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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It’s Follow-Up Friday: More UK Puzzles 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’m returning to the subject of big international puzzle events!

A few weeks ago, the UK Puzzle Association hosted the 2016 UK Sudoku Championship. And this weekend, they’ve got another major puzzle event in store for puzzlers worldwide: The 2016 UK Puzzle Championship!

The event spans June 24 through June 27, and chairman Alan O’Donnell of the UK Puzzle Association sent out the Instruction Booklet for this year’s event a few days ago, continuing a string of major puzzle events in Europe and across the world.

Although the UK Puzzle Championship is only open to competitors from the UK — with the top two earning a place on the UK team for the 2016 World Puzzle Championship — international players are welcome to test their puzzly mettle as guest solvers.

But even if most PuzzleNationers aren’t eligible to compete, you can still enjoy the challenge of some topnotch puzzles. Let’s take a look at some of the diabolical puzzles they’ve cooked up for this year’s event!

This Banknotes puzzle sets the tone for much of the Instruction Booklet to come, offering a number-placement puzzle with clues outside the grid. In this case, you have different valued 3×1 “banknotes” to place in the grid, and their total values add up to the numbers outside a given row or column.

So this is a bit like the game Battleship, except with different valued ships instead of different sized ones.

Here we have a more traditional Fill-In puzzle, but with an nontraditional grid shape. This one is all about efficient word placement.

Instead of placing words into this grid, the Cloud puzzle asks you to fill in which squares are covered by “clouds,” based on the total number of cloud-covered cells given on the outside of the grid. This is essentially a small Logic Art puzzle.

This Hidoku turns the usual Sudoku-solving on its ear by requiring you to place the numbers 1 through 25 into the following grid so that they form an unbroken chain. Consecutive numbers must touch, either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.

For fans of Penny Dell Puzzles, this is like Sudoku and Word Maze had a diabolical little baby.

[I left the solution in with this one to help illustrate the solving style.]

Hashi is an intriguing deduction puzzle that follows the same cluing mentality as Blackout! or Minesweeper. Each circle contains a number indicating how many “bridges” connect that “island” to the other islands either vertical or horizontal to that island.

You’re essentially building your own Word Trails puzzle with Hashi, except you’re using numbers instead of the letters in a famous saying.

This is probably my favorite of the puzzles I’ve encountered in this Instruction Booklet, and I’m definitely looking forward to solving it this weekend.


These puzzles are just a sampling of the numerous puzzles you’ll tackle if you accept the UK Puzzle Championship challenge.

Not only are Kakuro and Sum-Doku (or Killer Sudoku) included, but also other twists on classic solving styles like Fill-Ins, Deduction puzzles, and Logic Problems.

You can check out the full Instruction Booklet here, and remember, you’ll have two and a half hours to solve as many of the 29 puzzles in the packet as possible, so good luck on June 24!


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The UK Sudoku Championship: The Aftermath

This weekend, I sat down at my desk with a few sharpened pencils and a copy of the UK Sudoku Championship puzzles, ready to pit my puzzly skills against sixteen Sudoku and Sudoku variant puzzles.

According to UK Puzzle Association rules, I had two hours to complete as many puzzles as I could.

And let me tell you, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, I don’t think I could have completed this entire packet in twice that time. The UK must feature some seriously impressive and speedy Sudoku solvers.

[If only I could puzzle with both hands like this brilliant youngster.
Image courtesy of Deccan Herald.]

Now, I’m by no means a weak Sudoku solver — deduction puzzles don’t faze me — but I’m not a fast Sudoku solver, so I knew the two-hour time limit was, at best, a pipe dream. Nonetheless, I set my timer, determined to give it my all.

The packet opened with a Linked 6×6 Sudoku, which was a pleasant starter. The two grids complemented each other nicely, and only needing the numbers one through six once per 2×3 box kept the solve quick.

That was not the case for puzzle #2, a Deficit Sudoku. In the Linked 6×6, you knew that the 2×3 boxes within the grid would contain the numbers one through six, which made it easy. In the Deficit Sudoku, the 2×3 boxes contained six numbers, but the options were numbers one through seven, so that certainly that came with puzzle #1 vanished instantly.

The Deficit Sudoku was certainly hard, and given that those two puzzles were only page one, my progress thus far didn’t bode well for the rest of the championship experience.

[A sample Deficit Sudoku.]

