Lollapuzzoola 11 is near!

Saturday, August 18, marks the eleventh annual Lollapuzzoola!

The marvelous indie offspring of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, Lollapuzzoola is a favorite of both solvers and top constructors, all of whom descend upon New York City to enjoy what can only be described as “the best tournament held in New York on a Saturday in August.” (At least, that’s what they say on their website.)

The format is simple. Four divisions — Express (experienced solvers who have contended in or won tournaments before), Local (solvers with some experience), Rookies, and Pairs (allowing you to team up to solve) — pit their puzzly minds against clever clues and crafty constructors.

With seven tournament puzzles — designed with inimitable style, both fun and befuddling in how often they innovate classic crossword tropes — you’re guaranteed to get your money’s worth as you solve!

And for those who reach the top of mountain, “winners in each division are awarded prizes, which could range from a box of used pencils to a brand new car. So far, no one has ever won a car.

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But if you can’t make it to NYC that weekend, worry not! There’s an At-Home Division that will allow you to participate as if you were there! You’ll get your puzzles by email the day after the actual tournament for a very reasonable $15 fee! Not only that, but you’ll be able to submit your times (and your number of blank/wrong squares) to be officially ranked in the At-Home Division lineup!

It’s one of the highlights of the puzzle world each year, and I’m definitely looking forward to tackling the puzzles! They’re a diabolical treat each and every year! (For a full rundown of the event, check out this interview with Local Division winner and friend of the blog Patti Varol!)

Are you attending Lollapuzzoola or solving from home? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you!


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Tackling the 2018 Indie 500 Puzzles!

June 2 marked the fourth annual Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, hosted in Washington, D.C., by constructors Erik Agard, Neville Fogarty, Andy Kravis, Peter Broda, and Angela Olsen Halsted. The first tournament had a racing theme, the second had a prom theme, the third had a time theme, and this year was fashion-themed!

While I couldn’t attend the tournament, I did download the tournament puzzles, and last weekend I finally had the opportunity to sit down and tackle them. And today, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on those puzzles, for any interested PuzzleNationers who might be considering participating in the event in the future.


Before the official tournament puzzles start, there’s a warm-up puzzle, a 13x grid entitled “Top Gear” by Neville Fogarty and Erik Agard. The hook is simple and accessible — celebrity names where the first name is a type of top, like COTTON MATHER for “crop top” or SHERMAN HEMSLEY for “tank top” — and with good fill and some tricksy cluing, you’ve got a nice pace-setter for the tournament puzzles to come.

Interesting grid entries included COSTUME CHANGE, GAINER, OMEN II, and THAT TOO. My favorite clue was the Arrested Development-inspired “What you might find in a bag marked ‘DOVE – DO NOT EAT'” for BAR SOAP.

[Image courtesy of Vertigo Mag.]

#1 On the Walk by Angela Olsen Halsted

The tournament proper opened with this terrific puzzle. The grid had solid fill entries with very little crosswordese, making for a marvelous introduction to the high quality level you’ve come to expect from Indie 500 puzzles. The theme entries all contained the word CAT in shaded boxes in the grid, slowly descending the main diagonal path of the grid, making for a literal catwalk.

The comment beneath the title, “Please, no meowing,” is not only a fun hint, but a hilarious callback to the Crossword De-Cat-hlon puzzle from last year’s Lollapuzzoola tournament, which had solvers meowing out loud as part of the solving experience. (That’s immediately what came to mind for me, anyway.)

All in all, a cracking opener for the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included PREGGERS, SABRA, ANITA HILL, and IMAC. My favorite clue was “Something you shouldn’t tell a woman to do” for SMILE.

[Image courtesy of Slideshare.]

#2 Unmentionables by Anna Gundlach

Puzzle 2 immediately raised the difficulty level, layering long interesting entries along the top right and bottom left corners of the grid to challenge the solver a bit more.

Couple that with a hook that required some very tight grid construction: unclued entries (making them “unmentioned”) in the grid like BRIEFS and BRA, each of which appears under the word WEAR in the grid. So you’ve got unmentionables and underwear. A really fun and clever execution of a good hook.

Interesting grid entries included AFAIK, RED STATES, TWENTY-ONE, and ROOMBA. My favorite clue was easily “Things that might come out in a row?” for SWEAR WORDS.

