5 Questions for Author Derek Taylor Kent (Plus a Puzzly Announcement!)

Welcome to 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 continue this series with Kubrick’s Game author Derek Taylor Kent as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Derek is a screenwriter, musician, and author, and his works have spanned print, TV, virtual reality, and soon, film. Although he’s better known for his middle grade efforts like Simon and the Solar System and the Scary School series, he has recently ventured into books for adults with his cinematic puzzle-fueled thriller Kubrick’s Game (which I recently reviewed here).

He has an exciting announcement connected to Kubrick’s Game to share with you, but before we get to that, let’s spend a little time getting to know this ambitious and amiable author, shall we?

Derek was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Derek Taylor Kent

1. Was Kubrick’s Game your first foray into combining puzzles and writing? If so, what inspired the union of the two? If not, which came first for you, puzzles or writing?

In terms of puzzles being the crux of a plot, yes. I had incorporated some riddles and simple puzzles into some of my children’s fiction before, but only as a small element.

My primary inspiration for combining the two came from reading Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One back in 2011. In that book, the characters have to solve three intricate puzzles based on ’80s pop culture. The author was obsessed with 80s movies, music, and video games, so I began ruminating about what my subject would be if I were to write such a story. The obvious choice was Stanley Kubrick. He had been my favorite director since I was in high school and I was obsessed with his movies and all of the mystery that surrounded them.

As I delved further into it, the choice became more and more clear. Kubrick himself was an avid gamesman who loved puzzles, symbolism, and subliminal messages. The more I studied, the more I realized that it was not only believable, but almost likely, that he might have created a complex puzzle connecting each of his films. From there, it was just a matter of playing it out using markers that were already present.

[Image courtesy of Cinema Research Institute.]

2. How did the puzzles in the book come together? What did Kubrick’s game look like in its earliest iteration?

I had specific ideas for several of the puzzles and a general idea for others that I wanted to incorporate. Early in the process, I recruited two of the premiere puzzle-creators alive — Bob Glouberman and Larry Toffler of Fantastic Race. They create city-wide scavenger hunts, escape rooms, and puzzles for TV and movies. Luckily, they happened to be just as obsessed with Kubrick as I was and were very excited to come on board to help me create them.

If I were to write a book based on diabolical puzzles, I knew the book could only be as good as the puzzles themselves. While I could have probably created okay puzzles myself, I knew that theirs would be incredible and indeed they blew my mind.

I also knew that I wanted the puzzles to be Kubrickian, or cinematic in nature. That is, the clues would incorporate imagery, music, editing, and symbols, as opposed to wordplay or mathematical riddles. Also, they could only be solved by those familiar with the filmmaking process and masterful in its techniques, such as editing, lighting, projection, and sound design.

The final puzzle, which I dare not give away here, was present from the very beginning and had me most excited to write the book. I knew it had to end in that very special place, and was a type of puzzle that had never been created before, but it also made total sense considering the themes and hidden meanings of Kubrick’s final films.

3. If you’d been presented with a mystery like the one in your book, would you have taken the UCLA approach, the USC approach, or the antagonist’s approach?

Since the UCLA teammates are our protagonists, they were enacting my personal approach…most likely. They were most concerned with playing the game how Kubrick would have wanted it to be played, as opposed to other groups who, shall we say, put ethics aside for the sake of victory.

4. What’s next for Derek Taylor Kent?

Depending on how well Kubrick’s Game is received, I have plans for a continuation of cinema-themed puzzle adventure novels. I am also still writing middle-grade fiction and picture books and hope to have more of those released in the near future. I also wrote a horror feature film that is currently in pre-production, which will hopefully be coming out winter of 2018.

If your readers are interested in checking out any of my other work, everything is at DerekTaylorKent.com. Oh, and if you go to the Fun and Games section of ScarySchool.com, there’s a memory game you can play, and beating it will earn you the weirdest trophy you’ve ever seen.

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

Well, since that is a very wide range of people, I think I will share my favorite piece of advice I ever received, which happened to come from the great actor Robert Forster. He told my class: “99% of everything you ever hear in your life will be somebody trying to convince you of something that’s not true in order to get into your pockets.”