Puzzle #3 ratcheted up the difficulty with a Surplus Sudoku, one that featured boxes of eight squares in various shapes. Each box featured the numbers 1 through 7, plus one of the numbers again. If the design was to overwhelm the solver with possibilities, mission accomplished!

After laboring over the puzzle for a good twenty minutes or so, I had to move on without completing it. This would become a recurring theme in this puzzle packet.

Puzzle #4 was the elaboratedly named Odd-Even-Big-Small Sudoku, and although I got farther with this one than the Surplus Sudoku, I also had to bow out and move on after hitting the wall. This was page 2 of the championship, and it was a brutal step-up in challenge from page 1.

[A Sudoku loaded with numbers and adjectives.]

Puzzle #5 was a Classic Sudoku, obviously designed to restore a solver’s confidence after the one-two punch of Surplus Sudoku and Odd-Even-Big-Small Sudoku, and I knocked it out quickly. Huzzah! Back on track!

Puzzle #6 was also a Classic Sudoku, but one with desperately few set numbers. The upper-right 3×3 box and the lower-left 3×3 had NONE, and the upper-left 3×3 box and the lower-right 3×3 box only had two apiece.

Although I was able to fill the body of the grid quickly, those four corners had me stymied. For the third time in just over an hour, I put a puzzle aside unfinished.

That lack of set numbers was a recurring theme in the championship packet, making Puzzle #7 (a diagonal Sudoku) and Puzzle #8 (a Jigsaw Sudoku), much tougher solves than I expected. By this point, I put aside the timed aspect of the solve entirely (my two hours was nearly up, and I’d been interrupted a few times anyway), and just focused on doing my best to complete as many puzzles as possible.

This was about puzzly pride at this point. *laughs*

The next four puzzles — an Extra Regions Sudoku (where the shaded-in areas also contained the numbers 1 through 9), a Sum-Doku (or Killer Sudoku) with no set numbers, a Consecutive Pairs Sudoku with only eight set numbers, and an Odd Sudoku (with the shaded boxes requiring odd numbers only) — I’d categorize as tough, but fair.

I can see how a championship packet like this would separately the very good solvers from the truly great.

[A diabolical XV Sudoku.]

That was clearly the goal of puzzles #13 and #14. A Thermo Sudoku with only nine set numbers taxed me to my limit, and the XV Sudoku that followed was the hardest puzzle in the entire set. Admittedly, I was a little burnt out at this point, but it remains the toughest Sudoku puzzle I’ve ever attempted.

The final two puzzles, a Palindrome Sudoku and an Eliminate Sudoku, felt like a cakewalk compared to the gauntlet of challenging puzzles that preceded them. It was nice to close out my solving experience strong, nearly four hours into the challenge.

I fully intend to go back and take another crack at all the puzzles that bested me, but for now, I need a little break from these devious little grids.

Kudos to everyone who tackled the UK Sudoku Championship, and to some of the world-class contenders I saw on the final results board, I tip my hat to you all. The top nine finished all 16 with perfect scores in under an hour and a half! That is a blistering speed!

I may not have what it takes to be a UK Sudoku Champion, but I’m glad I accepted the challenge. It was a satisfying, intriguing, and occasionally humbling way to pass a few hours.

You can give the 2016 UK Sudoku Championship puzzles a shot yourself by clicking here. Good luck!


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The UK Sudoku Championship! (Or should that be Sudo-UK?)

Hot on the heels of The Indie 500 crossword tournament last weekend, the UK is also gearing up for a major puzzle event: The UK Sudoku Championship!

The event spans June 10 through June 13, and chairman Alan O’Donnell of the UK Puzzle Association sent out the Instruction Booklet for this year’s event a few days ago, which kicks off a string of major puzzle events in Europe and across the world, including the UK Puzzle Championship in a few weeks.

Although the UK Sudoku Championship is only open to competitors from the UK — with the top two earning a place on the UK team for the 2016 World Sudoku Championship — international players are welcome to test their puzzly mettle as guest solvers.

But even if most PuzzleNationers aren’t eligible to compete, you can still enjoy the challenge of some topnotch Sudoku puzzles. Let’s take a look at some of the diabolical puzzles they’ve cooked up for this year’s event!

[An Extra Regions puzzle, a variation on Classic Sudoku.]

In addition to some Classic Sudoku, Extreme Sudoku, Sum-Doku (or Killer Sudoku), Jigsaw Sudoku (or Geometric Sudoku), and Thermo Sudoku — all of which I explored in detail in my Wide World of Sudoku post — there are some variants I’ve never seen before, like this Linked 6×6 Sudoku.

