PuzzleNation Product Review: Are You a Robot?

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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.]

Whether you’re playing a board game like Clue or a card game like Werewolf or Mafia, you and your fellow players have accepted the challenge of a very different form of puzzle gaming: the social deduction game.

Social deduction games operate under a simple premise — the cards determine the role you play — and from that point forward, you’re trying to determine who is secretly a danger to you and others in the game.

In this particular case, there might a robot lurking among the humans aboard your space station.

You see, in Are You a Robot?, all of the players randomly select a card. There’s always a human card for every person playing the game, plus one robot card. (So, for instance, if five people are playing, you have five human cards and one robot card in the deck.) You shuffle the cards, deal out one to each player, and put the last one aside. Everyone looks at their card (but doesn’t show anyone else) and discovers their role for the game.

Now, at this point, there’s between zero and one robots in the game, and the rest of the players are human. The humans want to suss out if there are any robots disguised as humans, and the robot wants to get the humans to accuse each other and whittle down their numbers so the robots can take over.

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[A whole lot packed into a little envelope.]

This is the social aspect of the game. There are three things players can do in order to figure out who is who: shake hands, shoot a laser gun at another player, or talk. If the players all agree that there are no robots in play, two players can agree to shake hands. If there are no robots in the game after all, the humans win. If a robot is present after all, the humans lose.

Humans can shoot other players, but robots cannot. If a robot is shot, it’s gone from the game and the humans rejoice. If a human is shot, three things happen: the shooter is immediately removed from the game, the human who was shot comes back to life and returns to the game, and there’s a chance another robot slips into the game.

This element of chance involves all of the players closing their eyes, any robots secretly revealing themselves, and all of the remaining players turning in their cards. Those cards are shuffled randomly, a robot card is introduced, and the cards are redistributed to the surviving human players.

It’s possible everyone remains human, and it’s possible one of the humans is now a robot in disguise.

The game now resumes, and the players must once again figure out if there are any robots in their midst. (And your mind immediately begins spiraling out with possibilities. “Did so-and-so not shoot me because he believes that I’m human? Or because he’s a robot and can’t shoot me?”)

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[The set up for a four-person game: instructions, four human cards, and one robot card.]

Play continues until either the humans have eliminated any possible robots (and have shaken hands to confirm this) or the robots have overwhelmed the game and the humans have been whittled down to a single player.

In my estimation, Extended Mode, designed for 5 or more players, is the most interesting version of the game. The core game is for two or three players, consisting of two human cards and one robot card. Adding a second game allows for up to four players, a third game allows for up to six, and so on.

Our Extended Mode testing involved eight players (and four copies of the game), which allowed for multiple rounds of play, the introduction of several possible additional robots, and so on, making for a deeper, more engrossing (and nerve-wracking!) play experience.

And that’s the beauty of Are You a Robot? when compared to similar social detection card games like Mafia and Werewolf. Not only can you have satisfying play experiences with fewer people but the element of randomness that comes into play with more players adds tension to the game. (In Mafia and Werewolf, the number of antagonists is set at the start of the game. In Are You a Robot?, the number might increase, or it might not. It’s a simple change that adds so much.)

An elegant balance of silliness and suspenseful, consequence-loaded gameplay, Are You a Robot? is a winner with any number of players. Bring your laser gun, bring your skepticism, and bring along a couple of sets so everyone can play.

[Are You a Robot? is available (for $2!) from Looney Labs and other participating retailers.]


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Meet the Daily POP Word Search Constructors: Heather Phaneuf

One of the Daily POP Word Search app’s best features is the level of input from topnotch constructors. We’ve assembled one heck of a team when it comes to creating terrific, exciting, fresh, themed word search puzzles.

And over the next few weeks, we’d like to introduce you to some of them. Some names you may know, some you may not, but they’re all doing amazing work on these puzzles and deserve a little time in the limelight.

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For this installment, allow us to introduce you to puzzle constructor, mom, and music aficionado Heather Phaneuf!


How did you get started in puzzles?

I didn’t intend to get started in puzzles. I wanted to pursue a job in my degree: English, so when the opportunity came to be a copy editor, I jumped at it. Little did I know, I’d start off as a photocopy girl around the office, to a proofreader, then to an editor. It’s been a wild ride!

What do you enjoy about working on Daily POP Word Search?

