PuzzleNation 2021 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Age

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2021 Holiday Gift Guide!

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

This guide is broken down by age group, so we’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for puzzlers of any age 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!



For Ages 6 and Up

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! ($49.95)

[Click here for our full review of Chessplus!]

lexiconsmall

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! ($11.89 in classic form)

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

qwirkle

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! ($24.99)


For Ages 7 and Up

countaloupe

Countaloupe (Bananagrams, dice game)

A card game and a dice game in one, test your luck and your math skills with Countaloupe! Two to four players each have a deck of slice cards, numbered from one to sixteen. Your goal is to roll the dice and discard slice cards from your deck faster than your opponents. Will you savor the fruits of your mathematical labors, or will others enjoy the sweet taste of victory? ($9.99)

[Our review of Countaloupe can be found here!]

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)

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!]

Tile Securing Travel Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer, board game)

Hammacher Schlemmer has always been home to some intriguing Scrabble variants available — who could forget their World’s Largest Scrabble Game? — but when it comes to travel-friendly puzzle game fun, they’ve got just the thing. Tile Securing Travel Scrabble is perfect for those who want to solve on the go! Take your game anywhere and rest assured not a single tile will have moved! ($39.95)

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! ($9.99)

tsuro

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. ($40)


For Ages 8 and Up

Coaster Games (The Dark Imp, party/group game)

Coaster Games is a six-pack of games encompassing all sorts of gameplay styles. Counting, word building, deduction, strategy, resource management, and more, and they all fit in your pocket. Perfect for parties or quickplay fun between longer game sessions, you’re guaranteed to find something to enjoy here! (£6.99)

[Find our review of Coaster Games here!]

block-chain-intro

Block Chain (ThinkFun, brain teaser)

These linked four-sided blocks can be rotated, spun, tilted, and overlapped. But can you twist and arrange them into a single cube where every face fits a pattern or a path? That’s the challenge of Block Chain, ThinkFun’s delightful twisty puzzle that lets you tinker, twist, and swing each of the three linked blocks into various positions! ($5.99)

[Check out our review here!]

archerporthos

Star Trek Fluxx: The Archer Expansion and The Porthos Expansion (Looney Labs, card game)

Star Trek is an ever-expanding universe of stories, heroes, adventures, and questions to explore, so it’s only fitting that the ever-changing card game Fluxx has a host of Star Trek-themed card decks for you to try out. Whether you’re a fan of The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, or Voyager, there’s a Fluxx deck stacked with your favorite characters, villains, and pivotal moments from each show. ($20 each)

And now you can combine and cross over those decks and play Fluxx like never before with The Archer Expansion and The Porthos Expansion. These small additional decks not only introduce characters from the show Enterprise to the mix, but they allow new rules for mixing up decks and new paths to victory. Plus they add the beloved pets Porthos and Spot to the game! ($5.00 each)

And if Star Trek isn’t your style, maybe you’d enjoy Fantasy Fluxx, Wonderland Fluxx, Astronomy Fluxx, or any of the other marvelous variations on this classic quick-changing card game! ($16 each)

[Our review for the Porthos and Archer Expansions can be found here. And be sure to check out our full reviews of Star Trek Fluxx, Star Trek TNG Fluxx, and Star Trek Voyager Fluxx too!]

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! ($35, 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! ($45)

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

cracker-components-1

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)

callclp112_1

12 Days (Calliope Games, card game)

A proper holiday-themed game for the holidays? You betcha. This wagering game, based on the 12 Days of Christmas, has some of the most beautiful art in the entire card game genre. Plus the two ways to earn points — winning each day of Christmas with the lowest card in the pot vs. keeping as many of a certain value card as possible for the end of the game — offer tons of strategic opportunities in a simple card game. What a treat! ($20)

4j0

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!]

Slapzi (Tenzi, party/group 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!]

trysp-1

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)


For Ages 9-10 and Up

Escape Room Advent Calendar (Insync Games, miscellaneous puzzle swag)

This advent calendar has no numbers on the doors, and solving a daily puzzle is the only way to figure out which door to open! This clever, festive, chocolate-filled treat is a puzzly twist on a holiday classic! (£19.99)

pasco

Paolo Pasco’s Crossword Puzzles For Kids (puzzle book)

Recommended by several top solvers, this just might be the perfect gateway puzzle book for the young solver in your life. ($9.99)

godzilla

Godzilla: Tokyo Clash (Funko Games, board game)

Choose one of these four iconic monsters and let loose your fury all over Tokyo in Godzilla: Tokyo Clash. This tactical monster-vs.-monster game allows you to smash buildings, vehicles, and your fellow monsters on a game board that’s different every time you play! Will you be King of the Monsters by the time Tokyo is in ruins? ($35)

[Check out our full review of Godzilla: Tokyo Clash here!]

smart10small

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. ($14.99)

[Check out our full review 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, $54.95 for the Beta Booster Bundle)

51x7kNoEi5L._AC_

Unlock!: Squeek and Sausage (Asmodee, escape room / solve the mystery 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)

A-Puzzle-A-Day puzzle calendar (Insync Games, miscellaneous puzzle swag)

Eight puzzle pieces, 365 different puzzles. Now that’s value for your money. Can you place these Tetris-like pieces to tell today’s date, or a favorite date, or any date you choose? (£15.99)

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)

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. ($27.95)

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. ($40)

castellan1castellan3

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!]


For Ages 11-12 and Up

7a4b6658-937e-4e18-b835-dc7799dd8ad1_1024x1024@2x

Pass the Pugs (Winning Moves UK, dice game)

A classic tumbling game gets a delightfully charming new update in Pass the Pugs! Collect points based on how the pugs land and race your opponents to 100 points. Will you push your luck and risk your points on additional rolls, or will you “paws” and keep the points you have? (£9.99)

ENIGMAS_deck

Enigmas Puzzle Hunt Playing Cards (David Kwong/Dave Shukan, solve the mystery game)

A puzzle hunt lurking within a normal deck of cards? It sounds impossible, but when you’re dealing with puzzler and magician David Kwong, anything can happen with Enigmas! Can you unravel the mystery hiding amongst these playing cards? ($18)

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 Zendoeach offering additional rules and varying in difficulty! ($5 each)

[Check out our full review for Zendo here and our review of Expansion Pack #2 here!]

photo-1024x7682

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 ($23.50), Puzzometry Jr. ($18.50), Puzzometry Squares ($23.50), Puzzometry Hex ($23.50), Puzzometry Steps ($23.50), Puzzometry Six ($23.50), and Puzzometry Jr. 2 ($18.50) — you’ve got distinct challenges appropriate for all different ages!

