Who Do You Want to See in Crosswords? Make Yourself Heard!

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Crosswords have long been considered the domain of older white men. It’s a stigma on the entire industry, one that has sadly been encouraged by years and years of non-inclusive thinking.

Thankfully, the wheels of change are in motion. We still have a long way to go, but the push for greater representation has never been more aggressive or possessed more momentum than it does right now.

Outlets like Queer Qrosswords, Women of Letters, and The Inkubator are all encouraging female constructors, constructors of color, and LGBTQIA+ constructors. Editors like Erik Agard and David Steinberg are actively recruiting new voices, while constructors like Rebecca Falcon continue to advocate for greater exposure.

But representation isn’t just needed behind the scenes. It’s needed within crosswords themselves. The cluing and the grid entries should also reflect our incredibly diverse, colorful, ever-evolving, spectrum-spanning society.

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We wrote about this in November when The Pudding published the results of a statistical analysis of commonly referenced people in crossword answers.

Well, now there’s a way for you to not only push for greater inclusion, but to actually make suggestions: The Expanded Crossword Name Database.

A Google Form has been created where you can submit the names of women, non-binary individuals, trans individuals, or people of color that you’d like to see in crosswords. They can be contemporary people or historical figures.

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This is one of the coolest things about the Internet. We can crowd-source our ideas and get feedback instantly.

I reached out to Erica Wojcik, who is spearheading the ECND, and she said that there have been over one hundred new submissions in the last week alone!

Click here to check out the form AND to submit your suggestions. You should only submit one name at a time, but you can submit as many times as you like!

I can’t wait to see what sorts of submissions are sent to the ECND. What a marvelous way for everyone to expand their vocabularies and work for greater inclusion in crosswords.

Who would you like to see appear as crossword answers, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to submit them to the ECND! We, and they, would love to hear from you.


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Delving into the 2021 Winter Wondersolve Puzzles!

I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hand at the puzzles from the Winter Wondersolve event a few weeks ago. Given the talent involved amongst the organizers and constructors — as well as the reliable puzzles featured in previous Boswords-hosted events — I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed.

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


Practice Puzzle: Spring Forward by John Lieb

Perennial Boswords warmup puzzle master Mr. Lieb delivers perfect warmup material with this 15x puzzle. The theme entries depict a spring thaw, as the answer phrases progress from FREEZE to COOL to WARM to MELT across the grid.

The theme itself not only fits the winter gimmick, but also feels like shaking off any cobwebs or nerves the solver may have and just getting to work. Mix that with some playful cluing and vocabulary, and you’ve got a terrific puzzle to kickstart solvers’ brains into motion.

Interesting grid entries included VAMOOSE, KEYNOTE, and OH HENRY, and my favorite clue was “Discontinued candy bar too old to have been named for Hank Aaron” for OH HENRY.

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[Image courtesy of Knithacker.]

Puzzle 1: Don’t Forget Your Outerwear! by Sophie Maymudes

The tournament proper launched with this great starter, a 16×17 puzzle that mixed some fun longer entries with a tightly constructed grid that’ll have you looking “out” for the theme answers.

In this case, winter clothing items like SCARF, GLOVES, and COAT were broken up so that half of each word was on the end of a given row. For instance, answers like GLOMS ONTO and SOLVES had GLO VES at the beginning and end. Because they’re “outer” wear! This fun visual gag offered a nice change of pace from traditional themed puzzles, while remaining accessible for less experienced solvers.

As Boswords puzzles tend not to be as difficult as those at Lollapuzzoola or the Indie 500, this was the ideal representation of a Boswords Puzzle #1.

Interesting grid entries included AMIIBO, TOUR BUS, ARE YOU NUTS, and PAPA SMURF, and my favorite clue was either “Affliction for the head or the heart” for ACHE or “Initials with which kids interrupt parents’ honeymoon stories, maybe” for TMI.

Puzzle 2: It’s Not THAT Cold! by Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau

Puzzle #2 was only a half-step or so tougher than Puzzle #1, remaining very solver friendly while still peppered with some great vocabulary. This 18x puzzle was well-constructed and had brilliant flow between the across and down entries, offering very little crosswordese for such a densely-packed grid.