Daily POP Word Search was a bit out of my comfort zone, my realm, but it was something new. As someone who accustomed to creating the same sort of puzzles day in, day out: trying something new was like a breath of fresh air. I love new challenges, they push me in a creative, thoughtful way.

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Is there a particular theme day that appeals to you most or that you enjoy working on?

The music theme appeals to me most. I just love the “vibe” of it, how it brings people together. I grew up in a very musical house, always something playing, and yes, I recall 8-tracks in my dad’s car, but…we all sang together, albeit out of tune. I can sing out loud a modern song just as easily as the Beatles or Jimi; damn hippie parents!

How is working on Daily POP Word Search different from constructing for some other outlet or magazine?

Working on Daily POP Word Search certainly is fun, it’s challenging, and I appreciate that. Anything that makes me open my eyes and experience something new or current: I’m game. Just be open-minded. To me, that’s growth; just be open minded. IT’S NOT THAT HARD! Try new things, live and learn!


A huge thank you to Heather for her time! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her puzzles in the Daily POP Word Search app, free to download for both iOS and Android users!

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Suggestions from the World of Puzzle Books!

Back in March, we did a round-up of all sorts of puzzle books for solvers looking to return to the simplicity of solving with pencil and paper. We focused on books loaded with puzzles for your enjoyment.

But that’s only a small sampling of the books available to puzzle fans. In addition to straight-forward puzzle books, you can find guides on how to make puzzles and games, books offering historical or social insight on the puzzle-game genre, and even fiction books that incorporate puzzles into the storytelling.

So today, we’re doing another puzzle-book round-up, but we’re expanding the scope a bit to cover some delightful puzzle-themed books you might’ve missed recently.


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If you’re relatively new to solving — or you’d like to introduce someone to the world of puzzles — then Puzzle Snacks by Eric Berlin is a terrific place to start.

Loaded with over 100 puzzles that run the gamut from fill-ins and clued puzzles to brain teasers and wordplay games, Puzzle Snacks fits solvers of any experience level, helping build up your puzzle skills while introducing you to dozens of variations on the puzzles you know.

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For the word seek/word search fans, we’ve previously recommended the word search puzzles of Shawn Marie Simmons, which are geared toward bookworms with themed lists based on literature.

Her latest offering is 25 Word Search Puzzles for MODERN Literature Lovers. With word lists tailored to different iconic authors and works of literature — ranging from the Lord of the Rings and Virginia Woolf to Roald Dahl and Margaret Atwood — you can revisit your favorite reads as you go searching each grid for a bevy of fun and familiar words.

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But maybe you’d like to mix some light puzzling with a touch of adventure-filled storytelling for either you or younger solvers. In that case, the recent Netflix revival of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? might have what you’re looking for.

A series of tie-in books for the show are now on the market, and the best of them is Clue by Clue by Catherine Hapka. Centered around the former thief’s efforts to do good and thwart her former allies, Clue by Clue sets Carmen and the ACME team on a treasure hunt for a prize that’s been missing for centuries.

What makes this book so noteworthy is the decoder wheel built into the cover itself! By rotating the wheel, you can decipher different coded messages throughout the book, cracking the case alongside Carmen and her allies.

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If you’re looking for a little more narrative heft with your puzzling, then the latest addition to The Maze of Games universe is probably up your alley.

Now that The Maze of Games has finally been solved after years of attentive puzzling, a new answer guide is available: The Keymaster’s Tome.

But this isn’t just the perfect walkthrough for the ultimate puzzle novel; this is an in-universe story in its own right, as the characters of Colleen and Samuel Quaice share their thoughts and reactions to the puzzles they encountered through The Maze of Games.

It’s a really fun and clever take on answer guides, and offers some nice character notes from the heroic and determined Quaice siblings.

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Our last offering turns to the world of board games, as the author shares both his own personal experiences with games and how different types of games create different play experiences.

Avidly Reads Board Games by Eric Thurm covers topics like the pluses and minuses of cooperative games, the emergence of legacy games, the infamy of Monopoly, and the curious subgenre of political games (both the intentionally nasty and those that history has judged poorly). Along the way, Thurm offers glimpses into various aspects of modern gaming.

More a series of short essays than one cohesive narrative, Avidly Reads Board Games is one man’s look at a world of games that is constantly evolving, yet remains tied to its earliest successes.

Can you think of any terrific puzzle books we missed? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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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!

Hot Puzz(le): The Hashtag Game Returns!

