PuzzleNation Product Review: Lexicon-GO!

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

You might think that if you’ve seen one letter-tile game, you’ve seen them all. But you’d be wrong.

Every word-forming game, from great-granddaddy Scrabble on down, has its own quirks and idiosyncrasies, and some of them have tricks up their sleeves that make for a truly unique puzzle game experience.

And very few of them have the urgency of Lexicon-GO!, a travel-friendly game distributed by Winning Moves UK.

Designed for 2-4 players, ages 8 and up, Lexicon-GO! is as devilishly simple as it is frenetic.

Each player draws ten tiles from the draw pile, and tries to form words with all ten of them faster than their opponents.

And not just any words will do. There are no one-letter words, plurals, proper nouns, acronyms, and abbreviations allowed as answer words.

In most letter-tile games, it’s all about your own anagramming and word-forming skills; there’s very little direct interaction with your opponents. (Unless you’re both going for the same tile in the draw pile, that is.)

But Lexicon-GO! rewards both interactive thinking and aggressive, advantageous play. You can add your letters to the words being formed by other players (adding a T to the word SKI below to make SKIT, for instance).

Or you could swap out a letter in another player’s word with one of your own (making ZAP into ZIP and taking the A, or making SKI into SKY and taking the I, for instance).

Of course, this move only works if you’re forming a new, acceptable word. You can’t just throw in any letter and steal one you need.

[Once the wild card title is set, it remains that letter for the rest of the round, even if another player steals it. Until this round is done, for instance, the master tile is a P.]

Be the first one to use or dispose of all ten of your letters, and you win the round. The first player to win five rounds wins the game!

(Naturally, we’ve found that most players tend to focus on simply forming their words the fastest, ignoring chances to interact with and/or sabotage their opponents. So we introduced a house rule that every player must either swap a letter with another player’s word or add a letter to another player’s word. It certainly made for more strategic and chaotic gameplay!)

Now, you may have noticed that the tiles also have number values, not unlike the tiles in Scrabble and other tile-scoring games.

That’s because there’s a second path to victory, if you play Original Lexicon (or Master Lexicon) rules, which are helpfully provided with the game.

In Original Lexicon, the rules are the same, including winning a round by being the first to use or dispose of all ten tiles. But instead of everyone else simply conceding the round, they instead add up the point values of their letter tiles. After a few rounds, any player who passes 100 points is out, and the last player standing wins.

That variation makes the game much more tactical. If you know other players are faster at word-forming and anagramming than you, you can mitigate the damage to your score by getting rid of high-value tiles through swapping with the draw pile or adding your letters to the words of other players.

The larger tiles do mean that the game contains fewer letter tiles than other letter-tile games, which might hamper replayability in the long run.

Of course, on the flip side, larger tiles mean that both younger players and older players (who might have visual impairment issues, for instance) can enjoy Lexicon-GO! more than a game with smaller letter tiles.

As always, there’s a trade-off in any design choice.

Lexicon-GO! builds on the strong reputation of the letter-tile games that preceded it, while adding to the genre in engaging, fun ways.

The focus on lightning-quick play (as well as the encouragement to deviously interact with other players) adds some pleasant spice to the genre, rewarding outside the box thinking and puzzle-solving for younger minds and older alike.

This game gives the letter-tile classics a serious run for their money.

Lexicon-GO! is available from Winning Moves UK, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other participating retailers.


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A Video Game Puzzle Hunt Reaps Real-World Rewards!

We’ve written about some pretty amazing and elaborate puzzle hunts here in the past. There was the Gravity Falls cipher hunt that led to an actual statue of the show’s villain Bill Cipher in the woods of Reedsport, Oregon. (And a mayoral position for the first person to find him and shake his hand!) There was the puzzle-turned-global-scavenger hunt from Trials Evolution that won’t be completed until 2113 at the base of the Eiffel Tower.

And now, a massive crowdsourcing effort has cracked another masterpiece, a puzzle hidden in an expansion pack for the video game Destiny 2. Destiny 2 is an online first-person-shooter loaded with sci-fi trappings and in-depth storytelling where players explore a shared environment while engaging in their own personal plot and adventures.

