What’s New in the Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide?

It’s Black Friday, and I’m sure you’ve already been bombarded with emails and posts promising deep discounts and sales galore.

We could do that too. I mean, we’ve got terrific deals on puzzle bundles for all of our apps… but then again, we do that all the time. We’re nice like that. =)

And plenty of the companies that have products in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide are going all out with discounts today as well.

If you sign up for their newsletter, Puzzometry is offering 21% off their puzzles. Calliope Games (makers of Tsuro and 12 Days and other great games) have great discounts, as do our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles (like their Winter Holiday Fun Pack!).

Don’t worry, we’ll be sharing every offer we find on social media to help you out today as well!


So instead, I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss some of the new products in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. There were so many cool additions to the guide this year that it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

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For instance, not only is there now a digital version of the terrific Crosswords Club puzzle subscription service, but there were tons of new puzzle magazines worth your time!

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This year we also had a big contingent of UK companies included in the guide. A lot of cool puzzles and games are being developed across the pond these days, and we were happy to include them.

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And anyone who has been reading the blog regularly knows there are a few companies that are part of the gift guide every single year. We’ve partnered with our friends at Looney Labs, ThinkFun, Project Genius, and Bananagrams for the better part of a decade now, and we practically couldn’t have a gift guide without their puzzly contributions every year!

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As the lead blogger for PuzzleNation, the gift guide is one of my favorite projects all year. As you’ve no doubt noticed, I absolutely love spreading the word about great puzzles. (It’s what brought me to PuzzleNation in the first place: top-notch puzzling!)

So every year, I also throw a few of my own favorite puzzles and games into the guide. This year was no exception:

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So today, take a break from hectic storefronts and packed checkout lines, and just enjoy a scroll through our nice, peaceful gift guide. Hopefully you’ll find something for the puzzlers in your life. And if not, at least there’s no pushing and hollering.

Happy Puzzling, friends and fellow PuzzleNationers!


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A Puzzle for Thanksgiving!

Today is a day for celebrating with family and friends, and giving thanks for all the good things in our lives.

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.

And when it comes to saying thanks, a Thanksgiving puzzle seems like the perfect offering. So we’ve cooked up a little instructional Thanksgiving puzzle for you to enjoy!

Can you solve this holiday puzzler?


What’s Leftovers?

Following the instructions, cross off words in the diagram. When you are finished, the remaining words will form a message reading left to right, line by line. Some words may be eliminated by more than one of the instructions.

1. Cross off all three- and four-letter words that can be spelled from the letters in the word THANKS.
2. Cross off all words that contain all five vowels (A, E, I, O, and U).
3. Cross off all words that form phrases when following the word TURKEY.
4. Cross off all words in columns A and B that end in ING.
5. Cross off all two-letter words in columns C and D.
6. Cross off all words that rhyme with the word YAM.
7. Cross off all words in row 4.
8. Cross off all words that contain the word ROLL spelled out.
9. Cross off all four-letter words that make a different word when reversed.
10. Cross off all words that name family members.

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[Click here to download the puzzle!]


Did you unravel this holiday puzzler? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

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Who Is The “Average Solver”?

In crossword forums, the comment sections of crossword blogs, and virtually any other online space where people share their thoughts on puzzles, you’re bound to see the same criticism over and over.

“The average solver wouldn’t know ____.”

I saw a comment on a r/crossword reddit forum recently, regarding the November 11 USA Today puzzle. 10-Down was clued “Spoons,” and the answer word was ENERGY. The poster was baffled.

(If you’re among those who didn’t get the reference, this clue references Spoon Theory, a concept common to those who suffer from chronic pain, fatigue or other debilitating conditions, regarding how many “spoons” a certain activity costs. It’s a way of quantifying how their condition affects their daily life.)

After it was explained, the poster asserted that “nobody” would make the connection between spoons and energy.

Now, no matter what you think of that clue — I personally would have gone with something like “Spoons, to some” or “Spoons, metaphorically” — it’s plainly false that NOBODY would make that connection.

Is it commonplace? Depends on how old you are and in what circles you travel, it seems. (Based on an informal poll I conducted, people 35 and younger are far more likely to know it.)

But one must never mistake their own unfamiliarity with a term for genuine obscurity. And I don’t say this out of judgment. It’s a mistake I’ve made myself on more than occasion. Heck, earlier this year, I did so when reviewing a tournament puzzle. I felt an entry (a hybrid fruit) was too obscure, only to discover others found it fairly common. Live and learn!

Another example where someone questioned the “average solver” was recently shared on Twitter. Constructor Malaika Handa shared part of a Crossword Fiend review:

She pointed out that this assumes that the “average solver” isn’t of Latino descent.

(It’s also worth noting that AREPAS is a more interesting entry than ARENAS, but I digress.)

What do you picture when you imagine the “average solver,” I wonder?

Because I think about those two nebulous measuring sticks a lot: “nobody” and “the average solver.” While they can be valuable to consider, they’re also very misleading.

I mean, what does the “average solver” know? European rivers? Football players? Greek letters? Classical composers or K-Pop bands? How many people would know ETUI if not for crosswords? It’s hardly commonplace.

