PuzzleNation Product Review: Minecraft Magnetic Travel Puzzle

tfmine1

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

Minecraft is one of the biggest indie video game success stories of the last twenty years. A simple block-style game about building things (and destroying things) is now a multimedia empire, complete with toys, LEGOs, and of course, video games across numerous platforms.

It was only a matter of time before it made the leap to puzzles, and as it turns out, the clever folks at ThinkFun were just the designers to bring Minecraft into a puzzlier world.

Minecraft Magnetic Travel Puzzle pits the player against devious deduction puzzles with elements of the Minecraft universe included. By using the clues provided on each challenge card, the player must arrange three swords, pickaxes, and pieces of armor (all different colors, making nine unique game pieces) on the 3×3 crafting table in a particular pattern.

tfmine2

Completing the grid is the only way to bypass the ender dragon (who is placing these challenge obstacles in your path) and continue onto the next world in your journey.

The instructions, puzzles, solutions, game board, and pieces are all contained within the single spiral-bound game book, making this one of ThinkFun’s most portable products yet. The magnetic pieces are fairly sturdy, as is the game board, so it will hold up nicely to the rigors of travel (and being stuffed into various carry-on bags).

tfmine3

The gameplay itself is all about interpreting the clues provided with each challenge card. Some clues offer hints on where to place pieces according to color, others according to shape. Additional clues center around a given piece’s location on the grid or in relation to another piece.

For instance, in Beginner Challenge #5 in the image below, the solver gets two hints: one about color and the other about the game pieces.

All three of the blue pieces will be placed along the diagonal, according to the first hint. And according to the second hint, a piece of armor will be in the upper right corner and a pickaxe will be in the middle square. Combining these two hints tells us where to place the blue armor and blue pickaxe. And since only one blue gamepiece is left, the blue sword goes in the lower left corner.

tfmine4

Similarly, the combination of the yellow square in the center of the top row in the first hint and the sword image in the center of the top row in the second hint tells us where to place the yellow sword. Once that’s in place, we look at the remaining sword image on the second hint and know where to place the gray sword.

The gray square in the upper left corner of the first hint and the pickaxe image in the upper left corner of the second hint point to where to play the gray pickaxe (and the yellow pickaxe by process of elimination).

tfmine5

With two game pieces left and one unoccupied yellow square in the first hint, the solver can easily complete this challenge, besting the ender dragon’s latest obstacle and moving forward.

Once you graduate from the Beginner and Intermediate difficulty levels, you’ll face a new wrinkle: negative clues. Negative clues are layouts that must be avoided, so instead of telling you where to place a piece, they tell you expressly where NOT to place a piece, ratcheting up the difficulty.

For instance, in Advanced Challenge #25, the negative hints tell us that a gray gamepiece can never be directly below and to the right of a blue gamepiece, or above and to the left of a yellow gamepiece.

tfmine6

These restrictions will prove to be valuable hints going forward, often telling a savvy solver more about the layout of the crafting table than the regular clues!

By gradually teaching deductive reasoning — slowly introducing new ways to provide information and eliminate possibilities — the solver quickly grasps a key component of strategy and planning: “If this, then that” thinking.

This sort of cause-and-effect observation allows a solver to hold several pieces of information in your head at once, eliminating red herrings and unhelpful possibilities until you’re left with one solution that fits all the requirements. (Just as every Sudoku puzzle is an exercise in deduction, so is every challenge card in Minecraft Magnetic Travel Puzzle.)

Fun for younger solvers and older alike, ThinkFun’s latest deduction puzzle game turns Minecraft into Mindcraft, adding a valuable puzzly tool to the arsenal of every solver.

Minecraft Magnetic Travel Puzzle is available from ThinkFun and certain online retailers.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

A Month of Puzzly Celebration!

January is a good month for puzzles and puzzly pursuits. Not only is National Puzzle Day coming up soon, but there are two delightful anniversaries for us to celebrate.

Two years ago this month, one of the newer parts of the puzzle community was founded: The Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory.

This Facebook group is part gathering place for established and aspiring constructors and part resource for constructors of all skill levels.

People post and share information about everything from grid construction, editing programs, and cluing advice to networking, test-solving, and encouraging feedback.

Inexperienced and aspiring constructors meet and collaborate with established names. Obstacles, problems, and questions are handled with equal care and support. Heck, some constructors even post rejection notices they’ve received in order to share the valuable feedback it contains.

It’s become a hub for discovering and supporting underrepresented voices in puzzles as well, not only encouraging valuable new partnerships, but hopefully recruiting the next generation of constructors for all backgrounds.

