The PN Blog 2019 Countdown!

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It’s the final blog post of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2019 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


#10 Daedalus

I’m a huge history and mythology buff, so any opportunity I have to indulge those interests in a puzzly way, I will happily seize. Delving into the story of the famous labyrinth builder and trying to separate fact from fiction was great fun, probably the most interesting deep dive into a subject I experienced all year.

#9 Escape Room Goodness

Escape rooms are the biggest puzzly fad in years, an interactive form of group puzzle-solving that is immersive, challenging, and story-driven. This year, we teamed up with several escape rooms around the world to share stories of some of the weirdest moments from the relatively brief history of escape rooms.

From people breaking into the ceiling to escape to others sabotaging the room in insane ways, it was a treat to hear just how far some people will go to “escape.”

#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 Crosswords

There’s more to writing about crosswords than simply solving puzzles and unraveling clues, and that was especially true this year. The social and cultural aspect of crosswords came up several times, and it’s important to discuss these issues in an open, honest way, even if that means calling out the biggest crossword in the world to hold them accountable.

Whether it was The New York Times ignoring good advice and placing an offensive word in a grid or Will Shortz dismissing the hard work done by other crossword editors in the field (intentionally or unintentionally), we took up the torch more than once this year because it was the right thing to do.

#6 Wordventures

At the start of the year, we were already rolling with Wordventures, our interactive puzzle mystery that incorporated narrative, word search puzzles, and roleplaying elements into a unique solving experience.

It was an absolute delight to explore that narrative in posts like this, taking the reader into the mysterious world of the Vampire Pirate, one where sight and sound helped draw you into one of our most ambitious puzzle apps yet.

#5 PUZZLE FEST

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 Puzzles for Pets and PNVR both made a splash in subsequent years, we couldn’t resist getting in on the pranking fun again this year. And why not have a little fun with the famously disastrous Fyre Festival by pretending to host our own PUZZLE FEST? With an elaborate brochure, lots of photos, and enough overblown promises of puzzly luxury to catch all sorts of eyes, we made a lot of puzzlers laugh (and left a few disappointed that there wasn’t a luxury puzzle resort… at least, not yet anyway).

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#4 Top Solvers

Blending pop culture with puzzles always makes for an enjoyable blog post, and this year, I was fortunate enough to combine my love of puzzles with my love for horror movies when I made a list of the best puzzle solvers in horror films. It allowed me to discuss some of my favorite clever characters without delving too far into the horror element (which I know some of our readers wouldn’t necessarily enjoy), making it the best of both worlds.

Plus, it’s kicked off a recurring series of posts, since I recently followed up with a list of the best puzzle solvers on TV. For 2020, we’ll see additional lists like the best puzzle solvers in literature and the worst puzzle solvers in pop culture.

#3 Puzzle Events

And speaking of top solvers, 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.

#2 Crossword Mysteries

One of the funniest and most peculiar moments of the year 2019 was finally getting to see the long-ballyhooed Crossword Mysteries film debut on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Not since the Wordplay documentary had crosswords gotten such public attention, and this only increased when the channel announced three additional movies in the series would air later in the year.

Although we only got to see one more of them before the year was out — still waiting on #3, Hallmark — it was tremendous fun to review the marriage of the curiously campy style of Hallmark murder mysteries with puzzles (particularly when it involves Will Shortz cameos).

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#1 Daily POP Word Search

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 Daily POP Word Search.

But it’s not just the app, it’s everything behind the app. I’ve watched it grow and evolve during the development phase, and I had the pleasure of interviewing some of my favorite fellow puzzlers who contribute so much to its success and style thanks to their puzzle designs and terrific content.

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 2019 with us, through brain teasers and big ideas, through Hallmark murders and Halloween puns, through puzzle launches and landmark moments. We’ll see you in 2020.


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Building Better Bonds with Board Games

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[Image courtesy of Toy-TMA.com.]

Earlier this year, we discussed a study indicating that playing board games was good for your relationship. The results of the study revealed that the act of playing board games actually coincided with the creation of new chemical bonds of affection for the person with whom you’re playing the game.

Well, as it turns out, it’s not just romantic relationships that benefit from the board game experience, as another article suggests that social relationships also benefit from communal play like board games.

From the article on QZ.com:

Board games, along with role playing and table games like Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons, allow players to enter into a controlled state of conflict. The process of engaging in that conflict is fun even when you lose, and the outcome is likely to be different the next time around.

A good board game builds in enough chance so that any reasonably skilled player can win. Even in chess, famously associated with warfare and military strategy, the emphasis is not on who ultimately wins, but on the ingenuity that players display in the process.

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[Image courtesy of Den of Geek.]

It’s a simple combination, really. Board games offer not only an achievable goal — something that can feel rare in our ever-complicated world — but a sense of fairness to the proceedings that might feel equally rare. Everyone is operating on the same footing, everyone is capable of the same actions, and (ignoring previous experience with the game) everyone has a fair chance of succeeding.

Heck, in most games, taking turns is built into the game. Board games are orderly affairs. Even the chaotic ones operate under a standard set of rules that are reassuring and clear. Life is rarely so simple.

