Spies, Crosswords, and Secret Messages!

secret message

There are loads of ways to hide secret messages in puzzles. The field of cryptography is built around it. Many meta puzzles have a special secret lurking inside their clever constructions. Heck, our friends at Penny Press even have an entire word seek called Secret Message.

But have you ever noticed that there’s a strange fascination in pop culture with secret messages in crosswords?

No, I don’t mean constructors hiding quotations, poems, or word seeks in their crosswords, though those are impressive feats of cruciverbalism.

I’m talking about stories about actual secret messages concealed in crossword grids, meant to be hidden from even the most diligent solvers, only a special few possessing the keys to finding the hidden words.

Oh, believe me, it’s definitely a thing.

Look no further than the first Crossword Mysteries movie. The film opens with a murdered art gallery owner with a crossword in his pocket. And it turns out that a devilish criminal mastermind was submitting puzzles to Tess’s daily crossword that contained hidden instructions for robberies to be conducted that day. Diabolical!

You might laugh, but this is hardly the only time we’ve seen crime, secret messages, and crosswords combined. It was a plotline in the radio show The Adventures of Superman, and Lois Lane’s life once depended on Superman’s ability to solve a crossword puzzle.

There are any number of mystery novels, cozy and otherwise, that contain hidden messages in crosswords. Nero Blanc’s Anatomy of a Crossword and Corpus de Crossword come to mind, as do any number of murder mysteries where a strange message scribbled on a crossword grid turn out to be a pivotal clue to catch the killer.

And there’s an even more curious subset of this in pop culture: crosswords and spycraft.

I could give you a simple example, like Bernie Mac’s character in the Ocean’s 11 remake pretending to solve a crossword, but actually writing down key information about the casino for the upcoming heist.

But that’s not really a secret message IN a crossword. No, it’s more of a secret message ON a crossword, though it is a bit of decent spycraft.

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[From Spy vs. Guy.]

Let’s talk about spies and their crosswords, then.

In the TV show Burn Notice, former (and occasionally current) spy Michael Weston sometimes received hidden messages from his previous spy organization through the crossword, though we’re not given much info on how this is achieved.

In the James Bond prequel novel Double or Die, it’s actually the young Bond’s teacher who sneaks a secret message into a puzzle. He’s also a cryptic crossword editor, and he convinces his kidnappers to allow him to submit a crossword to the newspaper, because if he didn’t, it would let people know all was not well.

Naturally, the kidnappers didn’t spot the clues to his current location that the teacher had hidden in the puzzle. Bond, even in his youth, manages to do so with ease.

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In the short-lived TV show Rubicon, crosswords are at the center of a fascinating unsolved mystery. An intelligence agent named Will finds out his mentor committed suicide after seeing a four-leaf clover.

He then finds a pattern across several crosswords that leads him to believe his mentor’s death is somehow connected to the pattern in the crosswords, and he tells his superior about it.

And soon after investigating it himself, Will’s superior is also found dead. Unfortunately, we never get a resolution for this story, but it certainly fits the bill.

So yes, the curious connection between secret messages and crosswords in pop culture is definitely a thing.

But did you know it also extends beyond fiction? Yup, I’ve got some real-world examples for you too.

Back in June of 1944, physics teacher and crossword constructor Leonard Dawe was questioned by authorities after several words coinciding with D-Day invasion plans appeared in London’s Daily Telegraph.

The words Omaha (codename for one of Normandy’s beaches), Utah (another Normandy beach codename), Overlord (the name for the plan to land at Normandy on June 6th), mulberry (nickname for a portable harbor built for D-Day), and Neptune (name for the naval portion of the invasion) all appeared in Daily Telegraph crosswords during the month preceding the D-Day landing.

So it was possible (though highly improbable) that Dawe was purposely trying to inform the enemy of Allied plans, and the powers that be acted accordingly. In the end, no definitive link could be found, and consensus is that Dawe either overheard these words himself or was told them by his students — possibly slipped by soldiers stationed nearby — and placed them into his grids unwittingly.

Yes, this was just a big misunderstanding. But sometimes, accusations like this have real-world consequences.

In Venezuela, a newspaper has been accused multiple times of hiding encrypted messages within their daily crossword puzzles in order to incite revolt against the government.

Another Venezuelan newspaper was accused of concealing messages ordering the assassination of a public official named Adan, the brother of President Hugo Chavez!

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Some of the answers considered suspicious in the grid included “Adan,” “asesinen” (meaning “kill”), and “rafaga” (which can mean either a burst of gunfire, or a gust of wind).

Apparently this confluence was considered enough to warrant a half-dozen members of the intelligence service visiting the newspaper’s editorial office.

Now, were these cases of genuine secret messages being passed through the crossword, or were these coincidental events that appeared credible because the crossword/secret message concept has been part of pop culture for decades?

I leave that question to you, fellow puzzlers.

Can you think of any examples of crosswords with secret messages in pop culture or intersections of crosswords and spycraft that weren’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Well, summer’s over, but we still have deals galore for you to check out. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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Indianagrams and More: A Puzzly Hashtag Game!