It’s been a pleasure to watch this community grow and evolve as newer constructors become more confident and established voices launch new puzzly projects. I can’t wait to see what emerges from this marvelous endeavor in the months and years to come.

The second anniversary to celebrate this month belongs to domino master, kinetic artist, and friend of the blog Lily Hevesh, aka Hevesh5, who is celebrating 11 years as a domino artist and YouTuber.

Over the past decade, Lily has evolved from a foundling YouTuber with a few dozen dominoes into an influential member of the world domino community. She has designed works of kinetic art for films, TV shows, and special events, as well as Guinness World Records and collaborations involving hundreds of thousands of dominoes.

Continually pushing the boundaries of what you can do with dominoes — from chains and Rube Goldberg devices to literal works of art — Lily has amassed more than two million followers on YouTube and transformed a small hobby into a thriving business and contributing member of her community.

I’m overjoyed to see her ambitious plans for the future, especially after being a fan for so long. Every new video shows off her incredible range and talent, and I look forward to seeing what new wonders she has in store for us all in the future.

Happy Anniversary, Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory!
Happy Anniversary, Lily!

And happy puzzling to you, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

A College Application Includes a Puzzly Twist

college-1516569592

[Image courtesy of Rochester.edu.]

My nephew recently started his first year at college, so it wasn’t that long ago that we were discussing applications, college essays, and all that.

Applying to college is more competitive than ever, so everyone is always looking for an edge. Sports, clubs, volunteering, all manner of extracurricular activities… anything and everything that could separate you from the pack is worth pursuing.

And for some applicants, their ethnic background or upbringing can help tell the story of what makes them a desirable applicant.

Of course, sometimes that goes awry.

college-application-process

[Image courtesy of TheBestSchools.org.]

The college applicant in question was always told he was 1/8th Native American. His family had a few keepsakes from his heritage, but otherwise it wasn’t a big part of his life.

When I got old enough I asked my parents what tribe we were and I was told the Yuan-Ti. Now I didn’t know anything of it but I did tell my friends in elementary school and whatever and bragged I was close to nature (as you do).

So recently I applied to colleges and since you only have to be 1/16 native I thought I had this in the bag. Confirmed with my parents and sent in my applications as 1/8th Yuan-ti tribe.

So why am I discussing this story on a puzzles and games blog? Well, there’s one key reason, which our unfortunate friend soon discovered.

You see, the Yuan-Ti is not a Native American tribe. It’s a species of serpentfolk — human-snake hybrids — from the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons.

yuan-ti

[Image courtesy of Forgotten Realms Wiki.]

Apparently, his parents have happily kept up this fiction even after this application debacle. He has been reaching out to the colleges and explaining his mistake, and hopefully the schools will look past this and accept him.

Yes, the fact that he never bothered to do any research himself and figure out that he’s not a psionic snakeman from the Forgotten Realms is kinda on him. But the fact that his parents doubled down on their Yuan-Ti heritage during college applications makes them either the most diabolical pranksters on the planet or legitimately insane.

But sometimes we do accept what are parents tell us as gospel years after we should have figured out the game. I remember a time in college when an ice cream truck was going by, and several of us commented that we wanted ice cream. One guy spoke up and said, “Don’t bother; they only play the song when they’re out of ice cream.”

That’s what his father told him as a child to get out of buying ice cream, and he still believed it years later. Poor guy.

Granted, that’s a world away from telling your son to basically list “lizard person” under “ethnicity” on a college application. But still. I get it, a little.

Here’s hoping our friendly gullible college applicant gets into the college of his choice… and gets a little better at researching the topics of his future college essays.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

The PN Blog 2019 Countdown!

welcome2020

It’s the final blog post of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2019 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


#10 Daedalus

I’m a huge history and mythology buff, so any opportunity I have to indulge those interests in a puzzly way, I will happily seize. Delving into the story of the famous labyrinth builder and trying to separate fact from fiction was great fun, probably the most interesting deep dive into a subject I experienced all year.

#9 Escape Room Goodness

Escape rooms are the biggest puzzly fad in years, an interactive form of group puzzle-solving that is immersive, challenging, and story-driven. This year, we teamed up with several escape rooms around the world to share stories of some of the weirdest moments from the relatively brief history of escape rooms.

From people breaking into the ceiling to escape to others sabotaging the room in insane ways, it was a treat to hear just how far some people will go to “escape.”

#8 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

#7 Crosswords

There’s more to writing about crosswords than simply solving puzzles and unraveling clues, and that was especially true this year. The social and cultural aspect of crosswords came up several times, and it’s important to discuss these issues in an open, honest way, even if that means calling out the biggest crossword in the world to hold them accountable.