The theme was all about punning in the cold, as each themed entry was clued as “Cold something?,” like “Cold war?” for SNOWBALL FIGHT or “Cold air?” for CHRISTMAS CAROL. All in all, a very fun solve.

Interesting grid entries included PANDORA, TLAIB, LAIKA, MUESLIX, and appropriately enough, XWORD, and my favorite clue was either “Underexposed film, perhaps” for INDIE or “Labor party?” for DOULA.

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[Image courtesy of The Whole World is a Playground.]

Puzzle 3: The Arctic Circles by Brendan Emmett Quigley

Puzzle #3 continued to ratchet up the difficulty, but again, solving remained fair and welcoming to newer tournament competitors and less-experienced solvers. This was the toughest so far, but nothing approaching the levels of the dreaded Puzzle #5 at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, for instance.

This 18×17 puzzle featured Across entries that contained the letters IF, but solvers had to ignore them in the Down entries that crossed those letters. As explained by the revealer WHITE OUT CONDITIONS, this blizzard had you mentally “white out” those “conditions” and read the newly revised Down entry.

I could easily see this hook tripping up new solvers, but hey, what is puzzle-solving if not removing all the IFs and seeing what’s left?

Interesting grid entries included CABANA, TOP TEN, NO FUSS, and ARISTOCATS, and my favorite clue was “Exclamation with a Kermit flail” for YAY. It’s rare that you can hear an answer as you read the clue, but that’s definitely the case here.

Puzzle 4 by Joon Pahk

The tournament concludes with the toughest puzzle of the day, a 15x themeless grid that still managed to sneak in some wintry entries alongside a few devious crossings.

Two sets of clues were offered for the final puzzle — FLURRY clues on the easier side and BLIZZARD clues on the tougher side of the spectrum — but both offered their fair share of challenges for solvers of all skill levels.

One particular crossing in the upper-left section of the grid had me stumped for a while, as the Down answer MELD was clued with Mah-jongg and canasta references (neither of which I play) and I was unfamiliar with the crossing phrase IN A PET. I would have guessed correctly, but it definitely slowed down my time.

Interesting grid entries included GEYSER, MIDSCALE, SESTET, I TONYA, E-SPORTS, CAROUSE, and LOOSE CANNON. Both the easier and tougher sets of clues had some gems, so I’ll list them separately below:

FLURRY clues:

  • “Plot that’s rarely nefarious” for GRAPH
  • “Sticks around Aspen?” for SKI POLES
  • “Shake your hand?” for WAVE

BLIZZARD clues:

  • “Drip’s slower relative” for COLD BREW
  • “Team who negotiates a lot?” for VALETS
  • “Necessities for cross-country travel” for SKI POLES
  • “Light or sound, e.g.” for WAVE

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Overall, I quite enjoyed the array of puzzles assembled for this year’s Winter Wondersolve. The gradual rise in difficulty kept me interested and the fun wintry themes all felt different enough for the entire experience to feel crisp and engaging.

The themeless puzzle also felt like a strong refresher for themeless solving in general, as Boswords has their Spring Themeless League coming up soon!

Boswords has truly become the perfect host for events to introduce solvers to tournament-style puzzling, making up for difficulty with accessibility, playfulness, and straight-up solid grid construction.

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 event, building on the strong continuity of virtual events established last year by the Boswords tournament and the Fall Themeless League. A hearty tip-of-the-hat to the hardworking organizers for pulling this all off!

And I can’t wait to see what they cook up for us next.


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5 Questions with Wrestling Commentator (and Crossword Constructor) Dave Bradshaw!

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And we’re excited to welcome Dave Bradshaw as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

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To many wrestling fans in the UK and around the world — myself included — Dave Bradshaw is the voice of British wrestling. A prolific commentator who has represented companies like New Generation Wrestling, Defiant Wrestling, Wrestle Carnival, and more, Dave calls the in-ring action, keeps the audience informed about the performers and their storylines, and serves as the welcoming committee for new viewers.