What I like best about it, besides the encouragement of skepticism, is that as a novelist, I love being able to make a living selling something that isn’t BS. I can honestly tell kids, parents, or now my grown-up readers, that for a very reasonable price, my books will give you many hours of entertainment, and perhaps some enlightenment.


And speaking of hours of entertainment, it’s time for Derek’s big announcement!

As a marvelous real-world tie-in to Kubrick’s Game, Derek has launched The Game, an interactive solving experience guaranteed to challenge solvers and delight puzzlers worldwide!

This is a game for all readers to play.
If you’re reading this, play has already begun.
Six different puzzles each month to the day
Need to be solved for the game to be won.

That’s just a snippet of the introduction to set the scene. You can click here for full details — the first clue was revealed yesterday! — and sign up for his newsletter (bottom of the page here) to keep up on all things Derek Taylor Kent and Kubrick’s Game! (And, of course, you need to read the book to give yourself a fighting chance at solving The Game and finding the treasure!)

I think it’s an awesome way to expand on the world of the novel and to give solvers a puzzly conundrum to look forward to cracking! Good luck, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

Thank you, Derek, for taking the time out for 5 Questions! I can’t wait to see how The Game unfolds!


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!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: Domino Wonder 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 today, I’d like to return to the subject of our recent 5 Questions interviewee, Lily Hevesh, aka Hevesh5.

You might have seen the above video from Hevesh5, the amazing triple spiral, which we shared on our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

It’s honestly one of the coolest, most staggering domino creations I’ve ever seen, a 15,000-domino work of kinetic art that took Lily 25 hours to assemble, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone in that. The spiral got FOUR MILLION views in two days. It got major attention on Reddit, the YouTube front page, CNN, CBS News, and more!

It has amassed over TEN MILLION views in less than a fortnight.

And, as you might expect, Lily was not only humble, but grateful for the support of puzzlers and domino fans like.

Check out this video discussing the video’s success, as well as Lily’s plans for the future:

So great to see such positive attention for her and her work. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.


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!

5 Questions for Domino Artist and YouTuber Hevesh5!

Welcome to 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 continue this series with Lily Hevesh (aka Hevesh5) as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

[Image courtesy of Eagle Tribune.com.]

Lily Hevesh, better known as Hevesh5 on YouTube, is a professional domino artist, a Rube Goldberg machine master, and an advertising whiz who uses skill, patience, and creativity to design wonderfully transfixing works of kinetic art.

She has appeared on The Today Show (auditioning for America’s Got Talent), helped set Guinness World Records — setting up 200,000 dominoes in group displays, as well as 22,000 dominoes on her own for certain projects — and her videos have accumulated over 200 million views on YouTube.

Hevesh5 was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Hevesh5

1. What is your process when creating one of these ambitious works of kinetic art? How much planning goes into them before the first domino is laid? How do you know if you’re heading in the right direction or if you need to stop, reassess, and try something else?

Planning time varies a lot depending on the type of project. Sometimes I do absolutely zero planning and just start building and see where things go. I think of ideas while building which keeps me going. Other times (especially for live events) I have to plan out the whole setup by digitally drawing out the domino path from start to finish.

[A video thank you posted when Lily reached 2,000,000 views on YouTube.]

First I have to decide what I am going to build — whether that be a logo, an image of something, some sort of text, etc. Then I have to figure out the best way to build this as a domino trick. Dominoes can be built in many ways: lines, domino fields, walls, 3D structures, and other creative tricks, so I have to decide which technique is best for each individual project. Then it’s a matter of connecting every trick with domino lines and figuring out the position on the floor.

If I’m heading in the wrong direction, I’ll usually realize something is wrong — maybe it doesn’t look like what I envisioned, the structure looks risky or is becoming too difficult to build, it looks sloppy, etc. In those cases, I will make the best of the situation and try to correct the mistakes, sometimes even knocking it down and starting over if I feel like it doesn’t live up to what I’m picturing.

