A Rising Tide

The New Yorker declared in 1959 that the “most important person in the world of the crossword puzzle” was a woman: Margaret Farrar, then the crossword editor of the New York Times. Here in the twenty-first century, whether the most important person in the world is a woman or not seems to be a thornier question. A 2014 work of criticism by constructor Anna Shectman reported that the crossword world was very much dominated by men, and that this problem had only worsened in the previous two decades. An important development since that piece’s publication is the Los Angeles Times’ recent announcement that PuzzleNation’s own editor, Patti Varol, will be taking over as its crossword editor, but while this is a huge step forward, a lot of work remains.

In her Washington Post piece earlier this month, “I’m a Black woman who creates crossword puzzles. That’s rare, but it shouldn’t be,” Portia Lundie summarized the central ironic issue at play: “crosswords as we know them were standardized by a profound woman, yet the authority on language still seems to be in the hands of a few White men.”

For Women’s History Month, rather than looking back at Margaret Farrar, we want to look forward: toward the women making crossword history in the here and now, paving the way for a more equitable future. Toward Anna Shectman, Portia Lundie (see the “Three of a Kind” crossword for more of Lundie’s work), and other profound women seeking not to standardize crosswords, but to complicate the idea that standardization should be the ideal.

We don’t believe in just one spider-themed hero, just one important woman, or just one approach to constructing crosswords!

These days, The Inkubator is a funded and functional crossword subscription service, sending puzzles by women and nonbinary constructors to subscribers a few times each month. As their mission statement puts it, the project serves as “a venue for women to exhibit and get paid for high-quality puzzles, especially (but not exclusively) puzzles that may not have a chance at mainstream publications due to feminist, political, or provocative content.”

Back in October 2018, The Inkubator was just a dream with a Kickstarter. Around this time, Hailey Gavin interviewed co-founder and constructor Laura Braunstein about her vision for The Inkubator’s future. In response to a question about the suffocating nature of mainstream crossword norms, Braunstein put forth the inspiring challenge: “If this is a pluralistic culture and people are threatening that, could the puzzle be a place where we fight back? Could the puzzle be a place of resistance?”

Braunstein nods to another project, spearheaded by Deb Amlen, Amy Reynaldo, and Patti Varol. Women of Letters is a puzzle packet by some of the industry’s top constructors who happen to be women. The puzzles serve as an incentive for solvers to donate to women-centric causes—if you give at least ten dollars to one of the charities listed on the project’s page, and email your screenshot to WomenofLettersCrosswords@gmail.com, you’ll receive the packet in return. By combining a platform for crossword-constructing women with a call for financial support for activism, Women of Letters shows us a concrete way in which the puzzle can be a place of resistance.

Even if it didn’t link arms with other causes, Women of Letters, like The Inkubator, would be a remarkable example of women fighting for a pluralistic culture. It is a radical act just to represent an alternative set of perspectives to those typically laid out in the grids that we allow to define valuable knowledge (“Crosswords are strange arbiters of cultural relevance,” after all). These projects are especially radical because they put a name to how these constructors’ perspectives defy institutional norms, shining a light on gender’s importance. Portia Lundie put it elegantly: “In my opinion, there’s no such thing as a view from nowhere,” no such thing as an objective relationship to language or to knowledge of the world around us.

A pluralistic culture can only be represented in the plural, by a rising tide of women, all with different views from different places, lifting all boats. Solidarity matters more than figureheads when it comes to making real change.


Daily POP walks the walk, regularly bringing you puzzles constructed and edited by women.

You can find delightful deals on puzzles on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search. Check them out!

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Puzzles, Poems, Problem-Solving, & Productivity

How is a poem like a puzzle? That question’s easier to answer than the Mad Hatter’s classic “How is a raven like a writing desk?” From crosswords to cryptograms, many beloved puzzles do, if nothing else, resemble poems in their mutual wordiness. However, some forms of poetry are more puzzly than others—compare a sprawling collection of free and blank verse like T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” to the concise machinery of a syllabically limited haiku, the boundaries of which are as strict as the edges of a crossword puzzle.

Like Nancy, though, you can always break the boundaries of form to create new meaning.

When you start to write a haiku, your possibilities are wide-open; with each word you set down, though, the potential choices for what might follow narrow. In effect, your “word bank” shrinks, and if three syllables already occupy the first line, then any words longer than two syllables are ineligible for that line’s continuation. The poet’s puzzling brain must kick into action, considering words for their dimensions and how they might lock into place with the words directly alongside them.

