Lollapuzzoola 11 is near!

Saturday, August 18, marks the eleventh annual Lollapuzzoola!

The marvelous indie offspring of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, Lollapuzzoola is a favorite of both solvers and top constructors, all of whom descend upon New York City to enjoy what can only be described as “the best tournament held in New York on a Saturday in August.” (At least, that’s what they say on their website.)

The format is simple. Four divisions — Express (experienced solvers who have contended in or won tournaments before), Local (solvers with some experience), Rookies, and Pairs (allowing you to team up to solve) — pit their puzzly minds against clever clues and crafty constructors.

With seven tournament puzzles — designed with inimitable style, both fun and befuddling in how often they innovate classic crossword tropes — you’re guaranteed to get your money’s worth as you solve!

And for those who reach the top of mountain, “winners in each division are awarded prizes, which could range from a box of used pencils to a brand new car. So far, no one has ever won a car.

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But if you can’t make it to NYC that weekend, worry not! There’s an At-Home Division that will allow you to participate as if you were there! You’ll get your puzzles by email the day after the actual tournament for a very reasonable $15 fee! Not only that, but you’ll be able to submit your times (and your number of blank/wrong squares) to be officially ranked in the At-Home Division lineup!

It’s one of the highlights of the puzzle world each year, and I’m definitely looking forward to tackling the puzzles! They’re a diabolical treat each and every year! (For a full rundown of the event, check out this interview with Local Division winner and friend of the blog Patti Varol!)

Are you attending Lollapuzzoola or solving from home? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you!


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A New Feature! Citizen Shoutouts!

Welcome to the first installment of a brand-new monthly feature on the blog, Citizen Shoutouts!

Each edition of Citizen Shoutouts is an opportunity to say thank you, to put the spotlight on folks in the PuzzleNation community who contribute to the world of puzzles and games.

And in our inaugural edition, I’d like to highlight a few intrepid puzzlers who regularly make their presence felt across our social media feeds.

As many of you well know, we have a recurring feature on Facebook and Twitter, the Crossword Clue Challenge. Every weekday, a word from that day’s free puzzle for the Penny Dell Crosswords App is selected, and we use it to test the puzzly skills of our followers on social media.

Not only does it highlight the clever cluing and expansive vocabulary you can expect from our app puzzles, but it gives members of the PuzzleNation readership a chance to show off their chops, filling in the blanks Wheel of Fortune-style and revealing each day’s answer.

Over on Facebook, we have a number of devoted solvers who regularly accept the Crossword Clue Challenge.

On any given weekday, you’re likely to see correct answers from PuzzleNationers Diane Wood, Sherri Strayer, and Mary Hayes, alongside fellow puzzlers Francis Ichihara and our two resident Crossword Carols, Carol Dawn Whittaker and Carol Tucker!

And I just wanted to take a moment today to thank them for their enthusiasm and their involvement in the game. It always brings a smile to my face to see their names pop up in our feed, alongside the new solvers trying their hand at the CCC for the first time.

But Twitter also has a Crossword Clue Challenge master who deserves a shoutout.

If you follow the CCC on Twitter, you’re bound to have seen one name pop up again and again. No matter how crafty the clue, no matter how many or how few letters I provide as a starter, one solver stands head and shoulders above the rest.

His name is Joshua Heckert, and he definitely merits a hearty round of applause for his puzzly skills and a thank you for accepting the Crossword Clue Challenge as often as he does. Ever since he first followed our Twitter account months ago, he has been a CCC contributor, and he rarely, if ever, misses a day. That enthusiasm certainly merits a Citizen Shoutout!

All of these folks, my fellow puzzlers, help make PuzzleNation one of the best puzzle communities on the Internet today, and I’m proud to highlight them in our first Citizens Shoutout post.

But what about next month? I’m glad you asked.

In the future, I’d like to take suggestions from my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers for those we highlight in each month’s post.

It could be a puzzler or designer who inspires you, a constructor who challenged you or surprised you with a puzzle, or someone who did something kind in a puzzly way.

Maybe you have a favorite local game shop where you meet other puzzlers, or that introduced you to a favorite game.

Maybe you’d like to give a shout-out to an escape room you think others would enjoy, or to someone who went above and beyond to make a puzzly experience truly memorable.

You can submit your suggestions for the next Citizen Shoutouts post on Facebook, on Twitter, or in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.


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Puzzles in Pop Culture: Garfield

Puzzles are ubiquitous. Once you start looking around for them, you’ll find them in every nook and cranny of popular culture.

