The Best Puzzle Solvers on Television

[Image courtesy of Spoiler TV.]

A few weeks ago, we celebrated Halloween by compiling a list of the best puzzlers in horror movies. The goal was to highlight characters who stood out, the ones you’d want on your side, because they’re clever, decisive, and immensely capable.

But it’s not just horror movies that feature characters with these rare qualities. Television dramas and comedies both have their fair share of top-notch puzzlers, and today, we turn the spotlight on them.

True, I certainly could have listed more detectives/investigators/crime scene techs, but honestly, they’re often part of a big team of solvers. (The casts of CSI and Bones, for instance, are effective teams, but rarely does one particular puzzler shine brighter than the rest.)

These individuals (and the occasional duo), however, most definitely perform puzzly feats under pressure.


bestpuzbatman

Batman, Batman: The Animated Series

[Image courtesy of Polygon.]

Yeah, we’re getting an obvious one out of the way first. He’s not called the World’s Greatest Detective for nothing, after all. Although the ’60s Batman leapt wildly to conclusions that turned out to be right, we’d rather lean on the cunning cartoon version of the character from the ’90s FOX show.

This Batman outwitted the Riddler, foiled the Joker, and defeated Ra’s al Ghul, all while remaining age-appropriate for the kiddies. His comic-book counterpart might get to show off his puzzly detective skills more frequently, but when it comes to TV, it’s hard to ignore the Caped Crusader.

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Sherlock Holmes / Mycroft Holmes / Jim Moriarty, Sherlock

[Image courtesy of Tumblr.]

Again, this trio is too obvious to ignore. It’s hard to pick the sharpest knife out of this particular drawer. Moriarty proves himself to be Holmes’s equal throughout the show, though Sherlock does defeat him in the end. Similarly, Mycroft is often regarded as Sherlock’s equal (or perhaps superior) when it comes to sussing out evidence.

But we always return to the often imitated but never duplicated Great Detective when we think of someone who can put together tiny details and suddenly realize the stunning whole of the case. Call it deduction or just great jigsaw skills, Sherlock has it in spades.

(Oh, and an honorable mention here goes out to Dr. Gregory House, who was based on Holmes.)

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Angus MacGyver, MacGyver

[Image courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter.]

When you think of this iconic character, it’s likely that one of two things comes to mind: either his trusty Swiss army knife or his incredible knack for getting out of jams with jury-rigged, home-built, improvised equipment.

The man cobbled together a cannon from cigarette butts and built a functioning glider out of bamboo and trash bags. Any brain teaser, no matter how specious or obtuse, would fall before the mighty outside-the-box thinking of Mr. MacGyver.

Leslie Knope / Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

My first instinct was to mention Ron Swanson here, given his love of riddles and his impressive efforts to solve the Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt created for Ben in a famous episode. But one cannot honor a master puzzle solver and not give a fair shake to the woman who designed the devious scavenger hunt being solved.

Leslie Knope’s 25-clue puzzle hunt involved riddles, anagrams, a cryptex, and more, and not only did she amaze viewers, but she got Ron to admit his love of riddles to the world. They both merit mentioning in today’s list.

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The Doctor, Doctor Who

[Image courtesy of Vocal.]

When your life is spent traveling through time and space, experiencing events out of order, you’d have to be a pretty decent puzzler just to keep cause and effect straight, let alone to battle threats that endanger the whole of creation. And this alien with two hearts and a police box that travels through time is one heck of a puzzle solver.

He has outwitted Daleks, demigods, and the devil himself. He has defeated aliens that move every time you blink or look away, or that you forget about as soon as you lose sight of them. I assure you, no riddle or brain teaser stands a chance against someone who thinks in four dimensions.

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Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons

[Image courtesy of SketchOK.]

No, I haven’t mentioned too many actual puzzle solvers in this list — but just because people like puzzles, that doesn’t mean they’re the best solvers. Lisa, however, fits both sides of the equation.

We’ve seen her skills as a crossword whiz and her ability to crack a Da Vinci Code-esque mystery, all while navigating the perils of elementary school and a father whose choices often defy belief. Lisa is thoughtful, diligent, observant, and clever. She not only loves puzzles, but applies her puzzly mind to making the world around her a better place.

bestpuzwalt

Walter White / Gus Fring, Breaking Bad

[Image courtesy of Breaking Bad Wiki.]

