The Best of All Possible Puzzle/Game Worlds?

[A sampling of the wide variety of modern puzzles and games. Fluxx cards, Bananagrams tiles, a wooden puzzle box, Pairs cards, David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register, Timeline cards, last month’s edition of The Crosswords Club, Puzzometry pieces, Cards Against Humanity cards, multi-sided roleplaying dice.]

This is the most exciting time in history to be a puzzler or board game enthusiast.

Think about it. If you want to play a game or solve a puzzle, you don’t have to go any farther than your pocket, since a plethora of puzzly goodness awaits you on your smartphone.

Puzzle apps are our bread and butter here at PuzzleNation, so this might feel like a cheap plug, but honestly, it boggles my mind how much more accessible puzzles and games are now than they were even five years ago.

And the app revolution is only one part of the story.

I was reading a book the other day, as I am wont to do on the long train rides to and from PuzzleNation HQ. Titled The Revenge of Analog, it was all about the cultural response to digital media, highlighting the resurgence of vinyl records, film, and other tangible alternatives to electronic formats.

In the chapter “The Revenge of Board Games,” the author discussed the social aspect of tabletop gaming, and how sitting down with people and playing a game is a far different, more rewarding experience than online gaming and other social media-based interactions. (A fine point to consider, what with International TableTop Day a little more than a week away.)

While I do think that’s partially true, I also think that downplays the ingenuity of the puzzle/game community. I think we’re the best of both worlds.

I mentioned in my Tak review last week that puzzles are being created today that could not have been five or ten or twenty years ago. The advent of 3-D printing and laser cutters for homes and small businesses has brought design, construction, and promotion literally to the doorstep of entrepreneurial puzzlers.

Just last week I received a new edition of Puzzometry in the mail, a perk for supporting a team for a school robotics competition. This laser-cut plastic jigsaw will keep me guessing for hours (if its puzzly siblings are anything to go by), and it was designed and manufactured by a single individual.

Old and new styles are meshing as never before. Many puzzle constructors are partially or fully supporting themselves via email puzzle subscriptions and direct sales to the customer. Events like the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games are organized and advertised mostly online.

Crowdfunding has leveled the playing field for many companies and designers in both puzzles and games, allowing more products than ever before to enter the market. (According to Kickstarter, tabletop game projects raised $52 million dollars in 2013, and that number has surely gone up in the meantime.)

You’ve got a proper board game renaissance as classic games and styles of play are meshing with new technology, and games from across the world are shared on YouTube, at Friendly Local Game Shops, or even in puzzle cafes like Toronto’s Snakes and Lattes or New York City’s The Uncommons.

Whether you’re a pen-and-paper solver or a Penny Dell Crossword App devotee, a fan of classics like Chutes and Ladders or a proud tabletopper experimenting with the newest games, this is an amazing time to be a puzzler or board gamer.

So keep playing. Keep puzzling. And share that with others.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: 2016 Countdown edition!

It’s the final Follow-Up Friday of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2016 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


#10 Doomsday Prep

One of the big surprises for me this year was discovering that crosswords and puzzle books were hot-ticket items for doomsday preppers. The idea that crosswords belong next to necessities like food, water, shelter, and knowledge was a revealing one, something that gave me great hope for the future, whether we need those caches or not.

#9 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

#8 A Puzzly Proposal

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles once again pulled off a heck of a puzzly coup when an intrepid fellow puzzler asked them for help proposing to his girlfriend with a special Simon Says puzzle.

I reached out to the lucky fiancé and got his permission to share the story with the PuzzleNation readership, and as I learned more about who was involved and how they’d managed to make it happen, I enjoyed the story more and more. Here’s hoping for many happy puzzly years ahead for the young couple!

#7 Puzzle Fort

For International Puzzle Day, I built a fort out of puzzle books.

It was awesome. Definitely one of my favorite puzzly moments of the year.

#6 The End of Sudoku?

