It’s Follow-Up Friday: Carpet Conundrum 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 in today’s post, I’d like to return to the subject of visual puzzles.

We’re keeping it simple today. In this photo that’s been making the rounds on Facebook and Reddit, can you find the iPhone?

Let us know if you spotted it! It’s tougher than you might think!

Happy Friday!


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Interactive Puzzling is Murder on a Work Day!

[Image courtesy of Carriageway.com.]

It all started with a board game at lunchtime.

TableTop Day is a popular annual event here at PuzzleNation, and several of my fellow puzzlers enjoyed it so much that they wanted it every week. Well, we couldn’t swing that — deadlines and all — so we play games every Wednesday during lunch.

During a particularly spirited round of 10 Minutes to Kill — a game where every player controls a hitman trying to take out three targets without being identified by the other players or the police — the subject of murder mysteries came up, and I let slip that I’d helped write and run several murder mystery dinners in the past.

[Image courtesy of Vancouver Presents.com.]

So, naturally, the idea of running a murder mystery at work became a recurring topic of discussion.

As a huge fan of interactive storytelling — be it tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, improv theater, LARPing, or other group activities — the idea appealed to me.

Of course, I had one huge hurdle to overcome: the work day.

You see, murder mystery dinners thrive on the theatricality of the event. Attendees can overhear arguments, catch snippets of banter and exposition as they walk around, and engage characters in conversation to learn more. The more you interact with the story, the better chance you have of solving the mystery, but even passive players will get the big picture.

But in a normal workday, I can’t stage big elaborate sequences, like a failed marriage proposal or someone tossing wine in another’s face. I’d have to find another way to deliver information, mysteries, and drama.

Thankfully, as a puzzler, I’m accustomed to writing clues. Cluing is simply delivering information in unexpected ways. Whether it’s through deceptive wordplay, puns, or connections with other entries, crosswords and logic problems are excellent training for being creative and stealthy while presenting important information.

So, I mapped out the murder and the characters I’d need to pull it off, and cast those characters from a group of fellow puzzlers. At the same time, I gauged interest from other coworkers to see who’d be interested in trying to crack the case, and began devising ways to weave them into the narrative. (This was more intimate than writing your usual murder mystery dinner for random attendees, since the latter is more about creating scenes than tailoring it to specific people and circumstances.)

[Can’t have a murder mystery without an animal for someone to pet fiendishly.
In this case, my trusty armadillo in a cowboy hat, Armando.]

My goal was to get everyone prepped to play on Monday, and then actually run the mystery on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the murder having occurred overnight.

Which led to another big hurdle. I couldn’t exactly stage an elaborate murder scene in a way that was unobtrusive to the workday, so I’d have to describe the scene to the players and let them ask questions about it.

But how do I leave clues for the players that are readily identifiable as clues and not just the ephemera of a working office? After all, any good murder investigation needs some convenient clues to uncover that will help unravel the mystery.

I opted to mark any clue (which were most often color pictures of actual items, like a stashed wallet or a threatening letter) with the symbol below, to remove any doubt that this item was involved someway in the murder mystery:

Okay, that takes care of the clues. But what about the actual interaction, where players ask questions of characters and gain the valuable knowledge needed to solve the crime?

Sure, a lot of that can be done through group emails and instant messenger programs, encouraging the investigators to share what they’ve learned, so there wouldn’t be random gaggles of investigators creating a distraction as they ponder the latest clue found or deduction made.

As a storyteller, whether you’re running an RPG or a murder mystery, you not only need to know the details of your story backwards and forwards, but you need to anticipate what questions the audience will ask.

And no matter how prepared you are, I assure you, the players will ALWAYS find a way to monkey-wrench your plans, whether they approach the problem from an unexpected direction or they ask for information you hadn’t prepared in advance. There had to be a simple way to reflect this in the actual gameplay.

