Puzzles in Pop Culture: TV Escape Rooms!

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[Image courtesy of Yelp.]

It’s always interesting when TV shows incorporate puzzles into their stories. Not only do we get to see what Hollywood (and by extrapolation, the general public) thinks about a given puzzly experience, but we learn more about the characters when they face a particular puzzle or challenge.

This is especially true for sitcoms and comedies, since they usually have less time to focus on the puzzling and therefore put the spotlight on character relationships.

And it occurred to me that there are a number of different shows over the last few years that have featured the characters in escape room-style puzzle settings.

Why don’t we take a look at how accurately these puzzly experiences were portrayed, how difficult the room appeared to be, and what the characters’ solving skills were like?

Please enjoy as we explore fictional escape rooms from TV in our latest edition of Puzzles in Pop Culture!

big bang theory pic

[Image courtesy of IMDb.]

For our first offering, we turn to the CBS juggernaut The Big Bang Theory. Over the years, TBBT has featured puzzly activities like giant Jenga, a holiday-fueled session of Dungeons & Dragons, and a scavenger hunt with puzzly clues.

So I wasn’t surprised that their take on escape rooms was the same: fairly accurate, but simplified and streamlined for a mainstream audience.

The room in TBBT is pretty spacious, moreso than pretty much any escape room I’ve seen. But the level of detail is easily something achievable for high-end rooms. Also, I’ve heard about escape rooms with actors playing zombies before, so this is legit.

(In fact, one I heard about in Washington D.C. had a zombie on a chain; the chain got longer the more time solvers took to crack puzzles, cutting the room in half at one point!)

We don’t get to see much of their solving, as they allude to puzzles conquered instead of showing us, so it’s hard to gauge difficulty. But given that most of the characters featured in the scene hold doctorates, we can safely assume the puzzles were middle-of-the-road or slightly harder.

However, the episode ignores the fact that you’re trying to escape the room in a certain amount of time. The characters seemed disappointed by their impressive performance, but they probably posted one of the top times in that room’s history. Nothing to sneeze at.

  • Accuracy rating: 4/5
  • Room difficulty: 3/5
  • Character solving skills: 5/5

[Image courtesy of FOX.com.]

Another show that hasn’t shied away from puzzly content is the former FOX and current NBC hit Brooklyn Nine-Nine. This comedy/drama set at a New York City police precinct has featured a seesaw brain teaser, a crossword-fueled arson mystery, and several multilayered heist storylines set around Halloween.

Puzzle enthusiast Captain Holt invites his fellow officers out to an escape room, and is dismayed when the disinterested Gina and the bumbling Hitchcock and Scully end up being his only fellow players. The group is immediately hampered by Hitchcock wasting two of their three hints, and Holt accidentally wasting the third.

The hint system is usually not as rigid in escape rooms. Three hints is common, though many places allow you to ask for more; sometimes there’s a time penalty, sometimes not. Also, the room in B99 is a three-hour challenge, which was a surprise. The standard time is an hour, though I’ve seen rooms push it to ninety minutes.

The group has also clearly not tried the classic escape room method of “touch everything,” because an hour and a half into the game, having found only one of the four keys needed to escape the room, Holt has not yet investigated the bright red phone sitting out in the open.

This is another escape room where difficulty is tough to judge. Unfortunately, we’re not given enough details on the first key (which involves some sort of chess puzzle) and the fourth key to really gauge the room. But despite the rocky start, the lovable team of misfits manages to escape.

  • Accuracy rating: 3/5
  • Room difficulty: 2/5
  • Character solving skills: Holt gets a 3.5/5, everyone else gets a 2/5.

always-sunny

[Image courtesy of Variety.]

Next, let’s turn our eyes to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

The characters in this darkly comedic show all consider themselves devious masterminds, but for the most part, they tend to get in each others’ way and foil their own schemes through silly self-sabotage. Although a few impressive schemes do come to fruition over the years, it’s hard to consider this group a crackerjack team of puzzle solvers.

