Pi Day and Puzzly Foods!

It’s Pi Day — March 14th, a.k.a. 3.14 — and as one of the nerdiest days of the year, we happily celebrate it here at PuzzleNation.

A friend of the blog asked if we’d be celebrating Pi Day with some apple pi pie, and sent me this video from YouTuber Rosanna Pansino:

That gave me an idea. Why not dedicate an entire blog post to puzzly foods?

Naturally, I have to start with some Rubik’s-inspired foods. It’s blocky style lends itself to foodly imitations, and in previous blog posts, we’ve shown off both Rubik’s fruit salads (like the one above) and Rubik’s cakes.

And while we’re talking about cakes, that brings me to another puzzly product that is easily replicated in food form: Tetris.

These cupcakes adorned with Tetris pieces are a perfect puzzly dessert, and a simple way to marry puzzling and food.

But if you’re looking for something a bit more challenging and involved, check out this Tetris bento box, crafting Tetrominoes into blocky veggies on a bed of rice for lunchtime enjoyment!

And puzzly foods only get more creative and complicated from here. Let’s talk about bagels.

Yes, there is a way to cut a bagel to leave two interconnected pieces. In fact, there are several ways to cut a bagel allowing for a more mathematical eating experience! It’s the mobius bagel!

But if you’re looking for the puzzliest food I can find, look no further than the Churroduo: two interlocked churro pyramids.

I think this excerpt from a write-up on Geekologie sums up the appeal of the Churroduo nicely:

Still, the best thing about the Churroduo is that you don’t have to feel bad about eating the whole thing, because you only ordered ONE of something, you can’t help that it’s actually like twelve churros stuck together.

Do you have any examples of puzzly foods that I missed? Are you celebrating Pi Day in a puzzly way? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

Happy Pi Day, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!


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“World’s Greatest Billiards Shot” is actually a feat of puzzly engineering!

I stumbled upon this video recently, and the bombastic headline caught my eye: “World’s greatest billiard shot spanned two floors and nine tables.”

As someone who enjoys pool and trick shots, I clicked on it. But, as it turns out, this isn’t the world’s greatest billiard shot.

It is, however, one heck of a Rube Goldberg machine made out of billiards gear.

A Rube Goldberg machine, for the uninitiated, is a device designed to accomplish a simple task in as many unnecessary, ludicrous steps as possible. The name comes, appropriately enough, from Rube Goldberg, a cartoonist and inventor most famous for his cartoons featuring singularly silly and elaborate machines like the one pictured below.

We’ve posted videos of Rube Goldberg machines in the past, because they’re a perfect example of a mechanical puzzle in action. Only when things happen in a precise order does the machine complete its task.

And they’ve been around long enough that we’re starting to see fun variations on the concept. Beyond simply accomplishing a task, many Rube Goldberg devices tell stories or center around a given theme. (We even featured one that was designed to take weeks to complete!)

This video fits nicely into that grand tradition of overly complicated mechanical devices that accomplish something simple.

So, without further ado, I give you the Allstars Sports Bar Rube Goldberg device:


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Kickstarter Roundup!

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 adapt popular board games and card games for vision-impaired players. Some very creative and worthwhile projects have been realized with the help of crowdfunding.

Heck, several of the games and puzzles showcased at last month’s New York Toy Fair were brought to life thanks to crowdfunding!

So here are a few more projects that I think are worth your time.

The Maze is a series of Choose Your Own Adventure-style books with a curious puzzly twist: they place the reader inside a labyrinth and challenge you to read through the book and escape!

It’s an extended spacial-awareness puzzle where you need to visualize where you are in the maze at all times, overcoming obstacles and pitting your memory against the labyrinth itself.

A third of the way to its funding goal, The Maze envisions a series of mazes of varying difficulties for readers to tackle. It’s an intriguing take on a classic puzzle genre.

For a more traditional puzzle product, there’s The Grid. This multi-colored visual delight challenges players to place all of their tile pieces on the board before their opponents, mixing luck and strategy in a Qwirkle-style battle.

The Grid combines clever tile design with visually arresting gameplay, and the campaign has already reached its initial funding goal, meaning that additional donors are helping to refine the game with higher quality pieces and other add-ons.

From the elegant to the gloriously silly, our next campaign is Munchkin Shakespeare.