Haikus aren’t the only poetic forms that require this type of geometric thinking. Similarly brainteasery in their construction are sonnets, villanelles, and sestinas. Concrete poems take the shape of objects relevant to their contents, and erasure poetry—much like a word seek—highlights hidden messages by winnowing the chaos of a pre-existing text.

An erasure poem by Jen Bervin, made from one of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

What about a more sprawling, less tightly organized work like “The Waste Land,” then? Beyond the wordiness it has in common with cryptograms et al, is it left out of our riddle’s answer? Roddy Howland Jackson, in the recent essay, “Beastly Clues: T. S. Eliot, Torquemada, and the Modernist Crossword,” appears to argue that no, such works are very much like puzzles.

Jackson takes us back to the 1920s, when “The Waste Land” first appeared in print, and modernist poetry and puzzles alike were derided by critics. He locates “a question asked about labour and idleness in this period: are crosswords and difficult poems worth the efforts required to elicit literary pleasure and linguistic revitalisation? Or merely a waste of time?”

As a poet and puzzler, this question resonates with me a century later. Swimming in the high-pressure waters of hustle culture makes us highly sensitive to the terror of “wasting time,” as in doing anything that doesn’t build our personal brands. Writing and reading poetry that isn’t tidily instagrammable? Solving puzzles that aren’t social media fads? By hustle culture’s standards, both of these things are wastes of time.

So how is a poem like a puzzle? Both present us with opportunities to take back our time, to carve out pockets of our days where we exert mental energy purely for the joy of thinking. Instead of being just a bullet point on your resume, your problem-solving skills can be part of how you resist the pressure to always have your nose to the grindstone.

Next week, we’ll encourage you to find joy in poetry by more closely examining one particular puzzly form. In the meantime . . .


You can find delightful deals on puzzles on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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Horse of a Different Color, Posts of a Different Blogger

Please briefly pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

You may remember that when long-time blogger Glenn stepped down from posting at the beginning of this year, he assured you all that it was time “for a new voice to take over.” Obviously, his prediction came true, and it’s been fun these past few weeks, regaling you with discussions of Wordle, a biblical adventure, and tarot cards. Maybe you’ve wondered, however, exactly whose voice you’re hearing. I think it’s time we get to know each other. This week, I pull back the curtain and reveal your new Wizard of Blog.  

The Wizard of Oz revealed his full name to be Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmanuel Ambroise Diggs, but I’m going to go easy on you; you can just call me Rae. Puzzle fans are often excited to learn my name, pointing out that RAE is a common crossword entry. When you come across clues such as [“Call Me Maybe” singer Carly ___ Jepsen], [“Wayne’s World” actress ___ Dawn Chong], [Rap duo ____ Sremmurd], or countless others, you’ll already know the answer.

In addition to handling social media here at PuzzleNation, I act as our Editorial Assistant and as an occasional writer of Daily POP clues. Previously, I worked for Dell Magazines, writing clues for a range of crossword titles in addition to assisting the editors of Dell’s mystery and science fiction publications. Although my own writing is strictly nonfiction and poetry—I’m currently an MFA candidate in both disciplines—I am emotionally committed to genre fiction, mystery and sci-fi especially. You can expect to see those two genres making appearances on the blog in the future!

Your blogger in his natural habitat.

Outside of work, I’m a Simpsons buff and general television nerd, a voraciously omnivorous reader, a fan of superhero and heist media, and a painter. Wordplay, problem-solving, and board games are a few of my favorite things (the classic Clue is my favorite of the latter). As you may have inferred from blog posts thus far, I do read tarot, and yes, I try to solve Wordle right on the dot of midnight, turning to Queerdle immediately after (the artificial stress of Absurdle is a sometimes snack).

So what else, exactly, do I plan to bring to this digital table? The future holds a broad spectrum of posts, examining poetry and literature, art and music, TV shows and movies, video games, board games, and the scientific and historical sides of puzzles and games. Human interest pieces are close to my heart too—the puzzle and gaming worlds are full of fascinating people doing creative, groundbreaking things, and I can’t wait to spend time connecting with some of those individuals and bringing their stories to your screens.

On that note: it’s your turn! I would love to hear more about who’s reading. And if there’s anything in particular you’re interested in seeing on the blog, don’t be afraid to ask the Wizard for what you want.


