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!

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!

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.

zr3dxm4wrz9r0cjlmmpk

[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.

bn-sn614_0317th_j_20170317191408

[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.


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!

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.)


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!

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 TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

5 Questions with Constructor Trip Payne

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 excited to have Trip Payne as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

A freelance puzzle constructor for over twenty years, Trip Payne is one of the most prolific and respected names in puzzles. A multi-time champion at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, he’s been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Uptown Crossword Club, GAMES Magazine, Will Shortz’s WordPlay, and numerous other outlets.

On August 1, he’s launching his latest Puzzle Extravaganza, a collection of a dozen different puzzles (plus a special metapuzzle) for only $10! Previous extravaganzas have featured themes like the 2011-2012 television season and the Man of Steel himself, Superman, but this year’s theme is a closely guarded secret! Check out the details here, including an offer for three bonus crosswords!

Trip 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 Trip Payne

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

As a very young child, I was attracted to the black-and-white crossword patterns, and my parents noticed that interest and bought me children’s puzzle books. I was always into riddles, magic, games — everything sort of related to puzzles.

Eventually I started coming up with puzzles for my elementary and junior high school newspapers, and when I was 15 I had my first puzzle published nationally in GAMES Magazine.

2.) What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle? What do you most enjoy — or try hardest to avoid — when constructing your own?

In terms of crosswords, my #1 rule has always been: It’s All About The Fill. Of course you want a great theme and clever clues, but the second you resort to weak entries, you’ve lost my interest. A lot of people are willing to “justify” weak entries because they’re “necessary” to pull off a wide-open grid or an ambitious theme; I don’t agree with that. With enough work, and perhaps a willingness to pull back a little from the original concept, you can pretty much always avoid poor fill.

Look at Patrick Berry: his themes are great, and you’d have to inspect his puzzles with a microscope to find a weak entry anywhere. That’s not magic — he just has high standards and a willingness to put in the work to make his puzzles as good as they can be.

A great puzzle is one that gives a satisfying “a-ha” at some point, that makes the solver glad that they’ve invested the time with it.  In a logic puzzle, it may be some clever leap that has to be taken; in a word puzzle, it may be an interesting anagram or misleading clue; it may be on a larger scale, as when you discover how the answers to various puzzles interact to solve an overall “metapuzzle.” 

3.) You’re a three-time American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champ and a perennial top 10 finisher. How does tournament solving differ from regular solving, and do you think your experiences with game show environments (like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Million Dollar Password, and Scrabble Showdown ) helped you thrive in the ACPT?

Well, not perennial, since I retired in 2011 (though I did compete one final time in Lollapuzzoola in 2013). My game show work all came after my ACPT championships, so there was no real connection there. But I do think that the fact that I was a professional puzzlemaker before I started competing in puzzle tournaments helped me; for one thing, you get a sense of letter patterns and a feel for how a puzzle constructor might have filled a corner.

4.) What’s next for Trip Payne?

I’m currently editing the Daily Celebrity Crossword for PuzzleSocial, and I have a few other regular assignments, such as the “wordoku” in TV Guide and my themeless crosswords for the Washington Post Puzzler.

I plan to continue making my annual extravaganzas and hope to completely overhaul my website, tripleplaypuzzles.com, within the year. And I also hope to continue doing work writing and researching for TV game shows, and perhaps pitching my own game show ideas to producers.

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

Enjoy the puzzles that you love, but experiment: there are all sorts of great innovative puzzles out there, and you might be surprised what you end up enjoying.

Also, buy my puzzle extravaganza!


Many thanks to Trip for his time. Check out his website for links to all his puzzly endeavors, and be sure to follow him on Twitter (@PuzzleTrip) for the latest updates on his many irons in the fire! Can’t wait to see what puzzle fun he conjures 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!

100th Anniversary Roundup!

It’s been nearly a week since the 100th Anniversary of the Crossword, and so many newspapers, websites, and bloggers wrote about it that I’m just now sitting down to compile some of them for your viewing pleasure.

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with the interactive Google Doodle that had everyone wishing me a happy hundredth anniversary a day early. *laughs*

But, as it turns out, that wasn’t the first puzzle created for Google’s signature doodle! Check out this story from the Washington Post about Merl Reagle’s eleventh-hour constructing wizardry that saved the day! (And based on Google’s ubiquitous nature, what will probably end up as the most-solved crossword of all-time.)

[Here’s a picture from constructor and magician David Kwong’s Instagram, showing the whole family getting in on solving Google’s anniversary doodle.]

Our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles posted a terrific video of Will Shortz discussing the future of puzzles, and added their own tribute by creating a marvelous book commemorating the 100th anniversary. (They’ve also got a pretty nifty crossword app you can check out here.)

Letters of Note had perhaps my favorite post in honor of the anniversary: a letter from Frank Sinatra to then-New York Times Crossword editor Eugene T. Maleska.

The Wall Street Journal offered an interesting look into how Arthur Wynne’s “word-cross” became known as the crossword.

There were numerous puzzles created to honor the anniversary. The Orange County Register published David Steinberg’s contribution, and NPR’s Ask Me Another posted a curious puzzle of their own!

These are just a few of the links that caught my eye, but if you’re still hungry for more 100th Anniversary goodness, check out this impressive collection of links compiled by the folks at Puzzazz.

And, of course, you can always click the previous button and check out PuzzleNation’s 100th Anniversary post, where I talk about not only Arthur Wynne’s puzzle, but my own anniversary as a puzzler.

As we step into a second century of Crossword history, I’m sure we have plenty of marvelous wordplay surprises coming our way.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Tumblr, download our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!