Constructors’ Favorite Crosswords from 2017!

Yesterday, I wrapped up my efforts to celebrate 2017’s contributions to the long, marvelous legacy of puzzles and games.

But before saying goodbye to 2017, I reached out to other constructors and puzzlers to ask them if they had any favorite crosswords from 2017, either of their own creation or those made by others.

So let’s check out the favorites from some world-class constructors in their own right.

Note: Wherever possible, I’ve included links to the puzzles, but for the most part, the links included filled-in grids, so if you want the full solving experience, scan for dates, outlets, and names to hunt down copies for yourself.

And remember: every single person who replied stated that there were other puzzles they loved that they knew they were leaving out, so don’t consider this in any way to be an exhaustive list. 2017 was a dynamite year for crosswords!


We’ll start off with some of crossword gentleman Doug Peterson‘s favorites:

– Monday, May 8 NY Times puzzle by Zhouqin Burnikel aka CC Burnikel. It’s an LGBTQ theme executed so nicely for a Monday. Difficulty and theme are spot-on for an easy puzzle. Lots of fresh, colloquial fill. CC is the master.

– Saturday, July 22 LA Times themeless puzzle by Erik Agard. All of Erik’s themelesses are fun, but this one stood out a bit more for me. SHIRLEY CHISHOLM, KITE-EATING TREE, TOOTHBRUSHES stacked on top of ORTHODONTISTS. Fun stuff everywhere you look.

– Wednesday, August 9 AVCX puzzle “Birthday Bash” by Francis Heaney. Broken PINATAs that have dropped their candy into the grid. It doesn’t get much better than that. 🙂 OK, slight ding for having one PINATA filled with ALTOIDS, but this was still a blast to solve.

[Image courtesy of Party Cheap.]

Several constructors, including Joanne Sullivan and Patrick Blindauer, heaped praise upon the puzzles from this year’s Lollapuzzoola event, and rightly so. They always push the envelope in terms of creativity with Lollapuzzoola, and folks went all out for the tenth year of the tournament. Blindauer cited Paolo Pasco’s tournament opener in particular as a delight.

Patrick had several other recommendations:

It’s no surprise to see New York Times puzzles getting a lot of love. George Barany cited David Steinberg’s June 8th puzzle as particularly clever. Definitely not surprised to see those words associated with David.

[Image courtesy of Snark Squad.]

David Kwong sung the praises of Mark Halpin’s Labor Day Extravaganza — which doesn’t contain any crosswords, but it is still very worthy of mentioning — making a point of mentioning that “the meta puzzle involving the spider’s web was so expertly constructed.”

Constructor Brendan Emmett Quigley did an entire post highlighting his favorite puzzles from the previous year, which marked the only overlap between today’s entry and my list of puzzles yesterday. As it turns out, we both enjoyed his “Next Level Shit” puzzle from November 2nd. He cited “Party Line” from September 28th and “We Have Achieved Peak Puzzle” from November 9th as two other favorites.

[Image courtesy of Arrested Development Wiki.]

To close out today’s rundown of killer puzzles, we’ve got a murderers row of recommendations from Evan Birnholz of Devil Cross and The Washington Post crossword:


Thank you to all of the fantastic constructors who offered their favorite crosswords from 2017! Please check out both these constructors AND the constructors they recommend! There are so many great puzzles out there for you if you bother to look!

Here’s to a terrific, challenging, baffling, and creative new year of puzzles to come!


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Meet the Daily POP Crosswords Constructors: Bonnie L. Gentry

One of the Daily POP Crosswords app’s best features is the level of involvement from topnotch constructors. We’ve assembled one heck of a team when it comes to creating terrific, exciting, fresh themed crosswords.

And over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to some of them. Some names you may know, some you may not, but they’re all doing amazing work on these puzzles and deserve a little time in the limelight.

In this installment, allow us to introduce you to constructor Bonnie L. Gentry!

How did you get started in crosswords?

I sold my first puzzle in 2003 to The Los Angeles Times after I discovered a community of crossword constructors on the website Cruciverb.com. It had style sheets and contact information so I gave it a shot.

