PuzzleNation Looks Back at 2016!

The year is quickly coming to a close, and as I look back on an eventful year in the world of puzzles and games, I’m unbelievably proud of the contributions both PuzzleNation Blog and PuzzleNation made to the puzzle community as a whole.

Over the last year, we explored board games and card games, strategy games and trivia games, dice games and tile games, do-it-yourself puzzlers and pen-and-paper classics. We met designers, constructors, authors, artists who work in LEGOs and dominos, and creative types of all kinds.

We unraveled math puzzles and used statistics to play Hangman and Guess Who smarter. We accepted the challenge of diabolical puzzles, optical illusions, Internet memes, and more.

We delved into puzzle history with posts about Bletchley Park, puzzle graffiti from ancient Greece, Viking board games, and modern mysteries like the Kryptos Sculpture and the Voynich Manuscript. We separated fact from fiction when it comes to puzzles and brain health, avoiding highfalutin promises and sticking to solid science.

We spread the word about numerous worthwhile Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, watching as the puzzle/game renaissance continued to amaze and surprise us with innovative new ways to play and solve. We shared amazing projects and worthy causes like Humble Bundles and puzzle/game donation programs for schools that allowed puzzle lovers to help others.

We celebrated International TableTop Day, built a puzzle fort in honor of International Puzzle Day, attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games, and dove deep into puzzle events like the Indie 500, the UK Sudoku Championship, the 2016 UK Puzzle Championship, and Lollapuzzoola. We even celebrated a puzzly wedding proposal, and we were happy to share so many remarkable puzzly landmark moments with you.

It’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to explore the world of puzzles and games with you, my fellow puzzle lovers and PuzzleNationers. We marked four years of PuzzleNation Blog this year, I’m approaching my 650th blog post, and I’m more excited to write for you now than I was when I started.

And honestly, that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune, hard work, and accomplishments in 2016 went well beyond that.

In April, we launched Penny Dell Crosswords Jumbo 3 for iOS users, and in May, we followed that with Penny Dell Crosswords Jumbo for Android. In November, we launched our new Penny Dell Sudoku app on both Android and iOS.

But the standout showpiece of our puzzle app library remains the Penny Dell Crossword App. Every month, we release puzzle sets like our Dell Collection sets or the themed Deluxe sets for both Android and iOS users, and I’m proud to say that every single puzzle represents our high standards of quality puzzle content for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

We even revamped our ongoing Crossword Clue Challenge to feature a clue from each day’s Free Daily Puzzle in the Crossword app, all to ensure that more puzzle lovers than ever have access to the best mobile crossword app on the market today.

And your response has been fantastic! The blog is closing in on 2000 followers, and with our audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms continuing to grow, the enthusiasm of the PuzzleNation readership is both humbling and very encouraging.

2016 was our most ambitious, most exciting, and most creatively fulfilling year to date, and the coming year promises to be even brighter.

Thank you for your support, your interest, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. Have a marvelous New Year. We’ll see you in 2017!


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PuzzleNation Reviews: Linkee and Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout

[Note: I received free copies of these games in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

The folks at Bananagrams are synonymous with letter-tile games like Pears in Pairs, Zip It, and of course their flagship product, but today they’ve brought us something a little different. Instead of flashing your anagram skills or showing off your well-honed Scrabble techniques, these games will test your trivia knowledge, your ability to play well with others, and how shrewd a strategist you are.

In this post, we’ll be reviewing Linkee and Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout!

linkee1

Linkee is a trivia game for three or more players. (Up to 30, apparently!) Each trivia card has a letter on the back, and the goal of the game is to acquire enough letter cards to spell “LINKEE.”

One person acts as the Question Master, while the other players (or teams, if you prefer) each grab a pencil and pad. The Question Master shows the players what letter they’re playing for, then poses 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.

linkee-1

The first player or team 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.

If the four answers aren’t enough for any player or team to figure out the link, the Question Master reads a clue at the bottom of the card.

linkee2

Although this can be a fun game for a few players, it really shines when you can get four teams going at once, because the shouting and competitiveness really brings out the fun of the game. (Thankfully, you don’t need to get both the yellow and green Es. That was the difference maker in one game this weekend.)

Although I’d rate the trivia as fairly easy for the average board game fan or puzzler in your household, some of it is not geared toward younger players — I doubt the 8- or 10-year-olds in your house know about the Rat Pack or Malala Yousafzai, for instance — so that’s something to consider.

Otherwise, this is the rare trivia game that’s more about speed and association than about straight-up trivia knowledge.

mrlister

Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout follows a similar format to Linkee, but has a completely different flavor.

