5 Years of PuzzleNation Blog!

This week, we’re celebrating five years of PuzzleNation Blog.

That’s kind of amazing to me. Five years. Almost seven hundred and fifty posts I’ve written here.

I’ve unraveled brain teasers and explained pop culture references. I’ve accepted the challenges of fellow puzzlers and foreign governments alike. I’ve delved into history and tried to predict the future. I’ve celebrated the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle, and learned more about them than I ever could have imagined.

I’ve had the privilege of announcing new puzzles for the first time ever. I’ve gone to crossword tournaments and conventions, I’ve interviewed all sorts of amazing, creative people. I’ve spread the word about brilliant puzzles, fantastic games, and numerous worthy causes and crowdfunding efforts. I’ve even reported on important news in the puzzle-game industry.

During my time as a puzzler, I’ve seen puzzles leap from pen-and-paper to apps in your pocket. I’ve seen Sudoku rise up and sweep across the globe as a genuine cultural phenomenon.

I’ve engaged in scavenger hunts that crossed oceans and tried to crack riddles from the past. I’ve wondered what the next century holds for crosswords, and if we’ll ever run out of Sudoku.

When I pushed for PuzzleNation to start a puzzle blog, my goal was to create a place that would become a hub for all things puzzly. Yes, obviously, I wanted to recruit users for our puzzle apps and sell puzzle sets galore, but I also wanted to play a role in building and contributing to the puzzle-game community.

Puzzlers come from all walks of life. They like all sorts of puzzles, from mechanical brain teasers to pen-and-paper classics. Some channel their puzzly energies into art, or music, or games. Some seek ever-more-challenging conundrums to solve. And some just enjoy a fun little puzzle in their pocket during a cup of coffee.

I’m proud to have welcomed all of them to PN Blog as fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers. It’s been a blast, and I have no doubt it will continue to challenge and engage me for years to come.

Thanks for taking this ride with us. Happy puzzling, friends.

And stay tuned. We’ve got something fun and festive in store for you Thursday to celebrate. =)


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Color Cube Sudoku

[Note: I received a free copy of this product in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Sudoku is one of the most popular pen-and-paper puzzles in the world. It’s found in numerous daily newspapers, puzzle books, and smartphone apps.

After years of tackling regular Sudoku, Extreme Sudoku, Word Sudoku, Mega Sudoku, Samurai Sudoku, Geometric Sudoku, Sum-Doku, and numerous other variations, you’d think the puzzle community at large would’ve exhausted every possible version of Sudoku.

Enter the crafty folks at ThinkFun, who have put a unique spin on another Sudoku variant: Color Sudoku. In Color Sudoku, you have nine colors to arrange instead of numbers.

ThinkFun has upped the ante with Color Cube Sudoku, their latest puzzle-game, by combining the twisty-turny cube possibilities of a Rubik’s Cube with Sudoku-style deductive solving.

It seems like a simple enough set-up. You’ve got a tray and nine multi-colored cubes. Each cube has four of the six possible colors: green, red, blue, yellow, orange, and white. And it’s up to you to arrange the nine cubes in the grid in a 3×3 pattern so that each color only appears once in each row and column.

But that arrangement already introduces complications. Unlike a pen-and-paper puzzle, where you can place any number (or in this case, any color) in any square you choose, the preset color arrangements on each cube limit your choices.

If you need a blue square in the first row, sixth column, given the cubes available to you, you might end up with a second yellow square in your row. Which means, instead of needing a new cube, you need to change one of the cubes you’ve already placed and try again.

What once seemed simple now offers a greater challenge.

But, like many ThinkFun puzzle-games, the more you play around with the possibilities, the more you begin developing new strategies and get into the psychology of the puzzle itself.

Once you’ve placed a few of the cubes, next-level deductive reasoning kicks in, and you can eliminate certain possibilities and begin working more than one step ahead at a time.

For instance, if you’ve placed two cubes in a column, you’ll know you need to change one of the cubes if the third cube will need a green spot in both columns. Since that’s impossible, even without placing the third cube, you know you need to change one of the two you’ve already placed. Which means you’re preventing wasted moves and pushing closer to an actual solution.

Whether you’re tackling Color Cube Sudoku alone or with partners, whether you’re trying to crack a regular 6×6 pattern or taking a whack at some of the variant challenges they suggest — like knight’s paths and other difficult patterns — this is a deduction puzzle that feels like play instead of work.

