New Puzzle App Sets for October and Beyond!

Halloween looms near, fellow puzzlers, but we’ve got our tricks and treats for you early! That’s right, our newest puzzle sets for the Penny Dell Crosswords App!

Our October Deluxe puzzle set just launched for both iOS and Android users, and it offers the quality solving experience you’ve come to expect from PuzzleNation!

Scare up some puzzles for yourself and indulge in this marvelous puzzle bundle, designed for any skill level!

Offering 30 easy, medium, and hard puzzles, plus 5 October-themed bonus puzzles to please solvers of all skill levels, the October Deluxe puzzle set is full of frightfully great crosswords for everyone!

But that’s not all!

That’s right, double down on puzzle goodness with the October Deluxe Combo! That’s 70 puzzles, including October-themed bonus crosswords for your puzzly pleasure!

But maybe you need more! Maybe, just maybe, your puzzly sweet tooth isn’t satisfied quite yet.

And if you want the most bang for your buck, we’ve got you covered with the October Deluxe Bundle! That’s 105 puzzles, three times the costumed clues and creepy crosswords, ready for you to solve!

And if the October motif just isn’t for you, worry not! We’ve also released two Bonus Boxes loaded with additional puzzles!

There’s the 35-puzzle Deluxe Bonus Box, which includes 5 themed puzzles, or our Deluxe Bonus Box Bundle with TRIPLE the puzzles! That’s right, 105 puzzles, including special themed ones you won’t find anywhere else!

You can’t go wrong with these awesome deals! PuzzleNation is dedicated to bringing you the best puzzle-solving experience available, with world-class puzzles right in your pocket, ready to go at a moment’s notice! That’s the PuzzleNation guarantee.

Happy solving everyone!


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The Story of Puzzle Mountain!

So two weeks ago, I was working on a blog post. I do that quite often these days, since there are three blog posts a week to write.

And I was looking for a way to refer to not only the many puzzles available to solvers these days, but how they would rank in terms of importance and popularity. I settled on the following:

Crosswords sit comfortably at the apex of the proverbial puzzle mountain, atop worthy also-rans like word searches, cryptograms, and Sudoku.

And when I went looking for images to use for “puzzle mountain” to illustrate my point, I was flabbergasted to discover that there is, in fact, a Puzzle Mountain.

[The view from atop Puzzle Mountain. Image courtesy of Guthook Hikes.]

I immediately wanted to know more. Where was it? How tall is it? And how did it come to be called Puzzle Mountain in the first place?

Some questions were easier to answer than others.

Oxford County, Maine, is the home of Puzzle Mountain, part of the Mahoosuc Range. It’s a 3.2 mile climb to the peak of the mountain, and it takes approximately three and a half hours to reach the summit, assuming you’re not misled by the false peak known as Little Puzzle Mountain.

The mountain is part of the popular Grafton Loop Trail, which is included in several top lists of the best and most scenic hikes in Maine.

According to Maine Trail Finder, “The Grafton Loop Trail leaves the parking lot and ascends to the open summit of Puzzle Mountain after passing several ledges with fine views of the Bear River Valley, the Mahoosuc Range and the Presidential Range beyond.”

[The start of the climb to the top of Puzzle Mountain. Image courtesy of 1 Happy Hiker.]

But why is it called Puzzle Mountain? I still had no idea.

I had to search high and low across the Internet for this information, since most sites were focused on either the hiking aspects of the mountain or some of the local stores. Apparently, the strawberry rhubarb pie at the Puzzle Mountain Bakery is to die for.

I eventually discovered the answer to my question in Steve Pinkham’s book The Mountains of Maine: Intriguing Stories Behind Their Names, which detailed the curious anecdotes and history behind the names of many Maine landmarks.

As the story goes, according to Pinkham:

An old man from Bethel was once out hunting on the mountain and became hopelessly lost. In descending a ledge, he dropped his ax over the lip to a shelf below to avoid any accident while he climbed down. Upon reaching the spot, he was amazed to see the head of the ax apparently wedged into solid rock. Taking a closer look, he found that the hatchet was embedded in a soft rock that he quickly figured to be plumbago or graphite.

Cutting out a sample, he carried it home, dreaming of money he could make by selling the mineral to pencil manufacturers. The story goes that he spent the rest of his life trying unsuccessfully to relocate that deposit and the mountain was subsequently named Puzzle Mountain because he never did find where the deposits were located.

And that, fellow puzzlers, is the story of Puzzle Mountain. Weird. You’d think there was some connection between the graphite and the pencils so many puzzlers use to solve puzzles! That’s where I thought the story was going, anyway.

Perhaps, one day, a member of the PuzzleNation team will scale the heights of the mountain and proudly place the PuzzleNation flag at the summit.

Until then… it’s still fun to think about, isn’t it?