Sometimes, they’re the basis for an entire episode of television, as in Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Parks and Rec. Sometimes, they serve as a linchpin metaphor, as they did in Sleepy Hollow. Other times, they’re good for a funny aside, as in Gilmore Girls, or as a prop to reveal deeper character insight, as on The West Wing.

Over the years, I’ve seen puzzles incorporated into storytelling in dozens of ways. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to stumble across puzzle references where I least expected them: the funny pages.

Yes, they’re such a part of the cultural fabric that they’ve even infiltrated comic strips.

The other day, I stumbled across this Garfield comic strip from last year:

Now, it’s meant to be funny, but I think any puzzler who has stood onstage in front of a whiteboard at ACPT, Lollapuzzoola, or another crossword tournament would agree with Jon over Garfield here.

That was one example. As it turns out, when you start digging, you find crossword gags strewn through the Garfield comics.

Like this one from November of 2005:

That’s a pretty simple gag, but it’s also a nice bonding moment for Jon and Garfield, as Jon’s rampant procrastination dovetails nicely with Garfield’s bottomless love for Italian food.

Jon has less luck making a puzzly connection in this comic from February of 1998:

If you ask me, a cookie and a crossword puzzle sounds like an excellent way to spend time with someone interesting. But I’m biased. I love cookies.

And as you can see in this comic from February of 1979, Jon’s crossword struggles have been an ongoing issue for decades now:

But it’s not just crosswords. Sudoku has gotten a fair amount of attention in the Garfield strip over the years. That’s understandable, as it’s one of the most recognizable pencil-and-paper puzzles in the world.

And as someone who isn’t the fastest Sudoku solver in the world, this series of comics from January of 2010 (an entire week’s worth!) speaks to me. I get it, Jon. I get it.

Honestly, it makes sense that Odie would have Sudoku wired. He’s a puzzle dog. He’s been appearing in crossword grids for years.

There’s a lovely callback to that previous crossword gag.

Finally, Jon triumphs! I admire both his resilience and his unwillingness to give up. Though, given that it took a week to complete a Sudoku, maybe Jon should stick to other puzzles.

Heck, our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles have the perfect book for him to try out.

[All images are courtesy of Garfield.com.]


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Hashtag! You’re Out!

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

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 #PennyDellBaseballPuzzles, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with players, teams, terminology, and all things regarding America’s pastime!

Examples include: Right of Wade Boggs, Mookie AlphaBetts Soup, and, of course, Triple Play.

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


Puzzly Players!

Railroad Ty Cobb

Ty-in Cobb

Cy-lacrostics

Daisy Dean

Satchel Solution Paige

Warren Spanners

Denard Spanners

Dwight Gooden Deal

Jeff Mixed Bagwell

Crypto-Trivias Jackson

Willie Starspell

Seaver Words

Earl Weaver Words

Pine David Cone

Bo “knows the odds” Jackson

Goose Tile

Harry Caray-Overs

KenKen Griffey, Jr.

Rollie Fingers of the Dice

IchiRoll of the Dice

Roll of the Dice-K

Ichiro Sudoku

Phil Crypto-Zooto

Go Catfish Hunter

Willie Word Maze / Word Mays / Willie Maze

The Say That Again Hey Kid

Ron Cey That Again

Let’s close out this category with some player facts!

  • Hall of Famers: Al Draw the Ka-line, Bill Maze-roski, and Ozzie Smith aka “The Wizard Words of Oz”
  • Anagram Lloyd was an important reliever in the Yankees 1996 World Series run.
  • The Yankees and Mets in the 1970’s had Bill Sudoku who played catcher and first base.

Puzzly Teams!

Mudville 9 of Diamonds

Arizona Nine of Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamond Rings

Tampa Bay Sunrays

Cubbles

Yan-Keyword


Puzzly Baseball Lingo!

Seventh Inning Stretch Letters

All-Starspell game / All-Star Codebreaker / All-Star Categories

Home Runs

Picker-Upper Decker Home Runs

Puzzle Home Run Derby

Three Strikes of a Kind

ERABC’s

Dugout of Place / Pitchout of Place

Bullpen Spiral / Bullpen’s-Eye Spiral

Bull Pencil Pusher

Who’s Calling The Bullpen?

