It’s Follow-Up Friday: Indie 500 Puzzle edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

May 30 marked the first (hopefully annual!) Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, hosted in Washington, D.C. by constructors Erik Agard, Peter Broda, Neville Fogarty, Andy KravisEvan Birnholz, and Finn Vigeland.

While I couldn’t attend the tournament, I did download the tournament puzzles, and after a few weeks, I had the opportunity to sit down and tackle the six puzzles prepared for the event. And today, after a few weeks’ reflection, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on those puzzles, both for the organizers and for any interested PuzzleNationers who might be considering participating in the future.

[Note: I solved the PDF versions of these puzzles, which apparently differed in some ways from the PUZ versions.]

Puzzle 1: Welcome to D.C. by Erik Agard

The opening puzzle offered a solid challenge, utilizing the colors for the various lines of the Washington Metro as clues for the themed entries. (For instance, “Red Line” led you to the answer BASE PATH.)

Agard’s effort set the tone for the rest of the tournament with a some accessible pop culture-fueled clues as well as a fleet of strong, fair clues most puzzlers should have no difficulty cracking. A few more obscure references were made — an Internet meme and a Hunger Games “ship” name among them — but without hindering fair cluing.

Interesting grid entries included GINSU, YOUSE GUYS, and NIQAB, and my favorite clue was probably “Summer’s end?” for TOTAL.

Puzzle 2: Looseness of the Vowels by Peter Broda

Broda’s puzzle incorporated shared boxes — some grid squares were divided in half, allowing two vowels to be placed instead of one — and answering each themed clue required a two-word phrase that shared every consonant.

(For instance, clue 52 Across read “With 52 Across, what David Ortiz practices that annoys his neighbors?” And the grid, once filled, read B[I/A]GP[A/I]P[IE]S, a.k.a. BIG PAPI’S BAGPIPES. This is why the clue cites itself in “With 52 Across,” so that the solver knows the answer word applies twice)

Those neat touches of wordplay weren’t the only tough crossings, however. The crossing of two unusual phrases in BE GENTLE with LAYS STAX actually forced me to abandon the puzzle at one point and return to it later to complete.

Interesting grid entries included TV CHEF, ICE KING, and VISA BILL, and my favorite clue was “Former red giant” for USSR. (Being a science and astronomy geek, I was instantly misled by this one.)

Puzzle 3: Candy Bars by Finn Vigeland

Finn was chosen as the guest constructor to join the five fierce puzzlers who organized the Indie 500, and I was thoroughly impressed with the very clever construction of his grid. In Finn’s puzzle, certain paired black squares were replaced with a graphic of a candy bar, and it was up to the solver to deduce that each entry, either down or across, that touched the candy bar was missing either C, Y, or both.

[The candy bars were in color in the PDF, but I printed them in b and w for solving.]

For instance, in this section of the grid, DIS and ALL (clued as “Checker, for one” and “Word after straight or male, in social justice conversations,” respectively) were actually DISC and ALLY when you added the CY. [Get it? CandY bar?] Similarly, REST and ALTA were actually CREST and YALTA, and the across entry CLING WRAP was actually the theme entry CYCLING WRAP.

This was my favorite of the six puzzles in the tournament, one with a great hook and excellent execution.

Interesting grid entries included SENIOR GALA, DOT GOV, OH BEHAVE!, and PT BOATS, and my favorite clue was easily “Brian who crosswords would have you believe is the only musician worth knowing (other than 97-Across, maybe)” for ENO. (97-Across was, predictably, ONO.)

Puzzle 4: A Cute Puzzle by Andy Kravis

After a pair of heavy-thinking puzzles, Puzzle 4 was an excellent palate cleanser difficulty-wise, complete with solid cluing and some fun entries. Kravis’s puzzle had solvers adding an accented E to the end of themed entries in order to complete them. For instance, “A giant leap for elephant-kind?” was JUMBOJETE.

