PuzzleNation 2014 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Age

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2014 Holiday Gift Guide!

We’re overjoyed to have so many tremendously fun and puzzly projects to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down by age group, so we’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for puzzlers of any age on your list!


For Ages 4 and Up

Robot Turtles (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

Teach your kids the basics of programming with this fun and deceptively simple board game! Robot Turtles uses board game rules and easy-to-learn card commands to show kids how to navigate their turtles past obstacles and to the jewel! ($29.99)

[Check out our full product review of Robot Turtles by clicking here!]


For Ages 6 and Up

Qwirkle (MindWare, board game)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train Dominoes, Qwirkle is all about placing your tiles to maximize points and minimize helping your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump right into! ($34.99)


For Ages 7 and Up

Bananagrams Wild Tiles (Bananagrams, board game)

The board game that requires no board, Bananagrams Wild Tiles is the latest variation on the beloved tile game, and with the introduction of new Wild Tiles that can stand in for any letter, Bananagrams is only getting faster to play and more accessible to solvers of all ages! ($14.99)

[Check out our full review of Bananagrams Wild Tiles by clicking here!]


For Ages 8 and Up

 

Holiday Fluxx and Loonacy (Looney Labs, card games)

The folks at Looney Labs are all about games where the rules can change in an instant. They’ve broadened their library of Fluxx card decks with a marvelous Holiday version($15.99), as well as a fast-play Memory game they call Loonacy ($14.99)!

[Check out our full product reviews of Holiday Fluxx here and Loonacy here!]

Pairs (Hip Pocket Games, card game)

A simple card game with a lot of strategy behind it, Pairs is about NOT scoring points and avoiding pairing your cards at all costs. With numerous variant games available (depending on which deck you buy), Pairs is a perfect group card game you can pick up quickly. ($9.95)

Timeline (Asmodee Games, card game)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before OR after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning history)! ($14.99)

Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games, board game)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($29.99)

 

Walk-By Scrabble Board, Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer, board games)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($39.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($199.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Fluxx: The Board Game (Looney Labs, board game)

Take a board game, and make the cards, goals, and board changeable, and you’ve got Fluxx: The Board Game. It’s the ultimate think-on-your-feet experience, and like nothing you’ve played before. ($30)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Word Winder (David L. Hoyt, puzzle game)

Word Winder (also available in app, puzzle book, and GIANT versions!) is a game of finding chains of hidden words in an ever-changeable grid! Put your strategy and spelling skills to the test! ($19.95)

 

Gravity Maze and Laser Maze (ThinkFun, puzzle games)

ThinkFun meshes learning and gameplay with two logic games ready to challenge kids and adults alike. Whether it’s the marble-dropping path-building of Gravity Maze ($24.99) or the study of optics and mirrors with an actual laser in Laser Maze ($26.95), young minds and older minds will soon be in fighting trim for puzzling!

[Check out our full product reviews of Gravity Maze by clicking here and Laser Maze by clicking here!]

 

Rudenko’s Disk and Collide-O-Cube (Brainwright, puzzle games)

Brainwright has a few color-based puzzles to brighten your holidays! Whether it’s the pattern-matching Collide-O-Cube ($19.99), which adds a touch of randomness by incorporating magnets into their blocks, or the more challenging post-sliding and strategy-demanding Rudenko’s Disk ($9.99), these are great gateway puzzles to bring young solvers to the table.

[Check out the full reviews of Rudenko’s Disk and Collide-o-Cube by clicking here!]

ROFL! (Cryptozoic, party game)

Challenge your friends to decode famous movie lines, catchphrases, and song lyrics in Cryptozoic’s game ROFL!!, created by Dork Tower‘s John Kovalic! Put your texting and abbreviation skills to the test in this laugh-out-loud party treat! ($35)

[Check out our full product review here!]


