It’s Follow-Up Friday: Halloween Puns Edition!

Happy Halloween, puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

Last year, we marked the spookiest of holidays by posting some punny costumes for you to figure out, and it’s only appropriate that we celebrate Halloween AND Follow-Up Friday by bringing you a second edition of the PuzzleNation Punderful Costume Game!

It’s simple. I post a picture, and you guess what the costume is.

For example:

She’s a dust bunny!

I’ve compiled ten costumes for you to figure out. Let’s see how many you can get!


PuzzleNation’s Punderful Halloween Costume Game!





[Picture courtesy of the cleverboots at The Thinking Closet.]







How many did you get? Have you seen any great punny costumes we missed? Let us know! And Happy Halloween!

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!

PuzzleNation Review: The Maze of Games

Today’s review is going to be a little bit different. You might have noticed that I didn’t title this a product review or a book review, and that’s because today’s subject, The Maze of Games, defies classification.

It’s billed as an interactive puzzle novel, and it lives up to that description, combining the long-form narrative of a novel with a topnotch puzzle book and a strong element of choose-your-own-adventure flavoring on top. This is not a mystery with a few crosswords tossed in; this is a novel where the puzzle-solving is integral to the reading experience. And I can honestly say it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.

The novel opens in the late 1800s with siblings Samuel and Colleen Quaice at the library, where Colleen is on a mission to read something macabre and engaging. After being offered the newest offering by Bram Stoker — a tome called Dracula — Colleen stumbles upon a slim volume tucked away in the stacks: The Maze of Games.

Soon, Samuel and Colleen are swept into the realm of the Gatekeeper — a dapper, witty, and unforgiving skeletal game master who delights in challenging the unsuspecting to fiendish puzzle challenges — and they’re left to navigate the first of the book’s mazes: the Castle Maze.

As you roam the labyrinth with Colleen and Samuel, you encounter puzzles to be solved, each of which provides you with a keyword you’ll need for later. From word searches and crosswords to logic puzzles and code-breaking challenges, your puzzly chops will be put to the test and then some by the Gatekeeper’s many mind-bending obstacles. (Although meant for adolescents and teens, I think adults would also thoroughly enjoy many of the Gatekeeper’s puzzles.)

Once you’ve reached the end of the labyrinth, a final puzzle awaits you, and you must use your collected keywords and puzzly skills to escape the maze and move onward.

Five mazes stand between you and victory over the Gatekeeper, all of them steeped in mythology, genre storytelling, and adventure-tinged backstory. (And several of which offer some wickedly barbed humor.)

This is a terrific concept, and brilliantly executed. The sheer variety of puzzles, not to mention the creative hooks that tie into the narrative, makes for a puzzle book that will keep puzzlers busy for quite a while.

And the novel aspect is just as enjoyable. Samuel and Colleen are no mere placeholders. They’re rich, fully-formed characters in their own right, bickering, bantering, and bringing different skills to every challenge they face. (Their ongoing banter with the Gatekeeper in his sporadic appearances is easily the highlight of the narrative.)

Lush, atmospheric art backs up the storytelling, bringing the novel to life and adding wonderful personality to the characters. (Not to mention there’s both an ebook edition and an audiobook version read by Wil Wheaton!)

And if you’re still not puzzled out after tackling The Maze of Games (or you just need a break), there’s a bundle of bonus puzzles in the back of the book, featuring such familiar names as Ken Jennings, Will Shortz, Patrick Blindauer, and Brendan Emmett Quigley.

All of these factors contribute to as immersive a puzzle book as I’ve ever seen, and a testament to the sort of forethought, complexity, and creativity a first-class puzzler can weave into a singular solving experience.

Mike Selinker has been a fixture in the board game and puzzle world for years, and he’s really outdone himself with The Maze of Games.

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!

Puzzles in Pop Culture: Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Everyone loves a good scary story, especially around Halloween, myself included. In fact, the only thing I like better than a good scary story is a good scary story with some puzzling included.

So, in the spirit of the spooky season, I thought we could delve into one of my favorites from Nickelodeon’s Saturday night (SNick) lineup: Are You Afraid of the Dark?

[Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society...]

Are You Afraid of the Dark? was an anthology series, centered around a group of young storytellers who called themselves The Midnight Society. Each week, one of them would offer up a terrifying tale (but not too terrifying, because it was Nickelodeon, after all), oftentimes reminiscent of classic horror stories like “The Monkey’s Paw,” or episodes of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits.

Most of them featured your standard horror tropes — vampires, ghosts, evil magicians, cursed items — but a few of them dove headfirst into the puzzle-game realm, pitting the protagonists against fiendish foes with only their puzzly wits to protect them.

[Nope, not THAT pinball wizard.]

In “The Tale of the Pinball Wizard,” a young man named Ross gets a job at the mall, only to disobey his new boss by playing a pinball machine he discovered in the back room. Playing well past closing time, he leaves the store and finds himself locked inside the mall, where the storyline of the pinball game has come to life!

