Puzzling Virtually at Norwescon 43!

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Over the weekend, I participated in an online version of the celebrated sci-fi, fantasy, and horror convention Norwescon.

Although many of the convention’s panels and events have a writerly focus, plenty of attention is also given to art, films, games, and pop culture, so there was plenty for puzzle and game fans to enjoy at the event.

Naturally, since the convention was being held virtually rather than in person, some creativity was required to redesign events to be enjoyed from the comfort of attendees’ homes.

For instance, costumes were shown off through video or submitted photos — there was even a closet cosplay challenge held where participants had twenty minutes to create a costume based solely on what they could find in their closets!

As for my contributions, each year I host a themed scavenger hunt and an escape room for teen attendees to enjoy.

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The scavenger hunt adapted to the format easily. We cast volunteers to portray different characters from the film The Princess Bride, and players had scheduled times to actually interact with them through Zoom chats. Players downloaded a PDF of the rules and some puzzles to be solved, and they would receive a code phrase upon completing each of their assigned tasks.

(The code phrases, when properly combined, revealed a secret word which would “trigger” a surprise video.)

Their more puzzly tasks included using instructions to whittle down a list of 40 possible ingredients down to the three Miracle Max would need for his miracle pill for Westley, as well as solving a logic puzzle to find evidence that an ROUS was innocent of a royal guardsman’s disappearance.

And on the last day of the convention, they attended the wrap-up panel where we explained the hunt in full, thanked the cast, announced the winners, took suggestions for a theme for next year’s scavenger hunt, and even played a Cameo video from a member of the film’s cast as a surprise for all the attendees!

It was a rousing success.

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Adapting the Star Wars-themed escape room for a virtual format was far more daunting. After all, one of the most satisfying aspects of escape room solving is to actually physically solve puzzles, unlock containers, open doors, and defeat all sorts of key locks, combination locks, and more.

My solution to this problem was to still allow players to “unlock” and open something, just something virtual: password-protected PDF files.

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[This “panel” required a 5-digit code and a 3-digit combination to unlock.]

I created a webpage with images of all the “locked” panels for them to virtually open, each of which had symbols to indicate what sort of lock there was, as well as links to the password-entry screens. As they found keys and solved puzzles, they coordinated to try different panels and see which keys and codes unlocked the PDFs, which then opened to give them new tools and puzzles to solve.

It wasn’t the most elegant solution, but once players got the hang of it, they were soon racing through the room, using a built-in chat window to keep track of items they hadn’t used and working out passwords in real time.

One of the players even started livestreaming her efforts to solve a pipe puzzle on Twitch so everyone could solve along with her. It was a very cool and innovative way to virtually solve!

Hopefully, we’ll be back in person for next year’s convention and we can get back to opening locks and running around for a proper scavenger hunt. But either way, it’s nice to know we’re adaptable and creative enough to still pull them off in the virtual space when circumstances arise.

After all, as long as the players had fun, we can definitely call it a win.


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Looking Forward to the Year in Puzzles and Games!

We spent this week looking back on the year that was 2020, celebrating the resilience, innovation, creativity, and kindness that makes the puzzle community so unique and remarkable.

But today, on the first day of 2021, it feels appropriate to turn our gazes forward instead of back, looking ahead for what’s to come.

And for our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, there are already exciting developments awaiting us all in the new year.


If you didn’t participate in either the Boswords crossword tournament or the Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League last year, you might not have heard about this yet, but the intrepid puzzlers from Boswords are already launching their next solve-from-home puzzly endeavor…

The Winter Wondersolve.

On Sunday, January 31st, participants will have four puzzles awaiting them — three themed crosswords and a themeless — designed by top-notch constructors.

Registration opens tomorrow, so be sure to visit Boswords.org for all the details!

(And that’s not all! They’ve also announced a Spring Themeless League, a date for their traditional summer tournament, and the return of the Fall Themeless League later in the year! That’s loads of puzzly goodness to look forward to!)


