Prodigies and Puzzly Minds

I spend a lot of time here talking about puzzly minds, but I’ve never really defined what I mean by “puzzly mind.” Basically, to me, a puzzly mind is one that enjoys puzzles, one that has a knack for unraveling puzzles that might baffle or deter others.

But defining what makes up a puzzly mind — what qualities, what abilities, that sort of thing — is hard, because there are so many kinds of puzzles in the world, and many of them require different skill sets, even if all of those skill sets still fit under the umbrella of puzzly minds.

For instance, deduction puzzles require different skills than crosswords do, since deduction puzzles usually work off the information given in the puzzle (and extrapolating within that information set), whereas crosswords require you to pull in your own knowledge to solve the clues and fill the grid. There’s obviously some overlap, but they remain quite different forms of puzzle-solving.

And that’s just two types of puzzles. Spot-the-difference puzzles differ from math puzzles, which differ from mechanical puzzles, which differ from strategy puzzles. They all require specific skills, particular solving styles, and oftentimes, an approach tailored to that sort of puzzle.

Even if you’re someone who immerses yourself in the puzzle world, as I do, you’re not necessarily going to be equipped to tackle every form of puzzle. I’m a decent crossword solver, a good hand at brain teasers and logic problems, and quick when it comes to Fill-In-style puzzles, but I’m not the strongest four-in-a-row puzzler, nor am I a deft hand at encryptions.

As it turns out, this is true of minds other than ones found under the “puzzly” umbrella. It applies to child prodigies as well.

Science writer, author, and all-around geek-culture expert Garth Sundem recently wrote about the curious differences between musical prodigies, art prodigies, and math prodigies, and his post revealed some unexpected results.

For instance, math prodigies and music prodigies basically tie when it comes to IQ tests or studies of quantitative reasoning. (Actually, it seems that music prodigies edge out math prodigies when it comes to that sort of pattern recognition!)

They’re also neck-and-neck when it comes to visual spatial skills. But, oddly enough, both groups test AHEAD of art prodigies in that area. Which surprised the heck out of me! You’d think that artists who bring such marvelous works to life would be stronger visual reasoners than musicians and mathematicians.

This applies most strongly to the concept of mentally rotating shapes in their minds.

From Sundem’s post:

The authors write that, “Talented young artists [may] perceive objects differently than less talented young artists and use figurative processes which focus on attention to detailed surface features.” Less talented young artists are trapped in the literal, but it seems that art prodigies are largely unbound by the way things should look. Apparently, when a math prodigy rotates a shape in his or her mind, he or she gets a rotated shape – but when an art prodigy rotates the same shape, he or she gets…Dali!

Just as puzzlers bring different skill sets to bear when cracking their favorite puzzles, prodigies wield different abilities when excelling at various forms of creative expression, be it artistic, musical, or mathematical.

Sundem summed it up nicely when he concluded that “art prodigies can’t visualize shapes with precision and math prodigies are no better than music prodigies at seeing the consequences of numbers.”

And that got me wondering about the brains of some of the puzzlers I know. Do their particular skill sets or interests outside of puzzles reflect on their puzzly strengths and weaknesses?

As you’d expect, there are plenty with majors or strong interests in English (like constructor Brendan Emmett Quigley), history, languages (like constructor Matt Gaffney), and literature in the puzzle biz, particularly crosswords and other word-based puzzles. Several who came from economics, chemistry, or science backgrounds tend to be strong math and deduction solvers.

Crossword constructor and friend of the blog Robin Stears once told me, “If you think about it, math is just one ginormous puzzle that needs to be solved.”

But, again, like Sundem found with the child prodigies, there were some unexpected connections lurking in the data. I know several musicians who enjoy puzzles, and they tend to be strong math solvers as well. (Which supports the test results above that found little statistical difference in quantitative reasoning between math prodigies and music prodigies.)

