Go Go Letter Power Rangers: A Puzzly Theme Song Contest!

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Every month, we play some sort of game with not only our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, but with our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles as well.

Often, this takes the form of a hashtag game, mashing up the topic of the month with entries to Penny Press and Dell Magazines puzzles, titles, and so on.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, they’re punny costume ideas, or puzzly opening lines for novels, or attractions for a puzzle-fueled zoo!

This time around, we had a different challenge in mind: coming up with a puzzle-infused theme song for Penny Dell Puzzles!

And friends, they certainly did not disappoint.

So, without further ado, check out what these puzzlers came up with!


We start off today’s collection with some punny takes on classic TV theme songs!

I’ll Be Here & There For You

Love Is All Around the Block

Welcome Back, Kakuro

Where Everybody Knows Your Crypto-Names

Keep It Movin’ On Up / Movin’ On Ups and Downs

There’s No Places, Please Like Home

Split & Splice is Painless

Tossing & Turning and Scrambled Up

Three from Nine to Five

We’re the Chipsmunks

Nothing’s Gonna Stoplines Me Now


From this point forward, it’s not just titles, it’s puzzly lyrics as well!

Check out this brief yet delightful entry, to the tune of Britney Spears:

Oops I did it again
I wrote with a pen, got lost in the grid
Oh Penny, Penny
Oops you think I’m so lost
Switched Down with Across
I need a-nother hint


One intrepid puzzler pitched a nostalgic look at the puzzly past. This one is to the tune of “Those Were The Days” from “All In The Family.”

Boy, the way Word Seeks are made
The clever way that Tiles are laid
Solvers like us, we got it made
These are Word Games
And you know Say That Again
Even do ’em with a pen
Cryptograms can be done, even a page of KenKen
You don’t need no calculator
When you solve your Sudoku later
Gee, all our Fill-Ins look greater
These are Word Games!


I’ll let our next contributor handle their own introduction. Take it away, fellow puzzler!

You want a theme song?
Hold onto your wimple, Maria!
I’ve got your theme song right here:

♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪
How do you solve a puzzle like a crossword?
How do you fill a grid, across and down?
What’s a five-letter word that means “an earth tone”?
An ochre? An umber? A camel? A beige? A brown?

Many a thing you know you’d like to write there,
Many a clue you ought to understand.
A book that can make you think:
Use pencil or pen and ink!
How do you choose the best from your newsstand?

Oh, how do know you’ve got the tops in puzzles?
Penny Press made the book that’s in your hand!
♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪♫♪


Another marvelous entry was set to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and is known simply as… the Solver’s Theme:

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final clue
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll take my prize, of which I’m due
I’ve solved the puzzles full
Fraught with joy and dismay
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
I penned each solve complete
Each careful letter along the way
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

Yes, there were times, that Crypto-Zoo
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and finished Turnabout
I faced it all, and I stood tall
And did it my way

I’ve circled, I’ve erased and cried
I’ve had my Fill-Ins, Tossing and Turning
And now, as tears subside
I find that I am always learning
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh, no, oh, no, not me
I did it my way

For what is a solver, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say he finished Spinwheel
But sought help for Square Deal
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

Yes, it was my way


Here’s a toe-tapping puzzly entry submitted to the tune of “867-5309”:

Penny, Penny has puzzles for you
Our magazines have a ton of fun clues
Sudoku, Word Seeks, and Crosswords galore
Your favorite puzzles, oh we’ve got them all!

Penny, you’ve got our number
When you need Three from Nine
Penny, just call our number

Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight
Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight
Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight
Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight

Penny, Penny has Puzzle Derby
Fill-Ins and Places, Please will make you so happy
Try out Double Trouble or Blockbuilders
Challenge your imagination with Exploraword

Penny, you’ve got our number
When you need Diamond Mine
Penny, just call our number

Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight
Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight
Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight
Eight, six, six, six, six, eight, eight

We’ve got it (We’ve got it) We’ve got it
Tiles, Place Your Number, and Quotefalls
We’ve got it (We’ve got it) We’ve got it
For a Good Time, for a Good Time call!


