Puzzle Romance!

puzzlelove

Hello there, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

It’s Valentine’s Day, and in lieu of our usual post touting different ideas for celebrating love in a puzzly way — since it’s a bit short-notice for those ideas — we thought we’d share some of our favorite tales of puzzle romance.

(Of course, if you ARE looking for ideas, you’re welcome to click here. Just saying.)

escalators1

In the past, I’ve had the privilege of reporting on two puzzly proposals that were quite brilliantly facilitated by our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles. Each time, the gentleman in question — both times named Bryan, oddly enough — asked that the proposal be hidden in a favorite puzzle, slipped into one of their puzzle books. The first time, it was Escalators, the second, Simon Says.

Both times, the plans were executed to perfection, and both times, the lovely fiancees-to-be said yes.

weddingpost1

(We’ve also previously shared the stories of proposals couched in a game of Monopoly and a Rubik’s Cube.)

But my favorite story of puzzle romance involves two friends of mine who are both devotees of cryptic crosswords. (For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call them Carol and George.)

Carol and George are one of those brilliantly matched couples that makes you smile just thinking of them. Marvelously compatible interests and senses of humor and general weirdness that makes relationships worthwhile.

George had several gifts picked out for Carol, but he wanted to surprise her with a little something extra, a bit of diabolical sweetness only a true puzzle devotee would love.

So, before Carol received each small token of affection, she was given a cryptic crossword (also known as a British-style crossword) clue to solve. Cryptic crossword clues involve both cunning wordplay and a definition. The number after the clue provides the number of letters in the answer word.

cryptic

[A cryptic crossword by constructors Cox and Rathvon,
courtesy of National Post Cryptic Crossword Forum.]

Here are the clues George created. Hopefully you can figure out the answers just as Carol did!

Really glitchy web address loaded between Tuesday and first of year (5)

Found, amidst mishap, pyramid’s content (5)

Begin tortured existence (5)

Thine enemy, in the end, belonging to us both (5)

Plus, there’s an added bonus: the four five-letter answers, when placed in order, form a phrase.

Hopefully, there will be some wonderful new stories of puzzle romance to come. Maybe even tonight! If you have a story to share, comment below! We’d love to hear it!


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PuzzleNation Book Review: Two Across

Welcome to another installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!

All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR articles are either directly or indirectly related to the world of puzzling, and hopefully you’ll find something to tickle your literary fancy in this entry or the entries to come.

Let’s get started!

Our book review post this time around features Jeff Bartsch’s novel Two Across.

Vera is a math prodigy whose childhood has been spent in rundown motels as her mother’s sales job takes them all around the country. Stanley is an overworked master of trivia, living in a hotel under the thumb and watchful eye of his reclusive mother.

Vera wants adventure, intrigue, and freedom from her mother’s itinerant lifestyle. Stanley wants to abandon the Harvard-bound track his mother has railroaded him toward and take up his true passion: creating crossword puzzles.

When the two of them meet at a prestigious spelling bee, they form a curious bond in that nebulous gray area between friends and more-than-friends.

Stanley’s master plan is for them to fake a wedding for the cash and gifts, funding their plans to escape their mothers and live their own lives. But the scam is complicated by Vera’s growing feelings for Stanley and his singleminded focus on his goals.

As we follow them through Vera’s college career and beyond, we watch their relationship evolve and change, haunted by Stanley’s selfishness and Vera’s willingness to pick up at a moment’s notice and start a new life elsewhere.

But, through the peaks and valleys of friendship and more, Vera and Stanley’s mutual love of crosswords proves to be not only common ground, but the thread that may draw them back together.

Partly a coming-of-age story, partly a romantic comedy of errors, miscues, and unintended consequences, Two Across is an interesting look at the social awkwardness that often comes hand-in-hand with intellect, as well as the many curious ways peoples’ lives connect over time.

Stanley is, admittedly, a putz — proving the old adage that being smart doesn’t necessarily make you wise — and he becomes at times a frustrating character to follow, almost serving as something of an antagonist in the story.

Vera on the other hand, for all her foibles and quirks, is sincere, engaging, and believable, someone who forges her own path. While you do root for Stanley to right his ship and make up for his failings, it’s far easier to cheer for Vera when she picks up the pieces (more than once) and continues onward toward a hopefully brighter future.

And since this is a puzzle blog, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the crosswordier aspects of the novel.

The puzzle references for the most part are clever, with sharp themes and playful cluing. (Though a reference to having the 8-letter RIFFRAFF as a center entry made me wary.)

Stanley’s early puzzle efforts in particular are great, in one case cluing words like BUTTERFLIES, CONCERN, and APPREHENSION with “winged insects,” “business,” and “the catching of a suspect,” while allowing the anxiety theme to emerge. In another, he creates a New York-themed puzzle where the boroughs are located geographically in the grid.

(Sadly, we only hear about these ambitious grids, we never see them.)

But it’s Vera’s puzzles that drive the narrative. When difficulties between them arise, Stanley hopes that she will reach out to him through published puzzles, solving obsessively so he won’t miss out if she does.

As someone who has forged many friendships (and a relationship or two) on shared puzzly interests like crosswords, spelling bees, and trivia, I related to a lot of the awkward moments in this book, and I suspect many other readers will as well.

The novel does drag a bit near the end as it diverts from the Stanley-Vera focus for an unexpected interlude, but for the most part, Bartsch delivers an enjoyably Ross and Rachel-style romance for the world of puzzles.


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Valentine’s Day is fast approaching…

Valentine’s Day is this Saturday, and it can be tough to find something appropriate for your significant other that’s sincere and interesting and heartfelt. This is as true for puzzle lovers as it is for everyone else.

So, in the spirit of romance, love, affection, and all things Valentine’s Day, I’ve compiled a few puzzly suggestions for what to give your significant other.

Now, you can always start with something simple, like a subscription to a puzzle service like The Uptown Puzzle Club, The American Values Club Crossword, or Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest. New puzzles every week or every month are a great gift. (Especially the Valentine’s Deluxe Set for the Penny Dell Crosswords app on PuzzleNation! *wink*)

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

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 — Brendan Emmett Quigley for one — 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 instead? It involves the same crossing style, but doesn’t require you to use every letter.

[This grid is presented fill-in style, in case you
don’t want to use crossword-style numbering.
Check out the original here.]

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.

Some themed entries could include where you first met, favorite meals, favorite movie… heck, if you’ve been together a long time, the names of your kids, or your favorite vacation spots.

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. =)

If that’s not your cup of tea, maybe do a scavenger hunt! You could leave clues around leading to a gift, or a romantic dinner, or some other grand finale. Maybe a rose with each clue.

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.

You could even make a game of it! Play Valentine’s Day Bingo.

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

Maybe go for a walk or take your loved one out to dinner, 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…

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

A friend of mine did something puzzly and romantic for his girlfriend, creating cryptic crossword clues she had to solve in order to receive each birthday gift he’d gotten her. When all of the clues were solved, they spelled out a special message. (You can check out the story here.)

And let me know if you or your significant other have ever shared any puzzly romantic moments!

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!