Puzzles for a Good Cause!

[Image courtesy of Pinterest.]

The puzzle community is really amazing. It’s an incredibly open, friendly, and welcoming band of creators, miscreants, wordsmiths, and trivia buffs from all walks of life, united by a love of wordplay and the satisfying discovery of a solution, be it to a puzzle or a problem.

Basically, if you’re in a bind, if you need help, there’s usually a puzzler there by your side to back you up.

This blog has given me plenty of opportunities to detail wonderful charitable programs spearheaded by puzzlers in the past, and today, it’s my pleasure and my privilege to bring another to your attention, my fellow PuzzleNationers.

Like last year’s Puzzles for Progress (which inspired it!), Queer Crosswords is all about providing a small puzzly incentive to do some good and reach out.

Once you’ve donated to one of the worthy causes detailed here — including the ACLU, PFLAG, The Trevor Project, the Trans Women of Color Collective, and others — you can send a copy of your charitable receipt to Nate Cardin at queerqrosswords@gmail.com.

And in return, you’ll receive a PDF loaded with 22 pages of original puzzles by great constructors like Tracy Bennett, Todd Gross, Mark Halpin, Andrew Ries, Trip Payne, Jenna LaFleur, Andy Kravis, and more.

It’s a little puzzly thank you for playing your part in building a better world, and I applaud everyone involved in this venture.

[You can click here for full details on Queer Crosswords.]


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5 Questions: Alumni Edition!

Welcome to a special edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

Normally, I’d be posting a new interview with a puzzle constructor, game designer, puzzle enthusiast, or a member of any other creative field that enriches the world in a puzzly way.

But instead, today I thought I’d reach out to our 5 Questions alumni and bring you news on what they’ve been up to since their sessions of 5 Questions.

First off, puzzle constructor Trip Payne’s new Puzzle Extravaganza launches tomorrow, August 1! You can still sign up through the end of August, and the extravaganza is only $10 (a little more for bonus puzzles).

Put your puzzly skills to the test against a topnotch constructor who has contributed to dozens of newspapers, outlets, and puzzle books, including Will Shortz’s WordPlay!

[To check out Trip’s session of 5 Questions, click here!]

Next up, the dynamic duo of Aubrey and Angela, better known as The Doubleclicks, are continuing to fulfill all the promises made in the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for their newest album, Dimetrodon!

And they’re currently touring across the Midwest and East Coast! Their ambitious schedule of venues includes Toronto, Boston, Brooklyn, and plenty of other cities, many that will experience the Doubleclicks live for the very first time!

In addition, they’ve just completed their Weekly Song Wednesday project, where they posted a new song and video every Wednesday for ten weeks. You can visit their YouTube page to explore all sorts of delightful content fit for puzzlers and game fans of all ages.

[To check out Angela and Aubrey’s session of 5 Questions, click here!]

And lastly, I have some exciting updates from BaffleDazzle founder Rachel Happen.

After launching a tremendous Kickstarter campaign to fund BaffleDazzle’s first line of jigsaw-inspired puzzles, Rachel recently sent her Kickstarter backers an update on how the production phase is going.

So far, she’s on target to deliver all of her promised puzzles by the end of August!

As a one-woman puzzle-making machine, Rachel is exceeding expectations on all fronts, not only redesigning and improving every aspect of the looming delivery process, but designing brand new bonuses to include.

Just take a gander at these stacks of Codebreakers puzzles, freshly produced and awaiting happy homes and eager puzzlers:

[To check out Rachel’s session of 5 Questions, click here! And for a spoiler-light review of the BaffleDazzle puzzle Cirkusu, click here!]

These are just a few examples of puzzly people doing amazing, entertaining, fascinating things, and I’m glad I’m lucky enough to share their work with you, my fellow puzzlers.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out our library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

5 Questions with Constructor Trip Payne

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, board game creators, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m excited to have Trip Payne as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

A freelance puzzle constructor for over twenty years, Trip Payne is one of the most prolific and respected names in puzzles. A multi-time champion at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, he’s been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Uptown Crossword Club, GAMES Magazine, Will Shortz’s WordPlay, and numerous other outlets.

On August 1, he’s launching his latest Puzzle Extravaganza, a collection of a dozen different puzzles (plus a special metapuzzle) for only $10! Previous extravaganzas have featured themes like the 2011-2012 television season and the Man of Steel himself, Superman, but this year’s theme is a closely guarded secret! Check out the details here, including an offer for three bonus crosswords!