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You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie, hashtag games on Twitter, or @midnight’s Hashtag Wars segment on Comedy Central.

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 #PennyDellPuzzleQuotes, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with quotes from famous movies!

Examples include: “Go ahead, make my Daisy” or “You’re a wizard words, Harry!” or “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your Blips together and blow.”

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


“Son, what we got here is a failure to Make the Connection.” (Cool Hand Luke)

“You’re gonna need a bigger Quotefind.” / “You’re gonna need a bigger Bowl Game.” (Jaws)

“I ate his liver with fava beans and a nice Keyword.” (The Silence of the Lambs)

“Wheels before Zod!” (Superman 2)

“We’ll always have Pairs.” (Casablanca)

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do Word-A-Mat.” (2001: A Space Odyssey)

“All work and no Word Play makes Jack a dull boy.” / “All work and no play makes Crackerjacks a dull boy.” (The Shining)

“I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just gonna bash your Brain Boosters in.” (The Shining)

“Here and There‘s Johnny!” (The Shining)

“Don’t you worry! Never fear! Robin Hood will soon be Here and There!” (Looney Tunes: Rabbit Hood)

“E.T Text Message home.” (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial)

“Nobody puts Baby in the Four Corners!” (Dirty Dancing)

“Don’t Kriss Kross the streams” (Ghostbusters)

“You’re a daisy if you do” / “You’re no daisy. No daisy at all.” (Tombstone)

“Crackers and Frameworks! That’s what Penny does!” (Wedding Crashers)

“Whatever. Make me a Blockbuilders, clown.” (Wedding Crashers)

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t Give and Take a damn.” (Gone With the Wind)

“Seek thee out, the Diamond Mine in the rough.” (Aladdin)

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna Take It from There anymore!” (Network)

“If you Build-a-Quote, he will come.” (Field of Dreams)

“Fredo, you’re my brother and I love you. But don’t ever takes sides with anyone against the Crypto-Family again. Ever.” (The Godfather)

“Leave the gun, take the Chips.” (The Godfather)

“I’m not sure that I agree with you a hundred percent on your Framework there, Lou.” (Fargo)

“Places, Please sir, may I have another?” (Animal House)

“I’m a friend of Sarah Connor. I was told she was here. Could I see her Places, Please?” (The Terminator)

Morpheus believes he is The One and Only. (The Matrix)

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my One and Only hope. (Star Wars)

“May the Foursomes be with you.” (Star Wars)

“I find your lack of Frameworks disturbing.” (Star Wars)

“I love puzzles.”
“I know.” (The Empire Strikes Back)

“Follow the yellow Brick By Brick road.” (The Wizard of Oz)

“There’s no place like Home Runs, there’s no place like Home Runs.” (The Wizard of Oz)

“Nothing goes over my Headings! My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it.” (Guardians of the Galaxy)

“I am Groot.” (Guardians of the Galaxy)

“‘We gotta do somethin’.’ I don’t know why ‘we’ always has to be me every damn time. We, we, we. What do I look like, an expert in Bookworms?” (Tremors)

“There’s no crying in Bingo.” (A League of Their Own)

“Love means never having to Say That Again?” (Love Story)

“Go Fish, make my day.” (Sudden Impact)

“That’s a lot of Go Fish.” (Godzilla)

“Right Angles turn, Clyde.” (Any Which Way But Loose)

“Me and Jenny was like Places, Please and carrots.” (Forrest Gump)

“One time Abacus said you never really knew a man until you stood in his shoes and walked around in them…” (To Kill a Mockingbird)

“I am big, it’s the Picture Pairs that got small.” (Sunset Boulevard)

“Now, go away, or I shall taunt you a second Halftime!” (Monty Python and the Holy Grail)


Several intrepid puzzlers went above and beyond in their efforts as well!

The first recreated a classic conversation from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

“Stoplines! Guess Who would Crisscross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions Three from Nine, ere the other side he see!”
“Ask me the questions, Bridge-Keep On Moving-er. I’m not afraid!”
“What is your By Any Other Name?”
”My Crypto-Name is Sir Lancelot of Camelot!”
”What is your Word Quest?”
”To Triangle Seek the Holy Grail!”
”What is your favorite Color By Numbers?”
“Blue!”
”Fine! Pair Off you go!”