This escape room breaks the mold quite a bit, since the company brings the escape room trappings to the apartment of two of the characters. This is much more elaborate than any escape room set you can buy for the home, and I don’t know of any companies that deliver an escape room to the house.

You might think this home field advantage would be a boon, but instead, all chance of cooperation immediately goes out the window. One pair takes the key to a lock, the other pair takes the lock, and they spend the entire time negotiating instead of solving.

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[Image courtesy of IMDb. Because of the language involved, I couldn’t
use an actual video clip and keep the blog post family friendly.]

Once they actually agree to collaborate and open the lock, they discover a list of tasks for them to complete, and they have virtually no time left to do so. (Our only hint to the room’s difficulty comes from the fact that Dee has completed the room beforehand, so it can’t have been too difficult.)

They claim victory when Sweet Dee falls out a window after getting trapped in her brother Dennis’s bedroom. In order to check on Dee’s status, the game runner opens the door and the remaining players consider it a win.

  • Accuracy rating: 1/5
  • Room difficulty: 2/5
  • Character solving skills: 0/5

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[Image courtesy of Frame Rated.]

The final entry in our comedic quartet of escape room episodes comes from the musical CW show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. This romantic drama, comedy, and coming-of-age story often features characters breaking out into elaborate song and dance routines, and many of the songs have become modern classics.

The show didn’t tackle puzzly content often, and indeed, the escape room in question is a b-plot in this particular episode, as main character Rebecca offers her escape room experience to friend Paula and her two disinterested sons.

The escape room is medieval-themed and huge, with lots of great set pieces and detail. The mix of exploring, touching things, solving puzzles, cooperating, and placing objects in particular places are all very traditional escape room moments.

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[Image courtesy of Laura E. Hall.]

Though I was a little disappointed that the elements of the final puzzle are sitting out in plain sight the whole time. You could easily ACCIDENTALLY solve the last puzzle first and be out in minutes.

But Paula’s sons prove to be able puzzlers, attentive and clever, revealing things about themselves that Paula didn’t know. (In fact, the entire escape room subplot is all about Paula learning about who her sons have become, which is Puzzly Storytelling in Sitcoms 101.)

They all escape, having found new common ground, and it’s easily the most delightful ending of the four escape room scenarios we’ve looked at today.

  • Accuracy rating: 4/5
  • Room difficulty: 3/5 (the final puzzle is a long anagram, which is pretty tough, but the rest of the room is easy)
  • Character solving skills: 4/5

What did you think of this look at escape rooms from TV, fellow puzzlers? Should we look at more fictional escape rooms and see how they hold up?

I’ve heard Bob’s Burgers has one, as well as Schitt’s Creek. Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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Solving Crosswords and Stopping Bad Guys With Superman!

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[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

When you think of comic books and puzzles, one character instantly springs to mind: The Riddler. He’s easily the most iconic puzzly figure in comics, and his many twisty challenges for Batman have ranged from simple word games to death-defying escape rooms.

But did you know that Superman also has some puzzling in his expansive superheroic past?

In fact, Lois Lane’s life once depended on Superman’s ability to complete crossword puzzles!

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[Image courtesy of Superman Fandom Wiki.]

Yes, back in 1948, from April 15th until May 3rd, The Adventures of Superman radio show (aka the Superman Radio Program) featured Superman facing off against a gang of kidnappers and thieves, as well as a devious mastermind, in “The Crossword Puzzle Mystery.”

At that point, the crossword hadn’t even become a daily feature in The New York Times yet. (The first Sunday edition crossword debuted in February of 1942. The daily version wouldn’t appear until 1950.)

So how did crosswords cross paths with The Man of Steel?

Well, it all starts with Lois Lane on an airplane, solving a crossword in order to find out where she’s going. Lois had received a tip from Horatio F. Horn, a local correspondent for The Daily Planet, and now she finds herself on a hunt across (and down) America for her next destination.