The most recent expansion to the game, Warmind, was released last week, and players noticed an elaborate symbol on a wall in the bunker of Rasputin, a sentient robot. The symbol appeared to be a lock surrounded by keys and curious symbols.

This Kotaku post went live on Friday, three days after the Warmind release, revealing the incredible online effort already in motion to unravel the secrets of the Rasputin puzzle. The subreddit r/raidsecrets was ground zero for the puzzle-solving efforts, and players compiled their theories and discoveries there.

Players quickly determined that each of the keys had a symbol that linked back to other imagery from the game, and by following those breadcrumbs, they had a chance to crack the cipher.

The first symbol was found in several places, each time with a set of digits and a bar in a particular position. Solvers theorized that these symbols represented the word “reverse.”

The second symbol appeared beside a Braille grid, leading hunters to crates with Braille lettering on them: OEAARRTFWTH. This anagrams to The Art of War, Sun Tzu’s famous tome. In this case, The Art of War was used as the source material for an Ottendorf Cipher. (That particular cipher was made famous by Nicolas Cage’s National Treasure movies.)

This type of cipher uses numbers in groups of three, and these numbers correspond to positions of letters in a book. Most often the numbers refer to Line, Word, and Letter. Decoding the number-combinations in the image above led to the answer “Destroy all second A and B. Then destroy all third C and R.”

These two clues were assumed to be instructions for what to do with the encoded ciphertext others had discovered in the game:

This encrypted message was the heart of the puzzle. But there was more to uncover first.

As it turns out, the last three keys in the image represented different words to apply to the ciphertext in order to properly decode it.

The fourth symbol was found near a Morse Code sequence that spelled out “NTEHNMLNEEGIT,” an anagram for “Enlightenment.”

The fifth symbol pointed toward a monitor with some peculiar code on it. It turns out the code was actually Jianpu, an ancient form of Chinese notation for writing music. When translated into actual music, a player identified the piece as an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

One intrepid codebreaker then tried to decrypt the ciphertext given the clues everyone had assembled thus far.

He reversed the ciphertext, according to the instruction of the first key. He then removed every other A and every other B from the text, then every third C and every third R, according to the instructions of the second key.

Then, employing a Vigenere cipher, he used the two key words he had — “enlightenment” and “swan lake” — to begin decrypting the text. He managed to decrypt the entire text, but more incredibly, he also reverse engineered the missing third key word — “mechanized” — while doing so.

And what was the final message, after all this?

thank you for taking the time to piece together this message, friend. the time of our final conflict is drawing closer and you and ana have an important role to play in the events to come. so watch over her, guardian. i would have no life without ana or the exoprogram. i regret that we have become strangers, but we each have a path that we must walk. and, ironically, there never seems to be enough time. tell her, rasputin’s first attempt was in the right location, but the wrong moment. look here: 43.549573, -73.544868 – e

As you might suspect, those numbers at the end are GPS coordinates, which correspond to Sleeping Beauty Mountain in upstate New York. (The company that developed Warmind, Vicarious Visions, is based in upstate New York.)

A small treasure trove of prizes awaited the brave soul who trekked out to Sleeping Beauty Mountain on Saturday morning. The centerpiece was a giant spear, a replica of a weapon from the game known as the Valkyrie.

From the Kotaku article following up on the puzzle’s resolution:

There was also a box of gold coins (along with instructions asking the finder to only take one), a set of notes, and a journal for recording visitors. The note, from Warmind design lead Rob Gallerani, encouraged the finder(s) to share photos of this discovery and told them that there are only three spears like that in existence — one at Vicarious Visions, one at Bungie, and this.

The spear, shown above (alongside the visiting team from Vicarious Visions) now resides at a comic shop called The Freakopolis Geekery.

As for the gold coins and the geocache Vicarious Visions had set up for others who make the trip, unfortunately, park rangers removed it because the designers didn’t get a permit. The coins have been returned to Vicarious Visions, who are currently reaching out to all the folks at r/raidsecrets who contributed to the solution of the puzzle, hoping to get them the coins they so richly deserve.

