Two Crossword Anniversaries This Week!

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Crossword history isn’t exactly a field of study that dates back to ancient times — I mean, we only celebrated the centennial of the crossword back in 2013 — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a huge amount of historical crossword material out there to be commemorated.

In fact, this week marks two fairly meaningful crossword anniversaries, one to be celebrated today, the other tomorrow.

The first crossword anniversary to observe is the 150th birthday of Arthur Wynne.

[Image courtesy of express.co.uk.]

In 1913, Arthur Wynne created the first modern crossword puzzle — which he called a Word-Cross puzzle — and over a hundred years later, we are still enjoying the ever-increasing variety of puzzles and clues spawned by that “fun”-filled grid.

Wynne was born on June 22, 1871 in Liverpool, England, but moved to the states in the early 1890s, spending time in Pittsburgh and New York City before creating his Word-Cross puzzle for the New York Sunday World.

Of course, the crossword as we know it — with its square grid and the black-and-white square patterning — are due not to Mr. Wynne, but to his former associate, future first New York Times crossword editor Margaret Farrar.

But, speaking of figures who helped elevate crosswords to greater prominence, that brings us to our second anniversary.

Tomorrow marks the 15th anniversary of the release of the influential crossword documentary Wordplay.

Wordplaymp

Wordplay introduced several famous names in crossword tournament circles, like Ellen Ripstein, Trip Payne, Tyler Hinman, Jon Delfin, and Al Sanders, as well as highlighting many celebrity crossword solvers like Jon Stewart, Ken Burns, Bill Clinton, and more. The documentary also chronicled the 2005 edition of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, bringing national attention to the tournament (and inspiring a Simpsons episode about crosswords).

Wordplay sparked a 40% increase in attendance the year after it aired, and the growing interest in the yearly event caused the tournament to actually change locations to a larger venue in New York City for 7 years!

(It has since returned to the Stamford Marriott, its traditional setting, despite actually topping the biggest NYC attendance in 2019, and again virtually in 2021.)

But the impact Wordplay had on the tournament itself, and interest in crosswords in general, cannot be overstated.

And this week, we celebrate both crossword anniversaries, one marking the genesis of crosswords, and the other marking how far crosswords had come, and how much farther they could go in the future.

It’s a pretty cool confluence of dates, to be sure.


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A Pair of Brain Teasers From Your Fellow PuzzleNationers!

[Image courtesy of SharpBrains.com.]

We love brain teasers here at PuzzleNation Blog. Whether they’re riddles, logic problems, math puzzles, or challenging bits of wordplay, we take on all comers here.

We’ve solved some doozies in the past, like the Brooklyn Nine-Nine seesaw brain teaser, the diabolical long division brain teaser, and the curious way to tell time brain teaser.

In April 2019, we did a whole week of brain teasers while your friendly neighborhood blogger was at a convention. Last year, we honored the life of mathematician and puzzle icon John Horton Conway by sharing two of his favorite brain teasers.

There’s a long, proud PuzzleNation Blog tradition of cracking whatever brain teasers come our way, whether we find them ourselves, stumble across them in pop culture, or receive them from our marvelous PuzzleNationers when asked for solving assistance.

A friend of the blog discovered two brain teasers in a book of riddles and puzzles during a bookshelf cleanout recently, and they sent them our way to share with you!

We’ll post them below, and share the solutions next week! Good luck, fellow puzzlers!


Brain Teaser #1: There is a three digit number. All three digits are different. The second digit is four times as big as the third digit, while the first digit is three less than the second digit. What is the number?

Brain Teaser #2: When asked about his birthday, a man said, “The day before yesterday, I was only 25, and next year I will turn 28.” This is true only one day in a year – what day was he born?

Have you unraveled either of these brain teasers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Puzzly Techniques Help Reveal Secrets From the Dead Sea Scrolls!

[Image courtesy of WikiHow.]

Have you ever solved a cryptogram? (Or another coded puzzle where each letter is replaced with a different letter, digit, or symbol?)

While the solve can vary in difficulty, the solving experience is fairly simple: you look for and identify patterns in the encrypted message, then use that information to figure out which letter/number/symbol represents each letter.

Maybe you see QYR’P and XHR’P, and deduce that R and P are actually N and T because of the apostrophe. Maybe you see the letter pattern BRV at the end of several words and realize it’s -ING.

By finding these patterns, you can turn a pile of gibberish into a message, essentially creating your own Rosetta Stone for this particular puzzle.

[Image courtesy of The Guardian.]

It’s not just the repetition of characters and pattern recognition that reveal everything that can be learned from text, even text in a foreign language.

After all, plenty of crime stories rely on recognizing the handwriting from a random note or a threatening letter and matching it to a writing sample from another character in the story.

Taking this concept a step further, purveyors of handwriting analysis sometimes claim to be able to tell you about the writer (whether they’re male or female, how educated they are, and more). Beyond that, some assert they can infer details about the writer’s emotional state WHILE writing a given message, based on angles of pen strokes, closeness of letters, and so on.

[Image courtesy of PBL Forensic Investigations.]

