Younger Solvers and Constructors Building Online Crossword Communities!

It’s a dynamic, fluid time for crosswords. It feels like we’re on the cusp of a sea change.

Women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are featured more often, although we still have a LONG way to go on all of those fronts where representation is concerned, both for constructors and editorial staff.

Younger voices are rising up the ranks, and helping to influence the direction of crossword language through projects like the Expanded Crossword Name Database. Online resources like more inclusive word lists, free or discounted editing software (often constructed by younger solvers!), and words of guidance from online crossword collaboration groups are more available than ever.

Recently, these topics were tackled in The New York Times itself in an article about younger crossword enthusiasts penned by freelance writer and reporter Mansee Khurana.

mansee

Her article is a terrific snapshot of the modern crossword world.

It discusses the divide between older solvers and younger, and how the content of crosswords doesn’t always serve both sides. It tackles the concept of “evergreen puzzles” — crosswords edited for timeless reprint value, eschewing up-to-date and provocative references that would appeal to younger solvers and underrepresented groups for the sake of republication later.

The article mentions the many virtual and online spaces that are now comfortable haunts for younger crossword fans. Facebook forums, Discord chats, Zoom solving parties, Crossword Twitter, r/crossword on Reddit, and even Tiktok accounts dedicated to crosswords got some time in the sun, and it’s really cool to see how these new spaces have emerged and grown more influential.

[A solve-along video from YouTube, Twitch, and Crossword Tiktok user
Coffee and Crosswords. Actual solving starts around 10 minutes in.]

Several names familiar to crossword solvers were cited as well. Constructors like Sid Sivakumar (mentioned just yesterday in our Lollapuzzoola wrap-up), Nate Cardin, and Malaika Handa were all quoted in the piece, reflecting many of the same concerns we’ve heard from new and upcoming solvers in some of our recent 5 Questions interviews.

I actually remember the author’s post reaching out to the contributors and readers of r/crossword a few months ago, and I was glad to see the subreddit getting some mainstream attention. Yes, like any internet forum, it can be combative and argumentative at times, but that’s a rarity.

Most of the time, it’s a supportive community for crossword fans and aspiring constructors, a place where they share questions, bravely offer up their first attempts for input and criticism, and discuss all things puzzly. It’s genuinely inspiring to see new solvers on a near-weekly basis reaching out and being embraced by fellow solvers and cruciverbalists-in-progress.

I highly recommend you take the time out to read Mansee’s piece. She captures a true sense of not just where crosswords are now, but where they’re headed. And if these young people have anything to say about it, it’s headed somewhere very bright indeed.


dailypopwsicon

Have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

Delving into the Lollapuzzoola 14 Puzzles!

lolla-logo

The fourteenth edition of Lollapuzzoola, as is tradition, arrived on a Saturday in August, but for the second year in a row, it was hosted online to allow tournament solving from home.

I was not in virtual attendance, but I did sign up for the Next Day Division puzzle packet. Last weekend, I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hands at this year’s tournament puzzles, and I was not disappointed. Lollapuzzoola continues to push the envelope with inventive themes and unique spins on how to bring crosswords to life.

This year’s theme was “This Time, It’s Virtual… Again.” Every puzzle had something to do with social media, social distancing, or some other aspect of virtual life that emerged during the pandemic, and the constructors were clearly inspired in all sorts of ways. Let’s take a look at what they came up with.


hit-me-up

Two rehearsal puzzles served as a warm-up for this year’s tournament crosswords. The first was constructed by Brooke Husic and Sid Sivakumar and entitled “Hit Me Up!” This puzzle immediately reminded solvers that anything could happen at Lollapuzzoola.

Not only were the theme entries reading down — which isn’t that weird, but it’s fairly uncommon — but there were animated GIFs as clues for three of the answers. The theme was fairly accessible: phrases that started off with a method of communication like ZOOM or TEXT, confirmed by the revealer CONTACT HIGH (since the method of contact was the highest part of the down entry). All in all, a puzzle with a solid hook, complimented by good grid fill. Exactly what you want from a warm-up.