A quick reminder before we start today’s post:

Lollapuzzoola is tomorrow, Saturday, August 21st, and you have until midnight Eastern tonight to sign up for this marvelous virtual crossword tournament!

Click here for full details! And happy puzzling!


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You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie or hashtag games on Twitter.

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleGeography. Today’s entries all mash up Penny Dell puzzles, magazines, and products with geographical terms, famous places, map features, and more!

Examples include Stepping Stonehenge, Sri Linkwords, and Istanbul’s-Eye Spiral.

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


DiagramAtlas

E-Quote-or

Longitudinal Division

Escala-Terrain

Insert-a-World

Globe-servation Post

Arctic Circle Sums

Across and Down Under / Across and Down East

Compass Rose Garden

South of the Borderline

Finland the Fours / Finish the Forest

Grand Turin / Rio Grande Tour

Bricks and Mauritania

Hohokus-Pocus

“The Land of the Midnight Sunrays”

SiliConnections Valley

Annapolisgrams

The Bermuda Triangle Seek

Foggy Top to Bottom

OkefenoKeyword Swamp / O-Keyword-Fenokee Swamp

Orkeywords Islands

Florida Keywords

Plateau-psy Turvy Fill-In

LogiC-artography

Calming Color-ado River

Sudo-Kuwait

Themeyscira

Archi-Dell-ago

Penn-solve-ania

Niagara Quotefalls

Giant’s Crossway

Match-Up Picchu

Tropic of Kanter


Naturally, one of our intrepid contributors went above and beyond, penning this delightful description of a particularly puzzly place:

I don’t know much about Geography, but I do know to take Three from Nile when visiting the Foursome Corners, which of course is where Utah the Odds, Colorado by Numbers, Pair Off-izona, and some oddball called New Mexico come together. Not sure how New Mexico even belongs in the Foursome Corners but there it is, Crypto-Geographically speaking, sorta makes it a Mystery State if you know what I mean. I learned about is when Dora the Exploraword pulled an atlas out of her backpack.


Did you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzle Geography entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them.

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Have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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Fairness and Accessibility in Puzzles?

We love crosswords here at PuzzleNation. Crosswords are our bread and butter, as well as our pizza, our salad, and our desserts.

We strive to keep our puzzles as accessible as possible for solvers of all ages. And that’s tougher than non-puzzlers might think.

Recently we discussed a never-ending debate in crosswords as we delved into the many, sometimes contradictory, goals of creating a great crossword. You want entries to appeal to older solvers without alienating younger solvers, and vice versa. Some people despise pop culture references and proper nouns, while others embrace them.

Abbreviations, partial phrases, fill-in-the-blank clues, wordplay clues, clues that reference other clues… there’s a vast swathe of crossword qualities that must be balanced, and no matter how good a job you do, you’re probably still going to have a few dissenting voices who believe you should do better.

As a hobby still very much viewed as the purview of older white men — despite the many worthwhile voices of women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community that contribute to the world of crosswords in increasing numbers — the language featured in crosswords MATTERS.

It reflects our society, serving as a microcosm of the current day and our culture as a whole. Older solvers might not know new slang or black artists or trans performers or any number of references that are growing more commonplace AND gaining greater visibility. But updating the vocabulary of crosswords is a constant effort, and a worthwhile one.

But I said a lot of this in that previous post, so why am I returning to the topic now?

Well, because I find this continuing democratization of crosswords interesting, because it’s something required of crosswords, but not of many other types of puzzles.

Word seeks (except for some variations) give you the starting list, and then you go hunting for answers. Fill-Ins do the same thing, leaving you the empty grid to fill but requiring no specialized knowledge. Everyone gets the same running start.

(I snagged this helpful image from www.logic-puzzles.org.)

Traditional logic puzzles are also presented on an even playing field. You’re presented with information (say, hints about various names, places, times, and activities), as well as an end goal to figure out (the correct schedule of who did what, where, and when).

You don’t have to bring any foreknowledge or previous experience to the table. Given the opportunity, everyone should have an equal chance of solving the puzzle.

Naturally, this equality depends on the assumption that you, the solver, can read the language the puzzle is presented in.

Which brings me to, perhaps, the most democratically fair paper puzzle of all: Sudoku.

The rules are simple, even if the puzzles can be very challenging: place the numbers 1 through 9 in every row, column, and cell.

Even at a glance, without knowing the puzzle, pretty much anyone would have an idea of what’s going on and what needs to be done. Language doesn’t matter, so long as you can identify the nine different symbols to be placed. (This is why word and color variations of Sudoku exist, because the numbers themselves are irrelevent. You just need nine different things.)

Anyone can pick up a pen, a pencil, or a stylus and solve a Sudoku.

And we should strive for the same thing with crosswords.

Sure, all of those other puzzles require practice to get GOOD at them. But at a baseline, everyone who approaches them has a fair shot. Crosswords demand that solvers bring their own knowledge and info and trivia and vocabulary to the table.