#3 Mall Shook Up by Laura Braunstein

As you might expect from the title, this puzzle involved clothing stores at the mall which had been all jumbled up. For example, one line read SECRET BANANA GAP, referencing Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic, and Baby Gap. So those missing words would end up in other jumbled store listings. Laura went above and beyond in her store mixing, probably providing the most entries I’ve ever seen in a puzzle of this style.

There was one awkward crossing that tripped me up — NEW ME crossing AD WAR — but for the most part, this was a strong puzzle to mark the halfway point for the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included MANTA RAY, NO REPLY, TONSURE, RICOTTA, and BREW PUBS. My favorite clue was “Cat in a Blake poem” for TYGER.

[Image courtesy of Garment Care.]

#4 Tailoring Instructions by Andy Kravis and Sophia Maymudes

Probably the hardest puzzle in the tournament, strictly for its cluing style for the theme entries, which felt more like Crostic clues. Each themed hint would have a straightforward clue, and then in parentheses, tailor’s instructions for how to trim or manipulate the actual answers to fit into the grid.

For instance, the clue “Setting of ‘The Hobbit’ (‘Take this one up a bit’)” takes the full answer reading down, MIDDLE EARTH, and “takes it up a bit,” excluding the bottom two letters and leaving the answer MIDDLE EAR.

Although the vocabulary of the grid itself wasn’t much harder than the usual fare, this was definitely the toughest theme to unravel. Kudos to those who did so in a timely fashion.

Interesting grid entries included GO PRO, RIHANNA, LIAISE, RAIN GOD, and TRANS AM. My favorite clues were “App for a lift but not a Lyft” for UBER and “Word after baby or before cat” for FAT.

[Image courtesy of Cyanide & Happiness.]

#5 Coin Purses by Neville Fogarty

The visual design here — featuring shaded boxes forming u’s in order to create little visual purses, complete with a coin (a box with a circle inside, waiting for a correct answer). Managing to name four five-letter purse brands — GUCCI, COACH, FENDI, and PRADA — each one with a letter inside that spelled out CASH, and the very clever revealer in the center of the grid, reading simply “moneybags.”

Interesting grid entries included IM FED UP, LEFT ARM, DINGUS, TENUTO, DINOS, and SPAMBOT. My favorite clues were probably 2 Down and 44 Down — clues reading that each entry was an anagram of the other — eventually revealing LIMEADE and EMAILED as the anagrammical pair.

#6 Addition by Subtraction by Lily Silverstein and Erik Agard

The final puzzle provided a really solid challenge for the solve, but otherwise was relatively straightforward. The revealer here was POCKET SQUARE, and indeed, there were four black squares that served as hidden pockets for missing letters throughout the grid. For instance, when applied to the bottom left corner, the answers TIE and NEON, as well as URS reading down, became TIE ONE ON and OURS.

And wouldn’t you know it, those pocket letters spelled out the word DONE when solvers were done. A challenging and worthy finale for the event.

Interesting grid entries included E-SHARP, ALDO GUCCI, ATTAQ, and ICE PLANET. My favorite clues were a tie between “Simba’s kingdom” for ANIMALIA and “Figure with two axes, perhaps” for GRAPH.

It was a strong closing puzzle — and the clues on both the Outside Track and Inside Track were well-written and clever — but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the bonus puzzles in the packet.

The Tiebreaker concept made for a theme that was brilliant in its literalness. The grid featured shaded boxes, each split by a black square, which “broke” types of ties. AS/COT (alas and cotton), BO/LO (garbo/locke), and CRA/VAT (fulcra/vats) were all tiebreakers. A marvelous visual gag. I loved it.


Overall, this was the best edition of the Indie 500 yet. The puzzles mingled the inventiveness of the previous three tournaments with strong grid design, clever clues, and a real willingness to play around with crossword conventions.

The constructors made the most of the fashion theme, resulting in some super-impressive wordplay and theme ideas. All in all, this was an engaging and worthy series of puzzles, designed to delight and challenge solvers in equal measure.

I look forward to its return next year, and hopefully some of you will join me in accepting the Indie 500 challenge!

Note: There were additional puzzles included in the puzzle packet, but since they were outside the regular tournament puzzles, I didn’t review them. But believe me, they are worth your time.


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The BosWords Crossword Tournament Returns Soon!

