It’s a dynamic, fluid time for crosswords. It feels like we’re on the cusp of a sea change.
Women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are featured more often, although we still have a LONG way to go on all of those fronts where representation is concerned, both for constructors and editorial staff.
Younger voices are rising up the ranks, and helping to influence the direction of crossword language through projects like the Expanded Crossword Name Database. Online resources like more inclusive word lists, free or discounted editing software (often constructed by younger solvers!), and words of guidance from online crossword collaboration groups are more available than ever.
Her article is a terrific snapshot of the modern crossword world.
It discusses the divide between older solvers and younger, and how the content of crosswords doesn’t always serve both sides. It tackles the concept of “evergreen puzzles” — crosswords edited for timeless reprint value, eschewing up-to-date and provocative references that would appeal to younger solvers and underrepresented groups for the sake of republication later.
The article mentions the many virtual and online spaces that are now comfortable haunts for younger crossword fans. Facebook forums, Discord chats, Zoom solving parties, Crossword Twitter, r/crossword on Reddit, and even Tiktok accounts dedicated to crosswords got some time in the sun, and it’s really cool to see how these new spaces have emerged and grown more influential.
[A solve-along video from YouTube, Twitch, and Crossword Tiktok user Coffee and Crosswords. Actual solving starts around 10 minutes in.]
Several names familiar to crossword solvers were cited as well. Constructors like Sid Sivakumar (mentioned just yesterday in our Lollapuzzoola wrap-up), Nate Cardin, and Malaika Handa were all quoted in the piece, reflecting many of the same concerns we’ve heard from new and upcoming solvers in some of our recent5 Questionsinterviews.
I actually remember the author’s post reaching out to the contributors and readers of r/crossword a few months ago, and I was glad to see the subreddit getting some mainstream attention. Yes, like any internet forum, it can be combative and argumentative at times, but that’s a rarity.
Most of the time, it’s a supportive community for crossword fans and aspiring constructors, a place where they share questions, bravely offer up their first attempts for input and criticism, and discuss all things puzzly. It’s genuinely inspiring to see new solvers on a near-weekly basis reaching out and being embraced by fellow solvers and cruciverbalists-in-progress.
I highly recommend you take the time out to read Mansee’s piece. She captures a true sense of not just where crosswords are now, but where they’re headed. And if these young people have anything to say about it, it’s headed somewhere very bright indeed.
The internet puzzle community has done an impressive job over the last six months of adapting to the social distancing restrictions of the current COVID-19 crisis, with tournaments like Crossword Tournament From Your Couch, Lollapuzzoola, and Boswords successfully going virtual in 2020.
And now John Lieb and Andrew Kingsley, the creative team behind Boswords, have announced a new tournament-inspired online puzzle project to keep crossword fans engaged for the next few months!
It’s called The Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League, and every Monday night in October and November, a new themeless crossword will be posted for competitors to solve. That’s eight puzzles (plus a championship round to follow), along with a preseason puzzle to get people used to the format.
Although each week’s puzzle only has one grid, there will be three sets of clues, each representing a different difficulty level for solvers. When you register to participate, you’ll choose the difficulty level for your clues.
From least challenging to most challenging, the ranks are called Smooth, Choppy, and Stormy. (Quite appropriate, given that we’re heading into unfamiliar waters here!)
Each week’s puzzle will be accompanied by a Twitch stream where participants can follow along and discuss all things puzzly with their fellow crossword enthusiasts!
You can compete as an individual or as part of a pair, and with a one-time registration fee of $25 — or $5 for students and those in need — that’s very reasonable indeed!
Not only that, but they’ve already announced the team of constructors assembled for the League, and it is a stacked roster of talent.
Nate Cardin, Emily Carroll, Tracy Gray, David Quarfoot, Amanda Rafkin, Claire Rimkus, Sid Sivakumar, Yacob Yonas, and Stella Zawistowski are all contributing puzzles, and you won’t know ahead of time which constructor’s puzzle you’ll get on a given week, which keeps things interesting.
With experienced crossword constructor and editor Brad Wilber as the League’s puzzle editor and the dynamic duo of Lieb and Kingsley as assistant editors and League directors, I have high hopes for this project going forward.
Check out the full informational video on the Boswords homepage, as well as links for further info and registration! (Register by September 28th to participate!)
I think this is an incredibly cool and ambitious project, and a really neat way to bring tournament-style solving in a bite-size format to as many puzzlers as possible.
Will you be taking part in this exciting new puzzle challenge, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.
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Yes, “the best tournament held in New York on a Saturday in August” is bringing a New York Saturday in August to you, as Lollapuzzoola 13 goes virtual.
