A 5-Letter Word Related to Crossword Skills? Try “Music”

A few years ago, I wrote a post discussing the curious intersection of music and puzzles. It centered around several studies about the effects both listening to music and performing music can have on individuals taking tests or solving puzzles.

There were two intriguing takeaways from these studies:

  • Both adults and children perform better on tests, puzzles, and problem-solving exercises when music is involved (ex.: if they listen to music before or during the test).
  • Children who are given music lessons often achieve greater heights in other subjects, including math and sports.

But it didn’t occur to me until much later that the connection between music and crosswords in particular has been in evidence for quite some time.

There are two 7-time champions in the history of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament: Dan Feyer and Jon Delfin. Think about that. Fourteen out of forty-one ACPT tournaments have been won by one of these men. Practically one out of every three!

And both of them have a musical background as pianists and music directors.

But they’re not the only ones. Constructor Patrick Blindauer, puzzler and actress Whitney Avalon, Lollapuzzoola co-founder Brian Cimmet, and even our own Director of Digital Games Fred Galpern are all musicians.

So what’s the connection between music and crossword puzzles?

No one can say for sure, but there are theories.

In the crossword documentary Wordplay (and quoted from the article linked below), former New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent mentioned why he felt that musicians and mathematicians were good fits as crossword solvers:

Their ability to assimilate a lot of coded information instantly. In other words, a piano player like John Delfin, the greatest crossword player of our time, he sits down and he sees three staffs of music and he can instantly play it. He’s taken all those notes and absorbs what they mean, instantaneously. If you have that kind of mind, and you add it to it a wide range of information, and you can spell, you’d be a really great crossword puzzler.

Crossword constructor and psychology professor Arthur Schulman — known for a series of seminars entitled “The Mind of the Puzzler” at the University of Virginia — would agree with that statement. He posited a correlation between word puzzles, math, and music, in that they all involve a quick and intuitive understanding of symbols. It’s about “finding meaning in structure.”

In an interview with the New York Times, Dan Feyer built on this idea, stating that music, math, and puzzles all have pattern recognition in common, quickly recognizing combinations of blanks and spaces and mentally filling in possible answer words, even before reading the clues.

Now, clearly, musical skill and proficiency isn’t required to be a good crossword solver — I’d classify myself as a pretty good solver and I have an almost magical lack of musical talent — but it’s intriguing to ponder how puzzling could easily be wrapped up with a musical bow.

Do you know any other puzzlers with a musical background, or are you a lyrical solver yourself? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Playing With Our Food edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’m posting the results of our #PennyDellPuzzlyFoods hashtag game!

[Image courtesy of Dreamstime.com.]

You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie, hashtag games on Twitter, or @midnight’s Hashtag Wars segment on Comedy Central.

For over a year now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzlyFoods, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles and anything and everything having to do with breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snacks, drinks, candy, and more!

Examples include Lucky Eggs Clover Easy, Cheese Three, and Tiramisudoku.

So, without further ado, check out what the puzzlers at PuzzleNation and Penny Dell Puzzles came up with!


Abacustard

Petit Four Square

Chex Mixed Bag

Sausage Link-words

At 7 and 7

Pear Off

Pears in Rhyme

Picture Pears

Little Twizzler

Tidbits and Pieces

A-Maize-ing Quote

Batterships

Brick by Brickle

Brick by Brick Oven Pizza

Double Turkish Delight

Double Trouble Bubble Gum

Almond Four One

All Flours

Flour Power / Sour Power Patch Kids / Flower Powerbars

Quotagraham Crackers / Cryptograham crackers / Diagraham Crackers / S’more Cryptograham Crackers, Please?

Scrambled Eggs Up

SpinachWheel

Make the Baconnection

Piggyback bacon

Syrups and Downs / Ketchups and Downs

Stew at a Time / Roux at a Time

Stew-Step / Roux-Step

Stewdoku / Beef stewdoku

Cake-kuro

Roll of the Spice

Trail Mix and Match / Word Trails Mix / Trail Mixed Bag of Trix

Bits & Reese’s Pieces

Berried Treasure

Circles in the Lemon Square

Cheese & Crackerjacks

Gumdrop-Outs

Half-and-Halftime

Pizza by Piece

Eye of Rounders

Truffle Shuffle

Banana Split Personalities

Starburst Words

Cookieword / Kiwiword / Whiskeyword / Sukiyakiword

Cake a Letter

Sunraisin

ShadowLox

Beet the Clock

Right of Whey

Roulettuce

Wonton and Only

Build-A-Burger Quote

Anagram Magic Square bars

Tossed and Turnip Salad

Topsy-Turvy “Fill-in the Blank” Alcoholic Drinks!