And, as if all that wasn’t amazing enough, it turns out… this might not be the end of the adventure.

Because a sharp-eyed observer noticed some text embossed on the upper portion of the replica Valkyrie spear:

At the moment, no one knows what the letters mean. But if I had to wager, I’d say the master puzzle solvers at r/raidsecrets should keep digging. Who knows what they’ll find next?


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Puzzles in Pop Culture: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Plus Will Shortz!)

[Image courtesy of FOX.com.]

In our Puzzles in Pop Culture series, we’ve featured shows as diverse as Gilmore Girls, NCIS: New Orleans, The West Wing, Hell’s Kitchen, and Parks and Recreation.

But oddly enough, the puzzliest show in the series has proven to be Brooklyn Nine-Nine, FOX’s hit sitcom about a New York precinct and its oddball collection of detectives. Not only did they pose a diabolical seesaw brain teaser in one episode, but crosswords were at the heart of another key moment in the show just last year.

And today’s post marks the show’s third appearance. Join us as we delve into “The Puzzle Master,” episode 15 of season 5.


The episode opens with detective Amy Santiago passing the sergeant’s exam and doing a dorky dance. Good start.

[Image courtesy of Spoiler TV.]

Her fiance, fellow detective Jake Peralta, has a doozy of a last case for he and Amy to solve as detectives. He presents her with a serial arson case that seem to be connected to the Saturday crossword puzzle. Amy, as a crossword fiend, is overjoyed.

Two different buildings have been set ablaze on two consecutive Saturdays, each with a puzzle left at the crime scene. The only other clue is a note sent to the puzzle’s “author” — not constructor, oddly — Melvin Stermley.

Amy immediately geeks out, mentioning that Stermley once created a puzzle where every word in the grid was the word “puzzle” in a different language. Jake then mentions that Stermley himself is coming in to help them with the case.

[Image courtesy of Brooklyn Nine-Nine Wiki.]

While Jake expects Melvin Stermley to be “a massive dork,” he turns out to be a handsome Hollywood tough guy type. Jake is instantly jealous. (For a nice bit of insider fun, Stermley is played by David Fumero, the husband of Melissa Fumero, who plays Amy Santiago.)

Amy has set up a display with both of Stermley’s puzzles connected to the fires, and the trio begin searching for leads. When Jake asks if he has the typical physique of a puzzler, he mentions that each puzzle only pays a couple hundred bucks, so he makes most of his money modeling. (No doubt a common response you’d get from any top constructor, right, folks?)

They read over the arsonist’s letter again: “Your clues I discombulate, to teach you to conjugate. The fool who fails to validate will watch as I conflagrate.”

Stermley suggests that they look at the answer grids of his puzzles for clues. Amy then jumps to anagramming some of the answer words. (The puzzler notes that Amy Santiago anagrams to “o, nasty amiga” and Jake Peralta to “eat a jerk, pal.”) Amy and Vin decide to split up the odd and even clues, leaving Jake out.

[Image courtesy of Spoiler TV.]

Getting nowhere with the anagrams, they wonder if “conjugate” in the arsonist’s letter means they should focus on the verbs, “the second best form of speech, after prepositions.” Jake suggests a different path, starting with possible suspects who don’t like Stermley, and the puzzler mentions the crossword night he’s hosting at a local bar. “It’s a total puz-hang,” according to Amy, and a good place to start looking.

While waiting in line outside the bar, Jake is disappointed no one is dressed like The Riddler. Amy points out someone wearing crossword-patterned pants. (Again, a common sight at the ACPT.) They chat with one of the other people in line, a woman who jokingly refers to Stermley as her future husband.

[Image courtesy of Spoiler TV.]

Before anyone can enter, they have to solve one of Stermley’s puzzles. Amy is tasked with anagramming the phrase “MEET A BRAINIER STUD, A” into the name of a place in the world. (Jake’s jealousy is piqued by the anagrammed message, of course.)