Whether you’ll be solving on that Saturday or as part of the Next Day Division, you’re sure to encounter some top-notch puzzles worthy of the Lollapuzzoola name.
Just look at the constructors involved in this year’s tournament! Stella Zawistowski and Robyn Weintraub return for the second year in a row, and they’ll be joined Rachel Fabi, Brooke Husic, joon pahk, and Sid Sivakumar (who just constructed for this year’s Boswords tournament). I can’t wait to see what they have in store for the competitors!
Starting around 12:30pm Eastern, you can follow along on the Twitch livestream that will be running for the duration of the tournament. In addition to the five tournament puzzles and championship rounds, there will be bonus games and a virtual pizza party! (Be sure to bring your own pizza.)
I know the last few months have been hard for a lot of people. But it’s also been inspiring to see communities rally and work together, even while social distancing, to take care of each other. And loads of creative folks out there have been raising money for charity in clever and entertaining ways.
One of the biggest annual fundraisers is Red Nose Day, a yearly international event dedicated to eradicating child poverty. There are often special TV events tied into the Red Nose Day, and this year was no exception.
NBC employed a more puzzly route than most participating networks, as they presented an hour-long show dedicated to a celebrity-filled escape room.
Musician and actor Jack Black hosted, serving as the exuberant and maniacal gamemaster for the event. Ben Stiller, Adam Scott, Courteney Cox, and Lisa Kudrow were the celebrity players, and they had one hour to escape Jack’s series of rooms. For each puzzle they successfully solved, they would earn $15,000 in charitable donations from the event’s sponsor, M&Ms.
Jack explained the rules, and then informed them that they were allowed three hints to help them solve the puzzles. Each hint was represented by a red clown nose, the official symbol of Red Nose Day.
You can watch the entire special video below, or continue reading for a recap of the show and a breakdown of each puzzle:
The celebs were escorted into an elevator and sent on their way. The team immediately started trying to figure out how to escape.
But the elevator wasn’t a puzzle room. Jack was just messing with them, sending the elevator up and down before opening it.
The group’s first actual challenge was an 80’s themed room, which contained not only numerous references to the decade (posters, movies, decor, etc.), but references to each actor’s career to serve as a distraction. Jack Black informed the audience of two key locations to pay attention to — a photo wall and the table with pizza on it — but didn’t explain the actual puzzles.
Courteney Cox stumbled upon a clue — a recorded message from Jennifer Lopez — that sent the celebs to their yearbooks on one of the shelves. Inside, they each found a different variation of a picture of people sitting on a couch, each one with more people in it.
Ben Stiller not only realized that they needed to be placed somewhere in order, but spotted where to do so.
The photo wall was a 3×4 grid, with 8 photos already placed and 4 open spaces. My first instinct would have been to place the photos in order of the rows (as if reading the photos in storyboard order from left to right, row to row).
But the photos had to be placed in column order from left to right, ignoring the rows. Courteney figured this out, and a couch folded out from the wall. Having successfully completed a puzzle, $15,000 was added to the team’s charity total.
By all sitting on the couch, they activated the TV, which aired a commercial for Rubik’s Cubes. Ben realized the pizza and tablecloth in the center of the room were covering a giant Rubik’s Cube. (Instead of being rotated and twisted, this one had removable magnetic blocks, which made solving it easier.)
The celebs immediately started checking the lockers, but they were all locked. While searching for their next puzzle, the celebs misinterpreted a banner that said “Let’s get loud” and started screaming.
It’s silly, but hey, in an escape room, sometimes you’ll try anything.
Ben spotted the clue on the floor, and Courteney realized that some of the floor tiles could be pulled up, revealing a picture puzzle to be assembled. They solved the puzzle — a picture of Jack in a mascot costume — and it opened the trophy case. That made their charity total rise to $45,000.
When Adam put the mascot head on, the lights dimmed, and he began looking for the next clue. Three of the celebs tried the mascot head on, but they couldn’t find anything. So they used one of their red noses and asked for a hint.
Jack intervened and told them to direct the mascot head’s vision toward the lockers. On certain lockers, the mascot’s head revealed in invisible ink the birthdays of the four players. After some difficulty, Adam realized they should open the lockers in birthday order, which caused all four to open. (Four puzzles completed, $60,000 earned.)
As the other players removed letterman jackets from the lockers, Courteney stepped into her locker (which was larger inside than the others) and Jack shut it behind her, seemingly locking her in. While trying to figure out how to free Courteney, they all decided to put their jackets on.