Do they know those things AND solve crosswords, or do they know those things BECAUSE they solve crosswords? If constructors start regularly cluing or referring to spoons or arepas, then they become part of crossword vernacular, and then the “average solver” might be expected to know them.

Quite a slippery slope when you really start digging, isn’t it?

Plus, there’s more than one average solver, depending on how you look at it. Every outlet has a different “average” solver, and they’ll change over time.

Take PuzzleNation for example. Our Facebook audience is different from our Twitter audience, which is different from our blog audience. But there is overlap. We know there are Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search solvers among all of those groups. But that’s five different “average solvers” to consider at the minimum.

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That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Every crossword constructor walks a tightrope, trying to keep their puzzles fresh while still appealing to solvers.

And, as recently pointed out in a New York Times piece, the Internet has accelerated the proliferation of new slang and terminology. Words become part of the modern vernacular much faster now. (And every time The Oxford English Dictionary adds new words, we get a sense of how deeply some of these new terms have embedded themselves.)

Personally, I think crosswords are better when we’re learning from them. I’d rather have to look up a word or assemble it from familiar crossings — and broaden my own vocabulary and knowledge — than see the same old fill. Those European rivers. Those composers. Those Greek letters.

More spoons and arepas, please. If there is an ideal average solver out there, let’s teach them something new.


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Another A-maze-ing Visit to Animal Crossing: New Horizons!

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There are plenty of terrific video game puzzles out there. Whether you’re talking about video games where the vast majority of the gameplay is puzzle solving (like Myst, Portal, The Witness) or games in other genres that still use puzzles in creative ways (Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Uncharted), puzzles are part of the fabric of video games.

But sometimes, it’s almost more interesting when people introduce puzzly elements to non-puzzle games, because it shows off the creativity, cleverness, and skill of the designer.

People have designed escape room-style puzzles in Super Mario Maker (not to mention working calculators!) and Minecraft is known for its user-generated puzzly challenges.

But I don’t think I ever expected Animal Crossing: New Horizons to end up as a refuge for puzzly minds.

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For the uninitiated, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a game where each player gets their own island, on which they can build a house, create their own paradise, and interact with fellow players. You can collect animals, plants, fruit, and other resources to craft items. There are tasks to complete, and more characters will arrive to explore your island.

We previously reported on Animal Crossing back in May of 2020 when guest blogger Jen Cunningham discussed their May Day event. During the event, game designers created a special island with a maze and a series of tasks for players to complete as they solved the twisty turny path before them. It was a big success, one of many for the game in 2020.

But as it turns out, that’s not the only maze to be found if you go island-hopping in this popular game.

No, a user named Avery Monsen spent about two weeks turning his island into a diabolical labyrinth of his own design. After deep diving into the game, the creation of Avery’s maze was driven by two factors:

1. It was more fun than the traditional game play
2. It would make the game virtually unplayable, which would make it easier to put down for a while.

And it looks like his plan succeeded. Once the maze was finished, he put the game away. (He recently returned to the game to check out a programming update.)

Apparently, the maze is complex enough to cause travel from any key location to any other key location to last ten minutes. And for a game where you’re free to explore wherever, ten minutes to get from place to place is an eternity.

“I wouldn’t say I forgot about my maze, but I definitely forgot how much of a hassle it is. It’s a nightmare,” Monsen said. “So, I took a few screenshots and posted them to my Twitter. I was very quickly flooded with people who were impressed by my dedication and terrified by my obsession. Both of these reactions are valid.”

He has shared the address code so that other players can visit his island and try their hand at his now-famous labyrinth. “I hope people enjoy my island and I hope it doesn’t make me look totally nuts,” he said.

Who knows what other puzzly works are lurking out there in the world of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, just waiting to be revealed?


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PN Product Review: Star Trek Fluxx: The Archer Expansion and The Porthos Expansion

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[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Crossovers have always been part of the fabric of Star Trek. The Next Generation‘s debut episode had Dr. McCoy (and later cameos by Spock and Scotty), Deep Space Nine‘s debut had Picard (and later Worf joined the cast), and Voyager‘s debut actually launched from Deep Space Nine. Intermingling across time and space made the franchise feel like one enormous, interconnected, living universe, and it made each show stronger.

So it’s only natural that the folks at Looney Labs would want the same thing for their Star Trek-themed editions of Fluxx. Star Trek Fluxx and Star Trek: The Next Generation Fluxx could be played together with The Bridge Expansion, but there was no way to introduce cards or characters from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Fluxx or Star Trek: Voyager Fluxx.

Until now, that is.

Yes, now you can combine all four decks into one massive, constantly changing game with The Archer Expansion and The Porthos Expansion.

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For the uninitiated, Fluxx is a straightforward card game. You collect keeper cards and put them into play. Different combinations of keeper cards complete different goals, and each player has the chance to put different keeper cards and goal cards into play in order to win. So you might find yourself working toward completing the goal at hand when suddenly somebody plays a new goal, and the object of the game changes.

Along the way, players affect how the game is played by utilizing action cards and new rule cards which alter what players can and can’t do. Suddenly, you’ll have to trade your hand with another player, or start drawing three cards each turn instead of one.