The second contributor went more contemporary, reworking one of Liam Neeson’s most chilling moments from the film Taken:

I don’t know “Who’s Calling.” I don’t know “What’s Next.” If you’re looking for “A Perfect Ten,” I can tell you I don’t have “Buried Treasure” but what I do have are a very particular set of “Split Personalities.” “Split Personalities” I have acquired over a very long career. “Split Personalities” that make me a “Dilemma” for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that will be the “End of the Line.” I will not “Crossblock” you, I will not “Pathfinder” you. But if you don’t, I will “Crossblock” you, I will “Pathfinder” you and I will “Samurai Sudoku” you.


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

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!

Delving into the BosWords 2019 Crosswords!

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I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hand at the puzzles from the BosWords Crossword Tournament last month. Given the talent involved amongst the organizers and constructors, I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed.

So let’s put those puzzles under the microscope and see what’s what!


Leading Ladies by John Lieb

This unscored opening puzzle served as a fun and pleasant warm-up, getting everyone into the puzzly spirit and ready to solve. The theme entries were five films with female leads (like CLEOPATRA, FOXY BROWN, and CAT BALLOU), and the revealer TITLE NINE nicely tied the five films together through their nine-letter titles.

With good flow and an accessible theme, this is a great confidence booster and a solid puzzle to shake off any nerves going into the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included SAMOANS, ZOWIE, DEEP-SIXED, and LANDO, and my favorite clue was “Got to square 100 first in Chutes and Ladders, e.g.” for WON.

Puzzle 1: Central Intelligence by Claire Rimkus and Andrew Kingsley

As you might expect from the first puzzle in the tournament proper, this puzzle was a fairly easy start, combining an accessible theme with interesting fill. Each of the three-letter words at the center of the theme entries spelled out a different degree one could earn, a la VET reading out in LONG LIVE THE KING.

The circles for the three middle letters in each themed entry are almost unnecessary, as between the title and the themed entries themselves, you could suss out the theme without much trouble.

(But then again, I’m a sucker for circles in a crossword grid, so I liked having them there.)

One of the theme entries was more obscure than the other three, but this was still a breezy solve to get the tournament going.

Interesting grid entries included THE UK, OBERON, SOIREE, and MASHUP, and my favorite clues were “Hacker’s problem?” for COUGH and “You don’t want to be under it” for ARREST.

[Image courtesy of SharpBrains.com.]

Puzzle 2: Don’t Strain Yourself by Ross Trudeau

Normally, you’d expect the difficulty to ratchet upward a bit for puzzle 2, but this one was pretty much on par with the first puzzle. The revealer NO FILTER explained the link between the theme entries (things like EMAIL SPAM and INSTANT COFFEE), but overall, I was a little underwhelmed by this one.

That’s not to say the puzzle wasn’t otherwise well-constructed, because it was. The longer down entries linking the themed entries were executed with finesse, and other than one tough entry (ILLINI), the fill was fair and the cluing solid.

Interesting grid entries included DOOMSDAY, TO THE MAX, IOLANI, AL EAST, and DALLIANCES, and my favorite clue was “Turns into a screenplay, perhaps” for ADAPTS.

Puzzle 3: Plus or Minus by Joon Pahk and Laura Braunstein

The increase of difficulty I was expecting in puzzle 2 arrived with gusto in puzzle 3, as the solver must figure out how to either add or remove a number from the theme entries. With the subtraction clues, it was easier, because you had the number spelled out in the entry (like STONE AGE DOOR, where the -1 in the clue indicates that the word ONE should be removed, making the more familiar STAGE DOOR).

With the addition entries, you had to get a little more creative. For instance, the entry PAT PENDING becomes PATENT PENDING when you add the +10 from the clue. It’s a clever hook, and certainly not the last time we’ll be seeing some puzzly math in this puzzle set.

Interesting grid entries included SEA MONKEYS, SQUEAK, UMAMI, and SAYSO, and my favorite clue was “Something that won’t stay hot” for FAD.

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Puzzle 4: Spill the Tea by John Lieb and David Quarfoot

My favorite gimmick from the tournament puzzles appears in puzzle 4, which took me longer to figure out than it probably should have. In this puzzle, longer theme entries are shortened by having a brand of tea contained in the answer reading down instead of across. So, HOTEL CHAIN reads HOTELCN across, because CHAI is reading down from the C instead.