For Ages 10-12 and Up

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games, board game)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Get Lucky (Cheapass Games, card game)

Everyone wants to kill Dr. Lucky, but as his name suggests, that’s no easy task. Get Lucky challenges you and your friends to a strategy game to see who will be the first to beat the odds and take down Dr. Lucky! (And there’s a secret puzzle lurking within this game that no one has solved yet!) Will you be the first to solve the puzzle OR kill Dr. Lucky? ($16.95)

Chrononauts (Looney Labs, card game)

Time travel can be tough, but when other time travelers are changing history, it can be downright weird. In Chrononauts, you’ll bend the rules of time and space in the hopes of completing your mission and going home. And who hasn’t wanted to make history once or twice? ($20)

[Check out our full product review here!]

The Stars Are Right (Steve Jackson Games, card game)

Build an army of followers and change the stars themselves in The Stars Are Right, a thoroughly enjoyable card game where the goal is summoning an elder god and destroying the world. As you do. ($27.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Tic Tac Tome by Willy Yonkers (puzzle book)

And if you’re looking for a one-on-one solving experience, pit your mind against the Tic Tac Tome and see if you can beat the book at Tic Tac Toe. ($11)

[Click here to read our full book review!]


For Ages 13-14 and Up

  

Baffledazzle (jigsaw puzzles)

Baffledazzle offers absolutely gorgeous jigsaw puzzles-with-a-twist, allowing the solver to learn about different cultures and uncover deeper mysteries as you place each piece. Whether you’re rediscovering ancient board games with Cirkusu, exploring the animal kingdom with Ozuzu, or running in circles with Code Breakers, you’ll find that these high-quality puzzles are more than meets the eye. (Prices range from $25 to $125)

The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker (puzzle book)

And we simply have to mention one of the most innovative puzzle books released this year, the interactive puzzle novel The Maze of Games! Allowing the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of puzzles, this is a one-of-a-kind solving experience. ($49.95 in hardcover, $20 in ebook format)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Pink Hijinks (Looney Labs, puzzle game)

Part of Looney Labs’ multi-colored Pyramids series, Pink Hijinks is a quick-to-play strategy game for two players! Roll the dice, make your move, and try to race your opponent to the finish in this easily transported game of tactics! ($12)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze, party game)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of Schmovie here!]

 

Tavern Puzzles (jigsaw puzzles)

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to free your heart from the tangled pieces of Heart’s Desire or remove the ring from the Iron Maiden, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($22)


For Ages 18 and Up

Most puzzle books would probably fall in the Age 9-10 and Up range, but oftentimes, the cluing is geared toward an older audience, so to avoid confusion, I’ve bundled the majority of the puzzle books here.

   

Our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Whether it’s their Sudoku Spectacular, the Only Yesterday Word Seek looking back across the decades, the Crossword Extravaganza collecting some of the best puzzles around, or their Home for the Holidays Signature Puzzle gift bundles — with an all Word Seek collection (pictured above), an all Crossword, an all Fill-In, and many more options — Penny/Dell has you covered.

And right now, they’re offering 15% off their Selected Puzzles and Dell Collector’s Series books with the offer code “SNOW15″!

And for more specialized puzzle books, some high-level constructors have books of their own for your perusal! With New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some puzzlers within these pages!

–Ian Livengood’s Sit & Solve® Sports Crosswords

–Rich Norris’s A-to-Z Crosswords

–Doug Peterson’s Easy ABC Crosswords

–Jeff Chen’s puzzles for Bridge enthusiasts

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Sit & Solve® Marching Bands

–Patrick Blindauer’s Quick-As-A-Wink Crosswords and Wide-Screen Crosswords

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Uptown Puzzle Club (puzzle bundles by mail)

The Crosswords Club (puzzle bundles by mail)

Patrick Blindauer PuzzleFests (puzzle bundles by email)

David Steinberg’s Chromatics (color-themed puzzles)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles)

–Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest

And naturally, PuzzleNation offers some terrific puzzle apps for the discerning puzzle solver!

Click these links for all the details on the Penny Dell Crossword App for iOS devices, Classic Word Search for Android and Kindle Fire, our Sudoku App and more!