Trip 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 Trip Payne

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

As a very young child, I was attracted to the black-and-white crossword patterns, and my parents noticed that interest and bought me children’s puzzle books. I was always into riddles, magic, games — everything sort of related to puzzles.

Eventually I started coming up with puzzles for my elementary and junior high school newspapers, and when I was 15 I had my first puzzle published nationally in GAMES Magazine.

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

In terms of crosswords, my #1 rule has always been: It’s All About The Fill. Of course you want a great theme and clever clues, but the second you resort to weak entries, you’ve lost my interest. A lot of people are willing to “justify” weak entries because they’re “necessary” to pull off a wide-open grid or an ambitious theme; I don’t agree with that. With enough work, and perhaps a willingness to pull back a little from the original concept, you can pretty much always avoid poor fill.

Look at Patrick Berry: his themes are great, and you’d have to inspect his puzzles with a microscope to find a weak entry anywhere. That’s not magic — he just has high standards and a willingness to put in the work to make his puzzles as good as they can be.

A great puzzle is one that gives a satisfying “a-ha” at some point, that makes the solver glad that they’ve invested the time with it.  In a logic puzzle, it may be some clever leap that has to be taken; in a word puzzle, it may be an interesting anagram or misleading clue; it may be on a larger scale, as when you discover how the answers to various puzzles interact to solve an overall “metapuzzle.” 

3.) You’re a three-time American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champ and a perennial top 10 finisher. How does tournament solving differ from regular solving, and do you think your experiences with game show environments (like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Million Dollar Password, and Scrabble Showdown ) helped you thrive in the ACPT?

Well, not perennial, since I retired in 2011 (though I did compete one final time in Lollapuzzoola in 2013). My game show work all came after my ACPT championships, so there was no real connection there. But I do think that the fact that I was a professional puzzlemaker before I started competing in puzzle tournaments helped me; for one thing, you get a sense of letter patterns and a feel for how a puzzle constructor might have filled a corner.

4.) What’s next for Trip Payne?

I’m currently editing the Daily Celebrity Crossword for PuzzleSocial, and I have a few other regular assignments, such as the “wordoku” in TV Guide and my themeless crosswords for the Washington Post Puzzler.

I plan to continue making my annual extravaganzas and hope to completely overhaul my website, tripleplaypuzzles.com, within the year. And I also hope to continue doing work writing and researching for TV game shows, and perhaps pitching my own game show ideas to producers.

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

Enjoy the puzzles that you love, but experiment: there are all sorts of great innovative puzzles out there, and you might be surprised what you end up enjoying.

Also, buy my puzzle extravaganza!


Many thanks to Trip for his time. Check out his website for links to all his puzzly endeavors, and be sure to follow him on Twitter (@PuzzleTrip) for the latest updates on his many irons in the fire! Can’t wait to see what puzzle fun he conjures next.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

Let’s get it (kick)started!

The newest tool in the arsenal of big thinkers and big dreamers is crowdfunding, wherein creators take their ideas directly to the people in the hopes that a lot of small donations will add up into capital to make their ideas reality.

Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have literally made dreams come true — heck, LeVar Burton’s Reading Rainbow Kickstarter just raised over a million dollars in ONE DAY — and it’s quickly becoming a key outlet for worthy puzzle projects. Some top-tier constructors are going straight to the fanbase with their puzzles, and with marvelous results. Constructors like Trip Payne, Eric Berlin, and Matt Gaffney have all had success on Kickstarter and Indiegogo with previous campaigns.

In the past, we’ve covered several crowdfunding campaigns, including Rachel Happen’s Baffledazzle puzzles, The Doubleclicks’ board game and pop culture-infused musical endeavors, and a company making board games and card games accessible to the visually challenged.

And I wanted to spread the world about some other puzzly endeavors that might interest the PuzzleNation readership.


The first is Peter Gordon’s Fireball Fortnightly News Crosswords.

Peter Gordon is known across the puzzle community for his Fireball Crosswords, a challenging brand of puzzle for ambitious solvers, as well as an easier weekly news-themed puzzle for The Week magazine. So now, he’s combined the two to create Fireball Fortnightly News Crosswords!

Every two weeks, you’ll receive a crossword by email that includes as many topical news-related items in the grid as possible. So you get your news and your crossword in one fell swoop. Not as difficult as his usual Fireball Crosswords, these puzzles will still let you flex your solving muscles twice a month.

With backer prizes like additional crossword books and the chance to create a puzzle with a master puzzler, Fireball Fortnightly News Crosswords might be right up your alley!