Whether it was The New York Times ignoring good advice and placing an offensive word in a grid or Will Shortz dismissing the hard work done by other crossword editors in the field (intentionally or unintentionally), we took up the torch more than once this year because it was the right thing to do.

#6 Wordventures

At the start of the year, we were already rolling with Wordventures, our interactive puzzle mystery that incorporated narrative, word search puzzles, and roleplaying elements into a unique solving experience.

It was an absolute delight to explore that narrative in posts like this, taking the reader into the mysterious world of the Vampire Pirate, one where sight and sound helped draw you into one of our most ambitious puzzle apps yet.

#5 PUZZLE FEST

April Fools Day pranks are an Internet tradition at this point. Some websites go all out in celebrating the holiday. (Heck, ThinkGeek has started using the holiday to tease the public’s interest level in “fake” products, going on to actually release some of those April Fools pranks as real items later in the year!)

So after Puzzles for Pets and PNVR both made a splash in subsequent years, we couldn’t resist getting in on the pranking fun again this year. And why not have a little fun with the famously disastrous Fyre Festival by pretending to host our own PUZZLE FEST? With an elaborate brochure, lots of photos, and enough overblown promises of puzzly luxury to catch all sorts of eyes, we made a lot of puzzlers laugh (and left a few disappointed that there wasn’t a luxury puzzle resort… at least, not yet anyway).

horrorpuzzler3

#4 Top Solvers

Blending pop culture with puzzles always makes for an enjoyable blog post, and this year, I was fortunate enough to combine my love of puzzles with my love for horror movies when I made a list of the best puzzle solvers in horror films. It allowed me to discuss some of my favorite clever characters without delving too far into the horror element (which I know some of our readers wouldn’t necessarily enjoy), making it the best of both worlds.

Plus, it’s kicked off a recurring series of posts, since I recently followed up with a list of the best puzzle solvers on TV. For 2020, we’ll see additional lists like the best puzzle solvers in literature and the worst puzzle solvers in pop culture.

#3 Puzzle Events

And speaking of top solvers, there are few things better than spending time with fellow puzzlers and gamers, and we got to do a lot of that this year. Whether it was cheering on our fellow puzzlers at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament or putting our hands dirty with some knock-down, drag-out, game-playing ferocity during our Tabletop Tournament, these interactions were both invigorating and encouraging. Events like these really help solidify the spirit of community that comes with being puzzly.

#2 Crossword Mysteries

One of the funniest and most peculiar moments of the year 2019 was finally getting to see the long-ballyhooed Crossword Mysteries film debut on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Not since the Wordplay documentary had crosswords gotten such public attention, and this only increased when the channel announced three additional movies in the series would air later in the year.

Although we only got to see one more of them before the year was out — still waiting on #3, Hallmark — it was tremendous fun to review the marriage of the curiously campy style of Hallmark murder mysteries with puzzles (particularly when it involves Will Shortz cameos).

1200x628magglassfb

#1 Daily POP Word Search

There’s nothing more exciting than getting to announce the launch of a product that has been months or years in the making, so picking #1 was a no-brainer for me. It had to be the announcement of Daily POP Word Search.

But it’s not just the app, it’s everything behind the app. I’ve watched it grow and evolve during the development phase, and I had the pleasure of interviewing some of my favorite fellow puzzlers who contribute so much to its success and style thanks to their puzzle designs and terrific content.

It may sound self-serving or schlocky to talk about our flagship products as #1 in the countdown, but it’s something that we’re all extremely proud of, something that we’re constantly working to improve, because we want to make our apps the absolute best they can be for the PuzzleNation audience. That’s what you deserve.

And it’s part of the evolution of PuzzleNation and PN Blog. Even as we work to ensure our current products are the best they can be, we’re always looking ahead to what’s next, what’s on the horizon, what’s to come.

Thanks for spending 2019 with us, through brain teasers and big ideas, through Hallmark murders and Halloween puns, through puzzle launches and landmark moments. We’ll see you in 2020.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

PuzzleNation Blog Looks Back on 2019!

Numbers And Hourglass On Table Against Window

[Image courtesy of Kiplinger.]

2019 is rapidly coming to a close, and as I look back on another eventful year in the world of puzzles and games, I’m incredibly proud of the contributions both PuzzleNation Blog and PuzzleNation made to the puzzle community as a whole.

Over the last year, we explored board games and card games, strategy games and trivia games, dice games and tile games, do-it-yourself puzzlers and pen-and-paper classics. We met game designers, constructors, artists, YouTubers, and creative types of all kinds.