But crosswords as a whole should seek that same democratization: Accessibility. Representation. That inviting X factor.

There’s already a touch of that in the medium. Anytime I see someone solving a puzzle on a train, or in an airport, or in some public place, there’s always someone else sneaking a peek or stealing a glance.

Have you ever seen someone complete a crossword for the very first time? I have, and it’s awesome. It’s a magnified version of the delicious a-ha moment when you unravel a tricky clue.

Do you remember the joy in your heart the first time you conquered a New York Times puzzle on a difficult day? The first time you solved a puzzle type you’d never bested before? The first time you cracked the meta lurking in the background of an already devilish design?

Everyone should get that feeling.

No crossword will ever be everything every solver wants it to be. And that’s fine. But I do look forward to the day when everyone looks at a puzzle and at least one of the clues speaks to them, makes them feel seen and heard and represented.

Puzzles should be for everyone.

[Thank you to ThinkFun and Michelle Parrinello-Cason for inspiring this post.]


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Puzzling From Home!

Problem-solving-crossword

In the wake of puzzly public events like the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament being cancelled, as well as the shutdown of various school districts, workplaces, and businesses in order to limit exposure to the Coronavirus, it’s completely understandable that some puzzle fans may be feeling disappointed or even isolated from their fellow puzzlers.

But fear not! There are all sorts of options available to solvers looking to enjoy a puzzly experience from home, either on their own or with friends.


If you’re looking for crosswords, all you need is your computer. The New York Times, The LA Times, The Washington Post, and many other outlets offer online puzzle-solving, either by subscription or through watching ads before solving.

If you have access to a printer, you can print those puzzles out for the true pencil-and-paper solving experience.

And it’s not just newspapers. Many constructors — Brendan Emmett Quigley comes to mind — offer their own free puzzles semi-regularly (though you’re welcome to tip as a thank you). There is a world of puzzles out there on the Internet awaiting solvers.

But you don’t even have to go to a computer anymore. There are loads of terrific puzzles available right on your phone. Forgive us for tooting our own horn, but Daily POP Crosswords is a great puzzle app with a free puzzle every day and additional puzzle packets available for purchase or through our in-app coin system. (We also offer Word Seeks, Sudoku, and a marvelous story-driven puzzle mystery, Wordventures, if you’re looking for something different.)

Oh, and speaking of something different, if you’re looking to delve into more elaborate puzzles, there are some fantastic puzzle services by mail that offer all sorts of challenges.

enigmasmall

Wish You Were Here by the Enigma Emporium conceals an entire mystery within a handful of postcards, challenging you to mine them for every scrap of information as you uncover a series of coded messages. It’s spycraft in an envelope, very clever stuff.

The Cryptogram Puzzle Post out of the UK offers something unique, mixing puzzles and encryption with bits of mystery and supernatural narratives to create standalone chapters in an ongoing story. So you can pick one season or an entire year, depending on how deep you want to go!

And for multi-month affairs, there are outlets like Hunt a Killer and The Mysterious Package Company, which create vast, immersive puzzle experiences by mail. (Though according to friends’ recommendations, Hunt a Killer works better without the month wait between installments.)

As you can see, there’s a wide variety of ways you can puzzle from home, whether you prefer to solve online, by email, on the phone, or by mail!


That’s all well and good, you might be saying, but what about the social aspect? Well, there are options there as well, even from the comforts of your home.

Photo by Matt MacGillivray, licensed via Creative Commons

Some puzzlers actually livestream their puzzle-solving online through avenues like Twitch, Facebook, and YouTube. The New York Times periodically does this as well, often with celebrity guest solvers!

You can keep your eyes peeled on Facebook and Twitter for constructors and solvers who do so. It often adds a fun, communal element to puzzle-solving (especially if they struggle with the same tricky clues that you do). Some pub trivia outlets are also moving online to allow for participating from home!

new york times

But if you don’t want to wait for someone to livestream their solving, you can do it yourself! Between Facetime and similar apps on smartphones and all the online avenues for audio and video-chatting (Skype, Google Hangouts, Discord, etc.), you could pair up with a friend and tag-team a crossword puzzle or other puzzly challenge!

It’s like co-working, except with puzzles. Co-solving!

In times like this, where uncertainty abounds and our comfortable routines have been upended, puzzles can offer a wonderful refuge from all the stresses of the world. And with technology on our side, we can even keep the communal joys of puzzling in our lives.

Happy puzzling, friends.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Puzzle Books Galore!

As part of our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, we reached out to companies far and wide to explore as big a swathe of the puzzle/game world as we could. And a plethora of puzzle books arrived in response.

With eight in total to cover in this review, we’re going to work from simplest to toughest in terms of difficulty, whilst bundling some books with similar puzzles or styles of presentation together for ease of navigation.

So please enjoy as we peruse offerings from USA Today, the Puzzle Society, and Andrews McMeel Publishing.


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We start our puzzle book journey with objectively the easiest type of puzzle in the group: word searches.