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in our holiday gift guide!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! And remember to check out our Facebook Giveaway for the chance to win a free puzzle app download!

PuzzleNation 2014 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: Grab Bag!

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2014 Holiday Gift Guide!

We’re overjoyed to have so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is a grab bag of all sorts of puzzle games, card games, puzzle books, party games, and board games, the perfect random assortment for any puzzle fan you need ideas for! We’re sure you’ll find the right gift for any puzzler on your list!


Naturally, you’ll forgive us for starting off with a link for some familiar puzzle apps!

Click these links for all the details on the Penny Dell Crossword App for iOS devices, Classic Word Search for Android and Kindle Fire, our Sudoku App and more!

And we’ll follow up with some puzzle books before we get into the grab bag of games, puzzles, and other terrific holiday treats!

   

Our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Whether it’s their Sudoku Spectacular, the Only Yesterday Word Seek looking back across the decades, the Crossword Extravaganza collecting some of the best puzzles around, or their Home for the Holidays Signature Puzzle gift bundles — with an all Word Seek collection (pictured above), an all Crossword, an all Fill-In, and many more options — Penny/Dell has you covered.

And right now, they’re offering 15% off their Selected Puzzles and Dell Collector’s Series books with the offer code “SNOW15″!

And for more specialized puzzle books, some high-level constructors have books of their own for your perusal! With New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some puzzlers within these pages!

–Ian Livengood’s Sit & Solve® Sports Crosswords

–Rich Norris’s A-to-Z Crosswords

–Doug Peterson’s Easy ABC Crosswords

–Jeff Chen’s puzzles for Bridge enthusiasts

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Sit & Solve® Marching Bands

–Patrick Blindauer’s Quick-As-A-Wink Crosswords and Wide-Screen Crosswords

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Uptown Puzzle Club (puzzle bundles by mail)

The Crosswords Club (puzzle bundles by mail)

Patrick Blindauer PuzzleFests (puzzle bundles by email)

David Steinberg’s Chromatics (color-themed puzzles)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles)

–Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest


And here is our grab bag of puzzle games and apps galore!

Bananagrams Wild Tiles (Bananagrams, board game)

The board game that requires no board, Bananagrams Wild Tiles is the latest variation on the beloved tile game, and with the introduction of new Wild Tiles that can stand in for any letter, Bananagrams is only getting faster to play and more accessible to solvers of all ages! ($14.99)

[Check out our full review of Bananagrams Wild Tiles by clicking here!]

Holiday Fluxx (Looney Labs, card game)

The folks at Looney Labs are all about games where the rules can change in an instant. They’ve broadened their library of Fluxx card decks with a marvelous Holiday version that puts a festive twist on the rapid-fire rule changes and ever-shifting objectives of the usual Fluxx fun! ($15.99)

[Check out our full product review of Holiday Fluxx here!]

The Stars Are Right (Steve Jackson Games, card game)

Build an army of followers and change the stars themselves in The Stars Are Right, a thoroughly enjoyable card game where the goal is summoning an elder god and destroying the world. As you do. ($27.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Word Winder (David L. Hoyt)

Word Winder (also available in app, puzzle book, and GIANT versions!) is a game of finding chains of hidden words in an ever-changeable grid! Put your strategy and spelling skills to the test! ($19.95)

Pairs (Hip Pocket Games, card game)

A simple card game with a lot of strategy behind it, Pairs is about NOT scoring points and avoiding pairing your cards at all costs. With numerous variant games available (depending on which deck you buy), Pairs is a perfect group card game you can pick up quickly. ($9.95)

Rudenko’s Disk (Brainwright, puzzle game)

Brainwright has a solid color-based brain teaser here to test your wits! The post-sliding and strategy-demanding Rudenko’s Disk offers you a single goal — move all of the colored pegs to one side or the other — and any number of ways to do it! ($9.99)

[Check out the full product review of Rudenko’s Disk by clicking here!]