In addition to his commentary work, he contributes to outlets like WrestleTalk Magazine, where he recently penned a wonderful piece about the history of LGBTQIA+ performers and representation in wrestling. In an incredibly personal moment, Dave came out in the article, joining an increasingly vocal and influential community of performers in the wrestling business championing LGBTQIA+ representation and mental health awareness.

On a much less impactful but still interesting note, he also started creating wrestling-themed British-style crosswords on Sporcle last year, and as part of a new series of interviews with relatively new constructors and puzzlers, I asked if Dave would take part in 5 Questions.

Dave was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Dave Bradshaw

1. When and how did your interest in puzzles start?

I’ve always liked puzzles, but to be honest last year they were a bit of a lifesaver. Like so many people I’ve had rough patches with my mental health during the pandemic – for me the worst part was six weeks last summer for some reason, but I became a bit addicted to doing quizzes on Sporcle and it was a welcome distraction in some difficult times.

Also, I learned where every country is on a map of Europe, so that’s cool!

2. What inspired you to start making wrestling trivia crosswords?

One of the things I got into over the summer was crosswords, which for some reason I’d never really liked before, and I noticed that there weren’t many on Sporcle on the subject of pro wrestling, which is what I know the most about. So, having done loads of other people’s puzzles, I decided to try my hand at making my own and see if anyone would be interested.

I literally thought I would get maybe 5 people play the first one, but it was quickly over 500, so I decided to keep going and ended up doing them for 10 weeks in a row, with another series of them planned for later this year, all being well!

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[Dave Bradshaw, alongside James R. Kennedy, presenting
ReLoaded for WCPW. Image courtesy of Defiant Wrestling.]

3. With ten puzzles under your belt now, what did you learn along the way? Are you finding it easier to make them, or does each still present its own challenge?

First I had to learn how to actually use the interface on the website, but that was pretty user-friendly, otherwise I probably would have given up! After the first one or two I started using a technique where I would decide on 4 or 5 long words that I wanted as answers in the grid and slot them in, then try to plot out which of the remaining squares I wanted to contain letters and which I wanted blacked out.

Also, I soon invested in the latest WWE Encyclopedia to give me more inspiration for answers! A few other things helped too – I found a website called http://crosswordsolver.org where I could find words that would fit in whatever gaps I still had – that was kind of essential.

Oh, and I learned that when you narrow your topic, e.g. by doing a crossword on a specific wrestling event rather than just on wrestling in general, it makes it much much harder to create!

4. What’s next for Dave Bradshaw?

As much as I like doing puzzles – and I plan to do more – my first love is being a pro wrestling commentator, and I am desperate for us to get to a point where people are able to congregate indoors again, so that the UK and European wrestling scene can restart!

I’m also doing some written journalism nowadays for WrestleTalk Magazine, including an article in the latest issue where I discuss the history of LGBTQ+ representation in our sport and talk for the first time about my own experiences as a gay man who is both a fan and someone who works in the industry.

I’m keen to be more open and visible with that part of my life, in case my story is useful for others, and the same is true about mental health – I’d like to be helpful to others who have had difficulties with that kind of thing. So hopefully I should be pretty busy, once we finally get out of lockdown!

[In this recent interview with WrestleTalk’s Luke Owen,
Dave discusses his article, coming out, and more!]

5. What’s one piece of advice you would offer fellow solvers, aspiring constructors/setters, and puzzle enthusiasts?

Just try it! I literally got started because I was bored one afternoon, and the next 10 weeks of it were way more fun than I ever anticipated. You’ll also find that you get better at making them as you go, and hopefully you start to develop a bit of a following of people who like to do your quizzes each week, which can be really motivating if people are saying nice things and giving your work high ratings.


A huge thank you to Dave for his time. You can follow him on Twitter for all of his wrestling and social outreach endeavors. Be sure to check out his wrestling trivia puzzles on Sporcle, and please take time out to read his incredible piece on LGBTQIA+ representation in wrestling in WrestleTalk Magazine. I cannot wait to see what he does next.

