A World of Puzzles and Games at Norwescon 42!

Your friendly neighborhood puzzle blogger took a trip across the country to attend Norwescon, the premiere fantasy and science fiction convention in the Pacific Northwest.

This was the 42nd edition of the convention, and if you know your sci-fi novels, then you’re not surprised that there were all sorts of references to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (The number 42 is a big part of the first novel.)

The convention’s subtitle was “Don’t Panic” (another HHGTTG reference), and lots of convention attendees were in their bathrobes or carrying towels, representing the two main characters of the series, the bathrobe-wearing Arthur Dent and the towel-toting alien tourist Ford Prefect.

As with any convention, the costuming was amazing. There were fairy godmothers, vikings, mermaids, Daleks, folks in Seahawks-colored finery (it was Seattle, after all), a Predator offering free hugs, an inflatable T-rex costume with those robotic grabber arms, and even photo ops with Krampus and Santa! (And Easter Krampus on Sunday.)

One of the oddest moments for me was seeing a group of people in uniforms I didn’t recognize, and realizing they weren’t con attendees, they were the flight crew for an international airline. (The hotel was across the street from the airport.)

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

The dealers room — the main area to shop for costumes, books, fabric, t-shirts, memorabilia, collectibles, and more — had several game shops represented, toting loads of games at good prices. (Several of which we’ve reviewed on the Blog in the past, and some that will be reviewed in the future.)

[All hotel nooks and crannies were stuffed with thematic exhibits, including this delightful leave-a-book, take-a-book mini-library a la The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.]

Board game demos were available all day, complete with skillful players to introduce newbies to various games, as well as tabletop roleplaying adventures in all sorts of settings and systems, from Dungeons & Dragons and Vampire: The Masquerade to Pathfinder and more. In fact, one of the gaming spaces was right down the hall from my hotel room, and it was PACKED morning ’til night with enthusiastic roleplayers telling stories, rolling dice, and battling monsters.

There were open games as well as sign-ups for specific games and adventures, including a multi-table multi-hour battle for gang supremacy in the fictional city of Waterdeep.

One of the most intriguing puzzle/game experiences available to try at the convention was Artemis.

Artemis is a spaceship bridge simulator that allows a group of players to essentially play out a Star Trek-esque adventure. Each player has instructions, controls, and a laptop in front of them, as well as a big screen for everyone to view (much like the main viewer on the bridge of the Enterprise).

Two teams, each piloting their own ship (the Artemis or the Intrepid) must battle foes, trade goods, dock with space stations, and explore the galaxy, all while maintaining their weapons, shields, energy usage in the ship, and piloting control, as well as communicating with their sister ship through headset.

I moved back and forth between the two “ships,” watching as the players navigated different challenges, cooperated (and disagreed) on command decisions, managed their resources, and ventured between the stars, all while some pretty impressive graphics tied the whole play experience together.

What really struck me about the Artemis style of play was how much communication was required for success. It is a co-op game in the same vein as Castle Panic!, Forbidden Island, or Spaceteam, but with a lot more personal responsibility. Plus the laptop interfaces for each station were slick and well-designed, bringing that polished Star Trek: The Next Generation feel home.

I was also responsible for some of the puzzliest events at the convention. Although I did participate in some panels on writing, literature, roleplaying games, and movies (both good ones and the worst of b-movies), the two events that were the main focus of my time were a LARP/scavenger hunt based on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and an escape room based on Star Wars.

The HHGTTG event was built as an in-universe scavenger hunt where players (who were all expected to bring their towels, of course), had to complete five tasks. The completion of each task led to a rune for the players to record on their gamesheet. and earn five runes, then spell them out in a secret location using their towels, in order to ask an important question.

Some of the tasks included:

  • finding HHGTTG character names in a word search grid, then reading the remaining uncircled letters as a secret message
  • singing karaoke to the mermaids at the hotel pool
  • assisting a Vogon poet with her terrible poetry

They had to earn all five runes, then find me in a secret location and spell out the runes with their towels. If they did so correctly, they would bring one of the missing dolphins back to Earth (and received a small stuffed one for their efforts).

[A bag full of dolphins, awaiting a possible return to Earth.]

The Star Wars event was a traditional escape room with puzzles to solve, boxes to unlock, combinations to find, keys to uncover, and a room to escape under a time limit. Designed for the teenaged attendees, the escape room was set on a bounty hunter’s ship, and all of the players were recently captured by the bounty hunter, awaiting transport to an Imperial prison.