Posh Simple Word Search collects grids and lists of hidden words to test your word recognition skills. The different sizes, themes for puzzles, and variations of word search puzzles (like an Eiffel Tower-shaped grid!) across more than 100 puzzles will have you looping words to your heart’s content.

Factor in a spiral binding that allows you to lay each page flat as you solve, and you’ve got a perfect intro to puzzles.

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From word searches to another iconic and traditional puzzle type: crosswords.

For a travel-friendly puzzle book with eye-catching cover designs and enjoyable pocket-sized puzzles, look no further than Pocket Posh New Crosswords 1 and New Crosswords 2.

With fun, accessible clues and grids designed to test newer, less experienced solvers, Pocket Posh New Crosswords won’t stand in the way of a New York Times-level solver, but they will serve as a satisfying puzzle experience for solvers working their way up the difficulty ladder.

Featuring more than 50 puzzles each, these books are loaded with content created by The Puzzle Society’s pool of talented constructors. (All of whom are credited by name!)

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For a step-up in difficulty and notoriety, check out USA Today’s Crossword Super Challenge.

Packed with 200 puzzles previously published in USA Today, this collection offers a range of difficulty levels depending on the constructor. And the names here are top-notch. Puzzly elites like Elizabeth Gorski, Martin Ashwood-Smith, Gail Grabowski, Frank Longo, and George Barany are featured in the collection, along with numerous contributions by USA Today‘s Crossword Editor, the inimitable Fred Piscop!

This array of 15×15 grids presents loads of different types of themed clues, serving as an ideal crash course in crosswords for solvers with a bit more experience but also have room to grow. Perfect for anyone who enjoys your local daily/weekly syndicated newspaper crossword.

It’s a little thick to make a great travel book — not as pocket-friendly as the Pocket Posh series — but it’s just right for an afternoon or two of cozy armchair solving.

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We then move from one world-conquering puzzle style to another that more recently took the world by storm: Sudoku.

Another in the USA Today series of Super Challenge titles, USA Today’s Sudoku Super Challenge is armed to the teeth with 200 Sudoku puzzles to challenge any fan of the infamous puzzle juggernaut.

Each puzzle is ranked on a scale of 1 to 5 stars in terms of difficulty, so you’ll be solving your way through increasingly tricky number puzzles the deeper you get into this book.

And despite being packed with hundreds of puzzles, this one will easily fit into a pocket, purse, or carry-on for any trip.

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Are you a Sudoku-savvy solver looking to test your number-placement skills in a new way? Posh Kurosu might just have what you’re seeking.

With dozens of examples of Kurosu puzzles — also known as noughts and crosses — this puzzle book packs a surprising amount of variety into a simple solving mechanic. Instead of nine digits to fill the grid, all you have are Xs and Os. And you can’t have more than two Xs or Os next to each other in any column, row, or diagonal.

This is the only kind of puzzle in this selection of puzzle books that I’d never encountered before, and it was a welcome change of pace to try my hand at something that felt familiar and yet fresh all at once. Posh Kurosu tests your logic and deduction chops in fun, unexpected ways.

amplogic

After collections of Sudoku and Kurosu puzzles, it feels appropriate to follow up with a puzzle book loaded with puzzles that test your logic and deduction skills in other ways.

USA Today’s Logic Super Challenge fits the bill nicely, mixing traditional story-driven logic problems (complete with those iconic solving grids to help you weed out false paths) with other logic-based puzzles like Killer Sudoku, Battleships, and Domino Search.

All of these puzzles will bend your brain around corners as you try to hold multiple facts in your head at the same time, waiting for them to fall into place and reveal a new piece of the overall puzzle solution.

And with 200 logic problems in various forms, you certainly won’t run out of devious deduction puzzles anytime soon.

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But if you’re looking for a unique solving experience, something that is as visually immersive as it is engagingly puzzly, then you can’t go wrong with Daria Song’s The Mysterious Mansion.

Mixing lushly illustrated scenes with black and white drawings meant for you to color in, this narrative puzzle book incorporates mazes, spot-the-difference games, word searches, and other puzzly endeavors in a story about one girl’s journey through a strange and confusing mansion.

Designed to relax, engage, and puzzle the reader in equal measure, this book is one you could lose yourself in for hours. The gorgeous full-color illustrations are a feast for the eyes, and the puzzles are seamlessly woven into the art and story of each scene.

Daria Song gleefully takes activity books to the next level with this beautiful puzzle experience, a fairy tale that you not only help write, but make your own by doing so.


All of these puzzle books are available from Andrews McMeel Publishing as well as some local and online retailers. They’re also part of this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

[Note: I received a free copy of each puzzle book in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]


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PuzzleNation 2019 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2019 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

We’re excited to be bringing you our biggest gift guide ever! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down into categories for ease of searching. We have puzzle books, subscription/downloadable puzzles, puzzles by mail, jigsaw puzzles, brain teasers, puzzle games, board games, card games, dice games, party games, miscellaneous puzzle swag, and puzzle events.

We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


This year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide is sponsored by Daily POP Crosswords!

Daily POP Crosswords offers a different themed puzzle every single day, spanning everything from TV and film to sports and music!

