The PN Blog 2018 Countdown!

It’s one of the final blog posts of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2017 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


But before we get to the countdown, I want to briefly mention two interesting landmarks for the blog in 2018.

In January, we were cited as a source in a college term paper, which is pretty gratifying.

And in April, we were name-dropped in a CNET article about friend of the blog Hevesh5.

Okay, enough bragging. Let’s get to the countdown!


#10 Robot Invasion

With the rise of puzzle-solving programs like Dr. Fill and game-playing AIs like AlphaGo, we’ve been joking for years about machines trying to topple humanity from the top spot as Earth’s resident puzzle-solving masters.

But this year, it kinda stopped feeling like a joke. With Scrabble-playing robots, self-solving Rubik’s Cubes, and a computer program that might’ve cracked one of the most celebrated unsolved mysteries in puzzles, the machines might just be taking over.

#9 Crossword Fun

Crosswords are still the #1 paper puzzle in the world. With more than a hundred years of creativity, cluing challenge, and cunning construction behind them, they continue to fascinate and frustrate us. And we had a lot of fun with crossword topics this year in the blog. Two of my personal favorite entries were asking questions about common crossword clues and the post where we explored the brief-lived moral panic sparked by crosswords.

#8 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

#7 Unsung Heroes

They say history is written by the victors, and that’s true in the short term. But in the long term, history belongs to truth, and more and more, unsung heroes are coming to the fore and getting the well-deserved recognition denied to them earlier.

This is true in the world of puzzles as well, and this year, we had the privilege of putting the spotlight on two iconic women from puzzle history that had previously been lost to time and revisionism: codebreaking visionary Elizebeth Smith Friedman and spymaster Alexandrine, the Countess of Taxis.

#6 Citizen Shoutout

Interacting with the puzzle community is one of the highlights of doing social media for PuzzleNation. And some of the most enjoyable blog posts from this year involved focusing on members of the community and giving them kudos for their contributions to PuzzleNation and the world of puzzles in general.

As such, we created our Citizen Shoutout series to honor those folks, and along the way, we’ve thanked game shops, local escape rooms, and dedicated solvers who make the puzzle community a better place.

#5 PNVR

April Fools Day pranks are an Internet tradition at this point. Some websites go all out in celebrating the holiday. (Heck, ThinkGeek has started using the holiday to tease the public’s interest level in “fake” products, going on to actually release some of those April Fools pranks as real items later in the year!)

So after last year’s Puzzles for Pets gag was a big hit, we couldn’t resist getting in on the pranking fun again this year. The result — PNVR, a fake virtual reality puzzling experience — was as layered as it was silly, complete with fake quotes, splash pages, photos of people riding bikes while playing, and more. The visuals were amazing and hilarious.

#4 Puzzle Events

There are few things better than spending time with fellow puzzlers and gamers, and we got to do a lot of that this year. Whether it was cheering on our fellow puzzlers at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament or putting our hands dirty with some knock-down, drag-out, game-playing ferocity during our Tabletop Tournament, these interactions were both invigorating and encouraging. Events like these really help solidify the spirit of community that comes with being puzzly.

#3 International Puzzle Day Puzzle Hunt

And speaking of interacting with fellow puzzlers, for International Puzzle Day this year, we masterminded a little online puzzle hunt for PuzzleNation solvers. Involving clues hidden in both that day’s Daily POP Crosswords puzzle and Penny Dell Crosswords App free daily puzzle, solvers had to anagram and solve their way around the website in order to earn a prize. It was a serious challenge to design, and great fun to unleash on the world.

#2 Women in Crosswords and Roleplaying Games

Using the blog as an amplifier to get the word out about important causes and worthwhile projects is one of the best things about writing here. And this year in particular, we can be proud of doing our damnedest to vocalize the incredibly valuable role that women have played (and continue to play) in the puzzle/game community.

Whether it was discussing the gender disparity in published constructors in the major crossword venues or pulling back the curtain on misogynist gatekeeping in roleplaying games, we were privileged to ally ourselves with a brilliant, underappreciated contingent of the puzzle community.

#1 Wordventures

There’s nothing more exciting than getting to announce the launch of a product that has been months or years in the making, so picking #1 was a no-brainer for me. It had to be the announcement of Wordventures.

