The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament Returns This Weekend!

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Hello fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

Normally, this reminder post would go up on Friday, but since the deadline to register to participate in this year’s virtual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is noon tomorrow, we’re posting a day early.

Yes, the 43rd edition of the ACPT — jokingly referred to as the Nerd Olympics — has gone online this year (though some folks are still attending in person). But it’s not just the competition puzzles! Prizes, panels, and more are planned across the weekend.

A full slate of events has been scheduled for Friday through Sunday, including the Merl Reagle Award, puzzle workshops, trivia and games, and the live-solving finals, including commentary from Greg Pliska and Ophira Eisenberg!

But who is constructing this year’s puzzles, you ask? A fine question.

Constructors Sam Ezersky, Emily Carroll, Patrick Berry, Kevin Der, Lynn Lempel, Mike Shenk, Ruth Bloomfield Margolin, and Robyn Weintraub are all contributing puzzles to this year’s tournament.

You can click here to register and visit the ACPT website for full details!

Will you be competing, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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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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I-Got-The Christie’s: A Puzzly Crime Hashtag Game!

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You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie or hashtag games on Twitter.

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleMystery. Today’s entries all mash up Penny Dell puzzles with TV shows, movies, books, characters, concepts, and anything else that fits the mystery genre!

Examples include: Sherlock Home Runs, Two at a Crime, or The Bricks and Mortar of Roger Ackroyd.

So, without further ado, check out what the puzzlers at PuzzleNation and Penny Dell Puzzles came up with!


Agatha Crisscrosstie

Mixed Bagatha

Murder on the Easy Crossword Express

Murder, She Quote / Murder, She Quotefinds

Mary Higgins Clark’s The Shadow of your Smile

Mary Higgins Clark’s On the Stretch Letters Where You Live

Joanne Fluke’s A Cinnamon Roll Recipe Time Murder

Paige Shelton’s The Killer Maze

Perry Mason’s The Case of the Mystery Melody

The Mirror Image Crack’d from Here to There

The Secret Word of the Old Clock

The Purloined Letterboxes

The Glass Keyword

Secret Word Agent

Double Trouble Agent

Word-a-Mata Hari

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Word Squares

Nancy Drew: Double Trouble Shooter

Sorry, Wrong Number Sleuth

D.O.ABC’s

Alfred Hitchcock and the Three of a Kind Investigators

Alphagrid HitchCrackers

PsyCodeword

To Catch a Themewords

Dilemma “M” for MurDittos / Dial-A-Grams for Murder

Rear Windowboxes

The 39 Stepping Stones

John GrishAnagrams

Miss Marbles

Hercule Poirows Garden

Fill-In Marlowe

Crackerjacks Reacher

The Alphabet Soup Murders

Pretty Maids All in a Rows Garden

They Only Kill Their Masterwords

Who’s Calling the Great Chefs of Europe?

Evil Under the Sunrays

Word Trails of the Pink Panther

Against All Odds and Evens

Body Double Trouble

Se7en-Up

Along Came a Spider’s Web

The Da Vinci Codewords

Trixie Belden and the Secret Words of the Mansion

Knives Out of Place

SpyMasterwords

Whopunit

The Dresden Tiles

Arth-Here-and-Thur Conan Double-Trouble-Doyle, Word Seek Mystery Person!

He’s the WatSunrays to your Sherlock Homeruns

The Sign of the Four Corners / The Sign of Foursomes

The Man With the Twisted Blips

221 ABC’s

Alphabet Soup For Two-Twenty-One-B Baker Street

Matchmaker Street Irregulars

“…What’s Left must be the truth.”

The Seven Percent Solution is on Page 178


I’m not very familiar with the mystery genre. I’ve heard of author Sara Pairsetsky and her novels Critical Masterword and Spellbound Game, though.

APPMystery


One intrepid puzzler went above and beyond by submitting the following pun-fueled message:

I have recently begun reading an author by the name of C.J. Boxes, needless to say he writes Mystery Word Seeks and I believe that that the C.J. is short for Crackerjacks.

Boxes is best known for his Joe Picker Upper series of novels and some of my favorites are “Savage Home Runs,” “Blackouts of Range,” “Breaking Point the Way,” and of course “Vicious Circle Sums.”

Recently Boxes’ latest series featuring a pair of Montana private investigators has been picked up by ABC’s television and the show depicts Double Trouble and the detectives come Face to Face with Deduction Problems in stories such as “Pair Off Dice Game Valley” where they ultimately answer the Big Question.