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5 Questions with Crossword Constructor Joanne Sullivan

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to welcome Joanne Sullivan as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

[Joanne stands beside fellow constructor Tracy Bennett at this year’s Indie 500 tournament.]

Joanne is a terrific constructor whose puzzles have appeared in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and numerous other outlets. One of her puzzles is now featured on The New York Times‘ Wordplay Blog as one of their 11 Remarkable Crosswords for New Solvers (each hand-picked by Will Shortz). Her puzzle with Erik Agard at the 2016 Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, “Do I Hear a Waltz?”, was one of my favorite crosswords last year.

She often spends her time teaching crossword classes, spreading not only the love of crossword construction and wordplay to others, but hard-won knowledge and experience from a fun and innovative constructor.

Joanne was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Joanne Sullivan

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

I’ve enjoyed a variety of puzzles and games ever since I can remember, but I had avoided crossword puzzles for decades. When I was a young adult, I would occasionally take a stab at The Sunday New York Times crossword and would manage to get only a couple of answers after reading every single clue. I was amazed that my father could routinely complete the whole puzzle. I didn’t aspire to match his achievement because I thought that crosswords were filled with useless, arcane information.

When I subscribed to GAMES Magazine, I solved all the puzzles in it except for the crosswords because I had the mistaken assumption that all crosswords were dry and boring. I now realize that I missed out on a lot of fun. The high-quality crosswords in GAMES were part of the new wave of puzzles that were filled with current references and lively phrases.

Many years later an office mate encouraged a group of our fellow coworkers to solve The New York Times crossword together each weekday. I never really enjoyed the computer programming work that I was supposed to be focusing on so I welcomed the diversion. I immediately was surprised at how clever and entertaining the crosswords were.

Like the character in Green Eggs and Ham, I learned that I actually liked the nourishment that I had assumed would be distasteful. In the beginning, my coworkers would pass around the newspaper, and we’d each fill in an answer or two until we managed to complete the whole puzzle. We relied heavily on Google by the time we got to Friday. Solving late week puzzles without help seemed like an impossible dream, but before long that dream became a reality.

[One of Joanne’s New York Times-published puzzles. This one makes excellent use of the black squares by incorporating some of them into the themed entries.
Image courtesy of XWordInfo.]

2. What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle?

I personally love puzzles with inventive, tricky themes and clues. Crosswords have been around for a long time so it’s hard to come up with a new theme or a tricky clue that misdirects the solver in a different way. Even new themes and clues tend to be variations on something that has been done before so I appreciate crosswords that are truly original.

What do you most enjoy — or most commonly avoid — when constructing your own?

Here are crossword constructing tasks in descending order of my preference:

  • Coming up with a theme and finding answers that fit it.
  • Writing clues / Arranging the black and white squares in the grid. (Two very different tasks that I find equally enjoyable.)
  • Filling the grid with non-theme answers.
  • Adding new words to my database of potential crossword answers and rating those words in order of desirability.

Maintaining a good database of potential crossword answers can greatly facilitate crossword construction, but I find database maintenance time-consuming and dreary so I avoid it. I try to rationalize my negligence by telling myself that it’s impossible to add words and assign values to them that will be valid for all audiences.

For example, the word UGLY would be a perfectly fine answer in any mainstream newspaper, but I would try to avoid including it in a personalized puzzle that I was making as a birthday gift because I wouldn’t want the recipient to interpret it as an insult. But deep down I know that my rationalization isn’t valid, and I’m just too lazy to properly maintain my database.

What do you think is the most common pitfall of constructors just starting out?

I think some new constructors might settle for mediocrity instead of pushing themselves to achieve more. I’ve heard that some constructors are afraid to arrange the black and white squares in a grid from scratch. They’ll only use sample grids that they copy from a crossword database. It might take a lot of trial and error, but you’ll probably come up with a better grid if you try to arrange the squares in a way that best suits your theme answers instead of grabbing a prefab grid. I’ll often experiment with dozens of different grid designs before choosing one that fits my theme answers best.

Constructors might also be satisfied with so-so fill (which are the non-theme answers) or clues. I can understand the urge to leave well enough alone, especially when submitting puzzles on spec. It can be really frustrating to spend a lot of time coming up with stellar fill and clues only to be told that your puzzle was dead on arrival because the editor didn’t like the theme. Instead of compromising their standards, constructors might try to seek out the few editors who are willing to preapprove themes. Or they may emulate the many excellent indie constructors who publish their puzzles on their own websites.

[A puzzle, mid-construction. Images courtesy of Crossdown.]

3. Do you have any favorite crossword themes or clues, either your own or those crafted by others?

It’s hard to pick favorites because I’ve solved so many great puzzles and clues over the years so I’ll be self-centered and mention three of my own puzzles.