[Lily and several other domino artists craft a 30,000 domino masterpiece at the
Brattleboro Museum and Art Center for the 9th annual Domino Toppling Extravaganza!]

2. On your YouTube page, you answer the question “How did I get into dominoes?” with “I searched ‘dominoes’ on YouTube.” Was that the spark of all of your kinetic art (like your Rube Goldberg devices) or were you into mechanical puzzles before that?

The reason I searched dominoes was because I loved to play with the classic dotted dominoes and set them up for fun. I was intrigued by the knock down and wanted to find out if there were others who set up dominoes like I did as a kid. Searching dominoes certainly fueled my love for kinetic art an extraordinary amount though.

3. You have helped set world records and amassed over 200 million views on YouTube. Amongst all those awesome, mind-blowing projects, which are some of your favorites? And what’s the best part of collaborating with fellow domino artists and kinetic sculptors?

Amongst all the projects I’ve been involved with, 2 stand out: “The Incredible Science Machine” (new American domino record with 250,000 dominoes and world record for most dominoes in a circle field) and working on a domino segment for the upcoming feature film Collateral Beauty starring Will Smith.

The best part about collaborating with other domino artists is finally being able to talk to someone who understands your “domino language”. Meeting new people is always exciting, but it’s even more exciting when they share the same passion for such a unique art form. It’s always fun learning from other builders and seeing different styles of building.

[A stick-bomb chain reaction.]

4. What’s next for Hevesh5?

Right now I am just starting my gap year to do dominoes and YouTube full time. I plan to make as many domino videos as possible and create an inventory so that I can post them periodically when I go to college (I won’t have time to make videos in college, so I’m making a lot now to save up for the future).

I plan to post a video on my channel (YouTube.com/hevesh5) every week while also doing side projects for companies, ad agencies, and others who may need domino art.

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

Don’t give up on what you love. Patience and perseverance are key, even in the most challenging times.


A huge thank you to Hevesh5 for her time. Be sure to visit her YouTube page for new videos and updates on her latest projects. I cannot wait to see what she has in store for us next!

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!

5 Questions with PuzzleNation Social Media Manager Glenn Dallas

Welcome to 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!)

For the entire month of August, I’ll be introducing the PuzzleNation readership to many of the members of the PuzzleNation team! So every Thursday this month, you’ll meet a new name and voice responsible for bringing you the best puzzle apps on the market today!

And we’re continuing this series with me, your friendly neighborhood PuzzleNation blogger, as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

My name is Glenn Dallas, and I’m not only lead blogger for PuzzleNation Blog, but also Social Media Manager for PuzzleNation, maintaining and providing content for all of our social media platforms. A lifelong puzzler and board game enthusiast, I try to infuse every blog post with that same level of dedication and passion. Hopefully, I succeed.

I consider it a privilege for me to take some time out to talk to the PuzzleNation audience, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions with Glenn Dallas

1. How did you get started with puzzles and games?

Looking back, it seems like puzzles and games were always around. My mother has always been a dedicated crossword solver. I can remember my older sister playing “School” with me and my younger siblings, using brain teasers and puzzles from old issues of GAMES Magazine as “lessons.” The classic board games were played often — Monopoly, Sorry, Mouse Trap, Battleship, even Trivial Pursuit, which I was probably too young for. But I’ve always been a trivia nerd.

Although formal puzzling fell by the wayside as I got older, wordplay and riddles and the like remained a recurring interest. I would often create puzzle content for friends’ websites or my own blog that involved Say That Again?-style rewording, palindromes, puns, anagrams, portmanteaus, brain teasers, and other forms of wordplay. (And, for a bit of context for long-time internet users, I’m talking about Geocities and Angelfire websites, as well as a blog that pre-dated LiveJournal.)

I got back into puzzles more directly in college when I began playing Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games, because I enjoyed challenging my players with tests beyond the usual monster hunts. So mechanical puzzles, sliding-block puzzles, and more Myst-style puzzle-solving became an interest (along with riddles and such).