In addition, there is the comfort-building social aspect of getting together to play games. Conventions like Gen Con and holidays like International Tabletop Day are designed around the joys of shared play, and more and more, you see game stores, hobby shops, libraries, board game cafes, and other locations offering game night activities and bringing people together.

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[Image courtesy of Review Geek.]

I wonder if there are any games that are commonly regarded as strong relationship builders. I’m sure cooperative games would rank higher than most, but then again, sometimes the spirit of competition can also bring people together.

Fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, is there a particular board game that you prefer for family or friendly game nights? What about games you enjoy playing with your significant other? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Free RPG Day Returns Tomorrow!

Role-playing games are high on the list of my favorite pastimes, and whether you’re looking for a fun game, a puzzly experience, or a chance to tell some exciting, engrossing stories with friends, you’re bound to find something to enjoy in a role-playing session.

And if you’ve never tried out a role-playing game or dipped a toe into the fascinating world of RPGs, tomorrow is the perfect opportunity for you to do so.

Because tomorrow, Saturday June 15th, is Free RPG Day!

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Established in 2007, Free RPG Day is a collaborative event where RPG publishers team up with game shops, hobby shops, and other game retailers to celebrate role-playing games and try out brand-new and unfamiliar games.

Stores around the world will be offering free adventure modules and quick-play rulebooks for all sorts of different role-playing games — covering everything from classic D&D-style games to spacefaring campaigns — much of it created specifically for Free RPG Day!

Companies like Goodman Games, Paizo Publishing, Green Ronin, Off World Designs, and many more are participating, along with game shops all over the U.S. and across the world.

You can use this store locator to find the nearest participating location, but worry not if you can’t get out to a friendly local game shop!

There are all sorts of online resources celebrating the day as well. For instance, the team at DriveThruRPG are offering a ton of free downloads for you to sample! (Not to mention the articles we’ve written about the subject over the years.)

Will you be celebrating Free RPG Day, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!


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Our Annual TableTop Tournament: Recap!

We wrapped up our fourth annual in-house tabletop tournament last week, and as you probably expected, it was loaded with all sorts of board game goodness.

So what went down?

Well, it was a 12-person two-week tournament with different games to play every round. With four competition days across two weeks, it was a virtual gauntlet of gaming to determine who is the best in the company.

One of the things I liked about the layout of the tournament was how there are no one-on-one match-ups until the final. Instead of a single-elimination tournament, competitors were first slotted into groups of three. Each group of three played two games, and the two winners (one from each game) from each trio moved on to the next round.

So to survive round 1, you had to win either Timeline or On the Dot.

In the first bracket, former champ Kevin and last year’s defending champ Nikki moved on. In the second bracket, yours truly was bested in On the Dot by newcomer Ryan AND in Timeline by perennial top contender Rick. In the third bracket, Gordon and Sam moved on in impressive fashion. And in the fourth bracket, former champ Jen and newcomer Laura each earned a spot in the next round.

So right away, all three former champs were in the running, along with some new blood and some tough competition with tabletop experience. This was shaping up to be one heck of a tournament.


Round 2 began the following Thursday, and this time around, competitors were slotted into groups of four. Each group of four played two games, and the two winners (one from each game) moved on to the next round.

So to survive round 2, you had to win either Noueni or Guillotine.

Guillotine is a card game for 2 to 5 players set during the French revolution. As the royals are marched to the guillotine in one big line, you play cards in order to switch the royals around so that the most valuable royals are beheaded on your turn, adding their scores to your pile. (You can also manipulate the hands of the other players by forcing them to give you cards or discard them.)

Played over three rounds, the player with the highest score (i.e. the most valuable royals beheaded) wins.

Noueni is a card game for 2 to 4 players that involves pattern-matching, color-based scoring, and cards that can either overlap or sit next to other cards. Your score is determined by how many of your scoring orbs are on the board at the end of the game.

Each card has two colored scoring orbs and a pattern of black lines emerging from them. Those lines are the connectors, and they determine how the cards are placed in the play area. Any card played must link up with the other cards on the board, whether there’s zero, one, two, or three connectors along that neighboring edge.

Noueni was a new experience for all of the players, though it is similar to Qwirkle, which the competitors had played before.

All of the players quickly took to Guillotine, deftly maneuvering valuable royals into their score piles. Noueni proved to be a tougher play experience, as many players devoted so much time to covering up the colored orbs of other players that they neglected to play simpler moves to add colored orbs to their own scores. Too much defense can be a bad thing if it hinders your offense.

In the end, four more players were eliminated from the field, including the first two tournament champions. After this colorful round of play, only Rick, Gordon, Laura, and returning champ Nikki remained.


Round 3 began the following Tuesday, and the remaining players were collected into one final group of four. But they would all play the same game, and the top two point-scorers would move on to the finals.

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.

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.)

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, and Laura would face off for the championship?

As it turned out, a game all about duplicity can be won with transparency. In this cutthroat round, honesty reigned supreme as most players opted to avoid contraband and move only legal goods through the Sheriff to market. Rick, as the most suspicious Sheriff, ended up paying some hefty fines to players whose bags he checked.

