Lollapuzzoola 10 This Weekend!

This Saturday, August 19, marks the tenth edition of the Lollapuzzoola crossword puzzle tournament!

For the uninitiated, Lollapuzzoola is an independent crossword tournament run by Brian Cimmet and Patrick Blindauer, featuring puzzles constructed with a more freewheeling style than the traditional American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. As they say, it’s “the best tournament held in New York on a Saturday in August.”

The format is similar to BosWords. Competitors are placed in one of three divisions: Express (solvers with tournament experience), Local (other solvers), and Pairs.

Unfortunately for last-minute puzzlers — but very fortunately for the organizers! — the tournament has been sold out for weeks, so if you want to attend in person, you’re out of luck.

BUT! The At-Home Division is still open for any and all solvers to enjoy. For $15, you’ll receive the tournament puzzles the next day for your enjoyment (or frustration, depending on the difficulty).

It should be a great time, either in person or for solvers at home. Lollapuzzoola puzzles are one of the highlights of the puzzle year.

Are you planning on attending Lollapuzzoola or solving from home? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!


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A PuzzleNation Anniversary Scavenger Hunt!

[Image courtesy of ClipArt Panda.]

On Tuesday, I waxed nostalgic on the five-year anniversary of PuzzleNation Blog and all the amazing, curious, puzzly adventures we’ve shared.

So when it came time to conjure up an idea to celebrate the day in question, I wanted to do something appropriately puzzly.

And I think I’ve got it.

I have five trivia questions for you. The answers to all five have been featured in some of the most popular, most shared, most visited posts in the history of the blog.

Consider this a trivia scavenger hunt, and the blog is your realm to explore. (Though there will be clues on where to begin your search.)

Answer all five questions AND include links to the posts in which you found the answers, and you’ll be in the running to win a terrific prize in honor of our five-year bloggiversary!

So, without further ado, let’s get to it!


[Image courtesy of Alaris Health.]

PuzzleNation Anniversary Trivia Scavenger Hunt

1.) One of my favorite recurring features is Puzzles in Pop Culture, where I explore puzzly moments in television, film, and literature. We’ve discussed Sherlock, Hell’s Kitchen, and even Gilmore Girls in installments of Puzzles in Pop Culture.

Question: How do you solve the four gallons of water puzzle?

2.) You can’t talk about puzzles without also discussing games, because there’s so much overlap between the two. Game reviews from a puzzle solver’s perspective have become a part of the fabric of PuzzleNation Blog, as has creating your own puzzles and games from scratch.

Question: What’s the name of the DIY game that only requires a bunch of identical blank pieces of paper (like index cards) and something to write with?

3.) Naturally, if you’re going to talk puzzles, Sudoku is going to be part of the conversation sooner rather than later. We’ve not only explored the history of Sudoku here, but we’ve been a part of it, debuting brand-new Sudoku variants created by topnotch constructors.

Question: What do you call two overlapping Samurai Sudoku?

4.) A fair amount of puzzle history, both past and present, has been covered here over the last five years. We’ve examined cryptography in the American Revolution, the Civil War, both World Wars, and beyond. We’ve celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of the crossword. And we’ve even discussed scandals in the puzzle world.

Question: What are the names of the programmer and crossword constructor who first uncovered the curious pattern of puzzle repetition in USA Today and Universal Uclick puzzles that eventually led to the ouster of Timothy Parker?

5.) In the Internet age, memes and fads appear and disappear faster than ever. A picture or a joke or a news story can sweep the world in a matter of hours, and then vanish forever. On a few occasions, the Internet has become obsessed with certain optical illusions, and we’ve done our best to analyze them from a puzzler’s perspective.

Question: The creators of The Dress appeared on what talk show to put the mystery to bed once and for all?


Our Trivia Scavenger Hunt will run until midnight EST next Wednesday, August 23rd. You can submit your answers (plus links) in the comment section here, or contact us on any of our social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, wherever!

Good luck, and happy puzzling!


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!

5 Years of PuzzleNation Blog!

This week, we’re celebrating five years of PuzzleNation Blog.

That’s kind of amazing to me. Five years. Almost seven hundred and fifty posts I’ve written here.

I’ve unraveled brain teasers and explained pop culture references. I’ve accepted the challenges of fellow puzzlers and foreign governments alike. I’ve delved into history and tried to predict the future. I’ve celebrated the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle, and learned more about them than I ever could have imagined.

I’ve had the privilege of announcing new puzzles for the first time ever. I’ve gone to crossword tournaments and conventions, I’ve interviewed all sorts of amazing, creative people. I’ve spread the word about brilliant puzzles, fantastic games, and numerous worthy causes and crowdfunding efforts. I’ve even reported on important news in the puzzle-game industry.