From schoolgirls to drug kingpins we go. It’s hard to pick who is the better strategist between the devious Walter White and the tactical Gustavo Fring. Granted, White does defeat Fring in the end, but not before Gus outmaneuvers old rivals and new, drives a wedge between Walt and Jesse, and builds an entire empire under the noses of the local authorities.

Walt, like a sinister MacGyver, often rigs up surprising solutions to problems, but Gus is probably the superior puzzler, someone who can plan his game three moves ahead and make the best use of his resources.

bestpuzpenny

Penny and Brain, Inspector Gadget

[Image courtesy of Sassy Mama in LA.]

With the bumbling, insufferable bionic detective by your side, you almost have to be twice as good a puzzler to get anything done. And yet, the insightful Penny and her loyal canine companion Brain usually manage to foil the plans of Dr. Klaw despite the doltish antics of the show’s title character.

Penny is an able researcher, able to assess a situation and find the missing pieces with ease. Brain, on the other hand, is the one who puts Penny’s plans into action and adapting on the fly when things (inevitably) go awry. As puzzling duos go, they’re among the best around.

bestpuzmonk

[Image courtesy of Monk Wiki.]

Adrian Monk, Monk

A knack for observation will always serve a puzzler well. Maybe you notice a pattern, or something missing from a room that everyone else missed. Maybe you can draw connections faster than others. All of these qualities apply to Adrian Monk, the fearful obsessive investigator from USA’s Monk.

Monk is the ultimate logic problem solver, drawing out the tables in his head and neatly placing information in each box, then finally drawing his conclusion once he has enough detail. And he’s never wrong. A master of observation and deduction, Monk is a world-class puzzler (even if he probably doesn’t solve the daily crossword often for fear that the newspaper will smear ink on his hands).


Did I miss any world-class puzzlers from television? Let me know in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you!

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We’re Not the Only Ones With Puzzles on the Brain!

newsboy

[A photo from the early days of PuzzleNation Blog, as one of our intrepid puzzleboys spreads the word of PuzzleNation far and wide. Image courtesy of Toledo’s Attic.]

I would love to tell you that PuzzleNation Blog is the only game in town when it comes to outstanding puzzle content, but that’s not the truth.

Sure, I think we put out some of the best writing in the puzzle business, but there are other outlets that also pen some marvelous stuff. Deb Amlen’s Wordplay blog on The New York Times website, for instance, is a treasure trove of great material, featuring breakdowns of NYT puzzles, interviews with constructors, and more.

The New Yorker recently posted an intriguing one-two punch of puzzle content. The main article was a meditation on crosswords — their potential, what they mean to a fan, and more — while the accompanying video featured an interview with constructor Natan Last (conducted by crossword editor Liz Maynes-Aminzade) about political entries in puzzles.

What’s slightly more surprising is that another popular Internet outlet has also had puzzles on the brain:

The Onion.

theonionheader

Three times in the past month or so, the satirical news outlet has posted some hilarious puzzle-centric content. On June 20th, one of their headlines read “Exhilarated Woman Discovers Last Person Who Used Jigsaw Puzzle Left Lots Of Pieces Sticking Together.”

Two weeks earlier on June 6th, the article “Maze With Cheese In Center Enters Human Trials Following Decades Of Testing On Mice,” which feels all too apropos after our post last week about corn mazes.

But the cream of the crop was undoubtedly the article posted on May 28th, “Will Shortz Frustrated That Police Yet To Crack Taunting Puzzles Revealing Locations Of 40 Years Of Murder Victims.”

In a hysterically brief send-up of both the famously mild-mannered Shortz and classic criminal masterminds in general (like the one in the Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode that also featured Shortz, or the one from the Hallmark Crossword Mysteries earlier this year), the article paints the crossword editor as a murderous genius who feels unappreciated in his efforts to play a game of cat-and-mouse with the NYPD:

“I naturally assumed that, at some point during the last four decades, at least one detective would be smart enough to solve the case,” said Shortz, who also implied that the geographic coordinates of the victims could be determined by analyzing the sudoku puzzles in the Sunday edition.

It was one of the funniest pieces of the year for The Onion, and further proof of just how ubiquitous crosswords truly are these days.


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Come On Down! It’s Prime Time for Puns and Puzzles!

Yes, yes, it’s that time again. It’s hashtag game time!