I’m glad to share this with y’all.


Have you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzle Mystery entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

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Squirreling Away Puzzle-Solving Skills?

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[Image courtesy of Southern Highland Guild.]

It was less than two months ago that we discussed whether the problem-solving puzzly skills of pigs were enough to grant them membership in the puzzle-solving creatures club, alongside catsdogscrowscockatoosoctopuses, and bees.

As it turns out, scientists have been studying “can animal x solve puzzles?” for longer than I thought. One academic paper, entitled “How to stay perfect: the role of memory and behavioural traits in an experienced problem and a similar problem,” was published back in July of 2017.

And they concluded that squirrels might be a worthy addition to the pantheon of puzzle solvers.

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According to the scientists involved:

A neophobia test in the generalisation task suggested squirrels perceived the different apparatus as a different problem, but they quickly came to apply the same effective tactics as before to solve the task… Squirrels remembered and emitted task-effective tactics more than ineffective tactics. As a result, they consistently changed from ineffective to effective behaviours after failed attempts at problem-solving.

They went on to cite previous studies involving creatures as varied as monitor lizards, Atlantic cod, spotted hyenas, lions, and goats:

With regard to returning to previously experienced task, selectivity appears to be an important factor in the success of captive lions, Panthera leo, in solving a suspended puzzle box up to 7 months after experiencing it (Borrego and Dowling 2016), in the success of goats, Capra hircus, in solving a two-step food box challenge 10 months after first experiencing it (Briefer et al. 2014)

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One of the main questions they were trying to answer was what role memory was playing in this puzzle-solving. Were they remembering their previous puzzly experience OR re-learning the same tactics a second time, separate from the first test? These were the parameters:

Here, we examined how memory, alongside behavioural traits, contributes to enhance problem-solving efficiency by giving five grey squirrels, firstly a previously experienced task 22 months after they had last experienced it (hereafter, the ‘recall task’), and secondly a task requiring a previously successful action to be performed in a physically different apparatus (hereafter, the ‘generalisation task’).

Nearly two years between the initial solve and the secondary test! That’s a huge chunk of time. As Dan said in the Room Escape Artist article about this study, “22 months! I could probably replay an entire escape room after 22 months and not even notice.”

But that length of time was intentional, given the test subjects involved:

Grey squirrels are also known to have good long-term memory, at least in the spatial domain: they are scatter hoarders that cache thousands of nuts during the autumn (Thompson and Thompson 1980), and they are able to relocate their own caches (Jacobs and Liman 1991) and artificial caches (Macdonald 1997) after long intervals of time.

squirrel puzzle

So, what did they find when they tested Arnold, Leonard, Sarah, Simon, and Suzy in the lab?

In our case, squirrels may pay attention to cues such as the levers that contain hazelnuts to locate which lever to solve. But unlike what has been found in tool-use studies, the use of cues did not develop with increased experience during problem-solving. Squirrels showed an immediate strong preference to contact functional levers rather than non-functional levers, both when they first encountered this puzzle box 22 months prior to this study (Chow et al. 2016) and in the first trial of the recall task. These results imply that squirrels quickly focused their attention on the reward and reward-related components of the apparatus (levers) from their first encounter with the puzzle box.

In short, applying previously learned knowledge makes them far more effective problem-solvers!

Sounds like it’s time to add squirrels to the list.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to start researching lions, hyenas, cod, monitor lizards, and any other animal studies cited in the footnotes. Clearly I have catching up to do!


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A Crossword Roundup: 10,000 Days of Shortz, The Crossword Mysteries, and ACPT!

Hello crossword fans! In today’s post I just wanted to offer a quick little roundup of crossword-related items and stories, so I’ve got three for you today.

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Firstly, I’d like to congratulate Will Shortz on editing his 10,000th crossword! (Approximately. It’s actually his 10,000th day as editor, which is still a very impressive number!)

Friend of the blog Deb Amlen interviewed Will to mark the occasion, and it offers a nice little snapshot of Will’s career as editor of The New York Times crossword, as well as some insight into the man behind the puzzle.

There are also some intriguing stats included in the interview. This one caught my eye:

The Times is publishing more teen constructors than ever before. In the whole history of the Times Crossword up to me, only six teenagers are known to have had crosswords in the paper. I’ve published 46 teens so far, with two more coming up this month.

46 teens! That’s amazing.