Jack directed the audience to pay attention to the janitor’s closet, the trophy case, and the cubby area for the next puzzle.
Courteney discovered her locker secretly led into the locked janitor’s closet. Meanwhile, the other players found prom tickets in their jackets.
Unable to free Courteney (the inside door handle came off in her hand), the celebs were flummoxed again, even trying to play rock-paper-scissors to open the door. (Bafflingly, Ben doesn’t know how to play.) They decided to ask for their second Red Nose hint. Jack pointed them toward the janitor’s to-do list, which has four tasks on it, three completed.
The unfinished task referenced the water fountain, and upon investigating it, Adam found the door handle for the janitor’s closet, freeing Courteney (and earning another $15,000).
Doing so activated the TV in the trophy case, and special guest “Principal” Kelly Clarkson provided a year-in-review that recounted the trophy won by each celeb, and suggested they hang up their jackets on the Wall of Fame (the cubby area).
The celebs missed the trophy clue and just hung their jackets up (not realizing that the trophies — first place, second place, third place, and fourth place — indicated the order of the jackets).
They tried birthday order again, then headed back to the trophy case, realized their mistake, and put the jackets in the correct order, earning another $15,000 for charity.
Part of the locker wall then opened up to reveal a room decorated for prom, complete with balloons and a space for couple/group photos. Jack directed viewers to pay attention to the clock on the wall, the photos of couples on the wall, and the photography setup.
Relying on the clue “it’s almost time for crown the king and queen,” they puzzled out that there are clocks on all of the photos, but it reads 9 PM for the crowned couple.
Courteney eventually realized there was a stepladder that would allow her to reach the clock, and rotated it until it read 9 PM. (Their charity total was now $105,000!)
Completing the puzzle activated the lights in the photo area. They posed for their picture, and when they snapped it, the balloon wall burst, revealing a gym decorated for prom. (It also scared the daylights out of them, which made for a great prom photo.)
Jack then fully explained the next puzzle to the audience, as the celebs had to match the images on their prom tickets to certain champagne bottles (filled with M&Ms) on the refreshments table, which would then point them to particular light-up squares on the electronic dance floor.
The celebs immediately zeroed in on the symbols on the champagne bottles, but didn’t know what to do with them. Jack taunted them, hoping to goad them into using their third and final hint, until Courteney spotted the matching symbol on her prom ticket.
Now finally pairing up bottles of M&M champagne, Courteney again figured out that the colors of each pair of bottles should combine to match the color of the podium they’re placed on. It’s a pretty impressive bit of puzzling, I must admit.
Each time they placed a pair of bottles correctly, part of the dance floor lit up.
Unfortunately, they confused the colors required to make pink with the colors needed to make orange, which slowed them down. Fixing their mistake and completing the puzzle, they ran to the dance floor with another $15,000 for charity.
The dance floor was a 4×4 grid, with each player standing in a different colored square in the bottom row. As the dance floor lit up in a sequential pattern of lights, the team realized they were playing a Simon-style game where they had to step forward in a certain order to match the pattern of colored lights displayed on the floor.
There were three rounds of the game. The first (and simplest) required a single step each onto the second row. The second required two steps (meaning eight total moves in order), and third required three steps (meaning a more complicated twelve-step order).
Once they sorted out their timing issues in the first round, they flew through the second and third rounds, solving the puzzle and earning another $15,000.
Jack then instructed the group to go onstage and sing their way out of the room as their final challenge. He noted they only had 9 and a half minutes left to escape.
A video wall across the room activated, and Adam and Mike, the two remaining Beastie Boys, wished them luck. When Jack started playing guitar over the intercom, Ben recognized the song as “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party),” which they’d have to sing karaoke-style to escape.
But Lisa didn’t know the song, and she consistently botched the rhythm on each of her turns. Thankfully, that didn’t hinder the group too much, and after being startled one last time (with victory confetti), they escaped the prom with a total $150,000 for charity, and a little over 6 minutes to spare.
Honestly, as a fan of escape rooms, I really enjoyed this. It’s a great — if highly budgeted — example of this puzzle genre, and a strong introduction for anyone who has never tried them.
The puzzles ranged from simple to moderately hard, but for the most part were fairly intuitive. Also, while it’s embarrassing in the moment to try silly things and draw dumb conclusions while trying to solve puzzles, it’s also very entertaining to watch someone else do the same.
All in all, it was a fun event hosted for a great cause, and the four celebrity players (plus gamemaster Jack) made an engaging cast of characters. The little interviews interspersed throughout also added a lot. (Plus, at the end, we found out Courteney loves escape rooms, which explains her mad puzzle skills.)
Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!