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleTV, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with television shows, characters, catchphrases, actors, actresses, hosts, and more!

Examples include: I Love Loose Tile, Will Shortz & Grace, and Match Game of Thrones.

So, without further ado, check out what the puzzlers at PuzzleNation and Penny Dell Puzzles came up with!


Puzzle TV Shows!

The Good Places, Please

Mighty Morphin’ Flower Power

Leave It To Weaver Words

Spinwheel of Fortune / Wheels of Fortune

Father You Know the Odds Best

The Addams Family Ties / Modern Family Ties / Family Ties Matters / All in the Family Ties / All Fours in the Family / Railroad Family Ties

All in the Crypto-Family

Mama’s Crypto-Family

Crypto-Family Feud

Tales From The Crypt-o-grams / Tales from the Crypto-Verses / Tales from the Crypto-Family

Bewitched Way Words

Sabrina the Teenage Which Way Words

My Three of a Kind Sons

Starspell Trek

ALF-abet Soup

Alphabet Talk Soup

Charlie’s Try-Angles

My Two at a Time Dads

Perfect Fit Strangers

Brooklyn Nine-Nine of Diamonds

Take it from St. Elsewhere

The Odds and Evens Couple / You Know the Odds Couple

Guess Who’s the Boss / Who’s Calling the Boss?

Trade-Off Spaces

Home Runs Improvement

Rowan & Martin’s Fill-In

Dr. Fill-In

Doctor Guess Who

Doctor Who’s Calling?

Whose End of the Line is it Anyway?

Scoreboardwalk Empire

Scoremaster of None

Late Night with David Letterboxesman

Tosh.O and Turning

America’s Next Top to Bottom Model

Throwbacks Horseman

3rd Rock from the Sunrays

Everybody Loves Sunrays

It’s Always Sunrays in Philadelphia

Square Deal or No Deal

Spider’s Webster

The White Shadow

Kaku-Rizzoli and Loose T-Isles

Rocky and Bull’s Eye Spiral

Dancing with the Starspell

Nine(teen Kids) of Diamonds (and Counting), Add One, Plus Fours, Seven Up…

American Pickers-Upper

Give and Take Two

These Three’s Company

Trading Off Spaces

Sister, Sister: Double Trouble

Little Puzzler on the Prairie

Battleships Galactica

Smallville Change

Simon & Simon Says

Knight Ride-of-Way-r

The Price Is Right of Way

Happy Daisy

Daisy of Our Lives

Match-Upstairs, Downstairs

Match-Up Game

Say That Again to the Dress

Riddle Me This Is Us

One Day at a Rhyme Time

One Day at a Time Machine

First and Last Comic Standing

Three to One-der Years

Unsolved Mystery Movie (or Person or Melody or State)

Heads & Tails of the Class

McHale’s Na-V Words

Wizard Words of Waverly Place


Puzzle TV Miscellany!

“No Alphabet Soup for You!”

“Heeeeeeerrree…. (and There’s) Johnny!”

Benedict CumberBattleships

Sherlock Holmeruns

The Walking Dead Keep on Moving

Simon Says: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Home Reruns

In Living Colors

“I’ll Be (Here and) There for You”

“Those Were the Daisy”


And members of the PuzzleNation readership also got in on the fun!

On Twitter, the intrepid Screenhog contributed “Tales of the Cryptoquizzes.” Excellent stuff! Keep it coming, Screenhog!


Have you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzle TV entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

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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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Puzzly Romance Strikes Again!

For some reason, people simply do not associate puzzles with romance. And that’s ridiculous.

In this blog alone, we’ve documented several examples of puzzly romance, including several proposals delivered with the help of our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles.

Pop culture also has its fair share of romantic moments where puzzles play a huge part. The West Wing shared a moment of hilarious, quiet domesticity between the president and the first lady where a crossword was involved. Parks and Rec celebrated Valentine’s Day with a puzzle-filled scavenger hunt.

And last week Brooklyn Nine-Nine — already familiar to PuzzleNationers for their seesaw puzzle episode — added its own unforgettable moment of puzzly romance to the pile of evidence.

[Image courtesy of Indiewire.]

The episode in question, entitled “HalloVeen,” has the officers and detectives of the 99th Precinct engaging in their annual Halloween heist to determine who is the craftiest and most brilliant member of the squad.