Here, instead of a Question Master, you have Mr. Lister, the mustachioed bartender. Instead of spelling out LINKEE, you’re trying to acquire five different drinks, which are on the backs of the question cards. Again, players get a pad of paper and a pencil.

The main difference is that instead of figuring out the link between trivia questions, the teams must instead try to figure out which entries appear on the card, in the manner of Family Feud. For instance, a card could list “Americans’ 10 Favorite Cheeses.” Now the teams have a brief bit of time in which to write down which cheeses they think are in that top ten.

mrlister1

Once the teams have made their lists, it’s time for the shootout! The first team selects one of the answers they’ve jotted down and tells Mr. Lister. If the answer is on the card, Mr. Lister marks it as a hit. If not, Mr. Lister marks it as a miss. Then the other team takes their first shot.

After both teams each take three shots, the team with the most hits wins the card. If there’s a tie, Mr. Lister reads the tie-breaking Last Chance Saloon trivia question at the bottom of the card. Each team writes down their answer, and whichever team is closest to the correct answer wins the card.

mrlister2

This game feels more like a night of bar trivia than a round of your favorite trivia board game, and the old-timey saloon shtick is delightful. (Throwing in a mustache eraser that fits on atop the pencil is just the icing on the cake.) This is reinforced by the awesome box design, which features several bullet holes that go all the way through to the other side. It’s a simple gag, but an effective one, a highlight in game design for me.

Unfortunately, the gameplay was marred slightly by a few themed categories that were unclear or otherwise poorly explained. (The loose definition of “amusement parks” and “ethnic groups” led to some acrimony during one session, especially since these were trivia hounds, who are nitpickers and hair-splitters by nature. In the future, I recommend any Mr. Listers read through the card beforehand in order to avoid similar issues.)

Whether you prefer list building or associative thinking, both of Bananagrams’ latest trivia offerings will make welcome additions to your gaming arsenal.

[Linkee is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and on the Bananagrams website. Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout is available at Target and on the Bananagrams website.]


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PuzzleNation Book Review: Two Across

Welcome to another installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!

All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR articles are either directly or indirectly related to the world of puzzling, and hopefully you’ll find something to tickle your literary fancy in this entry or the entries to come.

Let’s get started!

Our book review post this time around features Jeff Bartsch’s novel Two Across.

Vera is a math prodigy whose childhood has been spent in rundown motels as her mother’s sales job takes them all around the country. Stanley is an overworked master of trivia, living in a hotel under the thumb and watchful eye of his reclusive mother.

Vera wants adventure, intrigue, and freedom from her mother’s itinerant lifestyle. Stanley wants to abandon the Harvard-bound track his mother has railroaded him toward and take up his true passion: creating crossword puzzles.

When the two of them meet at a prestigious spelling bee, they form a curious bond in that nebulous gray area between friends and more-than-friends.

Stanley’s master plan is for them to fake a wedding for the cash and gifts, funding their plans to escape their mothers and live their own lives. But the scam is complicated by Vera’s growing feelings for Stanley and his singleminded focus on his goals.

As we follow them through Vera’s college career and beyond, we watch their relationship evolve and change, haunted by Stanley’s selfishness and Vera’s willingness to pick up at a moment’s notice and start a new life elsewhere.

But, through the peaks and valleys of friendship and more, Vera and Stanley’s mutual love of crosswords proves to be not only common ground, but the thread that may draw them back together.

Partly a coming-of-age story, partly a romantic comedy of errors, miscues, and unintended consequences, Two Across is an interesting look at the social awkwardness that often comes hand-in-hand with intellect, as well as the many curious ways peoples’ lives connect over time.

Stanley is, admittedly, a putz — proving the old adage that being smart doesn’t necessarily make you wise — and he becomes at times a frustrating character to follow, almost serving as something of an antagonist in the story.

Vera on the other hand, for all her foibles and quirks, is sincere, engaging, and believable, someone who forges her own path. While you do root for Stanley to right his ship and make up for his failings, it’s far easier to cheer for Vera when she picks up the pieces (more than once) and continues onward toward a hopefully brighter future.

And since this is a puzzle blog, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the crosswordier aspects of the novel.

The puzzle references for the most part are clever, with sharp themes and playful cluing. (Though a reference to having the 8-letter RIFFRAFF as a center entry made me wary.)

Stanley’s early puzzle efforts in particular are great, in one case cluing words like BUTTERFLIES, CONCERN, and APPREHENSION with “winged insects,” “business,” and “the catching of a suspect,” while allowing the anxiety theme to emerge. In another, he creates a New York-themed puzzle where the boroughs are located geographically in the grid.

(Sadly, we only hear about these ambitious grids, we never see them.)

