PuzzleNation 2020 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: Grab Bag!

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2020 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

We’re so excited to be bringing you our biggest ever gift guide! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is a grab bag of all sorts of dice games, puzzle games, brain teasers, card games, puzzle books, group & party games, puzzles by mail, and board games, the perfect random assortment for any puzzle fan you need ideas for! We’re sure you’ll find the right gift for any puzzler on your list!


This year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide is sponsored by Daily POP Crosswords!

Daily POP Crosswords offers a different themed puzzle every single day, spanning everything from TV and film to sports and music!

Available for both Android and iOS users, you get terrific content from some of the world’s top constructors! And the download is free!


Let’s start off with some puzzle books before we get into the grab bag of games, puzzles, and other terrific holiday treats!

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

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Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like their Logic Problems Spectacular 3-Pack ($16.95), the Crossword Extravaganza collection ($7.99), or a value pack of Jumble puzzles ($13.95)! Maybe you’d like the ease of printing puzzles at home with Print N’ Solve Seasonal Crosswords ($2.99). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. They’ve got bundles and discounts for days!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–Paolo Pasco’s Crossword Puzzles For Kids ($9.99)

–Eric Berlin’s Puzzlesnacks: More Than 100 Bite-Size Puzzles for Every Solver ($7.79)

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($9.99)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Octopus Crosswords ($6.95)

–Matt Gaffney’s Fast & Fun Mini Crosswords ($7.95)

–Andrew Ries’s Maverick Crosswords ($9.99)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($7.67)

–Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords ($9.95)

USA Today’s Crossword Super Challenge 2 ($9.99)

–Cynthia Morris’s CynAcrostics Volume 6: Imagine That! and American Acrostics Volume 8: Puzzling American Authors ($9.95 each)

USA Today’s Sudoku Super Challenge 2 ($9.99)

–Andy Kravis’s Challenge Accepted!: 100 Word Searches ($6.56)

–Shawn Marie Simmons’s 25 Word Search Puzzles for Classic Literature Lovers and 25 Word Search Puzzles for MODERN Literature Lovers ($6.99 each) [available in a large print bundle as well ($12.99)]

USA Today’s Logic Super Challenge 2 ($9.99)

–Oliver Roeder’s The Riddler: Fantastic Puzzles from FiveThirtyEight ($14.49)

–Andrews McMeel Publishing’s Take Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for Peace, Take Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for Clarity, Take Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for Tranquility, and Take Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for Balance [featuring crosswords and other puzzles] ($8.99 each)

USA Today’s Jumbo Puzzle Book Super Challenge 2 ($12.99)

And that doesn’t even cover the many great email and downloadable puzzle books and sets available this holiday season!

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between email subscriptions and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($22 for 1 year)

The Inkubator, edited by Laura Braunstein and Tracy Bennett (crossword puzzles constructed exclusively by women, twice a month, $25 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest (starts at $3 per month on Patreon)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($31 for 1 year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Freestyle themeless crosswords ($15 per year), and Aries Rows Garden ($30 per year) [available as a bundle together for $40]

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year) OR get both for $30!

–Will Nediger’s Bewilderingly weekly themed and themeless crosswords ($25 for 1 year)

–Paolo Pasco’s Expansion Pack crossword suite (pay what you want for the base set, $10 for the XL version)

–Eric Berlin’s Puzzlesnacks puzzles ($3 per month) and Puzzlesnacks Plus bundle ($7.99)

Crossword LA 2018 puzzle pack ($5)

–Bryant Park 2018 tournament puzzle pack ($5) and 2016/2017 bundle ($10)

Boswords 2020 Fall Puzzle Packet ($10) and previous puzzle packets ($5 each)

Topple puzzle magazine ($1 per issue)

–Lone Shark Games’ Puzzle Vault PDF collections, including Marching Bands, Rows Garden, Crosswords, Cryptics, and more ($7.77 – $14.95)

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Also, there are some wonderful puzzle bundles available in exchange for donations to worthy causes!

Grids for Good, a 42-puzzle bundle supporting coronavirus relief and groups fighting systemic racism

Queer Qrosswords 2, a 32-crossword bundle supporting LGBTQ+ charities and organizations

–Enrique Henestroza Anguiano’s Mexican Midis, a 5-puzzle bundle supporting COVID relief


And now, without further ado, here is our grab bag of puzzle games and products galore!

The Keymaster’s Bundle by Mike Selinker, Gaby Weidling, and Eric Harshbarger (puzzle book)

The Maze of Games is one of the most diabolical puzzle books ever conceived. It allows the protagonists AND the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of different puzzles in the hopes of conquering each of the labyrinths within the book.

And The Keymaster’s Bundle combines The Maze of GamesThe Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, the Maze of Games Map, and the Keymaster’s Tome all in one place, along with some bonus digital downloads like the audiobook version of The Theseus Guide and The Gatekeeper’s Variety Hour radio show! It’s the entire Maze of Games experience! ($99.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze of Games!]

Zendo (Looney Labs, puzzle game)

Puzzle games are all about the rules, but what if you don’t know the rules? That’s where Zendo comes in. In this puzzle game, you arrange Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and then see if those designs conform to a mysterious rule. A game of deduction and trial-and-error, Zendo is a very different solving experience. ($40)

Plus there are two expansion packs available for Zendo, each offering additional rules and varying in difficulty! ($5 each)

[Check out our full review for Zendo here!]

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Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse (ThinkFun, escape room game)

Can you construct and then escape one of the most fully realized home escape room games on the market today? The Cursed Dollhouse is a diabolical and immersive puzzly experience, encompassing five rooms and a host of different puzzles to unravel in the hopes of escaping a horrible fate! ($42.99)

[Check out our spoiler-free review here!]

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Cryptogram Puzzle Post (Jack Fallows, puzzle by mail)

A combination of different puzzles and encrypted messages interwoven together with bits of narrative, each edition of the Cryptogram Puzzle Post is a standalone story steeped in mystery and supernatural elements. But solve them all together, and a grand universe of storytelling unfolds. Sold in seasonal bundles and annual subscriptions, this episodic puzzly adventure is quite unique. (£5 for digital downloads, £20 for seasonal bundles)

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GolfWords (David L. Hoyt, party/group game)

Combining the skill of golf with a love of wordplay, GolfWords takes puzzles off the page and into your home, testing you both mentally and physically! Complete with the letter mat, putters, golf balls, scoring pads, and other accessories, this unique combination of puzzle and sport can be played solo or by the whole family! ($299.99)

All of the Things (miscellaneous puzzle swag)

If you’re looking for puzzly coasters, pins, earrings, teddy bears, and more, the team at All of the Things have puzzle treats for you! Their table has been a highlight of the marketplace at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament for several years now, and we’re happy to welcome them back to the Gift Guide this year!