One thing the Wizard can offer you now is delightful deals on puzzles!

They can be found on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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The Fool, The Magician, The High Priestess, and The Gamer

Jane Seymour reading tarot as the James Bond character Solitaire in Live and Let Die

What do you think of when you think of tarot cards? Puzzles, games, logic, and creative problem-solving? Or crystal balls, tea leaves, palmistry, and vibes?

Popular imagination seems to be split on this. Googling “tarot” brings me recommendations for psychics I might want to visit; a significant chunk of the other search results occupy astrology and “lifestyle” websites. A Teen Vogue introduction to tarot states, “To those who think the practice of reading tarot is an occult art reserved for spook sessions, let me say: You’re wrong,” but goes on to explain that a tarot reading is an intimate conversation.

However, according to A History of Games Played with the Tarot Pack, Volume 1,tarot cards were invented for gaming, not for fortune-telling, when they originated in 15th century Italy. And while their modern role in the world of games and puzzles is fairly divorced from their roots, many still see them as having puzzly potential.

The final puzzle in horror video game Silent Hill 3, for example,requires players to arrange tarot cards in a specific order. New tabletop narrative puzzle game The Light in the Mist involves unraveling a mystery with a deck of tarot cards as your greatest resource. A 2018 Nerdist article gives advice on how to incorporate tarot into tabletop role-playing regardless of the original game’s design. There are also many jigsaw puzzles drawing on the designs of various tarot decks, including the classic 1909 Rider-Waite deck, and the “Life is Like a Board Game Tarot” is a fully functional deck modeling itself after Monopoly.

A couple of Rider-Waite major arcana cards. The Fool is commonly the trump card in tarot games. The Wheel of Fortune is unfortunately unrelated to the game show.

The Nerdist article does suggest that using tarot for role-playing is “poor form and bad luck,” and that it would be safest to use a special, dedicated deck for any gameplay rather than mixing and matching your fictional fortunes with your more “factual” future. But just as it’s a personal choice whether to treat a Ouija board as a spiritual artifact and potential gateway to demonic possession or to take it very literally as a toy by Hasbro, only you can decide how much weight to give this word of caution.  

Yes, some people fear that they are tempting fate by using a tarot deck for both serious and recreational purposes—but maybe you’re perfectly comfortable tempting fate! Or maybe you’ll choose to acquire a deck that will only ever be used recreationally. Either way, you can have a lot of fun with tarot, even beyond the possibilities of incorporating it into your usual tabletop role-playing hijinks.

The original Italian trick-taking tarot card games introduced the concept of cards trumping other cards to the realm of gameplay, a concept we can trace all the way to modern fantastical, battle-style competitive card games like Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh. After occupying Milan, the French adopted the idea of playing with the tarot deck, and the game of French tarot quickly became favored more highly than chess. The full rules to playing French tarot can be found here, though you might decide that you’re more interested in playing Grosstarock, which Stewart Dunlop describes as “really cool, if you want to play for real stakes, but are tired of poker.” Or perhaps your fancy will be struck by Hungarian Tarokk or Königrufen, the latter of which is wildly popular in Austria. These games differ in exact rules, number of players, and even number of cards used from the tarot deck, but are united by gameplay featuring bidding and the assignment of point values to the cards.

Your blogger’s preferred tarot decks

Between trick-taking, tabletop gaming, and forecasting the future, tarot is replete with many marvelous uses. While its forecasting function appears to tie into the mystical side of the cards more than the puzzly side, I’d argue that it sits comfortably in both realms. Michelle Tea, who wrote The Modern Tarot: Connecting With Your Higher Self Through the Wisdom of the Cards (my personal go-to volume for discerning meaning in my own readings), describes her early experience with tarot thusly:

I was in a growing state of awe at their intuitive accuracy, the way the small stories encapsulated in each illustration knit together into a wider narrative that made sense, sometimes poetic, sometimes chillingly pointed.

What I see in this take, above all, is the word narrative, drawing me back to the allure of tying tarot and tabletop gaming together. There may be no dice or character stats involved, but tarot still enables us to tell compelling stories. Considering that we are living in a world in which forces such as Lifehacker urge us to gamify our lives via apps, I think now is tarot’s time to shine. Maybe pointedly using the same deck for both role-playing games and connecting with your inner truth is actually the perfect way to go, a strategy for injecting your day-to-day life with the magic of games.