But the bounty hunter has fallen victim to one of his own security protocols, so all of the “prisoners” have a chance to escape, if they disable the (Nerf gun-)armed droid blocking the escape pod, as well as either shut off the radiation leak near the pod OR gather enough bacta to heal themselves from radiation damage in order to actually survive the escape.

[Nerf guns and five shipped boxes. An embryonic escape room.]

[The contents of said shipped boxes. An escape room mid-construction.]

Although some of the boxes were opened out of order (by brute force, rather than proper solving) and one of the puzzles had an unfortunate printing error, the players unraveled the mysteries of the bounty hunter’s ship and escaped with only seconds to spare before the Imperials arrived. SUCCESS!

(Plus friend of the blog Jen Cunningham cooked up some lovely victory certificates for the players, which was a cool bonus. Thank you Jen!)

More importantly, despite the hiccups encountered during both events, everyone had fun while playing (either walking away with a small dolphin or a certificate).

The entire convention was a blast (an exhausting one, but a blast nonetheless), and I highly recommend attending Norwescon next year to any fans of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, writing workshops, games, roleplaying, and of course, puzzles.


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Suggestions from the World of Puzzle Books!

Puzzles come in so many forms these days that puzzlers are absolutely spoiled with choices. There are video games, apps, mechanical puzzles, brain teasers, single- and multi-player puzzle games, subscription services, and puzzles by mail, just for starters.

But sometimes, it’s nice to go back to the simple pleasures of solving while putting pencil (or pen) to paper.

So today, let’s talk about some of the best puzzle books available today for a solver looking to kick back and solve some paper puzzles.

Naturally, let’s start with crosswords. Many top constructors have put out puzzle books with varying degrees of difficulty, and you can pick up most of them for great prices in spots like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Maybe we’re talking something smaller and more accessible, like Matt Gaffney’s Fast & Fun Mini Crosswords, or something with a little more challenge, like Andrew Ries’s Maverick Crosswords. You could start your crossword culinary menu off with the food-themed puzzles of Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords, or enjoy the unthemed puzzles in Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords as a palate cleanser.

Whether we’re talking about the well-constructed crosswords of David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register or the challenging puzzles offered by Peter Gordon’s Wickedly Hard Fireball Crosswords, there’s a puzzle book for every skill level, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar you are with crosswords.

Oh, and for a variation on the theme, you can try Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Octopus Crosswords (where the 8×8 grids allow words to spell out in any of 8 possible directions).

Maybe you enjoy clued puzzles but the criss-crossing of a standard crossword grid isn’t your forte. If that’s the case, crostics (or acrostics) might be more your taste. These clued puzzles reveal quotations, bits of information, or anecdotes of all sorts. And all of the letters in the quote/bonus answer can also be found in the answers to that puzzle’s list of clues.

This allows for some fun back-and-forth solving between the clues and the quotation, in case you get stumped in one spot or the other.

Friend of the blog Cynthia Morris has a fleet of acrostic puzzle books available, with American Acrostics Volume 6: Puzzling American Culture and American Acrostics Volume 7: Puzzling Explorers and Adventurers being among the most recent releases.

Then again, maybe you want to leave clued puzzles behind altogether and simply go hunting for words concealed in a grid. For the word seek/word search fans, a good theme to anchor a puzzle is the key to an enjoyable solving experience.

For the bookworms out there, you can check out Shawn Marie Simmons’s 25 Word Search Puzzles for Classic Literature Lovers. With word lists tailored to different iconic works of literature, you can revisit your favorite reads as you go searching each grid for a bevy of fun and familiar words. (And she has more volumes coming soon!)

Of course, we’ve only just scratched the surface of puzzle books that are available. But whether it’s one of the volumes we’ve mentioned today, the numerous magazines published by our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles, or something bigger and more ambitious like Mike Selinker’s The Maze of Games, you can never go wrong with a good puzzle book.

Can you think of any terrific puzzle books we missed? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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A National Puzzle Day Event a Few Days Early!

Tuesday is National Puzzle Day, aka International Puzzle Day, but as it turns out, a day is simply not enough for the folks at Barnes & Noble. They have been celebrating National Puzzle Month for the whole of January!

And tomorrow, January 26th, all 630+ Barnes & Noble stores will be hosting a puzzle contest to celebrate National Puzzle Day/Month!