Spinwheel Spaghetti and Meatballs

Analog Nog

Rhyme Thyme

Rye-Angles / Trifle-Angles

Lemon Drop-Outs / Lemon Drop-Ins

Flan Words

Grand Torte

Pickle and Choose

Ghee’s Company

InCiders

Colabyrinth

Hot Crossed bun Pairs / Hot Cross Sum Buns / Hot Crostics Buns

Pixie Cros-Stix

AnaCheese Sticks

7 Match-Up

Match-Up-Side-Down Cake

Pine Scone

Stepping Scones

Dim Sum Triangles / Dim Sum Totals

Onion Ringmaster / Onion Ringers

Macaroni & Places, Please

Beer & There

Missing Domino’s Pizza

Alphabreadics

Gravy-Words Word Seek

Grocery Missing Word List

Mystery Meat Person

Gizzard Words

Wheel of Fortune Cookies

Cookie Sha-dough

Campbell’s Chunky Alphabet Soup

TV Appe-Teaser

Penny’s Finest Chinese Takeouts

Pass the Scrambled Eggs Across the Table

Balancing (the diet) Act

Tossing and Turning the pancakes

A Perfect Ten-course meal

Three’s Company, but four’s coming to dinner

Countdown to Thanksgiving

What’s Leftovers?


There was a submission that deserves its own introduction. One of our intrepid puzzlers tackled the classic Tootsie Pop conundrum in proper puzzly fashion:

How many Lick By Licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll of the Dice

That’s a Square Deal. Take it Piece by Piece then Crack’er open.


Have you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzly Foods entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

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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!

DIY Pencil and Paper Puzzles!

pencil-paper

Picture this. You’re stuck somewhere with friends. The airport, a traffic jam, wherever. Nowhere to charge your phone, so you can’t play Trivia Crack or solve any of the great puzzles offered by the Penny/Dell Crosswords app.

All you’ve got is paper and pencils, and you’re in a puzzly mood. What do you do?

Well, you whip up some DIY puzzle fun, of course.

Now, the classic go-to pencil and paper game is Hangman. The goal is simple: guess the complete word or phrase by guessing one letter at a time. Each correct letter is filled in every time it appears (like on Wheel of Fortune), and each incorrect letter results in one piece of the Hangman being drawn. If you let too many incorrect guesses stack up before solving the puzzle, the Hangman is completed and you lose.

hangman

People have differing rules when it comes to the Hangman’s complexity. Some draw the gallows and noose as well as the Hangman, while others pre-draw the gallows and noose, only drawing the Hangman when wrong guesses occur. (I, for one, always liked drawing him a jaunty top hat before sending him to his demise.)

I can remember a time we played Hangman in high school because the professor for our physics class didn’t show up. One of the other students I didn’t know very well suggested it, and his first two puzzles were cracked pretty quickly. But then the third one had most of the class stumped.

It read: C A P T A I N ___ O ___

People kept guessing “Captain Ron,” even though there was clearly no N in that second blank. When I realized it was “Captain Lou,” I blurted out the answer, and suddenly, we were fast friends.

Because of Hangman.

mark-wahlberg-plays-guessing-game-with-a-teddy-bear

Another simple game is Guess My Word. One person chooses a word, and the other narrows it down by guessing words and being told if those guesses precede or follow the secret word in the alphabet.

For instance, if the word was QUINTET and your first guess was HALLOWEEN, I would say after. So, in one guess, you’ve eliminated every word that comes before HALLOWEEN alphabetically.

And if you’d like to give it a shot, puzzle constructor Joon Pahk created a Guess My Word feature on his website that is great fun (and sometimes pretty challenging).

tic-tac-toe

I was going to mention Tic-Tac-Toe here — another staple of the pencil-and-paper puzzle game genre — until my mother mentioned a variation she read about in Parade magazine.

In the article, Marilyn vos Savant is credited with creating Toe-Tac-Tic, a reverse Tic-Tac-Toe game wherein getting three in a row means you lose.

It’s a completely different style of game play, adding a nice twist to a classic game. (Though, quite honestly, I’m not sure we can credit vos Savant with its creation, since I can remember seeing this played in the mid-2000s. I’m not sure anyone called it “Toe-Tac-Tic,” but the rules were the same.)

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And finally, for fans of card games, you can always whip up a round of 1000 Blank White Cards.

Named for the only thing you need to play — a bunch of identical blank pieces of paper, index cards, or something similar — 1000 Blank White Cards is a game you design and play both before and during the game! You can also further refine the game in subsequent sessions.

As Wikipedia so aptly puts it:

A deck of cards consists of any number of cards, generally of a uniform size and of rigid enough paper stock that they may be reused. Some may bear artwork, writing or other game-relevant content created during past games, with a reasonable stock of cards that are blank at the start of gameplay.

Some time may be taken to create cards before gameplay commences, although card creation may be more dynamic if no advance preparation is made, and it is suggested that the game be simply sprung upon a group of players, who may or may not have any idea what they are being caught up in. If the game has been played before, all past cards can be used in gameplay unless the game specifies otherwise, but perhaps not until the game has allowed them into play.

Once your initial deck of cards is created, players draw a card from the deck and either play them, keep them, or add them to the active rules of the table so they affect everyone. In this way, gameplay is quite similar to another classic puzzle card game, Fluxx, especially with the ever-changing rules and malleable gameplay.

Not only has 1000 Blank White Cards appeared in GAMES Magazine, but it was also included in the 2001 revision of Hoyle’s Rules of Games.