Move over habit trackers and apps that turn jogging into an escape from zombies! Here comes something more poetic and more pointed: in Michelle Tea’s words, “an ancient story system” that will fill your life with wonder.


I see in your future . . . a tall, dark stranger, a voyage across the sea, and some delightful deals on puzzles. You can find those deals on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

The PN Blog 2021 Countdown!

2022

It’s the final blog post of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2021 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


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#10 The Man Who Found Forrest Fenn’s Treasure

One of 2020’s most baffling stories was the announcement that Forrest Fenn’s treasure, a mystery sought by thousands for most of a decade, had been found, but the lucky solver was remaining anonymous. Lawsuits were filed, fraud was claimed, and what should have been the resolution to a great mystery ended up sparking several more.

This year, we finally received some information from the solver himself, and it seemed to resolve those lingering questions and quiet the conspiracy theorists (for the most part, anyway). It seems poetic to start off our countdown with the conclusion of another puzzly endeavor.

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#9 Bringing People Back to Puzzles

It’s always disappointing when one bad experience with a new hobby or endeavor spoils an entire world for someone. I’ve seen it happen with puzzles more than once, and I always consider it a privilege to get a second chance at introducing someone to the world of puzzles.

So it was a real treat to write this post and offer some advice to other puzzle fans, helping to equip them when and if the opportunity arose to reintroduce a friend to one of our favorite pastimes.

#8 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

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#7 First Look: The Case of the Golden Idol

Sometimes, we get to be pioneers, trying out new games, new products, and new puzzles before anybody else, and that’s always a treat.

This time around, not only did we get an early look at an in-progress investigation-style puzzle game, but we brought in a friend of the blog to give it the full review treatment. (We’ve done this in the past with video game and app reviews.) We get to share new voices with our marvelous readership and venture into exciting new puzzly frontiers while we do it.

house-rules

#6 Board Game House Rules

It’s always fun to ask the PN readership to contribute to posts, and this was a fun topic to explore with the readers. We asked for house rules used in popular board games, and the sheer variety and creativity employed by game fans to spice up classic board games made for a terrific blog post and one of our favorite discussions of the entire year.

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#5 5 Questions

Across dozens of interviews over the years, we’ve talked to game designers, pop culture figures, and puzzle luminaries about what makes them tick, and each time, we learn something new about puzzling and those who puzzle.

This year, we focused mostly on folks that were relatively new to puzzles, not only to give them greater exposure, but to get a glimpse of where the world of puzzles is headed in the future. And based on those we had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with, the future of puzzles is very very bright.

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#4 Superman and Crosswords

Puzzles are lurking anywhere and everywhere in popular culture if you know where to look. Often I find them in television shows, mystery novels, odd historical moments, and many other places, and I thoroughly enjoy chronicling those experiences for the readership.

And one of the highlights of the year for me was discovering an old Superman radio show adventure where he literally had to solve crosswords in order to save Lois Lane and stop the bad guys. It was silly and delightful all at once, providing yet another example of how puzzles find their way into all aspects of life.

bad puns

#3 Puns

Puns come in all shapes and sizes, running the gamut from clever and hilarious to shameless and groan-inducing. So it was long overdue to write a post discussing the role of puns in puzzles and defending puns from some of their many detractors.

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#2 Ten Years

We marked ten years of PuzzleNation this year, and to get to celebrate that milestone with our loyal fellow solvers was absolutely a high point of the year.

We delved behind the curtain for a brief history of the company, and released a special puzzle pack for readers to enjoy.

original

#1 Fairness and Accessibility

Throughout the year, we discussed efforts to make puzzles more inclusive and accessible than ever. More women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are constructing than ever before, and we happily contributed to the discussion of fairness in puzzles wherever possible.

One of my favorite posts on the topic this year was our dissection of the concept of “the average solver,” and pointing out how this concept can be helpful or hurtful, depending on how it’s employed. We received a lot of great feedback and some very kind words of support on these posts, and it was incredibly worthwhile to participate in these discussions with our fellow puzzlers.


Thanks for spending 2021 with us, through brain teasers and big ideas, through treasure hunts and trips to the past, through puzzle launches and landmark moments. We’ll see you in 2022.

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Treat yourself to some delightful deals on puzzles. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

PuzzleNation Blog Looks Back on 2021!

2021 is rapidly coming to a close. As we do every year, we look back on another eventful year in the world of puzzles and games.

