A Shift in Puzzly Perspective

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I’ve had 3-D puzzling on the brain for a few days now, after a conversation about video games with a well-informed friend of mine.

What do I mean when I say 3-D puzzling? Well, I don’t just mean a puzzle that exists in three dimensions. I mean a puzzle where the solving experience requires all three dimensions.

Think about your average maze or a jigsaw puzzle. Although they’re three-dimensional objects, the solving is two-dimensional. Yes, there are certainly variations on these themes, like maze cubes where you navigate a marble from one place to another, or 3-D jigsaw puzzles that allow you to reconstruct famous landmarks. But these still rely heavily on two-dimensional solving.

Compare that with the iconic puzzle video game Portal, for instance. Portal requires you to accomplish different tasks, and you can only do so with your portal gun, a device that allows you to connect two different locations on the map.

[Image courtesy of Game Informer.]

That requires a complete realignment of your perspective, because you can walk in a straight line through one portal and emerge above, below, or at a 90-degree angle from where you started. This isn’t two-dimensional thinking anymore.

Between 3-D printing techniques and the constantly evolving engines behind video game systems, we’re seeing more and more examples of three-dimensional thinking in puzzles, and I’m perpetually amazed by what creators and designers come up with.

Check out this video of gameplay from the new puzzle game Etherborn:

Your character navigates elaborate three-dimensional landscapes, and gravity is wholly dependent on how your character is oriented at the moment. So you need to be clever enough to use the landscape in order to move your character in very unorthodox ways.

It’s fascinating, a step beyond some of the puzzles seen in previous games like Portal and Fez. (In those games, gravity still only worked in one direction, whereas Etherborn breaks even that fundamental baseline.)

I think this sort of puzzling appeals to me so much because the change in perspective that comes from solving in an additional dimension completely rewrites the rules we thought we knew.

Imagine for a second that you’re inside a corn maze. Now think about the paper mazes you’ve solved. See the difference? In the first scenario, you’re beholden to the meager information you get from following each path, whereas in the second, you can plan a route from above because you have much more information. You can see dead ends and avoid them.

The three-dimensional scenario is far more challenging than the 2-D solving you’re doing with the paper maze.

ThinkFun managed a similar feat with Gravity Maze, a puzzle game that required you to move a marble from the starting cube to the ending cube. The main challenge was that you had to build the path with only the given materials, and then just drop the marble in. All the puzzling happened at the beginning, and then you became a bystander as the marble traversed the solution you built.

This isn’t just plotting a path like in a normal maze, it was understanding a chain of events you were setting in motion, like cause and effect. It’s like building a simple Rube Goldberg machine and watching it go.

But whether you’re manipulating portals, shifting perspectives, dropping marbles, or solving corn mazes, you’re pushing your puzzly skills into new dimensions. And that’s just the puzzles we have now. Imagine what comes next.


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The Best of All Possible Puzzle/Game Worlds?

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[A sampling of the wide variety of modern puzzles and games. Fluxx cards, Bananagrams tiles, a wooden puzzle box, Pairs cards, David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register, Timeline cards, last month’s edition of The Crosswords Club, Puzzometry pieces, Cards Against Humanity cards, multi-sided roleplaying dice.]

This is the most exciting time in history to be a puzzler or board game enthusiast.

Think about it. If you want to play a game or solve a puzzle, you don’t have to go any farther than your pocket, since a plethora of puzzly goodness awaits you on your smartphone.

Puzzle apps are our bread and butter here at PuzzleNation, so this might feel like a cheap plug, but honestly, it boggles my mind how much more accessible puzzles and games are now than they were even five years ago.

And the app revolution is only one part of the story.

I was reading a book the other day, as I am wont to do on the long train rides to and from PuzzleNation HQ. Titled The Revenge of Analog, it was all about the cultural response to digital media, highlighting the resurgence of vinyl records, film, and other tangible alternatives to electronic formats.

In the chapter “The Revenge of Board Games,” the author discussed the social aspect of tabletop gaming, and how sitting down with people and playing a game is a far different, more rewarding experience than online gaming and other social media-based interactions. (A fine point to consider, what with International TableTop Day a little more than a week away.)

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While I do think that’s partially true, I also think that downplays the ingenuity of the puzzle/game community. I think we’re the best of both worlds.

I mentioned in my Tak review last week that puzzles are being created today that could not have been five or ten or twenty years ago. The advent of 3-D printing and laser cutters for homes and small businesses has brought design, construction, and promotion literally to the doorstep of entrepreneurial puzzlers.

Just last week I received a new edition of Puzzometry in the mail, a perk for supporting a team for a school robotics competition. This laser-cut plastic jigsaw will keep me guessing for hours (if its puzzly siblings are anything to go by), and it was designed and manufactured by a single individual.