She quickly solves it — UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — and heads inside. But when Jake tries to follow, he discovers he has to solve a puzzle of his own to get in. The phrase “SAD ANUS LOSER, I GO IN” must be anagrammed into a film based on a classic book. Cut to Jake sneaking into the bathroom, because he couldn’t solve the anagram.

(It was DANGEROUS LIAISONS, by the way.)

While Jake waits in the bathroom for his pants to dry — he stepped into the toilet while climbing down from the window — two puzzle fans come in, discussing Stermley’s mad puzzle skills and how “Sam” must be pissed, as Stermley replaced him doing the Saturday crossword, bumping him down to work in Parade Magazine.

They mention Sam’s toughest clue, “a 5-letter word for a game popular in nursing homes,” to which Jake replies “BINGO.”

[Image courtesy of AV Club.]

Jake mentions it to Stermley, who says Sam Jepson is one of his best friends and has been out of town for weeks. Jake still thinks Jepson is a solid lead.

Amy and Stermley, meanwhile, have realized that both targeted buildings were at the intersection of numbered streets, and those numbered intersections also point to letters in Stermley’s puzzles: M and A. They plan to build a trap into Stermley’s next puzzle to catch the arsonist.

When given a choice between Jake’s approach and Stermley’s, Amy opts to go with the puzzle trap.

Back at the precinct, Amy has determined that the most common letters in people’s names that follow MA are L, X, R, and T — Malcolm, Max, Mark, and Matthew, for example — so Stermley constructs a puzzle using only one of each of those letters. (A pretty daunting challenge, but definitely doable — especially if the cryptic-style crossword grid on the board behind Amy is the puzzle in question. It would have fewer intersections.)

Amy plans to stake out the intersections for each of those four letters, assigning one of them to Jake. (Jake, meanwhile, makes a secret plan to have Charles stake out Sam Jepson’s apartment.)

[Image courtesy of Spoiler TV.]

Charles spots Sam on the move — played by crossword guru Will Shortz, no less! — and Jake leaves his assignment to intercept. He and Charles follow Sam, who sits at a corner and eats soup, then calls his Mom. It turns out he has been out of town, only having returned tonight — and his marriage proposal was rejected. Bummer.

Jake returns to his assigned intersection, and the building is on fire. He has missed the arsonist.

Amy is understandably upset with Jake when they’re back at the office. Jake confesses he’s jealous of Stermley and doesn’t want Amy to wake up one day, regretting not marrying someone as smart as her. She reassures him that he’s a brilliant detective and that’s why she wants to marry him.

[Image courtesy of FOX.com.]

Jake has a epiphany, realizing that the arsonist’s name isn’t what’s being spelled out, it’s the word MARRY. (The word “conjugate” in the letter also pointed to marriage.)

And who wants to marry Stermley?

The woman in line at the bar on crossword night.

Jake and Amy bring the woman in, and it turns out the full message she intended to spell out with her fires was “MARRY ME OR ELSE I WILL KILL YOU, YOURS FOREVER, HELEN GERBELSON.”

That would take SO MANY FIRES. (I imagine she’d have to burn down several buildings more than once, given the sheer repetition of letters and the relatively few options for numbered streets.)

But, in the end, the arsonist has been caught, thanks to the power of puzzles and good police work.

[Image courtesy of Lauren Leti’s Twitter.]

Overall, I thought this was a very fun episode of the show. The anagram gags were the puzzly highlight, though I confess, I thought they’d do more with the Will Shortz cameo.

Here’s hoping there’s a crime at the Brooklyn Nine-Nine equivalent of the ACPT next year!

Also, as someone who has seen ARSON in a thousand grids, it is funny to see someone finally link the word and the act in a puzzly way.


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The Voynich Manuscript: Finally Cracked?

[Image courtesy of BBC.com.]

A year and a half ago, I introduced my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers to the Voynich Manuscript, a cryptologic curiosity unlike anything else we’ve seen before. Discovered over a hundred years ago but believed to date back to the fifteenth century, the Voynich Manuscript is a hand-written book that has baffled linguists and puzzlers for decades.