What’s Left? Field

Slide-Into-Home-O-Gram / Slider-O-Gram

Window Box score / Shadowbox score

Diamond Nine

Bad Hop, Skip, and Jump

In and Around the Horn

A Few Fielder’s Choice Words

In and Aroundfielder

Give and Take a Pitch

Pitcher This

Pitching Match-Up

Small Change-up / Changeupaword

Trade-Offspeed Pitch

All Mixed Up and Away

Down the Middle of the Road

At the Block Letters

12-to-6 Drop-Ins

High and Insiders

Split-Finger Personalities

Full Countdown

Fourbagger Fit

Grand Slam Tour

Ball Fore ’n’ Aft / Ball Four Corners

Letter Perfect Game / Perfect Game Fit

Perfect Hit

Hits & Pieces

Batter’s Boxes

Battergrams

Word Player to be named later

Letter Power hitter

Line Drive ‘Em Up

Draw the Line Drive

Crack of the Battleships

Throwback-to-backs

Bat Around the Bend

Word-A-Bat

Bases, Please.

Base to Base

Grounds-Roulette Double / Grounds-Rule Double Trouble / Ground Rule Double Occupancy

Right of FenWay / Which FenWay Words

Heads & Tailgates

In the Middle Innings

Word Playoffs

Crossword Series

World Series Ringers

Bookworm-Burner

Three-DL Crossword

Heading-ers

Quotefall Classic

Four Hot Corners / Can of Four Corners

Fill-Innings

Doubleheader Delight

The Nine of Baseball Diamonds

Dial-It-Up-A-Grams!

Balkworms

Old Timer’s Bowl Game

Take Me Out to the Ballgame From There

Take(me)outs to the Ballgame

TakeTrouts

Takeoutslide

Take-out Slide-O-Rama

Dash-It and Run

“Buy me some peanuts and Crackerjacks…”

If a pitcher has men on base, he may opt to pitch from the Stretch Letters.

Baseball: A Film by Kenken Burns


And, as always, there are those participants who go above and beyond in their masterful punnery!

A few offered up some puzzly calls:

  • And there goes Hank Aarrrooound the Block to Add One to his Homeruuuns!
  • Alfred got 3 books and he’s out….he should of ordered more puzzles…back to the bullpen

Naturally, we couldn’t have some fun with baseball without a certain Abbott and Costello routine getting referenced…

“GUESS WHO’s on first, WHAT’S MY NAME is on second, YOU KNOW THE ODDS is on third…”

[Note: someone else also offered “What’s Left on Second?”]

One intrepid puzzler offered this advertisement for players with, shall we say, chemistry:

Were you Suspended and Sentenced for Steroids? Did you hit too many Home Runs? Well just Dial-A-Gram 1-800 ALL-FRAMED because those are some Barry Common Bonds you have there!

We even got some pun-filled trivia!

In the old time parks like Wrigley Field and Fenway, you can see the SCOREBOARD in which they use PLACE CARDS to create a DIGITAL DISPLAY.

I’ll never forget my favorite Yogi Berra quote: When you’re coming and going to a fork in the middle of the road, take a letter.


Alas, there is simply no topping this all-time puzzly classic…

Take me out to the ALL FRAME,
Take me out with the CROSS PAIRS
Buy me some PATCHWORDS and CRACKERJACKS
I don’t care if I never get THROWBACKS
Let me root, root, root for the HOME RUNS,
If they don’t win it’s a FRAMEwork,
For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re ROUNDABOUT
At the old BOWL GAME


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

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Winning Monopoly With Math!

I’m always on the hunt for tips to make myself a better puzzler and gamer. Sometimes you stumble across those tips in unexpected places.

For instance, I was reading, of all things, a book about mathematics and Christmas — The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus: The Mathematics of Christmas — and inside, I found a statistical analysis of the best strategy for winning a game of Monopoly.

Yes, we’ve discussed this topic before, but even that previous deep-dive into the mechanics of the game wasn’t as thorough or as revealing as the work by Dr. Hannah Fry and Dr. Thomas Oleron Evans in this Christmas-fueled tome of facts and figures.

They started with a breakdown of how your first turn could go, based on dice rolls. This is the same breakdown as in our previous post, but with some important differences. For instance, they also considered the chances of going to jail after multiple doubles rolls.

Also, they covered the statistical impact of how landing on card spaces can affect where you land on your first turn. The Community Chest is a curveball, because of the possible sixteen cards, three will send you somewhere on the board: Go, Mediterranean Ave, and Jail.

A simple statistical analysis is complicated even further by the Chance cards — nearly half of the sixteen cards send you elsewhere: Go, Income Tax, St. Charles Place, Pennsylvania Railroad, Illinois Ave., Jail, and Boardwalk.