Available for both Android and iOS users, you get terrific content from some of the world’s top constructors! And the download is free!


Puzzle Books

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

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

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like their Logic Problems Spectacular ($8.99), the Crossword Extravaganza collection ($7.99), or a value pack of Jumble puzzles ($13.95)! Maybe you’d like some variety with the Mammoth Grab A Pencil Book of Brain Boosters ($10.50).

Or perhaps you’d like a little something extra, and you’d prefer the Merry & Bright Fill-Ins Puzzle Gift Set ($44.95), complete with pencils, coffee, and snacks to keep you puzzling, or the Merry & Bright Sudoku Puzzle Gift Set ($44.95). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. They’ve got bundles and discounts for days!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–Eric Berlin’s Puzzle Snacks: More Than 100 Bite-Size Puzzles for Every Solver ($7.59)

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($8.95)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Octopus Crosswords ($6.95)

–Matt Gaffney’s Fast & Fun Mini Crosswords ($7.49)

–Andrew Ries’s Maverick Crosswords ($8.95)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($8.95)

–Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords ($7.48)

USA Today Crossword Super Challenge ($9.99)

–The Puzzle Society’s Pocket Posh New Crosswords 1 and Pocket Posh New Crosswords 2 ($8.99 each)

–Cynthia Morris’s CynAcrostics Volume 4: My Word! and CynAcrostics Volume 5: My Word, Part 2 ($9.95 each)

–Andrews McMeel Publishing’s Posh Simple Word Search ($12.99)

–Andy Kravis’s Challenge Accepted!: 100 Word Searches ($8.39)

–Shawn Marie Simmons’s 25 Word Search Puzzles for Classic Literature Lovers and 25 Word Search Puzzles for MODERN Literature Lovers ($6.99 each) [available in a large print bundle as well ($12.99)]

USA Today Super Sudoku Challenge ($9.99)

–Oliver Roeder’s The Riddler: Fantastic Puzzles from FiveThirtyEight ($10.99)

USA Today Logic Super Challenge ($9.99)

–Andrews McMeel Publishing’s Posh Kurosu ($12.99)

mysteriousmansionsmall

The Mysterious Mansion by Daria Song (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

Combining puzzles and riddles with mazes, coloring books, and a wonderful, intricate story, The Mysterious Mansion is designed to relax, engage, and puzzle the reader in equal measure. The gorgeous full-color illustrations are a feast for the eyes, and the puzzles are both fun and visually immersive. Daria Song gleefully takes activity books to the next level with this beautiful puzzle experience. ($16.99)

[Click here to check out our review!]

The Keymaster’s Bundle by Mike Selinker, Gaby Weidling, and Eric Harshbarger

The Maze of Games is one of the most diabolical puzzle books ever conceived. It allows the protagonists AND the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of different puzzles in the hopes of conquering each of the labyrinths within the book.

And The Keymaster’s Bundle combines The Maze of GamesThe Theseus Guide to the Final Maze hint book, the Maze of Games Map, and the new Keymaster’s Tome all in one place, along with some bonus digital downloads! It’s the entire Maze of Games experience! ($74.95)

keymasterstome

Of course, if you’ve already got The Maze of Games, The Theseus Guide, and the Maze of Games Map, you can pick up The Keymaster’s Tome on its own right here! ($18.71)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze of Games!]

Puzzlecraft: How to Make Every Kind of Puzzle by Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder

Updated seven years after the original version hit shelves, the new and improved Puzzlecraft is a self-contained masterclass in puzzle creation. Covering everything from crosswords and Sudoku to logic puzzles and brain teasers, this is the perfect launchpad for any and all aspiring puzzlers and constructors! ($29.95)


Email Subscription/Downloadable Puzzles

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

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($22 for 1 year)

The Inkubator, edited by Laura Braunstein and Tracy Bennett (crossword puzzles constructed exclusively by women, twice a month, $25 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword ($26 per year) and Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords ($12 per year), Aries Freestyle themeless crosswords ($45 per year), and Aries Rows Garden ($30 per year) [available in monthly bundles as well]

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($31 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year) OR get both for $30!

–Will Nediger’s Bewilderingly weekly themed and themeless crosswords ($25 for 1 year)

–Eric Berlin’s Puzzlesnacks puzzles ($3 per month)

Crossword LA 2018 puzzle pack ($5)

–Bryant Park 2018 tournament puzzle pack ($5) and 2016/2017 bundle ($10)

Topple puzzle magazine ($1 per issue)

–Lone Shark Games’ Puzzle Vault Bundle (8 PDF collections including Marching Bands, Rows Garden, Crosswords, Cryptics, and more, $44.95)


Puzzles by Mail

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The Crosswords Club

A monthly publication with six Sunday-sized crosswords, The Crosswords Club utilizes some of the sharpest crossword constructors in the business today, and the puzzles are all edited by top constructor Patti Varol. Each bundle is as fun as it is challenging, plus each monthly bundle has an extra word game printed right on the envelope! ($39.95 for 12 issues)

enigmasmall

Wish You Were Here (The Enigma Emporium)

Imagine an entire mystery hidden across a handful of postcards. That’s the multilayered puzzle experience offered by Wish You Were Here, where a series of coded messages awaits you. Unravel all the secrets and discover an exciting tale of danger and spycraft along the way! ($15)

[And if you enjoy Wish You Were Here, there are 3 addition puzzle bundles to try out!]

