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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PDP Tabletop Tournament: Round 2

Last week, 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.

After fast and furious rounds of the anagram-fueled tile game Bananagrams and the pattern-matching card game On the Dot, the field was pared down from 16 enthusiastic puzzlers to 8 worthy contenders who triumphantly emerged, ready and willing to tackle whatever challenges awaited them in round 2.

Let’s find out what happened, shall we?

Round 2 kicked off in similar fashion to Round 1, as the 8 competitors were split into 4-person groups. Each group of four would play two games. Two winners — one from each game — would come from each foursome and move on to the next round.

The two games for Round 2? Qwirkle and Timeline.

Qwirkle is a tile game that mixes the gameplay of Mexican Train Dominoes with the Uno mechanic of matching colors or matching symbols. There are 6 different shapes and 6 different colors, and players score points by playing tiles from their hand on a communal gameplay area (similar to Scrabble or dominoes). Neighboring tiles can be the same color (a green square next to a green star) or the same shape (a red diamond next to a purple diamond). But you can’t repeat any tiles within a row (meaning that if a blue diamond is in a row of diamonds, you can’t play another blue diamond in that row).

You earn bonus points by completing Qwirkles — six-tile runs that either have 6 different symbols all of the same color or 6 different colored tiles with the same symbol. In our tournament, the player with the highest point total after 20 minutes would move on to Round 3.

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

You play your card, and then flip it over to reveal the actual year the event occurred. If you’re correct, the card stays, and you have one fewer card in your hand. If you’re wrong, the card is removed from the timeline and you draw a new card. The first player to place every card in their hand wins. (And moves on to Round 3.)

My group settled in for a game of Qwirkle while the other foursome set their sights on Timeline. (I didn’t name any players in Round 1 because that would’ve been 16 names for you to keep track of, but I’ll name players this time so you can follow along.)

Group 1 consisted of me, Nikki, Rick, and Sue; Group 2 consisted of Jen (last year’s champion), Jenn, Gordon, and Robin.

Qwirkle was an interesting choice for the second round, because it offered players less control than the games in Round 1. On the Dot has everyone using the same cards to match the pattern, so it comes down to speed and skill. Bananagrams has a random tile selection, but since you can change the grid at any time to accommodate new letter tiles, you have a lot of control in how you place things.

But with Qwirkle, you only have 6 tiles at a time to place, and you’re dealing with one communal play area. So you’re limited in what you can play by the tiles already on the board; if there are no diamonds on the board to match, for instance, you can’t play a diamond tile unless there’s another symbol on the board that’s the same color as your diamond tile.

Plus, you can’t just play a lot of tiles, if you have several that match, because you don’t want to leave openings for your opponents. If you add three different colored star tiles to the two already on the board, great, you’ve got 5 points. But you’ve left the board open for someone to play the sixth-colored star tile and score a Qwirkle, which means bonus points.

So you have to play both offensively and defensively at the same time.

And my opponents were all solid players, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. At our annual International Tabletop Day event, Sue usually plays Qwirkle, so I knew she knew the game well. And Nikki and Rick are both smart, tenacious players. (In Round 1, Rick nearly won On the Dot, and the Bananagrams game that followed was so close that we needed a tie-breaker game of Slapzi to determine the winner.)

Everyone was playing cautiously, trying to prevent others from landing those precious Qwirkle bonus points. (Although I think I was the only one who was actively sabotaging Qwirkles where possible, because hey, that’s part of the game, right?)

At the end of our twenty-minute session, everyone had played well. We all finished within ten points of each other. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be for your PN-blogging pal, as I was knocked out of the tournament here, alongside Qwirkle-savvy Sue.

But who was moving on? We didn’t know yet. You see, Nikki and Rick had tied at 60 points apiece, so a tie-breaker was needed. Yes, once again, Rick would be playing Slapzi.

Since I was busy with my group, I didn’t see any of the highlights from Group 2’s session of Timeline. All I knew was that Jenn was going through to the next round.

We switched games, and Group 2 started their Qwirkle game while we settled our tie with a round of Slapzi.

Both Nikki and Rick were quick on the draw — though there were a few questionable plays like this one:

In the end, Nikki bested Rick and moved on to Round 3.

The four of us then settled in for our game of Timeline. There was still a chance for me to salvage the day and continue onward to Round 3 in the proud name of PuzzleNation.

[My Timeline hand. Lots of Viking knowledge needed…]

Success in Timeline depends on two factors: how well you know the events in your hand, and which events get played on the timeline before your turn. For instance, you might have several events that you suspect took place in the 1800s, but you’re not sure when. If there are several cards with dates from the 1800s already in play, you could have a very hard time placing yours. But if the timeline features events from much earlier (like the taming of fire or the creation of the moon) or much later (like the creation of CDs or the launching of the space shuttle Discovery), then you’ll be able to place at least one of your cards with relative ease.