It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)
And I’m excited to welcome Rachel Howie as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!
Whether she’s exploring the verdant expanses of Breath of the Wild or slaying overpowered monsters in Dark Souls, Rachel Howie is an established force in the Twitch video game community. Wielding years of experience as a YouTube presenter and a lifetime of video game fandom, Rachel entertains and informs across Twitch and YouTube under the handle “DontRachQuit.”
As both onscreen performer and video editor, Rachel is a one-woman multimedia content creator, bringing humor, enthusiasm, and some wicked button-mashing skills every time she picks up a controller and live-streams her gaming exploits.
Rachel 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 Rachel Howie
1. How did you first get into video games? What genres or styles of games most appeal to you?
Growing up, I was always obsessed with Nintendo. My older cousins had a SNES, and then later an N64, and I was just absolutely obsessed with it. Because I was far too young to play much more than Jungle Hijinx on Donkey Kong Country without screwing up all my cousins’ progress, I’d beg and beg them if they would play so that I could watch and learn all the secrets. Perhaps a prelude to my future career in streaming!
So I have my cousins, or I suppose, my uncle, to thank for getting me interested in video games. He had a 120 star save file in Mario 64 and my little eyes just lit up with admiration every time I started it up.
When the Pokemon anime started on TV, I begged for my first console to call my own, and my parents got me a little yellow game boy pocket with Pokemon Blue. I must have been around… 6 years old? I had to ask my Dad for help because I literally couldn’t figure out how to exit Blue’s house. Good times.
[She even named her dog after a Pokemon!]
Nowadays, the genre I am most invested in is Action/Adventure and RPG. I love anything that offers me the ability to create a custom character and just get lost in a world full of people who need my help. Throughout the past 15 years, I’ve played copious amounts of World of Warcraft, and I do enjoy MMOs, also. However it is hard just to nail myself down to one genre, as I do enjoy all sorts – Dark Souls, The Legend of Zelda, WoW, Pokemon, The Binding of Isaac, Okami, Portal, the Ori games, Kingdom Hearts, and I’ve been super into Beat Saber lately on the Oculus!
2. Puzzles are frequently an integral part of a video game, either as obstacles or as the entire focus of the game. What’s one example of a game that utilizes puzzles effectively and a game that fails to do so?
I absolutely love puzzles. The first thing that springs to mind is probably because I’ve been playing the recently released Resident Evil 3 remake, and that is last year’s Resi 2 remake. The very idea of having enjoyable puzzles inside a horror game may seem pretty strange, but in Resi it just works. It’s a great change of pace from the ‘shooty shooty zombie, run run run Mr. X is comin’, regular gameplay. So I’d definitely put the Resident Evil series as a whole forward as a game that very effectively incorporates puzzles.
If we wanna talk entire focus of the game, Portal 2 is king. Seriously. What a game.
I find it difficult to think negatively so nothing springs to mind immediately when thinking of a game that tries puzzles but falls flat. The obvious answer I suppose might be The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time‘s water temple on the N64, but this is purely linked to the Iron boots being equippable from the start menu – something fixed perfectly in the 3DS remake.
3. Visuals play a huge role in several of your endeavors, as editors are visual storytellers who help illustrate a given narrative and Twitch streamers provide a sort of visual performance art alongside their gameplay. What’s the key to accomplishing both styles of storytelling effectively?
If we take video editing first, it really is quite simple. An edited video will be made to fulfill a brief, it has a purpose – what it will be used for and whether it’s supposed to invoke a certain emotion, or response from people. The key is knowing exactly what you are making and keeping that in mind with every single cut, every title card, every sound effect or piece of music. Watching back your work is also important, and trying to visualise how it might be perceived by a third party.
Twitch streaming, I feel, is even simpler. Live content is natural, or rather, it usually is. There are plenty of streamers who put on high-production value shows or perform as a character during their streams. I honestly just wing it! I’m a naturally pretty expressive person who tends to have 150% emotions and this just seems to work so well for streaming.
I also love, and try to encourage, mascots and channel memes into things like alerts – so the visual style ends up very lighthearted and fun, full of hype to celebrate when people are kind enough to financially support. When I was creating my branding, I wanted something that people could identify with me that also described my vibe, and the kind of content I create. So I went for bright colours, and yet a strong, sharp edged font – the perfect marriage of fluffy dogs and Dark Souls!