(Personally, I probably would have cut a deal with one of the other players and promised to allow whatever they wanted through when I was Sheriff, in exchange for the same treatment from them. That way, you could move a LOT of valuable contraband one round, and play it safe the other rounds. But I am nefarious that way.)

After a tense game, the judges 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, Nikki and Gordon had accumulated the top two scores, and they would be moving on to the finals.

Or would they? In the end, there was one more wrinkle!

It turns out that Laura had forgotten to empty her bag of goods in the last go-round, and with her additional contraband, she had outearned Gordon! Shock and heartbreak!

It would instead be Nikki and Laura in the finals.

Now, given that this was our fourth annual tournament, we’d finally amassed some proper stats and trivia regarding the event. You see, not only had no previous champion ever repeated as champion, but no previous champion had ever made it to the finals again!

So already, Nikki had set a new precedent as the only previous champion to return to the finals. Would she be our first repeat champion (back-to-back, even!) or would we have our fourth new champion in four years as the newcomer Laura ascended to the throne?

Let’s find out.


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.

And to survive round 4, the finalists would need some help from the audience, as they played a round of the card game Cult Following.

Cult Following is a card-based improvisation game, similar to Superfight, wherein you have to draw several cards that dictate what your cult is about, and then improvise your answers to various questions posed by the other players, who are potential recruits for your cult. Once the round of questions is over, the potential recruits vote on which of the cults they’d rather join, and the cult with the most recruits wins.

To make the task even more daunting, both players had to stand in front of the audience and plead their case.

Nikki’s cult centered around saving the planet from toxic waste (and yes, she did acknowledge the possibility that you might gain superpowers from said toxic waste). Laura’s cult centered around the magical ability to transform yourself into any animal you wished.

Although many potential recruits in the audience were wowed by this idea, I couldn’t get past the very real danger that you could end up as prey rather than simply enjoying life as an animal.

After answering questions from the audience about recruitment, rules, cult theme songs, and more, both competitors turned their backs to the audience so the audience members could vote for the cult of their choice.

Nikki made a valiant effort to retain her crown, but unfortunately, the cards were not in her favor, and more potential recruits opted for Laura’s were-cult. (Not me, though. I was a toxic avenger all the way.)

And thus, Laura dethroned the previous champion in impressive fashion to become the new tabletop tournament champion!

The traditional crown, scepter, and Game Night Gift Pack awaited the new champion, as did an enthusiastic round of applause and a well-earned chance to sit down after the fierce improvisational back-and-forth.

Alas, we must bring this marvelous recap to a close. With a new queen atop the tabletop throne, what will her reign be like? Peaceful? Warlike? Boastful? Quiet? Only time will tell.


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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!

International TableTop Day Is Coming Soon! (Or Is It?)

As a board game enthusiast, I look forward to those days during the year when we can gather around the table and indulge in some group game fun.

One of the highlights of the gaming calendar is undoubtedly International TableTop Day, a worldwide celebration of the simple idea that taking a little time to gather friends and family around the table for a few puzzles or board games makes the world a better place.

But this year, TableTop Day has become the subject of some unexpected controversy.

You see, originally, International TableTop Day was started and organized by the creators behind Geek & Sundry, a YouTube channel dedicated to all things nerdy.

They designated the last Saturday in April as TableTop Day, and helped to organize events, livestreams, and special promotions to spread the good word of tabletop gaming.

Naturally, as events like these often do, it grew far beyond its original dimensions. More game shops, hobby shops, RPG groups, libraries, game companies, and all sorts of other groups got into the spirit with every passing year. And whether you celebrated on the last Saturday of the month, as had become TableTop Day tradition for many, or combined it with Board Game Day (celebrated in the first week of April), you knew that when March was gone, TableTop Day fun was looming large.

But this year, as the days and weeks of 2019 continued to pass, many tabletop fans (myself included) waited for the official announcement of exactly when TableTop Day festivities would kick off.

Finally, word arrived and many of those excited, enthusiastic groups were nonplussed to discover that this year’s TableTop Day was scheduled for…

June 1st.

Confusion reigned. People were trying to organize what had become beloved annual events, and couldn’t confirm whether TableTop Day would be April 6, April 27, or June 1.

And you know what? TableTop Day has become an annual event around here at PuzzleNation, and we’re sticking with the end of April.

And we’re not alone. Many event organizers are similarly sticking to what has become the traditional date for the day, leaving behind the original organizers and forging their own paths. And I salute them.

Later this month, I’ll be posting listings for various International TableTop Day events, so be sure to let me know what YOUR plans are for TableTop Day so I can include them! Is your local library or game shop hosting an event? Are you playing for charity, or making new friends?

As for us, we’re celebrating as only we can: with a two-week game tournament leading up to our annual TableTop Day in-office puzzlegamepalooza! (And, of course, we’ll have some game or puzzle for you to enjoy through the blog as well.)

TableTop Day is bigger than any single group — even the group that started it — and I’m happy to once again welcome a day dedicated to the fun, warmth, community, and collaborative joys that come with playing games.


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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!

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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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!