Sunday, July 29th, from noon to 5 PM, puzzlers from all over will gather at The Roxbury Latin School in West Roxbury, Massachusetts for the second edition of the BosWords Tournament, and registration opens today!

With three divisions to choose from — Red Sox (Expert), Paw Sox (Amateur), and Pairs — puzzlers of all ages and experience levels will have the opportunity to test their puzzly wits.

The five themed puzzles in regular competition have been constructed by Laura Braunstein, Andrew Kingsley, John LiebJoon Pahk, and Brendan Emmett Quigley, and after the scores from those puzzles are tabulated, a championship themeless crossword by David Quarfoot awaits the top three solvers in each division!

BosWords is asking for $20 for adults, $20 for pairs, and $10 for students to attend and compete, which is a real bargain!.

You can check out their Facebook page for full details!

Will you be attending the BosWords tournament, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you!


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The Indie 500 Crossword Tournament returns tomorrow!

That’s right! Tomorrow, June 2nd, will mark the fourth annual edition of the tournament, and registration is still open for $30, plus you can participate from home for only $10! Click here for details!

Not only that, but once again they’ve whipped up a meta-suite of puzzles to boot, and you name your own price for it!

I expect great things from the immensely talented team of constructors and directors they’ve assembled: Laura Braunstein, Erik Agard, Lily Silverstein, Sophia Maymudes, Angela Olson Halsted, Andy Kravis, Peter Broda, Anna Gundlach, and Neville Fogarty. With a “Dressed to Fill” theme, topnotch constructors, and pie (there’s always pie), you can’t go wrong!

You can click here for the Indie 500 home page, and click here for a rundown of last year’s puzzles!

Will you be competing? Or participating from home? Let us know in the comments below!


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PDP Tabletop Tournament Finals (+Tabletop Day Festivities!)

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been chronicling an epic sixteen-person game tournament held by our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles.

In Round 1, the field was culled from sixteen players to eight after well-contested battles of On the Dot and Bananagrams.

In Round 2, it was halved again as this group of elite puzzlers went to war in games of Timeline and Qwirkle.

In Round 3, two more contenders said goodbye as an intense game of Sheriff of Nottingham determined the finalists.

Only two competitors remained — #TeamNikki and #TeamGordon — and with only one more round standing between them and the title of PDP Tabletop Champion, spirits were high and anticipation reached a fever pitch.

What awaited them in the finals? Let’s find out, shall we?

Unlike the previous rounds, this was a head-to-head match-up, winner-take-all. So, naturally, we made posters to hype the event like a prizefight.

The game for the finals? Linkee.

Linkee is a trivia game that requires both general knowledge and associative thinking. Each trivia card has a letter on the back, and the traditional goal of the game is to acquire enough letter cards to spell “LINKEE.” (But for the purposes of the tournament, the first person to collect six cards would be the winner.)

One person acts as the Question Master, while the other players each grab a pencil and pad. The Question Master reads each of the four questions on the card. The players write down the answers and try to figure out what theme links the four answers.

The first player to shout out “LINKEE!” and identify the link gets the letter card. You can shout out “LINKEE!” at any point, but if you’re wrong, you’re out until the next card is played. So confidence and boldness has to be tempered with strategy.

That’s what makes the game more intriguing than your average trivia game. It’s not just knowing the answers to individual trivia questions; it’s figuring out the link between them, and doing so before your opponents.

[The room was packed with enthusiastic fans and interested parties,
including many of the competitors from the tournament.]

Gordon had an inauspicious start to the game, as he figured out the link between the first card’s questions, but neglected to yell out “LINKEE!” first, disqualifying himself from scoring the point.

Nikki, seizing the advantage after scoring that first point, quickly followed up, cracking the links for the next four cards, leaping out to a commanding lead. It seemed like a shut-out was imminent and Nikki would be crowned the winner in commanding fashion.

But no, Gordon would not go away quietly. As Nikki puzzled over the possible links for the game point, Gordon yelled out “LINKEE!” and scored his first point.

It was now Nikki’s LINKE to Gordon’s L. This would not be the clean sweep many expected after the opening flurry of action.

Gordon scored a second point (for the I), and then a third for the N. It was now LINKE to LIN. There was a change in the air, a buzz of excitement among the spectators, a frisson of uncertainty. It would appear we had a Comeback Kid on our hands.

On the next card, both players yelled “LINKEE!” simultaneously, and the judges couldn’t decide who was first, so that card was discarded.

