A Rubik’s Cube is Brought to Life in this Short Film!

In the world of puzzles, there are certain images that are unmistakable, no matter what language you speak. A few concepts that are universally familiar and instantly recognizable.

A Scrabble tile. The black and white pattern of a crossword grid.

A small, multicolored cube.

The Rubik’s Cube is iconic, and it feels like part of the fabric of puzzles at this point. We’ve seen people set new records in speed-solving them, computers designed to solve them, and foods crafted to look like them. There have been Rubik’s Cube Halloween costumes, marriage proposals, and art installations. People are even designing and 3-D printing their own Rubik’s-inspired creations.

But no one has ever brought the Rubik’s Cube to life quite like Bastiaan Schravendeel and the team at Polder Animation.

In the short animated film Scrambled, we’re introduced to two unforgettable characters on a train platform: a girl named Esra and a nameless Rubik’s cube.

When Esra misses her train and busies herself with her phone while waiting for the next one, the perceptive little Rubik’s Cube makes its presence known.

This short is reminiscent of a Miyazaki film — a world with hidden surprises — as well as the charming interactions of Pixar films like Wall-E, and it will no doubt be the best six minutes of your day:

I could talk about all the messages and subtext underpinning this wonderful little story: analog play vs. digital, the value of feeling a well-earned sense of accomplishment, the magic of puzzles. You no doubt detected the same themes while you watched the short.

But instead, I’d rather give a shout-out to the wonderful animators who brought this world to life. Esra is instantly relatable, shutting out the world for a bit while waiting for her train, and the hilarious, puppy-like antics of the Rubik’s Cube are immensely engaging. You can’t help but root for the little guy, even if solving him seems to bring an end to his interactions with Esra.

It’s amazing how quickly you forge a bond with the Rubik’s Cube, and the animators deserve high praise for making a puzzle that inspires wonder and frustration in equal measure into one so endearing.

In an interview with Short of the Week, Schravendeel said:

The biggest challenge was to create a genuinely believable, likable and relatable character from a Rubik’s cube without making it about anything other than it being a Rubik’s cube. I’ve always liked films that manage to evoke emotion and personality from objects that usually don’t have any, especially if it can be done without dialogue.

Dialogue would have ruined the simplicity and wonder of Esra and the Cube’s interactions, and the mix of wordless communication and physical comedy made for a wonderful viewing experience.

Scrambled is a delight. I hope you enjoy.


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Brevity is Not Always the Soul of Wit

I was looking over some of the crossword puzzles I’ve saved over the last year — in preparation for my yearly Favorite Puzzles of the Year post — and I noticed something.

Some crossword clues are really REALLY long.

Now, this is obviously not huge news to anyone. Although short clues offer plenty of opportunities to be clever and play with words, longer clues grant a constructor much more freedom.

After all, for every vague reference of “Wading bird,” you could have “Medium-sized wading bird with a long straight bill.” Details are a nice touch.

With long clues, you can make elaborate scholarly references, or provide multiple examples, often juxtaposing two statements in an amusing way.

Sometimes, they present the opportunity to quote the clue’s subject directly:

Other quotation clues simply allow the constructor to go outside the box in cluing a word commonly seen in crosswords.

In the New York Times crossword from January 15, 2017, ARC was clued “The ___ of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”: M.L.K.”

June 11th’s NYT puzzle from this year is another fine example: “George Bernard Shaw wanted his to read ‘I knew if I stayed around long enough, something like this would happen'”

Sometimes, they’re hilariously self-referential, like this one I saw on Instagram:

This year’s Lollapuzzoola tournament puzzles really made the most of some long clues, utilizing both humor and clever construction.

In the warm-up puzzle, several entries had the same long clue, carefully worded to apply in more than one situation: “One party in an after-school one-on-one encounter.”

In the first puzzle, we saw clues like “Movies, and some comics, but *definitely* not video games, according to some” for CANON, and “Axle attachments that always make me think of the world record holder for the 100-meter dash” for U-BOLTS.

In the final, A POST was clued “‘I have to write ____ on my blog tonight, mostly to complain about this atrocious partial in the Lollapuzzoola tiebreaker.’” (I also want to give a shout-out to the clue “Mother’s father’s daughter’s son’s daughter” for NIECE. Good lord.)