As a closer, here’s one the kids can enjoy, as one creative puzzler submitted a piece to the tune of “Old McDonald Had a Farm”:

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one
With a COLORING BOOK here
and a COLORING BOOK there,
here a COLORING BOOK
there a COLORING BOOK
everywhere you see a COLORING BOOK

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one
With a CROSSWORD here
and a CROSSWORD there,
here a CROSSWORD
there a CROSSWORD
everywhere you see a CROSSWORD

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one
With a FILL-IN here
and a FILL-IN there,
here a FILL-IN
there a FILL-IN
everywhere you see a FILL-IN,

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one
With a LOGIC here
and a LOGIC there,
here a LOGIC
there a LOGIC
everywhere you see a LOGIC,

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one
With a VARIETY here
and a VARIETY there,
here a VARIETY
there a VARIETY
everywhere you see a VARIETY,

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one
With a WORD SEEK here
and a WORD SEEK there,
here a WORD SEEK
there a WORD SEEK
everywhere you see a WORD SEEK,

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one
With a WORD SEEK here
and a WORD SEEK there,
here a WORD SEEK
there a WORD SEEK
everywhere you see a WORD SEEK,

a VARIETY here
and a VARIETY there,
here a VARIETY
there a VARIETY
everywhere you see a VARIETY,

a LOGIC here
and a LOGIC there,
here a LOGIC
there a LOGIC
everywhere you see a LOGIC,

a FILL-IN here
and a FILL-IN there,
here a FILL-IN,
there a FILL-IN
everywhere you see a FILL-IN,

a CROSSWORD here
and a CROSSWORD there,
here a CROSSWORD,
there a CROSSWORD
everywhere you see a CROSSWORD,

a COLORING BOOK here
and a COLORING BOOK there,
here a COLORING BOOK
there a COLORING BOOK
everywhere you see a COLORING BOOK …

Penny Pub makes puzzles fun,
oh lets go do one


Did you have a favorite Penny Dell Puzzly Theme Song, fellow puzzlers? Or an idea of your own? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

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Puzzles in Pop Culture: TV Escape Rooms!

sidequest2

[Image courtesy of Yelp.]

It’s always interesting when TV shows incorporate puzzles into their stories. Not only do we get to see what Hollywood (and by extrapolation, the general public) thinks about a given puzzly experience, but we learn more about the characters when they face a particular puzzle or challenge.

This is especially true for sitcoms and comedies, since they usually have less time to focus on the puzzling and therefore put the spotlight on character relationships.

And it occurred to me that there are a number of different shows over the last few years that have featured the characters in escape room-style puzzle settings.

Why don’t we take a look at how accurately these puzzly experiences were portrayed, how difficult the room appeared to be, and what the characters’ solving skills were like?

Please enjoy as we explore fictional escape rooms from TV in our latest edition of Puzzles in Pop Culture!

big bang theory pic

[Image courtesy of IMDb.]

For our first offering, we turn to the CBS juggernaut The Big Bang Theory. Over the years, TBBT has featured puzzly activities like giant Jenga, a holiday-fueled session of Dungeons & Dragons, and a scavenger hunt with puzzly clues.

So I wasn’t surprised that their take on escape rooms was the same: fairly accurate, but simplified and streamlined for a mainstream audience.

The room in TBBT is pretty spacious, moreso than pretty much any escape room I’ve seen. But the level of detail is easily something achievable for high-end rooms. Also, I’ve heard about escape rooms with actors playing zombies before, so this is legit.

(In fact, one I heard about in Washington D.C. had a zombie on a chain; the chain got longer the more time solvers took to crack puzzles, cutting the room in half at one point!)

We don’t get to see much of their solving, as they allude to puzzles conquered instead of showing us, so it’s hard to gauge difficulty. But given that most of the characters featured in the scene hold doctorates, we can safely assume the puzzles were middle-of-the-road or slightly harder.

However, the episode ignores the fact that you’re trying to escape the room in a certain amount of time. The characters seemed disappointed by their impressive performance, but they probably posted one of the top times in that room’s history. Nothing to sneeze at.

  • Accuracy rating: 4/5
  • Room difficulty: 3/5
  • Character solving skills: 5/5

[Image courtesy of FOX.com.]