A well-constructed puzzle (quite possibly designed to lure solvers into a false sense of security before Puzzle 5 walloped them), this was probably the most accessible puzzle of the six, one that casual solvers would quite enjoy.

Interesting grid entries included MINAJ, TEAM USA, KOOPA, and A-MINUS, and my favorite clues were the mildly-risque pair of “Prince Albert’s can?” for both ARSE and LOO.

Puzzle 5: Swap Meet by Neville Fogarty

Apparently, whether it’s the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament or the Indie 500, Puzzle 5 shall forever be a beast of a solve.

Fogarty’s puzzle was by far the toughest of the six, and I admit, it took me forever to uncover the hook: antonyms which crossed at the same starting box were swapped. For instance, 1-Across was “Numbskulled” for THICK and 1-Down was “Dilute” for THIN, but you had to place THICK as 1-Down and THIN as 1-Across.

Beyond that, challenging crossings like IDEA MAN and LAD MAG kept me guessing, and the creative grid entries left few crossword standards for any struggling solvers.

Interesting grid entries included ONE SEC, SHAKY CAM, FAIR GAME, XKCD, and IRISH STEW, and my favorite clue was probably “Number for the troops” for OVER THERE.

[Say, since we’re discussing crosswords, have you checked out the
Penny Dell Crosswords App? This concludes our shameless plug.]

Puzzle 6: The Final Lap by Evan Birnholz

The closing puzzle of the tournament was offered in two difficulty levels: the Inside Track (designated for solvers who finished in the top 25% of the field in a crossword tournament with published standings in the past 5 years) and the Outside Track (designated for everyone else). I opted for the Outside Track, then looked over the cluing for the Inside Track.

This themeless closer was no layup, though; no matter which track you were on, the cluing relied on solid trivia knowledge and classic puzzle-solving skill. (Kudos to Evan for crafting a solid grid with tough AND tougher clues. And for dropping a much-appreciated Army of Darkness reference in the Inside Track clues.)

Interesting grid entries included WHAT ON EARTH?, MOON UNIT, EDIT MENU, and PIE CHART, and my favorite clue (among many I quite liked) was probably “Things a benched player might work on during practice” for ETUDES.

Overall, I thought the Indie 500 was an impressive series of puzzles, rich with cleverness and style. Puzzle 5 easily rivaled ACPT’s Puzzle 5 in terms of difficulty, and the cluing was topnotch. I look forward to its return next year, and hopefully some of you will join me in accepting the Indie 500 challenge!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

PuzzleNation Product Reviews: Loonacy


Looney Labs is a game company with a creative model everyone can get behind: high replay value through wildly interactive, adaptable game play. Perhaps best known for their card game Fluxx, Looney Labs games are designed for portability, packing a lot of punch into smaller, more efficient packaging.

Their latest release is Loonacy, a pattern-matching card game that requires quick reflexes, a quicker eye, and no small amount of strategy.

In Loonacy, players compete to drop all of the cards in their hand by dropping them one-at-a-time into various piles by matching one of two symbols on the card. For instance, if you’ve got a card with a cookie and a brain on it, you can drop that card onto a pile with a cookie on top or a brain on top.


You can try to strategize by arranging cards into your hand by symbol or possible chains — brain/cookie, cookie/ship, ship/puppy — but you have to play each card individually before you can drop the next card. And since everyone is racing to empty their hands at the same time, it can rapidly become a very chaotic playing experience.

(And in your enthusiasm, you’ll probably end up bending a few cards. Hey, it happens.)

But there is an element of strategy to the gameplay. If you have multiple cards with a cookie, you’ll want to play the card where the other symbol doesn’t help your opponents. (For instance, if there’s already a brain symbol showing and no one can play on it, play the cookie/brain card.)

That way, you can play your second (and hopefully, your third) cookie cards in a row and decrease the number of cards in your hand in a hurry. Of course, if someone drops their card on top of that cookie card, your strategy might go right out the window.