I have since been published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Crosswords Club, and several crossword books. I also construct a two-page newspaper crossword each Thanksgiving for numerous newspapers.

I’m only a casual solver. I enjoy constructing much more. I tried only twice to compete in a national crossword tournament (ACPT), but ranked miserably. Switching to judging was far easier.

What do you enjoy about working on Daily POP Crosswords?

I love doing the research. I learn something new for every theme I do. I like that it’s a learning experience for me as both a constructor and a solver. This is quite different than traditional crosswords that rely more on wordplay.

Patti Varol is an amazing editor. Her insight makes me a better constructor. Also the volume of work she does is just staggering.

I love that the majority of constructors are women, although there are some great men as well.

I also solve the puzzles on Daily POP Crosswords every day. They are simple enough for any level but they all give an “Aha Moment” when I solve them.

Is there a particular theme day that appeals to you most or that you enjoy working on?

I enjoy sports themes the best. I’m a big fan of all sports and I’m an enthusiastic spectator. Football is probably my favorite sport.

When I do Book Smart themes, it introduces me to books I hadn’t thought much about and has led me to read new books.

I enjoyed learning new things about David Bowie in an upcoming puzzle I made. But the downside is a particular song keeps playing in my head. (But I won’t say which one, because it’s a spoiler.)


A huge thank you to Bonnie for her time! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her puzzles in the Daily POP Crosswords app, free to download for both iOS and Android users!

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Meet the Daily POP Crosswords Constructors: Angela Halsted

One of the Daily POP Crosswords app’s best features is the level of involvement from topnotch constructors. We’ve assembled one heck of a team when it comes to creating terrific, exciting, fresh themed crosswords.

And over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to some of them. Some names you may know, some you may not, but they’re all doing amazing work on these puzzles and deserve a little time in the limelight.

In this installment, allow us to introduce you to constructor Angela Halsted!

How did you get started in crosswords?

I solved crosswords off and on when I was a kid but it wasn’t until 2006 that I got obsessed with them. I don’t even remember what puzzle I was doing, but I was Googling for an answer and came upon the Rex Parker blog. I loved the blog and I loved all the commentary, and that made me want to solve puzzles every day so I could participate.

The first time I decided to comment on the blog, I was required to have a username. I wasn’t very creative and I just felt like I was in a hurry to share my thoughts, so I typed in “PuzzleGirl.” Pretty boring. But it’s stuck all these years!

I submitted my first puzzle to The New York Times in December 2008. It was… terrible. But I knew it was something I could be good at if I kept trying. My first published puzzle was a collaboration with Michael Sharp in The Los Angeles Times in January 2011. Since then, I have had puzzles published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The AV Club, The Wall Street Journal, and other venues. Most of those are collaborations with Doug Peterson, though I’ve also collaborated with Jeff Chen and Erik Agard.

The part I have the most trouble with when constructing is coming up with the theme. I think that’s why I collaborate so much. For me, it’s a lot easier (and more fun) to brainstorm and hone a theme with a partner.

What do you enjoy about working on Daily POP Crosswords?

Oh, speaking of themes, one reason I like writing puzzles for Daily POP Crosswords so much is that the themes can be very simple, which I can handle! Also, I feel like I’m getting a lot of practice generating themes so maybe I’ll get better at it with puzzles for other venues too.

But the best thing about writing for Daily POP Crosswords is working with Patti Varol. She is a phenomenal editor. She is so smart, so efficient, and so motivated. I have a blast talking with her about puzzles and I’m learning a LOT from her.

I also really love being a part of this project because the puzzles are accessible to new solvers. That’s who these puzzles target and I hope they appeal to people who might be really interested in trying crosswords but are intimidated by harder puzzles.

When I had my first Friday themeless published in The New York Times earlier this year, I couldn’t really distribute it to my co-workers, you know? It was hard and probably would have just made them feel bad about themselves. But I’m constantly telling people about Daily POP Crosswords because I know the puzzles are accessible to new solvers and there’s a possibility they’ll get hooked!