Another show that hasn’t shied away from puzzly content is the former FOX and current NBC hit Brooklyn Nine-Nine. This comedy/drama set at a New York City police precinct has featured a seesaw brain teaser, a crossword-fueled arson mystery, and several multilayered heist storylines set around Halloween.

Puzzle enthusiast Captain Holt invites his fellow officers out to an escape room, and is dismayed when the disinterested Gina and the bumbling Hitchcock and Scully end up being his only fellow players. The group is immediately hampered by Hitchcock wasting two of their three hints, and Holt accidentally wasting the third.

The hint system is usually not as rigid in escape rooms. Three hints is common, though many places allow you to ask for more; sometimes there’s a time penalty, sometimes not. Also, the room in B99 is a three-hour challenge, which was a surprise. The standard time is an hour, though I’ve seen rooms push it to ninety minutes.

The group has also clearly not tried the classic escape room method of “touch everything,” because an hour and a half into the game, having found only one of the four keys needed to escape the room, Holt has not yet investigated the bright red phone sitting out in the open.

This is another escape room where difficulty is tough to judge. Unfortunately, we’re not given enough details on the first key (which involves some sort of chess puzzle) and the fourth key to really gauge the room. But despite the rocky start, the lovable team of misfits manages to escape.

  • Accuracy rating: 3/5
  • Room difficulty: 2/5
  • Character solving skills: Holt gets a 3.5/5, everyone else gets a 2/5.

always-sunny

[Image courtesy of Variety.]

Next, let’s turn our eyes to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

The characters in this darkly comedic show all consider themselves devious masterminds, but for the most part, they tend to get in each others’ way and foil their own schemes through silly self-sabotage. Although a few impressive schemes do come to fruition over the years, it’s hard to consider this group a crackerjack team of puzzle solvers.

This escape room breaks the mold quite a bit, since the company brings the escape room trappings to the apartment of two of the characters. This is much more elaborate than any escape room set you can buy for the home, and I don’t know of any companies that deliver an escape room to the house.

You might think this home field advantage would be a boon, but instead, all chance of cooperation immediately goes out the window. One pair takes the key to a lock, the other pair takes the lock, and they spend the entire time negotiating instead of solving.

iasip

[Image courtesy of IMDb. Because of the language involved, I couldn’t
use an actual video clip and keep the blog post family friendly.]

Once they actually agree to collaborate and open the lock, they discover a list of tasks for them to complete, and they have virtually no time left to do so. (Our only hint to the room’s difficulty comes from the fact that Dee has completed the room beforehand, so it can’t have been too difficult.)

They claim victory when Sweet Dee falls out a window after getting trapped in her brother Dennis’s bedroom. In order to check on Dee’s status, the game runner opens the door and the remaining players consider it a win.

  • Accuracy rating: 1/5
  • Room difficulty: 2/5
  • Character solving skills: 0/5

crazyex_s01a-1170x658

[Image courtesy of Frame Rated.]

The final entry in our comedic quartet of escape room episodes comes from the musical CW show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. This romantic drama, comedy, and coming-of-age story often features characters breaking out into elaborate song and dance routines, and many of the songs have become modern classics.

The show didn’t tackle puzzly content often, and indeed, the escape room in question is a b-plot in this particular episode, as main character Rebecca offers her escape room experience to friend Paula and her two disinterested sons.

The escape room is medieval-themed and huge, with lots of great set pieces and detail. The mix of exploring, touching things, solving puzzles, cooperating, and placing objects in particular places are all very traditional escape room moments.

ceg escape

[Image courtesy of Laura E. Hall.]

Though I was a little disappointed that the elements of the final puzzle are sitting out in plain sight the whole time. You could easily ACCIDENTALLY solve the last puzzle first and be out in minutes.

But Paula’s sons prove to be able puzzlers, attentive and clever, revealing things about themselves that Paula didn’t know. (In fact, the entire escape room subplot is all about Paula learning about who her sons have become, which is Puzzly Storytelling in Sitcoms 101.)

They all escape, having found new common ground, and it’s easily the most delightful ending of the four escape room scenarios we’ve looked at today.