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[Image courtesy of DC Comics, via Alpha Coders.]

The puzzle leads her to Moundville, a mining town where Horatio has gone missing. She meets a sinister gold-toothed man, and then goes missing herself. Cub reporter Jimmy Olsen soon arrives in Moundville, trying to locate both Lois and Horatio, but having no luck.

Eventually, Clark Kent gets involved, solving the same crossword puzzle as Lois and heading to Moundville himself. He arrives just in time to save Jimmy Olsen from being dragged off a cliff by a spooked horse. (You know how it is with spooked horses in old mining towns.)

After a hotel fire (an attempt on Jimmy and Clark’s lives), Clark finds three more crossword puzzles, but they’re partially destroyed. So he returns to Metropolis to track down solvable copies of each crossword, hoping they’ll reveal the whereabouts of Lois and Horatio.

Yes, one of the episodic cliffhangers was Clark solving crosswords while Lois and Horatio were held in a secret cave at gunpoint. It’s gloriously silly.

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[Image courtesy of DC Comics, via David Morefield.]

Solving the crosswords leads Superman to believe that someone in Moundville is planning to steal a shipment of gold, so he returns to the town and teams up with Jimmy and a local sheriff to get more information. He deduces that a particular shipment going out that night is the target, and manages to rescue Lois and Horatio from the gang of ruffians planning the theft.

It turns out that the mastermind of the thefts is the owner of a Metropolis newspaper syndicate — who supplies puzzles to all the papers, including The Daily Planet — and would alert a vast network of gangs in the West to various gold shipments going out by putting the name of the town in the puzzle.

That’s how Horatio ended up investigating in the first place: he’s a crossword fan himself and noticed the pattern.

The serial concludes with Superman capturing the rest of the thieves in Moundville while the Metropolis police arrest the nameless puzzle mastermind. Good job, everyone! Another crime spree thwarted, thanks to solving puzzles!


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[Image courtesy of DC Comics, via View Comic.]

The plot of this radio serial is quite similar to the plot of the first Crossword Mysteries film — both featuring thieves informed about targets through the local crossword — and honestly, it tickled me to imagine all these gun-toting ne’er-do-wells scattered throughout the western states, solving crossword puzzles every day and waiting to see where they’d need to go robbing.

This plan also implies that the crossword constructor NEVER mentioned towns or cities at other times, because that would send his goons on wild goose chases. Imagine all the abbreviated Canadian provinces they’d be searching, not to mention the European rivers.

Perhaps this fiasco resulted in The Daily Planet hiring their own crossword editor, because later on in the comics, we see someone in the newspaper offices with a crossword pattern on his wall:

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[Image courtesy of Adam Talking Superman, who offered this caption: Huge fan of the newest Daily Planet character, crossword puzzle guy listening to Perry White’s vocabulary!]

Still, it’s fascinating to know that a major radio program — one with over two THOUSAND episodes — devoted literal weeks of airtime to a crossword-themed mystery.

It also makes you wonder what else is lurking in the daily crossword grids. What other devious crimes are afoot right under our noses?

I guess we better keep solving, folks! Our puzzly vigilance could be a crime-riddled town’s only hope!


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Scrabble Removes 400 Offensive Words (and Tournament Players Are Freaking Out)

Pretty much everyone has at least one Scrabble friend. You know, that person who just destroys all comers by placing unlikely words and unexpected additions, snagging every last available point each turn.

I have two such friends, and their rivalry was so legendary that, during one particularly high-stakes game, the loser would have to write and perform a song celebrating the Scrabble supremacy of the victor.

And those are just Scrabble fans. Scrabble tournament players are another breed entirely.

Let me give you one example. In 2015, a guy from New Zealand won the French Scrabble Championship. Without speaking a word of French.

Yes, this guy memorized every word in the French Scrabble Dictionary and won the championship.