Tak: A Beautiful Game (Cheapass Games/Greater Than Games, board game)

Many new games build off of classic mechanics, but very few new games truly feel like they could have been played centuries ago. Tak definitely fits that mold, using simple wooden pieces to create a game that feels both fresh and ancient all at once. Inspired by the eponymous game in Patrick Rothfuss’s KingKiller Chronicles series, Tak is a wonderful two-player game that quickly grows addictive. ($30)

[Click here for our full review of Tak!]

Knot Dice and Knot Dice Squared (Black Oak Games, dice game)

Can you twist, turn, and spin these dice to complete beautiful, elaborate patterns inspired by Celtic knots? That’s the name of the game with Knot Dice, a dice game as challenging as it is gorgeous. With single-player and multi-player puzzles included, you’ll be tying yourself in knots for days! ($34.99, available in green or blue)

And you can add new wrinkles and patterns to your solving with Knot Dice Squared, an expansion set with 26 additional dice, new rules, and more! ($44.99)

[Click here to check out our full review of both games!]

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Smart10 (Bananagrams, party/group game)

Can you pick one correct answer from a field of possibilities? Smart10 challenges you and a group of friends to do just that by selecting correct answers from a list of possible responses. It’s tougher than it sounds, and it’ll test your trivia skills and your ability to think under pressure. ($19.99)

[Check out our full review here!]

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Castellan (Steve Jackson Games, board game)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games, board game)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

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Cathedral Door (Project Genius, jigsaw puzzle)

Straddling the line between brain teaser and jigsaw puzzle, Cathedral Door challenges solvers to reassemble this beautiful door by placing all of the pieces of wooden adornment into the stained glass pattern. But the mix of peculiar shapes and colored clues create a more difficult solve than you might expect! ($14.99)

[Check out our review of Cathedral Door here!]

Spaceteam (Timber and Bolt, card game)

Can you repair your ship and get the engines up and running before a black hole ends your space adventure forever? That’s the name of the game in Spaceteam, a cooperative, communication-based game where you have to accomplish various tasks with your fellow players while sharing tools. It’s delightful chaos, heightened by the five-minute hourglass timer counting down your dwindling seconds before disaster strikes! A definite favorite around here. ($26.95)

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The Crosswords Club (puzzle by mail)

A monthly publication with six Sunday-sized crosswords, The Crosswords Club utilizes some of the sharpest crossword constructors in the business today, and the puzzles are all edited by top constructor Patti Varol. Each bundle is as fun as it is challenging, plus each monthly bundle has an extra word game printed right on the envelope! ($40.95 for 12 issues)

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Pocket Brainteasers (ThinkFun, brain teaser)

How good is your spatial awareness? You’re about to find out with this quartet of puzzlers, each its own obstacle for you to overcome. Can you reposition the four pieces into a smaller space in 4-T Puzzle or the wi-fi bars of Rec-Tangle into a new arrangement? Can you separate the 4-Piece Jigsaw, or combine the four chairs into The Fifth Chair? These bite-sized brain teasers will certainly keep you guessing. ($6.99 each)

[Click here to check out our review of all four Pocket Brainteasers!]

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Codenames (Czech Games, card game)

It’s a race against time to locate all of your spies before your opponents. But in order to do so, you need to communicate information with a single word. Codenames will put your word association skills to work as you try to find secret agents disguised with code words, while avoiding innocent citizens and dangerous assassins along the way! ($19.95)

[Read our full review of Codenames here!]

Slapzi (Tenzi, party game)

Slapzi will keep you on your toes. In this quick-reaction game, you’ve got to match your picture cards to the clue cards before your opponents. But with clues like “Not sold in a hardware store” or “Two of the same letter together,” this isn’t as easy as it appears! ($19.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of Slapzi!]

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Geode Puzzle (Uncommon Goods, jigsaw puzzle)

Forget looking for the edge pieces, because these nature-based puzzles take jigsaws beyond the usual patterning. Geode Puzzle‘s flowing, unusual shapes and vibrant colors create a unique solving experience. ($65)

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Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze, party/group game)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($16.99)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]

Scrimish (Nexci, card game)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

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Bunny Kingdom (IELLO, board game)

There are plenty of board games where you control resources, build cities, and achieve glory. But how many of them let you do that while being BUNNIES? In Bunny Kingdom, a game combining drafting and area control mechanics, each player builds a fiefdom and tries to outmaneuver their fellow players in managing territory, materials, and trade. The most cunning bunny wins with the most points wins and captures the title “Big Ears!” ($39.45)

Decrypto (IELLO, party/group game)

Can you covertly communicate with your teammates without revealing your secret code to the opponent team? That’s the name of the game in Decrypto, a party game all about word association and deduction. The first team to crack the opposing team’s codes twice wins! ($22.68)

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Top Trumps Pub Quiz (Winning Moves UK, card game)

Bar trivia has come home with Top Trumps Pub Quiz, a sharply packaged game of question-fueled competition. Each team opens their drawer on the carrying case and removes five cards, each with a different topic. Will your team triumph or will the other team’s trivia smarts win the day? ($14.95)

[Check out our full review here!]

The Abandons (Puzzling Pixel Games, card game)

Can you escape a dangerous labyrinth that changes every time you explore it? The Abandons pits the solver against a random deck, where luck, quick decision making, and puzzly skill all must be on your side if you ever want to see daylight again. ($15)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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Star Trek: Voyager Fluxx (Looney Labs, card game)

The chaos and ever-changing rules of Fluxx venture farther than ever before as they tackle the crew of far-flung Federation starship Voyager. Work with Janeway and her team to outwit the Kazon, the Borg, time travelers, and more, all in a card game that boldly goes where only a few other versions of Fluxx have gone before! ($20)

And if Star Trek isn’t your style, maybe you’d enjoy Astronomy Fluxx, Spongebob Fluxx, or any of the other marvelous variations on this classic quick-changing card game!

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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Wooden Fractal Tray Puzzles (Martin Raynsford, jigsaw puzzle)

Laser-cut precision and patterns built on fractal designs make these wooden tray puzzles as maddening as they are beautiful. The pieces fall so seamlessly into place that they practically vanish… that is, if you can puzzle out how to place them all into the tray. ($35.99)

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Wish You Were Here (The Enigma Emporium, puzzle by mail)

Imagine an entire mystery hidden across a handful of postcards. That’s the multilayered puzzle experience offered by Wish You Were Here, where a series of coded messages awaits you. Unravel all the secrets and discover an exciting tale of danger and spycraft along the way! ($15)

[And if you enjoy Wish You Were Here, there are all sorts of additional puzzle bundles to try out!]