If you extrapolate forward from this point, you uncover some interesting patterns:

The orange property set benefits from all the ex-cons leaving their cells, and after their next turn the reformed criminals will likely end up somewhere between the reds and yellows… Illinois Avenue, with its own dedicated Chance card directing people to it, gets an extra boost, making it the second most visited square on the board.

The property that is visited least frequently is Park Place, where players spend just 2.1% of their time.

Check out this graph. This shows potential earnings from each complete color set, with the dotted line marking the point where your purchase of the property is canceled out by how much the property has earned in rent thus far. Everything above that is profit.

As you can see, blue and brown properties start close to the dotted line, because they’re affordable to buy and build on. The standouts on this graph are New York Avenue (which earns $30 a roll up through thirty rolls statistically) and Boardwalk, which is an expensive investment, but pays off handsomely down the line, remaining the top earning spot past thirty rolls.

Of course, that’s only single properties, and you can’t build on single properties. Let’s look at a chart for full color set revenue:

Some of our previous findings change radically. Boardwalk’s rating drops significantly, because of Park Place’s relative infrequency of being landed on (as we mentioned above).

So which properties should you nab to give yourself the best chance of winning? Well, that depends on how long the game lasts.

The average game of Monopoly takes approximately thirty turns per player, so the larger the number of players, the longer the game will last.

So, for a two-player game, your best bet is to go after the light blue or orange sets, since they’re better in the short term, and the odds are in your favor if the game stays short.

In a three- or four-player game, the orange and red sets are better, because the game is likely to last a while.

And if five or more people are playing, you’re really playing the long game, so the green set becomes your best chance for success.

What about building on those properties? Well, Fry and Evans considered that as well. If you’re playing against multiple opponents and know you’ll be in for a long game, then you definitely want to buy and place houses. But don’t fear if the first house takes a long time to start paying for itself.

As it turns out, your best strategy is to put three houses on your properties as quickly as possible, because the third house is the fastest to recoup on investment. So once the three houses are in place on each property, you can rest for a bit and regenerate your bank before investing further.

And there you have it. Better gaming through mathematics! The only thing better would be, well, playing practically any other game.

Kidding! (But not really.)


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Tackling the 2018 Indie 500 Puzzles!

June 2 marked the fourth annual Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, hosted in Washington, D.C., by constructors Erik Agard, Neville Fogarty, Andy Kravis, Peter Broda, and Angela Olsen Halsted. The first tournament had a racing theme, the second had a prom theme, the third had a time theme, and this year was fashion-themed!

While I couldn’t attend the tournament, I did download the tournament puzzles, and last weekend I finally had the opportunity to sit down and tackle them. And today, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on those puzzles, for any interested PuzzleNationers who might be considering participating in the event in the future.


Before the official tournament puzzles start, there’s a warm-up puzzle, a 13x grid entitled “Top Gear” by Neville Fogarty and Erik Agard. The hook is simple and accessible — celebrity names where the first name is a type of top, like COTTON MATHER for “crop top” or SHERMAN HEMSLEY for “tank top” — and with good fill and some tricksy cluing, you’ve got a nice pace-setter for the tournament puzzles to come.

Interesting grid entries included COSTUME CHANGE, GAINER, OMEN II, and THAT TOO. My favorite clue was the Arrested Development-inspired “What you might find in a bag marked ‘DOVE – DO NOT EAT'” for BAR SOAP.

[Image courtesy of Vertigo Mag.]

#1 On the Walk by Angela Olsen Halsted

The tournament proper opened with this terrific puzzle. The grid had solid fill entries with very little crosswordese, making for a marvelous introduction to the high quality level you’ve come to expect from Indie 500 puzzles. The theme entries all contained the word CAT in shaded boxes in the grid, slowly descending the main diagonal path of the grid, making for a literal catwalk.

The comment beneath the title, “Please, no meowing,” is not only a fun hint, but a hilarious callback to the Crossword De-Cat-hlon puzzle from last year’s Lollapuzzoola tournament, which had solvers meowing out loud as part of the solving experience. (That’s immediately what came to mind for me, anyway.)

All in all, a cracking opener for the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included PREGGERS, SABRA, ANITA HILL, and IMAC. My favorite clue was “Something you shouldn’t tell a woman to do” for SMILE.

[Image courtesy of Slideshare.]

#2 Unmentionables by Anna Gundlach

Puzzle 2 immediately raised the difficulty level, layering long interesting entries along the top right and bottom left corners of the grid to challenge the solver a bit more.

Couple that with a hook that required some very tight grid construction: unclued entries (making them “unmentioned”) in the grid like BRIEFS and BRA, each of which appears under the word WEAR in the grid. So you’ve got unmentionables and underwear. A really fun and clever execution of a good hook.

