How Puzzles and Games Evolve to Reach New Audiences

evolution

I am always intrigued when a puzzle, puzzle game, or board game makes the leap to a different medium. What changes will need to be made in order to adapt the puzzle/game to this new style? Does the puzzle lose something in the translation, or become something entirely different? Or does moving into this new medium prove to be a renaissance, a revitalization, for a puzzle or game that had grown stale?

The classic Nintendo puzzle game Dr. Mario recently made the leap to mobile apps as Dr. Mario World, for example, and the transition left the game relatively unscathed.

For the uninitiated, Dr. Mario is all about clearing your screen of virus characters in various colors by lining up pills of the same color to eliminate them. Much like Tetris, the pills fall from the top of the screen, and successfully clearing parts of your screen can cause headaches for your opponent in head-to-head battles.

drmarioworld

[Image courtesy of CNET.]

Sure, the mobile version changed some aspects of the game. You only have a certain number of pills available to clear a given stage (unless you buy more with real-world cash) as opposed to the never-ending supply of the original. And Dr. Mario isn’t the only playable character, as other Mario characters are also doctors in this game (Dr. Peach, Dr. Bowser) with different abilities.

Time will tell if this translation is a success for Nintendo. But naturally, they’re not the only ones experimenting with new ways of bringing their puzzles and games to market.

Our friends at Looney Labs currently have two new projects underway, both of which are reinventing familiar styles of gameplay in fresh exciting ways.

Readers of the blog are familiar with the card game Fluxx, which is one of Looney Labs’ flagship products. The card game with the ever-shifting rules is coming to iOS and Android phones with Playdek’s Digital Fluxx!

fluxx-mobile

[Image courtesy of Pocket Tactics.]

Launching in the next few days, Digital Fluxx promises both offline play and online play for 2-4 players (including human and AI opponents) and multiple language options for international players.

It’s apropos that a game where the rules and goals are constantly changing would continue to adapt in new and exciting ways, and I look forward to seeing how a digital version of the now-classic card game brings new eyes to the Looney Labs library of games.

But that’s not all.

Looney Labs has also teamed up with the game-publishing resource The Game Crafter to allow fans of the card-matching game Loonacy to create their very own custom Loonacy decks!

You can pick and choose from their library of possible card images or upload your own and create a truly unique Loonacy deck for yourself. I think it’s an awesome idea, one that makes a perfect gift for fellow game fans, and I can’t wait to see what sorts of clever creations Loonacy fans come up with through The Game Crafter.

Between a DIY design template for a fast-paced relative newcomer and a digital version of one of the mainstays in modern card games, Looney Labs is demonstrating two ways that puzzlers and game companies can find new, enticing ways to keep their products accessible.

I can’t wait to see what other companies and puzzlemakers come up with next.


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Answers to our Fourth of July Deduction Puzzle!

13starflag

[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

Last week, we celebrated America’s birthday in puzzly fashion by offering a custom-made Pair Off-style deduction puzzle for our fellow PuzzleNationers to solve!

Our setup was simple: a group of five enthusiastic vexillologists — devotees of the study of flags — decided to stage five days of presentations about different flags from American history.

Each person presented a different flag’s history each day (the thirteen-star flag, the fifty-star flag, the Don’t Tread on Me flag, the Marine Corps flag, or the Coast Guard flag), and the presentations were performed in a different order each day (first, second, third, fourth, or fifth).

Each vexillologist presented one flag per day, and none of them repeated a flag presentation across the five days. Similarly, none of the flag presentations happened in the same order each day. So, for instance, if a flag was first in the order on July 3rd, it wouldn’t be first in the order any other day.

And we challenged our solvers to complete the schedule of flag presentations.

If you want to try the puzzle for yourself, this is your last chance.

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….. you’ve been warned…

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Okay! Let’s take a look at the solution grid:

7-4pairoffans

How did you fare in our Independence Day puzzle challenge? Did you enjoy any other puzzles or games over the holiday? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to her from you.


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Building Better Bonds with Board Games

friendsboardgames3

[Image courtesy of Toy-TMA.com.]