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Chicken War (ThinkFun, board game)

To win Chicken War, you’ll need to be more observant and more devious than the other players to either complete your army or be the last player standing. And it all hinges on your ability to observe your opponents’ moves while hiding your own. It’s deduction meets strategy in the barnyard! ($20.77)

[Read our full review of Chicken War here!]

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Cheapass Games in Black and White (Cheapass Games/Greater Than Games, board game)

The library of Cheapass Games is expansive, but even diehard fans don’t have the majority of the company’s original game library. Unless, that is, they own Cheapass Games in Black and White, a hardcover compendium of every game from the black-and-white era. Featuring the rulebooks for famous titles like Button Men and Kill Doctor Lucky, alongside more obscure entries like Escape from Elba, this is a terrific resource for any game fan. ($50)

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Grecian Computer (Project Genius, brain teaser)

Can you crack this wooden brain teaser? That’s the question posed by Grecian Computer, a twisty puzzle where the correct solution requires all twelve columns to add up to 42 at the same time. Ready your puzzle skills and your math know-how for this one, or it’ll leave twisted and all turned around! ($14.99)

[Check out our review of Grecian Computer here!]

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Unlock!: Squeek and Sausage (Asmodee, escape room game)

Unlock! games consist of entirely of a deck of cards and your app. The cards provide locations, challenges, helpful items, solutions, and warnings, all identified with numbered or lettered cards in the deck. And while there are numerous Unlock! escape games to try — covering everything from haunted houses to desert islands — we recommend the mad scientist-fueled Squeek and Sausage, which is enjoyably silly and still a satisfying challenge! ($11.99)

Unspeakable Words (Playroom Entertainment, card game)

Some word games might drive you mad, but only Unspeakable Words actually makes keeping your sanity part of the gameplay! As you spell different words, you have to make a die roll to see if spelling the word cost you a bit of your sanity. If you lose too much of it, you’ll start uttering unspeakable words, which can be worth more points… if your sanity can take it! A fun twist on Scrabble and other word-forming games. ($26.94)

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Homeworlds (Looney Labs, board game)

Let’s take to the stars in this complex space game where survival is the name of the game! In Homeworlds, each player is the leader of a galactic empire, and you must protect your homeworld while striking out against your opponent’s fleet. This marvelously intricate game offers a huge amount of gameplay in a tiny package and feels like epic space opera the whole time! ($20)

[Review coming soon!]

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Cracker Games: The Imp Box (The Dark Imp, party/group game)

Six unique family games in a reusable box that looks like a Christmas cracker? What an idea! Voting, collecting, observation, and trading are among the gameplay styles you’ll find in The Imp Box, and this neat little package packs a lot of variety into a small space! (£19.99)

Constellations (Xtronaut Enterprises, card game)

Sometimes, we can move heaven and earth! Constellations is all about collecting stars and building famous constellations, then placing them in the night sky! The more effective your constellation-building, the higher your score! ($30)

[Check out our full review of Constellations here!]

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Puzzometry (jigsaw puzzle)

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available in seven different styles — Puzzometry ($18.50), Puzzometry Jr. ($14), Puzzometry Squares ($18.50), Puzzometry Hex ($18.50), Puzzometry Steps ($18.50), Puzzometry Six ($18.50), and Puzzometry Jr. 2 ($14) — you’ve got distinct challenges appropriate for all different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

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The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys, card game)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($12.79)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]

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Gearjits Roller Coaster (Gearjits, jigsaw puzzle)

Bring your puzzle skills to life as you assemble a working roller coaster from these wooden pieces. Assembling handcranks and gears to operate the machine along with the structure of the roller coaster itself makes this 3-D puzzle more exciting and satisfying than the average 3-D puzzle. ($40.95)

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Lexicon-GO! (Winning Moves UK, puzzle game)

Are you a word-forming pro? Take your speed-solving skills and try them out with Lexicon-GO!, a Scrabble-style tile game suitable for solvers of all ages. And those very distinctive letter tiles are available in more ways than ever! You can enjoy Lexicon-GO! in its classic form, in Harry Potter style, or in famous Jumble style! ($14.95 in classic form)

[Click here for our full review of Lexicon-GO!]

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Catch the Moon (Bombyx Games, board game)

Balance games like Jenga are all well and good, but none of them elicit the same mix of charm and tension as Catch the Moon. In this game, players take turns adding ladders to a ramshackle structure according to the roll of a die. But be careful! If you cause any ladders to fall, you’ll make the moon cry! This beautiful game is fun, elegant, and stressful all at once, and has quickly become a favorite. ($14.95)

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Mystic Market (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

It’s a tough market out there, even for a skilled potion master. So you’ll have to be a wiz or a whiz at buying and selling magical ingredients at the right time to take advantage of the Mystic Market. This bright and cerebral game will require you to react to both your opponents’ actions and the ever-shifting demands of the game moment-by-moment in order to achieve victory. Can you find the winning recipe? ($19.99)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

The Island of Doctor Lucky (Cheapass Games/Greater Than Games, board game)

People have been trying to kill Doctor Lucky for over twenty years, and this time around, you’re visiting his exotic island estate to try your murderous luck against the titular Doctor! The Island of Doctor Lucky offers a new gameboard to explore, new movement mechanics, and a very distracting cat. This is the best addition to the series yet! ($10)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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Enigma (The Enigmatist, jigsaw puzzle)

A jigsaw puzzle that’s more than meets the eye, Enigma combines traditional jigsaw puzzle solving with hidden codes and a crash course in the history of encryption. Based on David Kwong’s hit interactive puzzle show The Enigmatist, this puzzle teaches you while you solve ($39)

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Qwirkle (MindWare, board game)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train DominoesQwirkle is a tile-placing game where you try to maximize your points while minimizing the help you give to your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($14.99)

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Flying Colors coloring book (Penny Press, miscellaneous puzzle swag)

Our puzzly pals at Penny Press know that sometimes, you need a break from puzzles, so why not unwind with their Flying Colors coloring book ($6.99).

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Bananagrams Duel (Bananagrams, dice game)

Bananagrams specializes in crossword-inspired fun for groups, but what if you’re looking for a head-to-head challenge? Well then, Bananagrams Duel might be what you’re looking for. Utilizing letter cubes instead of tiles, you’ll have to build a grid of related words fitting a given theme before your opponent can! It’s a new twist on an old classic! ($8.99)

[Click here for our full review!]