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

top trumps 2021

Friends Top Trumps and James Bond Top Trumps: Gadgets & Vehicles (Winning Moves UK, card game)

Do you enjoy the sitcom Friends? Or the world of James Bond? No matter what your favorite subject or pop culture franchise, Top Trumps is ready and waiting with a sharply packaged game full of question-fueled competition. Each team opens their drawer on the carrying case and removes five cards, all with the potential to stump their opponents. Will your team triumph or will the other team’s trivia smarts win the day? (£10.00 each)

91HVzZFegAL._AC_SL1500_

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

5dee55bcc61d1b4b3f2038fe609fdd4f_original

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. ($60, but the digital download is FREE!)

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! ($20.32)

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. ($40 for University Edition, $59.95 for Classic Edition)

[Click here for our full review of Tak!]

b3ef10855c16e8a081d3604cbd19db97

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!]

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! ($17)

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

gearjitssmall

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)

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! ($40)

And if you’re looking for something closer to the classic game, there’s always the Deluxe 24 3/4ths Anniversary edition of Kill Doctor Lucky. ($39.95)

[Check out our full review of The Island of Doctor Lucky by clicking here!]


For Ages 13-14 and Up

minotaur 1

Minotaur’s Labyrinth (Project Genius, brain teaser)

Can you crack this wooden brain teaser? That’s the question posed by Minotaur’s Labyrinth, a mechanical brain teaser where you must maneuver the Minotaur out of the Labyrinth, then flip over the token, and return to the center of the maze! Ready your puzzle skills and your patience, or you’ll be trapped in the Labyrinth forever! ($24.95)

[Check out our review of Minotaur’s Labyrinth here!]

cold case

Cold Case: A Story to Die For and Cold Case: A Pinch of Murder (ThinkFun, solve the mystery game)

In these mystery puzzle games, you pick up a cold case where the investigation left off, rifling through police interview transcripts, evidence, photographs, and more! Can you solve the murder of a dead journalist or find out what happened to a woman missing from a church bake sale? With an interactive online submission form to test your solution, these ThinkFun murder mysteries are a fascinating bit of hands-on puzzling and crime solving! ($14.99 each)

[Check out our spoiler-free reviews of A Story to Die For and A Pinch of Murder!]

atlas-games-gloom-the-card-game

Gloom (Atlas Games, card game)

Do you enjoy The Addams Family or the art of Edward Gorey? Then Gloom might be a strategy game worth checking out. In this tactical game with a sinister twist, you’re trying to make your Victorian family miserable for points and the lives of your opponents’ families better! Yup, misfortune equals good fortune for you! With gorgeous transparent cards you can lay over each other to track your scores, there’s no storytelling game out there quite like it.

With loads of expansions to add to the creepy world of Gloom — and preorders open for the new Gloomier spinoff game — this is hilariously macabre fun! ($27.95)

cluebox

Cluebox Escape Rooms in a Box (iDventure, brain teaser)

These multi-stage puzzle boxes are completely self-contained. You need to explore every inch of its surface to find clues and tools to unlock each stage of the puzzle box and reveal further challenges. Whether you delve into Davy Jones Locker ($49.99) or try to unravel the mystery of Schrodinger’s Cat ($39.99), you will definitely find your puzzly mettle tested by these devious devices!

codex small

Caesar’s Codex (Project Genius, brain teaser)

Just slide the four coded levers into place and open the box. Sounds simple, right? When you’re talking about Caesar’s Codex, one of the brain teasers from the True Genius collection, what appears simple quickly becomes a proper puzzly challenge. There are over 4,000 possible combinations! Can you discover the correct one? ($19.99)

[Check out our review of Caesar’s Codex here!]

escape the room

Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse (ThinkFun, escape room / solve the mystery 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!]

 

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. ($27.50 each)

codenamessmall

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! ($11.49)

[Read our full review of Codenames here!]

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!]

geodesmall

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. ($68)

bunny kingdom

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!” ($48.92)

The Abandons (Puzzling Pixel Games, board 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!]

dragoncurve

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)


For Ages 16 and Up

alice is missing

Alice is Missing (Hunters Entertainment, solve the mystery game)

Can you and your fellow players solve a mystery without ever saying a word? That’s the challenge offered by the uniquely atmospheric and haunting RPG mystery game Alice Is Missing.

A game played entirely through text messaging, each player takes on the role of a character in the town of Silent Falls, trying to find out what happened to Alice Briarwood. We promise, you’ve never played anything like it. ($21.99)


For Ages 18 and Up

Most puzzle books would probably fall in the Age 9-10 and Up range, but oftentimes, the cluing is geared toward an older audience, so to avoid confusion, I’ve bundled the majority of the puzzle books here.

new ppd banner

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 5-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.

peanuts

They have some new offers just in time for the holidays, like their upcoming Winter Fun Pack. Plus their Peanuts line of Word Seek puzzles is available in both Subscription ($25.97 for 1 year) and Print ‘n Solve versions ($4.25 per issue)!

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!