Battling the dark knight and trying to ensure the princess reaches the throne, Ross outwits the villains (with a bit of puzzly tactical finesse) and wins the game, forgetting a classic video game trope: when the game’s over, you go back to start. As his wronged boss looks down on him from outside the pinball game, Ross realizes he’s trapped… just in time for a giant pinball to loom menacingly from the top of the mall escalator.

(Yes, most of the “morals” of each story involved listening to your elders, not venturing off on your own, and generally being less of a brat.)

They would return to the game-comes-to-life gimmick later in “The Tale of the Forever Game,” where a jerkish young man plays a Jumanji-like game with his friends as the unwitting pieces. If he loses, he takes the place of his cursed opponent, condemned to lure other unsuspecting jerks into playing weird, poorly-scripted board games.

In one game-inspired story, “The Tale of the Zombie Dice,” a young gambler named Tate wagers a year’s worth of free arcade games against the not-in-any-way-transparently-evil Mr. Click, the arcade’s owner.

[Nope, not these Zombie Dice.]

As you might expect, Tate loses, and ends up shrunk down and locked away, intended to be sold overseas as a pet! (I know, very weird.) It’s up to his friend Alex to save the day (but not before first losing a round of Zombie Dice, because, you know, high stakes and all that).

Alex goes in double-or-nothing against Mr. Click, and gets to choose the wager. Alex, while not a gambler, employs an old-school bar bet brain teaser, betting that he can finish two big mugs of soda before Mr. Click can finish one small glass.

(His only condition? Mr. Click can’t start drinking until Alex has finished the first of his mugs. Mr. Click suspects Alex has a trick up his sleeve, like he’ll move Mr. Click’s glass, so Alex lays down a new rule: neither player can touch the other’s drinking glass.)

When Mr. Click agrees on the condition that Alex drink three mugs of soda, Alex instantly accepts, because crafty villains are rarely crafty enough to see a good guy scamming them. The bet is on!

If you figured out that Alex finishes his first mug and puts it down right over Click’s glass, congratulations! You’re smarter than this week’s villain.

Thwarted by the wager he accepted, Mr. Click is defeated and Tate is freed. (They never mention if Alex gets any free games at the arcade.)

But when it comes to puzzly stories, you have to go all the way back to the very first episode for the best one: “The Tale of the Phantom Cab.”

It’s a slightly-convoluted tale of two boys taken to a house in the woods by a strange cab, and confronting the weirdo who lives there, Dr. Vink. Said weirdo challenges the boys to answer riddles like “How far can you walk into the woods?” (To the credit of our protagonists, they knock out most of the riddles with ease.)

But when one riddle proves too tricky, the boys end up back in the cab. You see, the cab is actually a ghost cab, reliving the same deadly crash over and over again, and if the boys don’t solve the last riddle, their fate is sealed.

Thankfully, one of the boys solves the riddle in the nick of time, and they escape. But, seriously who would want their life resting on the riddle “what has no weight, can be seen by the naked eye, and if put in a barrel it will make the barrel lighter?”

It just goes to show you: it’s always good to keep your puzzly skills sharp, because you never know when you’ll have to outwit monsters, villains, and things that go bump in the night.

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!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: Kickstarter Roundup edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of crowdfunded puzzles.

I’ve covered a lot of puzzle-centric Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns in the blog, because I think it’s fascinating how many puzzle variants there are, and how many puzzle-loving creators are enthusiastically seizing the opportunity to add their own delightful gaming and puzzling twists to the market.

In previous posts, we’ve seen Baffledazzle‘s jigsaws with a twist, Completely Puzzled‘s community-building outreach, and 64 Oz. Games‘ campaign to include sightless interfaces for popular board games. Some very creative and worthwhile projects have been realized with the help of crowdfunding.

Today, I’ve got a few more interesting ones that caught my eye.

The first is Puzzometry.

Looks simple at first, doesn’t it? Just place the 14 missing pieces into the game board. Well, according to designer Jim Fox, it has never been solved without assistance!

Plus, you can play a two-player version where you and your opponent alternate placing pieces on the board, cagily trying to prevent each other from playing every piece in your hand.

It looks gorgeous and has an intriguing hook. I suspect it will do well.

Cartography is a cooperative map-building game and a territory-grabbing game all in one. Players place tiles and tokens on the board in order to claim territory, making for a competitive puzzly playing experience.

Combining elements of Carcassonne and Go, Cartography’s triangular tiles, built-in walls, and high-quality production values make this look like a home run game.

[A supporter of IMOGAP demonstrates a new zombie board game.]

IMOGAP is the Interactive Museum of Gaming and Puzzlery, and they’re using Indiegogo to reach out to puzzle and board game fans who want to support the only museum in America dedicated to board games you can play right in the museum!

They have hundreds of games in stock, covering decades of board game development and all sorts of playing styles, and this seems like a really neat cause for board game fans to get behind.