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Exit: The Game: Dead Man on the Orient Express (Kosmos, escape room game)

Exit: The Game products create an escape room experience by combining a deck of cards, a guidebook, a sliding decoder ring, an interactive phone app, and miscellaneous items to be used throughout the game. What sets Dead Man on the Orient Express above and beyond is that there’s a mystery to solve in the background, even as you tackle all the delightful escape room-style puzzles! ($10.59)

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Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games, board game)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Try not to meet any other dragons or fly off the board! It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($30)

Puzzlecraft: How to Make Every Kind of Puzzle by Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder (puzzle book)

Updated seven years after the original version hit shelves, the new and improved Puzzlecraft is a self-contained masterclass in puzzle creation. Covering everything from crosswords and Sudoku to logic puzzles and brain teasers, this is the perfect launchpad for any and all aspiring puzzlers and constructors! ($14.95 in PDF, $29.95 in PDF and softcover)

Plus there’s a new Puzzlecraft companion notebook to assist you in all your constructing endeavors! ($4.95 in PDF, $9.95 in PDF and softcover)

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Martian Chess (Looney Labs, board game)

Easy to learn but hard to master, Martian Chess reimagines a game we all know, and transforms it into one that challenges you in unexpected ways, like getting rid of checkmates and players losing control of pieces if you cross into your opponent’s territory! Can you outmaneuver your opponent and rack up enough captured pieces to win? Try chess from another world with Martian Chess! ($20)

[Check out our full review of Martian Chess here!]

 

Tavern Puzzles / Tucker-Jones House Inc. (brain teaser)

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to remove twice as many pieces in a Collaborative Effort or free the triangle from Tridiculous, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($26.50 each)

Sagrada (Floodgate Games, dice game)

One of the most beautiful strategy games on the market today, Sagrada is a singularly peaceful gaming experience. Compete with other players to build the most beautiful stained glass window, but with dice instead of glass! Unique and challenging, Sagrada is something else. ($39.95)

Tenzi (dice game)

All of us have rolled dice in games before, but can you roll what you need as fast as possible? That’s the challenge of Tenzi, a game that pits up to four players against each other in tests of speed and dexterity. Can you roll ten 6’s before everyone else? ($14.95)

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Minecraft Magnetic Travel Puzzle (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

Minecraft Magnetic Travel Puzzle pits the player against devious deduction puzzles with elements of the Minecraft universe included. Can you arrange three swords, pickaxes, and pieces of armor — all different colors — on the 3×3 crafting table to fit each challenge card? It’s Sudoku plus Minecraft in this travel-friendly puzzler! ($14.99)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

Chessplus (board game)

The first thing you learn in chess is how the pieces move. But what if that could change? What if you could make new pieces that move in unexpected ways? How would that change the game? With Chessplus, you’ll find out, as you mix and match chess pieces in order to capture your opponent’s king. The possibilities really are endless! ($44.95)

[Click here for our full review of Chessplus!]

Deluxe Pairs (Hip Pocket Games/Greater Than Games, card game)

Building on the legacy already established by the bar-friendly series of Pairs decks available, Deluxe Pairs offers a new artistic spin on the classic Pairs “Fruit Deck,” as well as a companion booklet with rules for numerous Pairs variants you can play with the deck! This isn’t just one card game, it’s dozens! ($5)

[Click here for our full review of Deluxe Pairs!]

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Sword in Stone (Project Genius, brain teaser)

Just twist and turn the sword until it slips from the stone. Sounds simple, right? When you’re talking about one of the brain teasers from the Constantin Puzzle series, what appears simple quickly becomes a proper puzzly challenge. ($15.99)

[Check out our review of Sword in Stone here!]

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Walk-By Scrabble BoardTile Securing Travel Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer, board game)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including Tile Securing Travel Scrabble for those who want to solve on the go ($39.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($249.95), but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Pinbox 3000 (Cardboard Teck Instantute, puzzle game)

How about the chance to build your own game? Is that puzzle enough for you? Pinbox 3000 provides all the pieces you’ll need, plus valuable advice for brainstorming and creating your very own pinball game. It’s endlessly customizable, so you can make your Pinbox pinball game as simple or as complex as you like! ($49.95)

61SjADfF0ZL._AC_SL1000_

Timeline (Zygomatic Games, card game)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before or after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99)

Lightbox (Eric Clough, brain teaser)

A puzzle box unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Lightbox creates different patterns of shadow and light as you shift and arrange the various plastic plates that make up the box. As you twist and reset them, different electrical connections are made, and different plates light up. As gorgeous as it is challenging, Lightbox is a very eye-catching puzzle that always wows new solvers. ($85)

[Check out our full review of Lightbox by clicking here!]


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

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!

5 Questions for Crossword Constructor Amanda Rafkin

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And we’re excited to welcome Amanda Rafkin as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

rafkin

When she’s not contributing to musical theater with her deft piano performances (or entertaining herself with various showtunes), Amanda constructs crosswords for various outlets including her own puzzle website, Brain Candy, where she posts a new puzzle every day. She also features other constructors, providing a valuable platform for her fellow cruciverbalists!

She has been published in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Universal, The Inkubator, and many other outlets, and recently contributed a puzzle to the 2020 Boswords crosswords tournament (which just so happened to be your lead blogger’s favorite puzzle from this year’s tournament).

Amanda was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Amanda Rafkin

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

I really started loving puzzles at some point in my pre-teen years when I would confiscate my mom’s half-finished puzzles when she would step out of the room. I think she eventually got so fed up with me stealing her puzzles that she bought me my own book of variety puzzles, and since then I’ve been off to the races.

I became interested in constructing a couple of years ago when I got more serious with my crossword solving and felt that crossword construction could fall in that blissful middle-of-the-Venn-diagram area between something I might be good at and something I might love. I guess who’s good at anything is a matter of opinion, but I’m happy to report that I was wildly correct about the love part.

2. In addition to your crossword constructing, you’re also a musician, which seems to be a recurring theme among some constructors (Patrick Blindauer, Brian Cimmet) and tournament solvers (Dan Feyer, John Delfin). Do your musical skills ever influence your puzzling, or do you ever find yourself relying on your puzzly skills while performing or composing?

This is something I’ve heard many times (the relationship between crossword constructing and musicianship) to the point that I, myself, wonder if there’s something to it! If there is, it’s not something I’m aware of at all. For me, the two things are pretty separate experiences in my life.

The one exception to this I guess would be my theater-themed puzzles that I’ve grown so fond of. Every Thursday on my website is “Theatre Thursday”, where I post a midi-sized Broadway-themed puzzle, often accompanied by a bunch of relevant musical theater information that no one asked for. I also have a couple of Broadway-themed midi packs on the horizon. One is completed and will be released sometime in the (probably) not-too-distant future, and the other is a midi pack centering around each of Sondheim’s 19 major works, which I’m working on right now.

sondheim

[Sondheim constructed cryptic crosswords for New York Magazine,
so Amanda certainly finds herself in good company!]