–Doug Peterson and Jeff Chen’s It’s So Easy Crosswords ($9.95)

–Eric Berlin’s Puzzlesnacks: More Than 100 Bite-Size Puzzles for Every Solver ($8.49)

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($11.33)

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

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

–Andrew Ries’s Maverick Crosswords ($5.97)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($7.74)

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

USA Today’s Crossword Super Challenge 3 ($9.99)

–Frasier Simpson’s Cryptic Crosswords Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 ($10.95 each)

–Cynthia Morris’s CynAcrostics Volume 6: Imagine That! (Volume 7 coming soon!) and American Acrostics Volume 9: Amazing American Women ($9.95 each)

–Andrews McMeel Publishing’s Pocket Posh Sixy Sudoku Easy to Medium and Pocket Posh Sixy Sudoku Hard ($8.99 each)

USA Today’s Sudoku Super Challenge 3 and Sudoku and Variants Super Challenge ($9.99 each)

–Andy Kravis’s Challenge Accepted!: 100 Word Searches ($7.76)

–Shawn Marie Simmons’s 25 Word Search Puzzles for Classic Comics Lovers and 25 Word Search Puzzles for Classic Literature Lovers ($8 each)

USA Today’s Word Fill-In Puzzles Super Challenge ($9.99)

–Andrews McMeel Publishing’s Posh Take Care: Creative Challenge ($12.99)

–Oliver Roeder’s The Riddler: Fantastic Puzzles from FiveThirtyEight ($14.77)

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

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 Crosswords Club Digital (six crossword puzzles per month, $42.95 per year) [also available in print, details below]

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, three puzzles a month, $30 for 1 year)

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

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($32 for 1 year)

Crucinova crossword puzzles (weekly puzzles, $4.99 per month, $29.99 per 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!

–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)

–Bryant Park 2018 tournament puzzle pack ($5) and 2016/2017 bundle ($10) [$12 for both!]

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

Topple puzzle magazine ($1 per issue)

g4glogo

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

Women of Letters, an 18-crossword bundle by female constructors in support of women’s rights causes

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

And for any puzzle fans that love receiving surprises in the mail, we’ve got you covered there as well!

crosswordsclubsmall

The Crosswords Club

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! ($42.95 for 12 issues) [also available digitally]

enigmasmall

Wish You Were Here (The Enigma Emporium)

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!]

cryptosmall

Cryptogram Puzzle Post (Jack Fallows)

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. (£7.50 for single issues, £20 and up for seasonal bundles and collections)

curious correspondence

Curious Correspondence Club

An ongoing episode puzzle adventure, the Curious Correspondence Club helps you assemble and solve an ever-evolving mystery surrounding the Guardians and their hunt for the twelve artifacts. What does it all mean? Check your mail every month for new puzzles, hints, and additions to the story. ($21.95 for single chapters, $60 for 3-chapter collections)

Do you need some miscellaneous puzzle swag to complete a bundle of holiday goodness for the puzzlers in your life?

flyingcolorssmall

Flying Colors coloring book (Penny Press)

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).

travelmugsmall  Word-Nerd-Mug-WNMG

I’d Rather Be Puzzling travel mug and Word Nerd mug (Penny Press)

After a long day of puzzling, or while pondering a devious clue, sip some coffee from a snazzy I’d Rather Be Puzzling Travel Mug ($7.95) or this sturdy and bright Word Nerd Mug ($19).


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

dailypopwsicon

Treat yourself to some delightful deals on puzzles. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

PuzzleNation 2021 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Price

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2021 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

hpgg tangram candle

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!

In this edition of the Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, we have endeavored to strike a balance between the most affordable price we could find for each product and the most reliable outlet to get your gifts to you in time for the holidays!

Please enjoy this assortment of dice games, puzzle games, brain teasers, card games, puzzle books, group & party games, murder mysteries, escape room games, puzzles by mail, and board games, all organized in price from lowest to highest. We’re sure you’ll find the right gift for any puzzler on your list!

Any amounts in Pounds have been placed where they’d land roughly when converted to dollars. And please note that shipping is not factored into any of these prices.

Happy puzzling!


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!



Puzzle Books, Magazines, and Puzzle bundles

Since most of the puzzle books, magazines, and puzzle bundles in this year’s gift guide are between $5 and $15, and most subscription services are between $15 and $30 per year, we figured we’d bundle them all up front before we get into all of the 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.

new ppd banner

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 5-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.

peanuts

They have some new offers just in time for the holidays, like their upcoming Winter Fun Pack. Plus their Peanuts line of Word Seek puzzles is available in both Subscription ($25.97 for 1 year) and Print ‘n Solve versions ($4.25 per issue)!

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!

–Doug Peterson and Jeff Chen’s It’s So Easy Crosswords ($9.95)

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

–Eric Berlin’s Puzzlesnacks: More Than 100 Bite-Size Puzzles for Every Solver ($8.49)

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($11.33)

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

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

–Andrew Ries’s Maverick Crosswords ($5.97)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($7.74)

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

USA Today’s Crossword Super Challenge 3 ($9.99)

–Frasier Simpson’s Cryptic Crosswords Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 ($10.95 each)

–Cynthia Morris’s CynAcrostics Volume 6: Imagine That! (Volume 7 coming soon!) and American Acrostics Volume 9: Amazing American Women ($9.95 each)

–Andrews McMeel Publishing’s Pocket Posh Sixy Sudoku Easy to Medium and Pocket Posh Sixy Sudoku Hard ($8.99 each)

USA Today’s Sudoku Super Challenge 3 and Sudoku and Variants Super Challenge ($9.99 each)

–Andy Kravis’s Challenge Accepted!: 100 Word Searches ($7.76)

–Shawn Marie Simmons’s 25 Word Search Puzzles for Classic Comics Lovers and 25 Word Search Puzzles for Classic Literature Lovers ($8 each)

USA Today’s Word Fill-In Puzzles Super Challenge ($9.99)

–Andrews McMeel Publishing’s Posh Take Care: Creative Challenge ($12.99)

–Oliver Roeder’s The Riddler: Fantastic Puzzles from FiveThirtyEight ($14.77)

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

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 Crosswords Club Digital (six crossword puzzles per month, $42.95 per year) [also available in print, details below]

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, three puzzles a month, $30 for 1 year)

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

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($32 for 1 year)

Crucinova crossword puzzles (weekly puzzles, $4.99 per month, $29.99 per 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!

–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)

–Bryant Park 2018 tournament puzzle pack ($5) and 2016/2017 bundle ($10) [$12 for both!]

