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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Wendy’s Viral Marketing Victory (with a side of French fries)

Some of my all-time favorite puzzling experiences have been part of roleplaying games, so it warms my heart to see more and more people discovering Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop RPGs. Not only are they a wonderful way to connect with friends and tell stories, but they inspire me to create new and innovative puzzles.

Both the Netflix series Stranger Things and the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory have helped bring roleplaying games to greater mainstream attention (as shows like Community and Freaks and Geeks did in the past), and now, even fast food chains are getting in on the pencil, paper, and dice-loaded pastime.

Yes, Wendy’s has created its own roleplaying game.

Feast of Legends is a self-contained roleplaying adventure that is both staggeringly detailed and shamelessly self-promotional. This NINETY-SEVEN page downloadable PDF contains the rules for building your character, equipment, rules, setting details, and different character classes (like the Order of the Frosty or the Order of the Spicy Chicken Sandwich), each with their own bonus abilities.

It’s actually a terrific introduction to roleplaying games as a whole, discussing concepts like how many actions you can take on a given turn, how combat works, and which dice to use.

They even created an online dice roller for you to use if you don’t own roleplaying dice!

(For RPG aficionados, the system is reminiscent of both D&D’s fourth and fifth edition rulesets, though not nearly as involved, obviously.)

Once you’ve created your character — an easy task, given the streamlined (but effective) character creation instructions in the first half of the handbook — there’s an entire campaign included to play through!

Yes, a five-part adventure awaits players willing to explore Freshtovia, battle the evildoers who seek to force frozen beef on people across the land, from Costa del Spicy to Roast Beach, from The Box to Biggie Vale.

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Oh, you were curious about the shameless self-promotion? Trust me, we’re getting to that.

It starts with the setting — the mythical land of Freshtovia, in the realm of Beef’s Keep, where Queen Wendy requires your help to battle the monstrous threat of frozen beef. You can arm yourself with various implements (the spork caught my eye) as you prepare to do battle with the Ice Jester (a thinly veiled take on Ronald McDonald) and his minions, including violent versions of the Hamburglar (aka the Beef Bandit) and the Fry Guys.

Not only that, but there are rules regarding the bonuses you get for eating Wendy’s food while you play (as well as minuses for any characters eating from a different fast food chain during the game).

It’s seeded throughout the game, and on the website as well. On the page explaining how RPGs work, readers will find this text:

Beef’s Keep is a wide open world waiting for you to explore it. Make the world your own, expand your adventure, and most importantly, buy Wendy’s. Wait, we meant to say have fun. Also, buy Wendy’s.

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As a writer and a content creator, I was a little disappointed to see that this voluminous and impressive PDF was lacking in one crucial detail: credits for all the hard work that must’ve gone into it.

Yes, there is a brief credit near the end — illustrations by Alex Lopez, maps by Collin Fogel — and a few signatures and identifying marks hidden in some of the art, but what about the writing? What about the well-crafted adventure? What of all the puns?!

I really had to go hunting in order to track down who exactly deserves the kudos for this engagingly ridiculous endeavor. The credit belongs to the company VMLY&R and their Wendy’s team, including @TonyMarin and @SmugKeck.

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Designed to launch in time for New York Comic-Con — coinciding with a play-through on the popular webseries/podcast Critical Role — Feast of Legends seems like a rousing viral success.

Yes, there is naturally some pushback on the Internet — some for campaign donations made by the CEO of Wendy’s, some for how Wendy’s employees are treated — and some directed at the RPG itself, viewing it as a thinly-veiled propaganda tool (or an anti-union screed designed to brainwash the puny minds of roleplayers).

Politics and social issues aside, I’m calling this project a win. People that have never played a roleplaying game before have asked me about it, and roleplaying games in general are in the news because of this. If this brings more people into one of my favorite activities and opens up a new world of puzzles and games for them, then I thank Wendy’s for making that possible.

And yes, we’re probably going to end up playing this at the office at some point.


