PuzzleNation Review: The Maze of Games

maze_cover_720_1024x1024

Today’s review is going to be a little bit different. You might have noticed that I didn’t title this a product review or a book review, and that’s because today’s subject, The Maze of Games, defies classification.

It’s billed as an interactive puzzle novel, and it lives up to that description, combining the long-form narrative of a novel with a topnotch puzzle book and a strong element of choose-your-own-adventure flavoring on top. This is not a mystery with a few crosswords tossed in; this is a novel where the puzzle-solving is integral to the reading experience. And I can honestly say it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.

The novel opens in the late 1800s with siblings Samuel and Colleen Quaice at the library, where Colleen is on a mission to read something macabre and engaging. After being offered the newest offering by Bram Stoker — a tome called Dracula — Colleen stumbles upon a slim volume tucked away in the stacks: The Maze of Games.

colleensamf

Soon, Samuel and Colleen are swept into the realm of the Gatekeeper — a dapper, witty, and unforgiving skeletal game master who delights in challenging the unsuspecting to fiendish puzzle challenges — and they’re left to navigate the first of the book’s mazes: the Castle Maze.

As you roam the labyrinth with Colleen and Samuel, you encounter puzzles to be solved, each of which provides you with a keyword you’ll need for later. From word searches and crosswords to logic puzzles and code-breaking challenges, your puzzly chops will be put to the test and then some by the Gatekeeper’s many mind-bending obstacles. (Although meant for adolescents and teens, I think adults would also thoroughly enjoy many of the Gatekeeper’s puzzles.)

Once you’ve reached the end of the labyrinth, a final puzzle awaits you, and you must use your collected keywords and puzzly skills to escape the maze and move onward.

gatekeeperf

Five mazes stand between you and victory over the Gatekeeper, all of them steeped in mythology, genre storytelling, and adventure-tinged backstory. (And several of which offer some wickedly barbed humor.)

This is a terrific concept, and brilliantly executed. The sheer variety of puzzles, not to mention the creative hooks that tie into the narrative, makes for a puzzle book that will keep puzzlers busy for quite a while.

And the novel aspect is just as enjoyable. Samuel and Colleen are no mere placeholders. They’re rich, fully-formed characters in their own right, bickering, bantering, and bringing different skills to every challenge they face. (Their ongoing banter with the Gatekeeper in his sporadic appearances is easily the highlight of the narrative.)

mazeart

Lush, atmospheric art backs up the storytelling, bringing the novel to life and adding wonderful personality to the characters. (Not to mention there’s both an ebook edition and an audiobook version read by Wil Wheaton!)

And if you’re still not puzzled out after tackling The Maze of Games (or you just need a break), there’s a bundle of bonus puzzles in the back of the book, featuring such familiar names as Ken Jennings, Will Shortz, Patrick Blindauer, and Brendan Emmett Quigley.

All of these factors contribute to as immersive a puzzle book as I’ve ever seen, and a testament to the sort of forethought, complexity, and creativity a first-class puzzler can weave into a singular solving experience.

Mike Selinker has been a fixture in the board game and puzzle world for years, and he’s really outdone himself with The Maze of Games.

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!

PuzzleNation Book Review: Tic Tac Tome

Welcome to the tenth installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!

All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR articles are either directly or indirectly related to the world of puzzling, and hopefully you’ll find something to tickle your literary fancy in this entry or the entries to come.

Let’s get started!

Our book review this time around features an interactive challenge, as we match wits with Willy Yonkers’ Tic Tac Tome: The Book That Will Beat You at Tic Tac Toe.

Plenty of books can make you feel stupid, but it’s far more rare for a book to actually defeat the reader in one-on-one combat. Tic Tac Tome pits the player against the endless permutations of Tic-Tac-Toe, challenging you to avoid losses and draws and seek out the lone path that means victory against the diabolical book.

Playing is pretty simple. You choose where to place your X and turn to the page number indicated. On that page you’ll see your mark, as well as the book’s countering move. You then select your next move, and turn to that page number. And repeat until you’ve won, lost, or reached a draw.

[Both pictures courtesy of Winkbooks.net.]

This is an immensely clever idea, especially since the book offers you the chance to either go first or take the much more challenging route of letting the book make the crucial first move. (The richly smug and snarky introductory section, ostensibly written by the book itself as it taunts the reader, only adds to the charm.)

Unfortunately, I did encounter at least one error in the book (two pages had been misassigned or swapped), so be aware: there could be more errors lurking within the fourteen-hundred-plus pages of the book.