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Speaking of crosswords and tournaments…

After being forced to postpone and then cancel the 2020 edition of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament outright, Will Shortz and the tournament’s organizers announced the following a few days ago:

In most years, registration for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament opens on January 1. This year, though, we’re going to wait to see how the fight against the pandemic goes before deciding how to proceed.

Our hope is that, with widespread vaccinations, enough people will feel safe in attending an in-person crossword event in April to have it be worthwhile. We won’t know about that for some time.

Whatever happens, in-person or not, we’re planning at least a major online crossword event in April. We hope you’ll take part in some form.

Whether this means an in-person event — which seems optimistic — or a sequel to last year’s Crossword Tournament From Your Couch, we cannot say. But we will certainly keep you posted on any and all updates.


But it’s not just the world of puzzles that will be celebrating and finding new ways to bring fans together in 2021. The folks at Looney Labs will be marking their twenty-fifth year on the calendar in 2021. Yes, twenty-five years of Looney Labs and twenty-five years of Fluxx!

To mark the occasion, Looney Labs has a plethora of events and promotions planned throughout the year. There is a limited run of special anniversary cards and copies of a miniature version of Fluxx available with web store purchases, plus new game releases planned and much more!

The team at Looney Labs is also welcoming fans like never before with a series of one-of-a-kind Zoom experiences for game enthusiasts. You can purchase tickets for these Silver Jubilee events to play games virtually with the game designers and crew from Looney Labs! There are tutorials, full game sessions, previews of new games, and more planned for each one!

Tickets for the first Silver Jubilee event go on sale at their online store at noon Eastern on Tuesday, January 5th, and there will be more throughout the year!


The year is barely a day old and there’s already so much to look forward to!

We have also heard that some of our favorite constructors will be releasing new puzzle books in the coming weeks and months.

When you factor in all of the puzzles we can expect in major and independent outlets throughout the year — not to mention the puzzles we’ll be producing for our own apps like Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search — 2021 is certainly looking bright for solvers of all ages!

And we look forward to sharing in all of that puzzle-fueled fun with you, PuzzleNationers. Happy puzzling!


Do you know of any puzzle or game events coming in 2021 that we missed? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

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The PN Blog 2020 Countdown!

It’s the final blog post of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2020 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


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#10 Farewell, Keith

I don’t mean to start off this countdown on a sad note by mentioning the loss of fellow puzzler and Penny Dell colleague Keith Yarbrough. Writing this post was incredibly difficult, but I am proud of how it turned out. It served as a valuable part of my healing process, allowing me to immerse myself in nothing but good memories of my friend. Giving other people the opportunity to know Keith like I did was a worthwhile experience.

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#9 Tap Code

Exploring the different ways puzzles have been involved in historical moments, either as anecdotes or key aspects, is one of my favorite parts of writing for PuzzleNation Blog. But it’s rare to have a historical story about puzzles that tugs on your heartstrings like this one. The way the Tap code served to keep the spirits of POWs high — and the way that codes and spycraft helped a husband and wife endure the hardships of separation — made this a post with a lot of depth and humanity.

#8 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

#7 Crossword Commentary

There’s more to writing about crosswords than simply solving puzzles and unraveling clues, and that was especially true this year. The social and cultural aspect of crosswords came up several times, and it’s important to discuss these issues in an open, honest way, even if that means calling out a toxic presence like Timothy Parker, or even questioning the choices of the biggest crossword in the world to hold them accountable.

Whether it was exploring representation in crossword entries and cluing or continuing to debate cultural sensitivity in crossword answers in the major outlets, we took up the torch more than once this year because it was the right thing to do.

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#6 Best Puzzle Solvers

Last year, we began a series of posts examining the best puzzle solvers in various realms of pop culture, and I very much enjoyed combing through the worlds of horror movies and television for the sharpest minds and most clever problem solvers.