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Cryptogram Puzzle Post (Jack Fallows)

A combination of different puzzles and encrypted messages interwoven together with bits of narrative, each edition of the Cryptogram Puzzle Post is a standalone story steeped in mystery and supernatural elements. But solve them all together, and a grand universe of storytelling unfolds. Sold in seasonal bundles and annual subscriptions, this episodic puzzly adventure is quite unique. (£5 for digital downloads, £20 for seasonal bundles)


Jigsaw Puzzles

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Puzzometry

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available in seven different styles — including Puzzometry ($18.50), Puzzometry Jr. ($14), Puzzometry Squares ($18.50), and the new Puzzometry Hex ($18.50) — you’ve got distinct challenges appropriate for all different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

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Geode Puzzle (Uncommon Goods)

Forget looking for the edge pieces, because these nature-based puzzles take jigsaws beyond the usual patterning. Geode Puzzle‘s flowing, unusual shapes and vibrant colors create a unique solving experience. ($65)

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Gearjits Roller Coaster (Gearjits)

Bring your puzzle skills to life as you assemble a working roller coaster from these wooden pieces. Assembling handcranks and gears to operate the machine along with the structure of the roller coaster itself makes this 3-D puzzle more exciting and satisfying than the average 3-D puzzle. ($39.95)

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Wooden Fractal Tray Puzzles (Martin Raynsford)

Laser-cut precision and patterns built on fractal designs make these wooden tray puzzles as maddening as they are beautiful. The pieces fall so seamlessly into place that they practically vanish… that is, if you can puzzle out how to place them all into the tray. ($35.99)


Brain Teasers

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Waiter’s Tray (Project Genius)

Just move the wine bottles so you can remove the Waiter’s Tray. Sounds simple, right? When you’re talking about one of the brain teasers from the Constantin Puzzle series, what appears simple quickly becomes a proper puzzly challenge. ($20)

[Check out our review of Waiter’s Tray here!]

 

Tavern Puzzles / Tucker-Jones House Inc.

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to remove twice as many pieces in a Collaborative Effort or free the triangle from Tridiculous, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($25 each)

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The Curated Collection (Project Genius)

Why tackle one brain teaser when five different challenges are there for the solving? The Curated Collection represents five different historical eras with five distinct styles to unravel. Distribute them around the room or pit one friend against the entire gauntlet! ($19.97)

[Our full review now available here!]

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Cat Stax (Brainwright)

Can you place the feline figures into the purrfect arrangement to complete each challenging design? That’s the question posed by Cat Stax, a terrific introduction for younger solvers to spatial-awareness puzzles and Tetris-style solving! ($6.39)

Lightbox (Eric Clough)

A puzzle box unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Lightbox creates different patterns of shadow and light as you shift and arrange the various plastic plates that make up the box. As you twist and reset them, different electrical connections are made, and different plates light up. As gorgeous as it is challenging, Lightbox is a very eye-catching puzzle that always wows new solvers. ($85)

[Check out our full review of Lightbox by clicking here!]

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Ghost Cube (Project Genius)

A regular Rubik’s Cube is challenging enough, but at least you can trust that, no matter how mixed up the colored squares get, you’re still dealing with a standard cube. Well, that’s not the case with Ghost Cube.  Bending into all different shapes as you manipulate the many twisting pieces, this puzzle will force you to examine Rubik’s-style solving from a whole new angle! ($21.95)

[Click here to read our full review!]


Puzzle Games

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Thinking Putty Puzzle (ThinkFun)

It’s not a stretch to call this one of the most inventive and creative puzzle games of the year. Thinking Putty Puzzle pits the player’s wits and planning against some deviously sticky and tricky puzzle scenarios. Can you connect all the dots without your putty paths crossing? ($29.99)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Zendo (Looney Labs)

Puzzle games are all about the rules, but what if you don’t know the rules? That’s where Zendo comes in. In this puzzle game, you arrange Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and then see if those designs conform to a mysterious rule. A game of deduction and trial-and-error, Zendo is a very different solving experience. ($40)

Plus there’s a brand-new expansion pack with additional rules for the game! ($5)

[Check out our full review for Zendo here!]

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Domino Maze (ThinkFun)

Test your deduction skills and your balance in this diabolical puzzle game. Domino Maze tasks you with not only figuring out how to place the dominoes and complete your path, but being dexterous enough not to set it off too early! ($29.99)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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Lexicon-GO! (Winning Moves UK)

Are you a word-forming pro? Take your speed-solving skills and try them out with Lexicon-GO!, a Scrabble-style tile game suitable for solvers of all ages! ($13.27)

[Click here for our full review of Lexicon-GO!]