The Sudoku boom may be over, but Sudoku remains one of the most popular puzzles in the world, and I got to thinking… when would we run out? I mean, eventually, statistically speaking, every single Sudoku puzzle permutation would get used at some point, so when would that happen?

So, I crunched the numbers, and it turns out, we’ve got centuries before that happens. Still, it was a fun mental puzzle to unravel.

#5 Murder Mystery

At some point this year, I let slip to my fellow puzzlers that I’d written and staged murder mystery dinners in the past, but it had been a while since I’d done anything like that. Naturally, they volunteered to be participants, urging me to stage something in the office.

Eventually, I accepted their challenge, pitting myself against a half-dozen or so of my fellow puzzlers, allowing some of them to investigate while others played a part in the mystery. It was an enormous undertaking and an absolute blast that lasted three days, and it was definitely a highlight of the year for me.

#4 Puzzle Plagiarism

There was probably no bigger story in crosswords all year than the accusations of plagiarism leveled against Timothy Parker. The editor of puzzles for USA Today and Universal UClick. After numerous examples of very suspicious repetitions between grids were discovered in a crossword database compiled by programmer Saul Pwanson and constructor Ben Tausig, Parker “temporarily stepped back from any editorial role” with their puzzles.

Eventually, Parker was removed from any editorial influence on USA Today’s puzzles, but it remains unknown if he’s still serving in a puzzle-related capacity for Universal Uclick. But the real story here was about integrity in puzzles, as many puzzle and game companies rallied to defend their rights as creators. That’s a cause we can all get behind.

#3 Interviewing the PuzzleNation Team

Our recurring interview feature 5 Questions returned this year, but what made it truly special to me was being able to turn the spotlight on some of my fellow puzzlers here at PuzzleNation as part of celebrating 4 years of PuzzleNation Blog. Introducing readers to our programmer Mike, our Director of Digital Games Fred, and yes, even myself, was a really fun way to celebrate this milestone.

#2 ACPT, CT FIG, and Other Puzzly Events

There are few things better than spending time with fellow puzzlers and gamers, and we got to do a lot of that this year. Whether it was supporting local creators at the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games or cheering on my fellow puzzlers at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, getting out and talking shop with other creators is invigorating and encouraging. It really helps solidify the spirit of community that comes with being puzzly.

#1 Penny Dell Sudoku and Android Expansion

Those were our two biggest app releases this year, and I just couldn’t choose one over the other. This has been a terrific year for us as puzzle creators, because not only did we beef up our library of Android-available puzzle sets to match our terrific iOS library, but we launched our new Penny Dell Sudoku app across both platforms, broadening the scope of what sort of puzzle apps you can expect from PuzzleNation.

It may sound self-serving or schlocky to talk about our flagship products as #1 in the countdown, but it’s something that we’re all extremely proud of, something that we’re constantly working to improve, because we want to make our apps the absolute best they can be for the PuzzleNation audience. That’s what you deserve.

Thanks for spending 2016 with us, through puzzle scandals and proposals, through forts and festivities, through doomsday prepping and daily delights. We’ll see you in 2017.


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PuzzleNation Looks Back at 2016!

The year is quickly coming to a close, and as I look back on an eventful year in the world of puzzles and games, I’m unbelievably proud of the contributions both PuzzleNation Blog and PuzzleNation made to the puzzle community as a whole.

Over the last year, we explored board games and card games, strategy games and trivia games, dice games and tile games, do-it-yourself puzzlers and pen-and-paper classics. We met designers, constructors, authors, artists who work in LEGOs and dominos, and creative types of all kinds.

We unraveled math puzzles and used statistics to play Hangman and Guess Who smarter. We accepted the challenge of diabolical puzzles, optical illusions, Internet memes, and more.

We delved into puzzle history with posts about Bletchley Park, puzzle graffiti from ancient Greece, Viking board games, and modern mysteries like the Kryptos Sculpture and the Voynich Manuscript. We separated fact from fiction when it comes to puzzles and brain health, avoiding highfalutin promises and sticking to solid science.