The second rehearsal puzzle was constructed by the same duo (but with Sid leading off the byline this time) and entitled “Box Score.”

This was a strong follow-up, featuring the word WIN as a rebus-style single-box entry, which allowed for some devious crossings (like ENTWINE crossing RAW INGREDIENTS). The fill was smooth and I learned that KOREA is the home of the Baekdu-daegan mountains. Neat!

casual

Puzzle 1: Extremely Casual Friday by Robyn Weintraub

The tournament puzzles kicked off with this enjoyable opener, a 15x grid with clean fill and quite the appropriate theme for a virtual tournament.

Each theme entry was a phrase starting with a type of pants — SWEAT, PAJAMA, YOGA, and hilariously, NO — tied together with the answer word PANTS in the bottom-right corner.

Well constructed, humorous, and a great solve… it’s the recipe for an ideal Lollapuzzoola puzzle #1.

Interesting grid entries included REPLY ALL, SLOPPY JOES, and BEST BET, and my favorite clue was “This puzzle was constructed by Brooke Husic, e.g.” for LIE.

debamlen

[Here, Deb Amlen (blue checkmark and all) demonstrates Twitter tagging.]

Puzzle 2: Tag! by Amanda Rafkin

This 17x puzzle embraced the social media theme by embedding @ symbols in the grid as starters for the theme entries (where @ represented AT, like in @ASTANDSTILL), allowing for some fun crossings.

The theme was encouraged further by the revealer TWITTER MENTIONS, as well as a blue checkmark next to Amanda’s byline. (For the uninitiated, the blue checkmark, aka the blue tick, is used on Twitter to indicate someone is a verified user. It’s often a source of some small social media clout as well.)

With strong fill and some signature Rafkin flare — it’s very Amanda to have a Sondheim reference — this was a great confidence-building solve with a heap of style. I quite enjoyed this puzzle.

Interesting grid entries included AW NUTS, EYE DOC, and STAYED INSIDE, and my favorite clue was “Sound that might drown out some $%!#ing bad words” for BLEEP.

textspeak

Puzzle 3: Get the Message by Sid Sivakumar

This 19x grid with vertical symmetry was a definite step-up in difficulty after the first two puzzles, but it’s also a strong puzzle with a great design.

The theme for this one involved chat/texting slang like TTYL and ROFL, and like the second rehearsal puzzle, it had a rebus element where those abbreviations were contained in a single box, used by two crossing entries. This was supported not only by the cluing — which included a fake username and comment to indicate some chat or textspeak was involved — but the revealer CHATBOX in the middle of the grid.

I probably wouldn’t have realized as quickly that there was a rebus involved if I hadn’t had rebuses on the brain after solving the rehearsal puzzles. But even without all hints, this was a fairly tight grid that made the most of its theme. (I wasn’t a huge fan of IN appearing three times in the grid, but that might be seen as a nitpick.)

Interesting grid entries included PRESS KIT, SASHAY AWAY, SIERRA MIST, and EVIL ONE, and my favorite clue was “Bar, barn, or barrel” for UNIT.

200

Puzzle 4: Connecting… by Brooke Husic

Okay, here we go.

Puzzle 4 was a 15x grid with one doozy of a gimmick. Most of the down clues were replaced with an animated GIF of three dots moving (like the one above), the instantly-recognizable image of a message either being typed or incoming, but that hasn’t arrived yet. (For Next Day Division solvers, there was no animation, just three dots, but the message was still clear.)

All the across clues were still there, and SOME of the down clues as well. The remaining down clues were long, and almost felt like the clues from a cryptic or British-style crossword, because they didn’t seem to quite fit the answers in the grid.

I can only imagine the baffled terror I would have felt in the moment during the tournament if I tackled this puzzle live. I imagine it would have been similar to this poor soul’s experience:

tim pierce

Thankfully, I finally realized what was going on. The down clues weren’t just for their particular coordinate, they were for all of the words in that column. For instance, 55-Down was clued “A+ hosts,” and the answer to 55-Down was MCS. That could fit. But only “hosts” applied to 55-Down. “A” and “+” were the clues for the two down entries above 55-Down: 1-Down ALPHA and 32-Down AND.