It seems like long clues are only growing longer and more creative. I wonder where this trend will take us. Will there be a puzzle where every single clue (save one) has to be short, because one massive clue will take up an entire column? Who knows.

What’s the longest clue you’ve encountered in the crossword wild, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Mary Engelbreit Loonacy

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. And this concludes the disclaimer.]

If you’re looking for frenetic, quick-play card games, they don’t come much quicker or more chaotic than Loonacy.

In Loonacy, players compete to dump all of the cards in their hand by dropping them one-at-a-time into various piles. They do so by matching one of two symbols on their card with the symbol atop the discard piles. For instance, if you’ve got a card with an owl and a queen on it, you can drop that card onto a pile with an owl on top or a queen on top.

But since every player in the game is doing the same thing at the same time — there’s no taking turns here — it’s a race to drop a matching card from your hand before any of the other players can drop a card from theirs.

Looney Labs has published two previous editions of the game — Loonacy and Retro Loonacy — but neither is as eye-catching, as lovely, as charming, or as unexpected as the latest edition, Mary Engelbreit Loonacy.

Unlike the cartoony character-centric images of the original or the nostalgia-fueled artsy icons of the retro version, Mary Engelbreit Loonacy brings a peaceful, almost folksy sense of style and humor to the game.

The imagery is gorgeous and heartwarming, depicting uplifting images that would fit in with any kitchen or living room. Words of wisdom like “She who laughs, lasts” and “Sooner or later, we all quote our mothers” mix with scenes of familial bliss, childhood innocence, or simple pleasures.

In a game that’s all about observation, decision making, instantaneous pattern matching, and rapid reflexes, juxtaposing that sort of anxiety-inducing gameplay with these peaceful, fun images is a stroke of genius, one that forces you to pause, even for just a moment, in order to simply enjoy Engelbreit’s delightful art.

Mary Engelbreit Loonacy bridges the gap between the kid-oriented silly imagery of the original and the adult-oriented artsy feel of the sequel, making the best of both in one family-friendly package.

Mary Engelbreit Loonacy is available from Looney Labs and other participating retailers.

It’s also featured in our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, alongside all sorts of terrific puzzly gift ideas, including other Looney Labs products like Zendo, Get the MacGuffin, Star Trek Fluxx, and more!


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A World of Puzzle Luxury

As recreational pastimes go, puzzles are pretty affordable.

A New York Times crossword subscription runs you $40 for the year. Many top constructors — like those featured in our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide — offer outstanding puzzles on a weekly basis for less than that.

Puzzle magazines like those from our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles run $5 to $10 (even for the big ones!) and puzzle collections by constructors and puzzle outlets rarely crack double digits.

(Heck, our apps are free downloads!)

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw some constructors on Twitter discussing a subscription service called Puzzlelux that costs nine hundred dollars a year!

[In this actual photo from the website, a woman from a 1990s Calvin Klein TV ad appears to be mildly inconvenienced by an elegant puzzlenado that has swept her into the air, risking all sorts of luxurious papercuts.]

Yes, Puzzlelux offers seasonal bundles of puzzles — Sudoku, crosswords, Cryptograms, and word scrambles — for $75 a month.

Now, not having solved any of their puzzles, I cannot fairly judge whether they’re worth that kind of cash splashing. But I am skeptical, given that I can get awesome puzzles elsewhere for 1/30th that price.

I mean, $899 dollars is pretty steep. A trip on Cunard’s crossword cruise last year was cheaper than that!

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised that someone came along to corner the market on high-end puzzlesmithing, since in the past, I have encountered a few examples of puzzle luxury items in my travels.

Every year in the Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, I jokingly mention that the folks at Hammacher Schlemmer offer a $12,000 Scrabble game in their catalog.

Yes, The World’s Largest Scrabble Game takes up an entire wall of your home, but the odds are slimmer that you’ll ever misplace one of the game tiles in your couch cushions.

Then again, $12,000 looks reasonable next to $100,000, which was the price tag for a specialty version of Monopoly produced for FAO Schwarz.