Astonishingly, Gordon followed that up by going on to score two more points back-to-back, tying Nikki LINKE to LINKE. Hollywood could not have scripted it any better…

The next point scored would determine the winner of the entire tournament.

Our Question Master delivered the next four trivia questions, and Gordon shouted “LINKEE!” and answered that “Italian names ending with i” was the link. There was a gasp from the crowd! Had he pulled off the comeback of the century?

Unfortunately, no. The correct answer was “Italians.” By being so specific, he made his guess incorrect. (Versace, one of the trivia question answers, doesn’t end in i.)

That card was ignored, and a new one selected. For now, the finals would continue.

But not for long, as Nikki would secure the game-winning point with one final cry of “LINKEE!”, earning her sixth and final point.

At the 38 minute mark, the finals were over, and a new champion was crowned. #TeamNikki had triumphed!

After congratulations were offered to both competitors for a worthy battle, Nikki was awarded not only her Game Night Prize Pack (consisting of popcorn, candy, and two games: Forbidden Island and Exquisite Beast), but the championship crown and scepter!

She was even crowned by last year’s winner in a marvelous little passing-of-the-torch ceremony.

With the tournament concluded, our Tabletop Day festivities had begun, and audience members became players as games of Loonacy, Slapzi, and Timeline quickly formed while participants grabbed snacks, including some amazing D20-frosted cookies:

We had a full spread of games available for visitors to enjoy, and regular readers of the blog would no doubt recognize several of the games on display, including Tak, Qwirkle, Tsuro, and Fluxx.

And, as it turns out, Nikki wasn’t quite finished with her winning ways, as she proved victorious in every round of Loonacy she played after the finals.

All in all, it was a marvelously successful day to cap off an incredible tournament, full of spirited competition, tabletop fun, and puzzly displays of skill. Sure, we celebrated International Tabletop Day a few days early, but we did it in style.


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PDP Tabletop Tournament: Round 3

Two weeks ago, 15 intrepid members of the Penny/Dell Puzzles crew (as well as yours truly, your friendly neighborhood PuzzleNation blogger) embarked on the first stage of a four-week journey: The PDP Tabletop Tournament.

In Round 1, the field was culled from sixteen competitors to eight after tense battles of On the Dot and Bananagrams.

In Round 2, it was halved again as this group of elite puzzlers went to war in games of Timeline and Qwirkle.

We’re down to just four competitors, each inspiring their own hashtags: #TeamNikki, #TeamRick, #TeamGordon, and #TeamJenn.

What awaited them in Round 3? Let’s find out, shall we?

Unlike Rounds 1 and 2, there wouldn’t be two games to play. Instead, all four competitors would play a single game, and the top two scorers would go on to the championship finals next week.

The game for Round 3? Sheriff of Nottingham.

Sheriff of Nottingham is a card game that mixes strategy, resource management, and bluffing. The players collect cards with different goods to take to market — apples, chickens, bread, and cheese — as well as cards of contraband items (like spices, mead, and weapons). Each of these cards is worth points, and the contraband goods are worth more than the legal goods. Of course, the contraband goods are illegal, so if you’re caught bringing them to market, there’s a penalty.

And, unfortunately, in order to get your goods (legal or otherwise) to market, you have to get past the Sheriff.

For example, in a four-player game, let’s say the first player is the Sheriff. The other three players will each place up to five cards in their bag, then snap it shut, and declare what’s inside to the Sheriff. A player may be telling the truth about the contents of her bag, or she may be lying. The Sheriff can choose to either let a bag pass through unchecked or open and inspect the contents of any bag.

Anything that gets through the Sheriff goes into your market stand and is worth points at the end of the game. If the Sheriff chooses to check your bag, one of two things happens. If you were honest about what’s in the bag, the Sheriff pays you the value of those items. If you lied about the contents of your bag and the Sheriff catches you, you must pay him a penalty, and any contraband goods in the bag are seized.

[Nikki places a kindly offering of cheese from a fellow player
into her marketplace during her turn as the Sheriff.]

Of course, you can always negotiate with the Sheriff before the bag is opened. Bribes (of coin, product, or favors) can be offer, and deals can be made.

Once the Sheriff has either let the players’ bags through or finished the inspections, everyone settles their goods in the marketplace, the next player takes over as Sheriff, and the cycle starts again.