That being said, I enjoyed sparring with Tic Tac Tome, and I suspect most puzzle fans and Tic-Tac-Toe enthusiasts would also enjoy. This is prime coffee table book material.

[To check out all of our PuzzleNation Book Review posts, click here!]

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!

PuzzleNation Book Reviews: The Code Busters Club, Case #3

Welcome to the ninth installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!

All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR articles are either directly or indirectly related to the world of puzzling, and hopefully you’ll find something to tickle your literary fancy in this entry or the entries to come.

Let’s get started!

Our book review post this time around features Penny Warner’s third Code Busters Club novel, The Mystery of the Pirate’s Treasure.

I regularly get questions from fellow puzzlers who are looking for fun ways to get their kids into math, science, history, and other subjects through the media of board games or puzzles. Sadly, I don’t always have the picture-perfect recommendation for them prepped and ready in my back pocket, gift-wrapped for delivery.

That’s what makes stumbling upon a book tailor-made for encouraging both reading AND a love of puzzles such a delight. And if you’re looking for a gateway book for scavenger hunts or coded puzzles, look no further than The Code Busters Club series.

When there’s a puzzle to be unraveled or a code to be cracked, you can count on the crafty quartet known as the Code Busters. Friends Cody Jones, Quinn Kee, Luke LaVeau, and M.E. Esperanto are ready at a moment’s notice to put their codecracking skills to the test, and a field trip to Carmel Mission might be the perfect opportunity. There are some shifty characters lurking about, but with rumors of a pirate’s treasure hidden nearby, what else would you expect? Can the Code Busters make history and solve the riddle of de Bouchard’s gold?

If you’re looking for a fun way to introduce coded puzzles to younger readers, you’d be hard-pressed to find a book that employs as many different styles of coding as The Mystery of the Pirate’s Treasure. Warner has clearly done her research, employing everything from Morse code and semaphore to symbols, skip codes, Caesar ciphers, alphanumerics, and more.

[A quick interlude for coded-puzzle newbies:

  • A skip code is a message wherein you skip certain words in order to spell out a hidden message concealed within a larger one.
  • A Caesar cipher, also known as a shift cipher, works by shifting the alphabet a predetermined number of letters. For instance, if you shift the alphabet 5 letters, A becomes F, B becomes G, etc.
  • An alphanumeric code (in its simplest form) replaces the letters in words with their corresponding digits on a telephone keypad. So an A, B, or C becomes 2 while G, H, or I becomes 4.

End informational interlude.]

As a puzzler with plenty of experience with coded puzzles and cryptography, I was impressed by the breadth of codes and secret messages Warner had snuck into book that’s less than 200 pages, including illustrations and a sizable typeface.

The story itself is a bit threadbare, but considering the brisk storytelling pace and the sheer number of puzzles included, it’s easy to forgive the author for providing just enough impetus to get the Code Busters (and the reader) from one puzzle to the next. After all, this is a book about friends solving puzzles, and the puzzles are dynamite introductory-level puzzles for young readers.

I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for further Code Busters Club adventures.

[To check out all of our PuzzleNation Book Review posts, click here!]

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!

PuzzleNation Book Review: The Centenary of the Crossword

Welcome to the eighth installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!

All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR articles are either directly or indirectly related to the world of puzzling, and hopefully you’ll find something to tickle your literary fancy in this entry or the entries to come.

Let’s get started!

Our book review post this time around features John Halpern’s The Centenary of the Crossword.

With the hundredth anniversary of the Crossword only a few weeks behind us, interest in puzzle is perhaps at an all-time high. With that in mind, constructor John Halpern has put together a tribute to the crossword that’s part history, part solving tool, and part celebration of everyone’s favorite pen-and-paper puzzle.

It’s a wonderful introduction to puzzles for anyone looking to get into solving crosswords. Beyond the timeline of puzzle history and glimpses into the minds of various constructors (or setters, as they’re known in England) and crossword editors (Rich Norris of the Los Angeles Times and Will Shortz of the New York Times included), Halpern offers numerous solving hints, including a terrific breakdown of cryptic cluing for fans of British-style crosswords.

Not only that, but the book is chock full of complete puzzles for the reader to solve, starting (quite appropriately) with Arthur Wynne’s marvelous “Word-Cross” and proceeding straight through to the modern day, featuring constructors from around the world. These puzzles show the depth and variety of crossword grids and cluing, and I think even well-established solvers will get a lot out of tackling the puzzles Halpern has collected.