After college (and a stint as a TV cameraman), I had an interview at Penny Press and was hired as a puzzle editor, bringing my amateur puzzly skills into a professional setting working on traditional (and non-traditional!) pen-and-paper puzzles like word seeks, crosswords, cryptograms, fill-ins, etc. And more than a decade later, I’m still at it.

2. You’re one of the senior members of the PuzzleNation team, dating back to its earliest days. How has your work for PuzzleNation changed over time and what can you tell us about PuzzleNation as it evolves and moves forward?

That’s true! Originally, I was just pitching in occasionally as a product tester — helping look for bugs or problems with early versions of apps — and I started providing ideas for content to our social media person for Facebook posts. I was a big proponent early on of expanding our efforts to include a blog; it’s a great centerpiece to a social media platform (and one that allows for more control than your average Facebook post).

But I also wanted PuzzleNation Blog to be a hub for all things puzzles and puzzle games, because there’s not really anywhere like that on the Internet. If you like movies, there’s IMDb. If you like books, there’s Goodreads. You’ve got Gizmodo for tech, science, and sci-fi, and Board Game Geek for board games. And although there are plenty of terrific crossword blogs out there, there’s not one central place to go to talk about puzzles in general. I always envisioned PuzzleNation Blog as that place.

When our previous social media person left the company, I was already writing blog posts once or twice a week (alongside Eric Berlin, who was our top contributor to the blog in its early days), and I inherited his position, along with the Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts that went with them. (I have since added Tumblr and Instagram to our bevy of social media platforms.)

So, as you can see, I’ve gotten a bit busier as time passed, expanding my duties and becoming the lead blogger on the site, writing three (and sometimes more) blog posts a week.

[Here I am, hard at work trying to beat a stuffed teddy bear in Jenga… and failing.]

I feel like the blog has grown and matured into what I originally envisioned — though there’s always room for expansion and improvement! — and my goal right now is continue maintaining that level of interest and quality.

As for our Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets, I’m always looking to encourage more interaction with the PuzzleNation audience. I’m hoping at some point to have recurring puzzle features on every platform. (For now, we’ve got the Insta-Anagram game every Monday on Instagram, and the Crossword Clue Challenge every weekday on Facebook and Twitter.)

3. The crossword has been around for over a hundred years, and many puzzles (whether pen-and-paper or mechanical) have roots that can be traced back even farther. What, in your estimation, gives puzzles such lasting appeal?

I think it’s the Eureka! moments that keep people coming back. They’re certainly what I find the most enjoyable and the most motivating factor. And puzzles provide those in spades.

[Image courtesy of tnooz.com.]

When you approach a particularly fiendish brain teaser, or a crossword clue that keeps eluding you, or a mechanical puzzle that has you stymied, and then suddenly, that light bulb appears over your head. You’ve cracked the code, found the hidden latch, connected the missing pieces, made a deductive leap that would make Sherlock Holmes proud…those Eureka! moments never fail to make it all worthwhile.

And when you work with puzzles, you get to see those moments more often than most people.

4. What’s next for Glenn Dallas and PuzzleNation Blog?

For me, quite a bit. My writing partner and I just launched a new promotional blitz for the novel we published last year, Sugar Skulls (my first novel!), and I’m deep into several ongoing writing projects, one of which is on track to wrap up before the end of the year.

On the side, I’m a freelance book reviewer, and I recently posted my 1,200th book review. I’ve also started work on another in-office murder mystery that I’m hoping to run at our summer picnic event next month. (And I’ll be sure to share pictures here and on Instagram of that!)

As for PuzzleNation Blog, I’m proud to announce that, after the recent success of our PuzzleNation team series of interviews, 5 Questions will be returning as a regular, recurring feature on the blog!

It will be at least once a month (but hopefully twice a month), and I’ve already lined up our first guest for September, with more terrific puzzlers, constructors, and personalities to follow!

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

Make time for yourself every day to do something that fuels you. If you want to write, write something every day, whether it’s just a haiku or a journal entry or a limerick or whatever. If you like games, play a round at lunch with friends or coworkers. There are plenty of quick-play games and puzzles that fit that bill. (Oooh, that gives me an idea for a blog post…)

But I digress.