I guess the last thing I want to mention is that Patti has assembled a great group of constructors that includes many women. She is also very open to themes about women. And I like that because crossword publishing and construction are generally male-dominated.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends are male crossword constructors. But it’s nice to see someone branching out a little. I hope Daily POP Crosswords will inspire women solvers to take up constructing. That would be amazing.


A huge thank you to Angela for her time! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her puzzles in the Daily POP Crosswords app, free to download for both iOS and Android users!

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Birds have a monopoly on Monopoly!

monopoly

The folks at Monopoly are constantly trying new things in order to stay relevant in today’s ever-evolving game market.

When they celebrated Monopoly’s 80th anniversary in 2015, some of the games were sent out with real money instead of Monopoly money, which is a fantastic idea to promote the game.

In 2013, though, they tried something different, offering a more permanent change. They replaced the token of the iron with a token of a cat. Hazel the Cat. I was less enthused with this change.

But, hey, it’s just one token. No big loss. You’ve still got Scottie the dog, the thimble, the race car, the boot, the battleship, the wheelbarrow, and the top hat.

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[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

Well, that’s no longer the case.

Back in January, Hasbro launched an Internet poll to determine a new lineup of tokens for editions of the game going forward. You could vote to keep the current lineup, or you could select nominees from a list of dozens of possible replacements.

Those potential replacements included a goldfish, a trumpet, a telephone, a monster truck, a life preserver, a beach ball, a set of cufflinks, a bulky old cellphone, a bunny slipper, and several emoji faces.

Hasbro announced the results of their poll, and several of the original tokens didn’t make the cut.

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[Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.]

That’s right. Not only did Hazel the Cat stick around — ugh! — but the boot, the wheelbarrow, and the thimble are gone.

They’ve been replaced with a rubber duck, a penguin, and a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Now, let’s be fair. A T-rex token is awesome. I can get behind that. But a rubber duck and a penguin? Were all the voters really really into Batman Returns or something? (As they pointed out on Gizmodo, all of the winners are weird birds.)

Granted, I for one am grateful that none of the stupid emoji characters — like the crying-laughing face or the smooch face — made it into the game.

But to see the thimble go hurts. I conducted an informal poll among my fellow game fans and puzzlers, and the thimble and Scottie the dog were far and away the most popular.

Oh well. At least now there’s the option for a rule about a T-rex stomping someone’s house and causing property damage. That would be one heck of a Chance card.


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Scrabble-Rousers Change the Game with Shorter Words!

Whether we’re talking Scrabble, Words With Friends, or another word-forming game where points are king, there’s one abiding rule: bigger words are where it’s at.

They reach the bonus squares easier, they offer more slots for new letters in your rack, and there’s always the chance of scoring bonus points for using all your letters.

But as it turns out, bigger words are not the end-all be-all of Scrabble. Between computer analysis of scoring possibilities and the dedicated playtesting of champion-level Scrabblers from across the world, a sea change in gameplay is now underway.

Apparently, studying up on your 5-letter words is far more beneficial than shooting for 6- and 7-letter plays, since most of the bonus squares are four or five letters apart.

And slowly but surely, the formerly dominant North American and European players are losing ground to players from countries like Nigeria, culminating in a win last year for Nigerian Wellington Jighere at the World Scrabble Championship in Australia.

From The Wall Street Journal:

It was the crowning achievement for a nation that boasts more top-200 Scrabble players than any other country, including the U.K., Nigeria’s former colonizer and one of the board game’s legacy powers.

“In other countries they see it as a game,” said Mr. Jighere, now a borderline celebrity and talent scout for one of the world’s few government-backed national programs. “Nigeria is one of the countries where Scrabble is seen as a sport.”

[Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal and Getty Images.]

And those sportsmen have exploited the West’s reliance on long words by strategically employing smaller words and being more judicious in their use of the letters in their racks.

Whereas Western players would often go for the maximum score every round (using every tile they can), they leave themselves open to bad draws of replacement tiles, which can hamper their efforts in following rounds.