The writing, which reads from right to left, has yet to be identified. It’s unclear if this is some sort of sophisticated code, an unknown or lost language which was then encoded, an invented language, an example of glossolalia (a written equivalent of speaking in tongues), or simply an elaborate hoax.

The only known copy of the text resides in Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, although Yale has printed replica texts.

From the Yale University website:

Many call the fifteenth-century codex, commonly known as the “Voynich Manuscript,” the world’s most mysterious book. Written in an unknown script by an unknown author, the manuscript has no clearer purpose now than when it was rediscovered in 1912 by rare books dealer Wilfrid Voynich. The manuscript appears and disappears throughout history, from the library of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II to a secret sale of books in 1903 by the Society of Jesus in Rome. The book’s language has eluded decipherment, and its elaborate illustrations remain as baffling as they are beautiful.

[One of several fold-out pages in the manuscript.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org.]

But computer scientists at the University of Alberta believe they’ve finally unraveled some of the mysteries behind the Voynich Manuscript.

They designed an artificial intelligence program with the intent of figuring out the language in the manuscript. The AI analyzed versions of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 400 different languages in order to establish different linguistic patterns to compare against the text of the Voynich Manuscript.

And according to the AI, the text was most likely written in Hebrew.

Now that they had a language to work with, they needed to begin deciphering precisely how that language was encrypted.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org.]

There have been many theories regarding what form of encryption was employed in the Voynich Manuscript. Some investigators theorized that vowels had been removed from the words in the text in order to obscure their meaning further, while others have suggested writing that has been mirrored or otherwise written backwards. Anagrams and other forms of word manipulation are a common theory, and the University of Alberta team went with a variation on the anagram idea.

They theorized that the encoded words were alphagrams, anagrams where the letters in a word are placed in alphabetical order. (For instance, if VOYNICH was encoded this way, it would read CHINOVY.)

Turning loose the AI once again under these parameters, they found that 80% of the words in the Voynich text could be anagrammed into Hebrew words. They managed to cobble together a possible opening sentence for the text:

“She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.”

Is it clunky? Sure. But it’s also a partial translation that has held up to some scrutiny, which is better than most amateur AND professional attempts to crack the Voynich Manuscript have done.

The team is currently hoping to team up with experts in ancient Hebrew and continue the process, but until then, they’re excited to apply their AI to other ancient manuscripts to see what it uncovers.

Although we are a long way from calling the Voynich mystery solved, this is a very intriguing step forward for cryptographers and codebreaking enthusiasts everywhere.


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National Puzzle Day Puzzle Hunt Solution!

Last Monday was National Puzzle Day, so to honor one of the puzzliest days of the year, we celebrated with not only giveaways galore, but a special online puzzle hunt as well!

And today, we’ve got the solution to the multi-stage puzzle that awaited solvers that day! Enjoy!


Step 1 started with a Carry-Over puzzle where answers from that day’s free Daily POP Crosswords puzzle were plugged into a chain of escalating anagrams.

As each word was anagrammed into a new word that fit the given clue, letters were subtracted and added to the next word down, giving the solver a larger pool of letters to work with to answer the next clue in the chain, and so on.

Here’s the completed puzzle, with Grid Words and Answer Words filled in:

And when solvers plugged the answer “acrobat” into the link on the page, it took them to a hidden page on the PuzzleNation Blog website, where Step 2 awaited them.


Step 2 challenged solvers to complete a series of tasks in a game of Simon Says. But before they could start, they had to plug in answers from that day’s Penny Dell Crosswords App free daily puzzle.

With the answers handy, they could begin following the instructions and transforming the initial answer word into something unexpected.

Here’s the completed puzzle:

And when solvers plugged the answer “tumbling” into the link on the page, it took them to a hidden page on the PuzzleNation Blog website, where Step 3 awaited them.


Step 3 marked the final leg of the puzzle hunt. But to complete it, solvers had to pay attention to all of those red asterisks in the first two legs of the puzzle.

