The Mind-blowing Variety of Puzzles

[A sampling of puzzles of many sorts: crosswords, puzzle boxes,
mechanical brain teasers, tile puzzles, riddles, and more!]

It really is incredible how many forms puzzles can take.

Think about it. Whether you’re talking Rubik’s Cubes, cryptograms, jigsaws, Sudoku, brain teasers, riddles, crosswords, escape rooms, tangrams, word seeks, sliding tiles, deduction problems, coded messages, or anagrams, they all fall under the umbrella of puzzles.

A puzzle can be as simple as pencil and paper or as complex as a multi-stage puzzle hunt or escape room, replete with codes, keys, hidden buttons, mechanical devices to assemble or utilize, and more. The folks at ThinkFun, for instance, have employed everything from ropes and magnets to lasers and mirrors in their puzzles.

That’s some extreme variety.

And the field of possibilities only widens when we add video game puzzles to the mix. We’ve previously talked about games like Tetris and Portal, where you must think in 2D and 3D respectively. We’ve seen games where you change the rules of the world to proceed or even interfere with the coding of the game itself to solve problems.

In the last few years, indie game designers and big studios alike have produced puzzle games that continue to push the boundaries of puzzly minds.

For instance, in Iris Fall you solve puzzles and maneuver around obstacles by playing with light and shadow. By moving light sources and interacting with the environment, both the light and the shadows it creates allow your character to play with perspective and illusion in order to accomplish tasks. It’s very cool!

In a similar vein, the game Superliminal challenges you to solve puzzles and move from room to room by shifting perspective. For instance, if you pick up a small item and then pull it close to you so that it looks bigger, it BECOMES bigger.

Check out this playthrough to see this mindbending puzzler in action:

The game Maquette works off of a similar concept, but requires you to think in both big and small terms. In Maquette, you have a city to explore, and in order to do so, you also need to manipulate a miniature version of the city that affects the world outside.

For instance, there’s a bridge with the center path missing. How can you reach the other side with only a key in your hands?

Easy. You take the key, place it over the same bridge gap in the miniature, and then walk back to the real bridge, where a giant version of that key is now spanning the gap.

And now there’s Viewfinder, a game where you use a Polaroid-style camera to take pictures that you can then place into a three-dimensional world and turn them into structures you can interact with and solve problems!

These sorts of puzzle games help reinforce one of the fundamental rules of puzzle-solving: always be willing to change your perspective and come at the puzzle from another angle. It works with wordplay, it works with brain teasers, and it works in three-dimensional perspective puzzles in video games.

What’s your favorite flavor of puzzles, fellow PuzzleNationers? Have you learned something from one kind of puzzle that you’ve been able to apply in another style of puzzling? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Puzzly Ways to Manage Stress!

stress ball

Stress is a killer, no doubt about it. Everyone needs ways to escape it, to mitigate it, and to give their mind and body a break from the pressures of stressful situations.

There are all sorts of products out there and suggestions for how to manage stress, but in the last few years, there has been a marked increase in what are known as “stress toys” or “fidget widgets.” Sure, stress balls have been around for years, but now we have things like fidget spinners, fidget cubes, tangle toys, and more. These items are specifically designed to be played with, but they have no actual GOAL built in. Often, these items are played with while the person focuses on other thoughts.

And that’s the key. Many people find puzzles and games relaxing and distracting, but the fact that there is a goal attached — solving the puzzle, completing or winning the game — means the item is less effective at managing stress than other items where there is no inherent goal beyond play.

As reported by The Atlantic, a study by the Polytechnic Institute of New York University stated that playing with small toys can help relieve stress, enhance productivity, and aid in memory. Yes, that person doodling during the meeting might retain more information from it than the person intently staring at the speaker. Who knew?

Some folks suggest Play-Doh, paperclips, magnetic balls, or pipe cleaners as reliable fidget widgets. Today, we thought we would offer some puzzly options for small, stress-relieving puzzly items that could help you get through the day.


I’ve seen Rubik’s Cubes and other twisty puzzles suggested for something like this, but again, the implied goal of the Rubik’s Cube – solving it – disqualifies it from this list. Although the mini Rubik’s Cube keychains are sometimes cited as good stress toys, we’re going to focus on things with less of a reputation or mental association for being challenging.