  • Accuracy rating: 4/5
  • Room difficulty: 3/5 (the final puzzle is a long anagram, which is pretty tough, but the rest of the room is easy)
  • Character solving skills: 4/5

What did you think of this look at escape rooms from TV, fellow puzzlers? Should we look at more fictional escape rooms and see how they hold up?

I’ve heard Bob’s Burgers has one, as well as Schitt’s Creek. Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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Delving into the Lollapuzzoola 13 puzzles!

lolla logo

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

soap opera

Puzzle 1: Soap Operas by Brooke Husic

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

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

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

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

Puzzle 2: The Final Countdown by Sid Sivakumar

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

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

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

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

toy story

[Image courtesy of Pixar.]

Puzzle 3: Flipping Channels by Rachel Fabi

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

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

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

meghan-markle-deal-or-no-deal

[Image courtesy of Game Show Network.]

Puzzle 4: Deal or No Deal by joon pahk

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

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

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

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

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

conman1112

Puzzle 5: Schedule Swaps by Stella Zawistowski

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

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

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

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

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

Very nicely done, constructors!

berternie

Puzzle 6: Finals by Robyn Weintraub

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

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

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

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

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

Local clues:

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

Express clues:

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

bay-5-1024x576

[Top(less) puzzlers.]

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

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


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

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

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


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NBC: Novel Board-game Content

book rock

By the late 2000s and early 2010s, NBC’s Must See TV Thursday lineup was a thing of the past, but they were still putting out quality comedy content. My Name Is Earl, The Office, Community, Scrubs, Parks and Recreation, and 30 Rock all had loyal followings.

And you’d be surprised how much puzzle and game content ended up on those shows.

The Office featured in-house Olympics and betting games, as well as a Da Vinci Code-esque prank. Community had two Dungeons & Dragons-inspired episodes (which I should really cover at some point).

But those last two shows — Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock — both featured made-up games that either spoofed or were inspired by modern board games.

(Yes, we’ve previously covered the Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt from Parks and Rec, but there were two other scavenger hunt moments, as well as the many game references made by the character Ben Wyatt.)

Parks and Recreation had The Cones of Dunshire, and 30 Rock had Colonizers of Malaar. Both of these games are much more elaborate takes on Settlers of Catan, a board game about resource management that is considered one of the top titles in modern board games.

In one episode of 30 Rock, executive Jack Donaghy is struggling with his position, given that NBC is under new ownership with Kabletown, and he finds refuge in a game of Colonizers of Malaar with the writers for comedy show TGS.

Jack believes his business acumen will make the game an easy victory, only to find the play experience strangely similar to his current problems at work. He flees the game for some fresh air.

Later, Jack returns to the game, inspired. He makes a seemingly ill-advised move — playing a fire card in a desert wasteland — that turns the game on its head. The fire turns all the sand into glass, a much-needed resource, and suddenly he’s back in control.

His success in the game inspires him to do the same with his new employers, and Jack leaves, reinvigorated.

The game itself allowed for a few silly throwaway lines, but Jack’s gaming experience was a clever way to allow him to reach rock bottom and rebound. Like many newcomers to a game, he struggled, found his way, and later triumphed, his day improved by playing the game.

Plenty of board game fans have had similarly joyful experiences.

Colonizers of Malaar, as far as we can tell, is a marketed game in the 30 Rock universe. The Cones of Dunshire from Parks and Recreation, on the other hand, is created by character Ben Wyatt and initially treated as a mistake, a nonsensical result of his boredom and frustrations.

The game becomes a running gag in the show. Ben leaves it as a gift at an accounting firm that he has been hired by (and walked away from) several times.

Later, we find out the game has been produced, and Ben stumbles across it when dealing with a dotcom company. He mentions that he invented it, but is shrugged off. He then proves not only his gaming skill but his authorship of the game when he beats the dotcom bosses in a tense playthrough.

It’s mentioned once that a gaming magazine called Cones of Dunshire “punishingly intricate,” a point that makes Ben proud.

Part of the fun of Cones of Dunshire is that the viewer never really understands what’s going on, so supposedly dramatic moments can be played for laughs. (I also appreciate that the name of the game is basically a fancy way of saying “dunce hat.”)