The second Kickstarter campaign features a puzzle app for Android devices.

Blackout is similar to Lights Out, Q*Bert, and other puzzle games where you must make every icon on the screen the same color, which becomes a tougher task to complete as the patterns grow more complicated and each click affects neighboring shapes.

The game will feature multiple levels of difficulty — including one where the icons change shape as well as color — ensuring it’ll keep you thinking and clicking for quite some time to come.

Finally, we have Block Party.

Block Party is a pattern-matching game featuring several shapes, colors, and patterns, and players must find parties — groupings of similar aspects or collections of each different aspect — without touching the blocks. The first player to shout “Party!” then reveals the grouping they’ve spotted, and the game continues.

Block Party combines visual reflexes, pattern-matching skills, memory retention, and spatial reasoning to create an immersive game that appears deceptively simple at the outset.

With backer rewards like a printable version of Block Party and limited-edition versions of the game, this campaign is ready to engage solvers of all ages.

The amazing thing about all of these projects is that the audience, the potential fans, have an enormous role to play not only in sharing their thoughts with game and puzzle creators, but in showing their support for designers and projects they believe in, and doing so in a meaningful way.

Here’s hoping each of these projects finds success.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

5 Questions with Puzzle Constructor Robin Stears

Welcome to the fourth edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s newest feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, writers, filmmakers, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m excited to have Robin Stears as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Robin is a puzzle constructor whose crosswords appear not only on her StearsWords site, but have also appeared in Penny Press/Dell and Kappa titles as well as the Los Angeles Times. Her puzzles are clever and topical, often striving to add new entries and wrinkles to the field of crossword construction and cluing.

Robin 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 Robin Stears

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

Crossword puzzles and word games have always appealed to me, and after my first daughter was born, I was looking for a way to work at home. My mom suggested the idea of constructing crossword puzzles, since I’d been killing time solving them while I was wondering what to do. Armed with a stack of dictionaries, graph paper, and pencils, I created a puzzle, and typed it on my mom’s typewriter, and colored in the black squares with a marker. I sent my first puzzle to Janis Weiner at Kappa, who promptly sent it back with a bunch of notes. I’m very grateful to her for taking the time to explain what I did wrong. It’s because of her I decided to try again. She rejected most of my puzzles at first, but she always explained why. I consider her my mentor, but she probably doesn’t know that.

2.) You recently constructed a puzzle utilizing that most infamous of cinematic weather phenomena, the sharknado. You have a knack for releasing topical puzzles steeped in pop culture. Is this more a case of keeping your puzzles fresh (since so many crosswords slip into archaic terms and dated references), or of you constructing the kinds of puzzles you’d enjoy solving?

It’s a little bit of both. I think language is fluid and crossword puzzles should reflect that. For example, the word “inception” wasn’t quite as popular in everyday conversation prior to the 2010 movie release as it is today. I don’t know about other constructors, but I find it very satisfying to be the first to use a new word in a crossword puzzle; I suspect they do, too, as evidenced by the number of times ZZZQUIL was used in puzzles when that product was introduced.

The fandom crossword puzzles were born from a comment I saw on Tumblr; someone complained that there weren’t any fandom puzzles. It occurred to me that the only specialty puzzle — where all the clues refer to a single theme — was the Bible puzzle, probably because there are nearly 600,000 words in it. There are about the same number of words in the Lord of the Rings books, though.

Nearly every fandom has a wiki, and a plethora of trivia websites, and by exploring them — along with the Internet Movie Database, Wikipedia, Reddit, and other sources, I was able to create several puzzles specifically for certain fandoms, including both Star Wars and Star Trek, “Adventure Time,” and “Doctor Who.” There is so much information online, that I was actually able to create the “Doctor Who” puzzle without having seen a single episode! My younger daughter’s a big fan, though; she inspired the “Adventure Time” one, too. They also allow me to pay homage to the things I love, like Stephen Colbert, Syfy movies, Donkey Kong, and the US Postal Service.

Every constructor’s style is a little different, and like most solvers, I have my favorites — Liz Gorski, Tyler Hinman, Brendan Emmett Quigley, Merl Reagle, Matt Gaffney, Trip Payne, and of course, Patrick Blindauer, whose dollar bill crossword puzzle is my personal all-time favorite. We all put our personal stamp on the puzzles we create. But, the modern crossword puzzle is about to turn one hundred years old, and if they’re going to remain relevant in the modern world, they have to change and adapt to suit younger solvers. That means constructors need to use the Urban Dictionary as well as Webster’s.