But it’s not just the app, it’s everything behind the app. I’ve watched it grow and evolve in development, and it’s truly unlike anything we’ve released before. The mix of music, imagery, storytelling, and puzzle-solving is so atmospheric and engaging.

It may sound self-serving or schlocky to talk about our flagship products as #1 in the countdown, but it’s something that we’re all extremely proud of, something that we’re constantly working to improve, because we want to make our apps the absolute best they can be for the PuzzleNation audience. That’s what you deserve.

And it’s part of the evolution of PuzzleNation and PN Blog. Even as we work to ensure our current products are the best they can be, we’re always looking ahead to what’s next, what’s on the horizon, what’s to come.

Thanks for spending 2018 with us, through robots and Rubik’s Cubes, through discoveries and daily delights, through puzzle launches and landmark moments. We’ll see you in 2019.


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A New Puzzle Set, Just in Time for Spring!

Hello fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

Yes, we’re taking a brief break from International Tabletop Day festivities to announce our latest puzzle set for the Penny Dell Crosswords App!

Step outside with us and enjoy a little sun with our Picnic Deluxe puzzle set, available for both iOS and Android users!

This fun, Spring-appropriate bundle highlights the quality solving experience you’ve come to expect from PuzzleNation!

Offering 30 easy, medium, and hard puzzles, plus 5 picnic-themed bonus puzzles to delight solvers of all skill levels, the Picnic Deluxe puzzle set is full of fresh, vibrant crosswords for everyone!

You can’t go wrong with this set! PuzzleNation is dedicated to bringing you the best puzzle-solving experience available, with world-class puzzles right in your pocket, ready to go at a moment’s notice! That’s the PuzzleNation guarantee.

Happy solving everyone! And Happy International Tabletop Day!


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International Tabletop Day Is Only a Day Away!

Tomorrow is International Tabletop Day, and although we celebrated a bit early around here, there are numerous options for things to do on the day in question.

Saturday, April 28, is the sixth annual International Tabletop Day, and whether you play board games, role-playing games, card games, dice games, puzzles, or logic games, this is the holiday for you, family, and friends to come together and enjoy games.

And there are events happening all over, so if you think you won’t be able in indulge in some tabletop gaming delights, you might be mistaken. There’s a searchable map of Tabletop Day events on the official holiday website, and with even a cursory search, you can find so many awesome, fun events being held tomorrow!

For example, let’s look at my home state, Connecticut. There’s plenty of cool events to check out all over the state.

Gamer’s Gambit in Danbury is hosting all day, including game demos, raffles, a Settlers of Catan tournament, and competitions for games like Codenames and Kingdomino!

In New Haven, our friends at Elm City Games are offering a two-for-one day-pass deal, a potluck meal, and more!

If you don’t have a regular gaming group, Hawkwood Game Cafe in Milford is hosting an open table meetup at 3pm on Saturday! It’s a great way to meet fellow game fans, try out some new games, and socialize! Plus they’re running a contest to see who can build the tallest Jenga tower!

And in Middletown, The Board Room, a board game cafe, is running demos all day, so you’ll have opportunities to sample games as diverse as Codenames, Spyfall, Illimat, and Dungeons & Dragons!

But it’s not just game cafes and local game shops participating! Libraries are also getting in on the fun.

For instance, Stratford Library is showing off their new board game collection at their Tabletop Day event. Learn games like Settlers of Catan, The Resistance, and Tsuro while enjoying snacks with fellow game devotees! And feel free to bring your own favorite games to show off!

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to International Tabletop Day events, my friends. With stores and communities hosting game sessions all over the world — including online! — there has never been a better time to get out there and hang out with fellow board game, card game, and RPG players.

Are you attending an event (or hosting an event) tomorrow? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you!


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PDP Tabletop Tournament Finals (+Tabletop Day Festivities!)

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been chronicling an epic sixteen-person game tournament held by our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles.

In Round 1, the field was culled from sixteen players to eight after well-contested battles of On the Dot and Bananagrams.

In Round 2, it was halved again as this group of elite puzzlers went to war in games of Timeline and Qwirkle.

In Round 3, two more contenders said goodbye as an intense game of Sheriff of Nottingham determined the finalists.

Only two competitors remained — #TeamNikki and #TeamGordon — and with only one more round standing between them and the title of PDP Tabletop Champion, spirits were high and anticipation reached a fever pitch.