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!

Puzzly Suggestions for Valentine’s Day!

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Valentine’s Day is a little more than a week away, but there’s still plenty of time to whip up a puzzly treat for the special someone in your life!

And naturally we’ve got a few suggestions…

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Jigsaw puzzles are the perfect metaphor for relationships, as they require separate pieces working together to complete the picture.

There are necklaces and other pieces of jigsaw-themed jewelry, as well as do-it-yourself jigsaw patterns you can utilize. You could depict anything from a favorite photo to a specific Valentine’s message in the completed image.

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Now, you can always start with something simple, like a subscription to a puzzle service like The Crosswords ClubThe American Values Club Crossword, or The Inkubator. New puzzles every week or every month are a great gift. (Especially the Valentine’s Deluxe Sets for the Penny Dell Crosswords app! *wink*)

If they’re more into mechanical puzzles, our friends at Tavern Puzzles offer several brain teasers that incorporate a heart shape.

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But if you’re looking for something more personalized, why not make a crossword for them yourself?

(Yes, you can also commission a top puzzler to do one for you, but you’d usually want to get the ball rolling on something like that well before Valentine’s Day.)

Now, to be fair, crosswords can be tough and time-intensive to make, so if that feels a little daunting, why not try a Framework puzzle or a crisscross instead? They incorporate the same crossing style, but don’t require you to use every letter.

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It allows you to maintain a terrific word list all about you and your significant other without all the effort of filling in every square crossword-style.

Or you could write the object of your affection a coded love letter! All throughout history, people have employed different tricks and techniques to keep their private messages away from prying eyes, and you could do the same!

Whether it’s a simple letter-shifting cipher or something more complex, make sure your message is worth reading. =)

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[Image courtesy of ibookbinding.com.]

Plus you could learn a bit of letterlocking to add some flair — and a sense of puzzly secrecy and personalization — to your message. It involves a mix of precise folds, interlocking pieces of paper, and sealing wax in order to create a distinctive design or pattern.

Even if you don’t go the encryption route, the unique presentation of a letter-locked message makes a simple card or a heartfelt note feel more precious.

[Image courtesy of YouTube.]

Have you considered a puzzle bouquet? You could grab some newspaper crosswords and origami them into flower shapes for a fun puzzle-fueled spin on a holiday classic.

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Or you could gather flower-themed puzzles and spell out messages in the grids.

Rows Garden immediately comes to mind, as do Daisy and Flower Power, which you can find in Penny Press magazines!

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Or you could hide jigsaw pieces around the house that, when put together, spell out a Valentine’s message or a picture of the two of you.

Put your own spin on the idea. A little bit of effort can go a long way, plus it doesn’t cost anything.

With a little more effort, you could whip up a scavenger hunt! You could leave clues around leading to a gift, or a romantic dinner, or some other grand finale. Maybe offer a rose with each clue. (You can do this without leaving the house, like a reverse escape room!)

Show off how much you know about him or her. You could make each clue (or destination, safety allowing) about your relationship or about your partner, allowing you to show off how well you know them… where you first met, favorite meals, favorite movie…

If you don’t want to leave things around where anyone could nab them, keep a few small tokens on you, giving one for each destination reached or clue solved. Heck, you could enlist a friend to text clues to your special someone once they’ve reached a particular destination!

Or for something less formal, you could make a game of your romantic wanderings and play Valentine’s Day Bingo.

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[I found this blank template on Makoodle.com.]

Maybe go for a walk or take a drive with your loved one, and see if they can get bingo by observing different things. A couple holding hands as they walk, a Valentine’s Day proposal, outrageously priced flowers…

You could even channel-surf and see if you can get bingo from all the Valentine’s Day programming.

The possibilities are endless when you put your mind to it.


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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!

What Are Your Board Game House Rules?

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[Image courtesy of Bell of Lost Souls.]

Many board games are meticulously designed, every aspect playtested dozens if not hundreds of times to ensure the optimal play experience no matter what choices the players make, how the dice roll, or how the various game mechanics interact.