For instance, let’s look at Knot Dice.

knot dice

These beautiful patterned dice can obviously be used for puzzling or gaming, but many of the folks I’ve introduced to Knot Dice simply enjoy the experience of playing with them and observing what patterns emerge. There is no end goal, just the joy of watching paths form and seeing beautiful knot-like designs appear.

I know several people who keep Knot Dice close at hand as a tool for distraction or letting their minds work on other things in the background while they play with the dice.

block chain 4

Our friends at ThinkFun have several puzzly games that would make good stress toys. While Fidgitz and Backspin come to mind, I think Block Chain is the best current example. These linked cubes can twist and turn and fold over each other to create cubes, but that feels secondary to the idle joy of simply watching how many patterns you can make with simple movements.

The design of the cube changes wildly based on your choices, and just fiddling with it and then folding it up is terrific fun. Plus the wild and varied imagery offers a nice change from the static colors and designs of many brain teasers, twisty puzzles, and other fiddly items.

lightbox3

But the puzzly item I find myself returning to most, something to keep my hands occupied while I puzzle over a problem in my head, is Lightbox. The simple action of lifting, twisting, and reconnecting the many stacked plates in different combinations — then seeing what pattern of light is created — has a certain associative aspect that really pushes my brain in positive directions.

Seeing the cube light up in different ways feels like getting that metaphorical lightbulb to appear over my head, and rarely do I need to spend more than a few minutes fiddling with this delightful device before some little burst of motivation, inspiration, or reinvigoration is unlocked inside me, and I can get back to being productive.


What are your go-to items when it comes to stress toys or other items you find yourself idly playing with during the workday, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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PuzzleNation Product Review: ThinkFun’s Block Chain

block chain intro

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

Mechanical brain teasers can be incredibly complex, requiring many steps all taken in a particular order to achieve a goal. They can be devious, hiding components from sight and forcing you to deduce or luck your way into maneuvering the brain teaser in a certain fashion or from a certain angle.

But they can also be fairly simple in design and still retain a level of challenge and difficulty that makes the a-ha moment when you solve it just as sweet.

One of the traits that most ThinkFun puzzles or brain teasers have is accessibility. There’s nothing hidden from the solver. What you see is what you get, even if the path forward isn’t exactly clear.

The only thing that separates success from failure with a ThinkFun brain teaser is patience and puzzly skill. From age 8 to age 80, everyone starts on the same playing field.

block chain 2

This is exemplified by their latest brain teaser, Block Chain.

The concept is simple. You have three linked four-sided blocks. You can rotate each one independently of each other to show different faces.

block chain 3

You can also tilt the outside blocks in the chain up or down so that they slide over the center block, or swing the outside blocks so that they slide into the center block.

block chain 4

By swinging one block in and tilting the other block over, you create a single cube with different images on each face. Your job is to spin, swing, tilt, and tinker with each block chain until you form a cube that fulfills a certain condition.

And each package contains three different challenges for solvers to tackle.

block chain 1

One simply requires you to make all six sides match to fit one of two possible themes. For instance, this pirate-themed one could be all gold coin patterned, or all treasure chest patterned, depending on which side you twisted, swapped, and slid into place. So there’s two puzzles here, one on each side.

The second follows a more Rubik’s Cube-style solve style, as you have to manipulate the block chain so that a different color appears on every side of the cube.

The third involves multiple paths on each four-sided block, so you have to twist and maneuver the blocks so that the paths line up properly along each edge where the paths “meet.”

This was the most difficult of the three, because the patterning required much more attention from the solver. After all, you aren’t just matching a side — like the colored or themed ones — so the positioning of each block in the chain is more exact and deliberate than it is for the other cubes.

robot 1

Block Chain brain teaser sets come in different themes — pirate, robot, and unicorn, for instance — adding a really fun visual aesthetic to what could be a fairly bland-looking puzzle. And their relative simplicity helps them serve as marvelous introductory puzzles for new solvers.

Although older solvers will blow through these fairly quickly, I definitely found myself returning to them more than once, enjoying the simple tactile joys of maneuvering the blocks around and over each other to make different shapes. They’re essentially a puzzly little fidget cube you can idly toy with as you solve!

Once again, ThinkFun has managed to walk that tightrope and balance simplicity of design with satisfying solving to create a delightful puzzling experience. Block Chain brain teasers have already become a welcome addition to my desk, keeping my hands occupied while I puzzle over the day’s obstacles.

[Block Chain costs $10.99 and is available through ThinkFun and Amazon.]

unicorn 1


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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!