Across-only solvers probably got farther than most with this one at the start, and I can imagine the grid would feel almost impenetrable if you didn’t figure out the gimmick.

But man, this is clever as hell and a solving experience nobody is going to forget anytime soon.

Interesting grid entries included HIGGS, OPEN SECRET, and SVELTE, and my favorite clue was either “A+ hosts,” as listed above, or “Get the picture SO much” because “SO” clued BOO and I thought the misdirect was very clever.

8826947_0

Puzzle 5: You’re Muted by Patti Varol

After a brain-melter like Puzzle 4, Puzzle 5 was clearly designed as a cool-down puzzle before the tournament final. And I’m sure it served that purpose amiably for many solvers.

But for some reason, this theme took me the longest to get, and I felt so dumb when I realized how obvious it was.

This 21x grid featured theme entries where part of the phrase that sounded like “You’re” had been removed. For instance, JUNIOR EXECUTIVES became JUNE EXECUTIVES, and VEGETABLE PUREE became VEGETABLE PAY.

For some reason, the sound aspect of it just blew past me several times on the way to the forum, and I was done with the grid for MINUTES before it finally dawned on me. Patti is going to be so disappointed with me.

The theme is terrific and the grid fill is solid. This was a great capper for the tournament proper, helping bring (most) solvers back down to earth after the whirlwind that was Puzzle 4.

Interesting grid entries included SNIVEL, SINEWED, MOONSTRUCK, PHOTOBOMB, and ALL TIME LOW, and my favorite clues were “Dirt pie ingredient” for OREO and “Notable Ford of the 1970s” for GERALD.

finals

[The tournament finals, live on Twitch!]

Puzzle 6: Finals by Wyna Liu

As always, there were two sets of clues for the Finals puzzle, the Local and the more difficult Express clues. No matter which clues you were working with, you were in for a terrific tournament finale.

This themeless 15x was tough but engaging, featuring lots of long entries and unusual phrases crossing, making for a satisfyingly challenge finale and a suitable final boss for the top contenders. The entry NHL MVP tripped me up more than once, what a brutal combination of letters, but the tight grid and strong cluing for both the Local and Express solvers made this an excellent wrap-up to a great day of puzzling

Interesting grid entries included CRAFT VODKA, THE ROYAL WE, “I’M NOT A CAT” (referencing that amazing online legal proceeding debacle), ACID ROCK, Y-AXES, and LEO X. Both the Local and Express sets of clues had some gems, so I’ll list them separately below:

Local clues:

  • “Saved butt” for ROACH
  • “Ah, this is the life (to Mario and Luigi)!” for ONE-UP
  • “Ones for the books?” for SCHOLARS
  • “Moving parts of a painting on ‘Scooby-Doo'” for EYES

Express clues:

  • “What might require a blunt instrument?” for ROACH
  • “Congress, after adjourning?” for BREAKUPSEX
  • “Video game life form?” for ONE-UP
  • “Cabs, e.g.” for REDS
  • “Whence a popular countdown in Times Sq.” for TRL

There was also a tiebreaker themeless mini by Nam Jin Yoon. The mini was a quick and satisfying solve, anchored around the grid-spanning entries GATECRASHER and READ THE ROOM. Loaded with great vocabulary, this puzzle offered a nice wind-down after a strong tournament and several really engaging puzzles.

Interesting grid entries included RAHRAH and TOO SOON, and my favorite clue from the mini was “Some fishy characters?” for MERMEN.

[There was also a meta-puzzle suite AND a collection of ten mini-crosswords dubbed the Mid-Day Mini Meta which was constructed by a small army of strong up-and-coming constructors, both of which are absolutely worth your time.]


The puzzles at Lollapuzzoola always impress, and this year was no exception. The grids were neatly constructed, there was little crosswordese, and the creative themes, grid designs, clues, and puzzle mechanics ensured that not only would fun be had by all, but that the puzzles would linger in your memory. Especially Puzzle 4.