We spread the word about numerous worthwhile Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, watching as the puzzle/game renaissance continued to amaze and surprise us with innovative new ways to play and solve. We shared amazing projects and worthy causes like Humble Bundles and puzzle/game donation programs for schools that allowed puzzle lovers to help others.

We celebrated International TableTop Day, built a puzzle fort in honor of International Puzzle Day, attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games, and dove deep into puzzle events like the Indie 500, the UK Sudoku Championship, the 2016 UK Puzzle Championship, and Lollapuzzoola. We even celebrated a puzzly wedding proposal, and we were happy to share so many remarkable puzzly landmark moments with you.

It’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to explore the world of puzzles and games with you, my fellow puzzle lovers and PuzzleNationers. We marked four years of PuzzleNation Blog this year, I’m approaching my 650th blog post, and I’m more excited to write for you now than I was when I started.

And honestly, that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune, hard work, and accomplishments in 2016 went well beyond that.

In April, we launched Penny Dell Crosswords Jumbo 3 for iOS users, and in May, we followed that with Penny Dell Crosswords Jumbo for Android. In November, we launched our new Penny Dell Sudoku app on both Android and iOS.

But the standout showpiece of our puzzle app library remains the Penny Dell Crossword App. Every month, we release puzzle sets like our Dell Collection sets or the themed Deluxe sets for both Android and iOS users, and I’m proud to say that every single puzzle represents our high standards of quality puzzle content for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

We even revamped our ongoing Crossword Clue Challenge to feature a clue from each day’s Free Daily Puzzle in the Crossword app, all to ensure that more puzzle lovers than ever have access to the best mobile crossword app on the market today.

And your response has been fantastic! The blog is closing in on 2000 followers, and with our audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms continuing to grow, the enthusiasm of the PuzzleNation readership is both humbling and very encouraging.

2016 was our most ambitious, most exciting, and most creatively fulfilling year to date, and the coming year promises to be even brighter.

Thank you for your support, your interest, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. Have a marvelous New Year. We’ll see you in 2017!


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Kickstarter Roundup edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of crowdfunding.

First, let’s talk about Herbaceous. Ed and the Herbaceous team were hoping for $6500 to make the game a reality, and they absolutely crushed that goal!

The final total was a staggering $59,032! Congrats to everyone involved, and kudos to all the PuzzleNationers that contributed!

And in the spirit of such marvelous Kickstarter success, let’s take a look at four very different projects that might appeal to puzzle fans and game enthusiasts!

I missed my chance to try out Originz: The Superpowered Card Game at the CT FIG event earlier this year — though you can try it out at the CT FIG mid-year event this weekend in Newington, CT! — but I definitely like what I’ve seen from their Kickstarter campaign.

In this deck-building game, you try to equip your villain or hero with the best mix of powers imaginable to keep your foes at bay! This accessible game is richly illustrated and detailed, a sure-fire hit with any fans of superheroics in your household.

If you’re looking for a more traditional style of puzzling, there are only a few days left to get in on the ground floor of LightBox, a Rubik’s-style light-up puzzle box.

By rotating and rearranging the layers of plastic that form the cube, you will illuminate different layers and create different patterns of light! Whether you’re solving to create a particular pattern or to shut the LightBox off entirely, you’re sure to work your brain into knots with this curious puzzle box.

And speaking of short deadlines, there are only a few days left to contribute to Word Domination, an intriguing mix of Scrabble-style spelling and a strategy card game.

The concept is devilishly simple: by spelling words, you acquire artifacts to help you in your criminal escapades. The mix of tactical spelling — sometimes, shorter words have more value than longer words — with the roguish qualities of an evildoer allow for all sorts of gameplay possibilities.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen these two puzzle-game formats combined like this before, and the result could be something great.

Our fourth and final project today has the most potential, simply because of its design. It’s the PinBox 3000, and it’s a foundation for designing, decorating, and constructing your very own pinball game.