Obviously, I need to cast a wider net amongst puzzlers to back up my theory, but I suspect these correlations will only strengthen with more input from puzzlers. I wonder what other curious connections are waiting to be found, currently concealed beneath that all-too-convenient umbrella of “puzzly minds.”


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Other puzzles you might not know! (Volume 1)

We’re all puzzle fans here, right? And sometimes we need something new, something fresh and engaging to rejuvenate our love of puzzles. We know all the classics — crosswords, fill-ins, logic puzzles, word seeks, Sudoku, cryptograms, and anagram puzzles — but there’s a whole wide world of puzzles out there to explore that you might not even know about!

So, in today’s post, I’m going suggest some puzzles to check out, based on each of those classic solving experiences.


Let’s start with crosswords.

From the New York Times and LA Times crossword puzzles to the Penny Dell Crossword App, there’s no shortage of terrific crosswords of all difficulty ranges awaiting solvers.

But there are also some terrific variant crosswords for you to try out, like Double Trouble.

[Click here or on the grid for a larger version, complete with clues.]

In a Double Trouble crossword, you can put one, two, or three letters into a box, making for a more difficult solve that the standard one-letter one-box crossword.

But if you want to go a little farther afield, you can try something like Marching Bands.

[Image courtesy of Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website.]

A Marching Bands puzzle has two sets of clues. The first set clues the rows reading across, with two clues per line. But the second set is where things get interesting. See those alternating rings of light and dark shading? The second set clues words reading clockwise along those rings, or bands.

So instead of words meshing across and down, as in a standard crossword, you have across clues and band clues interacting to help you fill the grid. It’s a wonderful variation on familiar crossword rules, but one challenging enough to keep you interested. (For a more in-depth look, click here!)

But maybe you like crossword cluing but you’d like an answer more interesting than just a grid filled with words. Fair enough, have you ever tried Crostics?

[Click here or on the grid for a larger version.]

Crostics, also known as Anacrostics (from our friends at Dell Magazines) or Acrostics (as made by friend of the blog Cynthia Morris), feature a series of clues and letter blanks to be filled.

Those letter blanks each have coordinates assigned, so that when you fill the correct letters into those blanks, you’re also filling blanks in a grid below to spell out a bonus message, quotation, or anecdote. (It’s a one-to-one ratio, so each letter blank corresponds to a letter blank in the grid. If there’s one J in the message, you’ll find a J in the answer words.)

Although you don’t have the overlapping entries to help you puzzle out answers like crosswords or Marching Bands do, you can use the grid below as a solving aid. As each word in the message emerges, you can fill in those letters in the blanks above (using those same coordinates).

And for something along the same vein, you’ve got Word Games Puzzles.

[Click here or on the grid for a larger version.]

You still get the message reading out in a grid and the letter blank coordinates like in Crostics, but instead of a bunch of crossword-style clues, you instead get four mini-games to solve. One might be trivia or encryption, another might involve some wordplay, another might offer themed clues, and the fourth might be an anagram game.

Each will challenge you in different ways, and the use of repeated letters — a change from Crostics with their one-to-one letter blank to grid letter ratio — gives you more than one chance to fill in the final message.

Hopefully, one or more of these puzzles will pique your interests and offer a welcome new solving experience!


Next week, I’ll have recommendations for fans of Fill-In puzzles, and in future installments, we’ll tackle word seeks, logic puzzles, Sudoku, and more! If you’ve got recommendations for your fellow puzzlers, please let us know in the comments!

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A crossword like you’ve never seen before

When someone sends me a link, claiming they’ve uncovered the most difficult crossword they’ve ever seen, I’m usually skeptical.

I mean, I’ve seen some diabolical crosswords in my day. From puzzle 5 at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and the meta-puzzles lurking in Matt Gaffney‘s Weekly Crossword Contests to the Diagramless and Double Trouble crosswords offered by our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles, it’s hardly tough to find challenging crosswords these days.