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Of course, the part that’s getting a lot of traction online is this quote: “I read all but one of the daily crossword blogs”

Now, I hesitate to bring this part up, because there’s virtually no way to discuss it without sounding like I’m picking a side. It’s not hard to deduce what daily blog Will is referring to here — plenty of others have made the connection already — and the presumed writer of that blog responded to the comment in typically salty fashion, as did his many fans and readers.

I choose not to wade into that particularly turbulent Internet space, which is why I’m not naming names or providing links. If you are that interested, it’s not hard to find them.

But I DO want to say that there are plenty of terrific crossword blogs out there, big and small, that all add to the daily crossword discussion in important ways. Some are more critical than others. Some are acerbic to the point of being fairly unpleasant to read regularly. But there’s definitely a blog out there about the Times daily crossword for you.

In any case, congratulations to Will Shortz on 10,000 days as the most recognizable name in crosswords. Other than Brian Eno, Yoko Ono, Bobby Orr, Mel Ott, Rip Torn, Oona Chaplin…

Anyway, congrats on being A recognizable name in crosswords. =)

Speaking of recognizable names and crosswords, the fifth Crossword Mysteries movie will be premiering Sunday night, April 11th, at 8 PM Eastern! It is entitled Riddle Me Dead, and here’s the plot synopsis:

Tess gets invited to be part of a popular game show, but when the host is unexpectedly murdered, she and Detective Logan O’Connor try to discover who was behind it all.

Not only that, but Hallmark Movies & Mysteries is running a Crossword Mysteries marathon all day, starting at noon, so you can catch up on all things Tess Harper and Logan O’Connor before the newest entry in the series debuts that night!

Of course, you could also just read the four posts about the movies that I’ve written for the blog here, here, here, and here. Just saying.

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Finally, I’ll cap off this trifecta of crossword-related notes by reminding you that registration is open for this year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament! The tournament is running from April 23rd through the 25th, complete with all sorts of events!

The tournament has gone virtual this year, so if you’ve ever thought about entering the tournament and testing your puzzly skills, this is the perfect opportunity for you. The deadline to register is Friday, April 23rd, noon Eastern.

There are sample puzzles to try out as well!

Will you be attending ACPT this year, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Or tuning in for the latest Crossword Mysteries film? What do you think of 10,000 days of Will Shortz-edited NYT crosswords? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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How Outdated Is Too Outdated in Crosswords?

One of the biggest complaints levied at crosswords in general involves the vocabulary often employed to fill the grid.

Whether you call it crosswordese, obscure trivia, outdated vocabulary, or intentional gatekeeping through language, it’s a problem some solvers never overcome, contributing to a negative, exclusionary reputation for crosswords.

Let’s talk about the two extremes first. I genuinely believe that there’s no intentional gatekeeping in crosswords. There are ongoing efforts to include more women, more voices of color, and more LGBTQIA+ creators in construction, and even constructing equipment is becoming more affordable through efforts like Crossworthy Construct.

But not knowing common crossword parlance is a barrier to enjoying crosswords.

There is work to put in for new solvers to get up to speed in crosswords. Those common crossword words and names that we take for granted — ETUI, ALEE, OLIO, ARIA, ICER, and more — represent the combined breadth and history of grid construction in crosswords. Those are the words you learn as part of your process to become a better solver, building a personal lexicon of crosswordese.

So where is the line? When does something pass from “charmingly difficult crosswordese” to “off-putting irrelevancy”?

In essence, how obscure is too obscure? How long can an old clue/entry linger without feeling outdated or exclusionary to new solvers?

It’s a good question, one that’s not not so easy to answer.

How long do we refer to “vamp” THEDA BARA, when her heyday was farther and farther back with every passing day?

How long do we continue to reference the Aral Sea, considering that there practically is no Aral Sea anymore? It’s mostly the Aralkum Desert now.

When it becomes part of history, is it acceptable? After all, calling Tokyo “Edo” or referring to Iran as “Persia, once” happens all the time.

Obviously, outdated terminology or obscure words aren’t as big an issue in crosswords as genuinely exclusionary and offensive entries, but it’s still a topic worth discussing, because it prevents the community from growing.

New entries, fresh entries, entries that speak to other members of the population… they have incredible value. Seeing yourself and your culture, your heroes, your history, your slang represented in crosswords builds a bond between you and the art of puzzling itself.

I’m sure outdated references and obscurities will never truly go away. Some of those letter combinations are just too valuable to constructors.

But it will be interesting to see how crosswordese and those potentially gatekeeping words change and evolve as we press forward.

Maybe in 30 or 40 years, “crosswordese” as a whole will feel more inclusive. One can only hope.


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