There were fifteen of them, between answer words and grid words, for solvers to arrange alphabetically into three columns of five words apiece.

Solvers then had to read across each row of words and cross off every letter that appears twice or four times in that row. Then, reading down, do the same in each column of words. Once a letter is crossed off, it cannot be part of another pair or foursome.

The pairs/foursomes across are highlighted in red and the pairs/foursomes down are highlighted in blue, with only the black letters remaining.

So that leaves this pool of letters:

Five of the fifteen words in the grid can be spelled from that pool of letters. (You’re not crossing out letters as you use them; you’re simply seeing which words can possibly be spelled from that pool of letters. Hence, DINERO can be spelled, but MURMUR cannot.)

Those five words are DINERO, LIMO, MUSLIN, RODIN, and SNEER.

And when solvers plugged those five answers into the link on the page, it took them to one last hidden page where they saw a little congratulatory graphic:

Solvers who completed the puzzle hunt also earned 100 coins for the Daily POP Crosswords app!

A hearty thank you to everyone who participated! We hope you enjoyed this puzzly challenge!


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PuzzleNation Review: Topple Magazine

One of the best things about being a puzzle constructor these days is the level of access solvers have to you and your puzzles. Many constructors create and maintain their own puzzle subscription services, funding them through tips, crowdfunding, subscription fees, or direct-to-solver sales. When puzzly skills and a knack for self-promotion meet, you have the opportunity for real success in building a reputation and an audience.

So when constructor Gregory Gray reached out to me regarding his puzzle e-magazine, Topple, I was all ears. Whether it’s print books, downloadable puzzle packets, or Kickstarter campaigns, I’m always happy to spread the word about puzzle projects that I think the PuzzleNation audience will enjoy.

Gregory sent me the latest edition of Topple (issue VII) to review, so let’s dive right in.

Issue 7 offers a variety of different puzzles to try out. Anagramming and word-forming challenges, trivia, a rebus, some deduction, find-the-path games, and more can be found across these 12 pages of puzzles (plus solution pages, obviously).

I was immediately impressed with all of the different solving styles on display. Shying away from classics like crosswords, word seeks, and fill-ins, Topple opts for puzzles that offer greater opportunities to incorporate art and interesting layouts.

From the anagram rings of ‘Gram Crackers to the alphabet blocks of Blockhead, a great deal of work has clearly gone into not only the puzzles, but the presentation of them, which makes for a very eye-catching solving experience.

The mix of art and puzzles also presents a more welcoming tone for new solvers, who might find a denser arrangement of puzzle grids to be more off-putting or daunting. Each puzzle is given plenty of space to establish itself, so even unfamiliar puzzle types seem more inviting.

But solvers who prefer a bit more challenge will also find something worth their time in this issue of Topple, as a two-page spread of Japanese-style deduction puzzles awaits you in the middle of the book. Whether you’re connecting the dots in Masyu and Hashi or deducing the placement of numbers in Kakuro or black square in Nurikabe, these were easily the most challenging puzzles in the entire magazine, a pleasant change of pace for a more experienced solver.

[Examples of Hashi and Nurikabe puzzles.
Images courtesy of Conceptis Puzzles.]

To be fair, the book isn’t perfect. Some of the blurbs explaining the rules of each puzzle are a bit clunky, which can lead to moments of solver confusion. For instance, it’s not immediately clear in Blockhead if you can anagram the letters in each given word, or if those letters stay in place while you add a letter from the options below.

But those hiccups are few and far between, and for the most part, I found solving issue 7 of Topple to be a very enjoyable solving experience. I breezed through some puzzles, while others put my puzzly skills to the test.

And with Topple, you get quite a bang for your buck. Literally: Each issue of Topple is only $1, and when you consider both the variety of puzzles and the production quality of the book, it’s a steal.

So if you’re looking to try something new without breaking the bank, Topple is an excellent place to start.

The complete Topple collection, along with a free downloadable sampler pack of puzzles, can be found here. You can also subscribe to Topple through Patreon, and be sure to keep up with all things Topple-related on their Facebook page.


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