This series continued in 2020, as we delved into literature (for adult readers, young adult readers, AND younger readers, respectively), as well as compiling a list of the worst puzzle solvers in pop culture. We even graded the skills of different fictional crossword constructors to see who was representing the best and worst in puzzle construction in media!

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#5 Crossword Bingo

One of the most clever deconstructions of the medium of crosswords I came across this year was a bingo card a solver made, highlighting words and tropes that frequently appear in modern crosswords. It was a smartly visual way of discussing repetition and pet peeves, but also a sly bit of commentary. So naturally, we couldn’t resist making our own Crossword Bingo card and getting in on the fun.

#4 Pitches for Crossword Mysteries

Hallmark’s Crossword Mysteries series was one of the most noteworthy crossovers between puzzles and popular media last year, and that continued into this year with the third Crossword Mysteries film, Abracadaver. But we couldn’t get the idea of a fourth film — still promised on IMDb and other outlets — out of our heads, so we ended up pitching our own ideas for the fourth installment in the franchise. Writing this, no joke, was one of my favorite silly brainstorming sessions of the entire year.

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#3 The World of Puzzles Adapts

Even in a post celebrating the best, the most satisfying, the most rewarding, and the most enjoyable entries from 2020, you cannot help but at least mention the prevailing circumstances that shaped the entire year. 2020 will forever be the pandemic year in our memories, but it will also be the year that I remember puzzlers and constructors adapting and creating some of the most memorable puzzle experiences I’ve ever had.

From the initial experiment of Crossword Tournament From Your Couch to the creation of the Boswords Fall Themeless League, from tournaments like Boswords and Lollapuzzoola going virtual to the crew at Club Drosselmeyer creating an interactive puzzly radio show for the ages, I was blown away by the wit, ambition, determination, and puzzle-fueled innovation brought to the fore this year.

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#2 Eyes Open

Earlier this year, we made a promise to all of the people standing up for underrepresented and mistreated groups to do our part in helping make the world better for women, for people of color, and for the LGBTQIA+ community. We launched Eyes Open, a puzzle series designed to better educate ourselves and our fellow solvers about important social topics. And that is a promise we will carry into 2021. We hope that, in some small way, we are contributing to a better, more inclusive world.

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#1 Fairness

Part of the prevailing mindset of PuzzleNation Blog is that puzzles can and should be for everyone. They should be fun. And they should be fair.

So this year, two posts stood out to me as epitomizing that spirit. The first was a discussion of intuitive vs non-intuitive puzzles, which I feel is very relevant these days, given the proliferation of different puzzle experiences like escape rooms out there.

The second, quite simply, was a response to a friend’s Facebook post where she felt guilty for looking up answers she didn’t know in a crossword, calling it “cheating.” I tried to reassure her there was no such thing as cheating in crosswords.

And since I couldn’t decide between these two posts for the top spot in our countdown, I’m putting them both here, because I feel like they represent a similar spirit. I hope you feel the same.


Thanks for spending 2020 with us, through brain teasers and big ideas, through Hallmark mysteries and Halloween puns, through puzzle launches and landmark moments. We’ll see you in 2021.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

A Puzzly Radio Broadcast From the Past… Coming Soon!

As one of the strangest years in recent memory begins drawing to a close, puzzlers continue to adapt and innovate to ever-changing circumstances.

Trivia nights, scavenger hunts, and escape rooms have gone virtual across Facebook, Zoom, YouTube, Twitch, and other platforms.

By going online, crossword puzzle tournaments have hosted more than a thousand participants at the same time. And it’s not only one-day events like Lollapuzzoola and Crosswords Tournament From Your Couch, but larger ventures as well, including the ongoing Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League, which has now entered its fourth week of competition.

And now, a group of intrepid puzzlers are embracing the technology of the present to take solvers on a journey to the past for a unique puzzly experience coming in December: The Club Drosselmeyer Radio Hour.