And, in the sort of cyclical storytelling that could only happen in a nerdly pursuit like board games, the company that made Settlers of Catan — Mayfair Games — produced a giant version of the game as part of a charity event at GenCon.

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A Kickstarter campaign for a limited run of the game was launched twice, with copies costing $500 due to the insane complexity and number of pieces for the game, but it ultimately failed to reach its goal.

Nonetheless, these two fictional games made an impact on both the characters of the show and the fans as well. What more could you ask for?


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The Best Puzzle Solvers on Television

[Image courtesy of Spoiler TV.]

A few weeks ago, we celebrated Halloween by compiling a list of the best puzzlers in horror movies. The goal was to highlight characters who stood out, the ones you’d want on your side, because they’re clever, decisive, and immensely capable.

But it’s not just horror movies that feature characters with these rare qualities. Television dramas and comedies both have their fair share of top-notch puzzlers, and today, we turn the spotlight on them.

True, I certainly could have listed more detectives/investigators/crime scene techs, but honestly, they’re often part of a big team of solvers. (The casts of CSI and Bones, for instance, are effective teams, but rarely does one particular puzzler shine brighter than the rest.)

These individuals (and the occasional duo), however, most definitely perform puzzly feats under pressure.


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Batman, Batman: The Animated Series

[Image courtesy of Polygon.]

Yeah, we’re getting an obvious one out of the way first. He’s not called the World’s Greatest Detective for nothing, after all. Although the ’60s Batman leapt wildly to conclusions that turned out to be right, we’d rather lean on the cunning cartoon version of the character from the ’90s FOX show.

This Batman outwitted the Riddler, foiled the Joker, and defeated Ra’s al Ghul, all while remaining age-appropriate for the kiddies. His comic-book counterpart might get to show off his puzzly detective skills more frequently, but when it comes to TV, it’s hard to ignore the Caped Crusader.

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Sherlock Holmes / Mycroft Holmes / Jim Moriarty, Sherlock

[Image courtesy of Tumblr.]

Again, this trio is too obvious to ignore. It’s hard to pick the sharpest knife out of this particular drawer. Moriarty proves himself to be Holmes’s equal throughout the show, though Sherlock does defeat him in the end. Similarly, Mycroft is often regarded as Sherlock’s equal (or perhaps superior) when it comes to sussing out evidence.

But we always return to the often imitated but never duplicated Great Detective when we think of someone who can put together tiny details and suddenly realize the stunning whole of the case. Call it deduction or just great jigsaw skills, Sherlock has it in spades.

(Oh, and an honorable mention here goes out to Dr. Gregory House, who was based on Holmes.)

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Angus MacGyver, MacGyver

[Image courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter.]

When you think of this iconic character, it’s likely that one of two things comes to mind: either his trusty Swiss army knife or his incredible knack for getting out of jams with jury-rigged, home-built, improvised equipment.

The man cobbled together a cannon from cigarette butts and built a functioning glider out of bamboo and trash bags. Any brain teaser, no matter how specious or obtuse, would fall before the mighty outside-the-box thinking of Mr. MacGyver.

Leslie Knope / Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

My first instinct was to mention Ron Swanson here, given his love of riddles and his impressive efforts to solve the Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt created for Ben in a famous episode. But one cannot honor a master puzzle solver and not give a fair shake to the woman who designed the devious scavenger hunt being solved.

Leslie Knope’s 25-clue puzzle hunt involved riddles, anagrams, a cryptex, and more, and not only did she amaze viewers, but she got Ron to admit his love of riddles to the world. They both merit mentioning in today’s list.

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The Doctor, Doctor Who

[Image courtesy of Vocal.]

When your life is spent traveling through time and space, experiencing events out of order, you’d have to be a pretty decent puzzler just to keep cause and effect straight, let alone to battle threats that endanger the whole of creation. And this alien with two hearts and a police box that travels through time is one heck of a puzzle solver.

He has outwitted Daleks, demigods, and the devil himself. He has defeated aliens that move every time you blink or look away, or that you forget about as soon as you lose sight of them. I assure you, no riddle or brain teaser stands a chance against someone who thinks in four dimensions.

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Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons

[Image courtesy of SketchOK.]