3. To call the last few months tumultuous is an understatement, considering public unrest and pushback against infringements on civil rights. In a similar vein, there has been a more strenuous push in crosswords recently (Women’s March, for instance) for greater representation for women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community. In your estimation, how are the major outlets faring regarding inclusion?

Well there’s a loaded question! The numbers will tell you that, by and large, they are faring rather poorly. There are of course some exceptions (notably, the USA Today, which publishes far more puzzles by women than men). If you’re looking at the major outlet (The New York Times), this can feel challenging to assess in some ways.

If we’re acknowledging a recent push for inclusion, then we also have to take into consideration the often 18-month delay between the time of construction and the time of publication. As a result, the things that are happening now may not reveal themselves to us until over a year from now. None of this is an excuse for not having implemented a more inclusive system long ago, but I do think that even the major outlets with a shorter queue than The New York Times may not reveal to us any of aforementioned representational shifts until months from now.

I hope this is something that we as constructors and solvers continue to keep our eyes on, so that we can continue to work on opening doors that may have previously felt closed, and offering equal opportunities to anyone and everyone interested in the endeavor of crossword construction.

I think, as a whole, the general industry is still struggling to understand the difference between “I personally don’t know this because of my own life experiences” and “This isn’t gettable/knowable/likeable for solvers”. Inclusion begets inclusion, as exclusion begets exclusion. By leaving certain things/people/customs etc. out of puzzles, we continue this cycle in perpetuity. The more different kinds of people we have making puzzles, the more likely it is that any given solver will be able to do a puzzle and see themselves within it. And, at least for me, that is a goal that I always try to keep in mind when constructing.

rafkat

[Solving runs in the family.]

4. What’s next for Amanda Rafkin?

I wish Amanda Rafkin knew the answer to that question as well. Given how things are going, it seems it will be a while before I’ll be doing much in the way of music again. So, for now, I’m going to continue to do what I’ve been doing for most of quarantine: making puzzles, putting them into the world, and hoping that they bring some kind of joy to folks during a time when joy can be a tricky thing to come by. Would it be awesome to be able to make a living solely from making crossword puzzles? HECK YES! So maybe that’s a goal for sometime in the future as well.

5. If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring constructors, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

No matter who you are, no matter how much you know, no matter where you went to school, no matter who your friends are, no matter the experiences you’ve had in your life, no matter how woke you think you are, you have blind spots. We all have blind spots. And sometimes, in the wake of these blind spots can come decisions that hurt other people. We are imperfect but lifelong students on this collective journey to betterment.

Be open to feedback, specifically from people who have had different life experiences than you. Feedback is not criticism; it’s the space from which we all grow. So get feedback on your work and actually listen. Resist the urge to be defensive. Collaborate with other people. If they differ from you in some way, even better.

Oh, and if you’ve been tossing around the idea of constructing for a while but haven’t actually taken the leap…jump. The kindest and most supportive people are on the other side waiting to catch you.


A huge thank you to Amanda for her time. You can follow her on Twitter for updates on her puzzly and musical endeavors, and be sure to visit her puzzle website Brain Candy for all sorts of puzzle goodness. We can’t wait to see what she cooks up next.

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!

It’s Well Past Time to Speak Up.

Hey folks, I know you come to this blog for puzzles and games content, so I’m going to kick off with that. But please keep reading, because there are bigger things to discuss. Thanks.


dover protest

[A couple of protesters dance their way through the streets of downtown Dover on June 4. Image courtesy of Andre Lamar, Dover Post.]

There is a lot of discussion in the United States right now about discrimination and systemic prejudice. The puzzles and games industry is not immune to this sort of criticism.

Thankfully, just as puzzle and game companies have not been immune to accusations of discrimination, they’re also not outside the scope of grassroots efforts to reform them.

Wizards of the Coast is being confronted about racist imagery and ideas in the Magic: The Gathering card game and their offices. Systemic racism and sexism in the offices of Cards Against Humanity is being called out. People of color took a stand against GAMA’s silence regarding Black Lives Matter, triggering a mass walkout of presenters and panelists, as well as Origins Online being cancelled in the wake of the scandal.

People are speaking up, and that is a very good thing.

There are so many ways to show your support, so many charities and good causes you can donate to.

If you need a puzzly incentive to do so, our friends at Lone Shark Games are offering a downloadable bundle of Marching Bands puzzles in support of Campaign Zero, which works to end police brutality in America.

The folks at DM’s Guild and DriveThruRPG have also put together game bundles in support of Black Lives Matter, the National Police Accountability Project, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, all while spotlighting the work of black creators.

BLM-charity-banner_DTRPG

The real message is… no matter what you do or how you live your life, you simply cannot turn a blind eye to all this.

This blog post started out with the simple idea of sharing these worthwhile causes and talking about the puzzle/game groups that have spoken up.

But to do that without acknowledging the realities of WHY they’re speaking up is irresponsible and cowardly.

America Protests West Hollywood

[LGBTQ community members join Black Lives Matter protesters holding signs and chanting slogans on an intersection in West Hollywood, California on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Image courtesy of AP Photo/Richard Vogel.]

It’s a tumultuous time in world history, particularly in the United States.

As the COVID-19 crisis still looms large over the entire planet, hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of people have taken to the streets in support of people of color and in protest against police brutality, corruption, and systemic racism.

The spark started by the death of George Floyd caught fire, and has ignited powder keg after powder keg, each one filled with years’ worth of names of previous victims, ranging from Philando Castile to Breonna Taylor to Tony McDade. Energized pushes for accountability and reform are gaining traction, and new support systems are emerging to combat the entrenched prejudices in law enforcement and government. All of it centers around three words, a simple truth that hasn’t been treated as either simple or true: Black Lives Matter.

These discussions and protests have also sparked further outrage regarding the treatment of women by police, whether it’s outright violence against women or perceived systemic unwillingness or disinterest to investigate charges of sexual assault. Women’s reproductive autonomy and freedom to make informed choices have been under assault for years, but since the current president took office, those indignities have magnified.

At the same time, the battle for equal rights and representation of LGBTQIA+ individuals rages on. June is Pride Month, and as rainbow flags begin to permeate corporate advertising, the LGBTQ population in general (and nonbinary and trans people in particular) continue to face open harassment and dismissal. Influential public figures like J.K. Rowling challenge the very validity of their existence, marginalizing individuals simply for being brave enough to be themselves.