While handwriting analysis is more a mix of pattern recognition, assumptions, and interpretation than a straightforward science, it’s still amazing what can be gleaned from the written records people leave behind.

And as it turns out, when you add computers to the mix, you can do the same on a more massive scale to uncover some pretty impressive insights.

Yes, we’re not just learning about languages and the contents of messages written long ago. As we implied above, we’re also starting to find clues about the authors themselves.

Take, for instance, this story about a recent computer analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

[Image courtesy of Artnet.]

Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of ancient Jewish and Hebrew religious manuscripts discovered in the Qumran Caves, near the Dead Sea. They consist of some of the oldest known surviving manuscripts of works later found in the Hebrew Bible and other important texts. In fact, they include fragments from every book in the Old Testament (except for the Book of Esther).

Mladen Popovic, professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen, teamed up with a colleague who has been working on software and hardware that would allow computers to “read” handwriting, particular handwriting from historical materials. Lambert Schomaker, professor of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, focused on one particular scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls, known as the Great Isaiah Scroll.

This scroll was chosen because, although the writing appears to be uniform, some scholars believed there were two scribes involved in writing it, suggesting that after column 27, a second scribe had taken over duties on the scroll.

From the article:

‘This scroll contains the letter aleph, or “a,” at least five thousand times. It is impossible to compare them all just by eye.’ Computers are well suited to analyse large datasets, like 5,000 handwritten a’s. Digital imaging makes all sorts of computer calculations possible, at the microlevel of characters, such as measuring curvature (called textural), as well as whole characters (called allographic).

[Image courtesy of FDE-Sperry.]

And what did this study reveal?

His analysis of textural and allographic features showed that the 54 columns of text in the Great Isaiah Scroll fell into two different groups that were not distributed randomly through the scroll, but were clustered, with a transition around the halfway mark.

Popovic expanded on this discovery, stating that “we can confirm this with a quantitative analysis of the handwriting as well as with robust statistical analyses. Instead of basing judgment on more-or-less impressionistic evidence, with the intelligent assistance of the computer, we can demonstrate that the separation is statistically significant.”

Yes, there were two scribes involved in writing the Great Isaiah Scroll. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of what we could learn about the many scrolls discovered in the Qumran Caves.

By taking these puzzly observational techniques and using the incredible computing power and analysis capabilities available to modern researchers, we’re slowly unraveling more mysteries from the past.

Who knows what we’ll unearth next?


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Bringing People Back to Puzzles After a Bad Solving Experience

About a month ago, we discussed crossword difficulty and how it can be daunting to get started in puzzles.

In that post, we shared Lloyd Morgan’s crossword difficulty matrix, a cart that allows new and unfamiliar solvers to seek out different venues based on their difficulty, ensuring they can ease into crosswords and not immediately get discouraged by a puzzle tougher than they’re ready for.

I mentioned the post to a friend of mine who isn’t terribly puzzle-savvy, and he asked, “But what about people who have already had bad experiences with crosswords and might be gun-shy about attempting them again, no matter what difficulty level is promised?”

And that’s a very fair question. How many folks do you know who try something once, and then never again after an unpleasant first encounter? I know several people who won’t touch logic problems because the grid is intimidating and they weren’t eased into the solving style. Cryptograms, Kakuro, puzzle hunts… all of them can be tainted for someone with one bad solving experience.

crisscross

You might think that crisscross-style puzzles (like the one above) would be less intimidating, since they don’t have the same dense grid surrounded by clues that crosswords have, but I’ve found that folks don’t warm to those quickly. No matter how well-constructed the crisscross, it tends to remind people of activity books for kids, and no one wants to feel patronized when trying out a new hobby or giving it another go.

I do have a suggestion, though. I’ve tried this with several friends and acquaintances who had sworn off crosswords entirely, and it not only introduced them to a new puzzle they didn’t know, but opened their eyes to the possibility of more puzzle-solving in the future.

My solution was: Fill-Ins.

fillin sample

[A sample puzzle from our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles. Check out their fill-in library here!]

For the uninitiated, fill-ins utilize the same general grid style as a crossword. But instead of answering numbered clues to place the words in the grid, you’re already given the answer words, organized by word length. Your task is to place them all into the grid, using other words and letters in the grid to guide you.

Solving fill-ins helps remove the intimidation factor of crosswords in three ways.

1. No trivia or outside knowledge is required, which removes a huge burden from a solver who has probably felt overwhelmed by crossword cluing in the past.

2. It makes empty crossword grids less intimidating. Do you ever have those moments where you read three or four crossword clues in a row and you don’t immediately conjure up answers? And then you look at all those empty spaces in the grid and feel dumb? It happens. But fill-ins often have a set word to get you started, and once you start placing letters, recognizing useful crossings, and filling the grid, all that goes away.

3. Fill-ins help strengthen another skill valuable in crossword solving: letter-blank recognition. If you see B _ U _ , a regular solver instantly starts listing off possibilities: BOUT, BLUE, BLUR, BAUD, etc. But a new solver can look over at the four-letter words, scan the list, and see what fits, helping to build that mental lexicon for future solving.