Chroma Cube (Project Genius)

Deduction puzzles have never been so colorful! In Chroma Cube, you need to puzzle out where to place twelve richly colored cubes, with only a few tricky clues to help you out! Take logic puzzles into the third dimension with this minimalist delight! ($20)

[Check out our full Chroma Cube review here!]

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Invasion of the Cow Snatchers (ThinkFun)

One of the most creative deduction puzzle games I saw all year, Invasion of the Cow Snatchers has you piloting a UFO and picking up different cows on an obstacle-laden field. Can you figure out how to magnetically nab all of the cows while avoiding fences, bushes, walls, and silos? ($29.99)

[Read our full review of Invasion of the Cow Snatchers here!]

Pinbox 3000 (Cardboard Teck Instantute)

How about the chance to build your own game? Is that puzzle enough for you? Pinbox 3000 provides all the pieces you’ll need, plus valuable advice for brainstorming and creating your very own pinball game. It’s endlessly customizable, so you can make your Pinbox pinball game as simple or as complex as you like! ($49.95)


Board Games

Some of the puzzliest games on the market today are being made by top-flight board game companies, and we’ve got some marvelous games that will appeal to puzzlers of all ages!

Deblockle (Project Genius)

It sounds so simple! Just move your four cubes from one side of the board to the other. But Deblockle is more than meets the eye, and as you race against your opponent to puzzle out a path to victory, you’ll push your puzzly skills to the limit! ($24.99)

[Check out our full review of Deblockle here!]

The Island of Doctor Lucky (Cheapass Games)

People have been trying to kill Doctor Lucky for over twenty years, and this time around, you’re visiting his exotic island estate to try your murderous luck against the titular Doctor! The Island of Doctor Lucky offers a new gameboard to explore, new movement mechanics, and a very distracting cat. This is the best addition to the series yet! ($27.39)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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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!]

The Abandons (Puzzling Pixel Games)

Can you escape a dangerous labyrinth that changes every time you explore it? The Abandons pits the solver against a random deck, where luck, quick decision making, and puzzly skill all must be on your side if you ever want to see daylight again.  ($15)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

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Walk-By Scrabble BoardTile Securing Travel Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including Tile Securing Travel Scrabble for those who want to solve on the go ($39.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($249.95) — not to mention the mind-boggling 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!]

Tak: A Beautiful Game (Cheapass Games)

Many new games build off of classic mechanics, but very few new games truly feel like they could have been played centuries ago. Tak definitely fits that mold, using simple wooden pieces to create a game that feels both fresh and ancient all at once. Inspired by the eponymous game in Patrick Rothfuss’s KingKiller Chronicles series, Tak is a wonderful two-player game that quickly grows addictive. ($40 and up)

[Click here for our full review of Tak!]

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Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games)

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. Try not to meet any other dragons or fly off the board! It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($30)

Chessplus

The first thing you learn in chess is how the pieces move. But what if that could change? What if you could make new pieces that move in unexpected ways? How would that change the game? With Chessplus, you’ll find out, as you mix and match chess pieces in order to capture your opponent’s king. The possibilities really are endless! ($44.95)

[Click here for our full review of Chessplus!]

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Qwirkle (MindWare)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train DominoesQwirkle is a tile-placing game where you try to maximize your points while minimizing the help you give to your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($14.99)


Card Games

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Fluxx (Looney Labs)

The chaos and ever-changing rules of Fluxx finally meet their match as they tackle the crews of the Federation’s most famous outposts, Deep Space Nine. Work with Sisko and his eclectic team to outwit the Dominion, the Cardassians, and more, all in a card game that boldly goes where only a few other versions of Fluxx have gone before! ($20)

And if Star Trek isn’t your style, maybe you’d enjoy Jumanji Fluxx, Marvel Fluxx, or any of the other marvelous variations on this classic quick-changing card game!

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Codenames (Czech Games)

It’s a race against time to locate all of your spies before your opponents. But in order to do so, you need to communicate information with a single word. Codenames will put your word association skills to work as you try to find secret agents disguised with code words, while avoiding innocent citizens and dangerous assassins along the way! ($19.99)

[Read our full review of Codenames here!]

Deluxe Pairs (Hip Pocket Games)

Building on the legacy already established by the bar-friendly series of Pairs decks available, Deluxe Pairs offers a new artistic spin on the classic Pairs “Fruit Deck,” as well as a companion booklet with rules for numerous Pairs variants you can play with the deck! This isn’t just one card game, it’s dozens! ($14.85)

[Click here for our full review of Deluxe Pairs!]