The book is capped off with interviews with the top solvers from last year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, some terrific clues (including some from PuzzleNation Blog favorites David Steinberg and Doug Peterson), and a delightful collection of crossword-centric anecdotes, weird words, and impressive anagrams.

Essentially a cross-section of modern puzzling and the rich puzzle community, The Centenary of the Crossword is a quick and informative read, peppered with puzzles to engage and challenge you. I’m happy to report that I learned a great deal about crosswords (especially cryptics!) from Halpern’s work, and enjoyed every minute of it. What a treat.

[To check out all of our PuzzleNation Book Review posts, click here!]

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Tumblr, download our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

PuzzleNation Book Review: You

Welcome to the seventh installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!

All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR articles are either directly or indirectly related to the world of puzzling, and hopefully you’ll find something to tickle your literary fancy in this entry or the entries to come.

Let’s get started!

Our book review post this time around features Austin Grossman’s novel You.

It’s 1997 when Russell arrives at Black Arts, accepting an offer to help relaunch the successful video game franchise he and former friends started years ago. But with their enigmatic, socially challenged lead designer Simon dead, motivational juggernaut Darren jumping ship to start his own company, and Russell woefully unprepared for the job, that’s easier said than done.

As Russell brainstorms the relaunch, he decides to replay the entire Realms of Gold series from beginning to end, hoping to strike creative gold. Reminiscing about the long journey that brought him back to Black Arts, he discovers a programming bug that could have devastating consequences for the entire company.

I thoroughly enjoyed Grossman’s previous novel, the superhero-skewing Soon I Will Be Invincible, but I didn’t know what to expect from his follow-up novel.

You at its core is a book about misfits. Yes, there’s an epic quest for the heroes to conquer — an epic quest ABOUT an epic quest, in fact — which definitely appeals to readers of a puzzly nature. (Especially when you start unraveling clever references to earlier iterations of the Realms of Gold series.)

There’s also a charming time capsule aspect of the narrative — which cagily evokes the warm fuzzies of early gaming) — but the centerpiece of the novel is how these people came together and then splintered apart.

Occupying that nebulous disheartening space between creativity and economics, Black Arts proves to be a fertile setting for Russell’s slow-burn understanding of the industry, what became of his old friends, and how he’s changed. (Black Arts is a thinly veiled recreation of Looking Glass Studios, a video game company that employed Grossman years ago.)

While the book’s plot staggers a bit under the weight of Simon’s back door biography (presented through Russell’s replay through the RoG series), Grossman does an impressive job making the most of his multilayered narrative, creating a novel that’s far more than the sum of its parts.

[To check out all of our PuzzleNation Book Review posts, click here!]

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

PuzzleNation Book Review: World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements

Welcome to the sixth installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!

All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR articles are either directly or indirectly related to the world of puzzling, and hopefully you’ll find something to tickle your literary fancy in this entry or the entries to come.

Let’s get started!

Our book review post this time around features John Hunter’s World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements.

What did you do in fourth grade, fellow puzzlers? Did you master long division, or delve into the history of the Civil War, or expand your vocabulary skills? The kids in John Hunter’s fourth-grade class negotiated lucrative trade agreements, solved global warming, and saved the world.

Yeah, I know. I feel like a slacker now too.

I frequently post articles that reinforce my heartfelt belief that puzzles and the skills we develop solving puzzles make the world a better, more interesting place. And the World Peace Game, John Hunter’s marvelous brainchild, takes empty-space learning to a whole new level.

Instead of regimented, test-based education, empty-space learning encourages students to learn and fail by doing, developing social skills, a deeper sense of the world’s complexity, and an appreciation for hard questions.

The World Peace Game is a fantastic example of what empty-space learning can do. A weeks-long interactive experiment wherein students try to solve real-world problems in a complex, multitiered simulation, kids will tackle poverty, war, environmental cataclysm, terrorism, ethical dilemmas, and more as they manage their imaginary nations.

World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements chronicles the lessons Hunter has learned from developing and running the World Peace Game for groups of all ages, offering dozens of examples of problems encountered — and circumvented — by young minds, each with a core lesson and something to celebrate.

This is pure puzzle-solving at work on a massive, cooperative scale, and just reading this book gave me hope for the future. World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements is a warm, funny, utterly optimistic testament to what creativity and innovative problem solving can accomplish.

[For further information on the World Peace Game, as well as World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements, click here.]

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!