The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker (puzzle book)

And we simply have to mention one of the most innovative puzzle books released this year, the interactive puzzle novel The Maze of Games! Allowing the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of puzzles, this is a one-of-a-kind solving experience. ($49.95 in hardcover, $20 in ebook format)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games, board game)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($29.99)

ROFL! (Cryptozoic, party game)

Challenge your friends to decode famous movie lines, catchphrases, and song lyrics in Cryptozoic’s game ROFL!!, created by Dork Tower‘s John Kovalic! Put your texting and abbreviation skills to the test in this laugh-out-loud party treat! ($35)

[Check out our full product review here!]

  

Baffledazzle (jigsaw puzzles)

Baffledazzle offers absolutely gorgeous jigsaw puzzles-with-a-twist, allowing the solver to learn about different cultures and uncover deeper mysteries as you place each piece. Whether you’re rediscovering ancient board games with Cirkusu, exploring the animal kingdom with Ozuzu, or running in circles with Code Breakers, you’ll find that these high-quality puzzles are more than meets the eye. (Prices range from $25 to $125)

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze, party game)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of Schmovie here!]

 

Walk-By Scrabble Board, Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer, board games)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($39.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($199.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Laser Maze (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

ThinkFun brings us a logic game with an actual laser in Laser Maze, a game of light, mirrors, strategy, and skill! ($26.95)

[Check out our full product review of Laser Maze by clicking here!]

Loonacy (Looney Labs, card game)

If you’re looking for a fast-play combination of Memory and Slapjack with a lot more options, then Loonacy is for you! It’s a manic pattern-matching good time for groups of all sizes! ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of Loonacy here!]

Tic Tac Tome by Willy Yonkers (puzzle book)

And if you’re looking for a one-on-one solving experience, pit your mind against the Tic Tac Tome and see if you can beat the book at Tic Tac Toe. ($11)

[Click here to read our full book review!]

Robot Turtles (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

Teach your kids the basics of programming with this fun and deceptively simple board game! Robot Turtles uses board game rules and easy-to-learn card commands to show kids how to navigate their turtles past obstacles and to the jewel! ($29.99)

[Check out our full product review of Robot Turtles by clicking here!]

Chrononauts (Looney Labs, card game)

Time travel can be tough, but when other time travelers are changing history, it can be downright weird. In Chrononauts, you’ll bend the rules of time and space in the hopes of completing your mission and going home. And who hasn’t wanted to make history once or twice? ($20)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Get Lucky (Cheapass Games, card game)

Everyone wants to kill Dr. Lucky, but as his name suggests, that’s no easy task. Get Lucky challenges you and your friends to a strategy game to see who will be the first to beat the odds and take down Dr. Lucky! (And there’s a secret puzzle lurking within this game that no one has solved yet!) Will you be the first to solve the puzzle OR kill Dr. Lucky? ($16.95)

Collide-O-Cube (Brainwright, puzzle game)

It’s where pattern-matching precision meets magnetic randomness! Collide-O-Cube challenges you to recreate various colored patterns with these eight blocks, which sounds simple until you realize some blocks repel each other! Can you make the blocks mesh and solve the mystery of each pattern? ($19.99)

[Check out the full product review of Collide-o-Cube by clicking here!]

Fluxx: The Board Game (Looney Labs, board game)

Take a board game, and make the cards, goals, and board changeable, and you’ve got Fluxx: The Board Game. It’s the ultimate think-on-your-feet experience, and like nothing you’ve played before. ($30)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Gravity Maze (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

Can you bend gravity to your will? Gravity Maze pits the solver against increasingly difficult puzzles where the goal is to place the towers so that a dropped marble will end up in the red goal square. Can you unravel each maze without losing your marbles? ($24.99)

[Check out our full product review of Gravity Maze by clicking here!]