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I am a huge fan of customizable games, so I have played 1000 Blank White Cards many times. From cards that can cause immediate victory to cards that can negate those cards, from point cards and rule cards to cards that requiring singing or truth-or-dare challenges, the possibilities are endless.

Some of my favorite cards are just drawings of turtles, where another card grants you special powers or bonuses depending on how many turtle cards you have. Another allows you to create a new card on your turn, either to keep for yourself or to give to another player.

And the rules can depend entirely on who you’re playing with. Sometimes, you can make a new card every round, while other times, you can only introduce a new card when you’ve drawn a card that allows it. Heck, there might even be blank cards in the deck that you can draw and customize immediately! It is literally up to you and your fellow players how to play.

Fans of Calvin and Hobbes will no doubt draw comparisons between 1000 Blank White Cards and Calvinball, and rightfully so. (Savvy card-game players may also recognize similarities to the figure-out-the-rules-while-you-play game Mao.)

But whether you’re playing Hangman or guessing a word, getting three in a row or avoiding it at all costs, or even creating your own signature game, as long as you’ve got a partner in crime and an imagination, you’re never without a puzzle.


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!

Letter rip! It’s lipogram time!

[Building words and phrases, one letter at a time.]

This week I did something a little different in the preview for today’s blog. Usually on Mondays, I post a brief preview of the week’s blog posts, Facebook and Twitter content, et cetera.

But instead of a short teaser about the entry, I posted the following clue:

How quickly can you find out what is unusual about this paragraph? It looks so ordinary that you would think that nothing was wrong with it at all and, in fact, nothing is. But it is unusual. Why? If you study it and think about it you may find out, but I am not going to assist you in any way. You must do it without coaching. No doubt, if you work at it for long, it will dawn on you. Who knows? Go to work and try your skill. Par is about half an hour.

Did you figure out what’s curious about it? It’s missing the letter E!

[A keyboard displaying the most commonly used letters in the language in delightful bar-graph form. It should come as no surprise which letter appears most frequently.]

That paragraph is a terrific example of a lipogram, a written work that purposely avoids or leaves out a given letter. Lipograms are part writing challenge and part puzzle, taxing your vocabulary and your creativity.

(Removing any letter can make things tougher. I remember when my friend’s L key on his keyboard stopped working. “I think it will do well” became “I think it wi do we” until he started using the 1 key as a substitute L.)

And if you think writing a paragraph without the letter E is tough, imagine writing an entire novel without it. Ernest Vincent Wright did just that in 1939 with his 50,000 word novel Gadsby. He even went so far as to rephrase famous lines by William Congreve and John Keats in order to keep the letter E away.

Gadsby partially inspired a French author named Georges Perec to do the same, and his novel La Disparition (also known as A Void) doesn’t feature a single E over the course of three hundred pages.

There are numerous other lipogrammatic works and puzzles, but I think my favorite is the novel Ella Minnow Pea by author Mark Dunn.

Not only is the novel told through letters or notes shared by several characters, but the narrative grows increasingly lipogrammatic as the story progresses.

Check out this summary from Wikipedia:

The novel is set on the fictitious island of Nollop, off the coast of South Carolina, which is home to Nevin Nollop, the supposed creator of the well-known pangram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” This sentence is preserved on a memorial statue to its creator on the island and is taken very seriously by the government of the island.

Throughout the book, tiles containing the letters fall from the inscription beneath the statue, and as each one does, the island’s government bans the contained letter’s use from written or spoken communication. A penalty system is enforced for using the forbidden characters, with public censure for a first offense, lashing or stocks (violator’s choice) upon a second offense and banishment from the island nation upon the third.

So as the book progresses, fewer and fewer letters are used! It’s both an impressive linguistic feat and a wonderful work of totalitarian satire. (And how can you not love a character’s name sounding like LMNOP?)

[In a Christmas episode of the ’90s cartoon Animaniacs, Wakko keeps spelling Santa “Santla,” inspiring a rousing, punny version of “Noel” to correct Wakko’s spelling.]

Our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles have a lipogram puzzle: Dittos. In Dittos, you’re given a series of letters, and then told to spell five common words using those letters AND a given letter. You can repeat the given letter as many times as necessary.

For example, if you were given the letters AAENRY and then told to make 2 five-letter words, using D as many times as necessary, you might come up with DREAD and DANDY.

But what about the flip side? What if you decided you were only going to use one vowel? Well then, my ambitious friend, you’ve accepted the challenge of creating a univocalic.

I’m not familiar with any longer works that are univocalic. You usually see them in paragraph form or, occasionally, palindrome form. “A man, a plan, a canal… Panama!” is probably the most famous univocalic in history.

(Univocalics are not to be confused with supervocalics, which are words that include all five vowels, like sequoia or abstemious.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at a curious subset of puzzles and wordplay. One of my fellow puzzlers suggested I pursue lipograms as a follow-up to my post a little while back about single-letter puzzles, and I couldn’t resist.

Have you ever tried to write a lipogram or univocalic, PuzzleNationers? Let me know! I’d love to see them!

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!