This latest edition of Munchkin from the team from Steve Jackson Games adds a literary touch to its famous line of puzzly card-battle games, as players do their best to team up, betray each other, and run amok in the hopes of gaining loot and escaping combat intact.

The bard himself and characters from his most famous plays are unleashed in cartoon form, ready to wreak havoc in all sorts of creative ways, wielded by cunning players and puzzlers with a penchant for sword-swinging nonsense in iambic pentameter.

This is another campaign where the initial funding goal has already been reached, and with only a day or two left in the campaign, they’re pushing towards some exciting stretch goals.

Our last campaign combines logic and deduction with mechanical puzzles, as the crew from ThinkFun launches their very first Kickstarter to bring Roller Coaster Challenge to life!

In the spirit of Gravity Maze and Laser Maze Jr., Roller Coaster Challenge presents players with some of the pieces of a puzzle and tasks them with completing a working model with their remaining pieces. This time around, you’re building a roller coaster track, with all the soaring loop-de-loops and plunging slides you’d expect from the theme park attraction.

With expansions including Kickstarter-exclusive roller coaster cars and additional pieces to create even taller, more complex models, this one could be a winner. Will you be able to complete the numerous twisting, turning variations, or will the perfect roller coaster track elude you?

But before I go, I want to revisit a previous Kickstarter success story that we’ve covered in the past: The Maze of Games.

Mike Selinker’s interactive puzzle novel has been on the market for a few years now, and as far as he knows, no one has conquered the final maze in the book.

And to give solvers a better chance at completing the book, the diabolical puzzlesmith has created The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, a tie-in story with hints for cracking the most diabolical puzzly labyrinth that giant tome has to offer.

It’s only available for a short time, so if you’re hoping to one day best The Maze of Games, be sure to snag a copy!

And let us know if any of these puzzly Kickstarters piqued your interest! With so many worthy projects and products in the pipeline, hopefully one of them catches your eye and receives your support!


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Puzzle Plagiarism: One Year Later

This weekend marked the one-year anniversary of one of the biggest stories in puzzles: the USA Today/Universal Uclick crossword plagiarism scandal, aka #gridgate.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, you can click here for more detail, but here’s a quick rundown of what happened. Programmer Saul Pwanson and constructor Ben Tausig uncovered a pattern of unlikely repeated entries in the USA Today and Universal crosswords, both of which are edited by Timothy Parker.

Eventually, more than 65 puzzles were determined to feature “suspicious instances of repetition” with previously published puzzles in the New York Times and other outlets, with hundreds more showing some level of repetition.

The story originally broke on data analysis website FiveThirtyEight.com thanks to Oliver Roeder, but the real credit belongs to Tausig and Pwanson. The article sparked an investigation, and a day after the story first broke, Universal Uclick (which owns both the USA Today crossword and the Universal syndicated crossword) stated that Parker had agreed to temporarily step back from any editorial role for both USA Today and Universal Crosswords.

We were among the first to report that constructor Fred Piscop would serve as editor in the interim, but after that, the story went quiet for two months.

Then, in early May, Roeder reported that Universal Uclick had completed its investigation, and despite the fact that they’d confirmed some of the allegations of puzzle repetition, they were only giving Parker a three-month leave of absence.

The puzzle community was unhappy with the reaction, and USA Today and Universal Uclick soon felt the pressure from constructors and content creators alike.

Among the most vocal was Mike Selinker, puzzle constructor and president of Lone Shark Games, who stated that he and his team would boycott both USA Today and Universal Uclick until appropriate action was taken:

Up until now, we liked USA Today. We thought that a newspaper of its size would be violently opposed to plagiarism. But they do not appear to be. It’s way past time for USA Today and Universal Uclick to take a stand against plagiarism and for creators’ rights, and maybe it takes some creators to stand up for those. So we’re doing it.

Many other game companies and constructors joined in the boycott, and less than a week later, Gannett (who publishes USA Today) declared that “No puzzles that appear in Gannett/USA TODAY NETWORK publications are being edited by Timothy Parker nor will they be edited by Timothy Parker in the future.”

We’d never seen anything like this. Not only did it galvanize the puzzle community like nothing before, but it raised the very important issue of creator’s rights when it comes to puzzles. After all, plagiarism isn’t tolerated in publishing or college term papers, so why should the efforts of crossword constructors be considered any less sacrosanct?