The puzzles were varied and engaging, and the Next Day Division solving experience is always a treat. Congratulations on the competitors and the organizers who made it all happen, especially in a virtual format with so many additional solvers. (Click here to check out the Twitch feed of the entire tournament!)

Lollapuzzoola is only getting more creative, more groundbreaking, and more clever with each passing year, and it’s just awesome to watch it grow and evolve.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year!


dailypopwsicon

Have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

PuzzleNation is Sponsoring This Year’s Lollapuzzoola!

lolla-logo

The summer is always a marvelous time for puzzly events. We just had the Boswords tournament, and next weekend, there’s another online crossword tournament awaiting solvers!

Lollapuzzoola returns on Saturday, August 21st, and this year, we’re proud to announce that PuzzleNation is one of the tournament’s sponsors!

That’s right, we are providing free subscriptions to The Crosswords Club Digital to all twelve of the tournament finalists (12 in all).

Be sure to click the link for more details, or to sign up for this year’s event.

And if you’re unfamiliar with The Crosswords Club Digital, let’s fill you in on the details!

The-Crosswords-Club-Digital-XWCD-ribbon

It’s a digital subscription service that provides you with six Sunday-sized crosswords each month, created by some of the sharpest crossword constructors in the business today, and edited by puzzle luminaries Patti Varol and Brad Wilber.

You can solve them on your desktop, on your tablet, or printed out, and each month is guaranteed to provide you with puzzles as fun as they are challenging. Plus each month, you receive a bonus word puzzle!

Click this link to check out a sample of the terrific puzzles you’ll get through The Crosswords Club Digital.

I have been a huge fan of the The Crosswords Club for years, and their Digital service is another fantastic way to get top-notch puzzles with the click of a button.

You can check out the full details for The Crosswords Club Digital here, and don’t forget to give Lollapuzzoola a chance as well.

They’ve announced the constructors for this year’s tournament, and the field is loaded with talent! This year’s puzzles will be handled by Brooke Husic, Sid Sivakumar, Wyna Liu, Amanda Rafkin, Patti Varol, and Robyn Weintraub. (Plus they’ve assembled a dynamite ten-person team to craft their bonus event, the Mid-day Multi Mini Meta Mayhem.)

Will you be virtually attending Lollapuzzoola, fellow puzzlers? Or checking out The Crosswords Club Digital? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


dailypopwsicon

Have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

Sometimes, You Can’t Trust the “Rules” of Crosswords

There are a lot of things you learn as you solve more and more crosswords.

You learn vocabulary, both words that are simply new to you AND words that are common to crosswords. You learn cluing tropes, like question marks indicating wordplay or quotation marks indicating informal speech or exclamations.

You also start to learn some of the constructors’ tricks.

Now, there are all sorts of ways that constructors can play with solvers, but all told, they seem to fit into three overall categories: clue trickery, theme gimmickry, and grid manipulation.

We’ve spoken about clue trickery loads of times in the past, and no doubt will again. And theme gimmickry will be the subject of a future post.

But today, we’d like to focus on grid manipulation.

tumblr_nltrvaQWZN1qafoq6o1_400

So, what do we mean by that? Well, essentially, grid manipulation is our catchall term for the most devious arrow in the constructor’s quiver. It’s when the standard accepted rules of crosswords no longer apply.

No matter what sort of symmetry is involved or how the grid is constructed, there are generally three accepted rules of crosswords:

  • Across words read across.
  • Down words read down.
  • One letter per square.

These are the fundamental rules, Newton’s three laws of crosswords. They’re the rules every solver expects to be in play when they sit down to solve a crosswords.

But that’s not always true.

gopher

Over the years, crafty constructors have found ways to push the boundaries of what you can do with those iconic grids of black and white squares.

Some constructors have literally gone outside the box, creating puzzles where letters of answers are placed beyond the grid itself, as in Sid Sivakumar’s American Values Club crossword “Bursting With Pride” a year or two ago (with the letters LGBTQIA+ appearing in sequence).