When I tested this out with a fellow puzzler, we immediately began playing it in a slightly more competitive way. One of us would place a cube, and then the other would place a cube, and we would keep going until no cube could be placed.

You can end the game there, or you can take it a step further, and introduce rules where moving or shifting previously-placed cubes becomes part of the game in order to extend the puzzly gameplay. Heck, if you go long enough, it eventually becomes a race to see who can actually solve the Color Cube Sudoku layout first!

The designers state that there are 2,641,807,540,224 different ways to arrange the 9 cubes, and with seemingly endless variation in such a simple set-up, this is one puzzle-game you can put down and return to numerous times without burning out or feeling like you’ve conquered it forever.

Color Cube Sudoku is available for $19.99 from ThinkFun and select retailers!


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Pun in the Sun! It’s a Summer Wordplay Party!

Oh yes, it’s that time again! It’s to unleash our puzzly and punny imaginations and engage in a bit of sparkling wordplay!

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

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellSummerPuzzles, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles and vacations, the summer months, surf movies, camp, activities… anything and everything you associate with summer!

Examples include Summer Triangles, Beach Blanket Bingo, or Suntan-glewords!

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


Summertime, and the Living is Easy Sudoku

School’s Out of Place for Summer

Camp Tanglewood

Which Way to San Jose Words

Summer lovin’, had me a blips

You’re invited to a neighborhood block party; come at 6’s and 7’s

Cancellations my reservation

Summerdoku

Picknic and Choose

Hopscotch the globe

Middle of the Road Warrior

Sisterhood of the Traveling Spanners

Grand Tourist Trap

The End-of-the-Line-less Summer

Rods & Wheels

Word Maze Runner

Kakuro Vs. the Volcano

A Perfect Hang Ten

Annetagrams Funicello

Fiddler’s Crab Frame

Surfs-Up and Downs

Ups and Dunes

Sun’rays’ burn

Junebox Jumble

Abagust

I Know What You Did First and Last Summer / Insiders Know What You Did Last Summer

Catalina Caperfect Fit

Bit Sand Pieces

Bricks Sand Mortar / Bricks and S’mortar

Surfin’-sert-a-Bird

Take a Letter from Camp

Point the Way Home


There were a few submissions that deserve their own section, as several of our intrepid puzzlers went above and beyond.

-Glossing and Burning in Extreme Sundoku

-Exchange Boardwalks featuring Ice Cream Dots and Dashes

-Have a nice cool “coco nutty crossword” smoothy!

-“Rapid Reader Encounters Bookworms on Word Trails; You Can Take It From There”

And one solver took it to an entirely unexpected rhyming level:

Kellermans we come together, Simon Says as one
We have Shared-a-Letter seasons Takeout, Piggybacks, and fun.
Summer days will soon be Odds & Evens, soonly Autumn starts
And tonight our Mixmaster whispers softly in our Heads & Tails.


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

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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!

Potent Quotables!

Quotations are a major part of the puzzle landscape. From cryptograms and Syllacrostics to crosswords where you end up with unhelpful clues like “Part 1 of quote,” I’d bet that an avid solver rarely goes a day without encountering a quote somewhere in their puzzling.

I was working on a quote puzzle just the other day, and it occurred to me that, despite the hundreds and hundreds of puzzles involving quotes that I’ve created and edited over the years, I couldn’t think of any that were actually about puzzles.

So, naturally, I went looking for quotes about puzzles.

I had to narrow the field to crosswords, because quotes about puzzles were both too numerous and, oddly enough, not actually about puzzles.

“Each person is an enigma. You’re a puzzle not only to yourself but also to everyone else, and the great mystery of our time is how we penetrate this puzzle.” — Theodore Zeldin

Oh sure, they mention puzzles, but only as a metaphor for something else. People are puzzles, or life is a puzzle, or the world is a puzzle, or writing is a puzzle, or acting is a puzzle, or making a movie is a puzzle. Insert topic, blah blah, puzzle metaphor.

You get the idea.

At least some people stick to the subject of puzzles when getting metaphorical.