That is next level.

Which makes today’s news story slightly more understandable… even if it is still incredibly stupid and sad.

Mattel, the company who owns the rights to Scrabble outside North America, has come under fire for removing 400 words from the official accepted list of Scrabble words for being offensive or derogatory.

From an article published by UK outlet The Daily Star:

The company has refused to publish the list but the official word checker shows that the banned terms include epithets against black, Pakistani and Irish people as they believe the terms have no place in a family game.

The change follows a similar move by the American rights owner Hasbro and affects competition-level Scrabble, which is played by thousands of people at international tournaments.

And some competitive players claim this is overreaching by Hasbro and Mattel. In fact, three “prominent” members of WESPA, the World English-Language Scrabble Players Association, have supposedly quit competing in protest.

For the record, the Official Scrabble Dictionary, Fourth Edition contains 100,000 words. And for tournament play, the approved list of words reportedly runs as high as 278,000 words.

And these goofs are complaining about 400 offensive and derogatory words that, apparently, they simply cannot compete fairly without using.

Oh, and their argument against removing the words is equally stupid.

“Words listed in dictionaries and Scrabble lists are not slurs. They only become slurs when used with a derogatory purpose or intent, or used with a particular tone and in a particular context.” That’s according to Darryl Francis.

Who is Darryl Francis, you ask? Well, according to the Daily Star, he is “a British author who has overseen official Scrabble word lists since the 1980s.” Cool.

Well, good news for you, Darryl, that’s 400 fewer words to oversee.

According to Darryl, using the word on a Scrabble board is not offensive. Personally, I think puzzle constructor and author Eric Berlin summed up the issue perfectly in a similar discussion regarding entries like “Go OK” or “CHINK” (as in chink in one’s armor) when they appear in crossword grids:

Perhaps a good rule for this sort of thing is, if you were looking *only at the completed crossword grid* and not at the clues, what would CHINK or GOOK call to mind first?

That’s what I thought, and that’s why I would never dream of using either word in a puzzle.

The same rule should also apply to a Scrabble board. If someone strolls by and sees one of those 400 words, that reflects poorly on the game, the players, and the entire event.

And when you consider that competitive Scrabble in general has come under fire in recent years for a perceived gender bias against women, you’d think they might want to avoid further social dust-ups.

I mean, I don’t recall these same doofuses complaining when LGBTQIA+ terminology was added to the dictionary as part of a 2800-word addition to the approved list. Was that “misguided social manipulation” then? Was that bowing to political correctness?

No. It was just a chance for more points.

Guess what, folks? The Scrabble overlords giveth, and the Scrabble overlords taketh away. Such is life.

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Oh, I nearly forgot. The other argument that has been made about removing these words from the accepted list regards the offensive words they DIDN’T remove.

Yup, Karen Richards, another member of WESPA — who helped to run the World Youth Scrabble Championship for 15 years — claims that these changes won’t make the game more family-friendly.

Why not?

Because children could still play other offensive words.

This is also a dumb argument.

That’s true. But they can’t play these offensive words, so there are fewer opportunities for these apparently slur-happy children to offend other people through the medium of Scrabble.

I wonder if she doesn’t bother to tell her children not to say the F-word, because they can just use another swear instead? I suspect not.

And I know, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, I know. This is a very minor, very stupid thing. So why are we talking about it?

I have a few reasons:

  • One, it’s puzzly and in the news, and that’s my wheelhouse.
  • Two, I cannot resist pointing out what gets “anti-PC” people all in a huff. I mean, I’m supposed to be the snowflake here, right? So why are they freaking out?
  • And three, it amazes me that in a world where there are big, important, actual problems, some folks go nuts over .4% of their potential Scrabble words going away. (That’s out of 100,000. When we go with 400 out of 278,000, it drops to .14%)

Seriously, tournament Scrabble players, get a grip. If you can’t win without these words, you probably wouldn’t win anyway.