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

Topple variety puzzle magazine ($1 per issue)

g4glogo

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

Women of Letters, an 18-crossword bundle by female constructors in support of women’s rights causes

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


And now, without further ado, here is our price-sorted list of puzzly delights for you and yours!

$10 and Under

archerporthos

Star Trek Fluxx: The Archer Expansion and The Porthos Expansion (Looney Labs, card game)

Star Trek is an ever-expanding universe of stories, heroes, adventures, and questions to explore, so it’s only fitting that the ever-changing card game Fluxx has a host of Star Trek-themed card decks for you to try out. Whether you’re a fan of The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, or Voyager, there’s a Fluxx deck stacked with your favorite characters, villains, and pivotal moments from each show. ($20 each)

And now you can combine and cross over those decks and play Fluxx like never before with The Archer Expansion and The Porthos Expansion. These small additional decks not only introduce characters from the show Enterprise to the mix, but they allow new rules for mixing up decks and new paths to victory. Plus they add the beloved pets Porthos and Spot to the game! ($5.00 each)

And if Star Trek isn’t your style, maybe you’d enjoy Fantasy Fluxx, Wonderland Fluxx, Astronomy Fluxx, or any of the other marvelous variations on this classic quick-changing card game! ($16 each)

[Our review for the Porthos and Archer Expansions can be found here!]

Zendo Expansion Packs 1 and 2 (Looney Labs, puzzle game)

Zendo challenges you to arrange Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and then see if those designs conform to a mysterious rule. Essentially, you’re trying to deduce what the secret rule is by building different designs.

And if you need additional rules to spice up your Zendo game, these two expansion packs offer new twists for all difficulty ranks, adding new wrinkles to an already devious game! ($5 each)

[Check out our full review for Zendo here and our review of Expansion Pack #2 here!]

block-chain-intro

Block Chain (ThinkFun, brain teaser)

These linked four-sided blocks can be rotated, spun, tilted, and overlapped. But can you twist and arrange them into a single cube where every face fits a pattern or a path? That’s the challenge of Block Chain, ThinkFun’s delightful twisty puzzle that lets you tinker, twist, and swing each of the three linked blocks into various positions! ($5.99)

[Check out our review here!]

flyingcolorssmall

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).

4j0

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!]

travelmugsmall  

I’d Rather Be Puzzling travel mug (Penny Press, miscellaneous puzzle swag)

After a long day of puzzling, or while pondering a devious clue, sip some coffee from a snazzy I’d Rather Be Puzzling Travel Mug ($7.95).

Coaster Games (The Dark Imp, party/group game)

Coaster Games is a six-pack of games encompassing all sorts of gameplay styles. Counting, word building, deduction, strategy, resource management, and more, and they all fit in your pocket. Perfect for parties or quickplay fun between longer game sessions, you’re guaranteed to find something to enjoy here! (£6.99)

[Find our review of Coaster Games here!]

countaloupe

Countaloupe (Bananagrams, dice game)

A card game and a dice game in one, test your luck and your math skills with Countaloupe! Two to four players each have a deck of slice cards, numbered from one to sixteen. Your goal is to roll the dice and discard slice cards from your deck faster than your opponents. Will you savor the fruits of your mathematical labors, or will others enjoy the sweet taste of victory? ($9.99)

[Our review of Countaloupe can be found 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!]

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! ($9.99)


$20 and Under

cryptosmall

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. (£7.50 for single issues, £20 and up for seasonal bundles and collections)

91HVzZFegAL._AC_SL1500_

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

codenamessmall

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! ($11.49)

[Read our full review of Codenames here!]

lexiconsmall

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! ($11.89 in classic form)

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

51x7kNoEi5L._AC_

Unlock!: Squeek and Sausage (Asmodee, escape room/solve the mystery 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)

b3ef10855c16e8a081d3604cbd19db97

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!]

7a4b6658-937e-4e18-b835-dc7799dd8ad1_1024x1024@2x

Pass the Pugs (Winning Moves UK, dice game)

A classic tumbling game gets a delightfully charming new update in Pass the Pugs! Collect points based on how the pugs land and race your opponents to 100 points. Will you push your luck and risk your points on additional rolls, or will you “paws” and keep the points you have? (£9.99)

top trumps 2021

Friends Top Trumps and James Bond Top Trumps: Gadgets & Vehicles (Winning Moves UK, card game)

Do you enjoy the sitcom Friends? Or the world of James Bond? No matter what your favorite subject or pop culture franchise, Top Trumps is ready and waiting with a sharply packaged game full of question-fueled competition. Each team opens their drawer on the carrying case and removes five cards, all with the potential to stump their opponents. Will your team triumph or will the other team’s trivia smarts win the day? (£10.00 each)

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)

cold case

Cold Case: A Story to Die For and Cold Case: A Pinch of Murder (ThinkFun, escape room / solve the mystery game)

In these mystery puzzle games, you pick up a cold case where the investigation left off, rifling through police interview transcripts, evidence, photographs, and more! Can you solve the murder of a dead journalist or find out what happened to a woman missing from a church bake sale? With an interactive online submission form to test your solution, these ThinkFun murder mysteries are a fascinating bit of hands-on puzzling and crime solving! ($14.99 each)

[Check out our spoiler-free reviews of A Story to Die For and A Pinch of Murder!]

smart10small

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. ($14.99)

[Check out our full review here!]

enigmasmall

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!]

The Abandons (Puzzling Pixel Games, board 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!]

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! ($17)

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

ENIGMAS_deck

Enigmas Puzzle Hunt Playing Cards (David Kwong/Dave Shukan, escape room / solve the mystery game)

A puzzle hunt lurking within a normal deck of cards? It sounds impossible, but when you’re dealing with puzzler and magician David Kwong, anything can happen with Enigmas! Can you unravel the mystery hiding amongst these playing cards? ($18)

Word-Nerd-Mug-WNMG

Word Nerd mug (Penny Press, miscellaneous puzzle swag)

Get ready for a cozy day of puzzling with this sturdy and bright Word Nerd Mug ($19).