We spend so much time worrying about, well, everything, it’s easy to let the good stuff, the stuff that reinvigorates you and keeps your spirits up, fall by the wayside. So make a little time for you every day. It does wonders.


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!

5 Questions with PuzzleNation Director of Digital Games Fred Galpern

Welcome to 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!)

For the entire month of August, I’ll be introducing the PuzzleNation readership to many of the members of the PuzzleNation team! So every Thursday this month, you’ll meet a new name and voice responsible for bringing you the best puzzle apps on the market today!

And I’m excited to continue this series with Fred Galpern as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Fred is our Director of Digital Games, and he’s been the driving force behind our mobile app brand since Day One. With previous video-game experience working on iconic games like System Shock 2 and Thief, Fred brings illustration, digital art, and graphic-design knowhow to the table, bringing pen-and-paper puzzle concepts to new formats like mobile gaming and solving.

(He’s also a pretty sharp guitar and ukulele player, but as far as I know, that hasn’t factored into our app-development efforts yet.)

Fred was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions with Fred Galpern

1. As Director of Digital Games, you’re the head honcho around these parts when it comes to app development. What does that job entail? What role do you play in bringing new features and apps to market?

PuzzleNation is a small team, which means we all wear multiple hats. For me, the most important, and coincidentally the most fun, hat is product management. In this role I set the direction for each of our apps, including sorting out what new features to add, which existing features to improve, what new content to offer to users and how to improve the look and feel of our apps.

Our approach always starts with what will be best for the app user; we then figure out how to make that good user experience work for us as business. Finally, we do our best to listen to user feedback so we can improve a feature after it’s released, so that our apps get better and better over time.

2. You had a background in game development and design before you began developing puzzle apps. How has your work in traditional video games informed your work with puzzles, and has working with puzzles changed how you view game design as a whole?

Prior to joining PuzzleNation I was fortunate to have had experiences all around the game industry, from intense hardcore game development projects to family-oriented games and even some gaming hardware. All of these experiences have been valuable, especially my experience at Blue Fang Games, where I was an Art Director and Producer for the Zoo Tycoon series. Working on that series showed me how fulfilling it can be to create games that appeal to people outside the stereotypical gamer audience of males aged 13 to 35.

PuzzleNation strives to provide users of all ages with great puzzle-solving experiences. The lessons I learned at Blue Fang are useful every day at PuzzleNation. Whether we’re planning new apps or improvements to our current apps, I often find myself recalling a previous project that suggests a solution for today’s projects.

3. The PuzzleNation audience first got to know you in our post announcing the free daily puzzle feature for the Penny Dell Crosswords app, where you mentioned you and your family are big board game players. Are there any new games that have become favorites in your house?

Oh yes, our passion for board games has not slowed down! Our current favorites include a mix of old and new games: X-Wing Star Wars miniatures game, Star Realms, Ascension, Marvel VS and 7 Wonders.

Of those, 7 Wonders has gotten the most play. It’s a wonderfully fun game that has a small learning curve followed by hours of enjoyable, strategic gameplay that works for all different play styles. I usually try aggressive strategies which are countered by more thoughtful approaches by my wife and kids. Board games are still in the midst of an amazing renaissance. I encourage readers to learn more on sites like Board Game Geek and The Dice Tower and Watch-It-Played YouTube channels.

[Fred, alongside the Puzzle Pope at last year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.]

4. What’s next for Fred Galpern and PuzzleNation?

For me, next up is lunch! I know that sounds like a joke, but it’s true. Since I work from home, getting out of the house at lunchtime is a ritual that adds a bit of adventure to my day. I’m lucky to live in Providence, RI, a small city with an abundance of excellent restaurants. Today, I’m thinking of heading to historic Federal Hill, well known for several of the top Italian restaurants in the country. I’ll most likely indulge with a delicious Italian grinder sandwich or maybe a chicken parmigiana.

