The toughest puzzles the UK has to offer!

[A sample of the puzzle types awaiting you in the UK Puzzle Championship packet.]

I talk about crossword tournaments a lot in this blog, because crosswords are such a predominant part of the puzzle world. ACPT is a huge deal every year, the Indie 500 had its first (hopefully annual!) event last month, the Minnesota Crossword Tournament was last weekend, and Lollapuzzoola is gearing up for its 8th year of puzzle goodness this August!

But hey, maybe you’re not a crossword fan. (Though, with killer crossword apps like this one, why WOULDN’T you be?)

Don’t worry, there are still plenty of events that will allow you to indulge your puzzle fix without testing your crossword-solving mettle.

For instance, this Friday, the UK Puzzle Championship 2015 kicks off!

The championship consists of 28 puzzles, each with differing point values, potentially adding up to a maximum score of 650 points. Although the championship runs from Friday through Monday, those are only the hours available for competitors to download their puzzle packets. (You can download the instruction booklet, complete with example puzzles, here.)

As soon as you receive your password and download the packet, you’ll have only two and a half hours to solve all of the puzzles and input your answers onto the Answer Submission Page.

Now, unless you are a resident of the UK, you will only be able to participate in the contest as a guest. (The top UK participant will be the 2015 UK Puzzle Champion, and the top two UK participants become eligible to join the UK Team for the World Puzzle Championship in October.) But even if only UK residents can win, just attempting the packet is a puzzly challenge worthy of any ambitious solver!

So, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, will you be throwing your puzzle-solving hat in the ring and joining me in this UK puzzly Thunderdome? Let me know! I’d love to see how you do!

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Puzzle Championships Across the World!

I’ve written plenty about the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in the past, since it’s one of the best known and most prestigious puzzle events in the land.

But, as a proud member of PuzzleNation, a sovereign country in its own right, I know that the ACPT is just one part of a marvelous international puzzle community that spans the globe.

So when the folks at the UK Puzzle Association let me know about some upcoming puzzle championships, it seemed like the perfect thing to share with my fellow PuzzleNationers!

This weekend is the 2014 UK Sudoku Championship. A two-hour contest featuring puzzlers from across the globe, this is a print-and-solve challenge pitting you against numerous sudoku variants. (Here’s a PDF instruction booklet featuring examples of possible puzzles.)

There is also the 2014 UK Puzzle Championship later this month, but no details have yet been posted about it. (Apparently, instruction booklets and details are only released 1 week before the contest.)

Based on the 2013 contest, this is also a print-and-solve challenge, tackling all sorts of pen-and-paper puzzle styles. From deduction and mini-Scrabble games to Minesweeper-style maps and encrypted math puzzles, the 2013 booklet spans an impressive swathe of the puzzling world.

And these contests could be wonderful practice sessions for the 2014 World Puzzle Championship (23rd year!) and World Sudoku Championship (9th year!) this August! (This is the first time the UK has hosted the event.)

Open to members of the World Puzzle Federation — check out the roster of member countries here — each country sends teams to the championship based on qualifying rounds held in participating countries. (As it turns out, the U.S. contact for the World Puzzle Federation is none other than Mr. Will Shortz himself.)

As we get closer to the contest date, I’ll get more details on the specifics of how the tournament is conducted, but sufficed to say, this is a bit more tense than the UK counterparts I mentioned above.

This is pretty much the Olympics of puzzles, according to their website. I’m still holding out hope for synchronized sudoku at the 2016 Summer Olympics, myself.

In any case, it’s cool to get a glimpse of puzzle-solving and competition in other puzzle-loving lands. It really adds a PuzzleInternational feeling to the PuzzleNation community.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

5 Questions with Puzzle Master Will Shortz

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, writers, filmmakers, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m overjoyed to have Will Shortz as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Without a doubt the most famous name in crosswords today, Will Shortz is the crossword editor for the New York Times, a position he’s held since 1993 (after putting in time with both GAMES Magazine and our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles). In his time as editor, he’s been credited with spearheading a sharp decrease in crosswordese in Times puzzles, as well as offering a greater level of visibility and acknowledgment for individual constructors.