CHSBLMJune82020-28

[From the Seattle protests on Capital Hill. Image courtesy of Capital Hill Seattle Blog.]

I have endeavored to keep this blog apolitical, ignoring as best I can the news stories of the day to focus on puzzles and games. It’s meant to be an escape for the most part, though I have in the past commented on cultural insensitivity in crosswords, pushed for greater diversity among constructors, and tried to be an ally by spreading the word about projects like Queer Qrosswords, Women of Letters, and The Inkubator.

But silence is consent, a glaring example of the privilege to “stay out of it,” a privilege many people don’t have the luxury of.

And I don’t consent to this.

I could make some insipid metaphor about how crosswords don’t work without both black and white squares, or that the joy of solving puzzles is for everyone.

But I’d rather just say it like this: Black lives matter. Women’s lives matter. LGBTQIA+ people matter.

Whether they’re family, friends, coworkers, or strangers, they matter. They have a right to be themselves, to be heard, to be treated as equals, to walk without fear, to enjoy the same privileges and creature comforts everyone else does.

People are out there right now, donating their time, money, and energy to fix problems that have been ignored for way too long. Some of them are putting their lives in danger by doing so.

There are many ways to help. But the very first place to start is to declare yourself an ally. Speak up, loudly and often.

Support LGBTQIA+ people.
Believe women.
Black lives matter.


But I want to do more than just declare my support. I want to educate myself. I want to help educate others. I want to reach out in a puzzly way that helps build this community.

So today I’m posting the first in an ongoing series of puzzles on important social topics. I do this in the hopes that people will not only enjoy the puzzles, but learn from them and engage with subjects they may be unfamiliar with.

June 19th is fast approaching, and it marks an important milestone in Black history. It marks the date in 1865 that enslaved men and women in Texas were finally informed that they were free.

Yes, more than two years after Lincoln first issued his executive order, Major General Gordon Granger and a group of Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas, to finally share this important news.

You can read more about June 19th here, and hopefully the puzzle below serves as some small incentive to keep learning.

pn pt puzzle 1-2 image

[Click this link to download a PDF of this puzzle.]

If you have suggestions for more topics for me to cover in future puzzles, please let me know. If you’re a person of color and you’d like to share a puzzle of your own, or to collaborate with me on a puzzle, please let me know.

If you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, and you have ideas, please let me know. If you’re a trans person, or a non-binary individual, and you feel underrepresented in puzzles, please let me know.

I would like this to become something bigger, but hopefully, this is at the very least a start.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for standing up, speaking up, and fighting the good fight.

Support LGBTQIA+ people.
Believe women.
Black lives matter.

How Far Crosswords Have Come (and How Much Farther They Have to Go)

Problem-solving-crossword

The battle to decrease gender inequality and increase representation in crosswords is ongoing. More people than ever are speaking up on behalf of women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ constructors, and non-binary individuals when it comes to who is constructing the puzzles (and being properly credited), as well as how members of those groups are represented by current grid entries and cluing.

Natan Last is one of many people standing up to make crosswords better, more inclusive, and more emblematic of a richer melting pot of solvers and constructors. In a recent article in The Atlantic, Last neatly encapsulates both the movement for a more inclusive crossword publishing community and the many obstacles that stand in its way.

He starts with a single example — a debut puzzle by a female constructor, Sally Hoelscher — and the conversation that ensued when one puzzle aficionado asked about the ratio of women’s names to men’s names in the puzzle.

becoming

[Image courtesy of XWordInfo.]

Originally there were no men’s names. One entry was edited in. And a discussion about parity in puzzles followed.

Last uses this example as a springboard into the greater argument about how modern crossword editing (and editors) discriminate through gatekeeping under the guise of what’s “familiar” or “obscure.”

From the article:

Constructors constantly argue with editors that their culture is puzzle-worthy, only to hear feedback greased by bias, and occasionally outright sexism or racism. (Publications are anonymized in the editor feedback that follows.) MARIE KONDO wouldn’t be familiar enough “to most solvers, especially with that unusual last name.” GAY EROTICA is an “envelope-pusher that risks solver reactions.” (According to XWord Info, a blog that tracks crossword statistics, EROTICA has appeared in the New York Times puzzle, as one example, more than 40 times since 1950.) BLACK GIRLS ROCK “might elicit unfavorable responses.” FLAVOR FLAV, in a puzzle I wrote, earned a minus sign.

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[Image courtesy of CNBC.]

But what is kept out is only part of the problem, of course. Last goes on to mention many of the same insensitive and offensive clues and entries we (and other outlets) have cited in the past.

He caps off this part of the article by highlighting Will Shortz’s responses to these troubling questions:

But when prodded about insensitive edits, he denied them, adding: “If a puzzlemaker is unhappy with our style of editing, then they should send their work elsewhere (or publish it themselves to keep complete control).”

A pretty damning statement, to be sure.

proposingmurder13

Turning away from the problems represented by the most famous daily crossword in the world, Last pivots, turning a spotlight on those who are helping turn the tide in terms of representation and inclusivity.

He shouts-out well-respected and innovative editors like Erik Agard (of USA Today‘s crossword), David Steinberg (of Andrew McMeel Universal’s Puzzles and Games division), and Liz Maynes-Aminzade (of The New Yorker crossword), heaping praise on a fresh constructor-editor partnership that encourages new voices and greater diversity of content.

Last also mentions worthy projects like the Inkubator, Women of Letters, and Queer Qrosswords, as well as the Women’s March crossword movement inspired by the work of Rebecca Falcon.

Across the entire article, Last highlights a system problem in crosswords, challenges those responsible to do better, and praises those who are working for the greater good. And he does so in about a dozen paragraphs. That’s all. It’s efficiency and flow worthy of a top-notch constructor.

You should read it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.


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!

Crossword Tournament From Your Couch Recap!

ctfccouch

This past weekend was supposed to be the 43rd year of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, but that event was postponed due to the ongoing public health crisis.

But something amazing arose from the ashes of those plans. A small, intrepid group of puzzlers worked night and day for more than a week, bringing an at-home crossword tournament to life: Crossword Tournament From Your Couch. (AKA #CouchWord on Twitter.)

And in doing so, they hosted the biggest crossword tournament in history. According to the Google scoresheet, more than 1,800 solvers took part in the event (with at least 1,300 tackling ALL of the puzzles).

Over the course of a few hours, and thanks to the Herculean efforts of a hard-working few, the puzzle community came together for an afternoon of fun, frivolity, and frantic puzzle-solving.

Oh, and in this recap, I will be discussing the tournament puzzles somewhat, so if you want to remain completely unspoiled, stop reading here. (Or better yet, click here to solve the puzzles for yourselves!)