The game can turn against you or spin in your favor in an instant; that’s both the challenge and the fun of playing Fluxx.

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The Archer Expansion introduces elements from Star Trek: Enterprise, as well as time travel references that allow the cards from other Star Trek Fluxx decks to overlap (including having Goal cards in play from multiple decks).

Although the original four games will be overwhelmingly represented in your now massive mixed deck, multiple playthroughs quickly revealed that clever players still managed to use the expansion cards to their advantage more than expected. The sheer variety of Goals available meant that no one could keep track of every possible way to win, so a casual scan of the Keepers on the table wouldn’t reveal if anyone was close to winning.

And for anyone worried that mixing the decks would make it hard to return the cards to their original decks, the team at Looney Labs is one step ahead of you.

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From top to bottom, you’ve got the unique fonts for Star Trek Fluxx, Star Trek: TNG Fluxx, The Bridge Expansion, Star Trek: DS9 Fluxx, Star Trek: Voyager Fluxx, The Archer Expansion, and The Porthos Expansion. Although it’s easy to mix up cards from the expansion decks, there’s no mistaking any of the cards from the main four decks.

Speaking of expansions, let’s take a look at the other new offering on deck.

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The Porthos Expansion introduces a few more Star Trek: Enterprise characters (including Captain Archer’s dog Porthos), but is mostly focused on tying together the five Star Trek shows through new Goals and Keepers.

Easily the highlight of the deck is Data’s cat Spot, though I’m also a fan of the Starfleet Medical Goal and the New Rule card that grants an extra card to every player if Star Trek is on TV while you play.

Not only that, but the cards are packed to capacity with inside jokes and fun references to events from the series. (The “Former Borg” card even feels like a reference to the recent Star Trek: Picard show.)

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Star Trek fans could easily lose plenty of game time unearthing all of the connections, quotes, and moments from each show that are represented across both expansion packs. Seeing all the ways the franchise is interconnected is truly a joy, both as a Star Trek fan and a regular Fluxx player who is always looking for new opportunities to snatch victory from my fellow players.

Yes, mixing all four decks virtually guarantees much longer games — the sheer volume of cards makes matching Keepers and Goals tougher! — but if you’re looking for a dynamic, enjoyable way to get more out of your Star Trek Fluxx decks, these expansion packs are a brilliant way to go.

The Archer Expansion and The Porthos Expansion are both available from Looney Labs for $5 each. And you can find the Star Trek Fluxx decks for The Original SeriesThe Next GenerationDeep Space Nine, and Voyager for $20 each.

And you can check them out, alongside dozens of other great puzzles and games, in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!


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Brother, Can You Paradigm?: A Punderful Discussion

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I like puns. Okay, that’s a massive understatement. I adore puns. I happily share them on Facebook every Wednesday in our Wordplay Wednesday posts. I love Tom Swifties.

I love pretty much all wordplay, no matter how shameless. You may have noticed that PuzzleNation Blog posts discussing puns and wordplay often include the searchable tag “Get thee to a punnery” in the list of tags below.

Yup, that’s how much I like puns.

A lot of great crossword clues are built on punning, utilizing the multiple meanings of words to mislead you, to create soundalike phrases (like “Baa nana?” for EWE), or simply to keep the cluing interesting.

And puns get a bad reputation. Fozzie Bear’s elicit groans from his fellow Muppets. John Oliver, a comedian I absolutely adore, is often quoted online as having said, “I think puns are not just the lowest form of wit, but the lowest form of human behavior.”

That’s pretty rough. I haven’t been able to verify that quote to my satisfaction, but I can verify that he said this: “The moment I accept that there’s an artistic, redeeming quality in puns, I have a horrible feeling I’ll get hooked.”

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That’s the catch, isn’t it? A lot of crossword clues rely on wordplay, but a lot of people supposedly hate puns. But where is the line between wordplay and puns?

I can’t say for certain, but I suspect the line is drawn directly between what makes someone groan and what makes them nod their head in appreciation.

“Hanging is too good for a man who makes puns. He should be drawn and quoted.” — Fred Allen

A quick Google search will find celebrities on both sides of the great pun divide. Alfred Hitchcock famously said that puns are the highest form of literature. Shakespeare is loaded with puns. Edgar Allan Poe enjoyed wordplay in all its forms.

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[Well, maybe not in this particular form…]

We find puns everywhere. In the one-liners of action heroes, in funny asides by the Cryptkeeper, on bumper stickers, in tweets, in dad jokes, on coffee mugs. And certainly in crossword clues.

Maybe I’m in the minority here, but in the end, I’d rather have a groan-worthy pun than no puns at all.

So what do you say we share a few? Leave your favorite puns in the comments section below!

Here’s a really bad one to get the ball rolling:

A man is about to have surgery, and before he goes into the operating room, the anesthesiologist pulls him aside and says, “We’re out of the usual anesthetics, so you have two unconventional options. I can use an older organic compound that’ll knock you out… or I can hit you in the head with a boat paddle.”

The man replied, “So it’s an ether-oar situation?”

Shameless.

Your turn. Go!


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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!

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