But this puzzle, originally created for the 2013 MIT Mystery Puzzle Hunt and made solvable (and rotatable!) online by Greg Grothaus, might just take the cake:

As you can see, there are clues across three sides of the hexagonal grid: the across clues, the down-to-the-left clues, and the up-to-the-left clues.

But these clues are unlike anything I’ve seen before.

It turns out that these are regexps, or regular expressions, sequences of characters and symbols that represent search commands in computer science.

Now, anyone who has used graphing features in Excel or crossword-solving aids on websites like XWordInfo, Crossword Tracker, or OneLook is probably familiar with simple versions of regexp. For instance, if you search C?S?B?, you’ll probably end up with CASABA as the likely top answer.

Of course, the ones in this puzzle are far more complicated, but the overlapping clues in three directions make this something of a logic puzzle as well, since you’ll be able to disregard certain answers because they won’t fit the other clues (as you do in crosswords with the across and down crossings in the grid).

But if, like me, you don’t know much about reading regexp, well then, you’ve got yourself a grid full of Naticks.

If anyone out there is savvy with regexp, let me know how taxing this puzzle is. Because, for me right now, it’s like doing a crossword in a foreign language.

But I’m not the only one who feels this way. When I first checked out the post on Gizmodo, they titled it “Can You Solve This Beautifully Nerdy Crossword Puzzle?” and I laughed out loud when the very first comment simply read “Nope.”

Glad to see I’m not alone here.


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Patriarchy, Hanks Thanks, and a Brain Teaser to boot!

It’s the holiday season, a time for giving. So, what better way is there to celebrate the holidays than to link you to some great puzzles and give you a chance to keep your brain busy?

Master constructor Brendan Emmett Quigley has cooked up quite possibly the most condescending crossword you’ve ever seen! This Buzzfeed-featured tongue-in-cheek take on the patriarchy is great fun but still offers some challenging entries. Check it out!

And while I’m recommending timely crosswords to solve, there’s also a terrific holiday-fueled crossword from constructor George Barany and friends titled “Giving T.Hanks for the Holidays!”

But if crosswords aren’t your puzzly cup of tea, how about a brain teaser?

Give me the next letter in this pattern: D, D, P, V, C, C, D, ?

I borrowed this puzzle from our Thursday post, but there’s nothing wrong with Christmas Eve coming a little early, is there? =)

Enjoy, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!


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!

PuzzleNation 2015 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2015 Holiday Gift Guide!

We’re overjoyed to have so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down into categories for ease of searching. We have puzzle apps, puzzle books, downloadable puzzles and puzzles by mail, jigsaw puzzles, puzzle games, board games, card games, and party games. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


Puzzle Apps

Naturally, you’ll forgive us for starting off with a link for a familiar puzzle app!

The Penny Dell Crossword App not only features bundles of terrific puzzle content, but it offers a free daily puzzle to all users! You can check out the full details on the PuzzleNation website!


Puzzle Books

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

 

 

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Whether it’s the Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Brain Boosters ($10.50, also available with Logic Puzzles!), the Splash of Color Christmas Special (and its sister title, Flying Colors, both $6.99), the Logic Problems Spectacular collecting more than a hundred brain teasing puzzly challenges ($8.99), or their Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket series — with a crossword edition (pictured above), a Fill-In editiona Sudoku edition, and a Word Seek edition ($7.95 each) — Penny Dell has you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter for the entire holiday season. 15% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

And for more specialized puzzle books, some high-level constructors have books of their own for your perusal! With New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some puzzlers within these pages!