But it’s Vera’s puzzles that drive the narrative. When difficulties between them arise, Stanley hopes that she will reach out to him through published puzzles, solving obsessively so he won’t miss out if she does.

As someone who has forged many friendships (and a relationship or two) on shared puzzly interests like crosswords, spelling bees, and trivia, I related to a lot of the awkward moments in this book, and I suspect many other readers will as well.

The novel does drag a bit near the end as it diverts from the Stanley-Vera focus for an unexpected interlude, but for the most part, Bartsch delivers an enjoyably Ross and Rachel-style romance for the world of puzzles.


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TV Trivia for Tipplers!

[Geeks Who Drink, hosted by Zachary Levi from Disney’s Tangled and NBC’s Chuck.]

Back in July, I discussed The Chase, 500 Questions, and BOOM!, three game shows that represent a resurgence in TV trivia over the last year or so.

Naturally, a week or so after I posted, another trivia-based game show debuted, this time on SyFy: Geeks Who Drink.

Now, bar trivia fans may recognize that name, as Geeks Who Drink is a trivia company that licenses trivia questions for bars all over America to use on Trivia Nights to bring in customers. (My first Geeks Who Drink experience was in Alaska while visiting my sister, and I was pretty impressed by the wide variety of clever questions and themes.)

Like its namesake, punny team names are encouraged on the show. A few of my favorite team names include “Hot Pub Time Machine” and “Beer Me Up, Scotty.”

Unlike its namesake, the TV show version focuses pretty heavily on science fiction and fantasy movies, TV shows, and books. (Understandable, given its host network.)

Whether you’re putting horror movies in order based on the year they debuted, naming as many Stephen King novels as possible, or solving a math problem by adding the number of horcruxes in Harry Potter to the number of wheels on the DeLorean from Back to the Future, you’ll definitely find your knowledge of pop culture put to the test.

[Eric Christian Olsen from NCIS: Los Angeles leads the team “Han Solo Cups.”]

The show also incorporates celebrity guests as team captains and bar-game-style physical challenges — imagine a boozy version of Double Dare — to spice up the show. Now, we have to be a little liberal with the definition of “celebrity guest” here, in the same vein as the “Stars” on Dancing with the Stars, but they do add a lot of humor to each show.

Although it may be a bit too niche for most viewers, I think genre fans in the puzzle community will find plenty to enjoy here. And with each episode only running 30 minutes, it’s an easy time investment.

Geeks Who Drink airs on SyFy at 11 PM Eastern on Thursdays.


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!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: Trebek Raps edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to quickly revisit two of my most recent blog posts.

In last week’s Follow-Up Friday post, we celebrated the 144th birthday of creator of the crossword Arthur Wynne, and I set up a little puzzly challenge for my fellow PuzzleNationers: How many words of four or more letters can you make from the letters in ARTHUR WYNNE’s name?

Here are the 110 words I came up with:

Anew, Ante, Aren’t, Artery, Arty, Aunt, Awry, Earn, Earth, Earthy, Entry, Errant, Hare, Hart, Hate, Hater, Haunt, Hear, Heart, Hearty, Heat, Henna, Hewn, Hunt, Hunter, Hurray, Hurry, Hurt, Hyena, Nary, Nature, Near, Neat, Neath, Nehru, Newt, Rant, Ranter, Rare, Rate, Rater, Rather, Rawer, Rear, Rent, Reran, Rerun, Retry, Return, Rune, Runner, Runny, Runt, Runty, Runway, Tanner, Tannery, Tare, Tarry, Tawny, Tear, Teary, Tern, Ternary, Terra, Than, Thane, Thaw, Then, They, Threw, Thru, Thruway, Tray, Trey, True, Truer, Tuna, Tune, Tuner, Turn, Unearth, Unwary, Wane, Want, Ware, Warn, Warren, Wart, Wary, Water, Watery, Wean, Wear, Weary, Went, What, Wheat, When, Whet, Whey, Wrath, Wreath, Wren, Wryer, Yarn, Yawn, Yeah, Year, Yearn.

I’m sure I missed some, so let me know what words you came up with!


[Image courtesy of hlntv.com.]

In yesterday’s post, I discussed some of the newer trivia-based game shows on TV these days. I didn’t really discuss Jeopardy!, easily the most popular trivia game show of all-time, simply because I didn’t have anything new to say on the topic at the moment.

Well, lo and behold, last night I stumbled across a video clip from Monday night’s episode that I simply have to share with the PuzzleNation audience.

In this brief clip, host Alex Trebek gives us a rare glimpse into a rap career that never was — and channels William Shatner’s peculiar rhythmic cadence — as he sings a bit of the theme song from the beloved NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Enjoy:

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Three ways to TV trivia!