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Puzzles in Pop Culture: Forged in Fire

As you might expect, I am always on the lookout for puzzles on television.

Sometimes, a complete solvable puzzle appears, like in the seesaw brain teaser from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Sometimes, they’re only referenced, like in a murder mystery involving a crossword editor on Bones.

Other times, a major portion of an episode revolves around them. We’ve seen this countless times from shows as diverse as The Simpsons and NCIS: New Orleans.

But I didn’t expect to stumble across a puzzle in an episode of Forged in Fire.

forged in fire

For the uninitiated, Forged in Fire is a reality competition show on the History Channel where blademakers show off their smithing prowess by forging knives, swords, and other bladed weapons for a panel of judges.

A typical episode consists of four competitors given a material to work with, and challenged to create a weapon of their choosing. They work on the set — known as The Forge — and at the end of the first round, they present their preliminary design, and one competitor is eliminated.

forged 8

The remaining three continue working to refine their blades in round two, and at the end of that round, after the blades are subjected to testing by the judges, another competitor is sent home.

In the third round, the two remaining competitors return to their home workshops/forges to create a different weapon entirely from scratch.

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But that was not how things went in episode 33 of season 7, entitled “Japanese Ono.”

Instead of building a blade of their choosing from a given material, the four bladesmiths were challenged to craft a blade that would fit a particular shape.

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They were each given the same amount of raw material, and they would have to shape it to fit a very specific design.

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Yes, their finished blade had to be the final piece in a jigsaw puzzle.

So their challenge was twofold. Not only did they have to exercise extreme resource management — they had only enough raw material to fill the space — but they had to exhibit the skill and finesse to make the steel bend and shape to fit the necessary design.

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These are two skills that many puzzle solvers are familiar with. Whether you’re dealing with a mechanical brain teaser by filling a particular space with various unwieldy or oddly-shaped pieces OR you’re trying to accomplish a task in a riddle with only simple ingredients, you’ve probably been in a similar situation.

Just not at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.

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The four competitors were Nic, Logan, Keaton, and Dale, each with five to six years’ experience bladesmithing.

They had three hours for the first round of the competition, which would focus on shaping the knife to fit the puzzle.

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Dale and Keaton immediately welded their metal in preparation for putting it into the forges, while Logan grabbed a sheet of paper to trace the shape of the knife in the jigsaw puzzle.

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Keaton soon joined him, and they helped each other trace, which highlighted one of my favorite things about this show. Unlike so many reality shows where backstabbing and mean-spiritedness win the day, this one is all about competing against yourself. The blacksmiths aren’t sabotaging each other, they’re simply trying to do their best. We need more of that on TV.

Soon, all four blacksmiths had their pattern, following Logan’s lead.

Then, it was a blur of pressing and hammering their heated metal into shape, followed by quenching, grinding, and other steps in the preparation process.

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Nic and Logan were making good progress, but Dale was unhappy with how his metal was turning out, so he abandoned his current billet and started over from scratch.

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The judges noted that Keaton was the only bladesmith who kept returning to the jigsaw to trace and retrace his shape as he worked.

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But viewers would have to wait to see if that technique paid off.

When Logan went to check his blade against the puzzle template, he discovered his blade was too long, so he cut off about four inches of extra metal.

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You may recall that the judges said there was just enough metal to fill the space.

Yeah. This plot point would come up later.

But he wasn’t the only smith who had issues. Nic’s blade didn’t come out to the shape he wanted, and the judges joked it looked like an oar. Keaton quenched his blade three times (rather than one) to deal with various problems, but risked stress fractures in the blade by doing so.

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And just as the judges complimented Dale for his come-from-behind effort, he actually dropped his blade into the quenching liquid. By dipping his arm in to retrieve it, he coated his arm in a potentially flammable oil mixture. He basically turned his arm and sleeve into a potential wick.

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Good thing he brought a spare shirt.