–Ian Livengood’s Sit & Solve® Sports Crosswords ($5.95)

–Rich Norris’s A-to-Z Crosswords ($8.95)

–Doug Peterson’s Easy ABC Crosswords ($8.95)

–Jeff Chen’s puzzles for bridge enthusiasts ($12.95)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Sit & Solve® Marching Bands ($5.95) and Diagramless Crosswords ($20.98)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Sit & Solve® Quick-As-A-Wink Crosswords ($5.95) and Wide-Screen Crosswords ($8.95)

–Dale Maron’s Pentdoku Puzzles: Volume 1 ($12.95)

The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker

And we simply have to mention one of the most innovative puzzle books released this year, the interactive puzzle novel The Maze of Games! Now going into its second edition, this delightfully challenging read allows solvers to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of puzzles, this is a one-of-a-kind solving experience. Factor in the Wil Wheaton-read audiobook and Austin Wintory’s soundtrack, and you have a real winner here. ($49.95 in hardcover, $20 in ebook form)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Collins Little Book of Bananagrams

Are you a Bananagrams fan who’s looking for something to give you an edge? The Collins Little Book of Bananagrams might be just what you need! With a list of puzzle words you might not otherwise think of, suggestions for other games to play with Bananagrams tiles, and techniques for speeding up your gameplay, you’re sure to be Top Banana with this handy guide in your pocket. ($9.95)


Downloadable Puzzles and Puzzles by Mail

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Uptown Puzzle Club (puzzle bundles by mail) ($35 for 12 issues)

The Crosswords Club (puzzle bundles by mail, available in both regular and large print; $39.95 for 12 issues, $59.95 for large print)

David Steinberg’s Chromatics (color-themed puzzles)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($20 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Bassey Godwin’s Will Sudoku (PDF puzzle bundle, full review here!) ($10)


Jigsaw Puzzles

Puzzometry

For a next level jigsaw-style challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available as Puzzometry ($16), Puzzometry Jr. ($11), and Puzzometry Squares ($16), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

Tavern Puzzles

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to free your heart from the tangled pieces of Heart’s Desire or remove the ring from the Iron Maiden, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($22)


Puzzle Games

These one- and two-player puzzle games are perfect to train your brain and keep you guessing!

Houdini, Gravity Maze, and Laser Maze Jr. (ThinkFun)

ThinkFun meshes learning and gameplay with three logic games ready to challenge kids and adults alike. Whether it’s the ropes and locks challenging nimble fingers in Houdini ($19.99), the marble-dropping path-building of Gravity Maze ($24.99), or the study of optics and mirrors with an actual laser in Laser Maze Jr. ($29.99), young minds and older minds will soon be in fighting trim for puzzling!

[Check out our full product reviews of Houdini by clicking here, Gravity Maze by clicking here, and Laser Maze Jr. by clicking here!]

Word Winder (David L. Hoyt)

Word Winder (also available in app, puzzle book, and GIANT versions!) is a game of finding chains of hidden words in an ever-changeable grid! Put your strategy and spelling skills to the test! ($19.95)


Board Games

Some of the puzzliest games on the market today are being made by top-flight board game companies, and we’ve got some marvelous games that will appeal to puzzlers of all ages!

Stuff and Nonsense (Cheapass Games)

Many games are about grand adventures, but only Stuff and Nonsense is about pretending to go on grand adventures while scamming your fellow would-be adventurers. Can you sneak around London and gather the props you need for your impressive lie, all while avoiding the fiendishly clever Professor Elemental? Great fun and quick to learn. ($25)

[To check out the full review of Stuff and Nonsense, click here!]

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Zip It (Bananagrams)

Bananagrams is already pretty travel-sized, but if you’re looking for a game you can play on an airplane tray table, you need to check out Zip It. This 24-cube game works on Bananagrams rules AND allows you to use the carrying case to keep score! For puzzling in your pocket, you can’t go wrong. ($12.99)

Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($29.99)

Walk-By Scrabble Board, Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($29.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($149.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Qwirkle (MindWare)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train Dominoes, Qwirkle is all about placing your tiles to maximize points and minimize helping your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump right into! ($34.99)

Tak•tak (Twizmo Games)

If you’re looking for a game that combines the strategy of chess and the mechanics of Upwords, Tak•tak is right up your alley. Score points by stacking and attacking your opponent’s pieces in this game that’s more than meets the eye! ($18.95)

[Check out our full product review of Tak•tak by clicking here!]