But that’s part of the fun. Loonacy tests observation, reflexes, and decision-making skill, all in the matter of a few minutes per game.

While it’s light on the puzzling, it’s high in charm, replay factor, and style. The sheer number of potential images to match makes this far more interesting than the average card game or pattern-matching challenge.

Looney Labs has a winner on their hands with Loonacy. I suspect it’ll be a big hit on Saturday during our International TableTop Day celebrations at home.

[Click here to check out our reviews of several other Looney Labs products!]

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

PuzzleNation App Reviews: Glyph Quest

Welcome to the latest edition of PuzzleNation Reviews! Today will be the first installment of a new review series: PuzzleNation App Reviews! That’s right, we’re delving into the world of games and apps for your tablet or smartphone!

Not only that, but we’re also introducing a new member of the PuzzleNation Crew. Please welcome our resident App player and puzzle fiend, Sherri!

Sherri will be giving you the lowdown on puzzle games and apps of all sorts, including both new and well-known games. So, without further ado, let’s explore Sherri’s first PuzzleNation App Review: Glyph Quest!

Glyph Quest is an iOS game app that combines elements of a fantasy role-playing game with a simple matching game.

I am a big RPG fan, so this game sounded right up my alley. I found it to be really very enjoyable, a terrific way to pass the time and much more than simply matching items. The simple 2D animation is cute and has a retro feel to it. You are able to choose your own character, a male or female spellcaster, and as that character, you go on quests to defeat monsters simply by matching 2 or more glyphs.

However, the game isn’t quite that easy. The glyphs represent six elements: earth, air, fire, water, dark, and light. There is some strategy involved. Making chains of matches, i.e. matching earth glyphs more than two times in a row, increases the power of the earth spell, but if you cast an air spell (its opposite) after an earth chain, that air spell is much more powerful! You also have to pay attention to the monsters you fight, as some are resistant to certain types of spells but weakened by others.

Beyond the matching element is the RPG element. Your character levels up as he or she defeats monsters and completes quests. You also have a health meter that you need to keep an eye on. Your spells get upgraded the more you use them, and you can use the money you earn from the quests to make upgrades to your knapsack, among other things. With the sack you have the ability to carry health potions and some offensive weapons.

This is a really cute and fun game. It is a great way to pass time when you want something that will engage your brain but won’t overtax it.

Ratings for Glyph Quest:

  • Enjoyability: 4/5
  • How well puzzles are incorporated: 4/5
  • Graphics: 2/5 (for the retro feel; the graphics aren’t great but fit the retro feel)
  • Gameplay: 3/5 (it can get a bit repetitive but there is enough variety with the monsters to keep it fresh)

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Tumblr, download our puzzle iBooks and apps, play our games at, or contact us here at the blog!

PuzzleNation Product Review: Pink Hijinks, Chrononauts, and Fluxx: The Board Game


Looney Labs is a game company with a creative model everyone can get behind: high replay value through wildly interactive, adaptable game play. Perhaps best known for their card game Fluxx, Looney Labs games are designed for portability, packing a lot of punch into smaller, more efficient packaging.

They offered us the opportunity to try out three of their games for the Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, each with its own unique flavor and playing style, and we put them to the full PuzzleNation Blog test.


The set-up for Pink Hijinks seems simple enough. Three stacks of pink pyramids (small on top of medium on top of large, like a little tree) occupy the middle row of a 3×3 grid.

Based on the roll of the die, you and your opponent maneuver your pieces with one of two goals in mind: either trying to either fill your home row with all three pyramids of a given size, or pushing all nine pyramids into your opponent’s row.

It’s a miniature chess game, allowing for offensive and defensive strategies. After a few rounds, we started improvising new rules and different gameplay styles, and discovered how much fun you could have with nine little pink pyramids. Pretty good for a game that fits in your pocket.