We unraveled math puzzles and diabolical brain teasers. We untangled metal puzzles, wove together puzzle rings, locked our messages securely with letterlocking, and unlocked the puzzly secrets behind carnival games. We pondered optical illusions, Internet memes, and more, even questioning our place in the world of puzzles as AI and solving robots continued to rise in capability.

We delved into puzzle history and mythology with posts about the labyrinth builder Daedalus, the decades-old puzzle book Cain’s Jawbone, the still-unsolved (and possibly fake) Beale Ciphers, and what might be the oldest puzzle in the world, the Ostomachion. We brought to light valuable examples of puzzles in art, comic strips, animation, music, television, film, and popular culture.

bealemontvale

We spread the word about numerous worthwhile Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, watching as the puzzle/game renaissance continued to amaze and surprise us with innovative new ways to play and solve. We shared worthy causes like Queer Crosswords and The Inkubator, as well as amazing projects like new escape rooms, puzzle experiences like The Enigmatist, online puzzle quests, long-running unsolved treasure hunts, and even baffling ideas, like a role-playing game created by fast-food chain Wendy’s.

We celebrated International TableTop Day (despite the confusion over when to celebrate), hosted our yearly Tabletop Tournament, offered up puzzly suggestions for Valentine’s Day, attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and dove deep into an ever-expanding litany of puzzle events like the Indie 500, BosWords, and Lollapuzzoola.

We cheered as LGBTQ-friendly language made its way into Scrabble, marveled as The Maze of Games was finally conquered, raced around the world chasing the Iron Throne in a Game of Thrones scavenger hunt, enjoyed two new crossword-themed murder mysteries (and anxiously await the third), and watched with wonder at the strange phenomenon that was James Holzhauer dominating Jeopardy! like never before.

We found puzzly ways to celebrate everything from Independence Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas to the sad losses of the Opportunity Rover and crossword icon Rip Torn, and we were grateful to share so many remarkable puzzly landmark moments with you.

It’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to explore the world of puzzles and games with you, my fellow puzzle lovers and PuzzleNationers. We marked seven years of PuzzleNation Blog this year, I’ve written over 1100 blog posts, and I’m more excited to write for you now than I was when I started.

And honestly, that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune, hard work, and accomplishments in 2019 went well beyond that.

As the year began, we were already heavily into the launch for Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate, our unique, story-driven puzzling experience. It was a terrific experiment, a learning experience, and another sign of how PuzzleNation was continuing to grow and evolve, both in our puzzle development and in our creativity.

In August, we launched our newest puzzly endeavor — Daily POP Word Search — offering a brilliant word-looping companion to Daily POP Crosswords. The responsive grid, the various themes, and the flavorful, current content represents our commitment to keeping puzzles fun, fresh, and engaging.

Every month, we delivered quality content for both the Penny Dell Crosswords App and Daily POP Crosswords. Whether it was monthly deluxe sets and holiday bundles for PDCW or the world-class topical puzzles by some of the industry’s best constructors for Daily POP, hundreds of topnotch crosswords wended their way to our loyal and enthusiastic solvers.

But whether we’re talking about crosswords, Sudoku, Wordventures, or word searches, I’m proud to say that every single puzzle represents our high standards of quality puzzle content crafted for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

191227

[Plus there’s still our Deal of the Day every day through the end of the year!]

And your response has been fantastic! Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search are thriving, the blog has over 2400 followers, and with our audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms continuing to grow, the enthusiasm of the PuzzleNation readership is both humbling and very encouraging.

2019 was our most ambitious, most exciting, and most creatively fulfilling year to date, and the coming year promises to be even brighter.

Thank you for your support, your interest, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. The new year looms large, and we look forward to seeing you in 2020!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

A Festive Bit of Domino Fun!

hann-christmas-007

[Image courtesy of Those Crazy Schuberts.]

Ah, the day after Christmas. The wreckage of wrapping paper has been swept up. Toys are being enjoyed. Some are relaxing, while others are back to work before the new year begins.

It can be a hectic time or a quiet time, depending on your circumstances. But in either case, it doesn’t mean the festivities have to end just yet.

At the very least, you can take a few minutes to enjoy a touch of puzzly percussion.

As is often the case when it comes to domino delights, this video comes to us courtesy of kinetic artist, domino master, and friend of the blog Hevesh5, and it’s a genuine treat.

Enjoy:

What separates Lily’s work from other (equally impressive) domino displays is that she is so immensely clever at incorporating the theme into the domino chain. Bundling up the toys (and making a toy train do the work), dropping the stockings from the mantle… it’s all so slyly Seussian that you can’t help but love it.

Hevesh5 has once again outdone herself with a clever chain reaction that’s as entertaining to watch backwards as it is forwards.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!