To deal with this, I borrowed an idea from Lollapuzzoola and created Holmes Tickets, which were catch-all requests for deeper insight or information than had been provided. Basically, anything that would require outside intervention or skills beyond that of the casual investigator could be revealed by spending a Holmes Ticket.

Dusting for fingerprints, getting ahold of a coroner’s report, uncovering information on a missing check…all of these and more were results of investigators cashing in their Holmes Tickets at various points in the investigation.

So, how did the actual murder mystery go? Well, I’d love to tell you, but it’s not finished yet! The work day proved more intrusive than expected — damn those pesky deadlines and responsibilities! — so we’re rolling into a third day of passive gameplay.

By hook or by crook, the story will be wrapped up today, and I’ll be able to fill you in more on the actual story, clues, and progression of each investigation. For now, I’ll just let you know that there are currently three bodies to account for (our killer has been busy since Monday night), and a host of theories, but no firm accusations yet.

We shall see if justice is served or if our crafty killer gets away.


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A Legends of the Hidden Temple movie!

A lot of cool news has come out of San Diego Comic-Con this weekend. Teasers and trailers for dozens of movies and TV shows, surprise casting announcements, exciting new projects and more!

But one piece of news that might slipped under the radar was perhaps the puzzliest news of the convention: they’re making a Legends of the Hidden Temple movie!

In the mid-1990s, Legends of the Hidden Temple was a kids game show, a mix of puzzle-solving and Indiana Jones-esque adventure, an award-winning show that was all about cooperation, strategy, and outwitting foes rather than overpowering them.

Six teams of two would compete to see who would win the opportunity to enter the Temple and try to acquire the episode’s magical artifact (which changed from show to show). Host Kirk Fogg and a giant red-eyed stone head known as Olmec would challenge the players with trivia and physical challenges to see who would earn the right to test their speed and wits against the Temple.

I was a huge fan of the show because it didn’t rely solely on physical ability like so many other kids game shows did, and I’ve always been a sucker for Indiana Jones-style derring-do.

After crossing the moat, the members of the four teams that made it across first — be they the Purple Parrots, the Green Monkeys, the Red Jaguars, the Silver Snakes, the Blue Barracudas, or the Orange Iguanas — would find themselves on the Steps of Knowledge, answering questions about today’s artifact.

The first two teams to descend the steps would move on to the third round, where they would complete physical challenges to win the Pendants of Life, discs that would come in handy in the final round when the winning team braved the Temple.

The Temple itself was the puzzliest part of the show. As one team member tackled the labyrinthine Temple, hunting for the artifact, the other team member would wait in the wings, watching their performance. Moving from room to room by solving puzzles or accomplishing different tasks, the competitor would try to avoid the temple guards as they traversed the Temple.

(Those Pendants of Life could be exchanged for your freedom if you were captured by a temple guard. Get captured without one, and your turn is over, and the other member of the team would follow the path you’d made previously.)

The team as a whole had three minutes to find the artifact and escape the Temple in order to win the game.

And now, it’s going to be a TV movie!

It’s fun to see how much of the show they’ve worked into this trailer, and I hope the same adventuresome puzzle-solving spirit is an integral part of the storytelling.

After all, what good is a hidden temple without some Goonies-style puzzling?


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5 Questions with Game Designer Andrew Looney

In honor of the 20th anniversary of Looney Labs this weekend, as well as the launch of the LooneyCon event today, we’re doing Follow-Up Friday a little differently today.

And so, welcome to another edition of 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 Andrew Looney as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

[Image courtesy of BoardGameGeek.com.]

Andrew Looney is the chief game designer and co-founder of Looney Labs, a company specializing in games with serious replayability and dynamic rules that make every session a new experience. Founding the company in 1996 with his wife and partner-in-aerospace Kristin, he has gone on to launch such innovative games as Fluxx (and its many variations) and the Looney Pyramids series.