Naturally, the game gets tougher as the timeline fills out, and the gaps between cards get smaller.

The first few turns went well for everyone. I think it was our third go-around before someone incorrectly placed a card. Rick and I jumped ahead with some lucky guesses (I mean, skillful application of vast historical knowledge), and soon, we were each down to three of our original seven cards.

Unfortunately, I botched two cards in a row — including stupidly placing the Appeal of 18th June AFTER the events of World War II — and Rick calmly swooped in, placing his final card — the invention of basketball — in the correct gap in the timeline.

No tie-breakers for Rick this time; he was moving on to Round 3.

We wrapped up our game in time to settle in and watch the conclusion of Group 2’s Qwirkle match, which was a bit higher-scoring than ours. (There were definitely more Qwirkles scored in their game.)

In the end, a surprise upset occurred, and last year’s champion Jen was knocked out of the running by Gordon, who joined Nikki, Rick, and Jenn as the contenders in Round 3. So no matter who wins this year, we’re guaranteed a new champion. Unexpected!

So, alas, I shan’t be competing in either the semi-final or final round of this year’s tournament. But then again, that does free me up to take pictures, observe, add my own unique brand of obnoxious color commentary, and document the event in full for your reading pleasure.

Next week, the remaining four players will try their hand at a game unlike any they’ve encountered in the tournament thus far. Next week, it’ll be about strategy, cunning, bluffing, cutting deals, and a fair bit of trickery, as Nikki, Rick, Gordon, and Jenn play Sheriff of Nottingham.

The two players who score the most points will move on to the finals, which will be held at our annual International Tabletop Day event in the last week of April!

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

To be continued…

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


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PDP Tabletop Tournament: Round 1

The spirit of puzzly competition is alive and well. Not only are we still basking in the afterglow of the ACPT, but the third round of the World Puzzle Federation Puzzle Grand Prix is this weekend! AND registration for this year’s Indie 500 Crossword Tournament is now open!

But that’s not all!

The crew at Penny Dell Puzzles put together a Tabletop Tournament in honor of the upcoming International Tabletop Day on Saturday, April 28.

It’s a 16-person four-week tournament with different games to play every week, and round 1 kicked off this week. (This is actually the third year of the tournament, but this year has more competitors than ever before! Plus, both the 2016 and 2017 winners are competing again this year.)

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

The two games for Round 1? On the Dot and Bananagrams.

Bananagrams is a tile game where, much like Scrabble, players pull letter tiles and try to form small crossword-like grids. But in Bananagrams, you can anagram and rearrange the grid as needed, instead of being locked into using the words you’ve already played. Each player starts with a certain number of tiles, and each time you’ve used all your tiles, you say “Peel!” and each player grabs a new tile. This continues until the tile pile is depleted. Then the first player to complete their grid and say “Bananas!” is the winner, moving on to round 2.

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

This two-winner-per-group arrangement is nice, because it offers people with different puzzle/game skills multiple chances to move on, instead of a one-and-done scenario. The two games also allow two different quartets to compete at the same time; as one group plays Bananagrams, the other plays On the Dot. Since we only had our lunch hour to complete round 1 (and 16 competitors crammed into the conference room), time was of the essence.

My group was first to compete in Bananagrams, and as the sole representative for PuzzleNation in the tournament, I was determined to make a strong showing for the brand.

Things started off smoothly. We had 21 tiles to start with, and I quickly formed a strong anchor word with DONKEY. But before long, my puzzly competitors proved their own skills were formidable, as cries of “Peel!” began to ring out, and the tile pile quickly diminished.

Honestly, I don’t think I said “Peel” once. I was always close to completing my grid, but never fast enough. But I seized my chance once the tile pile was empty. I only had a few letters left, and some quick anagramming had me confident. I called “Bananas!” and the judges came over to check my grid.

But alas, I’d made an error. I had originally played the word MAKO in part of the grid, then stole the M and A to form other words, intending to come back and fix that part later. But in my overzealousness, I left KO in the grid, which is not a word, so I was disqualified. Curses!

The player to my left was only about a half-second behind me, and she made no clumsy errors. Her grid was clean, and she was declared the first winner from our group to move on.

I would have to try my luck at On the Dot if I hoped to salvage the day.

We switched games with the other competing foursome at the table, and distributed the clear cards for the next contest: On the Dot.