4. What’s next for Rachel Howie?
The tail end of last year was a bit of a roller-coaster for me. I was forced into a corner and had to give up on a job with a team I loved with all my heart, and leap into something that I wasn’t exactly ready for. I had been streaming on Twitch and creating content in my spare time for three years previously, and it was borderline sustainable income, so giving up a reliable salary was absolutely terrifying. However I have not regretted it in the slightest. My Twitch channel got partnered, my YouTube is steadily rising, supported by Patreon, and I’m exploring new avenues like podcasting. Heck, I went out and got a puppy! Life is pretty scary at the moment, but it’s also never been so exciting.
I’m going to continue working hard on my channels, and continue to try and help everyone through this uncertain time with my goofiness and relatability. I’d love to start going to more events, such as Insomnia and Comic Con, as ‘DontRachQuit’, and slowly carve my name across the industry. Also it would be really great if I could manage to finish this deathless run of Dark Souls before I grow old!
5. If you could give the readers, writers, gamers, content creators, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?
The most important thing I’ve learned over the past 6 months, is that life is too short not to try and follow your dreams. You are the most important thing, and your happiness is paramount. It’s all fine and well putting others before yourself, but if that’s just going to make you unhappy, I’m afraid it’s not worth it. Just be yourself, treat yourself, and do what makes you happy. Never stop trying, never stop learning – failure is just another opportunity to learn. Keep trying, you can do it!
A huge thank you to Rachel for her time. You can follow her on Twitter (as well as Instagram, YouTube, and Twitch) for updates on all things “Don’t Rach Quit,” and if you enjoy her videos and streams, please consider joining her Patreon! I can’t wait to see what video game she conquers next!
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In the wake of puzzly public events like the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament being cancelled, as well as the shutdown of various school districts, workplaces, and businesses in order to limit exposure to the Coronavirus, it’s completely understandable that some puzzle fans may be feeling disappointed or even isolated from their fellow puzzlers.
But fear not! There are all sorts of options available to solvers looking to enjoy a puzzly experience from home, either on their own or with friends.
If you’re looking for crosswords, all you need is your computer. The New York Times, The LA Times, The Washington Post, and many other outlets offer online puzzle-solving, either by subscription or through watching ads before solving.
If you have access to a printer, you can print those puzzles out for the true pencil-and-paper solving experience.
And it’s not just newspapers. Many constructors — Brendan Emmett Quigley comes to mind — offer their own free puzzles semi-regularly (though you’re welcome to tip as a thank you). There is a world of puzzles out there on the Internet awaiting solvers.
But you don’t even have to go to a computer anymore. There are loads of terrific puzzles available right on your phone. Forgive us for tooting our own horn, but Daily POP Crosswords is a great puzzle app with a free puzzle every day and additional puzzle packets available for purchase or through our in-app coin system. (We also offer Word Seeks, Sudoku, and a marvelous story-driven puzzle mystery, Wordventures, if you’re looking for something different.)
Oh, and speaking of something different, if you’re looking to delve into more elaborate puzzles, there are some fantastic puzzle services by mail that offer all sorts of challenges.
Wish You Were Here by the Enigma Emporium conceals an entire mystery within a handful of postcards, challenging you to mine them for every scrap of information as you uncover a series of coded messages. It’s spycraft in an envelope, very clever stuff.
The Cryptogram Puzzle Post out of the UK offers something unique, mixing puzzles and encryption with bits of mystery and supernatural narratives to create standalone chapters in an ongoing story. So you can pick one season or an entire year, depending on how deep you want to go!
And for multi-month affairs, there are outlets like Hunt a Killer and The Mysterious Package Company, which create vast, immersive puzzle experiences by mail. (Though according to friends’ recommendations, Hunt a Killer works better without the month wait between installments.)
As you can see, there’s a wide variety of ways you can puzzle from home, whether you prefer to solve online, by email, on the phone, or by mail!
That’s all well and good, you might be saying, but what about the social aspect? Well, there are options there as well, even from the comforts of your home.
You can keep your eyes peeled on Facebook and Twitter for constructors and solvers who do so. It often adds a fun, communal element to puzzle-solving (especially if they struggle with the same tricky clues that you do). Some pubtrivia outlets are also moving online to allow for participating from home!
But if you don’t want to wait for someone to livestream their solving, you can do it yourself! Between Facetime and similar apps on smartphones and all the online avenues for audio and video-chatting (Skype, Google Hangouts, Discord, etc.), you could pair up with a friend and tag-team a crossword puzzle or other puzzly challenge!
It’s like co-working, except with puzzles. Co-solving!
In times like this, where uncertainty abounds and our comfortable routines have been upended, puzzles can offer a wonderful refuge from all the stresses of the world. And with technology on our side, we can even keep the communal joys of puzzling in our lives.
Happy puzzling, friends.
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