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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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TableTop Day 2019: PuzzleNation Style!

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International TableTop Day is one of our favorite days of the year around here! 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 play games.

As we discussed in a previous post, there has been some controversy surrounding the date of TableTop Day this year, so we decided to celebrate our own in-house TableTop Day last Tuesday!

For the seventh year in a row, we put aside some time to indulge in some puzzles and games with our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles, and as always, it was a delight. Games were played, snacks were consumed, and fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers were introduced to some terrific games.

For our TableTop Day event, we focus on quick-play games and games for 2 to 4 players, since that allows people the opportunity to try several games without taking too big a bite out of the workday. Not only that, but with smaller groups or 1-on-1 games, it’s easier to introduce someone to a game and really get into the mechanics and gameplay swiftly.

[The spread of games available for the event. Can you name them all?]

As usual, the event started with people picking out their favorites and introducing new players to the game. Quarto was immediately snatched up, and I played several rounds of Tak with a newcomer to the game who really enjoyed the board game’s strategy, simplicity, and elegant design.

At another table, several rounds of the quick-play pattern-matching card game Loonacy marked a fast-paced and chaotic start to the day’s festivities for new players and familiar faces alike.

A few games of the British History edition of Timeline soon followed, as well as new players trying out the labyrinth-building challenge of The Abandons, which quickly proved both difficult and addictive for one particular celebrant. One-player puzzles like Puzzometry and Knot Dice were also popular.

We concluded our celebration of gaming and community in suitably epic fashion with a round of Exploding Kittens. The players bravely tried to avert and avoid the catastrophes induced by various adorable, oblivious, combustible cats, and it made for a fun, silly ending to another terrific event.

People got to blow off some steam, try some new games, and enjoy some snacks. What more can you ask for? All in all, we definitely call that a success!

[Naturally, people waited with baited breath to see who won our raffle AND this terrific bundle of games and goodies!]

So, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, do you celebrate International Tabletop Day? Let us know in the comment section! 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!

Our Annual TableTop Tournament Starts Next Week!

With International TableTop Day fast approaching, we are once again teaming up with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles to put together an in-house TableTop Tournament to celebrate the upcoming holiday (Saturday, April 27).

It’s a 12-person two-week tournament with different games to play every week, and round 1 kicks off next Tuesday. (This is actually the fourth year of the tournament, with all three previous champions competing again this year.)

One of the things I like about the layout of the tournament is that there are no one-on-one match-ups until the final. Instead of a single-elimination tournament, competitors are slotted into groups of three. Each group of three will play two games, and the two winners (one from each game) from each trio and move on to the next round.

So to survive round 1, I’ll need to win either Timeline or On the Dot.

Timeline is a card game where every card depicts a different moment in history, and the players are trying to place cards from their hand into a historically correct timeline. Players take turns adding cards to the timeline, placing them before or after previously played cards. You don’t have to know the exact year the event on a given card took place; you simply have to figure out when it happened in relation to the other events that have already been played.

You play your card, and then flip it over to reveal the actual year the event occurred. If you’re correct, the card stays, and you have one fewer card in your hand. If you’re wrong, the card is removed from the timeline and you draw a new card. The first player to place every card in their hand wins.

On the Dot is a pattern-matching game. Each player has four clear cards with randomly placed colored dots on them, and it’s up to the player to arrange all four cards so that the colored dots showing match a given pattern. The first player to match three patterns moves on to the next round.

Timeline can be a bit of a crapshoot, depending on your knowledge of a given subject and whatever cards you draw. I suspect I’ll have a better chance of making the second round with On the Dot; I’m fairly quick with pattern recognition and manipulation, and actually won three games in a row last year to secure my spot in the next round. Hopefully I can repeat the same feat this year.

But you never know. With new competitors and returning champions in the tournament this year, there are sure to be some diabolical surprises.

Here’s hoping when it’s all said and done, I’ll be wearing the Game Geek crown and holding the scepter high…


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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!