Touching a Piece of Puzzle History

Friend of the blog Peter Kanter came by the other day and showed me this curious piece of puzzle history that his brother had stumbled upon in a garage sale or a flea market.

Little did I realize I would soon be holding a puzzle that predates the crossword puzzle by over twenty years.

According to the instruction manual — which features rules for ten different spelling and anagramming games, one or two of which bear no small resemblance to Bananagrams in play style and spirit — this game was copyrighted in 1890 by McLoughlin Bros.

According to one of their catalogs, this game “consists of a box full of letters, so selected as to be most useful in a number of exceedingly interesting spelling games. The letters, printed on cardboard, are easily distinguished and handled. The box label is unusually bright and attractive.”

Yes, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I’ve been able to do a little research on this marvelous find.

McLoughlin Bros. was a publishing firm based in New York that operated from the mid-1800s until the early 1900s. They specialized in children’s books and picture books, but also published linen books, games, paper dolls, puzzles, and toys.

They were among the first publishing houses to employ color printing techniques in products marketed specifically for children. (They also helped popularize the works of Thomas Nast, curiously enough.)

[A sampling of McLoughlin Bros.-style art, a style definitely reflected in the box art of the anagram game above.]

As it turns out, after the death of one of the founders, the company was sold to none other than Milton Bradley — makers of Battleship, Axis & Allies, Candyland, Connect Four, Operation, and Jenga, among many many others — who had continued success with some of the McLoughlin Bros. products, including mechanical paper toys called “Jolly Jump-Ups.” (You might know “mechanical paper toys” better as pop-up books.) Production of those toys was halted, however, during World War II, presumably to save materials for the war effort.

There is now a collector’s market for McLoughlin products — check out this listing for a game board produced by the firm — and if this anagram game is any indication, the color and striking artistic designs from a century ago still hold up today.

And although I can’t definitively say that this exact game predates the crossword, there’s no doubt that this sort of wordplay was delighting kids and adults alike well before Arthur Wynne’s “Word-Cross” puzzle saw the light of day.

How cool is that?


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100 Games to Know!

PAX East is one of several conventions under the PAX brand, all of which are dedicated to gaming. Created by the folks behind the popular webcomic Penny Arcade, PAX East has become a premier destination for video games, board game creators, and gaming enthusiasts from all walks of life.

One of the panels this year featured prolific puzzler and game creator Mike Selinker, author of The Maze of Games and creator of numerous popular board games and card games, including Unspeakable Words, Pathfinder, and many others.

He hosted a panel entitled 100 Games You Absolutely, Positively Must Know How to Play, and over the course of the hour-long event he ran down 100 board games, card games, and video games that he considers to be essential knowledge for every game fan and game designer.

He stressed that this was not a list of the 100 best, the 100 most important, or the 100 most fun games, and that virtually every person’s opinion would vary.

And then he laid out a fantastic list of games in many styles and formats:

  • Tabletop RPGs (Dungeons & Dragons, Fiasco)
  • Electronic RPGs (The Legend of Zelda, The Secret of Monkey Island)
  • Deduction Games (Clue, Mafia)
  • Tile Games (Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Settlers of Catan)
  • Tabletop puzzle games (Scrabble, Boggle)
  • Electronic puzzle games (Myst, Bejeweled, Portal, You Don’t Know Jack)
  • Platformers (Super Mario Bros. 3, Katamari Damacy, Limbo, Braid)
  • Simulators (Madden NFL, Starcraft, FarmVille, Minecraft)
  • Traditional card games (Fluxx, Gloom, Uno)
  • Deck-construction games (Magic: The Gathering)
  • Electronic action games (Mario Kart 64, Halo, Plants vs. Zombies)
  • Rhythm games (Dance Dance Revolution, Rock Band)
  • Strategy board games (Ticket to Ride, Pandemic)
  • Tabletop war games (Stratego, Axis & Allies)
  • Open world video games (Grand Theft Auto, World of Warcraft)
  • Creative tabletop games (Cards Against Humanity)

Several favorites of mine made the cut — like Mafia, a brilliantly simple murder mystery card game requiring nothing more than a deck of cards — and he had excellent reasons for including every game and excluding others.

Although plenty of worthy games didn’t get mentioned, I can’t come up with any game styles that Selinker missed, nor can I come up with any particular games that were egregiously excluded. I love Qwirkle, Timeline, and Castellan, for instance, but I feel like each of those gaming styles were well represented.

[He was careful to cover his bases.]

Can you think of any that the keen eye of Selinker missed, my fellow puzzlers? Let me know!

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Where do you puzzle and play?

When furnishing your home, there’s a lot to consider: budget, dimensions, layout, colors, fabrics, styles. But did you know that there’s furniture out there specifically for the discerning puzzler or board game fan?

Oh yes, I’m talking about primo set-ups to maximize your gaming and puzzling fun.

It’s not hard to find stylish tables with checkerboards or backgammon designs built into the table, and they start at pretty affordable prices.

But there’s a growing market for high-end gaming tables that not only look great, but utilize drawers for holding game components, sunken play areas to keep dice from escaping mid-roll, and detachable covers so you can use the table like any other surface when you’re not playing.

Check out some of these gorgeous pieces:

The popularity of gaming-specific tables is partially due to the success of Wil Wheaton’s webseries TableTop, which is centered around a table designed specifically for gaming:

But there are tables out there personalized for particular games. For instance, this table is optimized for Axis & Allies, a military land acquisition game set in World War II:

And feast your eyes on this absolutely stunning Risk table I stumbled across online:

Of course, an ingenious player can turn any table into a terrific gaming space. One Dungeons & Dragons dungeon master linked his laptop up to a projector, and displays maps on a regular kitchen table for his players to use. It’s brilliant!

Now, I wanted to see some puzzle-specific tables here as well, and there are plenty for jigsaw enthusiasts. Heck, you should do yourself a favor and Google Image Search the phrase “puzzle furniture,” because it’s a super-entertaining way to pass a few minutes.

But when it comes to crossword solving, nothing seems to beat a comfy armchair or the breakfast table with a touch of puzzly flare…

Unless you’re this guy, that is.

Now THAT is puzzle-solving with style.

I cannot in good conscience, however, wrap up a post about puzzle and gaming furniture without giving a nod to our friends over at Hammacher Schlemmer, who turned a classic table game into a home entertainment experience with the World’s Largest Scrabble Game.

That’s furniture AND a game in one! (And all for the low, low price of $12,000.)

Do you have a favorite place at home for puzzling or playing games? Let me know! Or send us a picture and share your puzzle nook with the world!

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!