Earlier this year, we discussed a study indicating that playing board games was good for your relationship. The results of the study revealed that the act of playing board games actually coincided with the creation of new chemical bonds of affection for the person with whom you’re playing the game.

Well, as it turns out, it’s not just romantic relationships that benefit from the board game experience, as another article suggests that social relationships also benefit from communal play like board games.

From the article on QZ.com:

Board games, along with role playing and table games like Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons, allow players to enter into a controlled state of conflict. The process of engaging in that conflict is fun even when you lose, and the outcome is likely to be different the next time around.

A good board game builds in enough chance so that any reasonably skilled player can win. Even in chess, famously associated with warfare and military strategy, the emphasis is not on who ultimately wins, but on the ingenuity that players display in the process.

friendsboardgames2

[Image courtesy of Den of Geek.]

It’s a simple combination, really. Board games offer not only an achievable goal — something that can feel rare in our ever-complicated world — but a sense of fairness to the proceedings that might feel equally rare. Everyone is operating on the same footing, everyone is capable of the same actions, and (ignoring previous experience with the game) everyone has a fair chance of succeeding.

Heck, in most games, taking turns is built into the game. Board games are orderly affairs. Even the chaotic ones operate under a standard set of rules that are reassuring and clear. Life is rarely so simple.

In addition, there is the comfort-building social aspect of getting together to play games. Conventions like Gen Con and holidays like International Tabletop Day are designed around the joys of shared play, and more and more, you see game stores, hobby shops, libraries, board game cafes, and other locations offering game night activities and bringing people together.

friendsboardgames1

[Image courtesy of Review Geek.]

I wonder if there are any games that are commonly regarded as strong relationship builders. I’m sure cooperative games would rank higher than most, but then again, sometimes the spirit of competition can also bring people together.

Fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, is there a particular board game that you prefer for family or friendly game nights? What about games you enjoy playing with your significant other? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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We’re Not the Only Ones With Puzzles on the Brain!

newsboy

[A photo from the early days of PuzzleNation Blog, as one of our intrepid puzzleboys spreads the word of PuzzleNation far and wide. Image courtesy of Toledo’s Attic.]

I would love to tell you that PuzzleNation Blog is the only game in town when it comes to outstanding puzzle content, but that’s not the truth.

Sure, I think we put out some of the best writing in the puzzle business, but there are other outlets that also pen some marvelous stuff. Deb Amlen’s Wordplay blog on The New York Times website, for instance, is a treasure trove of great material, featuring breakdowns of NYT puzzles, interviews with constructors, and more.

The New Yorker recently posted an intriguing one-two punch of puzzle content. The main article was a meditation on crosswords — their potential, what they mean to a fan, and more — while the accompanying video featured an interview with constructor Natan Last (conducted by crossword editor Liz Maynes-Aminzade) about political entries in puzzles.

What’s slightly more surprising is that another popular Internet outlet has also had puzzles on the brain:

The Onion.

theonionheader

Three times in the past month or so, the satirical news outlet has posted some hilarious puzzle-centric content. On June 20th, one of their headlines read “Exhilarated Woman Discovers Last Person Who Used Jigsaw Puzzle Left Lots Of Pieces Sticking Together.”

Two weeks earlier on June 6th, the article “Maze With Cheese In Center Enters Human Trials Following Decades Of Testing On Mice,” which feels all too apropos after our post last week about corn mazes.

But the cream of the crop was undoubtedly the article posted on May 28th, “Will Shortz Frustrated That Police Yet To Crack Taunting Puzzles Revealing Locations Of 40 Years Of Murder Victims.”

In a hysterically brief send-up of both the famously mild-mannered Shortz and classic criminal masterminds in general (like the one in the Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode that also featured Shortz, or the one from the Hallmark Crossword Mysteries earlier this year), the article paints the crossword editor as a murderous genius who feels unappreciated in his efforts to play a game of cat-and-mouse with the NYPD:

“I naturally assumed that, at some point during the last four decades, at least one detective would be smart enough to solve the case,” said Shortz, who also implied that the geographic coordinates of the victims could be determined by analyzing the sudoku puzzles in the Sunday edition.