 

Tavern Puzzles (jigsaw puzzles)

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to free your heart from the tangled pieces of Heart’s Desire or remove the ring from the Iron Maiden, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($22)

Pink Hijinks (Looney Labs, puzzle game)

Part of Looney Labs’ multi-colored Pyramids series, Pink Hijinks is a quick-to-play strategy game for two players! Roll the dice, make your move, and try to race your opponent to the finish in this easily transported game of tactics! ($12)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Qwirkle (MindWare, board game)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train Dominoes, Qwirkle is all about placing your tiles to maximize points and minimize helping your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump right into! ($34.99)

Timeline (Asmodee Games, card game)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before OR after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning history)! ($14.99)


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in our holiday gift guide!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! And remember to check out our Facebook Giveaway for the chance to win a free puzzle app download!

(More Than) 5 Questions: Lollapuzzoola edition!

Welcome to a very special edition of 5 Questions!

Usually, 5 Questions is simply that: five individual questions answered by our guest. But this time around, we’ve ditched the 5 Q format in lieu of a more relaxed, conversational interview. I hope you enjoy!


Last weekend marked the seventh edition of Lollapuzzoola, a crossword puzzle tournament held in New York City and hosted by people who love puzzles for people who love puzzles.

The brainchild of Ryan Hecht and Brian Cimmet, Lollapuzzoola has quickly become a beloved yearly tradition for top constructors and solvers, and I’m pleased to announce that friend of the blog and Crossword Goddess Patti Varol won the Locals division this year!

Patti is Puzzle Editor for The Uptown Puzzle Club and Acquisitions Editor for both Uptown and The Crosswords Club, as well as Assistant Editor for the Los Angeles Times Crossword.

Patti was gracious enough to take some time out to talk about her experience at Lollapuzzoola, so without further ado, let’s get to it in a very special edition of 5 Questions!


Tell us a little about Lollapuzzoola.

My favorite description of LPZ is from the organizers: it’s the best tournament held in New York on a Saturday in August.

How does it differ from the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament?

It’s much more casual and laid-back, smaller, 150ish competitors versus 600ish.

All crosswords?

All crosswords. There’s usually a theme to the day — last year was birds (… I think) and this year it was baseball. There’s a meta puzzle that everyone solves to pass the time between the last puzzle and the Finals.

How many times have you participated?

This is my second year.

What do you look forward to most when heading into the tournament?

Now? Winning!

I’m kidding. I talk to crossword people all day long, but it’s always over IM or email. It’s great to see them in person.

[Tournament directors and pro puzzlers
Patrick Blindauer and Brian Cimmet]

And the crosswords at LPZ are fantastic — the clues are clever and current, the themes are fun and tricky. There is usually one puzzle with an off-the-page gimmick.

Last year there was a very fun puzzle with picture clues. This year there was one with audio clues (for the theme entries, not the whole puzzle).

How do they determine which three solvers in each division go into the final solve?

Ugh, math.

There are two divisions. Express and Local. If you’re in Express, you’re one of the solving gods – you’re in the top 20% at ACPT. Local is everyone else, the mere mortals who happen to be pretty good at crosswords.

[Glenn’s note: There is also a Rookie division, a Pairs division (where you solve with a partner) and an At-Home division, where anyone can purchase the puzzles for a very reasonable $10 and compete from the comfort of home.]

Scoring is a reflection of speed and accuracy. The scoring is way simpler at LPZ than it is at ACPT, but it’s still math, so…

The way they [Brian Cimmet and Patrick Blindauer] write it all up, you really get a sense of how playful the whole event is. They are there to have fun, and so the day is lots of fun for everyone. They are relaxed and we are relaxed… unless we have to stand on tiptoe in front of 200 people.

Oh, and you’re allowed to cheat.

You’re allowed to cheat?

They have a system with Google tickets. Once the allowed puzzle time reaches the halfway point, you can write a clue number on the back of a Google ticket, and signal to a judge. The judge comes over and writes the correct answer on your ticket. 25 points are deducted from your score, and you forfeit the 100-point perfect puzzle bonus.

But the penalty for multiple wrong letters can be worse than -25 for the ticket. I used 2 of them on puzzle 4, and I still had 6 letters wrong! That puzzle was a beast.