All ages are invited to participate in a variety of puzzle activities with fellow players; complete jigsaw puzzles from start to finish; jump in on a fun word search; or challenge your vocab with crosswords.

We’re also featuring Curious Jane activities full of ideas! Participating players will get a free activity booklet to take home—while supplies last.

Don’t miss this special offer for puzzle fans: Buy 1, Get 1 50% Off All Dell Penny Puzzles from January 25th to January 27th, in stores only.

There’s still time to sign up for their event; check out their Facebook, Instagram, or website for more details.

Not only that, but I can tell you for a fact that the puzzles they’re offering for the event itself are top-notch! How can I be so sure?

Well, our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles are the ones who crafted those marvelous puzzles for the participants! How cool is that?

Will you be attending the #BNPuzzleParty tomorrow? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you!


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Welcome to the World of Wordventures!

You can hear the lapping of the waves, even at a distance. A slight breeze heightens the chill in the air. The moon is already on the rise, casting long shadows that look as if they’d love nothing more than to reach out and grab you.

Night is quickly falling as you climb a hill, the last hill on your long journey. A small collection of buildings comes into view. You pass an old wooden sign that marks the town line.

Mistyvale Oaks.

A town full of strangers, distrusting souls that probably won’t take kindly to your intrusion.

A town full of secrets, a seaside port with rumors of ships both real and otherworldly haunting its shores.

A town with a horrifying history, where the laughter and playful patter of children’s feet are absent.

The children of Mistyvale Oaks have disappeared, and you’re the only one who can solve the mystery.

Welcome to the opening scenes of Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate, our newest puzzle app. This immersive story-driven puzzle-solving experience places you in the shoes of our nameless protagonist, who has followed stories of an ancient cult to this foreboding place.

Puzzles and exploration go hand-in-hand in Wordventures. As your character investigates in the story, going first from building to building, and then beyond into the mystery of Mistyvale Oaks, you search for key words in each puzzle grid, revealing small clues, new personalities, and important revelations in the narrative.

Along the way, evocative music and gorgeous artwork draw you further into the story, urging you forward as you fill your investigative journal with crucial information, other paths to explore, and the lore behind the curious objects you discover as you search.

And as you progress through the story, more supernatural elements come into play. You’ll need to rely on your wits, your puzzly skills, your investigative chops, and your trusty journal to solve the mystery!

What happened to the children of Mistyvale Oaks? What about the rumors of a ghost ship spotted nearby for years? And where does the vampire pirate of the title fit in?

Well, the only way to find out is to solve a mystery yourself! Click here to learn more about Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate and download the app now!


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Storytelling and Puzzles Unite in Wordventures! Available now!

There’s nothing more exciting than announcing a brand-new puzzle app we’ve been working on, and today, we’ve got something truly special for you to enjoy.

Our newest app, Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate is now available for download!

A town’s children have gone missing. A mysterious undead pirate and his ragtag crew lurk nearby. And the only person who can unravel the mystery and find the children is you!

In Wordventures, you can immerse yourself in a investigation while solving word search puzzles to uncover clues, reveal secrets, and move the story forward!

Combining the world-class puzzle solving you expect from PuzzleNation with a multilayered storytelling experience offers the best of both worlds. You’ll explore the town, meet fascinating characters, and even keep notes in a journal as you play through the story!

You control the pace, you control the difficulty, and you push the narrative forward with every puzzle you solve!

Solve a mystery like never before with Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate! Click here to learn more about the app and download it now!


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!

Answers to our Thanksgiving Word Seek Puzzle!

Happy Thanksgiving, PuzzleNationers!

Last Thursday, we celebrated Thanksgiving with a holiday-themed word seek, loaded with all the traditional Thanksgiving trimmings.

Everything from turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing to pumpkin pie, turnip, and yams was hidden in our dastardly grid. And unlikely many word seeks where the words read out in a straight line, the words in this grid can wind, turn, and double-back within their patches.

Did you find them all?

If not, we’ve got the solution to our Thanksgiving word seek for you today!

But first, here’s one last chance to solve it before we reveal the answer…

Okay, that’s more than fair. It’s time for the answer grid!

As you can see, even with the entries divvied up into their various patches, it’s still not immediately clear what the entry is. That’s what makes a Patchword-style word seek tougher than you’d expect.

So how did you do? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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!