As for PuzzleNation, our what’s next may not be as literally delicious, but you can be sure it will be equally enjoyable. We’re deep into development of two great new apps, and at the same time rolling out performance improvements for our current Crosswords apps. I can’t go into specifics but can say that puzzle lovers who enjoy the puzzles found in Penny Press and Dell Magazines will be pleasantly surprised. Stay tuned to the PuzzleNation blog and Newsletter for more details soon!

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

One piece of advice for all of those different folks? Wow, that’s a puzzle in itself!

I learned something many years ago about achieving goals. The only way to reach a goal is to never give up. On the surface this can seem like rah-rah, sports minded, “stay strong” type of advice. For me, the thinking behind it goes a bit deeper. “Never give up” doesn’t speak to just tenacity and willingness to keep trying, but also to the need to think differently about the path to a goal.

Sure, sticking doggedly to the path you’re on may get you to your goal; however, creative exploration and finding alternate paths is often a more enriching, fulfilling journey. I know that may sound a bit mystical, but I assure you it’s not. It’s as simple as settling on a goal to strive for, then waking up every day and checking in that you’re still on a path towards that goal. The path may change every day, every few days or not at all. As long as you’re still on a path that can logically lead to the goal, you are making progress towards that goal.


A huge thank you to Fred for his time! I can’t wait to see some of those new apps hit the market and watch the PuzzleNation brand expand and flourish!

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!

5 Questions with PuzzleNation Programmer Mike O’Neil

Welcome to 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!)

For the entire month of August, I’ll be introducing the PuzzleNation readership to many of the members of the PuzzleNation team! So every Thursday this month, you’ll meet a new name and voice responsible for bringing you the best puzzle apps on the market today!

And I’m excited to kick things off with Mike O’Neil as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Mike is part of our dynamite programming team, maintaining the high level of quality we know PuzzleNationers expect of us and helping push us into new puzzly arenas. A musician and long-time video-game fan as well, Mike is enthusiastic, sharp, and immensely capable, part of the well-oiled machine that makes PuzzleNation a brand to watch!

Mike was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions with Mike O’Neil

1. How did you get started with puzzles and games?

I’ve been a video-game addict my whole life, so when I got to college I eventually decided to make them for a living. Puzzles and puzzle solving have always been a part of being a big-time gamer, so I’ve been puzzle solving since I got the gamer bug as a kid, though my favorite magazine-type puzzles are word searches.

2. Programming, puzzles, and music all demand a strong sense of balance and flow to create an immersive and productive experience. As a musician, does that ever influence your work in unexpected or insightful ways?

I would say that it’s more of the opposite, where programming has influenced my musicianship. The biggest common feature of all three is patience, so growing up solving puzzles was good training for practicing guitar.

Also, working on a piece of music can actually be like solving a puzzle because every person is different, so I often need to “solve the puzzle” to figure out exactly how I’m going to be able to pull off a particular riff/lick/lead/etc, which could be radically different from how the next person would do it.

3. What do you do in your off-time? What helps you relax or mentally recharge after a long week of puzzling?

My biggest off-time activities are video games and music, though those can all be a bit mentally challenging and not often the greatest unwinding activity. If things get really heavy I often do some urban hiking around NYC. It’s very stimulating and can last for hours (I once walked all 33 miles around the perimeter of Manhattan. My feet hated me for a week.)

4. What’s next for Mike O’Neil?

What’s next is working with the PN team to get more and more types of puzzle apps out there. Crosswords are great, but we have so much potential with our tools and team that the sky’s the limit. I’m looking forward to seeing what we come up with.

[Crosswords ARE great! Have you checked out the Penny Dell
Crosswords App for both iOS and Android devices? /shameless plug.]

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

One piece of advice is to make sure that the solution you come up with for your current problem is the best one, not necessarily the fastest or most slick. When I was mentoring students back at the Electronic Arts Academy, my main goal was to make sure that they don’t start implementing solutions for simple tasks with the super fancy, super complicated-type things you do in school. A good general rule is to imagine someone has to take over your work the next day, so make sure it’s easily understandable.


A huge thank you to Mike for his time. I can’t imagine a better way to introduce a month of PuzzleNation-fueled interviews and content!

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