The game ends after every player has been the Sheriff twice. Then the players count up the value of everything they’ve brought to market — including any contraband they’ve snuck through — as well as their coin piles. (Plus, there are bonus points to be gained if you brought the most of any product to market. For instance, the person who brought the most apples is King of Apples, and the person who brought the second-most is Queen of Apples. Both titles are worth points.)

This game is obviously more complex and involved than the games played in Rounds 1 and 2, so there was a practice game last Thursday to allow players to familiarize themselves with the rules and the gameplay.

Once starting coins and cards were allotted to each player (plus a few coins extra to encourage wheeling-and-dealing/bribery), the game commenced. In the end, only two of the four players at the table would be moving on to the finals. What combination of Nikki, Rick, Gordon, or Jenn would face off for the championship?

As it turns out, there was already a wrinkle there. Jenn unfortunately couldn’t make it to the tournament this week, but she was allowed to choose a player to sub in for her: JP. Although she didn’t know what game would played in Round 3 when she picked him, as it turns out, she chose well. JP not only won the practice round last week, but he’d won a previous game played a month or two ago.

JP started off as the Sheriff, and surprisingly, he let the other players off easy, choosing not to inspect any of their bags for contraband (perhaps hoping such kindness would be reciprocated when he brought goods to market in turns to come).

[As Sheriff, Gordon inspects the contents of Nikki’s bag, looking for contraband.
He’ll be disappointed, and end up paying her for the inconvenience.]

As Gordon, Nikki, and Rick each took a turn guarding the path to market, this first go-around proceeded quickly. There were only a few attempts to sneak contraband through. There was also a touch of bribery, but hey, that’s part of the game. In fact, Rick rejected a bribe from Gordon at one point and chose to inspect his products anyway, which was a surprise.

All in all, only ten minutes passed before the role of Sheriff returned to JP.

The tension picked up as the second go-around began, and game play slowed down considerably. People were being more deliberate in both choosing the items for their bag and in their deliberations as Sheriff.

[Rick watches intently as Gordon chooses what to take to market.]

One of the things that makes Sheriff of Nottingham so engaging is that you can’t ever really know who is winning. Whenever someone sneaks contraband through (or pays off the Sheriff to look the other way), you have no idea how many points they scored. All you know is that they got something of higher value to market. Unless you make a concentrated effort to keep track of the goods people are focusing on — particularly if they’re hoping to score those bonus points as King or Queen of a product — it can be tough to know exactly where you stand, points-wise, compared to the others.

Nerves began to fray as more goods flooded the marketplace. Sheriffs looking for “contributions” drove harder bargains, adding both coins and goods to their coffers. Apples became quite a valuable foodstuff for bribes, particularly when Nikki was Sheriff.

Rick’s second turn as the Sheriff coincided with the last turn, and he ominously declared, “This is going to be a very expensive round.” Everyone laughed, but given how strongly Rick had been playing, they also knew he’d be driving a hard bargain for anyone trying to score last-minute points by sneaking contraband through.

This second go-around lasted nearly twice as long as the previous one, and emotions were running high as Rick’s turn as Sheriff ended and the gameplay concluded.

We then counted up the legal goods everyone brought to market, and determined who would be scoring bonus points. Everyone did well here, racking up some valuable eleventh-hour coinage.

  • JP was King of Cheese.
  • Rick was King of Chickens and Queen of Cheese.
  • Gordon was King of Bread and Queen of Apples.
  • Nikki was King of Apples (thanks in part to those marvelous bribes), Queen of Bread, AND Queen of Chickens.

The judges then swooped in to count everyone’s haul, and the players stepped away from the table to enjoy some marvelous cookies and treats provided by the judges… and await their fate.

In the end, it was a very close game. Only fourteen points separated the top scorer and the third place finisher. (Less than 30 points separated the entire field.)

Gordon secured a spot in the finals with top score (165), followed closely by Nikki (159) and Rick (151), with JP closing things out (137).

So it would be Nikki and Gordon proceeding to the finals! Congratulations to both of them, as well as kudos to Rick and JP for their impressively strong performances throughout the game.

The finals will held as part of our annual International Tabletop Day event next week!

And, of course, a crown, scepter, and Game Night Gift Pack await the eventual champion.

To be concluded…

[You can check in on the next round of the tournament live on Tuesday on our Instagram account!]


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