Although I was disappointed with my performance in Bananagrams, I remained confident going into On the Dot, since I’m fairly strong in pattern-matching and similar forms of puzzling.

The first pattern to match was revealed, and we were off!

On the Dot really consists of two skills: being able to place the cards so the dots are in the right places AND hiding the dots and colors you don’t need. That second part can be more difficult than simply matching the pattern, honestly. If you need a yellow dot in a certain spot and nothing near it, it’s not good enough to have a yellow dot in that spot and a purple one right beside it.

I quickly cracked the first pattern, earning 1 point (and a few groans from the other competitors in my quartet).

I was able to follow that with two more victories, earning three points and a clean sweep. I was officially bound for Round 2. Huzzah!

Several other competitors that day turned in similarly dominating performances in On the Dot, while other rounds were hotly contested and came down to the wire.

The rounds of Bananagrams were a little bit slower, but still interesting. I wasn’t the only competitor who was snake-bit by improper words in Bananagrams that day. NAT disqualified one competitor, while NI disqualified another. (At least, according to the online Scrabble Dictionary we were using as our source. No matter what those knights say.)

One of the games ended in a deadlock, as neither player remaining could complete their grid. Another ended in so contentious a fashion that a tiebreaker game was needed to determine a winner!

Fortunately, the judges were prepared for this possibility, and a quick round of Slapzi was used to settle any such ties/issues.

Slapzi is a quick-reaction game where each player is dealt five double-sided cards. Each card has a unique image on each side — everything from dogs and fire hydrants to ladybugs and lawnmowers. Then a description card is played — “has two syllables” or “made of wood,” for instance — and the first person to play one of their cards that matches the description drops that card from their hand. The first person to empty their hand wins.

Between the three games, eight competitors moved on to round 2 (including last year’s champ), one step closer to a grand prize of a Game Night Gift Pack, complete with snacks!

But that’s not all. The winner would also get a crown and scepter to carry around, in order to better lord their victory over their vanquished foes!

With a prize pack and a shot at becoming Tabletop Tournament Royalty on the line, things just got a lot more interesting.

To be continued…

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


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ACPT 2018 Wrap-Up!

The 41st annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was this weekend, and puzzlers descended on the Stamford Marriott Hotel once again to put their puzzly skills to the test in what is lovingly known as “the Nerd Olympics.”

The tournament takes place over two days, with six puzzles to solve on Saturday, followed by one on Sunday. Then the top three finishers in the A, B, and C brackets solve the championship puzzle on whiteboards in front of the audience.

On Friday and Saturday night, there are often puzzle events, demonstrations, and panels by top puzzlers and figures in the puzzle world as well.

I made the journey down to Stamford myself Saturday morning, arriving with plenty of time to spare to prep our spot in the puzzle marketplace and say hello to friends and puzzly acquaintances. This year, I was joined at the Penny Dell Puzzles booth once again by my friend and partner-in-promotion Stacey Scarso.

The Penny Dell crew had a terrific setup as always, with a metric buttload of magazines to give away, including copies of The Crosswords Club and several flavors of Tournament Variety, Master’s Variety, and Dell Sunday Crosswords. They were also running a kickass promotion offering half-price on a year’s subscription to Crosswords Club, which is a great deal.

Plus we had a terrific sample puzzle for the Daily POP Crosswords app, constructed by the marvelous Angela Halsted! You can click this link for the answer grid AND a bonus offer for anyone who missed our ACPT tournament puzzle!

PLUS we held a contest to win a bundle of PDP puzzle swag, including a mug, a tote bag, an umbrella, and a bunch of puzzle magazines! All you had to do was solve a marvelous crossword variant puzzle cooked up by the folks at Penny Dell. (Though I did have a hand in writing some of the clues.)

And, yes, in their downtime between tournament puzzles, many competitors DO solve other puzzles.

At 9 AM, the tournament was two hours away, but the marketplace was up and running. There were puzzle magazines galore from the Village Bookstore (as well as a table of Merl Reagle’s puzzle books), a booth loaded with Nathan Curtis’s various puzzly projects, and ACPT-themed jewelry, key chains, teddy bears, magnets, and other items from All of the Things.

As competitors readied themselves for the day’s solving, I had plenty of time to see friends of the blog like Crosswords Club editor Patti Varol, crossword gentleman Doug Peterson, constructor Joanne Sullivan, and Penny Press variety editor Keith Yarbrough!

Perhaps the best part of attending the tournament is getting to chat with so many members of the puzzle community in one place. There were first-time attendees and enthusiastic rookies; apparently, contestants ranged in age from 17 to 92(!), and there was a 90-year-old rookie competing this year!