With two decades of experience in game design, he has presided over the growth of a major brand in games, one whose homegrown roots and values are still very much a part of the company’s fabric today.

Andrew was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us in the days before LooneyCon, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions with Andrew Looney

1. You’re celebrating twenty years of Looney Labs innovation and game design this month, and you’ve really cemented a reputation for fun games with a high replay value. How do you know when a game is right for your brand? And what role do you play in bringing these games to market?

I design everything we make myself. So I play a pretty big role. But the decision about what we publish next is not up to me… Ultimately, Kristin makes that call (although she gets input from everyone in the company and beyond).

When I feel that a game design is working, I’ll declare it ready for consideration, at which point it goes into the pool of possibilities. And some of my designs spend a lot of time waiting around in the pool before the company decides to publish them. In other cases, such as when I’m asked to create a game on a specific subject or when I come up with something particularly exciting, I have more deadline pressure.

But the ultimate test of when a game is ready is when everyone who plays it says, “This is great! Let’s play again!”

[The heart and soul of Looney Labs, Andrew and Kristin Looney.
Image courtesy of WindyconBlog.]

2. In the last year, Looney Labs released more games than ever before, with new licensing deals for Fluxx variations like Batman Fluxx and Firefly Fluxx, a Mad Libs game, and a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for Pyramid Arcade, a relaunch of sorts for your Looney Pyramids series. How is Year 20 of Looney Labs different from Year 1, and what lessons have you learned along the way?

Wow, the difference is so vast. Twenty years ago we were still working at our day jobs in the aerospace industry, and learning how to start a company in our spare time. We’re still living in the same house, but the similarities end there. For many years, we ran the business out of our house, but now it’s just our house again, since our company has an 11-room office suite up the road, where our 8 full-time employees work.

Twenty years ago I had an idea for a wacky new card game… now there are almost 20 different versions of that game on the market, that have sold almost 3 million copies, and our games are in about 20 different languages.

Twenty years ago, we were struggling to find a way to manufacture the little plastic pyramids needed for our first game idea. Now we’re about to release an incredible boxed set featuring twenty different games I’ve invented since then for the pyramids.

Plus we have a bunch of other cool games I’ve invented along the way! It’s amazing, I never would have believed it. Where will we be in another twenty years?

[Sample cards from Firefly Fluxx, one of many games
released under the Looney Labs banner.]

3. You’ve created games of your own and helped others bring their games to life. What puzzles and board games, either in game-play style or in the experience of producing them for sale, have most influenced you?

I grew up on the old-school classics, so they were my obvious first influences. Sorry was an early favorite. Another was a sixties board game about the Civil War called Battle Cry. I think my first real game design effort was a small-scale, simplified version of Battle Cry I made as a kid, small and fast enough to be played at a restaurant during a meal. (Sadly, I lost that prototype long ago.)

Another early effort was combining the missile and warhead cards from Nuclear War with the board game Risk. Another of my earliest efforts was coding my own text adventure games, like Colossal Cave, a game so inspirational to me that it also first motivated my desire to program computers.

Kristin and I were independently inspired, during our high school days, by the dice game Cosmic Wimpout. Indie game companies like them are everywhere now, but at the time it was a revelation that such companies could exist. We were particularly inspired by their occasional newsletter and their grassroots approach to marketing.

My favorite card game from way back is Hearts, and certain elements of that game still inspire me, most notably the way it has two paths to victory (avoid taking points vs. take all the points).

Lastly, Fluxx was inspired by a conceptual game engine called Nomic, in which the game rules are created by the players as the game is played. I found Nomic to be an interesting idea, but felt I could do better…

I think a lot of game designers, and indeed inventors of every stripe, are driven by this sort of inspiration, the desire to improve on what someone else did, to go even further with the idea.