Soon, the three hours were up, and the bladesmiths presented their blades to the judges to see how they’d fit into the puzzle.

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Dale’s blade was a decent fit, particularly considering he had to start over partway through, ending up 30-40 minutes behind his fellow competitors. But the judges warned him about several cracks in his blade that would need to be addressed in the second round.

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Keaton’s blade fit nicely, showing that the multiple tracings served him well. In the end, his blade would end up as the best fit of the four.

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Logan’s blade was well-shaped, and actually followed the pattern nicely. It was simply too small, because he wasted metal early by making the blade too long and then cutting off the “excess.” Judge Doug Marcaida couldn’t even let the blade sit in the puzzle like the others, because it would fall out.

forged 17

Finally, Nic’s blade was solid and well-made, but just doesn’t fit the pattern, either toward the hilt or along the edge. Beyond that, there was a big crack near the tip of the blade.

The shape alone was reason enough for Nic to be eliminated.

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And then there were three.

In round two, the remaining bladesmiths had two hours to address the problems raised by the judges, refine their blades, AND use two different kinds of handle material on each side of the tang (the metal on the back end of the knife) to make the handle.

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Plus a harsher test awaited each blade in round two, as the blades would be subjected to chopping a bone (to test its strength) and slicing a series of apples (to see how the blade retains its sharpness).

Logan and Keaton focused on grinding out the issues with their blades, while Dale had to try to weld shut the cracks in his blade to ensure it would endure the strength test. But in doing so, he noticed more cracks. “It’s make-it-or-break-it time,” he told us, prophetically.

While Dale was still grinding, Logan had moved on to choosing materials for the handle, focusing on building a resilient knife and worrying less about appearances.

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As Keaton worked on his handle, it turned out that he viewed this — getting the different materials to line up correctly and fit the design — as the puzzliest part of the whole endeavor.

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He also confessed that he didn’t pay much attention to which materials he chose — he just wanted it to look like a puzzle.

Soon enough, the two hours had expired, and the three bladesmiths presented their refined blades to the judges for the dreaded bone chop test.

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The judge, J. Neilson, happily slammed each of the knives against these unforgiving bones, interested in seeing what damage the bones inflicted on the blades and how the blades weathered his treatment of them. This would test not only the overall strength of the blade, but how well they retained their edge.

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Logan’s blade was first for testing, and it went through the first bone like butter. The next five swings of the knife barely made an impression on the second bone. But Neilson complemented the handle design (which allowed for a secure grip), even though the knife had some pitting and metal tearing from the test.

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Much like Logan’s blade, Keaton’s blade went through the first bone and was chewed up by the second. He lost some of his handle in the testing, and his blade showed similar damage to Logan’s, but again, the blade mostly held up against the strenuous field test.

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I actually liked Dale’s handle design the most. It looked and felt like pieces of a jigsaw put together, and really fit the aesthetic of the episode’s theme.

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Unfortunately, one chop into the testing, despite slicing through the first bone, Dale’s blade catastrophically failed.

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So Logan and Keaton moved on to the final round, where the puzzly theme fell away and the episode’s actual title came into play.

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The two bladesmiths were given four days in their home workshops/forges to build a Japanese ono, a double-headed battle-axe used by samurai in Japan during the 17th century.

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Logan, based in Bryan, Texas, and Keaton, based in Nantucket, Mass, set out to recreate this unfamiliar weapon.

Similar to his approach with the puzzle knife, Logan’s technique again involved cutting off the excess metal, but this time, he then stacked the extra metal to reforge and weld to make the large, unusually-shaped blade.

Keaton, meanwhile, focused on using a single piece of metal and shaping each end into one of the blades.

On Day 2, Logan’s blade shattered, and he had to start over from scratch. As it turned out, his welds failed to hold the blade together.

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[Logan’s finished second effort.]