As the players double-cross, triple-cross, and outmaneuver each other with increasingly ridiculous and circuitous plans to acquire this year’s MacGuffin — a championship belt in the style of pro wrestling — both the players and the viewers are surprised by one player’s long con…

Jake has used the heist to propose to his girlfriend, fellow detective Amy.

Although there’s a lot of clever plotting in this episode, that’s not the puzzly moment. That comes later, as the characters each share a story explaining when they planted the idea of proposing in Jake’s head.

Jake replies that none of them are correct. It turns out, it was a quiet moment at home with Amy that convinced him:

[Image courtesy of Heroes and Heartbreakers.]

It’s not dramatic or overscripted or full of fireworks. It’s an everyday moment with the woman he loves. It’s nerdy and funny and silly and idiosyncratic. It’s simple. It feels genuine.

All thanks to a typo in a crossword.

Ain’t love grand?


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Fix These Sixes!

[Image courtesy of Daily Brain Teaser.]

It’s a new year, and I’ve already got a new math puzzle for you. A friend discovered this one and sent it my way in the hopes that I’d be able to crack this diabolical brain teaser.

Fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, this is the Sixes puzzle.

0 0 0 = 6

1 1 1 = 6

2 2 2 = 6

3 3 3 = 6

4 4 4 = 6

5 5 5 = 6

6 6 6 = 6

7 7 7 = 6

8 8 8 = 6

9 9 9 = 6

The goal is to make all of the above equations true by adding mathematical symbols.

And, naturally, there are rules.

  • You can use as many mathematical symbols as you want for each equation
  • You are not allowed to use letters, so spelling out functions like “cos” is out
  • You are not allowed to add digits of any kind, so no turning a “2” into a “12”
  • The result has to be exactly 6 ( not 6.0000000000000001 or 5.999999999999999 )
  • Square roots are allowed
  • You are not allowed to change “=” to “≠” (not equal to) or manipulate the result in any way

Take a crack at it, then scroll down past the dice to see how it’s done.

Last warning before answers!

[Image courtesy of The Progzilla Files.]

Let’s start by knocking out the easiest one.

2 2 2 = 6 can be resolved as 2+2+2=6.

6 6 6 = 6 can be resolved as 6+6-6=6 or 6-6+6=6.

They get a little trickier from here, involving multiple operations.

3 3 3 = 6 can be resolved as 3×3-3=6, becoming 9-3=6.

Fractions also come into play for a few of these equations. (This can also be represented as division.)

5 5 5 = 6 can be resolved as 5+(5/5)=6, becoming 5+1=6.

7 7 7 = 6 can be resolved as 7-(7/7)=6, becoming 7-1=6.

[Image courtesy of TAF.org.]

Okay, we’re halfway there, and now the square root rule gives us a hint regarding how to resolve the 4 equation.

4 4 4 = 6 can be 4+4-(√4)=6, becoming 8-2=6.

And this formula gives us a way to crack the 8 equation.

8 8 8 = 6 can be resolved as 8-√(√(8+8))=6, becoming 8-√(√16)=6, becoming 8-(√4)=6, becoming 8-2=6.

Square roots also come into play in solving the 9 equation.

9 9 9 = 6 can be resolved as (9+9)/(√9)=6, becoming 18/3=6.

Now, admittedly, at this point, I was stumped. I had two equations left, and no ideas regarding how to proceed.

0 0 0 = 6

1 1 1 = 6

So, I reached out to a mathematician pal of mine — the same one who helped me crack the diabolical Seesaw Puzzle from Brooklyn Nine-Nine — and he immediately knew what to do: use an exclamation point.

In mathematics, an exclamation point represents a factorial, the product of every positive number between the given number and zero.

For instance, 6! represents 6x5x4x3x2x1, or 720.

1 1 1 = 6 can now be resolved as (1+1+1)!=6, becoming 3!=6, becoming 3x2x1=6.

But what about 0 0 0 = 6?

Factorials to the rescue again! You see, 0! equals 1. So we can use the 1 equation as a template for this one.

0 0 0 = 6 can be resolved as (0!+0!+0!)!=6, becoming (1+1+1)!=6, becoming 3!=6, becoming 3x2x1=6.

And there you have it, the Sixes puzzle conquered with nothing but crafty math and puzzly skills. An excellent start to a new year of brain teaser challenges!


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