Slapzi (Tenzi, party/group 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!]

codex small

Caesar’s Codex (Project Genius, brain teaser)

Just slide the four coded levers into place and open the box. Sounds simple, right? When you’re talking about Caesar’s Codex, one of the brain teasers from the True Genius collection, what appears simple quickly becomes a proper puzzly challenge. There are over 4,000 possible combinations! Can you discover the correct one? ($19.99)

[Check out our review of Caesar’s Codex here!]

callclp112_1

12 Days (Calliope Games, card game)

A proper holiday-themed game for the holidays? You betcha. This wagering game, based on the 12 Days of Christmas, has some of the most beautiful art in the entire card game genre. Plus the two ways to earn points — winning each day of Christmas with the lowest card in the pot vs. keeping as many of a certain value card as possible for the end of the game — offer tons of strategic opportunities in a simple card game. What a treat! ($20)

stfluxxall

Star Trek Fluxx (Looney Labs, card game)

Star Trek is an ever-expanding universe of stories, heroes, adventures, and questions to explore, so it’s only fitting that the ever-changing card game Fluxx has a host of Star Trek-themed card decks for you to try out. Whether you’re a fan of The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, or Voyager, there’s a Fluxx deck stacked with your favorite characters, villains, and pivotal moments from each show. ($20 each)

Also be sure to check out The Archer Expansion and The Porthos Expansion packs to combine different Star Trek Fluxx decks for a whole new game experience! ($5.00 each)

And if Star Trek isn’t your style, maybe you’d enjoy Fantasy Fluxx, Wonderland Fluxx, Astronomy Fluxx, or any of the other marvelous variations on this classic quick-changing card game! ($16 each)

[Check out our full reviews of Star Trek Fluxx, Star Trek TNG Fluxx, and Star Trek Voyager Fluxx here!]


$30 and Under

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! ($20.32)

A-Puzzle-A-Day puzzle calendar (Insync Games, miscellaneous puzzle swag)

Eight puzzle pieces, 365 different puzzles. Now that’s value for your money. Can you place these Tetris-like pieces to tell today’s date, or a favorite date, or any date you choose? (£15.99)

curious correspondence

Curious Correspondence Club (puzzle by mail)

An ongoing episode puzzle adventure, the Curious Correspondence Club helps you assemble and solve an ever-evolving mystery surrounding the Guardians and their hunt for the twelve artifacts. What does it all mean? Check your mail every month for new puzzles, hints, and additions to the story. ($21.95 for single chapters, $60 for 3-chapter collections)

alice is missing

Alice is Missing (Hunters Entertainment, escape room / solve the mystery game)

Can you and your fellow players solve a mystery without ever saying a word? That’s the challenge offered by the uniquely atmospheric and haunting RPG mystery game Alice Is Missing.

A game played entirely through text messaging, each player takes on the role of a character in the town of Silent Falls, trying to find out what happened to Alice Briarwood. We promise, you’ve never played anything like it. ($21.99)

photo-1024x7682

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 ($23.50), Puzzometry Jr. ($18.50), Puzzometry Squares ($23.50), Puzzometry Hex ($23.50), Puzzometry Steps ($23.50), Puzzometry Six ($23.50), and Puzzometry Jr. 2 ($18.50) — you’ve got distinct challenges appropriate for all different ages!

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

minotaur 1

Minotaur’s Labyrinth (Project Genius, brain teaser)

Can you crack this wooden brain teaser? That’s the question posed by Minotaur’s Labyrinth, a mechanical brain teaser where you must maneuver the Minotaur out of the Labyrinth, then flip over the token, and return to the center of the maze! Ready your puzzle skills and your patience, or you’ll be trapped in the Labyrinth forever! ($24.95)

[Check out our review of Minotaur’s Labyrinth here!]

qwirkle

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! ($24.99)

cracker-components-1

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)

Escape Room Advent Calendar (Insync Games, miscellaneous puzzle swag)

This advent calendar has no numbers on the doors, and solving a daily puzzle is the only way to figure out which door to open! This clever, festive, chocolate-filled treat is a puzzly twist on a holiday classic! (£19.99)

 

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. ($27.50 each)

atlas-games-gloom-the-card-game

Gloom (Atlas Games, card game)

Do you enjoy The Addams Family or the art of Edward Gorey? Then Gloom might be a strategy game worth checking out. In this tactical game with a sinister twist, you’re trying to make your Victorian family miserable for points and the lives of your opponents’ families better! Yup, misfortune equals good fortune for you! With gorgeous transparent cards you can lay over each other to track your scores, there’s no storytelling game out there quite like it.

With loads of expansions to add to the creepy world of Gloom — and preorders open for the new Gloomier spinoff game — this is hilariously macabre fun! ($27.95)

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. ($27.95)


$40 and Under

castellan1castellan3

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!]

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! ($35, 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! ($45)

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

godzilla

Godzilla: Tokyo Clash (Funko Games, board game)

Choose one of these four iconic monsters and let loose your fury all over Tokyo in Godzilla: Tokyo Clash. This tactical monster-vs.-monster game allows you to smash buildings, vehicles, and your fellow monsters on a game board that’s different every time you play! Will you be King of the Monsters by the time Tokyo is in ruins? ($35)

[Check out our full review of Godzilla: Tokyo Clash here!]

dragoncurve

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)

Tile Securing Travel Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer, board game)

Hammacher Schlemmer has always been home to some intriguing Scrabble variants available — who could forget their World’s Largest Scrabble Game? — but when it comes to travel-friendly puzzle game fun, they’ve got just the thing. Tile Securing Travel Scrabble is perfect for those who want to solve on the go! Take your game anywhere and rest assured not a single tile will have moved! ($39.95)

cluebox

Cluebox Escape Rooms in a Box: Schrodinger’s Cat (iDventure, brain teaser)

This multi-stage puzzle box (pictured on the right) is completely self-contained. You need to explore every inch of its surface to find clues and tools to unlock each stage of the puzzle box and reveal further challenges. Try to unravel the mystery of Schrodinger’s Cat and test your puzzly mettle! ($39.99)

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. ($40 for University Edition, $59.95 for Classic Edition)

[Click here for our full review of Tak!]