“There seem to be two main types of people in the world: crosswords and Sudokus.” — Rebecca McKinsey

Betty White has something to say on that subject:

“I love words. Sudoku I don’t get into, I’m not into numbers that much, and there are people who are hooked on that. But crossword puzzles, I just can’t — if I get a puppy and I paper train him and I put the — if all of a sudden I’d open the paper and there’s a crossword puzzle — ‘No, no, you can’t go on that, honey. I’ll take it.'”

See, now we’re getting into actual crossword quotes.

Oh, no, wait. One more metaphor:

“Fighting with him was like trying to solve a crossword and realizing there’s no right answer.” — Taylor Swift

Apparently Taylor Swift doesn’t know how crossword puzzles work. (Then again, she had that song where Romeo and Juliet had a happy ending, so maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree here…)

I shall rebut Miss Swift with a Stephen Sondheim quote: “The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution.”

Okay, we’re back on track.

This might be the most famous quote about crosswords:

There’s a definite theme of crosswords being associated with retirement and relaxation.

“But I’m really enjoying my retirement. I get to sleep in every day. I do crossword puzzles and eat cake.” — Derek Landy

“I would prefer to live forever in perfect health, but if I must at some time leave this life, I would like to do so ensconced on a chaise longue, perfumed, wearing a velvet robe and pearl earrings, with a flute of champagne beside me and having just discovered the answer to the last problem in a British cryptic crossword.” — Olivia de Havilland

“I enjoy walking my dog and completing crossword puzzles.” — Brian Jacques

Of course, some folks have regrets…

“Do I rue a life wasted doing crosswords? Yes, but I do know the three-letter-word for regret.” — Robert Breault

Others have complaints…

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I won a helicopter in a crossword puzzle competition? There is not much hope though I am afraid, as they never give such practical prizes.” — Leonora Carrington

But, to be honest, my two favorite quotes about crosswords didn’t come from celebrities or revered thinkers. (At least, not yet revered.) They came from college students on Tumblr, sharing observations, either their own or those of others.

“Who did Jessica Simpson last divorce?! Like, I don’t know. I could tell you all about Rousseau though.” — Girl doing a crossword puzzle in class

I think I’ll give the final word to another Tumblr user, who summed up crosswords brilliantly.

“A crossword puzzle is an unholy marriage of spelling bee, trivia contest, and a troll that lives under a bridge and asks you riddles.”


Do you have any favorite quotes about puzzles, fellow PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Cross Worlds with Crosswords (and Other Puzzles)!

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

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleGeography, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles and countries, cities, landmarks, tourist spots and more!

Examples include Stepping Stonehenge, Sri Linkwords, and Istanbul’s-Eye Spiral!

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


Match-Up Picchu

Warsaw Squares

The Shadow of Liberty

Bricks and Mauritania

Empire State Building Blocks

Around the Block Island

Sutokyo

Leicester Anagram Magic Square / Amazon Magic Square

Fill-Indonesia

TimbukTwo at a Time

Three Sommes

Across and Down Under

Ups and Churchill Downs

Torontop to bottom / Top to Foggy Bottom

Rhyme Times Square / Times Square Deal / Time Squares / Times Squares

Charing Crossroads

Around the Great Bend

Bermuda Triangle Seek / Bermuda Try-Angles

Paris in Rhyme

Build-a-PyraMidland

Arctic Circle Search / Arctic Circle Sums / Arctic Circles in the Square

Hidden Circle in the Squares / Piccadilly circles in the Square

9 of Diamonds Head

MarbleHeadings

Classified Addis Ababa

Grand Tours / Rio Grande Tour / Grand Canyon Tour

Boston Common Bond

In the Middle East

End of the Maginot Line

HidDenali Word Squares

Make the MaConnection / Make the Connecticution

It’s Ural Move / It’s Your Mo-ja-ve

United KingDomino Theory

Quote Niagara Falls / Niagara Quotefalls

Montauk Point the Way / West Point the Way

QuotaGramercy Park

SpinWheeling

Right of Appian Way

Dubl-In and Around

TripLexington

Madriddle Me This

Cancuncellations

Helsinkey Word

Mexicombos

Mount Skill-O-Gram-jaro

Pentagon Match

Missing Sphinx

Word Thames

Crypto-Bolivia

Continent Search

LouisiAnacrostics

Three from Rhine

Middle of the Abbey Road

A-spenwheel

Lake Tahoe Many Squares?