And we are incredibly proud of the contributions both PuzzleNation Blog and PuzzleNation made to the puzzle community as a whole.

Over the last year, we explored board games and card games, strategy games and trivia games, dice games and tile games, do-it-yourself puzzlers and pen-and-paper classics. We met game designers, constructors, and creative types of all kinds, many of them relatively new creators that are part of a new generation of puzzle innovators.

We unraveled math puzzles and diabolical brain teasers. With our fellow PuzzleNationers, we tackled visual puzzles, trivia, optical illusions, and logic problems. We played punny hashtag games galore, exploring everything from mysteries and art to geography and weather, Halloween puns and puzzly theme songs.

We delved into puzzle history, pondering hidden codes in music, cryptography in Ancient Egypt, and secret messages on old swords. We explored the puzzly endeavors of Voltaire and Frederick the Great, how the Founding Fathers relied on coded messages, and even delved below the waves to investigate ENIGMA machines discovered decades later.

We got to see the fourth and fifth Crossword Mysteries films. We defended the noble art of puns, searched for the greatest fictional TV escape room, and found the ultimate jigsaw puzzle table.

We marked 150 years since the birth of Arthur Wynne, 15 years since the debut of the Wordplay documentary, and 10,000 days of Will Shortz puzzles.

We found puzzly ways to celebrate everything from Independence Day and Halloween to Thanksgiving and Christmas. We lamented the sad losses of luminaries like Maki Kaji and Stephen Sondheim.

We watched computers continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in puzzles. Computer programs helped design word squares/magic squares of incredible size and 3-D design and printing led to bigger and more complicated Rubik-style twisty puzzles. The crossword-solving program Dr. Fill even won the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament!

And speaking of ACPT, it was fascinating to watch as crossword tournaments and events continued to migrate into the virtual space.

Boswords continued to lead the charge all year for virtual puzzle events, launching the Winter Wondersolve event, the Spring Themeless League, their traditional summer tournament, and the return of the Fall Themeless League.

Lollapuzzoola also returned in virtual form, as did ACPT (although the organizers did hold out hope for an in-person event).

But arguably the biggest topic of the year, one we returned to over and over in 2021, was the power of puzzles and how influential puzzles can be.

We discussed how crosswords reflect what’s going on in society, and celebrated how the constructing community was continuing to grow more diverse. We watched as projects like the Expanded Crossword Name Database sought to make the cluing and grid entries more inclusive.

PuzzleNation Blog happily contributed to the discussion, pondering what made something “puzzle-worthy” and questioning how discussions of “too familiar,” “too safe,” and “too family friendly” can be exclusionary.

We asked who is the average solver and discussed how that concept can be employed in negative ways, and championed puzzles that were more fair and accessible to solvers than others. (We even mentioned ways you might bring people back to the world of puzzles after bad solving experiences.)

And honestly, that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune, hard work, and accomplishments in 2021 went well beyond that.

In a tumultuous and uncertain year, we focused on honoring our promise to our fellow puzzlers: maintaining and producing the best puzzle experience possible.

Penny Dell Crossword App, Daily POP Crosswords, Daily POP Word Search, Penny Dell Sudoku… no matter the platform, our team worked hard to produce engaging puzzles at all levels, and we are immensely proud of the work the PN team performed this year.

Every day, we delivered top-notch content for Penny Dell Crosswords App, Daily POP Crosswords, and Daily POP Word Search. Whether it was monthly deluxe sets and holiday bundles for PDCW or the world-class topical puzzles by some of the industry’s best constructors for Daily POP, hundreds of outstanding crosswords and word searches wended their way to our loyal and enthusiastic solvers.

But whether we’re talking about crosswords, Sudoku, or word searches, we’re proud to say that every single puzzle represents our high standards of quality puzzle content crafted for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

And your response has been inspiring! Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search are rolling, the blog has over 2600 followers, and with our audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms continuing to grow, the enthusiasm of the PuzzleNation readership is both humbling and very encouraging.

2021 was a difficult year, but it’s one that also reminded us of the amazing things that can be accomplished when puzzlers come together. And we firmly believe that the coming year will be brighter, more exciting, and more creatively fulfilling.

Thank you for your support, your interest, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. The new year looms large, and we look forward to seeing you in 2022!


   dailypopwsicon

Treat yourself to some delightful deals on puzzles. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!