Pink Hijinks is part of Looney Labs’ multi-colored Looney Pyramids series, an ever-expanding line of puzzle games built around their signature pyramid game pieces. Not only can you buy individual games, but the company is constantly releasing new variations on their games through their website, allowing players to combine pieces from multiple Looney Pyramids products and play brand-new games. (They’ve even compiled a listing of fan-designed games using Looney Pyramids!)

As far as I can tell, the Looney Pyramids series has the loftiest of goals: to offer as many unique playing experiences as a deck of cards, arguably the most adaptable tool in a gamester’s arsenal. And based on their lineup thus far, Looney Labs is well on their way toward reaching that goal.


Time travel isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would do it. And Looney Labs takes that idea to the next level with Chrononauts, a card game where multiple time travelers are manipulating history, capturing artifacts, and racing to return to their own time with their missions complete.

Chrononauts is all about the cards. You’ve got mission cards, ID cards, timeline cards that make up the playing space, artifact cards, cards that change history (and others that change it back), as well as cards that can help or hinder your fellow time travelers.


The history-changing aspect is the most puzzly part of the game, as you determine what moments to change (and which to protect from your opponents) in order for your timeline to come to pass, but ensuring you don’t accidentally end the game by creating too many temporal paradoxes. The designers did an impressive job figuring out how major points in history were interconnecting, and watching the effect ripple down through the cards after making a bold history-altering move is arguably the best part of the game.

My one caveat regarding Chrononauts is that the game goes far too quickly with only two players. It’s a game designed around consequences, and the more consequences that are out of your hands, the more engaging and challenging the game becomes. I’d recommend you always recruit as many players as possible to make the gameplay last.


There are certain things you take for granted when playing a board game. You pick your game piece, and that’s yours for the duration of the game. You draw a given number of cards per turn. The board itself is static, so you can strategize.

But in Fluxx: The Board Game (titled to distinguish it from Fluxx: The Card Game), all of these givens are up for grabs, making for easily the most gleefully chaotic board game experience I’ve ever had. The board is made up of nine individual tiles, which can be shifted or rotated by your fellow players. The rules can be changed, affecting the number of spaces you move per round, how many cards you can hold, and even how many goals you must achieve before the game is over.


[A simple punch card helps players keep track of the ever-shifting rules.]

It’s mind-melting fun, a game that demands constant awareness and a strong ability to think on your feet, since the rules can change in an instant. (One game, a card was played that made the players switch game pieces, so I went from little blue men to little green circles, and the swerve threw me off for at least two rounds.)


Fluxx is the perfect example of the Looney Labs creative model: high replay value through wildly interactive, adaptable game play. Every game of Fluxx is different, not only because the rules are so malleable, but because with multiple games under your belt, you and your opponents become craftier, more adeptly manipulating the board and the rules to your advantage. It’s a great time.

I think puzzle fans and board game fans alike will find quite a bit to enjoy with the games from Looney Labs. So if you’ve got some Christmas cash burning a hole in your pocket, check them out!

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Tumblr, download our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at, or contact us here at the blog!

PuzzleNation Product Reviews: The Stars Are Right and Castellan


Steve Jackson Games is a recognized and well-regarded name in both the roleplaying and board game communities. With a tradition of creating games that offer engaging and curious twists on well-worn puzzle and game templates, you never quite know what you’re getting yourself into when you pick up one of their products.

They offered us the opportunity to try out two of their games for the Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, each with its own unique flavor and playing style, and we put them to the full PuzzleNation Blog test.

The Stars Are Right is a multiplayer card game where you rearrange the stars in the sky in order to summon minions and gather enough power to summon an elder god and destroy the world. It’s perfect for Christmas! =)

Seriously, though, this game is an effective fusion of several types of strategy and puzzle games. You have a simplified Magic: The Gathering-style card game with the different minions you can summon, as well as a wonderfully illustrated variant on a sliding tile puzzle in the 5×5 sky tiles laid out between the players.