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 Zendoeach offering additional rules and varying in difficulty! ($5 each)

[Check out our full review for Zendo here and our review of Expansion Pack #2 here!]

tsuro

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. ($40)

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. ($40)

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! ($40)

And if you’re looking for something closer to the classic game, there’s always the Deluxe 24 3/4ths Anniversary edition of Kill Doctor Lucky. ($39.95)

[Check out our full review of The Island of Doctor Lucky by clicking here!]


$50 and Under

gearjitssmall

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)

crosswordsclubsmall

The Crosswords Club (puzzle by mail / email subscription)

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! ($42.95 for 12 issues) [Also available in digital format]

escape the room

Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse (ThinkFun, escape room / solve the mystery 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!]

bunny kingdom

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!” ($48.92)

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, $54.95 for the Beta Booster Bundle)

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! ($49.95)

[Click here for our full review of Chessplus!]

cluebox

Cluebox Escape Rooms in a Box: Davy Jones’ Locker (iDventure, brain teaser)

This multi-stage puzzle box (on the left) is completely self-contained. Explore every inch of its surface to unlock each stage of the puzzle box and reveal further puzzles. Delve into Davy Jones Locker and solve these nautically themed challenges! ($49.99)

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)


$60 and Over

5dee55bcc61d1b4b3f2038fe609fdd4f_original

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. ($60, but the digital download is FREE!)

geodesmall

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. ($68)

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!]

trysp-1

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)


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

dailypopwsicon

Treat yourself to some delightful deals on puzzles. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

Where to Look for Crossword Reviews/Commentary?

tumblr_nnl5c43Ov61qd4fqho1_500

Occasionally, we’ll get a message from a PuzzleNationer who wonders why we don’t review the daily New York Times crossword or some of the other prominent daily newspaper crosswords.

It makes sense to ask. After all, we try to cover all things puzzles and games here — great clues, trivia, brain teasers, puzzles in pop culture, interviews, game reviews, how to’s, puzzle history, the Crossword Mysteries — so why not the top crossword outlets?

Well, to be honest, there are already several crossword blogs doing a dynamite job of covering those. So today, I want to discuss some top-notch blogs that discuss and review the daily crosswords!

nyt xwd

For the New York Times crossword alone, there’s Wordplay, XWord Info, and Rex Parker.

Wordplay is the official New York Times crossword blog, and not only do you get great analysis from knowledgeable minds, but you get live solve-alongs, insight from constructors, and more.

XWord Info is my go-to for details on construction and a fair, informative review. People occasionally accuse XWord Info of being too favorable to the puzzles/constructors, but I think they call it right down the middle, and there have been times where reviewers and constructors leveled stern criticism at a puzzle’s editorial process OR how it was discussed on XWord Info itself.

Rex Parker’s blog can be more critical of Times puzzles — as we’ve said before, he borders on the curmudgeonly — but he has terrific advice about grid construction, theme entries, and more that several constructors have told me proved to be invaluable in their early days learning to construct.

His blog is probably not for everybody, but he remains one of the most influential voices in crossword reviewing today.

Oh, and if you’re looking for some terrific reviews of the NYT Mini Crossword, check out this great Instagram account!

Of course, the NYT crossword isn’t the only game in town.

la times

If you’re a fan of the Los Angeles Times Crossword, there’s the terrific L.A. Times Crossword Corner blog to keep you up to date on that puzzle, breaking every puzzle down clue by clue. (There’s also LAX Crossword, which offers answers and clue explanations.)

If you enjoy the USA Today crossword, Sally Hoelscher offers Sally’s Take on the USA Today Crossword daily, offering up theme explanations, things she learned from the puzzle, and sharing terrific opinions and thoughts that would absolutely be beneficial to newer solvers.

And although it’s not a blog per se, the XWord Muggles Forum offers an interactive space to discuss and break down the Wall Street Journal weekly crossword contest, as well as other meta crossword puzzles.

crossword pen

But, if you’re looking for more of a one-stop-shop experience, then you should check out Diary of a Crossword Fiend.

Crossword Fiend covers NYT, LA Times, WSJ, Universal, USA Today, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Newsday, The Inkubator, AVCX, and more! Not only that, but you’ll get reviews of puzzles from independent constructors like Elizabeth Gorski’s Crossword Nation, Brendan Emmett Quigley, Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords, and others.

They post their solving times, analyze the puzzles, and spread the word about other puzzly projects and crossword news. It’s a fantastic site.

And before I wrap up this recommendation post, I do want to shout out the community on Reddit’s r/crossword subreddit. It’s a forum for discussing puzzle opinions, sharing works from aspiring and developing constructors, and yes, reviewing and sharing thoughts on the major outlets (mostly the NYT).

Most of the posters and commenters are genuinely good folks who love crosswords and enjoy discussing them, and it’s a pretty pleasant place to visit if you’re a crossword fan.

Do you have any favorite Crossword Review Blogs that we missed? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


dailypopwsicon

Hey, have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

Need Crosswords Sorted by Difficulty? Look No Further!

A quick reminder before today’s blog post:

ThinkFun’s Cold Case: A Story to Die For is available for preorder today on Amazon and the ThinkFun website!

Click here to check out our spoiler-free review!


Getting into crosswords can be daunting for new puzzlers. Maybe you’ve solved the syndicated puzzle in your local paper, or you’ve downloaded one of those fabulous apps like Daily POP Crosswords, and you’ve enjoyed, but you’re looking to expand your solving horizons.

The New York Times crossword is well-known, for sure, but has an intimidating reputation as the flagship brand. You know other companies and newspapers have crosswords, but you’re just not sure where to start.

We’ve got good news for you on that front.

A constructor and crossword enthusiast named Lloyd Morgan has assembled what he calls the crossword difficulty matrix, and it’s a thoroughly impressive launchpad for new and inexperienced crossword fans to explore a lot of terrific puzzles and crossword venues.

[Click here for a larger version!]