Card Games

These card games add a bit of friendly competition to some splendid strategizing for puzzlers of all sorts!

Pairs (Hip Pocket Games)

A simple card game with a lot of strategy behind it, Pairs is about NOT scoring points and avoiding pairing your cards at all costs. With new deck styles arriving all the time — like the Goddesses of Cuisine deck and the Lord of the Fries deck — complete with numerous variant games available, Pairs is a perfect group card game you can pick up quickly. ($10)

Give Me the Brain (Cheapass Games)

In this revamped version of a lesser-known classic, you and your fellow players are zombies running a fast food joint, competing to complete your tasks first. Unfortunately, there’s only one brain for all of you to share. A mix of strategy and luck, Give Me the Brain is the most fun you can having working in fast food, undead or not! ($25)

[Review coming soon!]

The Stars Are Right (Steve Jackson Games)

Build an army of followers and change the stars themselves in The Stars Are Right, a thoroughly enjoyable card game where the goal is summoning an elder god and destroying the world. As you do. ($27.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Batman Fluxx, Retro Loonacy, and Just Desserts (Looney Labs)

The folks at Looney Labs are all about games where the rules can change in an instant. They’ve broadened their library of Fluxx card decks with a marvelous Batman-fueled version ($20), as well as putting a new twist on their fast-play matching game with Retro Loonacy ($15)! Plus, you can always put your culinary skills to the test in the deliciously busy Just Desserts! ($18)

[Check out our full product reviews of Batman Fluxx here, Retro Loonacy here, and Just Desserts here, plus reviews for Adventure Time Fluxx and Fluxx Dice here!]

Timeline (Asmodee Games)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before OR after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99)

Adorable Pandaring (Asmadi Games)

We can all agree that pandas are adorable, but in Adorable Pandaring, you only earn points if your pandas are adorable, so you need to change the rules to favor the pandas in your hand. This game might have some mighty cute art, but don’t be fooled — it is all about timing and strategy. ($12)

[Check out the full review of Adorable Pandaring by clicking here!]

Compose Yourself (ThinkFun)

For a card game that’s marvelously musically different, try your hand at Compose Yourself. It’s designed to teach people of all ages the magic of music, and you can use the cards included to compose your own pieces, performed by an actual orchestra! I sincerely doubt you’ve ever seen — or heard — anything like it. ($14.99)

[Check out the full review of Compose Yourself by clicking here!]


Party Games

Some puzzles are best enjoyed in groups, so here are a few fun options for party puzzling!

Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]

ROFL! (Cryptozoic)

Challenge your friends to decode famous movie lines, catchphrases, and song lyrics in Cryptozoic’s game ROFL!, created by Dork Tower‘s John Kovalic! Put your texting and abbreviation skills to the test in this laugh-out-loud party treat! ($35)

[Check out our full product review here!]


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in our holiday gift guide!

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!

PuzzleNation 2015 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Age

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2015 Holiday Gift Guide!

We’re overjoyed to have so many tremendously fun and puzzly projects to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down by age group, so we’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for puzzlers of any age on your list!


For Ages 5 and Up

Laser Maze Jr. (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

Nothing brings home the study of optics and mirrors quite like an actual working laser! In Laser Maze Jr., ThinkFun has redesigned their classic reflective puzzle game, not only making it more accessible for young minds, but safer too! ($29.99)

[Check out our full product review of Laser Maze Jr. by clicking here!]


For Ages 6 and Up

Qwirkle (MindWare, board game)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train Dominoes, Qwirkle is all about placing your tiles to maximize points and minimize helping your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump right into! ($34.99)

Compose Yourself (ThinkFun, card game)

For a card game that’s marvelously musically different, try your hand at Compose Yourself. It’s designed to teach people of all ages the magic of music, and you can use the cards included to compose your own pieces, performed by an actual orchestra! I sincerely doubt you’ve ever seen — or heard — anything like it. ($14.99)

[Check out the full review of Compose Yourself by clicking here!]