Byron Walden’s Fasten Your Seatbelts puzzle from the AVC crossword in 2019 also extended beyond the grid. Extra letters served not only as “bumps” along the otherwise smooth sides of the grid, but spelled out various bumps, like RAZOR, SPEED, and GOOSE.

Other constructors find fresh ways to pack more into a grid than expected.

The most common form is the rebus puzzle, whether multiple letters can be placed in a single grid square. Sometimes, it’s only a single square in a themed entry where multiple letters fit. Other times, you can get whole strings of them. The exact puzzle escapes me, but I can remember a crossword where two down entries all had rebus squares, so instead of one film title in that down entry, two would fit in each.

One impressive example that comes to mind is Andy Kravis’s “Currency Exchange” puzzle from the 2019 Indie 500 puzzle tournament.

The puzzle actually had little ATM graphics in various grid boxes, and they represented different currencies concealed in the theme entries. Plus, the across and down entries that shared an ATM had different currencies in their entries. For instance, one ATM represented WON in SMALL WONDER and DINAR in ORDINARY.

Other puzzles, known as quantum puzzles, feature multiple possible answers in the same space.

1996 election puzzle gif

The most famous example is the 1996 Election Day crossword. The puzzle “predicted” the outcome of the election quite cleverly by allowing for either CLINTON ELECTED or BOB DOLE ELECTED to read out, depending on how the solver answered seven down clues.

Arguably the most impressive one I’ve ever seen was published in 2014. Constructors Kacey Walker and David Quarfoot combined some considerable Scrabble skills and a dynamite crossword grid to create an amazing puzzle.

You see, clues 26-Across, 36-Across, and 44-Across all featured seven letters, like a rack in Scrabble. It was up to the solver to find the anagram of each rack that fit the grid. Walker and Quarfoot designed the puzzle so that each of those clues had three possible correct answers — for 26-Across: ROWDIER, WORDIER, and WORRIED all fit the down clues — meaning there were a staggering 27 possible correct solutions!

Still, those puzzles followed the standard across and down rules. But other puzzles don’t.

In those puzzles, entries don’t go the way you’d think, bending or taking unexpected twists in the grid. One example was Patrick Berry’s brain-melting Puzzle 5 from the 2016 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, “Changing Lanes,” where answers zigzagged across the grid.

A less complex puzzle with a similar gimmick appeared in the 2019 Boswords tournament. “Spill the Tea” by John Lieb and David Quarfoot featured longer entries than would fit in the given spaces. The trick was to shorten in by removing a brand of tea from the answer, and letting it read down off that across entry, rather than inside it. So, for instance, HOTEL CHAIN read HOTELCN across, because CHAI was reading down from the C instead.

thatsnoneofmy

Lieb and Quarfoot incorporated five such “spills” in the grid, and clued each tea reading down simply with “Oops.” It was an immensely clever way to utilize the across and down entries in a unique, unexpected way.

As you can see, puzzle innovation can come in virtually any form, and often, the very foundational rules of crosswords can be bent or broken to create an ambitious, brain-twisting, and (ultimately) satisfying solve.

So be on the lookout, fellow puzzlers. You truly never know how constructors will challenge you 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!

A New Weekly Crossword League Coming Soon!

boswords new

The internet puzzle community has done an impressive job over the last six months of adapting to the social distancing restrictions of the current COVID-19 crisis, with tournaments like Crossword Tournament From Your Couch, Lollapuzzoola, and Boswords successfully going virtual in 2020.

And now John Lieb and Andrew Kingsley, the creative team behind Boswords, have announced a new tournament-inspired online puzzle project to keep crossword fans engaged for the next few months!

It’s called The Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League, and every Monday night in October and November, a new themeless crossword will be posted for competitors to solve. That’s eight puzzles (plus a championship round to follow), along with a preseason puzzle to get people used to the format.

Although each week’s puzzle only has one grid, there will be three sets of clues, each representing a different difficulty level for solvers. When you register to participate, you’ll choose the difficulty level for your clues.