Before I get into the event itself, I want to highlight the folks who made it all possible.

The initial idea belongs to Kevin Der, who put out the rallying cry to fellow puzzlers. He ran the tech side of the event alongside Finn Vigeland, coordinating each puzzle’s release, the overlapping livestreams, and the live-solving finals.

livestreampic2

Hosting duties were ably carried out by Ryan Hecht and Brian Cimmet, who kept the energy light, made sure the participants were well-informed, and even interviewed fellow constructors and event organizers in the downtime between tournament puzzles.

The tournament puzzles — 4 tournament puzzles, 1 championship playoff puzzle, and 2 warm-up puzzles — were constructed by Byron Walden, Rachel Fabi, Joel Fagliano, Robyn Weintraub, Patrick Blindauer, Finn Vigeland, Laura Braunstein, and Jesse Lansner.

Jeremy Horwitz, Natan Last, and Ellen Ripstein were credited as test-solvers, and Jeff Davidson, Stephanie Yeung, and Vincent Siao were credited as tech support/magic gurus.

The Inkubator was credited as tournament sponsor.

Assembling and running this event was a monumental, complex undertaking, and my sincerest appreciation and utmost respect (and AWE) goes out to everyone involved in making CTFYC possible.


catpuzzle

[Image courtesy of @ladywinifredcat.]

So, how did the tournament itself go?

Well, participants logged into the website and selected one of three divisions in which to compete:

  • The Chesterfield Division (for individuals who in the past few years have finished in the top 20% of a major crossword tournament)
  • The Futon Division (for all other individual participants)
  • The Love Seat Division (for two participants who want to solve together)

Upon logging in, a warm-up puzzle created by Robyn Weintraub awaited solvers. “Get the Pillows Ready” allowed solvers to get familiar with the online solving interface and start getting in a tournament mindset.

tournamentpuzzlepage

The tournament itself was set to begin at approximately 1 PM with the livestream of Ryan and Brian, our amiable emcees who covered the rules, other tournament info, and so on.

The livestream was warm and welcoming, and the accompanying chat area was packed with new faces as well as familiar puzzlers. The usual suspects from ACPT were all there, alongside constructors, puzzle enthusiasts, and top-notch solvers. It was genuinely heartwarming to see so many names I recognized from the puzzle world participating.

livestreampic

Soon, a second warm-up puzzle became available — Rachel Fabi’s “Put Your Feet Up” — a small, Saturday mini-sized puzzle that still managed to be tricky. (And I personally loved the Fleabag reference.) It was a great way for solvers to get their pre-tournament juices flowing AND served to ensure that all of the tech was working for the organizers.


From the livechat:

“Changed my system font to Papyrus so that I could win Worst Handwriting.” — Neville Fogarty


yellowfolder

[Image courtesy of @vickieastus.]

The first tournament puzzle was scheduled for 1:30ish, and to the credit of the organizers, we only started a few minutes late.

Puzzle #1, “Hollywood Ending” by Joel Fagliano, was a 15x puzzle with a 15-minute time limit.

In all, it was a really fun starter with a good hook — entries that end with items found on a Hollywood set, a la JAVASCRIPT. I got stuck in the upper right corner for about two minutes, because I didn’t want to make a mistake, but doing so slowed me down considerably.

With the online solving, results were tabulated much faster than you’d expect from past tournaments, so you could view the leaderboard and see who was on top quite quickly.

At the end of puzzle 1, many of the usual suspects were on top, along with rookie (and bewilderingly constructor) Will Nediger:

leaderboardafterpuzzle1

After solving, competitors were welcome to return to the livestream chat and treat the chatroom like the lobby at the ACPT, sharing thoughts and commiserating on their solves.

Puzzle #2, “Raise the Roof” by Laura Braunstein and Jesse Lansner, was a 17x puzzle with a 25-minute time limit.

This puzzle had a solid punny hook, phrases where the letter T became P, so you had PICKLE ME ELMO instead of TICKLE ME ELMO. This was accompanied by great fill, although some were tougher entries (like SEZ WHO and NEOPET). I made one dumb mistake, leading to my only error of the tournament, but otherwise, I enjoyed the puzzle.

(I also enjoyed the conversation about The Westing Game in the livestream chat kicked off by the entry RASKIN.)

leaderboardafterpuzzle2

Errors by Dan Feyer and Erik Agard opened up a few spots in the top 15, so at least I was in good company with my own error.

At this point, players were invited to take a break before the next two puzzles. The tentative time for that was around 3 PM.

As I surfed the livechat during the break, the feedback for the tournament was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone was enjoying the communal puzzling, and compliments for both the constructors and organizers were plentiful.


From the livechat:

“Yeah, the bad news for the organizers is that this is working so well we’re all going to come to expect it now. :)” — Steve Thurman


Before Puzzle #3, Brian and Ryan had video interviews with Joel, Laura, and Jesse about their puzzles. It was a very cool touch to hear the constructors talk about the origins of each puzzle and how they ended up in the tournament. More of this in the future, please!

joellaurajesse

[Image courtesy of @tinmanic.]

Soon, we were back, and it was time for the second half of the tournament.

Puzzle #3, “Look Up” by Patrick Blindauer, was a 15x puzzle with a 30-minute time limit. So everyone was expecting some trickery afoot.

Blindauer didn’t disappoint, naturally, offering up a clever hook that took entries in a different direction, mixed with lots of long crossings which made getting into the puzzle difficult. All in all, it was a worthy tournament puzzle.

leaderboardafterpuzzle3

I managed to capture this screengrab of the top 15 after Puzzle 3 before the leaderboard went down. As you can see, the blistering speed of Erik Agard and Dan Feyer had them back in the top 15.

Yes, we managed to break the leaderboard on Google Sheets at this point. (This just made the design for the solving interface even MORE impressive, because it never broke down, even with more than a thousand solvers using it at the same time.)

I was ranked 292 after Puzzle 3, which I felt pretty good about.


From the livechat:

“Hmm, I can play the ‘where would I be if not for the silly error’ game.” — GP Ryan


After a short break, the final puzzle of regular tournament play was upon us.

Puzzle #4, “Naysayers Only” by Finn Vigeland, was a 19x puzzle with a 40-minute time limit.

This was a strong finisher for the tournament, combining clever cluing with a tough theme where the clues referred not to the answers you filled in, but to what the answers became if you followed the rule in the revealer GET OUT THE VOTE. (For instance, you filled in the answer VAMPIRE SLAYER, but the clue “Camera for a photo shoot with Dracula, in brief?” referred to VAMPIRE SLR, since you would remove “AYE” when you get out the vote.)