What awaited them in the finals? Let’s find out, shall we?

Unlike the previous rounds, this was a head-to-head match-up, winner-take-all. So, naturally, we made posters to hype the event like a prizefight.

The game for the finals? Linkee.

Linkee is a trivia game that requires both general knowledge and associative thinking. Each trivia card has a letter on the back, and the traditional goal of the game is to acquire enough letter cards to spell “LINKEE.” (But for the purposes of the tournament, the first person to collect six cards would be the winner.)

One person acts as the Question Master, while the other players each grab a pencil and pad. The Question Master reads each of the four questions on the card. The players write down the answers and try to figure out what theme links the four answers.

The first player to shout out “LINKEE!” and identify the link gets the letter card. You can shout out “LINKEE!” at any point, but if you’re wrong, you’re out until the next card is played. So confidence and boldness has to be tempered with strategy.

That’s what makes the game more intriguing than your average trivia game. It’s not just knowing the answers to individual trivia questions; it’s figuring out the link between them, and doing so before your opponents.

[The room was packed with enthusiastic fans and interested parties,
including many of the competitors from the tournament.]

Gordon had an inauspicious start to the game, as he figured out the link between the first card’s questions, but neglected to yell out “LINKEE!” first, disqualifying himself from scoring the point.

Nikki, seizing the advantage after scoring that first point, quickly followed up, cracking the links for the next four cards, leaping out to a commanding lead. It seemed like a shut-out was imminent and Nikki would be crowned the winner in commanding fashion.

But no, Gordon would not go away quietly. As Nikki puzzled over the possible links for the game point, Gordon yelled out “LINKEE!” and scored his first point.

It was now Nikki’s LINKE to Gordon’s L. This would not be the clean sweep many expected after the opening flurry of action.

Gordon scored a second point (for the I), and then a third for the N. It was now LINKE to LIN. There was a change in the air, a buzz of excitement among the spectators, a frisson of uncertainty. It would appear we had a Comeback Kid on our hands.

On the next card, both players yelled “LINKEE!” simultaneously, and the judges couldn’t decide who was first, so that card was discarded.

Astonishingly, Gordon followed that up by going on to score two more points back-to-back, tying Nikki LINKE to LINKE. Hollywood could not have scripted it any better…

The next point scored would determine the winner of the entire tournament.

Our Question Master delivered the next four trivia questions, and Gordon shouted “LINKEE!” and answered that “Italian names ending with i” was the link. There was a gasp from the crowd! Had he pulled off the comeback of the century?

Unfortunately, no. The correct answer was “Italians.” By being so specific, he made his guess incorrect. (Versace, one of the trivia question answers, doesn’t end in i.)

That card was ignored, and a new one selected. For now, the finals would continue.

But not for long, as Nikki would secure the game-winning point with one final cry of “LINKEE!”, earning her sixth and final point.

At the 38 minute mark, the finals were over, and a new champion was crowned. #TeamNikki had triumphed!

After congratulations were offered to both competitors for a worthy battle, Nikki was awarded not only her Game Night Prize Pack (consisting of popcorn, candy, and two games: Forbidden Island and Exquisite Beast), but the championship crown and scepter!

She was even crowned by last year’s winner in a marvelous little passing-of-the-torch ceremony.

With the tournament concluded, our Tabletop Day festivities had begun, and audience members became players as games of Loonacy, Slapzi, and Timeline quickly formed while participants grabbed snacks, including some amazing D20-frosted cookies:

We had a full spread of games available for visitors to enjoy, and regular readers of the blog would no doubt recognize several of the games on display, including Tak, Qwirkle, Tsuro, and Fluxx.

And, as it turns out, Nikki wasn’t quite finished with her winning ways, as she proved victorious in every round of Loonacy she played after the finals.

All in all, it was a marvelously successful day to cap off an incredible tournament, full of spirited competition, tabletop fun, and puzzly displays of skill. Sure, we celebrated International Tabletop Day a few days early, but we did it in style.


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PDP Tabletop Tournament: Round 3

Two weeks ago, 15 intrepid members of the Penny/Dell Puzzles crew (as well as yours truly, your friendly neighborhood PuzzleNation blogger) embarked on the first stage of a four-week journey: The PDP Tabletop Tournament.

In Round 1, the field was culled from sixteen competitors to eight after tense battles of On the Dot and Bananagrams.