In this puzzle, you have two grids to complete, but with the additional wrinkle that no number placed in the left 6×6 grid will occupy the same square in the right 6×6 grid. So you have more solving information than expected, but it’s spread out across two grids.

This Deficit Sudoku puzzle also uses the 2×3 box format, but arrayed in a 7×7 grid. This means that any of the numbers 1 through 7 can be in each 2×3 grid, which makes it slightly harder than if you were only using the numbers 1 through 6.

(Plus you have no information on what number goes in that solo square in the center of the grid.)

The curiously named Odd-Even-Big-Small Sudoku employs clues outside the grid to help you fill in some of the squares along the perimeter of the grid, telling you that two odd numbers, two even numbers, two small numbers, or two big numbers will occupy the nearest two spaces in that row or column.

This is a solving mechanic I’ve never encountered before in Sudoku, and I can see it posing an impressive challenge to the average Sudoku solver.

That unconventional style of cluing sets the tone for the rest of the unusual puzzles that competitors and solvers will encounter here. In the above grid, a Consecutive Pairs puzzle, those dots indicate that the neighboring numbers connected by those dots are consecutive numbers, like 5 and 6 or 2 and 1.

(You can also try Consecutive Pairs Sudoku in Will Shortz’s Sudoku and Sudoku Spectacular, both published by our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles.)

XV Sudoku works in similar fashion, with x’s and v’s instead of those little dots. The x’s mean the neighboring numbers add up to 10, and the v’s mean the neighboring numbers add up to 5.

This Eliminate Sudoku uses arrows to indicate that the number in the arrow box will not be repeated in any of the boxes that follow that arrow. So, for instance, if you place a 3 in that arrow box next to the 2 in the upper-right 3×3 grid, none of the boxes that arrow points at along that diagonal will contain a 3.

Like the dual grids in the Linked 6×6 Sudoku, this puzzle is interesting in offering more information on what’s NOT in a square than what IS.

The final new puzzle in the Instruction Booklet is my favorite, but that’s because I’m a sucker for palindromes in puzzles. This Palindrome Sudoku features gray lines that indicates spots where — you guessed it! — the chain of numbers reads the same backwards and forwards.

Similar to Thermo Sudoku in its solving style, Palindrome Sudoku takes advantage in the restrictive nature of Sudoku solving by adding a neat little twist.

You can check out the full Instruction Booklet here, and remember to keep your eyes peeled on June 10 when the actual puzzles go live!


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Puzzle Championships Across the World!

I’ve written plenty about the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in the past, since it’s one of the best known and most prestigious puzzle events in the land.

But, as a proud member of PuzzleNation, a sovereign country in its own right, I know that the ACPT is just one part of a marvelous international puzzle community that spans the globe.

So when the folks at the UK Puzzle Association let me know about some upcoming puzzle championships, it seemed like the perfect thing to share with my fellow PuzzleNationers!

This weekend is the 2014 UK Sudoku Championship. A two-hour contest featuring puzzlers from across the globe, this is a print-and-solve challenge pitting you against numerous sudoku variants. (Here’s a PDF instruction booklet featuring examples of possible puzzles.)

There is also the 2014 UK Puzzle Championship later this month, but no details have yet been posted about it. (Apparently, instruction booklets and details are only released 1 week before the contest.)

Based on the 2013 contest, this is also a print-and-solve challenge, tackling all sorts of pen-and-paper puzzle styles. From deduction and mini-Scrabble games to Minesweeper-style maps and encrypted math puzzles, the 2013 booklet spans an impressive swathe of the puzzling world.

And these contests could be wonderful practice sessions for the 2014 World Puzzle Championship (23rd year!) and World Sudoku Championship (9th year!) this August! (This is the first time the UK has hosted the event.)

Open to members of the World Puzzle Federation — check out the roster of member countries here — each country sends teams to the championship based on qualifying rounds held in participating countries. (As it turns out, the U.S. contact for the World Puzzle Federation is none other than Mr. Will Shortz himself.)

As we get closer to the contest date, I’ll get more details on the specifics of how the tournament is conducted, but sufficed to say, this is a bit more tense than the UK counterparts I mentioned above.

This is pretty much the Olympics of puzzles, according to their website. I’m still holding out hope for synchronized sudoku at the 2016 Summer Olympics, myself.

In any case, it’s cool to get a glimpse of puzzle-solving and competition in other puzzle-loving lands. It really adds a PuzzleInternational feeling to the PuzzleNation community.

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!