3.) You’re also a published author with several titles to your credit. How does the creative process for writing a book compare to that of creating a crossword?

Writing fiction and writing crossword clues are completely different processes. A novel is a long, leisurely cross-country trip, while a crossword clue is a quick peek around the corner. It took me about a year to write each book, after researching it for months, and another six months of editing. Crossword puzzles may take anywhere from an hour to a day to complete, depending on the size and the theme entries. In the past few years, partly for the instant gratification, partly because it’s more lucrative, and partly because it’s more fun, I’ve concentrated more on crossword puzzles, although I do have another novel I intend to finish.

4.) What’s next for Robin Stears?

Well, there’s that novel… eventually. In the meantime, I’d like to attend more puzzle events, like Lollapuzzoola and the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Last year, I volunteered at my local tournament, and it was fun meeting the participants and discussing the puzzles they’d solved — there’s no substitute for immediate feedback. Solving crosswords is very different from constructing them. I have a database at my disposal, and I have great respect for solvers who have to remember all those clues! I’d like to meet the constructors I admire to exchange ideas and hear their stories, and Amy Reynaldo and Kathy Matheson (Crossword Kathy), whose blogs are so informative and whose ideas and opinions I respect — it’s because of Amy’s “Diary of a Crossword Fiend” blog that I removed certain words from my database, like APER. I’d love to finally meet the people behind PuzzleNation, Cruciverb, Sporcle, and Quinapalus, and all the other puzzle-related sites. Constructing crosswords is a lonely business — I need to get out more.

The fandom trivia puzzles are a challenge, so you’ll probably see more of those. Fans of “Breaking Bad” will see a special puzzle at the end of September for the final episode, and baseball trivia fans can expect their puzzle in October, during the World Series. For Halloween, I’m planning a horror movie puzzle, and of course, I’ll do something for the 100th anniversary of crosswords in December — I’m open to ideas for that one.

Ben Tausig recently pointed out in an article in “The Hairpin” that there seem to be fewer women constructors, and I’d love to help remedy that. When I first started, twenty-odd years ago, constructing a crossword puzzle was difficult and time-consuming — these days, most constructors use software with a built-in database of words and clues. My personal choice is Crossword Compiler. I think anyone with a basic knowledge of the rules and a bit of computer savvy could create and publish a crossword puzzle. I believe there’s plenty of room in the crossword puzzle world for new constructors with new ideas. Technology and the opportunities for puzzle creators and solvers to interact with one another will change the ways crosswords are created. I had a lot of help in the beginning, and I hope to pay it forward to the next generation of crossword constructors.

[[Glenn’s sidenote: Robin also had a lot of interesting points regarding the move toward digital puzzle distribution, and I think that topic deserves a post of its own. Keep your eyes peeled for that post (and her thoughtful comments) in the near future!]]

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

When I construct a crossword puzzle, I always have the fans in mind. I want to create a solving experience that’s fun and enjoyable for them. The entire time I was constructing a special “420” puzzle, which, to my knowledge, had never been done before, I was imagining how surprised and delighted some puzzle solvers would be that week. And like the Super Bowl puzzle and the Harry Potter puzzle, I knew that not everybody would appreciate it, but the ones who did would appreciate it all the more because I constructed it especially for them.

When I construct puzzles for Penny Press/Dell, I also have a certain fan in mind — someone who enjoys an easier solve, with a little less pop culture and a little more word play. No matter which publisher I’m targeting, I’m always thinking about the puzzle solvers and what they might enjoy. Frequently, I construct customized crossword puzzles as gifts; they’re always a big hit because they’re personal.

So, my advice is this: Tell me what you want! Send me an email, tweet me, write on my Facebook or Google+, hit me up on Blogger or Tumblr — StearsWords is not hard to find. I maintain a variety of social media because I want puzzle fans of all kinds to interact with me. Much of my day is spent scanning social sites like Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit and reading puzzle blogs, trying to find out what kinds of topics might interest puzzle solvers. Anyone can send me an idea for a puzzle, and if I like it, I’ll do my best to make it happen. I’d rather give puzzle fans what they really want than give them what I want them to have and hope they like it.

Many thanks to Robin Stears for her time. Check out her StearsWords puzzles on her website, and follow her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/RobinStears)! I can’t wait to see what puzzly goodness she cooks up for us next.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! Don’t forget about our PuzzleNation Community Contest, running all this week! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (three volumes to choose from!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!