From least challenging to most challenging, the ranks are called Smooth, Choppy, and Stormy. (Quite appropriate, given that we’re heading into unfamiliar waters here!)

120718_crossword_L

Each week’s puzzle will be accompanied by a Twitch stream where participants can follow along and discuss all things puzzly with their fellow crossword enthusiasts!

You can compete as an individual or as part of a pair, and with a one-time registration fee of $25 — or $5 for students and those in need — that’s very reasonable indeed!

Not only that, but they’ve already announced the team of constructors assembled for the League, and it is a stacked roster of talent.

Nate Cardin, Emily Carroll, Tracy Gray, David Quarfoot, Amanda Rafkin, Claire Rimkus, Sid Sivakumar, Yacob Yonas, and Stella Zawistowski are all contributing puzzles, and you won’t know ahead of time which constructor’s puzzle you’ll get on a given week, which keeps things interesting.

With experienced crossword constructor and editor Brad Wilber as the League’s puzzle editor and the dynamic duo of Lieb and Kingsley as assistant editors and League directors, I have high hopes for this project going forward.

Check out the full informational video on the Boswords homepage, as well as links for further info and registration! (Register by September 28th to participate!)

I think this is an incredibly cool and ambitious project, and a really neat way to bring tournament-style solving in a bite-size format to as many puzzlers as possible.

Will you be taking part in this exciting new puzzle challenge, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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 Lollapuzzoola 13 puzzles!

lolla logo

The thirteenth edition of Lollapuzzoola, as is tradition, arrived on a Saturday in August, but for the first time ever, it was hosted online to allow tournament solving from home. As one of the highlights of the puzzly calendar, I was glad to see it make the virtual jump, as Boswords did before it.

I was not in virtual attendance, but I did sign up for the Next Day Division puzzle packet. Last weekend, I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hands at this year’s tournament puzzles, and I was not disappointed. Lollapuzzoola continues to push the envelope with inventive themes and unique spins on how to bring crosswords to life.

This year’s theme was “Don’t Touch That Dial!” so every puzzle had something to do with television or TV channels, and the constructors were clearly inspired in all sorts of ways. Let’s take a look at what they came up with.


Instead of Brian Cimmet’s usual Twinlets puzzle as a warm-up, this year featured two practice puzzles. The first, constructed by Patrick Blindauer and entitled “I Want My MTV,” allowed solvers to hit the ground running.

The accessible theme — adding the letter M to established TV shows, a la SCOOBYDOOM or AMERICAN MIDOL — is the sort of fun and frivolous idea to spark solver imaginations and ready them for a proper day of puzzling.

Interesting grid entries included DATUM and I’LL BE BACK (as well as some nice misdirection with YEE-haw instead of HEE haw), and my favorite clue was “Traffic cop?” for NARC.

The second practice puzzle, a themeless mini constructed by Brian Cimmet, offered a slight uptick in difficulty and a nice preview of the sort of solving tournament attendees would see in the final.

Interesting grid entries included BOBA TEA, ORCHESTRATE, and ROLLED R (as well as tournament constructor STELLA Zawistowski getting referenced!), and my favorite clue was “One of three in ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day'” for COMMA.

soap opera

Puzzle 1: Soap Operas by Brooke Husic

The competition puzzles kicked off with this terrific opener, a 17×13 grid that showed off the flexibility and creativity of construction and grid design that keeps Lollapuzzoola fresh. (Also, I’m a sucker for a punny start to a tournament, so the theme was a plus for me.)

The themed entries featured commercial soap brands as part of common phrases (like IVORY TOWER and DOVE TAILED), which were then clued as “soap operas” for viewers.

It was a nicely constructed grid that flowed well, and it’s exactly the sort of puzzle to introduce new solvers to tournament puzzles while entertaining the established vets.

Interesting grid entries included DIWALI, ACADIA, and HOPE SO, and my favorite clue was “Card game that can go on and on and on and on and on and on and on, like this clue” for WAR.