It was one of the funniest pieces of the year for The Onion, and further proof of just how ubiquitous crosswords truly are these days.


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A Deduction Puzzle for Independence Day!

historyoftheflag

[Image courtesy of NWI Times.]

It’s Independence Day, and is there any better way to celebrate the history of America than with a little deduction puzzle based on some classic American symbols? I hardly think so!

Good luck and Happy Fourth of July!


To celebrate America’s birthday, a group of five enthusiastic vexillologists — devotees of the study of flags — decided to stage five days of presentations about different flags from American history.

Each person presented a different flag’s history each day (the thirteen-star flag, the fifty-star flag, the Don’t Tread on Me flag, the Marine Corps flag, or the Coast Guard flag), and the presentations were performed in a different order each day (first, second, third, fourth, or fifth).

Each vexillologist presented one flag per day, and none of them repeated a flag presentation across the five days. Similarly, none of the flag presentations happened in the same order each day. So, for instance, if a flag was first in the order on July 3rd, it wouldn’t be first in the order any other day.

Can you complete the schedule of flag presentations below?

7-4pairoff

Are you having any puzzly celebrations for Independence Day? Let us know in the comments section below, we’d love to hear from you!


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The Puzzling Art of Letterlocking

letterlocking

[Image courtesy of Letter Writers Alliance.]

When you think about puzzles and personal security, what comes to mind?

Do you think of puzzle boxes, those delightfully tricky little wooden creations with all their sliding pieces and hidden compartments? Or does your mind go to encryption, the art of concealing your message in plain sight with ciphers, scytales, and other techniques meant to baffle anyone but those in the know?

Some puzzle box designs date back centuries, and ciphers can be traced back even further. (One is named after Caesar, after all.)

But there’s another centuries-old puzzly procedure you might not know about, and it kept letters and messages safe using nothing more than paper and wax.

butterflylock

[Image courtesy of ibookbinding.com.]

This technique is known as letterlocking. It involves a mix of precise folds, interlocking pieces of paper, and sealing wax in order to create a distinctive design or pattern.

Although the pattern itself can work like a puzzle — requiring a particular trick to unfold it and reveal the message without ripping or damaging the letter — that’s only a secondary line of defense. The true goal of letterlocking is to reveal tampering. The folding techniques are distinctive, and the wax creates points of adhesion.

If you receive a letter and the folds are done (aka redone) incorrectly, or the wax is smeared (or the paper ripped where the wax would have held it tight), then you know the letter has been compromised.

daggertrap

[Image courtesy of ibookbinding.com.]

Some examples of letterlocking trace back to the 13th century, and key figures like Queen Elizabeth I, Machiavelli, Galileo, and Marie Antoinette employed letterlocking security in the past. Mary, Queen of Scots, wrote a message and letterlocked it with a butterfly lock six hours before her beheading. (For a more modern reference, letterlocking was employed in the Harry Potter films as well, most famously in Dumbledore’s will.)

The various techniques involved are as distinctive as knots. The triangle lock. The dagger-trap. The pinwheel letter. And some historians believe that those techniques imply connections between some of the important players in history.

For instance, both poet John Donne and the spymaster of Queen Elizabeth I employed a similar letterlocking style. Did they share a common source, or even an instructor in common? Or did a particular letterlocking technique provide a clue as to the contents of the letter within?

Letterlocking is a historical curiosity that was seemingly lost to time after the proliferation of the envelope and other security techniques, but it is slowly being rediscovered by a new generation, as well as reverse engineered by scientists and scholars. Yale and MIT both have teams exploring the burgeoning field of letterlocking.

Museums are discovering treasure troves of letterlocked messages by going directly to the source: post offices. A cache of 600 undelivered letters in the Netherlands, for instance, are being analyzed by researchers.

trianglelock

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

It’s a remarkable thing, really, this union of centuries-old skills with twenty-first century knowledge. These are puzzles, frozen in time, waiting to be solved and placed into the larger picture of history.

Letterlocking is nothing less than a rare and beautiful art combining puzzles and privacy, as elegant as it is clever. There are no doubt many more secrets to be found behind the folds, slits, and wax seals of these lovingly crafted messages.


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