He continues to serve as the amiable face of crosswords across all forms of media — on the radio with NPR, on television in The Simpsons and How I Met Your Mother, and in theaters with the documentary Wordplay. (He even provided the Riddler’s puzzle clues that so bamboozled the Dark Knight in the film Batman Forever.)

But solvers interested in puzzles beyond crosswords will also have a treat in store for them in 2014! The folks at Penny Press have teamed up with Will to create Will Shortz’s WordPlay, a magazine featuring crafty variety puzzles and crossword variants created by some of today’s top constructors.

Will 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 Will Shortz

1.) As the world’s first (and only) degree-holding enigmatologist, was becoming the editor of the New York Times crossword always a goal you had in mind, or did you foresee yourself doing something else with your singular degree?

Since childhood I’d always planned a career in puzzles, just not as crossword editor for The Times. In fact, I didn’t envision a career with crosswords at all. I imagined myself in an attic or a tiny house somewhere making novelty puzzles and sending them out for publication — probably living in poverty, but doing what I wanted. I fell into puzzle editing without a lot of planning.

But I do have a law degree from the University of Virginia (J.D., 1977), so if puzzles ever end up not working out for me, I always have that to fall back on!

2.) The hundredth anniversary of the crossword is fast approaching. Given your familiarity with puzzles both past and present, what does the hundredth anniversary mean to you? And where do you think puzzles will be a hundred years from now?

I’m not good at predicting the future. But I will say that crosswords are the best and most flexible form of puzzle ever devised, because they involve language (which we all use) and connect with virtually everything in life. They can be made easy or hard, small or large, tricky or straightforward, topical or of general interest. There’s a crossword for everyone and every mood.

Also, there’s something very appealing about filling empty squares. As humans, I think we like to fill empty spaces, and doing that in a crossword seems to satisfy some elemental human need. Even if print media die someday, I think crosswords will probably exist forever in one form or another.

[Here, Will and constructor Merl Reagle appear with the Simpsons in a
promotional pic for the episode “Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words.”]

3.) I could ask you how far in advance you choose puzzles for publication (considering the Times’ famous incremental rise in difficulty throughout the week), or inquire about your work as NPR’s resident puzzle master, but to be honest, I’m more curious about what you do when you’re NOT doing puzzles. What other activities or hobbies do you enjoy?

As friends know, I’m almost as fanatical about table tennis as I am about puzzles (emphasis on *almost*). I own my own club — the Westchester Table Tennis Center, just north of New York City. It’s one of the largest table tennis facilities in North America, and I believe it’s the nicest (which I say having played in almost 200 clubs in 43 states and two Canadian provinces).

At the moment I’m close to finishing a personal goal — to play table tennis every day this year. As I write this (on Dec. 17), I’ve played every single day since Jan. 1 — 351 days in all. And I’m filming myself every day as proof. At the end of the year, if I succeed, some friends of mine in Hollywood have promised to edit a 3- or 4-minute video of me playing every day, which I’ll throw up on YouTube.

My ultimate goal is to become national table tennis champion for my age.

4.) What’s next for Will Shortz?

No plans for anything else. I love what I’m doing. I’ve been the crossword editor of The Times now for 20 years, overseer of the U.S. team for the World Puzzle Championship for 22 years, puzzlemaster for NPR’s “Weekend Edition” for almost 27 years, director of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament for 36 years, and program director for the annual convention of the National Puzzlers’ League for 38 years. That’s plenty to keep me occupied.

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

I have two goals in life: One, to make the world a little better for being here. And Two, to enjoy myself. I think that’s a good philosophy for anyone.

Many thanks to Will for his time. You can follow him on Twitter (@Will_Shortz) and listen to his NPR appearances on Weekend Edition here! And keep your eyes peeled for the first issue of Will Shortz’s WordPlay, which will be hitting newsstands in February!

Oh, and I suppose you could always check out the New York Times Crossword, if you’re so inclined. =)

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