Trivia-based game shows seem to be having a bit of a resurgence these days, between ABC’s 500 Questions, Fox’s BOOM!, and GSN’s The Chase.

Unlike Jeopardy!, television’s longest-running trivia-based game show, which relies mostly on the questions themselves to generate interest, this new class of game shows adds all sorts of gimmicky flair to dress up the trivia, be it pursuit by other players (500 Questions) or an in-house trivia master (The Chase) or the threat of being covered in something slimy (BOOM!).

I thought I’d take a look at each of these shows from the standpoint of a self-confessed trivia fiend.

[Image courtesy of reviewjournal.com.]

In BOOM!, the splatter appeal of shows like Double Dare is mixed with the multiple choice style of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, hoping to ratchet up the tension with a wrong answer resulting in some serious messes.

You’ve got multiple answers to a question, and all but one of them are correct. (For instance, you’ll be given the titles of four movies, and then told 3 out of the 4 have been inspired by books.) Each of those answers is color-coded to a wire on the bomb, and the contestant must cut each wire they think is correct in the time allotted in order to defuse the bomb.

[Image courtesy of fresnobee.com.]

If you cut all the right wires, the money for that question goes into your bank. If you get a wrong answer, the bomb “explodes” and you get splattered (there has been pesto, alfredo sauce, maple syrup, and yellow mustard), your team loses the money for that question, and you’re eliminated.

When every team member is splattered, you’re done. If any member of your team survives the six trivia bombs, you go after the Mega Money bomb, which if defused will multiply your banked money by a factor of 4. A perfect run will yield $500,000 for the team.

The show debuted last week on FOX.

[Image courtesy of abc.go.com.]

In 500 Questions, a contestant tackles ten rounds of 50 questions each. Three consecutive wrong answers will knock a contestant out of the competition (correct answers can erase one or two wrong answers).

Along the way, a challenger dogs the contestant at every turn, hoping to knock the contestant out by choosing tough categories if the contestant has acquired two wrongs in a row. The challenger only has one 50-question round to eliminate the contestant; if the challenger fails, a new challenger emerges for the next round.

[Image courtesy of usmagazine.com.]

For every board of 50 questions completed, the contestant is guaranteed the money earned in that round. However, any wrong answers acquired will follow the contestant into the next round.

It’s worth noting that these rules may only apply during the first 200 questions. Since no one has ever completed the fourth round, there could be alternate rules or new wrinkles awaiting contestants and challengers in round five and above.

The show ran for seven straight weeknights, and it’s unknown at this point if it will return.

[Host Brooke Burns and trivia pro The Beast.
Image courtesy of The Blog is Right.]

In The Chase (which is based on a British game show of the same name), a team of contestants pits their trivia wits against the chaser — known as The Beast — who is waiting to capitalize on any mistakes they make. In the early rounds, each contestant faces off against The Beast one-on-one, answering a certain number of questions in a row in order to lock in their prize money and continue in the game.

Any mistakes made by the contestant create opportunities for The Beast to catch them, preventing them from banking any prize money. If the contestant stays ahead of The Beast by answering more questions correctly, the prize money gets banked and the contestant moves on to the Final Chase.

[Image courtesy of variety.com.]

In the Final Chase, whichever contestants survived their individual chase rounds work together to answer as many questions as possible in two minutes. They move a space ahead on the gameboard for every correct answer. The goal here is to build as big a lead as they can before The Beast takes his turn.

The Beast then answers a different set of questions, with each correct answer bringing him one space closer to catching the contestants. If he answers a question wrong, the Chase is paused and the contestants get a shot at answering that question. A correct answer increases their lead by one space; an incorrect answer simply continues the game.

If the contestants can outpace the Beast, they win, splitting the banked money equally; if the Beast catches them, they go home with nothing.

The show’s fourth season on GSN resumes on July 16.

Now, I must admit, 500 Questions didn’t appeal to me because I don’t enjoy feeling obligated to watch something every single night. I understand it’s meant to be a special event and all that, but oversaturation, even in the short term, tends to leave me disinterested. (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? committed the same mistake by airing far too frequently for my tastes, and I quickly abandoned the show.)

I quite enjoy The Chase, but less as a viewer and more as a competitor, since I like to test myself against The Beast. Although I tend to do well, he has bested me more than once. He is a worthy foe.

Although only one episode of BOOM! has aired so far, I find myself watching it less for the trivia — which is very common sense and common knowledge, thus far — and more for whether the contestant botches the question and gets splattered. Whether that remains enough to keep me tuning in week after week… only time will tell.

Are you watching any of these newer trivia game shows, fellow PuzzleNationers, or do you stick with the classics? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you.

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