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After solving a handful of fill-ins, word placement goes quicker, confidence in filling in those letter blanks increases, and empty grids become fields of potential puzzle fun, not stark empty spaces.

And honestly, it’s a pretty cool feeling to make puzzles enjoyable again for someone. When I get a phone call a month or so after introducing them to fill-ins, and they ask what other puzzles are out there, or where a good place to start with crosswords might be, that’s a win.

Then, of course, I direct them to Daily POP Crosswords. Because we’re the best. (And also to other puzzle outlets like our friends at Penny Press, of course.)

Do you have any suggestions for helping restore a love of puzzles to those previously burned, spurned, or disappointed, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Share them in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Answers to our International Tabletop Day Puzzle (Plus a Special Offer!)

a story to die for box

Before we start with today’s blog post, we’ve got a special offer for you from the puzzly folks at ThinkFun!

Have you checked out our reviews of their new unsolved crime series of puzzle games? In Cold Case, you’re tasked with going through the evidence and solving the case!

There are two editions of Cold Case; A Story to Die For is available for preorder now, and A Pinch of Murder will be available for preorder on June 14th!

And if you click this link and use the promo code 20COLDCASE, you’ll get the puzzle game for 20% off!

Enjoy!


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Last week, we celebrated International Tabletop Day with some puzzly recommendations, suggestions, and an anagram mix-and-match puzzle, all in the spirit of celebrating gathering with friends and loved ones — in person or virtually — to play games together.

The challenge was to unscramble the names of famous board game characters from the entries on the left, and then match them up with the correct board game from the list on the right.

We’re sure you managed to unravel all those jumbled phrases, but just in case, let’s take a look at the solution.

First, let’s look at the anagrams.

  • Resist Clams = Miss Scarlet
  • Screenplay Bunching = Rich Uncle Pennybags
  • Niceness Fir Sport = Princess Frostine
  • I, Hyphen Pro = Henry Hippo
  • Air Ma = Maria
  • AI Zag Rug = Gigazaur
  • Cam Sat Ivy = Cavity Sam
  • Be Brother = The Robber

And now, for a splash of color, here is the solution for the matching portion of the puzzle.

tabletop-day-mix-and-match-solution

How did you do with the puzzle? Did you enjoy International Tabletop Day? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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The Mind-blowing Variety of Puzzles

[A sampling of puzzles of many sorts: crosswords, puzzle boxes,
mechanical brain teasers, tile puzzles, riddles, and more!]

It really is incredible how many forms puzzles can take.

Think about it. Whether you’re talking Rubik’s Cubes, cryptograms, jigsaws, Sudoku, brain teasers, riddles, crosswords, escape rooms, tangrams, word seeks, sliding tiles, deduction problems, coded messages, or anagrams, they all fall under the umbrella of puzzles.

A puzzle can be as simple as pencil and paper or as complex as a multi-stage puzzle hunt or escape room, replete with codes, keys, hidden buttons, mechanical devices to assemble or utilize, and more. The folks at ThinkFun, for instance, have employed everything from ropes and magnets to lasers and mirrors in their puzzles.

That’s some extreme variety.

And the field of possibilities only widens when we add video game puzzles to the mix. We’ve previously talked about games like Tetris and Portal, where you must think in 2D and 3D respectively. We’ve seen games where you change the rules of the world to proceed or even interfere with the coding of the game itself to solve problems.

In the last few years, indie game designers and big studios alike have produced puzzle games that continue to push the boundaries of puzzly minds.

For instance, in Iris Fall you solve puzzles and maneuver around obstacles by playing with light and shadow. By moving light sources and interacting with the environment, both the light and the shadows it creates allow your character to play with perspective and illusion in order to accomplish tasks. It’s very cool!

In a similar vein, the game Superliminal challenges you to solve puzzles and move from room to room by shifting perspective. For instance, if you pick up a small item and then pull it close to you so that it looks bigger, it BECOMES bigger.

Check out this playthrough to see this mindbending puzzler in action:

The game Maquette works off of a similar concept, but requires you to think in both big and small terms. In Maquette, you have a city to explore, and in order to do so, you also need to manipulate a miniature version of the city that affects the world outside.

For instance, there’s a bridge with the center path missing. How can you reach the other side with only a key in your hands?

Easy. You take the key, place it over the same bridge gap in the miniature, and then walk back to the real bridge, where a giant version of that key is now spanning the gap.

And now there’s Viewfinder, a game where you use a Polaroid-style camera to take pictures that you can then place into a three-dimensional world and turn them into structures you can interact with and solve problems!

These sorts of puzzle games help reinforce one of the fundamental rules of puzzle-solving: always be willing to change your perspective and come at the puzzle from another angle. It works with wordplay, it works with brain teasers, and it works in three-dimensional perspective puzzles in video games.

What’s your favorite flavor of puzzles, fellow PuzzleNationers? Have you learned something from one kind of puzzle that you’ve been able to apply in another style of puzzling? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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