Puzzle 2: The Final Countdown by Sid Sivakumar

This tall, thin 12×25 grid (coupled with THAT title) virtually guaranteed that Europe’s faux-epic anthem would be stuck in your head for a good chunk of the tournament, but I’ll forgive Sid, because I really enjoyed this puzzle’s hook.

The theme entries all began with a number (like 4 LETTER WORDS or 3-D TELEVISION), and as you expect, they counted down until reaching the climactic pronouncement AND WE’RE LIVE at the bottom part of the grid. It’s a fun idea that was complimented nicely by the unusual grid, and the puzzle flowed nicely from top to bottom as the entries counted down.

Interesting grid entries included PEARLED, RETURN KEY, MR SULU (which, before I looked at the clue, I kinda hoped would be MR. SHOW), and BUNGALOW. My favorite clues were “[Feed me! Pet me! Feed me! Play with me!] … or actually sometimes [Leave me alone!]” for MEOW and “‘Do not feed the ____’ (advice for bridge travelers and internet users)” for TROLL.

At this point, I noticed that both Puzzle 1 and 2 had an all-caps clue where the answer was a TV network. This feature continued throughout the tournament as a nice little through line, though its ultimate purpose wouldn’t reveal itself until after Puzzle 5. Stay tuned.

toy story

[Image courtesy of Pixar.]

Puzzle 3: Flipping Channels by Rachel Fabi

A swapping-themed puzzle is practically a tradition at Lollapuzzoola at this point, so I wasn’t at all surprised to see that idea adapted for TV with Puzzle 3’s hook. Each pair of theme entries not only included the names of channel, but swapped the second halves of phrases including those channels. For instance FOXGLOVES and OXYGENMOLECULES became OXYGENGLOVES and FOXMOLECULES.

As I solved, I wasn’t sure if these would be random pairs swapped, mirrored pairs swapped, or a continuous chain of swaps throughout the puzzle, so it took me a little longer to complete the grid. This was a definite step-up in difficulty from Puzzle 1 and 2, but not excessively so. (Some of the vocabulary also slowed me down, since I didn’t know NITTANY or INFODEMIC.) Still, it was a solid puzzle and an appropriate challenge for the midway point of the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included NOGOODNIK, CHEETO, HOT POCKET, GO GREEN, and the aforementioned INFODEMIC, and my favorite clues were “Nanjiani’s ‘The Lovebirds’ costar” for RAE and “Bisexual Greta of Old Hollywood” for GARBO, two clues that felt very fresh and topical, particularly for entries that solvers have seen plenty of times before.

meghan-markle-deal-or-no-deal

[Image courtesy of Game Show Network.]

Puzzle 4: Deal or No Deal by joon pahk

A big jump in difficulty and complexity, Puzzle 4 was an immensely clever and well-executed grid that took a familiar crossword concept — removing or adding letters from entries — and mined it for unexpected depth. On the left-hand side of the grid, a letter was added to both the clue AND the entry. For example, “Entranced cover” clued DAWNING. [Bolding is my own to highlight the added letter.]

On the right-hand side of the grid (but in the same row, one black square away), that entry was complemented by the same letter subtracted from both clue AND entry. The example above, for instance, was matched by “Go _own a spout” cluing _RAIN OUT. [Again, spacing added is my own to highlight the missing letter.]

These letter trades — the deal or no deal of the title — were tightly executed and made total sense to the solver without any explanation needed. Not only that, but the added/missing letter was always taken from the same part of the word on the other side! (Third letter E in FREIGHT was the missing third letter in SH_ARING next door.)

It’s incredibly impressive construction that is nicely balanced by solid fill and strong cluing. This is easily my favorite joon pahk puzzle I’ve ever solved, and will no doubt make my list of top puzzles of the year.

Interesting grid entries included GONZAGA, MEERKAT, NIP/TUCK, TWYLA, and SCHLEP, and my favorite clues were “Slightly subpar, ironically” for ONE OVER, “Wednesday the third?” for SILENT D, and “Snow or paint, in certain arenas” for AMMO.

conman1112

Puzzle 5: Schedule Swaps by Stella Zawistowski

This 21x marked the end of the regular tournament puzzles, and it felt like a suitable final boss for most solvers in the competition. The grid was dense, well-constructed, and challenging, featuring another smartly-executed swapping gimmick. This time around, the theme was common phrases where one of the words was also a TV show, but that show was replaced with another TV show to make a new phrase.