[Some of the trophies awarded at Lollapuzzoola 6 last year.]

So, can you take us through what it’s like to solve the final puzzle?

After everyone has solved the first five puzzles, the standings are announced and the top three in each division go into the final puzzle, which is solved on whiteboards in front of all the solvers.

When Brian Cimmet called my name for second place of the Local division, I was stunned. And then it turned out that the first place person really belonged in the Express division, so I was bumped up to first place.

They took us into this room in the back so they could set up the grids and distribute the puzzles to the crowd. Sara [Nies, ranked 47th overall, but a finalist in the Local division], Simon [McAndrews, 48th overall], and I were a blur of nervous, giggly energy, but Francis [Heaney], Jon [Delfin], and Scott [Weiss], the Express gods, were all chill.

They bring us out, and there were two immediate problems: I couldn’t get the noise-canceling headphones to stay on my head – they were too big and I was shaking so hard from nerves. And then I couldn’t really reach the top line of the dry-erase board. I was a nervous, shaking, flustered mess. We were all joking about finding me a phone book or a dictionary for me to stand on, but they couldn’t find one, and they had me test it out – I could reach, barely, on my tiptoes.

[Several solvers tackling the final puzzle
at a previous Lollapuzzoola event.]

I was on the far right of the stage. I could see Simon, but not Sara. I was shaking so hard at first that I couldn’t read the clues on the paper. And the board seemed so big and the puzzle seemed to be in German… I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and didn’t throw up on my shoes. I started solving in the lower right corner, because it was right in front of my face. Ultimately, I solved from the bottom up.

Simon finished solving first, and once he stepped away from the stage, I calmed down – I knew I couldn’t win, so I just wanted a clean grid. I slowed down, I read more carefully, I started to enjoy the puzzle. I was sure Sara had finished already, too. I finished the puzzle and started checking the grid, line by line, very carefully, and then I took a step back … and saw Sara was still solving! I turned around and took off my headset as quickly as I could, and there was this huge collective sigh of relief – Sara had only two letters left when I turned around.

My friends were on the edges of their seats, telling me to stop checking the grid and turn around. I finished a good 20 seconds ahead of her, but officially, it’s only 3 seconds because I took so damn long to check the grid. Doug [Peterson, crossword gentleman] told me later that he had been trying to get Brian and Patrick’s attention because they hadn’t noticed I was done – they were busy reviewing Simon’s grid.

Heartbreak for Simon, who finished more than a minute before me: he left a square blank and placed 3rd. But as soon as I finished, Simon thumbsed-up to me and whispered, “It’s you!” because of his wrong letter. Big smile, really gracious.

And, it turns out – had Erin [Milligan-Milburn, who has a cheating trophy named for her after winning Rookie of the Year when she wasn’t a rookie] and Angela [Halsted, Locals finalist last year] remained in the Local division, it would have been an all-girls Local final! And I still would have been in first place going into the finals. How cool is that?

And I got the greatest trophy.

And a gift card to Barnes and Noble, and a puzzle book. A bunch of us agreed it would have been funnier if a dude got the bikini-clad musclewoman trophy… but I’m not giving it back.

(It didn’t sink in that I’d actually won until Oscar, Brian’s two-year-old son, handed me the musclewoman.)

After everything was over, I asked Doug, “How did this happen?” And Doug, laconic as ever, shrugged and said, “You’re good at crosswords?”

So you’ll be back next year to defend your title?

If I understand correctly, I will be in the Express division next year. But I will be there. And they just announced the date — Lollapuzzoola 8 will be on 8/8.

What advice would you give a first-time Lollapuzzoola-er?

Solve puzzles. Have fun. Stay for pizza.


Many thanks to Patti for her time and insight into the Lollapuzzoola experience. You can check out her work at The Uptown Puzzle Club, The Crosswords Club, and the Los Angeles Times Crossword. Can’t wait to see what she cooks up 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!

Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman…

With subscriptions to puzzle magazines like Will Shortz’s WordPlay and GAMES Magazine, as well as puzzle-by-mail services like The Uptown Puzzle Club and The Crosswords Club, there are plenty of ways to get puzzles by mail.

But one particular puzzler in the UK has put an intriguing twist on the idea of puzzles-by-mail: he’s challenged the carriers of the Royal Mail postal service to solve puzzles in order to deliver his mail.

A graphic designer by trade, James Addison was impressed by the diligence of the postmen of the Royal Mail, and he playfully decided to test their mettle with different challenges, including maps, word searches, pictograms, and other befuddling methods to conceal the intended destination of the letter.

From an article on The Telegraph website:

Although he enjoys solving puzzles himself, he said his hobby was fuelled by a desire partly to test the Royal Mail’s ingenuity and partly to honour old-fashioned letter-writing, following his mother’s advice that a handwritten thank-you note showed you had made an effort.

Well, Mr. Addison is certainly taking his mother’s words to heart. And it seems the postmen of the Royal Mail quite enjoy the spirited challenges his letters offer.

[To try your hand at solving some of Jim’s letters, including those pictured in this post, click here!]

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!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: Get Your Puzzles Here! edition

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

For those new to PuzzleNation Blog, Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and update the PuzzleNation audience on how these projects are doing and what these people have been up to in the meantime.

And after talking with Leslie Billig yesterday about puzzle magazines and puzzles by mail, I wanted to do a quick post talking about the many ways modern solvers have access to puzzles.

For some people, puzzling starts with the newspaper. Once you’ve caught up with local and world events, had a few chuckles over the comic strips, and perused the classifieds for the tag sales you want to check out this coming week, the crossword is part of their daily ritual.

And then there’s the bread-and-butter of our pals over at Penny/Dell Puzzles, the puzzle magazine. On the newsstand and in racks at bookstores and shops all over, puzzle magazines (and independent puzzle books) are some of the most recognizable brands in publishing, and it’s rare that I ride the train without seeing at least a few of these being enjoyed on a daily basis.

Of course, you can get puzzle magazines by mail as well, signing up for subscriptions for your favorite titles, as well as buying bundles to keep you puzzling through a long winter or an agreeable summer.

This brings me to the next avenue for puzzlers: Puzzle of the Month programs. Subscriptions like The Uptown Puzzle Club and The Crosswords Club deliver puzzles right to your home every month, in case you’ve already plowed through your puzzle magazines and the daily crosswords in the paper.

Naturally, these days, anything you get by mail, you can get by email, so there are also puzzle of the day/week/month programs online. The American Values Club Crossword offers individual puzzles as well as weekly puzzles, and many constructors (like friend of the blog Robin Stears) have subscription programs as well to keep you busy.

And, of course, there’s an ever-expanding field of puzzle games and apps for the modern solver. Your phone, e-reader, or tablet are now optimal puzzle-delivery systems, locked and loaded with puzzles anytime you’ve got a free moment or some downtime, whether it’s waiting at the doctor’s office, being stuck in traffic, or playing a round of Words with Friends around the dinner table.

It’s never been a better time to be a puzzle fan, with so many ways to enjoy your favorite brain teasers and mental challenges.

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 Puzzler Leslie Billig!

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 overjoyed to have Leslie Billig as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

[Leslie, next to trivia whiz Ken Jennings, at the
2006 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament]

Leslie Billig began her puzzle career at Dell Magazines in 1982 and went on to create, edit, proofread, and fact-check puzzles for numerous outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Games magazine, People, and Reader’s Digest.

She’s also published her own puzzle books, authoring Sit & Solve Cryptograms for Sterling and coediting Dell Magazines’ Puzzler’s Sunday Crosswords. In addition to all that, she has served as editor of The Uptown Puzzle Club — a by-mail Puzzle of the Month Club subscription with high-quality, New York Times-style puzzles — for more than a decade, but she’s making an exciting transition to a new post! (Come on, I can’t tell you everything in the intro. *smiles*)

Leslie 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 Leslie Billig

1.) How did you first get into puzzles?