He originally launched a version of the crossword difficulty matrix on Reddit, and then expanded and adapted it based on feedback from fellow solvers. His goal was to create a guide for new solvers that would help them find the right puzzles and difficulty rankings for their puzzly comfort level.

Not only does he cover major outlets like The New York Times, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Universal, but he also looped in Kings syndicated constructors like Joseph and Sheffer, plus some other outlets casual solvers might not even be aware of!

I haven’t really seen anything like this made available for enthusiastic solvers before, and I think he did a terrific job.

Then again, I’m not the savviest crossword solver around.

[Me, watching faster and more clever solvers posting their solve times.]

But I do know some pretty savvy cruciverbalists, so I reached out to some topnotch and experienced constructors and solvers and asked for their thoughts on the crossword difficulty matrix.

Wordplay blogger and brilliant crossword lady Deb Amlen thought it was a totally fair breakdown of puzzle difficulty, though she noted, “I still believe that if you asked 10 solvers about the difficulty of a puzzle, you will get 10 different answers.” TRUTH.

David Steinberg, editor of the Universal Crossword, thought the matrix was pretty accurate as well, though he suggested a few tweaks regarding “Universal (which has no increase in difficulty during the week for 15x15s, though the Sunday 21×21 is a bit more challenging) and maybe the Wall Street Journal (which I would consider a little easier in the early week).”

Looks like Deb’s prediction is already coming true.

I also reached out to constructor Doug Peterson, one of the most knowledgeable puzzlers in the game today, was also kind enough to offer his thoughts:

I don’t really know the Joseph & Sheffer puzzles, but I believe they’re easy, unthemed 13x13s, so light-green makes sense for those. And I think New York Magazine is Matt Gaffney, so that seems about right too. Yeah, this is well-done. I might tick up the Thursday NY Times a notch, but it varies from week to week.

He had some suggestions for other venues to include as well:

If folks are looking for something else at the Very Difficult/dark-red end of the scale, Fireball [Crosswords] sometimes gets there. They’re definitely a “red” venue. The Inkubator I’d put in that middle yellow/Wednesday area for their themed stuff. And AV Club is literally the entire range above “Very Easy.”

I did ask one or two other puzzlers, but they hadn’t had the chance to reply by press time, so we’ll probably revisit this topic in the future (especially if Lloyd offers an updated version).

But in the meantime, I want to give some well-deserved kudos to Lloyd for this marvelous resource for new solvers. Not only does it include a lot of terrific outlets, but it offers a terrific stepladder of difficulty for them to find ever-increasing challenges whenever they’d like!

Thank you to Lloyd, as well as the marvelous constructors and puzzly folks who offered their thoughts. You’re all part of a brilliant, vibrant, and welcoming crossword community.


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 Chez Knox!

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!

This feature is all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them.

And this marks the fifth edition of our series of interviews where we turn our eyes to the future of crosswords. Instead of interviewing established talents in the field, I’ve been reaching out to new and up-and-coming constructors and asking them to share their experiences as a nascent cruciverbalist.

And we’re excited to welcome Chez Knox as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

knox

It doesn’t matter if they’re squares or hexagons; if you’re talking grids of repeated shapes, Chez Knox has you covered.

Her debut crossword puzzle will be published by The Inkubator later this year, so you know her skills with squares are topnotch. And as for the hexagons, she recently contributed the Alabama hexagon to a crowd-sharing effort to complete a 50-states quilt. The national quilt museum even had exhibition space reserved for the quilt before COVID complications cancelled the exhibit.

And now, fellow quilting/sewing enthusiast Shannon Downey is taking this Internet-united work of quilt creativity around the country to share the power of art and craftivism, thanks to creative folks like Chez.

Chez 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 Chez Knox

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

The Sunday newspaper was a bit of a ritual around my house growing up. My dad and I always read the comics and did the word puzzles together.

2. As you start to interact with the puzzle community at large, what have you learned along the way? What has been the most surprising part of the process for you?

Everyone genuinely wants to help a constructor succeed. I think I’ve been most surprised at the size of the cruciverbalist community – there are a lot of people out there into this kind of work!

What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle?

A great puzzle has a very clever theme connecting dots I’ve never before connected.

A good clue gives me so much joy! Lately I like finding puzzles with a well-executed clue echo. There’s a hint of nuance to this technique that makes me smile. (A clue echo is when the same clue is used twice in a puzzle. It is usually one word or a very short phrase. The answers contrast each other but connect through the clue.)

One example might be: 2D and 34A may both be clued as “Green” and the answers might be ENVIOUS and UNSEASONED.

What do you most enjoy — or try hardest to avoid — when constructing your own?

I try to avoid crosswordese – common fillers like ENO, OLIO, EKE, etc. But sometimes they are little words that sneak into a grid fill so that the sanity of the constructor is saved.

adventureImage-image-1512060253232-superJumbo

3. Do you have any favorite crossword themes or clues, either your own or those crafted by others? Who inspires you as a constructor?

My favorite themes are ones that highlight words inside of theme words/phrases. It could be a hidden word that plays on the meaning of the theme entry word or a handful of theme entries containing a common word among them. In the grid design, squares that make up this word would be shaded or circled.

An example of this kind of theme is given in Patrick Berry’s Crossword Constructor Handbook.

Theme entries:

  • CLAUDE MONET
  • MADE MONEY
  • SIMON DEMONTFORT
  • DESDEMONA
  • PANDEMONIUM

Do you see the common word here? (It’s DEMON)

I find Erik Agard’s puzzles to be particularly eloquent and clever. They challenge me in a new way and I love that! That’s the kind of feeling I want my puzzles to give people.

4. What’s next for Chez Knox?

The day-to-day answer is more puzzle construction practice. My goal is to get to a place where one of my puzzles is being published once a month.

Zooming out from the day-to-day, I’ve had a lot of change in my life recently so I don’t want to think about anything new for a while! My husband and I are settling into a new house while I’m setting into life as a Waldorf class teacher after 20 years in the field of IT. I have a class of first graders that I will teach all the way through eighth grade! (How fun is that?!)