For example, the phrase BIRTHING COACH became BIRTHING SCRUBS as COACH was relocated elsewhere in the grid. Fitting in all these themed entries — six of them! — plus their accompanying TV shows was no doubt a hefty challenge for the constructor, but Zawistowski made it feel effortless in this demanding but well-made puzzle.

Interesting grid entries included GALILEO, SAN PEDRO, DISCIPLE, PETSIT, AIRPOPS, and SO SUE ME (as well as the thoroughly baffling ONE O’ CAT, which I had to look up after), and my favorite clue was “‘Silver Springs,’ to ‘Go Your Own Way'” for B-SIDE.

As for the all-caps TV network clues we spotted earlier? They also appeared in Puzzles 3, 4, and 5, and it turns out, they were part of a clever little metapuzzle hidden in the tournament grids.

The five TV networks, one in each puzzle, turned out to be TBS, VH1, SyFy, ESPN, and TNT. And if you take the first letter of each, you get the hidden answer TV SET.

Very nicely done, constructors!

berternie

Puzzle 6: Finals by Robyn Weintraub

As always, there were two sets of clues for the Finals puzzle, the Local and the more difficult Express clues. No matter which clues you were working with, you were in for a terrific tournament finale.

With a pair of 12-letter entries from classic children’s television as anchors for the puzzle — MISTER ROGERS and BERT AND ERNIE — Weintraub delivered a tight grid with some strong fill and plenty of long, crossing entries in the corners to keep solvers guessing.

For me, this was a nice tournament landmark, as I powered through the Express clues and completed the grid without having to reference the easier Local clues once. I know this is commonplace for the top solvers, but it was a nice confidence boost for me as an enthusiastic solver, but hardly the fastest or the most competent.

It was a perfect final puzzle to wrap up one of the most consistent and enjoyable puzzle sets they’ve ever assembled for the tournament. With over 1,000 solvers participating through the online format, I can’t think of a better way to introduce them to the spirit and style of Lollapuzzoola than this year’s puzzles. Nicely done, team!

Interesting grid entries included WENT TO BED, SQUARE PEG, FALSE ALARM, PECOS, and NSFW. Both the Local and Express sets of clues had some gems, so I’ll list them separately below:

Local clues:

  • “Big cheese with the bacon” for CFO
  • “Escape room finds” for KEYS
  • “Month in which National ‘Twilight Zone’ Day is observed” for MAY
  • “‘____ Pressure’ (‘Baywatch’ episode with a punny title)” for PIER

Express clues:

  • “Place after place” for SHOW
  • “Canal zone?” for EAR
  • “‘Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ‘Aina i ka Pono’ or ‘Excelsior'” for STATE MOTTO
  • “PBS ‘Viewers Like You'” for DONORS
  • “‘Panic at Malibu ____’ (‘Baywatch’ pilot episode) for PIER

bay-5-1024x576

[Top(less) puzzlers.]

There was also a tiebreaker themeless mini by Amanda Rafkin (who we recently interviewed!). The mini was a quick and satisfying solve, loaded with great vocabulary, offering a nice cooldown after a strong tournament and several really engaging puzzles.

Interesting grid entries included MACARONI ART and SO EXTRA, and my favorite clue from the mini was “One paying dollars for quarters” for TENANT.


The puzzles at Lollapuzzoola always impress, and this year was no exception. The grids were tight, there was little crosswordese, and the creative themes, grid designs, and puzzle mechanics ensured that not only would fun be had by all, but that the puzzles would linger in your memory.

Mission accomplished, and congratulations on the competitors and the organizers who made it all happen, especially in a virtual format with so many additional solvers. Lollapuzzoola is only getting more creative, more groundbreaking, and more clever with each passing year, and it’s just awesome to watch it grow and evolve.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year!


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!