But, of course, any game that becomes a household favorite is bound to be played so often that new rules and styles of play emerge. Maybe they’re designed to even the playing field for new or younger players. Maybe they’re designed to extend the gameplay time. Maybe they’re designed to inject new life into a game that has lost some of its sparkle.

We call these modifications “house rules,” and virtually every household has them, for one game or another.

There’s arguably no game that’s subject to more house rules than Monopoly.

Did you grow up with the rule that all fees and fines collected go in the center of the board, and are then collected by the first player to land on Free Parking? I certainly did. (And interestingly, studies have shown that this house rule lengthens an already long game experience, rather than shortening it or evening the playing field, potentially making the game worse.)

Maybe you get a bonus if you land directly on Go. Maybe your assets are frozen when you’re in jail and you can’t collect any rent money you earn. Maybe you allow the utilities to collect 5% of any player-to-player transactions over $200. But certainly, there’s at least one variant rule that your family considers standard.

(Monopoly once held a contest where players submitted house rules and five of them were added to a special House Rules edition of the game.)

The best house rule for Monopoly I’ve encountered is called “the mugging rule.” If someone lands on a space that is currently occupied, that player can choose to mug the player already there. They take turns rolling the dice, and if the mugger rolls higher, they steal $100. If the person being mugged rolls higher, the mugger goes to jail.

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Another game rife with house rules is Uno.

Back in 2019, I wrote a post about the official Uno Twitter account declaring that you cannot stack Draw 2 or Draw 4 cards.

It turns out, one of the most famous rules in Uno is a house rule. An incredibly common one, to be sure, but not standard at all.

And there are a host of other house rules in Uno. Playing a Zero card rotates everyone’s hands in the direction of play. So if the game is going left, you hand your cards to the player on your left and receive the hand from the player on your right.

Playing a 7 allows you to swap hands with the player of your choice.

Instead of drawing a single card if you can’t play, some households require you to keep drawing until you can play a card. Which would cause your hand to balloon quickly!

The crew at No Rolls Barred tried out a classic rules Uno game versus an all-house rule game, and a single round of the house rules game lasted nearly an hour!

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[Image courtesy of The Board Game Family.]

Naturally, our in-office game group has all sorts of house rules we’ve added to games we play frequently.

My favorite is probably the bonus rule we added to Hive Mind.

Hive Mind is kind of like Scattergories, where you have a given topic and you’re trying to write an answer down for it. But instead of being unique, your goal is to match as many other players as possible.

Unfortunately, sometimes that doesn’t work out, and if you have a knack for not matching players — like I do — then our house rule comes in handy.

Everyone votes on their favorite answer that didn’t match anyone, and that person gets bonus points. It’s rarely enough to tip the scales entirely, but it often ensures that players last longer, and in Hive Mind, that’s always a plus.

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[Image courtesy of StoreMyBoardGames.com.]

What are some of your favorite board game house rules, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers?

Do you let the person who can make the longest word go first in Scrabble, ensuring lots of places to add letters? Do you try to chase the killer down in Clue after they’re revealed?

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!

Can You Decode This Colonial Chicken Scratch?

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We’ve joked in the past about how bad or unclear handwriting can create quite the puzzly experience. Well, if you have a knack for deciphering the scribblings of others, then there’s a gig waiting for you in North Carolina.

The State Archives of North Carolina are looking to transcribe dozens of documents from the colonial period, and they’ve turned to crowd-sourcing to accomplish this meticulous, Herculean task.

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[One example of a crowd-sourced translation.]

Among the many documents are contracts, reports, records, and more, some of which concern local business dealings, and even the slave trade.

According to the organizers, “The handwriting can be quirky and the terms antiquated. Transcribing them will be like solving a word puzzle.”

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It’s an impressive project that has already attracted numerous volunteers, but there’s plenty of work to be done. And as you can see, some pages are in far worse shape than others.

You can save a few pages of work as a guest translator or sign up to be part of the team and contribute more to the endeavor.

For more information, or to try your hand at some freelance puzzly transcription, click here!


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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!