In Round 2, it was halved again as this group of elite puzzlers went to war in games of Timeline and Qwirkle.

We’re down to just four competitors, each inspiring their own hashtags: #TeamNikki, #TeamRick, #TeamGordon, and #TeamJenn.

What awaited them in Round 3? Let’s find out, shall we?

Unlike Rounds 1 and 2, there wouldn’t be two games to play. Instead, all four competitors would play a single game, and the top two scorers would go on to the championship finals next week.

The game for Round 3? Sheriff of Nottingham.

Sheriff of Nottingham is a card game that mixes strategy, resource management, and bluffing. The players collect cards with different goods to take to market — apples, chickens, bread, and cheese — as well as cards of contraband items (like spices, mead, and weapons). Each of these cards is worth points, and the contraband goods are worth more than the legal goods. Of course, the contraband goods are illegal, so if you’re caught bringing them to market, there’s a penalty.

And, unfortunately, in order to get your goods (legal or otherwise) to market, you have to get past the Sheriff.

For example, in a four-player game, let’s say the first player is the Sheriff. The other three players will each place up to five cards in their bag, then snap it shut, and declare what’s inside to the Sheriff. A player may be telling the truth about the contents of her bag, or she may be lying. The Sheriff can choose to either let a bag pass through unchecked or open and inspect the contents of any bag.

Anything that gets through the Sheriff goes into your market stand and is worth points at the end of the game. If the Sheriff chooses to check your bag, one of two things happens. If you were honest about what’s in the bag, the Sheriff pays you the value of those items. If you lied about the contents of your bag and the Sheriff catches you, you must pay him a penalty, and any contraband goods in the bag are seized.

[Nikki places a kindly offering of cheese from a fellow player
into her marketplace during her turn as the Sheriff.]

Of course, you can always negotiate with the Sheriff before the bag is opened. Bribes (of coin, product, or favors) can be offer, and deals can be made.

Once the Sheriff has either let the players’ bags through or finished the inspections, everyone settles their goods in the marketplace, the next player takes over as Sheriff, and the cycle starts again.

The game ends after every player has been the Sheriff twice. Then the players count up the value of everything they’ve brought to market — including any contraband they’ve snuck through — as well as their coin piles. (Plus, there are bonus points to be gained if you brought the most of any product to market. For instance, the person who brought the most apples is King of Apples, and the person who brought the second-most is Queen of Apples. Both titles are worth points.)

This game is obviously more complex and involved than the games played in Rounds 1 and 2, so there was a practice game last Thursday to allow players to familiarize themselves with the rules and the gameplay.

Once starting coins and cards were allotted to each player (plus a few coins extra to encourage wheeling-and-dealing/bribery), the game commenced. In the end, only two of the four players at the table would be moving on to the finals. What combination of Nikki, Rick, Gordon, or Jenn would face off for the championship?

As it turns out, there was already a wrinkle there. Jenn unfortunately couldn’t make it to the tournament this week, but she was allowed to choose a player to sub in for her: JP. Although she didn’t know what game would played in Round 3 when she picked him, as it turns out, she chose well. JP not only won the practice round last week, but he’d won a previous game played a month or two ago.

JP started off as the Sheriff, and surprisingly, he let the other players off easy, choosing not to inspect any of their bags for contraband (perhaps hoping such kindness would be reciprocated when he brought goods to market in turns to come).

[As Sheriff, Gordon inspects the contents of Nikki’s bag, looking for contraband.
He’ll be disappointed, and end up paying her for the inconvenience.]

As Gordon, Nikki, and Rick each took a turn guarding the path to market, this first go-around proceeded quickly. There were only a few attempts to sneak contraband through. There was also a touch of bribery, but hey, that’s part of the game. In fact, Rick rejected a bribe from Gordon at one point and chose to inspect his products anyway, which was a surprise.

All in all, only ten minutes passed before the role of Sheriff returned to JP.

The tension picked up as the second go-around began, and game play slowed down considerably. People were being more deliberate in both choosing the items for their bag and in their deliberations as Sheriff.

[Rick watches intently as Gordon chooses what to take to market.]

One of the things that makes Sheriff of Nottingham so engaging is that you can’t ever really know who is winning. Whenever someone sneaks contraband through (or pays off the Sheriff to look the other way), you have no idea how many points they scored. All you know is that they got something of higher value to market. Unless you make a concentrated effort to keep track of the goods people are focusing on — particularly if they’re hoping to score those bonus points as King or Queen of a product — it can be tough to know exactly where you stand, points-wise, compared to the others.