Interesting grid entries included AFAIK, RED STATES, TWENTY-ONE, and ROOMBA. My favorite clue was easily “Things that might come out in a row?” for SWEAR WORDS.

#3 Mall Shook Up by Laura Braunstein

As you might expect from the title, this puzzle involved clothing stores at the mall which had been all jumbled up. For example, one line read SECRET BANANA GAP, referencing Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic, and Baby Gap. So those missing words would end up in other jumbled store listings. Laura went above and beyond in her store mixing, probably providing the most entries I’ve ever seen in a puzzle of this style.

There was one awkward crossing that tripped me up — NEW ME crossing AD WAR — but for the most part, this was a strong puzzle to mark the halfway point for the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included MANTA RAY, NO REPLY, TONSURE, RICOTTA, and BREW PUBS. My favorite clue was “Cat in a Blake poem” for TYGER.

[Image courtesy of Garment Care.]

#4 Tailoring Instructions by Andy Kravis and Sophia Maymudes

Probably the hardest puzzle in the tournament, strictly for its cluing style for the theme entries, which felt more like Crostic clues. Each themed hint would have a straightforward clue, and then in parentheses, tailor’s instructions for how to trim or manipulate the actual answers to fit into the grid.

For instance, the clue “Setting of ‘The Hobbit’ (‘Take this one up a bit’)” takes the full answer reading down, MIDDLE EARTH, and “takes it up a bit,” excluding the bottom two letters and leaving the answer MIDDLE EAR.

Although the vocabulary of the grid itself wasn’t much harder than the usual fare, this was definitely the toughest theme to unravel. Kudos to those who did so in a timely fashion.

Interesting grid entries included GO PRO, RIHANNA, LIAISE, RAIN GOD, and TRANS AM. My favorite clues were “App for a lift but not a Lyft” for UBER and “Word after baby or before cat” for FAT.

[Image courtesy of Cyanide & Happiness.]

#5 Coin Purses by Neville Fogarty

The visual design here — featuring shaded boxes forming u’s in order to create little visual purses, complete with a coin (a box with a circle inside, waiting for a correct answer). Managing to name four five-letter purse brands — GUCCI, COACH, FENDI, and PRADA — each one with a letter inside that spelled out CASH, and the very clever revealer in the center of the grid, reading simply “moneybags.”

Interesting grid entries included IM FED UP, LEFT ARM, DINGUS, TENUTO, DINOS, and SPAMBOT. My favorite clues were probably 2 Down and 44 Down — clues reading that each entry was an anagram of the other — eventually revealing LIMEADE and EMAILED as the anagrammical pair.

#6 Addition by Subtraction by Lily Silverstein and Erik Agard

The final puzzle provided a really solid challenge for the solve, but otherwise was relatively straightforward. The revealer here was POCKET SQUARE, and indeed, there were four black squares that served as hidden pockets for missing letters throughout the grid. For instance, when applied to the bottom left corner, the answers TIE and NEON, as well as URS reading down, became TIE ONE ON and OURS.

And wouldn’t you know it, those pocket letters spelled out the word DONE when solvers were done. A challenging and worthy finale for the event.

Interesting grid entries included E-SHARP, ALDO GUCCI, ATTAQ, and ICE PLANET. My favorite clues were a tie between “Simba’s kingdom” for ANIMALIA and “Figure with two axes, perhaps” for GRAPH.

It was a strong closing puzzle — and the clues on both the Outside Track and Inside Track were well-written and clever — but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the bonus puzzles in the packet.

The Tiebreaker concept made for a theme that was brilliant in its literalness. The grid featured shaded boxes, each split by a black square, which “broke” types of ties. AS/COT (alas and cotton), BO/LO (garbo/locke), and CRA/VAT (fulcra/vats) were all tiebreakers. A marvelous visual gag. I loved it.


Overall, this was the best edition of the Indie 500 yet. The puzzles mingled the inventiveness of the previous three tournaments with strong grid design, clever clues, and a real willingness to play around with crossword conventions.

The constructors made the most of the fashion theme, resulting in some super-impressive wordplay and theme ideas. All in all, this was an engaging and worthy series of puzzles, designed to delight and challenge solvers in equal measure.

I look forward to its return next year, and hopefully some of you will join me in accepting the Indie 500 challenge!

Note: There were additional puzzles included in the puzzle packet, but since they were outside the regular tournament puzzles, I didn’t review them. But believe me, they are worth your time.


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