Meanwhile, Keaton quenched his axe head and was overjoyed with how it turned out. He had ample time to cast heart-shaped ornamentation out of bronze for the axe while working on the handle.

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After the four days had elapsed, they returned to The Forge and presented their blades for testing. Each Japanese ono was tested against a ballistic gel dummy (to test lethality), a bamboo wall (to test strength and resilience) and a series of water-filled plastic tubes (to see how well it retained its edge).

Both blades performed well, but in terms of balance, design, and execution, Keaton’s was considered the superior blade, and he won the day, becoming a Forged in Fire champion and winning $10,000.

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While this wasn’t the traditional sort of puzzling we usually cover in a Puzzles in Pop Culture post, I do feel like the ingenuity, problem-solving, and resource management shown by each of the bladesmiths easily fall under the puzzle-solving umbrella.

Like a key into a lock, they had to forge the final piece of a very unique puzzle, and for the most part, they succeeded. That sounds like solid puzzling to me.


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The PN Blog 2020 Countdown!

It’s the final blog post of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2020 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


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#10 Farewell, Keith

I don’t mean to start off this countdown on a sad note by mentioning the loss of fellow puzzler and Penny Dell colleague Keith Yarbrough. Writing this post was incredibly difficult, but I am proud of how it turned out. It served as a valuable part of my healing process, allowing me to immerse myself in nothing but good memories of my friend. Giving other people the opportunity to know Keith like I did was a worthwhile experience.

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#9 Tap Code

Exploring the different ways puzzles have been involved in historical moments, either as anecdotes or key aspects, is one of my favorite parts of writing for PuzzleNation Blog. But it’s rare to have a historical story about puzzles that tugs on your heartstrings like this one. The way the Tap code served to keep the spirits of POWs high — and the way that codes and spycraft helped a husband and wife endure the hardships of separation — made this a post with a lot of depth and humanity.

#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.

#7 Crossword Commentary

There’s more to writing about crosswords than simply solving puzzles and unraveling clues, and that was especially true this year. The social and cultural aspect of crosswords came up several times, and it’s important to discuss these issues in an open, honest way, even if that means calling out a toxic presence like Timothy Parker, or even questioning the choices of the biggest crossword in the world to hold them accountable.

Whether it was exploring representation in crossword entries and cluing or continuing to debate cultural sensitivity in crossword answers in the major outlets, we took up the torch more than once this year because it was the right thing to do.

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#6 Best Puzzle Solvers

Last year, we began a series of posts examining the best puzzle solvers in various realms of pop culture, and I very much enjoyed combing through the worlds of horror movies and television for the sharpest minds and most clever problem solvers.

This series continued in 2020, as we delved into literature (for adult readers, young adult readers, AND younger readers, respectively), as well as compiling a list of the worst puzzle solvers in pop culture. We even graded the skills of different fictional crossword constructors to see who was representing the best and worst in puzzle construction in media!

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#5 Crossword Bingo

One of the most clever deconstructions of the medium of crosswords I came across this year was a bingo card a solver made, highlighting words and tropes that frequently appear in modern crosswords. It was a smartly visual way of discussing repetition and pet peeves, but also a sly bit of commentary. So naturally, we couldn’t resist making our own Crossword Bingo card and getting in on the fun.

#4 Pitches for Crossword Mysteries

Hallmark’s Crossword Mysteries series was one of the most noteworthy crossovers between puzzles and popular media last year, and that continued into this year with the third Crossword Mysteries film, Abracadaver. But we couldn’t get the idea of a fourth film — still promised on IMDb and other outlets — out of our heads, so we ended up pitching our own ideas for the fourth installment in the franchise. Writing this, no joke, was one of my favorite silly brainstorming sessions of the entire year.

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#3 The World of Puzzles Adapts

Even in a post celebrating the best, the most satisfying, the most rewarding, and the most enjoyable entries from 2020, you cannot help but at least mention the prevailing circumstances that shaped the entire year. 2020 will forever be the pandemic year in our memories, but it will also be the year that I remember puzzlers and constructors adapting and creating some of the most memorable puzzle experiences I’ve ever had.