No, I haven’t mentioned too many actual puzzle solvers in this list — but just because people like puzzles, that doesn’t mean they’re the best solvers. Lisa, however, fits both sides of the equation.

We’ve seen her skills as a crossword whiz and her ability to crack a Da Vinci Code-esque mystery, all while navigating the perils of elementary school and a father whose choices often defy belief. Lisa is thoughtful, diligent, observant, and clever. She not only loves puzzles, but applies her puzzly mind to making the world around her a better place.

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Walter White / Gus Fring, Breaking Bad

[Image courtesy of Breaking Bad Wiki.]

From schoolgirls to drug kingpins we go. It’s hard to pick who is the better strategist between the devious Walter White and the tactical Gustavo Fring. Granted, White does defeat Fring in the end, but not before Gus outmaneuvers old rivals and new, drives a wedge between Walt and Jesse, and builds an entire empire under the noses of the local authorities.

Walt, like a sinister MacGyver, often rigs up surprising solutions to problems, but Gus is probably the superior puzzler, someone who can plan his game three moves ahead and make the best use of his resources.

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Penny and Brain, Inspector Gadget

[Image courtesy of Sassy Mama in LA.]

With the bumbling, insufferable bionic detective by your side, you almost have to be twice as good a puzzler to get anything done. And yet, the insightful Penny and her loyal canine companion Brain usually manage to foil the plans of Dr. Klaw despite the doltish antics of the show’s title character.

Penny is an able researcher, able to assess a situation and find the missing pieces with ease. Brain, on the other hand, is the one who puts Penny’s plans into action and adapting on the fly when things (inevitably) go awry. As puzzling duos go, they’re among the best around.

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[Image courtesy of Monk Wiki.]

Adrian Monk, Monk

A knack for observation will always serve a puzzler well. Maybe you notice a pattern, or something missing from a room that everyone else missed. Maybe you can draw connections faster than others. All of these qualities apply to Adrian Monk, the fearful obsessive investigator from USA’s Monk.

Monk is the ultimate logic problem solver, drawing out the tables in his head and neatly placing information in each box, then finally drawing his conclusion once he has enough detail. And he’s never wrong. A master of observation and deduction, Monk is a world-class puzzler (even if he probably doesn’t solve the daily crossword often for fear that the newspaper will smear ink on his hands).


Did I miss any world-class puzzlers from television? Let me know in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you!

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Alex Trebek Wraps Up His 35th Season of Jeopardy! with a Surprise!

It’s hard to believe that less than two months ago, Jeopardy! was on everyone’s mind as James Holzhauer embarked on his thrilling streak of money-making trivia performances, shattering records and raking in an impressive amount of dough.

Things are a bit quieter now. The show recently wrapped up its 35th season, a landmark few television shows ever reach. And integral to the show’s success is Alex Trebek, who has served as the show’s host since 1984.

Trebek is a certifiable pop culture icon these days. Not only is he a member of that elite pantheon of game show hosts that are instantly recognizable to virtually everyone, but he actually holds the Guinness World Record for hosting the most episodes of a game show. He was awarded with the honor on June 13, 2014, having hosted 6,829 episodes (up to that point).

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[Image courtesy of IMDb.]

My personal favorite Trebek moment is when he showed up unexpectedly in an episode of The X-Files, playing one of the mysterious Men in Black. It’s unclear if he was playing himself, though. As Agent Scully states, “Mulder didn’t say it was Alex Trebek, it was just someone who looked incredibly like him.”

Although he received devastating medical news earlier this year — a diagnosis of stage IV pancreatic cancer — he has said in recent interviews that he’s responding exceptionally well to treatment, giving his many fans and well-wishers hope that he will not only see out the end of his contract (currently set to end in 2022), but many more years of health and happiness.

It’s in that spirit that we write today’s blog post, as Season 35 concluded with one last surprise for Mr. Trebek, courtesy of the Jeopardy! All-Stars (Ken Jennings, Austin Rogers, Brad Rutter, and others):

It’s a wonderful gift to a television icon that millions have been welcoming into their homes for decades now. When it comes to figures in the world of puzzles and games, there are few as iconic as Alex Trebek.


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