There were long-time puzzle fans who have been competing at ACPT for years, if not decades, many of whom were decked out in puzzle shirts, puzzle scarves, and other grid-heavy accoutrements.

One of the attendees even offered to buy the Crossword Puzzle Junkie shirt off my back! I assured him that that would work for him and literally no one else in attendance.

But I digress.

Many of the top constructors in the business were there, names like David Steinberg, Evan Birnholz, Joon Pahk, Peter Gordon, and more, along with former champions and first-rate competitors like Dan Feyer, Tyler Hinman, Howard Barkin, Ellen Ripstein, and Stella Zawistowski.

Getting to connect faces and personalities with names I know from tournaments like the Indie 500 is a real treat, and so many of the people in the puzzle world are genuinely nice, funny individuals. Not only that, but I also got to meet several fellow trivia fiends from the Learned League community!

The two hours before showtime passed quickly, and soon, the marketplace emptied and the ballroom filled as competitors took their seats for Puzzle 1.

Attendance jumped again this year, which meant not only was the main ballroom absolutely jam-packed with competitors, but an overflow room was needed to accommodate the nearly 700 solvers in Stamford!

When Puzzle 1 arrived, most competitors found Tracy Gray’s puzzle to be quick and fair. One solver in particular, constructor Erik Agard, delivered an absolutely blistering time, solving the puzzle in under 2 minutes! (A feat not seen since Dan Feyer did so in 2015.) It immediately rocketed Erik to the top of the leaderboard in impressive fashion.

Puzzle 2, constructed by prolific puzzler Zhouqin Burnikel, surprised some solvers with its difficulty. Then again, Puzzle 2 has been on the tougher side for at least the last few years, but I think many solvers forget that, given how legendarily difficult Puzzle 5 is every year. It’s easy to forget other puzzles can offer quite a challenge along the way.

Puzzle 3 was constructed by Mike Shenk, and served as a well-received palate-cleanser before the lunch break. Solvers scattered to the four winds in order to grab a bite to eat before returning by 2:30 for Puzzle 4.

[Even empty, all the dividers make the room feel packed…]

And what a Puzzle 4 it was. Constructed by Damon Gulczynski, this puzzle had a visual element that tripped up several top competitors. (An unclear blurb “explanation” didn’t help matters, and several competitors told me they would’ve been better off with no blurb at all.)

The judges were forced to actually explain the puzzle before competitors began Puzzle 5. It was a disappointing way for the second half of the tournament day to kick off.

Not only that, but one solver was mistakenly given Puzzle 5 to solve INSTEAD of Puzzle 4. He managed to solve it in the shorter time allotted, but couldn’t fairly solve Puzzle 4 afterward because of the explanation. I haven’t been able to follow up and find out what exactly happened to his score.

Finally, after the unexpected drama of Puzzle 4, it was time for Puzzle 5. This year, constructor Joel Fagliano did the honors, and according to competitors, it was as challenging as expected, really putting the craftiness and keen wits of the solvers to the test. (Apparently, computer solving program Dr. Fill failed to complete puzzle 5, one of its few slip-ups in an otherwise impressive year for the program.)

After the diabolical Puzzle 5, competitors closed out the day with Puzzle 6, constructed by Lynn Lempel, and declared it both fun and fair. The competitors dispersed to rest their brains (or solve more puzzles). We packed up the Penny/Dell table and headed for home.

And although I wasn’t present for Sunday’s tournament finale, I continued to get updates from friends and fellow puzzlers.

Puzzle 7, constructed by Patrick Berry, was what you might expect from a constructor of his caliber: elegant fill, very little crosswordese, and great fun.

Erik Agard remained at the top of the leaderboard, having kept a great solving pace after his outstanding performance on Puzzle 1 — a nice redemption for him after a heartbreaker last year, when an error dropped him out of finals contention after a strong performance overall.

So the final three would be Erik, Dan Feyer (7-time champ), and David Plotkin (a familiar name in the top ten).

Thankfully, this year, there was no repeat of last year’s flub where the B-level finalists got the A-level clues or anything like that. And there were no distinct time advantages among the top solvers.

It was simply a match-up of some of the fastest, sharpest puzzlers. (Including 2 rookies in the C-level final!)

You can watch the final puzzle being solved below, courtesy of Ben Zimmer:

Erik Agard would complete the puzzle first, solving it in under 5 minutes. By comparison, huge swathes of Dan and David’s grids were still empty at this point. It was a stunning showing for a very well-liked member of the puzzle community!

Dan Feyer would wrap the puzzle up in 9 minutes, with David Plotkin following at around 13.

As he had done all tournament, Erik solved with incredible speed and precision, claiming his first tournament victory!