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Are You a Robot? (Looney Labs)

In this social deduction game, your space station has been invaded by robots that can masquerade as human. Is one already in the room, or are you just being paranoid? The more packs you have, the more people can play, and the more devious and exciting the gameplay becomes. If you’ve ever played Mafia or Ultimate Werewolf, you’ll enjoy Are You a Robot? ($2 per pack)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

Spaceteam (Timber and Bolt)

Can you repair your ship and get the engines up and running before a black hole ends your space adventure forever? That’s the name of the game in Spaceteam, a cooperative, communication-based game where you have to accomplish various tasks with your fellow players while sharing tools. It’s delightful chaos, heightened by the five-minute hourglass timer counting down your dwindling seconds before disaster strikes! A definite favorite around here. ($24.95)

Unspeakable Words (Playroom Entertainment)

Some word games might drive you mad, but only Unspeakable Words actually makes keeping your sanity part of the gameplay! As you spell different words, you have to make a die roll to see if spelling the word cost you a bit of your sanity. If you lose too much of it, you’ll start uttering unspeakable words, which can be worth more points… if your sanity can take it! A fun twist on Scrabble and other word-forming games. ($18.75; deluxe edition $29.38)

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Time Breaker (Looney Labs)

Time itself is in danger as you chase a fugitive across history in this clever strategy game. Whether you’re moving your token through time across the board or playing special cards to leap to specific moments in time, you’ll have to be quick and cagey to prevent the Time Breaker from escaping your clutches. ($25)

[Check out our full review here!]

Constellations (Xtronaut Enterprises)

Sometimes, we can move heaven and earth! Constellations is all about collecting stars and building famous constellations, then placing them in the night sky! The more effective your constellation-building, the higher your score! ($23.98)

[Check out our full review of Constellations here!]

Scrimish (Nexci)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

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

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Timeline (Asmodee Games)

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! ($8.99 and up)

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Star Trek Chrono-Trek (Looney Labs)

Can you bend time to your will and make the future you desire come to pass? In Star Trek Chrono-Trek, you take on the role of a famous member of Starfleet and try to alter the fabric of space-time itself in order to win. But be careful, because other players are changing the timeline too, and there are consequences for meddling with time! ($25)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($10.23)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]


Dice Games

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Bananagrams Duel (Bananagrams)

Bananagrams specializes in crossword-inspired fun for groups, but what if you’re looking for a head-to-head challenge? Well then, Bananagrams Duel might be what you’re looking for. Utilizing letter cubes instead of tiles, you’ll have to build a grid of related words fitting a given theme before your opponent can! It’s a new twist on an old classic! ($7.99)

[Click here for our full review!]

Sagrada (Floodgate Games)

One of the most beautiful strategy games on the market today, Sagrada is a singularly peaceful gaming experience. Compete with other players to build the most beautiful stained glass window, but with dice instead of glass! Unique and challenging, Sagrada is something else. ($39.95)

Tenzi

All of us have rolled dice in games before, but can you roll what you need as fast as possible? That’s the challenge of Tenzi, a game that pits up to four players against each other in tests of speed and dexterity. Can you roll ten 6’s before everyone else? ($14.95)


Party Games

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Smart10 (Bananagrams)

Can you pick one correct answer from a field of possibilities? Smart10 challenges you and a group of friends to do just that by selecting correct answers from a list of possible responses. It’s tougher than it sounds, and it’ll test your trivia skills and your ability to think under pressure. ($19.95)

[Check out our full review here!]

Slapzi (Tenzi)

Slapzi will keep you on your toes. In this quick-reaction game, you’ve got to match your picture cards to the clue cards before your opponents. But with clues like “Not sold in a hardware store” or “Two of the same letter together,” this isn’t as easy as it appears! ($19.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of Slapzi!]

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Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze)

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! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

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

Decrypto (IELLO USA)

Can you covertly communicate with your teammates without revealing your secret code to the opponent team? That’s the name of the game in Decrypto, a party game all about word association and deduction. The first team to crack the opposing team’s codes twice wins! ($19.98)


Miscellaneous Puzzle Swag

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I’d Rather Be Puzzling travel mug (Penny Press)

After a long day of puzzling, sip some coffee from a snazzy I’d Rather Be Puzzling Travel Mug ($7.95).

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Flying Colors coloring book (Penny Press)

Our puzzly pals at Penny Press know that sometimes, you need a break from puzzles, so why not unwind with their Flying Colors coloring book ($6.99).

All of the Things

If you’re looking for puzzly magnets, keychains, teddy bears, and more, the team at All of the Things have puzzle treats for you! Their table was one of the marketplace highlights at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and we’re happy to welcome them back to the Gift Guide this year!


Puzzle Events

The Enigmatist

“An immersive evening of puzzles, cryptology, and illusions” created by magician and crossword constructor David Kwong, The Enigmatist is based on William and Elizebeth Friedman’s work at Riverbank, a peculiar hotbed for codebreaking in the early days of the twentieth century.

Tickets are available in New York City until January 11th, then again in May, but in Los Angeles this time at the Geffen Playhouse! (Prices range from $59 to $150 in NYC, $30 to $130 in LA.)

Escape Room gift cards/vouchers

When it comes to the puzzler in your life, why not buy them a gift card or voucher for your friendly local escape room? It’s a terrific unique puzzle experience they can share with friends, loved ones, and fellow puzzlers!

Most escape room companies offer them, and a quick Google search should turn up an escape room near you!

But here’s a smattering of terrific escape rooms to check out:


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

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

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