If any of these projects pique your interest, I encourage you to click the links and read more. It’s an exciting time in puzzles, and entrepreneurs like these are one of the big reasons why.

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!

PuzzleNation Product Review: Gravity Maze

This week, we’ve got mazes on the brain, so it’s only appropriate that the folks at ThinkFun sent us a maze-based puzzle game to try out. Join me as we give the full PuzzleNation Blog treatment to Gravity Maze.

In a previous review, I accepted the challenge of ThinkFun’s Laser Maze, a logic game requiring players to direct, divert, and split an actual laser beam with mirrors in order to light up various targets on the board. You had to map out the beam’s path in your head and figure out how to place the game pieces in order to hit every target.

Impressively, Gravity Maze has raised the stakes, building on Laser Maze’s premise and adding a third dimension. Whereas Laser Maze only operated along length and width to cross the board, Gravity Maze’s falling marble has to be shuttled across the board while descending from its launch point as well.

With color-coded tower pieces of various heights and configurations — some levels have ramps to the next lowest level, others have open spaces, and still others house turns for the marble to navigate — it’s up to the solver to add only the pieces listed on the card in order to build the marble’s path to the red target box, each tower clicking into place.

There are 60 challenge cards that range in difficulty from beginner to expert. In the earliest challenges, there are only a few pieces on the board, and there’s a clever black dot system telling you which direction each set tower faces. But as you get accustomed to using the towers and move from beginner to intermediate cards, a new wrinkle is added: sometimes, a tower must be placed horizontally in order to complete the path.

And as you progress into advanced and expert cards, you have to get craftier. The marble often has to double-back, passing through the same tower multiple times on its way down.

Check out the path the marble takes to reach the red target box in this one:

[It's hard to draw a line in three dimensions.]

You can see the colored ramps that direct the marble from the blue tower to the yellow to the green, and then back across. The marble then drops out of the blue tower and into the purple one beside it, where it makes a right turn, passes through the yellow tower, drops into the gray tower, and lands in the red target box.

This next-level spatial awareness offers a serious challenge to puzzlers of all ages, and I admit, some of these advanced and experts had me stymied for a bit.

Heck, sometimes, a tower must be used horizontally, but above the game board itself.

Gravity Maze is easily the most challenging ThinkFun product I’ve had the chance to tinker with, but that didn’t make it any less fun. The box says “Ages 8 to adult,” and I agree wholeheartedly. Puzzlers of any age will enjoy tackling these three-dimensional logic problems and seeing the marble wend its way into the target box.

[To check out other PuzzleNation reviews of ThinkFun products, click here.]

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!

Amazing Maize Mazes!

It’s October! October means falling leaves, Halloween delights, and a particular brand of puzzle that can only be enjoyed outdoors: the corn maze.

The corn maze is a seasonal hall of mirrors, a mental challenge that envelops you like few puzzles ever will.

Whether it’s a simple series of twists and turns designed for kids, or an elaborate design for adults whose true complexity can only be appreciated from above, corn mazes are a terrific puzzly experience for the whole family, and October is prime corn maze season.

Friend of the blog Cathy Quinn passed along an article from the Boston Globe featuring bits of trivia on numerous New England corn mazes, covering such curiosities as the machetes wielded by the Hanson’s Farm crew and the precautions taken by Marini Farm’s maze masters, including phone number to call and GPS assistance available for lost maze-goers.

But for someone looking for a puzzle with a bit more bite, worry not! Some truly devious corn maze designers cook up extra challenges for the brave of heart and sharp of wit.

[Do you see a dinosaur?]

The corn maze found at Pennsylvania’s Cherry Crest Farm, for instance, has three levels of difficulty, each demanding more puzzle skill and problem-solving acumen than the one before.

Their easy version is a basic run-through the maze (indicated with yellow trail markers), while their intermediate one features orange clues to unravel that guide you through a more complicated path. And their most difficult run? Well, that one requires you to collect every piece of a scattered map and every Kernel of Knowledge along way, tackling the mental obstacles that accompany every red clue.

Some clued corn mazes feature additional prizes or access to exclusive parts of the maze. (The Billingsgate Farm corn maze in Plympton, Massachusetts, features a pirate theme, and only the most intrepid solvers and explorers will find their way to the treasure chest at the center of the maze.)

It’s been a while since I’ve found myself tackling a corn maze, so I don’t have any anecdotes to add, but Cathy shared a terrific tidbit about the corn maze at Flint Farm she and her family frequent every year:

The article doesn’t mention it, but when you go in, they hand you a list of 10 trivia questions. As you wander the maze, you can come across up to 20 signs giving possible answers, so you have to figure out which answers are correct.

If you get them all right, you are entered into a raffle for free ice cream at their farm stand/ice cream stand. (We never get them all right, alas.)

Are there any great corn mazes near you, fellow puzzlers? Let me know! Share pictures! I’d love to see them!

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!