I’ve loved puzzles and wordplay from an early age, and started solving crosswords at my father’s knee. He did the New York Times crossword puzzle (in ink!) and at some point I was able to fill in the squares he left blank. I also enjoyed the variety puzzles in Dell magazines; my favorite was the Bowl-a-Score Challenger (also known as Bowl Game).

In this game, you’re given 10 letters arranged like bowling pins, and the goal is to form one word using all the letters for a “strike” and two smaller words for a “spare.” I was never satisfied to make just one spare: I’d try to form as many combos as I could: 5,5 4,6, 3,7 etc. This game instilled in me a love of anagrams that’s lasted to this day.

[Leslie performing in the 2005 American Crossword Puzzle
Tournament talent show… which she won, by the way!]

2.) In your estimation, what separates a topnotch puzzle from a run-of-the-mill puzzle? What are some favorite puzzles or clues you’ve encountered over the years?

Crossword puzzles have truly evolved in the 32 years that I’ve been in the “puzzle biz,” and I continue to be astonished by the originality and cleverness of the people who make them. A great crossword begins with the theme, of course, but I believe the fill is just as important. The solver solves the *whole* puzzle, not just the theme entries. You can have a brilliant theme, but if the rest of the grid is filled with crosswordese, Roman numerals, obscure abbreviations, and overused words, it will diminish the solving experience.

One of my favorite crosswords appeared in the January 2007 issue of the Uptown Crosswords Club. It was called Self-Effacement by Robert H. Wolfe, and the gimmick was that there were no I’s in the grid. I decided it would be even better if there were no I’s in the clues, either. That was a fun challenge!

I remember the hardest two answers to clue were ENYA and BOHR. For Enya I couldn’t use the words Irish, Gaelic, singer, vocalist, musician, or (Grammy) winner. The clue for BOHR couldn’t include Danish, Nobelist, Niels, physicist, scientist, pioneer, or Einstein (contemporary).

Another example is a terrific puzzle constructor Raymond Young made for my magazine, Dell Puzzler’s Sunday Crosswords. It was a 15×15 crossword that, when solved, became a Word Search puzzle in which the names of all the playing cards, from ace to king, were hidden. Pretty impressive for a daily-sized crossword!

3.) In addition to your work in puzzles, you’re something of a game show pro, having worked on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and been a contestant on NPR’s Ask Me Another. Do you feel that your puzzle-solving experience has helped you in your game show adventures? Are there any other shows you’d like to tackle?

[Leslie on NPR’s “Ask Me Another”]

I actually held two positions while working on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire — first as a researcher and then as a question writer. I’d say my years as a professional puzzle editor certainly helped me there: one picks up a lot of trivia and odd information in that line of work!

Being on Ask Me Another was a hoot. For one thing, it’s unique among game shows because so many the questions involve puzzles and wordplay, not just trivia. Right up my alley! You can hear the episode I was on at their archives.

You can listen to the whole episode, or just the segments I’m in: “Bankable Stars” (my first segment) & “Reverse Spelling Bee” (big finish).

4.) What’s next for Leslie Billig?

After 12 years as editor of the Uptown Puzzle Club, I’m excited to succeed Rich Norris — [Glenn’s note: Los Angeles Times Crossword Editor] — as editor of the Crosswords Club.

Patti Varol — [Glenn’s note: friend of the blog, puzzle constructor, and all-around good egg] — succeeds me as editor of Uptown, and solvers can continue to expect challenging and entertaining crosswords in each of these Clubs. Check them out!

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

No advice, but a request: please introduce any children in your life to the joys of puzzle solving — the pleasures and benefits will last a lifetime.


Many thanks to Leslie for her time. You can follow her work with the Crosswords Club here, and be sure to check out her library of puzzle books at Barnes & Noble here! I can’t wait to see what puzzly fun she cooks up 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!