This is considered poor rack management by players like the champion-level Nigerians:

Now, his [Jighere’s] method is changing the game. Champions have studied his defensive style, including his decision to put REPAIR on an S during the final, for 30 points. He could have earned 86, including a 50-point bingo, spelling PEREIRAS. Instead, Mr. Jighere kept an “e” for the next round.

“It’s this sort of strategic thinking that the Nigerians are embracing,” said American Chris Lipe, runner up in the 2014 world championship, who called Mr. Jighere’s performance a Scrabble master class.

It just goes to show you, bigger isn’t always better. (Though vocabulary still wins the day.)


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Thursday is National Puzzle Day! Are you ready?

I was recently informed that January 29th is National Puzzle Day.

Considering that I am something of a burgeoning puzzle scholar, I was surprised that I didn’t know there was a national puzzle day. I try to stay on top of these things, after all. So I started researching.

As far as I can tell, this isn’t a nationally recognized holiday in an official sense, which is why we don’t get the day off from work. Blasphemy! Everyone should have the day off to celebrate puzzles! (This is also why there seems to be some dispute over whether it’s National Puzzle Day or International Puzzle Day.)

Although more prominent coverage has only appeared over the last five years or so, I found references in school schedules and archived activity calendars stretching back years and years!

Some articles state that (Inter)National Puzzle Day was created in 1995 by a consortium of game companies, but some conflicting sources seem to predate that claim. And it is intriguing that Tetris debuted in the United States as a PC game on January 28, 1988.

But, in any case, Thursday is a day to celebrate all things puzzly, and I’m here to offer some suggestions for how to participate in (Inter)National Puzzle Day fun! (Many of these can be done any day of the year, which is handy for those of us snowed in right now!)

#1: Team-tackle a crossword puzzle

Are you daunted by the puzzles published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The L.A. Times, or even your local paper? Gather everyone in the house and tackle it as a team!

Not only are you pooling a greater wealth of knowledge by including more people, but one suggestion could trigger another, and then another, and suddenly, you’re filling in whole chunks of the grid with flashes of puzzly insight or bits of crowd-sourced trivia!

It’s a great technique for building both familiarity and confidence in crosswords, and a neat way to challenge yourselves as a team! (By the way, the Penny Dell Crosswords App is ideal for such activities, since you can use the alternate clue feature AND pass the phone around with ease!)

[Image courtesy of mykidcraft.com]

#2: Make your own jigsaw puzzle!

If you’ve conquered all of the jigsaw puzzles in your house, you can always make your own! Either flip one over and draw something new on the back of an old puzzle, then separate it and re-solve…

OR

Get a big piece of paper, create your own image, cut it up, and try to solve!

I’ve found that cutting them into triangles, squares, and other common shapes is easier — and surprisingly more challenging — than trying to recreate jigsaw-style pieces.

And, of course, some companies sell blank jigsaws so you can create your own images!

#3: Create a scavenger hunt!

Now, I realize that scavenger hunts can be very time-intensive, but a great one can be simpler than you think! Limit the scope, but make it more personalized.

For instance, do you have a lot of books? Great! Make it a book-focused scavenger hunt! Ask for a book…

–with fire on the cover
–with sky on the cover
–a book that’s a certain color (or your favorite color)
–a book based on a movie
–a book without a person on the cover
–a book where a word in the title starts with the same letter as the author’s name
–the book with the funniest word on a given page

Toys, photos, funny google searches… if you tailor it to your family or household, a terrific scavenger hunt can be both easy to prep and fun to play!

#4: Come up with your own wordy puzzle challenge!

Are you good at anagrams? See how many words you can make with the letters in a given word, like INCREDIBLE.

Are you good at rhyming? Create rhyming phrases and see if people can guess the original!

Put your creative strengths and puzzly skills to the test by creating puzzles for those around you!

Let us know how you’re celebrating (Inter)National Puzzle Day, PuzzleNationers! Our pals at Penny/Dell Puzzles are working on a Word Seek Challenge for Thursday, and I’ll post more details when I have them. But until then, keep on puzzling, and enjoy!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!