And it was a strong showing for many other familiar names! Doug Peterson placed 14th (up from 18th last year!), David Steinberg placed 23rd (up from 28th!), and Patti Varol placed 74th (up from 103 last year!) out of a field of almost 700 participants. (And even with one eye tied behind his back, Keith Yarbrough managed an impressive performance as well!)

[I wonder how many competitors this tweet applies to…]

It’s always great fun to spend time with fellow puzzlers and wordplay enthusiasts, immersing myself in the puzzle community and enjoying all the charm and camaraderie that comes with it.

We’ll see you next year!


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Congratulations to Elm City Games!

I talk a lot about the puzzle/game community, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, and so on, and that’s because, deep down, the community is one of my favorite things about being a puzzler and game enthusiast.

There are many cool, inspiring, and brilliant people that contribute so much to the world of puzzles and games, making it ridiculously fun to be a part of, and today, I’d like to give a shout-out to one particular member of that community.

Elm City Games is celebrating its second anniversary this Saturday with a party and potluck event, and I’m overjoyed for them. They truly put the “Friendly” in Friendly Local Game Shop, representing the best aspects of the puzzle/game world.

I got to explore Elm City Games when they hosted the first Connecticut Festival of Indie Games back in May of 2016. They threw open their doors to dozens of aspiring and established game designers and a slew of game fans, and to this day, it remains one of the best puzzly events I’ve ever had the privilege of attending.

One of the coolest and most inclusive spots in Connecticut for game lovers, they even host board game mixers on Fridays so you can meet fellow players and try out any number of games from their incredible in-house library. (They’ve also cultivated a choice selection of games for purchase in the store, including rarities and lesser-known titles.)

To celebrate the occasion, they’re hosting events all day (starting at noon) like learn-to-play sessions of Dungeons & Dragons, game tournaments, and more!

What more can I say? It’s a great spot run by rad people. So if you’re anywhere near New Haven, CT, on Saturday, swing by to wish Matt and Trish well, enjoy some games, and support a terrific local hub for all things great about gaming.

[Elm City Games is located on the 2nd floor at 760 Chapel Street, New Haven.]


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Crosswords LA is this weekend!

Crosswords LA is this coming Saturday, October 21. This crossword tournament consists of five puzzles for tournament attendees to solve, followed by a finale where the top three solvers race to complete one last puzzle and claim victory!

I reached out to Elissa Grossman, who runs and coordinates Crossword LA, and she was kind enough to fill me in on some of the details of this weekend’s event, her ninth year as the woman in charge!

The event will be hosted on the campus of the University of Southern California, beginning at 10:30 AM and ending at around 4:00 PM.

Online, advance registration is currently closed, because we reached 120 participants. There will be about 20 additional seats still open for walk-in participants, however. Check-in and, for those who choose it, on-site registration will open at around 9:30 AM.

I like having a small event, as it feels, in many ways, like a family project. The MIS Chief is my father. The Assistant Director is my son (who is only recently 7 and takes his pencil box filling responsibilities very seriously); he will this year help man the check-in table, with my mother. My nephew, a USC student, will also likely volunteer as a puzzle collector — and bring some of his friends to help out as well.

The event includes five in-competition puzzles of various difficulties, one warm-up crossword, one warm-up game for everyone, one team puzzle race, and a head-to-head-to-head final. This year’s puzzle wrangler is Alex Boisvert of Crossword Nexus, who invited this year’s constructors and oversaw all aspects of crossword production.

There are prizes for the winners for each division (usually gift baskets or chocolate towers, because we have a wonderful donor who gives us these). There is a “Perfect Puzzler” bumper sticker for those who solve clean for the whole tournament.

The funds that we raise are donated to Reading to Kids — a wonderful, local non-profit that sends hundreds of volunteer readers into schools each month, to read to the children and share a love of reading.

Tyler Hinman and Alex Boisvert will this year announce our Finals.

And for those who might be interested in tackling the Crosswords LA tournament puzzles themselves, there’s some good news…

For about six years now, however, we’ve sold tournament puzzle packs after the event is over. These packs typically go on sale about 24-48 hours after the tournament ends — and usually cost $5 or $6. They include all in-competition puzzles, the team race, the warm-up puzzle, and, sometimes, a bonus puzzle or two. The puzzles will be accessible through a link from our home page and from the Crossword Nexus site. They can be purchased for download or for email receipt (with attached zip file).

Good luck to everyone attending the event on Saturday, and many thanks to Elissa for her time, as well as friend of the blog Patti Varol pointing me Elissa’s way!

Are you planning on attending Crosswords LA, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.


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!