Over the previous four years, the organizers of Club Drosselmeyer have hosted an event in Boston set in a nightclub during World War II. The events have featured era-appropriate costumes, music puzzle solving, dancing, and even a swing-time version of the Nutcracker Suite!

But given the current global circumstances, they’ve redesigned their magical December event, and for the first time, folks outside the Boston area can take part in a virtual Club Drosselmeyer event presented as a radio show from the same era.

You can buy tickets online to participate, and not only will you gain access to the radio show, but the puzzles as well. Depending on what tickets you buy, you can get downloadable puzzles or a physical kit sent to your home (the Drosselbox). Either way, you’ll be solving in real time as the radio show goes on, and even interacting with the performers on occasion.

From the FAQ page on the Club Drosselmeyer website:

The Club Drosselmeyer Radio Hour will have three parts: the Radio Show, the Drosselmeyer Industries Switchboard and the Puzzles. As a player, you can plan the ultimate holiday evening gathered around the radio and interact at whatever level you feel comfortable. There will be no video camera watching you (no Zoom!) and our Drosselmeyer Switchboard will respond to how you play. Engage with all three parts of the production, or only with some of it- however you’d like!

The radio show will sound a lot like a 1943 radio show: songs, skits, performances and commercials. (Think of the Jack Benny or Bing Crosby Radio Hour.) However, there may be some surprises during the show and you’ll be called upon to help out.

Yes, you can actually call in during the event as part of the solving experience, engaging with a mix of prerecorded messages and live interactions with the actors.

You don’t, of course, have to participate on the day in question. The puzzles and prerecorded features will continue to run for months, so you can solve at your leisure. But for anyone solving on that special day, you’ll get a unique puzzly experience unlike anything I’ve heard of before.

This should be fantastic fun. Eschewing videocall-style visuals for a fully audio experience is such a cool idea, one that really embraces the spirit of the time period and adds tons of atmosphere. When you factor in the slang and delightful verbiage of the time period — plus the musical element — it sounds like an absolute blast. I’ve already purchased my ticket — and I wanted to spread the word. You can check out more details on Club Drosselmeyer here!

But be quick about it. As far as I know, the team is hoping to lock down their Drosselbox orders by November 1st in order to have everything locked and loaded for early December when the Radio Show takes place.

Will you be participating in the Club Drosselmeyer Radio Hour, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Or do you have other puzzly plans for the rest of the year? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

Lollapuzzoola 13 Is Near!

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Saturday, August 15, marks the thirteenth annual Lollapuzzoola!

The marvelous indie offspring of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, Lollapuzzoola is a favorite of both solvers and top constructors, all of whom would normally descend upon New York City to enjoy what can only be described as “the best tournament held in New York on a Saturday in August.”

This year, though, Lollapuzzoola has gone virtual and the entire tournament will be hosted in a solve-from-home format!

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The format is simple. Three divisions — Express (experienced solvers who have contended in or won tournaments before), Local (solvers with some experience), and Pairs/Groups (allowing you to team up to solve) — pit their puzzly minds against clever clues and crafty constructors.

There’s also the Next Day Division, where you’re outside of tournament contention but you get the puzzles the next day to solve on your own!

With five tournament puzzles plus the championship round — designed with inimitable style, both fun and befuddling in how often they innovate classic crossword tropes — you’re guaranteed to get your money’s worth as you solve!

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[Will we see virtual trophies this year?]

And speaking of money, it won’t cost you very much! Tickets to the live tournament are just $20. (The “Next Day” Division package is $10.)

With current plans to run from 12:30 to 7 PM, you’re getting a full day of puzzling directly from home, whether you’re competing on Saturday or solving on Sunday!

You can click here for all things Lollapuzzoola, and to check out last year’s tournament puzzles, click here for our in-depth review!

Are you planning on virtually attending Lollapuzzoola 13 or solving from home? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

Happy puzzling!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!