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Old and new styles are meshing as never before. Many puzzle constructors are partially or fully supporting themselves via email puzzle subscriptions and direct sales to the customer. Events like the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games are organized and advertised mostly online.

Crowdfunding has leveled the playing field for many companies and designers in both puzzles and games, allowing more products than ever before to enter the market. (According to Kickstarter, tabletop game projects raised $52 million dollars in 2013, and that number has surely gone up in the meantime.)

You’ve got a proper board game renaissance as classic games and styles of play are meshing with new technology, and games from across the world are shared on YouTube, at Friendly Local Game Shops, or even in puzzle cafes like Toronto’s Snakes and Lattes or New York City’s The Uncommons.

Whether you’re a pen-and-paper solver or a Penny Dell Crossword App devotee, a fan of classics like Chutes and Ladders or a proud tabletopper experimenting with the newest games, this is an amazing time to be a puzzler or board gamer.

So keep playing. Keep puzzling. And share that with others.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Sneaker Solving edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

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 today I’d like to return to the subject of 3-D puzzles.

[Image courtesy of Amazon.com.]

We’ve mentioned 3-D puzzles several times on the blog in the past — in discussions of 3-D printed puzzles, puzzles made of wood, and the Pict project at National Museums Scotland — and a new 3-D puzzle has been generating some buzz recently.

Friend of the blog, creator of Baffledazzle, and shoe aficionado Rachel Happen passed along this story about a promotional puzzle designed to mimic the qualities of the Air Flight Jordan 45 hightop basketball sneaker. Check it out:

Only 30 of these puzzles are being made, and they’re selling for 195 pounds in the UK, which is a staggering $245.85 in the US! Seems like quite a price to pay for a 19-piece puzzle. (Especially one, as this video shows, that can be solved fairly quickly.)

The creation of graphic artist Yoni Alter, this puzzle appears to be a new venture, diverting from his previous works in silkscreen and prints, including this similarly-styled lamborghini:

Too pricey for most puzzlers and not wearable enough for most sneaker enthusiasts, I’m not sure who this puzzle was designed for, but I’m curious to see how it sells.

As for me, I think I’ll save my 195 pounds for another day and another puzzle.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Rubik’s Explosion 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 I’d like to return to the subject of twisty puzzles.

I’ve written before about the 3-D printing revolution and its effect on puzzling; now creators can customize puzzles like never before, designing mind-blowing puzzles and games unlike anything you’ve seen before.

And twisty puzzles like the Rubik’s Cube are a favorite of many 3-D puzzle designers.

You may remember last year when I wrote about the world’s largest Rubik’s-style puzzle, a 17x17x17 twisty puzzle known as the “Over the Top” Rubik’s Cube, created by Oskar van Deventer.

Well, Oskar’s masterpiece has been one-upped by the folks at Coren Puzzle, who have created a 22x22x22 Rubik’s-style cube!

Composed of 2,691 individual 3-D printed pieces, they’ve had some difficulty bringing their new puzzle to fruition, as you’ll see in the video below, posted a few months ago:

Yes, the first attempt to assemble this monstrous puzzle literally exploded in their hands. (Twice!) But they persevered, and now, please feast your eyes on the new record holder:

And here I sit, having never solved an actual Rubik’s Cube. This one might be a bit too much for me.


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A New Dimension of Puzzles

[A 3-D printed puzzle from Instructables.com.]

3-D printing is the next big technological leap forward, and although the technology is only a few years old, it’s already responsible for some amazing advances.

You may have seen the story in the news recently that NASA “emailed” a new wrench to the International Space Station. For the first time, plans originating on Earth were sent electronically to the ISS and built in a 3-D printer, giving an astronaut the specific tool he needed while saving literally thousands upon thousands of dollars. That’s mind-blowing.

Every day, new stories are emerging from the medical field about the benefits of 3-D printing. A close friend of mine recently had brain surgery, and they used a 3-D printer to manufacture a new piece of skull specifically for her. That is a phenomenal thing.

And puzzles aren’t immune to the march of progress. Enterprising designers are creating new puzzles with increasing complexity, allowing them to build on existing models and add previously impossible variations and details into their designs.

I’ve previously featured the specialized twenty-sided die created by the folks at 64 Oz. Games, which were made with 3-D printers and feature braille renderings beneath every number.

One of the fastest growing fields in 3-D printed puzzles is known colloquially as the twisty puzzle, the numerous variations, expansions, and extrapolations from the Rubik’s Cube twisting/turning style of puzzles.

Check out this article about George Miller and Oskar van Deventer, who are pushing the envelope of twisty puzzles with some ingenious designs.

Meticulously designed and realized through 3-D printing, these puzzles have set world records — one is a 17x17x17 Rubik’s Cube with over 1,500 parts! — and taken twisty puzzles to unexpected places.

As 3-D printers become more affordable and more puzzlers embrace the technology, there’s no telling where puzzles will go next. But I cannot wait to find out.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!