4. What’s next for Andrew Looney and Looney Labs?

Well, the very next thing is LooneyCon, a micro-convention for fans of our games which we’re running this weekend! And as mentioned, this fall we’ll be releasing Pyramid Arcade, the culmination of everything we’ve been doing with the pyramid system these past 20 years.

Well, almost — it doesn’t include Zendo, which is too big to fit in Pyramid Arcade. But a new standalone edition of that game is something we’re planning separately, and we have some pretty neat ideas for that, too.

And I’ve got other exciting stuff planned for the future, including 3 completely new board games I’ve been developing for the past few years. Sorry, I can’t even tell you their names yet, let alone when they will be released, but I’m pretty satisfied by each one.

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

“Don’t get left behind when the car goes into town.”

This is something my mom used to say (which I actually only learned at her funeral). It was a lesson she’d learned as a kid in rural Kansas, and it literally just refers to the limited availability of opportunities to catch a ride from the farm into town.

But I love it as a mantra for every fleeting chance we get at doing something fun. Pay attention to everything, because doors sometimes open and close quickly, and always say yes to travel and excitement!

Life is one big game, and whoever has the most fun wins!


A huge thank you to Andy for his time. Be sure to check out the Looney Labs site for updates on all things Looney, and check out their Facebook to keep up on all the activities for this weekend’s LooneyCon event, which starts today and runs through Sunday July 24, the actual 20th anniversary! I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us next!

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Check out the Lone Shark Games’ Humble Bundle!

humble bundle

Want to put your puzzly funds to good, charitable use AND receive some terrific puzzles in return?

Check out Lone Shark Games’s Humble Bundle!

From the website:

In case that’s a new thing for you, a Humble Bundle is a pay-what-you-want collection of games or books that you will never, ever, ever get for that price again. Like, you could only pay a dollar if you want. No, really, it’s an insane deal, and it only lasts two weeks. But that’s not the only cool part. A whole bunch of each person’s contribution goes to charity. So that’s your incentive to pay more than a dollar. Maybe a lot more.

They’ve put together a monster team of talent — Thomas Snyder, Francis Heaney, Brendan Emmett Quigley, Patrick Berry, and Patrick Blindauer among them — and honestly, it’s an incredible offer at any price, even without including The Maze of Games and the incentive of a new hint book!

So if you’d like to do some good for some wonderful causes, click this link!

A proposal most puzzly!

Tuesday’s post was all about the chaos and unpleasantness ensuing from a puzzly misunderstanding, so let’s make today’s post about puzzles bringing people together.

Oh yes, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, we’ve got a puzzle-fueled engagement on our hands!

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles were contacted by a fellow named Bryan who wanted their assistance in crafting a puzzly proposal for his girlfriend.

Bryan provided information and ideas for the folks at Penny to utilize, and a special Simon Says puzzle was constructed for the proposal and slipped into a short run of magazines during production. That way, the proposal would be concealed amidst many other puzzles, and his girlfriend wouldn’t suspect a thing! Diabolical!

(For the uninitiated, Simon Says is an instruction puzzle where you start with a phrase, follow various instructions on how to manipulate and change the letters in the phrase, and you end up with a completely new phrase, usually a pun or a play on the starting phrase.)

In this case, the puzzle started with an affectionate HEY BOO BOO, and 19 steps later, you end up with the fateful question WILL YOU MARRY ME MIA?

So… how did it go, you ask?

Success!

Bryan later told his puzzly cohorts:

The day couldn’t have turned out any better and the fact that she said yes definitely helped. We actually completed around half the book prior to the engagement and she had no clue that page was special. She was completely surprised as well as her parents and it took her until Line 17 to finally figure out what it said. Kudos to you guys for being able to draw it on for that long!

Congratulations to Bryan and Mia! I wish them nothing but the absolute best, and I hope they have many many happy years of love and puzzling ahead of them.

Our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles really outdid themselves on this one. Kudos indeed.

[For the story on the proposal the PDP crew assisted on last year, for another fellow named Bryan, click here!]


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