My Tuesday, February 23, 2010 New York Times crossword will always be close to my heart because it was my first published puzzle. Will Shortz picked it as one of the “11 Remarkable Crosswords for New Solvers,” but novices shouldn’t feel bad if they find it difficult. Most solvers found it harder than an average Tuesday puzzle.

Another special crossword is “Contents Redacted,” which The Chronicle of Higher Education published on October 16, 2015. I’m very grateful to Brad Wilber and Frank Longo for polishing it and working hard to present it in a way that stayed true to my vision. I also appreciate pannonica whose review on the Crossword Fiend blog was clearer and more insightful than any description that I could have written.

(Speaking of blogs, kudos to PuzzleNation Blog, CrosswordFiend, and similar blogs for helping us appreciate puzzles! Thanks for helping us understand the strengths and weaknesses of puzzles you review, explaining tricky themes and clues, and keeping us informed of news such as puzzle tournaments.)

One of my most satisfying experiences was co-writing “Do I Hear a Waltz?” with Erik Agard for the 2016 Indie 500 Crossword Tournament. Working with Erik was a joy. He’s brilliant and extremely kind. You should interview him next!

One great thing about making a puzzle for a tournament was having the flexibility to make an odd-sized grid that best suited our theme. I find that tournament puzzles are often very creative, perhaps because the constructors don’t have the same editorial and size constraints that they do at most other venues. Some of my favorite puzzles came from The Indie 500 and Lollapuzzoola crossword tournaments.

As a solver, my favorite clues are the ones that make me think, “What on earth can this mean?” One recent clue that gave me that reaction came from Brendan Emmett Quigley’s 9/20/17 AV Club crossword (which is titled “The Lay of the Land”). At first, I couldn’t make sense of the clue [Like slightly firm elbows, e.g.] When I read it, I thought, “What the heck is a slightly firm elbow? … Hmm … AKIMBO doesn’t fit … Hmm …” Eventually I achieved a great aha moment — AL DENTE!

I also love clues that put a fresh spin on old crosswordese or teach me interesting pieces of trivia. I find that The Chronicle of Higher Education and Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords are particularly strong in that regard.

[Joanne poses with members of a crossword seminar,
showing off prizes from our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles.]

4. What’s next for Joanne Sullivan?

I’m currently focusing on giving crossword puzzle seminars. For years I had mistakenly assumed that crosswords were boring and impossible to solve. Now I enjoy showing skeptics how fun crosswords can be and giving people tips that help them improve their solving skills. I love hearing from novices who tell me that I inspired them to start solving crosswords and veteran solvers who say that my tips helped them tackle more difficult puzzles.

I recently taught my first children’s classes and was blown away by the kids’ intelligence and enthusiasm. I’m so glad those children caught the puzzle bug early and didn’t waste decades avoiding crosswords as I did.

5. If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring constructors, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Read Patrick Berry’s PDF publication Crossword Constructor’s Handbook. The former print version of that book (Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies) taught me more about constructing crosswords than any other source.

Cruciverbalists might find the information about crossword construction interesting even if they don’t aspire to create puzzles themselves. The book includes 70 crosswords by Patrick Berry (who many crossword aficionados consider the preeminent crossword constructor) so it’s worth the $10 for the puzzles alone.


A huge thank you to Joanne for her time. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her puzzles and her crossword seminars!

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Puzzles in Pop Culture: The Ruts

It’s always fun to find puzzles in unexpected places, so when friend of the blog Jen Cunningham sent me the picture above of a single with a crossword aesthetic, I was immediately intrigued.

I’d never heard of the band or the song, but as a long-time fan of ska music — a mix of Jamaican reggae, rock, and blues, heavy on the horns, very jazzy and upbeat — I initially suspected a ska influence, given the crossword pattern.

You see, the mix of black and white squares in crosswords is very reminiscent of the checkerboard pattern that is synonymous with both two-tone ska and third wave ska.

[Image courtesy of Gattuso.org.]

My suspicions turned out to be correct when I began investigating the record itself.

“Staring at the Rude Boys” was the fifth single released by The Ruts, a British band from the late ’70s and early ’80s that mixed punk and reggae-infused ska elements. Although the band never made a splash in the United States, they had a UK Top Ten hit with “Babylon’s Burning” in 1979.

And as it turns out, the crossword design is part of an actual crossword, complete with clues related to the band and the single, as well as some random obscurities meant to poke fun at the challenging clues featured by some crossword outlets.

[Image courtesy of Punky Gibbon. Click the link for a larger
version, though honestly, it’s not much easier to read.]

Apparently, the crossword aesthetic was part of a marketing campaign, complete with a contest to see who could solve the crossword!