Yeah, I completed the grid first and had to go back and reread the grid and clues to actually understand the theme.

leaderboard2bafter2bpuzzle2b4fixed

Going into the live playoff final, the top 15 reshuffled a bit. (The board was constantly updating. At one point, I was ranked 283, then 312, then 314. I stopped checking there, because I’m a nerd for Pi.)


From the livechat:

“Shout out to the 11 Davids who are ahead of me in the rankings. Watch your backs.” — David Whyte


After Puzzle #4, Brian and Ryan attempted to interview Patrick, but that didn’t go so well, because the audience couldn’t hear Patrick. The interview with Finn went much better.

Then they announced the finalists for each division who would be participating in the live playoffs.

In the Chesterfield Division, it would be Paolo Pasco, David Plotkin, and Tyler Hinman.

In the Futon Division, it would be Will Nediger, Jason Juang, and Ricky Liu, the top three rookies.

As the top 3 competitors in each division were “sequestered” during the prep for the live playoffs, the playoff puzzle was released for non-finalists to enjoy.

The playoff puzzle, “Couch Your Words” by Byron Walden, was a themeless 15x puzzle with a 15-minute time limit. It also had two sets of clues: the difficult Chesterfield set, aka the A level clues, and the somewhat easier Futon set.

I looked at the Chesterfield clues, but I quickly bailed to try the Futon set. And honestly, even with the Futon Division clues, I found the puzzle pretty tough with ALL the long crossings. As you’d expect from Byron, it was a terrific, well-constructed grid, a very worthy choice to close out the day’s events.


From the livechat:

“Puzzle 5 in this tournament is so hard it doesn’t exist.” — Natan Last


The Futon Division solvers went first, and the three rookie solvers acquitted themselves well.

futonlivescreamfinalsbetter

[Image courtesy of @tinmanic.]

Each solver’s time was linked to when they clicked “Start” and when they clicked “I’m done”, so you couldn’t immediately tell who won based on who finished first, because with the livestream lag, it was hard to tell who started first.

In the end, Will completed the puzzle in 4 minutes flat, Jason wasn’t far behind with 4:48, and Ricky closed out the trio with 6:20. Impressive efforts all around!

There were a few more technical issues before the Chesterfield Division playoffs could begin but eventually the tech team got things sorted and the main event started.

During both the prep and the solving, Brian and Ryan interviewed Byron about the finale puzzle and about constructing and cluing in general. It was a terrific bonus mini-seminar on puzzling!

Finally, all was ready and the top three solvers took center stage.

chesterfieldlivestreamfinals

The final was over in less than six minutes.

Tyler, as you might expect from the five-time champ, blasted through the grid, completing it in 4:07. Paolo wasn’t far behind with 4:41, and David, a perennial top finisher, closed out the trio with 5:57.

Again, we had to wait for the official times due to lag, but it was worth the wait.


Here are your Crossword Tournament From Your Couch results:

  • Chesterfield Division: Tyler Hinman, Paolo Pasco, David Plotkin
  • Futon Division: Will Nediger, Jason Juang, Ricky Liu
  • Love Seat Division: Sam Ezersky and Madison Clague, Justin Werfel and Marta Herschkopf, Mike Berman and unnamed partner

After announcing the winners and finalists — and giving another well-deserved shout-out to all of the organizers and folks who made the marvelous event possible — the livestream chat was left running so that participants could talk and enjoy a virtual happy-hour mixer.


From the livechat:

“Anyone else never been to ACPT or Lollapuzzoola, but getting an itch to go after today??” — Josh Beu Forsythe


Even if it hadn’t been the biggest crossword tournament in history, Crossword Tournament From Your Couch would still have been a fantastic success.

More than just a tremendous stand-in for ACPT, CTFYC brought together established puzzlers and newbies for an afternoon of much-needed distraction. (According to the organizers, it was the first tournament for more than 1200 of the participants!)

Thank you once again to everyone involved in this brilliant endeavor. What a treat it was.

myresults


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A Women’s March for Crosswords

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For years now, we’ve been discussing the gender gap in crossword construction and representation of women in published outlets. Heck, in 2018, we even shared detailed statistics on the percentage of women published by major outlets, thanks to the research of Patti Varol and Erik Agard.

Since then, we’ve seen projects like The Inkubator and Women of Letters highlighting female constructors, and there’s been a concentrated effort in the puzzle community (if not the major outlets) to support, foster, and cultivate more minority voices in crosswords.

And this month in particular has seen three different projects dedicated to female constructors come to fruition. Although many voices have been involved in these efforts, a huge chunk of the credit definitely belongs to constructor Rebecca Falcon, who pushed for outlets to publish only female constructors for an entire month.

The goal? A Women’s March.

The Wall Street Journal sought to meet Falcon’s request, but they didn’t have enough submitted puzzles to do so. They did do a week of female-constructed puzzles, though, including the traditional Friday contest puzzle with a meta solution, constructed by Joanne Sullivan.

Users of The New York Times Crossword app can also enjoy the fruits of these creative labors, as a Women’s History Month pack of 20 puzzles is available through both the App Store and Google Play as an in-app purchase! This project, accomplished in partnership with The Inkubator, features puzzles by Rebecca Falcon, Joanne Sullivan, Stella Zawistowski, Wendy L. Brandes, Rachel Fabi, Juliana Tringali, Annemarie Brethauer, Martha Jones, Wyna Liu, and Mary Lou Guizzo.

And it should come as no surprise that the ambitious and well-connected David Steinberg, editor of the Universal Crossword, succeeded in amassing the talent necessary for a full Women’s March.

As David said in the FB post announcing the project:

Each of the 36 Universal Crosswords this month has been constructed by a different woman or pair of women, and—to my knowledge—10 of the puzzles will be their constructors’ world debuts! Some of the puzzles’ themes are easy, some are a bit tricky, and a few are unlike anything I’ve seen in all my years of editing. One thing I noticed across all the March puzzles, though, was a refreshing woman-centric voice, both in the clues and grids.

Women’s March will continue into April for a few days, since so many women submitted excellent puzzles that the original 36 slots I’d allocated weren’t enough. As I see it, this event is not so much a Women’s March as the beginning of a Universal Crossword Women’s Movement, and I hope the puzzles this month inspire more women to construct for Universal as well as for other markets.

Andrew McMeels Universal put together a graphic celebrating all of the women involved in the project:

womensmarch

It’s so cool to see so many deserving constructors represented, not to mention all of the newcomers to the puzzle community! Here’s hoping that Women’s March is the start of equal puzzle representation across the board. That would be something truly special.

Are you aware of any other crossword outlets participating in Women’s March, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section! We’d love to hear from you AND spread the word!


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