And except for the occasional joke on Twitter (or scathingly clever puzzle) referencing the story, that was it. As far as anyone knew, Parker was still employed by Uclick, and they wouldn’t confirm or deny his involvement in any non-USA Today and Gannett-published puzzles in the future.

So naturally, as the one-year anniversary of the story loomed in the distance, I got curious. What had become of Parker? Was he still involved with Universal Uclick?

Sadly, I have no new answers for you. I reached out to Universal Uclick for comment, and they declined to reply. Parker was similarly difficult to reach.

But even without new threads to follow, this is an important story to revisit. It represents the solidarity, pride, and support of the puzzle community. It represents the rights of creators to be respected and to have their hard work respected. It represents the power of concerned citizens speaking up.

It reminded people that crosswords represent much more than a way to pass an idle Sunday morning.


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The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is almost here!

It’s less than a month until the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament returns to Stamford, Connecticut, once more!

The 40th annual ACPT will run from March 24 to 26, and I’ll be attending for the third time. (Click here for my coverage of last year’s event!)

The tournament takes place over two days, with six puzzles to solve on Saturday, followed by one on Sunday. Then the top three finishers solve the championship puzzle on whiteboards in front of the audience. (You can check out details on last year’s competition puzzles by clicking here.)

On Friday and Saturday night, there are often puzzle events, demonstrations, and panels by top puzzlers and figures in the puzzle world.

I’ll be around for the festivities on Saturday, and once again I’ll be sitting in with my pals at the Penny Dell Puzzles booth, offering some great puzzles and meeting topnotch competitors and constructors alike.

How many PuzzleNationers and fellow puzzlers are attending? Come by, I’d love to meet you!

You can click here to register for the event, and there are also options to solve by mail or online from the comfort of your home! Oh, and if you’re looking for advice for solving under tournament conditions, look no further than right here!

I hope to see you there! And if you’ve got any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Math Fluxx

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

Fluxx has been one of Looney Labs‘s flagship products for over two decades now. It’s the card game with constantly changing rules, a game where the path to victory can vanish or appear at a moment’s notice.

But after Batman Fluxx, Firefly Fluxx, Holiday Fluxx, and many other versions, what more can they do with the concept to keep it fresh and interesting?

As it turns out, plenty. And with their latest release, Math Fluxx, the Looney Labs crew proves they still have plenty of tricks up their sleeves.

Now, anyone who has played Fluxx in the past is familiar with the basic gameplay: you collect keeper cards and put them into play. Different combinations of keeper cards complete different goals, and each player has the chance to put different keeper cards and goal cards into play in order to win.

Along the way, players affect how the game is played by utilizing action cards and new rule cards which alter what players can and can’t do. Suddenly, you’ll have to trade your hand with another player, or start drawing three cards each turn instead of one.

But instead of matching images like you do in most versions of Fluxx, in Math Fluxx players have to use keeper cards with numbers on them in order to complete different mathematical goals.

Some of the goals are simple, like having 4 and 2 as keepers to make 42 (the answer to life, the universe, and everything). But other goals are more complex, like forming two pairs of keeper cards like a poker hand, or having the highest score on the table in keeper cards.

For example, there’s a goal where you win if you’re displaying your own age with keeper cards. But since people playing will probably have different ages (and therefore, different keepers for that goal), you could lose by playing that goal too early.

Achieving these goals requires more strategy than your usual game of Fluxx — which is built more on seizing opportunities, since the gameplay is often quite chaotic — and the game’s creators doubled down on this by introducing new rule cards that let you achieve some of the goals in different ways.

For instance, instead of forming 42 with a 2 card and a 4 card, one new rule would allow you to complete that goal by playing keeper cards that, when multiplied, form 42.

These new wrinkles add a tremendous amount of depth to the gameplay (and I haven’t even mentioned the meta rule cards that alter gameplay for an entire session rather than a few turns, if players are feeling particularly ambitious).

Math Fluxx also cleverly sneaks in real-world mathematical concepts for younger players, in case you’re looking for a stealthy way to reinforce learning through playing games.

I was thoroughly impressed by the variety in new rules, goals, and gameplay tweaks introduced by Math Fluxx. It shows that there’s plenty of life in the Fluxx franchise, and that spirit of innovation and playfulness infuses each round of play, encouraging players to be just as clever and creative with their own gameplay.

Math Fluxx will be available March 9th, but you can preorder it by clicking here! And to check out all of our reviews of Looney Labs games and products, click here!


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