Each card grants you a different opportunity to manipulate the sky (by flipping tiles over, swapping them, or shifting an entire row) and create new constellations. The more complicated the constellation, the more powerful the creature you summon, and the more points you get.

This sort of chain-solving and forward thinking becomes both more challenging and more enjoyable as you compete with other players and race toward your 10-point goal and victory. It’s as exciting to see someone change the sky to your advantage as it is frustrating to see your hard work foiled by an opportunistic move.

The artistic style of The Stars Are Right is thoroughly weird, channeling the works of H.P. Lovecraft and offering up all sorts of gross and bizarre creatures, which is juxtaposed nicely by the effective (and quite lovely) style of the sky tiles. It creates a curious separation between down-and-dirty (the card game aspect) vs. high-and-lofty (the elegant tile-puzzle aspect) that’s quite enjoyable.

All in all, The Stars Are Right is not only a strong introduction into more complicated card games, but a thoroughly fun puzzle game.

Which brings us to today’s second product review!

Castellan is a two-player puzzle-game where players both compete and collaborate to build an elaborate castle.

Every time a player completes a courtyard — walling it off completely from the rest of the game board — that courtyard is claimed, and the player is awarded points based on the number of towers framing the courtyard. The players have two small decks of cards that determine what pieces — towers, short walls, and long walls — they can play on their next turn, and once the cards are exhausted and every piece has been played, the player with the higher number of points wins, claiming the castle.

One of the most intuitive puzzle-games I’ve played in a long time, Castellan requires only a quick skim of the simple instructions before playing, making it a great introductory puzzle game for first-timers. And the molded plastic pieces add a wonderful tactile dimension to the playing experience. What kid, young or old, doesn’t want to build a castle?

But since the level of strategy and complexity is dictated by the players, this is hardly a game for kids alone. Puzzlers will find their spacial reasoning challenged as they assemble courtyards in their heads and try to determine which cards to play. Tactics and forward planning play a huge role in the gameplay, as you try to seize opportunities left by your opponent, claim courtyards, and use up your remaining pieces in ways that help you but won’t leave openings for your opponent to take advantage of.

And, quite honestly, it’s just fun to watch the board sprawl out as more and more pieces are added.

Castellan is appropriate for practically all ages (while The Stars Are Right’s monster art and general sensibilities could prove offputting to younger players or more traditional puzzle-gamers), but both bring something new to the table in terms of strategy, interactive gameplay, and puzzly challenges.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at, or contact us here at the blog!

PuzzleNation Product Review: The Walk-By Scrabble Board

Hammacher Schlemmer is perhaps best known for its library of high-end products, from massage chairs and high-tech toys to outlandishly marvelous devices like a jetpack that propels you into the air on columns of water.

But they’re also home of some unexpectedly delightful puzzle products, like the latest edition to my cubicle space, the Walk-By Scrabble Board.

Lightweight, durable, and easy to mount around the home or office, the Walk-By Scrabble Board is designed for puzzlers who don’t mind taking some time between moves to accomplish other tasks.

The magnetic letters adhere well to both the board and the player tags that conceal your tiles from others, and the dry-erase board scoreboard doesn’t stain easily. It’s perfect for repeated, regular play.

But the Walk-By Scrabble Board has another terrific facet: the casual nature of its layout infuses your gameplay. There isn’t the tension and gravitas of having several players watch you as you make your move, feeling seconds tick away as you scramble to anagram in your head. 

You can play at your leisure, offering a similar playing experience to electronic versions of the game like Words with Friends and Lexulous, but without sacrificing the more social, familial spirit of playing a game with your family. 

That combination of the best of the electronic and board game versions makes for a much more congenial playing experience overall.

As you can see, it’s a hit here at the PuzzleNation office.

Well-made and affordable, the Walk-By Scrabble Board is a great way to reignite the puzzly spirit of your household in a fun, casual way.

[This product and many others will be featured in our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, going live on PuzzleNation Blog next Wednesday!]

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at, or contact us here at the blog!