation are from a Kodascope print where several scenes were cut. Given that the original run time listing was 5 minutes, suddenly the choppiness makes sense.

A half-dozen sequences or so are missing from this version, and they explain some of the weirder moments in the cartoon. For instance, the mule kicks Felix because the question marks (from his attempts to figure out how to get to Russia) tickle the mule.

Additionally, if you were wondering why the first Russian Felix meets thinks he’s a bomb, it’s because he got a letter from the revolutionaries earlier that reads “Today, you die!” (Which is admittedly a little grim.)

Now, let’s talk about that puzzle.

TRIPPLE is a pretty strange 1-Across. A chiefly South African term for a horse’s gait (according to Merriam Webster, anyway), you can’t help but wonder if they simply misspelled TRIPLE.

But the rest of the puzzle is fairly straightforward. It’s a 7×7 grid with a few two-letter entries (which wouldn’t fly in most crosswords these days). The combination of EASTERS and EVADERS crossing at the S is admittedly underwhelming, but as far as I can tell

The only other entry that jumps out at me is NVA, but only because I wonder how it would be clued. It’s not like a 1925 cartoon would be referencing the North Vietnamese Army.

Upon further digging, I suspect this would have been clued referencing the National Vaudeville Artists, a union formed by Edward Franklin Albee. The clue “Theatrical organization” is used for NVA in a 1953 New York Times puzzle, according to XwordInfo.

Of course, with obtuse cluing like “Chiefly found in Russia,” even a small grid like this could prove to be a challenge!


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The Future of Crosswords: Multilingual Grids?

[Image courtesy of Seton.]

Anyone familiar with crosswords these days knows that you need more than a thorough knowledge of English to be a topnotch solver these days.

Sure, English is still the basis for the vast majority of crosswords you’ll encounter — even if some weird, unexpected, and obscure words pop in from time to time — but you’ll need a grasp of other languages to complete most grids these days. (And I’m not just talking about European rivers or foreign currencies.)

After all, the Greek alphabet shows up in crosswords all the time. I can’t recall the last grid I completed that didn’t have ETA, IOTA, RHO, or PHI in it. And clues like “Fraternity letter” are rarely specific enough to help you fill the clue on your first try.

[Image courtesy of Greek Boston.]

You need to know your Latin to solve puzzles too. ET TU, AD HOC, DIES IRAE… plenty of words and phrases pilfered from Latin litter crossword grids.

The modern crossword will send you on a linguistic tour of the globe. From “Scottish Gaelic” for ERSE and “Indian nanny” for AMAH to “Kimono sash” for OBI and “German mister” for HERR, you could visit the languages of half a dozen countries in a single crossword.

But if you’re talking about other languages in crosswords, the top two are undoubtedly Spanish and French.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

Spanish and French words are so common that Wordplay, the blog dedicated to The New York Times crossword, has entire articles dedicated to Spanish and French words you need to know.

For Spanish, they list entries like BESO for “kiss,” ESTA for “this,” and RIATA for “rope.” (Though they missed TIO/TIA for “uncle/aunt” in their rundown.)

On the French side of things, you get common crossword entries like AMI for “friend,” ROI for “king,” or SEL for “salt.”

(The crew at Crossword Unclued even wrote an article about how often French words are used in Cryptic-style cluing, for fans of that version of crosswording.)

[No, something a little tougher than that. Image courtesy of Mommy Maestra.]

All this multilingual puzzling made me wonder… has anyone tried to create a bilingual crossword? I’m talking about a crossword where a significant portion of the entries (if not half) are from a second language.

As it turns out, constructor Bryan Betancur recently accepted that challenge, creating “Bilingual Puzzle #1.” This puzzle not only features a fair number of Spanish words in the grid — not as filler but as significant entries (which I won’t mention, in case you want to solve it yourself!) — but many of the clues for Spanish AND English words are written in Spanish, ensuring a mental challenge beyond the usual crossword fare.

Yes, it was a confusing solve not to know whether the answer to a given clue would be English or Spanish, but that made it all the more satisfying when I was able to confidentally place words in the grid.

It’s the only crossword on the WordPress Blog “Bilingual Crossword,” but here’s hoping others join it soon.

In the cultural melting pot that is modern society, there’s not only opportunity for inclusivity, but there’s also opportunity for challenging, bilingual crossword grids to pique your interest (and make you wish you’d paid more attention in high school foreign language classes).


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