Merging DIY possibilities with a classic form of game play seems like a no-brainer, and I can’t believe we haven’t seen something like this on the market before. This is the perfect community builder, and I can foresee forums and Pinterest pages popping up all over, as fans and creators share their unique designs. What an awesome palette to work with!

Hopefully one or more of these projects piques your interest, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! I wish all of these creators the best of luck in shepherding their brainchildren toward success!


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Slideways

One of the most popular forms of puzzle gaming involves placing four game pieces in a row on a board. Four-in-a-row games like Connect Four are rooted in the tactical simplicity of Tic-Tac-Toe or three-in-a-row solving, but take it a step further.

We’ve explored several four-in-a-row puzzle games before. ThinkFun’s All Queens Chess added a wrinkle by employing the rules of chess in four-in-a-row solving. Quarto used pieces of varying heights, colors, and shapes to create a more complex game play experience.

And now, Tricia McLaughlin and R&R Games bring us another evolutionary step in four-in-a-row puzzle gaming: Slideways.

At first glance, Slideways offers a simple 4×4 play area, where the blue squares can be rotated to reveal a gold or red square claimed by the player in a given turn. Each play claims one square per turn.

In this picture, two squares each have been claimed by the players. But Slideways allows the player to manipulate the play area itself by sliding a row one square in either direction, adding another dimension to the game.

So now players can claim blue squares or shift the rows to give themselves the best opportunity to not only get four in a row, but to thwart an opponent’s efforts to do the same. (Be careful, though, as the sliding feature can be a little clunky.)

But that’s not all. Slideways has one more trick up its sleeve.

Players also have the option of changing claimed squares to their own color! In this case, one player rotated a gold-claimed square into a red-claimed square.

And honestly, this is the feature that really separates Slideways from other four-in-a-row games, because it requires the player to constantly assess and reassess the game every single turn. You can’t take it for granted that a claimed square will stay claimed, or that the three squares you already have lined up will stay lined up.

There is one exception to this rule: you cannot reverse a square a player has just claimed. You have to wait a round before doing so.

So the red square claimed in the top row this turn cannot be immediately turned into a gold one. The other player has to wait until the next round, so instead, the other player changes one of the red squares in the third row into a gold one.

All of these possible moves — claiming a square, shifting a row, or taking an opponent’s square — make Slideways the most complex and controllable four-in-a-row puzzle game I’ve ever seen, and it can make for a fun and nerve-wracking playing experience, especially against a skilled opponent.

Plus games move so quickly (usually lasting less than 10 minutes) that you’re sure to play multiple rounds without giving up a huge chunk of your day. My opponent and I played 11 or 12 games in about half an hour, and each one felt new and different because of the many play options available to us.

(Plus there’s a three-player variation that starts with some squares flipped to red, others flipped to gold, and the third player uses blue as their color.)

Simple to learn, but tough to master, Slideways is a marvelous addition to the four-in-a-row puzzle game field, one that ensures you’ll take no move and no turn for granted. Portable and self-contained, this one is a treat.

[I discovered Slideways at the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games. You can pick it up on the R&R Games website for $11.99.]


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Subway Time Travel edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of puzzly events!

I’m a huge fan of events where puzzly-minded people get together and create something new. Whether it’s a festival of indie games or a Rube Goldberg machine about Passover, a prom-themed puzzle tournament or a crossword contest about a crossword contest, anything is possible when folks with a mind for puzzle fun collaborate.

The team at Improv Everywhere know this better than most, as they’ve put together some terrific live experiences to entertain unsuspecting strangers.

In the past, they’ve staged a repeating time loop at a coffee shop, recreated the opening of Star Wars on a subway, and (my personal favorite) made a cabbie the hero of a reunion right out of a romantic comedy.

This time around, they faked time travel with four sets of twins. Check it out!

You can explore the full details of the prank/performance here, as well as many other “missions” from their past, but sufficed to say, it took a fair amount of puzzly skills and improvisational style to pull this off!

I wonder what delightful trickery they’ll attempt next.


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