According to the website Punky Gibbon:

The single was promoted with a crossword competition that featured on the front and rear cover of the sleeve. First prize was a night out with the band (“You win – they pay”). One lucky punter secured this great opportunity to see his heroes in the flesh…

[Image courtesy of Punky Gibbon.]

Once again, we discover that there’s virtually no corner of pop culture that hasn’t been touched by puzzles in some way, shape, or form. And not only did I get to explore a curious diversion in puzzly history, but I got to do so while listening to one of my favorite genres of music.

Puzzles… is there anything they can’t do?


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New Puzzle Book Roundup!

It’s been a while since we’ve done a roundup of new puzzle books and packets available from top constructors, so I reached out to the puzzle community on Twitter and asked for recommendations for my fellow PuzzleNationers! Let’s see what we’ve got!


First off, Patrick Blindauer has a new PuzzleFest available, and this one is Broadway-themed!

Now, if you’re not theater-savvy, don’t worry. You’re not required to know anything about Broadway, it’s simply the unifying link between all the themed puzzles. So there’s some theatrical wordplay afoot!

Click here for more information. Patrick is charging $20 for a downloadable and easily printable PDF, and based on his track record of terrific PuzzleFests, this should be another great one!

Along a similar line, the puzzles from both this year’s Bryant Park puzzle tournament and last year’s tournament are available for download as a package deal for only $10! You can’t go wrong with two year’s worth of puzzles for such a low price!

Turning our attention to puzzle books, Foggy Brume has a collection of One-Word Word Searches available.

It sounds simple. All you have to do is find one word in a field of letters. How hard could that be? Well, it’s more challenging than you might expect!

This puzzle book is priced to move at $7.50 on Amazon.

Friend of the blog Cynthia Morris has a new edition in her long-running American Acrostics puzzle book series, and Volume 5 is all about American holidays and celebrations!

Did you know there’s a special day set aside each year to be in a bad mood? Or a day to do everything in reverse? There’s even a day to celebrate ice cream…

This puzzle book will run you $9.95 on Amazon.

And finally, puzzle book master Pierre Berloquin has a collection of puzzles centered around the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in Victorian London. Based on the classic novels and short stories, the world of Holmes comes alive with all sorts of puzzly fun wrapped in Sherlockian trappings.

This puzzle book and walk down Memory Lane for mystery fans is available on Amazon for $14.95.

Hopefully one of these puzzle books or puzzle sets piques your interest, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! Let us know if you snap any of them up!


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Getting Started with Crosswords

We spend a lot of time talking about crosswords here on PuzzleNation Blog, and rightfully so.

For more than a century now, crosswords have been the standard-bearer for paper-and-pencil puzzles. From your local paper to The New York Times crossword, from online solving to puzzle apps like our very own Penny Dell Crosswords App, crosswords sit comfortably at the apex of the proverbial puzzle mountain, atop worthy also-rans like word searches, cryptograms, and Sudoku.

[Apparently Puzzle Mountain is actually a place. Who knew?]

But in talking about crosswords, it’s easy to forget that not everyone solves them. In fact, plenty of people find them intimidating, given the mix of trivia, wordplay, and tricky cluing that typify many crosswords these days, particularly in outlets like The New York Times, The LA Times, The Guardian, and more.

So today, I thought I’d offer some helpful resources to solvers just getting started with crosswords.

First off, if you need help filling in troublesome letter patterns, Onelook is an excellent resource. Not only can you search for words that fit various patterns, but you can narrow your searches according to cluing, look up definitions and synonyms, and even hunt down phrases and partial phrases.

Along the same lines, there are websites like Crossword Tracker that offer informal cluing help culled from online databases. For something more formal, there’s XWordInfo, an online database of entries and cluing that also serves as an archive of NYT puzzles you can search for a small fee.

The NYT Wordplay Blog chronicles each day’s puzzle, including insights into the theme, key entries, and more, plus they’ve begun amassing helpful articles about crossword solving. Not only are there sample puzzles to download and solve to get you started, but there are lists of opera terms, rivers, and sports names to know to make you a stronger solver.

And if British-style or cryptic crosswords are your puzzle of choice, look no further than The Guardian‘s Crossword Blog, which frequently posts about various cluing tricks employed by crafting cryptic puzzle setters. Their “Cryptic Crosswords for Beginners” series of posts has discussed all sorts of linguistic trickery, covering everything from the NATO alphabet to elementary chemistry.

For other variety puzzles, our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles offer sample puzzles and helpful solving tips for many of the puzzles in their magazines. For example, you can find a sample Kakuro or Cross Sums puzzle on the page for their Dell Collector’s Series Cross Sums puzzle book, as well as a How to Solve PDF.

Is there a particular puzzle that troubles you, or one you find too intimidating to tackle, fellow puzzlers? If so, let us know! We can either point you toward a solving resource or tackle the puzzle ourselves in a future post to provide helpful solving tips!


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