Acropolistics

Egyptograms

Catacombies

Crackerjacksonville

The Appalachian Word Trail

Little Fancy Five Points

Little Rock Puzzler

Mount Places Pleasant / Places, Belize

Eiffel Tower Power / Flowrida-er Sunshine Power

Florida Keywords / Turkeyword

Trafalgar Squares

Minsk Bag / Mixed Baghdad

Dublin Crosser

Amsterdiamond Rings

Birminghome Runs

Madaga-stars and Arrows

Sum-alia Triangles

Alaskan Penin-syllacrostic

Puzzle Der-bai

M_ss_ss_pp_ng V_w_ls

Who’s Whousatonic

Ottawat Is It?

Picture Paris

Chicago Fish

Crypto-Kalamazoo

Pencilvania Pusher

Stockholm Runs

Say That Againsville?

Okefenokeyword Swamp

Angkor What’s Left? / What’s Left Bank?

Finnish the Fours

Battleships Creek

Ken-Kenya

Sierra Leone and Only

Tierra Dell Fuego

Caribbean carnival

Red Rock Challenge


There were a few submissions that deserve their own section, as several of our intrepid puzzlers went above and beyond.

One offered a tourism pitch for a puzzly destination: Mount OddsandEverest: Only a HopSkipandJump ToptoBottom

Another offered the following exchange and puzzly directions:

1: “Excuse me, how do you get to these Places, Please? Could you Point the Way?”
2: “Just follow the Word Trails until you get to the Borderline. If you see the Quotefalls, you’ve gone to far. At the Four Corners, Keep On Moving until you reach the Crossroads. Then it’s just a walk Around the Block and you’ll be at the Crypto-Zoo!”

Finally, one offered a quick tour of her favorite puzzle locale:

One of my favorite locations to visit is Anagram Magic Square, where if you take your PLACES, PLEASE, you can ESCAPE A SPELL to anywhere on earth. You can travel to PARIS in PAIRS, or dine on ALPHABET SOUP at an UPBEAT L.A. SHOP. And whether you’d rather see a SLICK DUBLIN BOG or a GLIB LISBON DUCK, you can find it in the BUILDING BLOCKS of this amazing place.


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

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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!

Solving puzzles is the bee’s knees!

[Image courtesy of Gift of Curiosity.]

As a puzzler, I am on a quest to highlight and recognize the skills and accomplishments of fellow puzzlers. All too often, other outlets restrict this activity to humans and humans alone.

But PuzzleNation Blog has a fine long-standing tradition of celebrating the puzzly accomplishments of non-human puzzlers. In the past, we’ve discussed the puzzle skills evidenced by cats, dogs, crows, cockatoos, and octopuses.

Today, we proudly add another species to that litany of puzzle-cracking creatures: bees.

[Image courtesy of Rachel Carson Landmark Alliance.]

An article in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Biology — titled, in true scientific fashion, “Associative Mechanisms Allow for Social Learning and Cultural Transmission of String Pulling in an Insect” — states that bees can not only learn non-natural skills, but teach them to other bees.

This behavior, previously only observed in vertebrates, is a huge step forward for our studies of animal cognition.

Allow me to explain.

A group of bees were given a non-natural task to complete — pulling a string attached to a blue disc hidden under Plexiglas — in order to earn a drop of sugar water.

In the first test, zero out of 50 bees figured out how to remove the disc. When half of those bees were given a second chance, two of them did figure out how to pull the string and retrieve the disc.

[Image courtesy of Reuters.]

The study goes on to describe how the scientists taught the bees to complete the task, and then how these bees (known as innovators) could go on to teach other bees how to do so.

From an article on Natural Science News:

The skill spread quickly and half of the untrained bees gained the ability by learning from the original innovator bee. Even after the original innovator bee died, the skill continued to be passed down to future generations. This was the first recorded case of cultural transmission of a non-natural skill in social insects.

Now, this is all very exciting, but in the midst of all this news coverage and scientific back-patting, I feel like someone’s accomplishments have been overshadowed.

TWO of those bees figured this out on their own. No scientist teachers, no innovator bees, just their own puzzly chops.

Sure, it took two tries, but heck, it takes me more than two tries to solve plenty of puzzles!

And so, on behalf of the vertebrate puzzle-solving community, I’d like to welcome those two bees to our ranks. Other bees may follow, but you were the first. Nicely done.


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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!