For Ages 7 and Up

Zip It (Bananagrams, board game)

Bananagrams is already pretty travel-sized, but if you’re looking for a game you can play on an airplane tray table, you need to check out Zip It. This 24-cube game works on Bananagrams rules AND allows you to use the carrying case to keep score! For puzzling in your pocket, you can’t go wrong. ($12.99)

Collins Little Book of Bananagrams (puzzle book)

Are you a Bananagrams fan who’s looking for something to give you an edge? The Collins Little Book of Bananagrams might be just what you need! With a list of puzzle words you might not otherwise think of, suggestions for other games to play with Bananagrams tiles, and techniques for speeding up your gameplay, you’re sure to be Top Banana with this handy guide in your pocket. ($9.95)


For Ages 8 and Up

Batman Fluxx, Retro Loonacy, and Just Desserts (Looney Labs, card games)

The folks at Looney Labs are all about games where the rules can change in an instant. They’ve broadened their library of Fluxx card decks with a marvelous Batman-fueled version ($20), as well as putting a new twist on their fast-play matching game with Retro Loonacy ($15)! Plus, you can always put your culinary skills to the test in the deliciously busy Just Desserts! ($18)

[Check out our full product reviews of Batman Fluxx here, Retro Loonacy here, and Just Desserts here, plus reviews for Adventure Time Fluxx and Fluxx Dice here!]

Pairs (Hip Pocket Games, card game)

A simple card game with a lot of strategy behind it, Pairs is about NOT scoring points and avoiding pairing your cards at all costs. With new deck styles arriving all the time — like the Goddesses of Cuisine deck and the Lord of the Fries deck — complete with numerous variant games available, Pairs is a perfect group card game you can pick up quickly. ($10)

Timeline (Asmodee Games, card game)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before OR after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning history)! ($14.99)

Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games, board game)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($29.99)

 

Walk-By Scrabble Board, Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer, board games)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($29.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($149.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Word Winder (David L. Hoyt, puzzle game)

Word Winder (also available in app, puzzle book, and GIANT versions!) is a game of finding chains of hidden words in an ever-changeable grid! Put your strategy and spelling skills to the test! ($19.95)

Houdini (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

The master escape artist is in your hands in HoudiniTackle dozens of tricky scenarios as your nimble fingers and puzzly wits are pitted against ropes, locks, and other obstacles to Houdini’s freedom! ($19.99)

[Check out our full product review of Houdini by clicking here!]

Tak•tak (Twizmo Games, board game)

If you’re looking for a game that combines the strategy of chess and the mechanics of Upwords, Tak•tak is right up your alley. Score points by stacking and attacking your opponent’s pieces in this game that’s more than meets the eye! ($18.95)

[Check out our full product review of Tak•tak by clicking here!]

Gravity Maze (ThinkFun, puzzle game)

Can you bend gravity to your will? Gravity Maze pits the solver against increasingly difficult puzzles where the goal is to place the towers so that a dropped marble will end up in the red goal square. Can you unravel each maze without losing your marbles? ($24.99)

[Check out our full product review of Gravity Maze by clicking here!]

ROFL! (Cryptozoic, party game)

Challenge your friends to decode famous movie lines, catchphrases, and song lyrics in Cryptozoic’s game ROFL!, created by Dork Tower‘s John Kovalic! Put your texting and abbreviation skills to the test in this laugh-out-loud party treat! ($35)

[Check out our full product review here!]


For Ages 10-12 and Up

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games, board game)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Adorable Pandaring (Asmadi Games, card game)

We can all agree that pandas are adorable, but in Adorable Pandaring, you only earn points if your pandas are adorable, so you need to change the rules to favor the pandas in your hand. This game might have some mighty cute art, but don’t be fooled — it is all about timing and strategy. ($12)

[Check out the full review of Adorable Pandaring by clicking here!]