Meanwhile, daily crossword puzzles keep me grounded and in connection with my love of the English language. I am SO EXCITED to be a boring person who delights in making a home, teaching, sewing, and solving/constructing crossword puzzles!

5. What’s one piece of advice you would offer fellow solvers, aspiring constructors/setters, and puzzle enthusiasts?

There are lots of free constructing resources available but if you’re serious about creating your own puzzles, you’ll need to pay for things like software and word lists.


A huge thank you to Chez for her time. You can follow her on Instagram for all of her creative endeavors, and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her Inkubator debut! I can’t wait to see what she creates 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!

5 Questions for Crossword Constructing Duo May Huang and Kevin Trickey!

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!

This feature is all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them.

And this marks the fourth edition of a new series of interviews where we turn our eyes to the future of crosswords. Instead of interviewing established talents in the field, I’ve been reaching out to new and up-and-coming constructors and asking them to share their experiences as a nascent cruciverbalist.

And we’re excited to welcome May Huang and Kevin Trickey as our latest 5 Questions interviewees (and our first duo interview)!

Kevin and May - crossword background

For many modern constructors, making crosswords isn’t simply about building grids or writing clues. It’s also about contributing to the greater crossword community in a meaningful way.

And you’d be hard-pressed to find two people making bigger strides in that direction than constructor May Huang and programmer Kevin Trickey. They have launched their own free puzzle site, Crossworthy, to share a new puzzle every week, and May’s puzzles have found their way into outlets like The Inkubator.

But they’ve gone above and beyond by creating a free-to-use crossword construction tool, Crossworthy Construct. With the price of quality crossword-constructing software often proving a major hindrance to new puzzlers, Crossworthy Construct is an amazing resource for any aspiring cruciverbalist to try out.

May and Kevin were gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for May Huang and Kevin Trickey

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

In the early months of quarantine, May started playing the NYT minis and eventually began making her own minis that she would send out to friends and family throughout the month (her newsletter was called “May’s Minis”). As Kevin watched May iterate through fills on Microsoft Word, he started writing an algorithm that could churn out larger grids more quickly. In June, we started Crossworthy, a website for publishing our algorithm-generated and hand-made grids.

Unlike some constructors we know, we didn’t start out as avid crossword players before starting to make our own puzzles. But the creative and technical challenges of crossword construction align with our mutual interests — May is a literary translator who enjoys wordplay, while Kevin is a casual programmer who fancied a challenge. Now, of course, we love both playing crosswords as well!

2. You have your own puzzle website (and editing software!), in addition to publishing through outlets like The Inkubator. As you start to interact with the puzzle community at large, what have you learned along the way? What has been the most surprising part of the process for you?

When we first started making puzzles, we didn’t expect this hobby to really take off, but it really has! We went from constructing puzzles using Microsoft Word (a good learning experience, but not sustainable) to developing our own software that streamlines our construction process.

Along the way, however, we were surprised to see how many resources already exist — tools and communities we wish we had known about sooner! We sometimes tweet about our construction questions and we’re always heartened by how instantly helpful fellow constructors can be. The best thing we’ve learned is that the crossword community can be a very kind and welcoming place.

Crossworthy Construct page

[Crossworthy Construct, May and Kevin’s crossword custom editing
software. Click here to check it out for yourself.]

What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle? What do you most enjoy — or try hardest to avoid — when constructing your own?

A great puzzle, to us, is both personal and accessible; it should have words and clues that really resonate with the constructor, as well as elements that will speak to any player. Because we have different interests, however, we often clash over clues.

For example, most of May’s pop culture clues fly over Kevin’s head, whereas the biology terms Kevin tends to include are equally obscure to her. In this way, we keep each other in check, and try to produce well-balanced puzzles. Nonetheless, we’re still rookies in the field: we’re still learning about what makes a theme set stand out and which words make for sparkly fill.

3. Do you have any favorite crossword themes or clues, either your own or those crafted by others? Who inspires you as a constructor?

Recent puzzles we’ve really enjoyed include Paolo Pasco’s “Busting Moves” puzzle (January 3rd, 2021) as well as Matthew Stock’s “Karaoke Bars” (February 21, 2021). Malaika Handa’s daily 7×7 project is fantastic, and Evan Birnholz’s meta puzzle “5×5” in the Washington Post was super eye-opening. We’re inspired by too many constructors to name — Barbara Lin, Caitlin Reid, Natan Last, Ross Trudeau, Kam Austin Collins…the list goes on!

We tend to like puzzles with themes that make us smile, and reveal an aspect of the constructor’s personality. Some of our own puzzles that fall into our category include “Valentine Poem,” whose theme words spell out a crossword-themed love poem, and “A President’s Ponderings,” a puzzle that includes presidential puns in its theme set.

crossworthy valentine

4. What’s next for May Huang and Kevin Trickey?

While we plan to continue publishing weekly puzzles on Crossworthy every Sunday, we also hope to start publishing more puzzles in other venues (May has a puzzle coming out from the Inkubator soon!).

We’re also spending a lot of time building out new features for Crossworthy Construct, our own free construction software. Our goal is to reduce the barriers to entry for new and aspiring constructors like us. Currently, anyone can use our site to construct their own puzzles, and we’d love to hear from as many people as possible about their ideal construction software.

5. What’s one piece of advice you would offer fellow solvers, aspiring constructors/setters, and puzzle enthusiasts?

Kevin’s advice: Find an angle that interests you the most. Like everything else in life, crossword constructing is the convergence of many disciplines, and you can choose to play to your strengths. For me, it was the technical challenge of coding that got me started, and it’s kept me invested a year later.

May’s advice: Don’t be discouraged if you have trouble solving the NYT puzzle; in fact, look beyond the NYT! There are so many more crossword publication venues and indie sites out there making great puzzles. There are many diverse voices in the crossworld and you can definitely be one of them.


A huge thank you to May and Kevin for their time. You can follow them on Twitter for all of their crossword endeavors, and be sure to check out their website Crossworthy to solve puzzles and try out their crossword constructing software! I cannot wait to see what they cook 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!