During my time as a puzzler, I’ve seen puzzles leap from pen-and-paper to apps in your pocket. I’ve seen Sudoku rise up and sweep across the globe as a genuine cultural phenomenon.

I’ve engaged in scavenger hunts that crossed oceans and tried to crack riddles from the past. I’ve wondered what the next century holds for crosswords, and if we’ll ever run out of Sudoku.

When I pushed for PuzzleNation to start a puzzle blog, my goal was to create a place that would become a hub for all things puzzly. Yes, obviously, I wanted to recruit users for our puzzle apps and sell puzzle sets galore, but I also wanted to play a role in building and contributing to the puzzle-game community.

Puzzlers come from all walks of life. They like all sorts of puzzles, from mechanical brain teasers to pen-and-paper classics. Some channel their puzzly energies into art, or music, or games. Some seek ever-more-challenging conundrums to solve. And some just enjoy a fun little puzzle in their pocket during a cup of coffee.

I’m proud to have welcomed all of them to PN Blog as fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers. It’s been a blast, and I have no doubt it will continue to challenge and engage me for years to come.

Thanks for taking this ride with us. Happy puzzling, friends.

And stay tuned. We’ve got something fun and festive in store for you Thursday to celebrate. =)


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A different way to puzzle: the Norway way!

Puzzles are a truly global phenomenon, and it’s always fun to explore how other countries tackle classic puzzle styles and designs.

In the past, we’ve looked at German puzzle magazines, Spanish puzzle magazines, Sudoku books in Russian, French, and Japan, and we’ve even embarked on a global tour of Logic Art puzzles from all over.

In today’s post, we add Norway to the list as we check out a Norwegian puzzle book. (Thank you to friend of the blog Amy Roth for sharing this gem with us!)

As you can see, in many European-style crosswords (including these), the clues are placed right into the grid itself, rather than being offset and gathered in one place. Couple this with the intriguing arrow paths roaming throughout the grids, and you’ve got some tight, crafty construction.

But crosswords aren’t the only kind of puzzle to get the Norwegian treatment. Here, a Quotagram and a Bull’s-Eye Spiral take a trip through the Google Translator and come out the other side ready to be solved.

Thankfully, some puzzles remain universally solvable no matter what language you’re in. A Framework-style Fill-in and a Word Search with Scandinavian origins can both be cracked with relative ease.

And there you have it! This Norwegian puzzle book shows not only the endless variations in puzzle design and construction across countries, but surprising similarities as well.

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into the world of foreign puzzle books! If you’d like to see more posts like this, let us know in the comments section below!


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The BosWords Crossword Tournament This Weekend!

This Sunday, August 6, from noon to 5 PM, puzzlers from all over will gather at The Roxbury Latin School in West Roxbury, Massachusetts for the inaugural edition of the BosWords Tournament!

With three divisions to choose from — Expert, Amateur, and Pairs — puzzlers of all ages and experience levels will have the opportunity to test their puzzly wits.

The four themed puzzles in regular competition have been constructed by Laura Braunstein, Andrew Kingsley, John Lieb, Joon Pahk, and Brendan Emmett Quigley, and after the scores from those puzzles are tabulated, a championship themeless crossword by David Quarfoot awaits the top three solvers in each division!

BosWords is asking for $20 for adults and $10 for students to attend and compete, which is a real bargain!.

You can check out their Facebook page for full details!

Will you be attending the BosWords tournament, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you!


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Puzzles Endanger, Then Save, a Nation: The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell

While working on our multi-part series of posts about the history of codebreaking in America during the 20th century, I mentioned that some of the recent revelations about the National Security Agency were the result of Edward Snowden’s actions during his time as a government contractor.

What you might not know is that he has not been the only contractor to sneak information off of government computers in that fashion: a decade before Edward Snowden, there was Brian Patrick Regan.

Regan was a career soldier in the Air Force who eventually reached the rank of Master Sergeant and worked in signals intelligence.

Buried under hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit card debt, Regan decided his only way out of financial ruin was to try to sell US government secrets to a foreign government. He copied page after page of sensitive documents from national defense systems and snuck them out of his office, eventually amassing more than 15,000 pages, CD-ROMs, and other material in his home.

He would later bury bundles of these documents in various locations, including state parks, concealing the GPS coordinates of these valuables caches through a complicated series of encryptions where letters and numbers became three-digit sets.

You see, Regan had spent a fair amount of time studying cryptography, and fancied himself a top-shelf codemaster.