From the initial experiment of Crossword Tournament From Your Couch to the creation of the Boswords Fall Themeless League, from tournaments like Boswords and Lollapuzzoola going virtual to the crew at Club Drosselmeyer creating an interactive puzzly radio show for the ages, I was blown away by the wit, ambition, determination, and puzzle-fueled innovation brought to the fore this year.

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#2 Eyes Open

Earlier this year, we made a promise to all of the people standing up for underrepresented and mistreated groups to do our part in helping make the world better for women, for people of color, and for the LGBTQIA+ community. We launched Eyes Open, a puzzle series designed to better educate ourselves and our fellow solvers about important social topics. And that is a promise we will carry into 2021. We hope that, in some small way, we are contributing to a better, more inclusive world.

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#1 Fairness

Part of the prevailing mindset of PuzzleNation Blog is that puzzles can and should be for everyone. They should be fun. And they should be fair.

So this year, two posts stood out to me as epitomizing that spirit. The first was a discussion of intuitive vs non-intuitive puzzles, which I feel is very relevant these days, given the proliferation of different puzzle experiences like escape rooms out there.

The second, quite simply, was a response to a friend’s Facebook post where she felt guilty for looking up answers she didn’t know in a crossword, calling it “cheating.” I tried to reassure her there was no such thing as cheating in crosswords.

And since I couldn’t decide between these two posts for the top spot in our countdown, I’m putting them both here, because I feel like they represent a similar spirit. I hope you feel the same.


Thanks for spending 2020 with us, through brain teasers and big ideas, through Hallmark mysteries and Halloween puns, through puzzle launches and landmark moments. We’ll see you in 2021.

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The Internet Rallies Together to Solve a Fall Guys Jigsaw Puzzle!

[Image courtesy of Fabrik Brands.]

It’s always fun when companies use puzzles as part of their marketing campaign. We’ve seen it loads of times over the years with varying degrees of success.

On the plus side, there was the intriguing trailer hunt for the Cartoon Network show Infinity Train, and the excitement when Game of Thrones launched a viral challenge where folks hunted down copies of the Iron Throne around the world.

On the minus side, there was the Busch Beer Pop Up Schop promotion where days of little puzzles led to hundreds more attendees showing up to the event than expected, and many were turned away disappointed when the free beer and merch dried up quickly.

I think my favorite thing about all of these puzzly campaigns is how people from all over the Internet rally together to solve them. They share information, theories, speculation, and general enthusiasm, driving each other toward a solution.

We got to see another example of collective puzzle-solving on the internet recently for fans of Fall Guys.

[Image courtesy of Wired.]

Fall Guys, for the uninitiated, is a game where dozens of players can compete in silly obstacle courses, tag-style chase games, and other sporty competitions as these goofy little costumed toddling characters, the fall guys.

It’s great fun and rapidly became one of the go-to games for streamers on YouTube to share their successes, frustrations, and all the shenanigans involved in playing.

The team behind Fall Guys, Mediatonic, teased the third season of Fall Guys by launching Operation #JigSawus, wherein they sliced a promotional photo into three hundred pieces and distributed them to fans across a number of different Twitter and Instagram accounts and Discord servers.

Then, it was up to the fans. Would people put aside the competitiveness that made Fall Guys so fun in order to find out just what the jigsaw would reveal?

Of course they would. Puzzle people are good people.

[Image courtesy of Mediatonic.]

It took only a few hours for the entire image to be revealed: a promotional poster for the theme for Fall Guys Season 3, Winter Knockout.

Yes, most fans probably assumed that the third season, launching in wintertime, would have a winter theme, but hey, it’s a bit of fun, and another nice reminder of how people can come together to solve puzzles and support each other.

Puzzles really do make the world a better place.


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

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!