Nerves began to fray as more goods flooded the marketplace. Sheriffs looking for “contributions” drove harder bargains, adding both coins and goods to their coffers. Apples became quite a valuable foodstuff for bribes, particularly when Nikki was Sheriff.

Rick’s second turn as the Sheriff coincided with the last turn, and he ominously declared, “This is going to be a very expensive round.” Everyone laughed, but given how strongly Rick had been playing, they also knew he’d be driving a hard bargain for anyone trying to score last-minute points by sneaking contraband through.

This second go-around lasted nearly twice as long as the previous one, and emotions were running high as Rick’s turn as Sheriff ended and the gameplay concluded.

We then counted up the legal goods everyone brought to market, and determined who would be scoring bonus points. Everyone did well here, racking up some valuable eleventh-hour coinage.

  • JP was King of Cheese.
  • Rick was King of Chickens and Queen of Cheese.
  • Gordon was King of Bread and Queen of Apples.
  • Nikki was King of Apples (thanks in part to those marvelous bribes), Queen of Bread, AND Queen of Chickens.

The judges then swooped in to count everyone’s haul, and the players stepped away from the table to enjoy some marvelous cookies and treats provided by the judges… and await their fate.

In the end, it was a very close game. Only fourteen points separated the top scorer and the third place finisher. (Less than 30 points separated the entire field.)

Gordon secured a spot in the finals with top score (165), followed closely by Nikki (159) and Rick (151), with JP closing things out (137).

So it would be Nikki and Gordon proceeding to the finals! Congratulations to both of them, as well as kudos to Rick and JP for their impressively strong performances throughout the game.

The finals will held as part of our annual International Tabletop Day event next week!

And, of course, a crown, scepter, and Game Night Gift Pack await the eventual champion.

To be concluded…

[You can check in on the next round of the tournament live on Tuesday on our Instagram account!]


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!

Making Board Games More Accessible Than Ever!

[Image courtesy of Make Board Game.]

I’m a huge proponent of the idea that there’s a game out there for everybody. Some prefer fun, lighthearted fare. Others like the high-stakes of a winner-take-all scenario. Some thrive in cooperative games where victories are shared and losses softened by camaraderie, while others like one-on-one strategic battles.

But no matter who you are, there’s a game out there for you.

Unfortunately, for colorblind gamers or those dealing with visual impairments, some of the most popular games are less accessible.

[Ticket to Ride remains one of the more colorblind-friendly games on the market today. Image courtesy of Board Game Duel.]

I’ve had several colorblind friends tell me that the color-and-pattern-matching tile game Qwirkle is a no-go, because the game’s colors (as well as the black tiles on which those colored symbols are set) can cause serious confusion that hampers gameplay.

Although there’s no official colorblind-friendly edition of Qwirkle on the market, there is a colorblind-friendly version of the game that has been shared online. The color palette is more accessible, and instead of black tiles, the base tiles are gray.

Other games have also picked up on the need to keep their multicolored games accessible to a broader audience. As mentioned in a recent post on the official Tabletop Day website, the game Lanterns: The Harvest Festival incorporates specific symbols for each of their differently colored cards to make it easier for colorblind players to distinguish them.

And if you’re a visually impaired game enthusiast, there are other companies out there working hard to ensure you have the widest possible range of games to enjoy.

The folks at 64 Oz. Games produce specialty sleeves and other modifications for established board games and card games, allowing visually impaired players to play alongside their sighted pals.

[An image from their successful Kickstarter campaign a few years ago.
Image courtesy of 64 Oz. Games.]

A combination of Braille and clever use of QR codes has opened up games like Munchkin, Cards Against Humanity, Coup, Love Letter, Seven Wonders, King of Tokyo, and numerous roleplaying games to a previously excluded audience.

Add items like their 3D printed Braille roleplaying dice and a touch-based game called Yoink! that is based on tactile gameplay, and you have a wonderful resource for all sorts of game fans.

As we gear up to celebrate a day dedicated to gathering with family and friends to enjoy playing games, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to acknowledge those who are going above and beyond to make sure as many people as possible can participate.

It’s a beautiful thing.


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!