Regan used another set of encryptions of lesser complexity when he attempted to contact agents of the Libyan, Iraqi, and Chinese governments in order to sell off the treasure trove of secrets he’d amassed during his time at the National Reconnaissance Office.

One of these packets — a collection of three parcels intended for Libya — ended up in the hands of an FBI agent named Steven Carr.

From The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee:

In the first envelope was a four-page letter with 149 lines of typed text consisting of alphabets and numbers. The second envelope included instructions on how to decode the letter. The third envelope included two sets of code sheets.

One set contained a list of ciphers. The other, running to six pages, listed dozens of words along with their encoded abbreviations: a system commonly known as brevity codes. Together, the two sets were meant to serve as the key for the decryption.

Some of the document had already been decrypted by FBI agents, and it revealed a member of the US intelligence community — claiming to be CIA, which was unverified, but definitely someone with top secret access — was trying to sell government secrets.

And this person had terrible spelling.

Brian Patrick Regan suffered from severe dyslexia. And, despite concerted efforts to perfect both his encryptions and his plan to net millions by selling government secrets, that dyslexia would be one of the clues that led Steven Carr to Regan’s doorstep.

It took Carr six months to connect Regan to the Libyan package, but once he did, surveillance on Regan began immediately.

When Regan attempted to board a plane to Zurich in 2001 — intending to meet with Iraqi and Libyan embassy officials — he was nabbed by the FBI and taken into custody.

Again, excerpted from The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell:

On searching Regan, officials found a piece of paper tucked between the inner and outer soles of his right shoe, on which were written addresses of Iraqi and Chinese embassies in Europe. The other materials they found on him and in his belongings were more mystifying. In a trouser pocket, Regan was carrying a spiral pad containing a page with 13 words that didn’t add up to anything: like tricycle, rocket and glove.

He had another 26 random words scribbled on an index card. Among the contents of Regan’s wallet was a piece of paper with a string of letters and numbers that read “5-6-N-V-O-A-I …” And in a folder he was carrying in his duffel bag were four sheets with handwritten lines of three-digit numbers.

FBI cryptanalyst Daniel Olson decoded some of the messages found on Regan when he was captured, but he had failed to unravel the multi-stage encryptions that concealed where Regan had buried his secret parcels. The government knew which state parks, but with acres and acres of possible hiding places, they needed more precise information.

And those parcels were the key, because they weren’t just packages to be sold to the highest bidder. No, those parcels doubled as a ransom in order to secure a better deal for himself with the US government. He wanted to blackmail the government for a reduced sentence.

They were his insurance plan.

As Thomas G. West said in Seeing What Others Cannot See, a book about visual thinking and dyslexia, “It’s not hard for a dyslexic to think ‘out of the box’ because they have never been in the box.”

Thankfully, Regan eventually realized that cooperation was in his best interest, and he revealed that each of the elaborate three-digit codes concealed a backdoor key built into the code itself.

Regan designed them this way so that, if he forgot the actual details of the encryption, all he would need is the starter word, a spark that would unlock the built-in key and help him decode the entire message.

This backdoor key system worked in a similar fashion to the Vigenere cipher, where a keyword or key phrase served as the entry point for a longer string of encrypted text. The trouble is… you need to know the cipher word or source in order to crack the code.

For example, during World War II, German agents in Europe used Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca as the basis of a code for transmitting intelligence from Cairo to support a campaign by the Axis powers against the Allies in North Africa.

The discovery of the book among the possessions of two German radio operators who didn’t read English ultimately led to the breaking of the code, which in turn led to the capture of the German spies in Cairo.

Regan revealed the cipher words for the various hiding spots in state parks — which used cipher words from sources as peculiar as Regan’s own high school yearbook — and soon, the FBI recovered all but one of the buried parcels.

But Regan couldn’t remember the cipher word for the last one.

Daniel Olson would then step in, having learned some of Regan’s techniques as they uncovered the other parcels, and partially decrypting the remaining message enough to spark Regan’s memory. Regan finally came up with the last cipher key, and the final parcel was recovered.

Yes, once again, puzzly perseverance had saved the day!

Regan was found guilty on two counts of attempted espionage and one of gathering national defense information, and sentenced to life imprisonment with parole. Which, quite honestly, is getting off easy, considering that prosecutors were seeking the death penalty for his treasonous acts. (If prosecutors had gotten their way, he would’ve been the first person executed for espionage since the Rosenbergs in the ’50s.)

For the full story, including more in-depth explanations of Regan’s elaborate encryptions, check out The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee.


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!