Puzzometry (puzzle game)

For a next level jigsaw-style challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available as Puzzometry ($16), Puzzometry Jr. ($11), and Puzzometry Squares ($16), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

Give Me the Brain (Cheapass Games, card game)

In this revamped version of a lesser-known classic, you and your fellow players are zombies running a fast food joint, competing to complete your tasks first. Unfortunately, there’s only one brain for all of you to share. A mix of strategy and luck, Give Me the Brainis the most fun you can having working in fast food, undead or not! ($25)

[Review coming soon!]

The Stars Are Right (Steve Jackson Games, card game)

Build an army of followers and change the stars themselves in The Stars Are Right, a thoroughly enjoyable card game where the goal is summoning an elder god and destroying the world. As you do. ($27.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Stuff and Nonsense (Cheapass Games, board game)

Many games are about grand adventures, but only Stuff and Nonsense is about pretending to go on grand adventures while scamming your fellow would-be adventurers. Can you sneak around London and gather the props you need for your impressive lie, all while avoiding the fiendishly clever Professor Elemental? Great fun and quick to learn. ($25)

[To check out the full review of Stuff and Nonsense, click here!]


For Ages 13-14 and Up

The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker (puzzle book)

And we simply have to mention one of the most innovative puzzle books released this year, the interactive puzzle novel The Maze of Games! Now going into its second edition, this delightfully challenging read allows solvers to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of puzzles, this is a one-of-a-kind solving experience. Factor in the Wil Wheaton-read audiobook and Austin Wintory’s soundtrack, and you have a real winner here. ($49.95 in hardcover, $20 in ebook form)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze, party game)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]

 

Tavern Puzzles (jigsaw puzzles)

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to free your heart from the tangled pieces of Heart’s Desire or remove the ring from the Iron Maiden, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($22)


For Ages 18 and Up

Most puzzle books would probably fall in the Age 9-10 and Up range, but oftentimes, the cluing is geared toward an older audience, so to avoid confusion, I’ve bundled the majority of the puzzle books here.

 

 

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Whether it’s the Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Brain Boosters ($10.50, also available with Logic Puzzles!), the Splash of Color Christmas Special (and its sister title, Flying Colors, both $6.99), the Logic Problems Spectacular collecting more than a hundred brain teasing puzzly challenges ($8.99), or their Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket series — with a crossword edition (pictured above), a Fill-In editiona Sudoku edition, and a Word Seek edition ($7.95 each) — Penny Dell has you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter for the entire holiday season. 15% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

And for more specialized puzzle books, some high-level constructors have books of their own for your perusal! With New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some puzzlers within these pages!

–Ian Livengood’s Sit & Solve® Sports Crosswords ($5.95)

–Rich Norris’s A-to-Z Crosswords ($8.95)

–Doug Peterson’s Easy ABC Crosswords ($8.95)

–Jeff Chen’s puzzles for bridge enthusiasts ($12.95)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Sit & Solve® Marching Bands ($5.95) and Diagramless Crosswords ($20.98)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Sit & Solve® Quick-As-A-Wink Crosswords ($5.95) and Wide-Screen Crosswords ($8.95)

–Dale Maron’s Pentdoku Puzzles: Volume 1 ($12.95)

And that doesn’t even cover the many great by-mail and downloadable puzzle books and sets available this holiday season!

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Uptown Puzzle Club (puzzle bundles by mail) ($35 for 12 issues)

The Crosswords Club (puzzle bundles by mail, available in both regular and large print; $39.95 for 12 issues, $59.95 for large print)

David Steinberg’s Chromatics (color-themed puzzles)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($20 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Bassey Godwin’s Will Sudoku (PDF puzzle bundle, full review here!) ($10)

And naturally, PuzzleNation offers a terrific puzzle app for the discerning puzzle solver!

The Penny Dell Crossword App not only features bundles of terrific puzzle content, but it offers a free daily puzzle to all users! You can check out the full details on the PuzzleNation website!


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in our holiday gift guide!

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