This sort of visual gag in a crossword is hard to pull off, but Lieb and Quarfoot do so nicely, having five “spills” in the grid. (Cluing each tea reading down as an “Oops” was a nice touch, as was the Boston Tea Party reference in the tagline at the top of the page.)

Interesting grid entries included AP CALC, WIN BIG, UNCLE SAM and X-ACTO KNIFE, and my favorite clue was “Charlatan exposer of film” for TOTO.

Puzzle 5: Get the Picture by Paolo Pasco

The regular tournament concluded with puzzle 5, and Pasco ably brought it home with this film-centric puzzle where the theme entries all ended with synonyms for part of a film (SHOT, SCENE, FOOTAGE, TAKE, and CLIP). The theme is quickly uncovered, but the puzzle is by no means a cakewalk, as solid, creative fill makes for a more challenging solve than you expect.

There’s very little crosswordese — the grid instead focused on unusual entries in a well-constructed grid. (Heck, if Pasco had included J and X, this puzzle would have been a pangram as well!)

Interesting grid entries included SATYRS, CYBER, KAPOW, ME DAY, and GUIDE DOG, and my favorite clue was “Write this answer as EER, say” for ERR.

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[Image courtesy of @StalkingSarah.]

Championship Themeless by Finn Vigeland

After two years of championship puzzles being shepherded by the ambitious grids of David Quarfoot, Finn Vigeland steps up to the plate with a very intimidating themeless grid loaded with lots of long entries. With 3 nine-letter words in each corner and 3 thirteen-letter entries stacked in the middle of the grid, this one would probably give any solver pause at the outset, let alone those solving on stage in front of an audience.

Those long entries were bolstered by a lot of terrific crossings that made use of the open grid, making for a mostly great solving experience, save one or two specious phrases (AREN’T I?, ick).

But the impressive ones far outweigh the occasional clunkers, and Vigeland’s first championship themeless for BosWords will most likely not be his last.

Interesting grid entries included PR FARM, FUTURAMA, I CAN’T EVEN, and ARMREST, and my favorite clue was “One of a breakfast trio” for SNAP.


Bonus puzzle: Do the Math by John Lieb

Although this wasn’t an official tournament puzzle, I have to mention it because this bonus grid was my favorite in the entire set. Treating common hyphenated phrases with numbers as if they were equations, the theme entries in this puzzle required a little outside-the-box thinking to come up with the correction solutions.

For instance, “Combo from Rocky Balboa” would normally be “ONE-TWO PUNCH,” but since we’re thinking mathematically, ONE minus TWO is NEGATIVE ONE, so our themed answer is actually NEGATIVE ONE PUNCH.

The revealer DIFFERENCE MAKERS was just the icing on the cake for a puzzle that took something in plain sight and turned it on its head in a clever way. It was the perfect conclusion to a day of enjoyable puzzling.

Interesting grid entries included ELIXIR, RELAXED FIT, YIKES, and K’NEX, and my favorite clues were “Pricey place for a fan” for SKYBOX and “Improvises musically” for VAMPS.


Overall, I was mostly impressed by the array of puzzles assembled for this year’s tournament. There were tricky themes, visual themes, and math themes, all of which made great use of both the cluing and the grids themselves. Yes, one or two puzzles didn’t connect with me as strongly as the others, but the entire gauntlet of puzzles were challenging and creative in their design without being off-putting or getting too esoteric.

BosWords is probably the tournament that is friendliest to new solvers in terms of puzzle difficulty — not nearly as challenging as those at Lollapuzzoola or The Indie 500, but increasingly just as experimental and inventive — while still remaining engaging.

It’s the right mix of challenge and creativity for solvers accustomed to NYT-style solving, and I think the constructors and organizers did one heck of a job putting together the tournament.

Can’t wait to see what they cook up for us next year.


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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!

100 FREE Coins for Daily POP Word Search? Tell me more!

Yes, it’s a special Saturday post, because we’ve got a special limited time offer for our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

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Daily POP Word Search launched this week for iOS and Android users, and it’s only a click away!

Yes, the Daily POP Word Search app is FREE!

And this weekend — and this weekend only! — you can also get 100 FREE coins as part of a special promotion!

Just click this link and follow the instructions! It couldn’t be easier!

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The Daily POP Word Search app is 100% Free, the coins are Free… what are you waiting for? =)

Click here to participate and enjoy the best new puzzle app on the market today!

[Promotion ends at Midnight ET on Sunday, August 18, 2019.]


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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!