With a solid gold board, emeralds and sapphires embedded in the board (as well as in hotels and houses), and real U.S. currency in place of the play money, this might be the peak of puzzle-game excess.

Unless, of course, you commission your own labyrinth, or want to solve Sudoku in space, or something like that. But who knows what the future holds for super-wealthy puzzlers out there?


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Answers to our Thanksgiving Word Seek Puzzle!

Happy Thanksgiving, PuzzleNationers!

Last Thursday, we celebrated Thanksgiving with a holiday-themed word seek, loaded with all the traditional Thanksgiving trimmings.

Everything from turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing to pumpkin pie, turnip, and yams was hidden in our dastardly grid. And unlikely many word seeks where the words read out in a straight line, the words in this grid can wind, turn, and double-back within their patches.

Did you find them all?

If not, we’ve got the solution to our Thanksgiving word seek for you today!

But first, here’s one last chance to solve it before we reveal the answer…

Okay, that’s more than fair. It’s time for the answer grid!

As you can see, even with the entries divvied up into their various patches, it’s still not immediately clear what the entry is. That’s what makes a Patchword-style word seek tougher than you’d expect.

So how did you do? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Girl Genius: The Works

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. And this concludes the disclaimer.]

Some games are famous for their many moving parts. Mousetrap and The Grape Escape both come to mind, since players move around — or through — a machine in order to complete the game.

But what if every character in a game was a cog in a vast machine? Imagine heroes and villains making their moves as the plot whirls around them, constantly altered by their choices, until someone emerges as the victor.

Girl Genius: The Works places two or more players inside the guts of that machine, and leaves them to figure out how to make the machine work for them.

It’s a card game that mixes simple moves — flipping, spinning, removing, and replacing cards — with deep strategic gameplay, since any card could start a chain reaction that hands you or your opponent points.

The basic idea centers around a board made up of 12 facedown cards. Each player takes turns trying to score points by “popping” cards and adding them to their score pile.

To do so, the player flips over a card on the board, revealing the character, the pattern of symbols along each edge, the card’s score value, and what happens when the card is popped.

The player must then spin a faceup card 180 degrees, with the goal of matching the symbols along one side of the card with the symbols on a neighboring card in the machine.

If the symbols match up, that spun card is popped, meaning you pick it up, and follow the instructions on the card. These instructions can range from drawing cards or popping additional cards to stealing cards from other players, rearranging the game board, or even new rules that allow you to win the game immediately.

[In our case, the card instructed us to turn all hero cards facedown.]

Once you’ve added that card to your score pile, you replace it with a card from your hand, rebuilding the machine. (Each player gets five cards in their hand to start.) Play then passes to the next player.

The wow factor of Girl Genius: The Works comes in those moments when you pop cards. The right combination of symbols can have you popping multiple cards at once, and once you start reading the instructions on those popped cards, the game can swing wildly into one player’s favor or another.

The characters on each cards, based on the long-running Girl Genius webcomic, are vivid and entertaining, and the attention to detail on the art extends to the back of the cards, where the interlocking gears depicted give you the image of a complicated, multilayered machine you’re manipulating to your own ends.

Plus, the board is different every time you play, adding a lot of replayability to a single deck. And remember, there are four decks to mix and match as you see fit, based on different storylines in the Girl Genius universe: Castle Wulfenbach, Master Payne’s Circus of Adventure, Castle Heterodyne, and The Siege of Mechanicsburg.

That means you can play with practically endless combinations and permutations. Heroes and villains will collide in ways you never expected, based on simple actions like spinning cards.

The strategy element is almost stealthy, because players get into the game too quickly to be intimidated by the sheer number of possible choices the cards allow. There’s no chance for new players, or younger players, to be overwhelmed, because they’ll be too busy enjoying flipping, spinning, and popping cards, and watching the machine spring into action.

Girl Genius: The Works is terrific fun, a marvelous gateway into strategy card games, deck-building games, and more complex board games in general.

Girl Genius: The Works is available from Cheapass Games.

Be sure to check out all four decks to get the full Girl Genius card game experience, and visit our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide for more puzzly gift ideas, including other Cheapass Games products like Button Men and The Island of Doctor Lucky!


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