A Punny Costume Challenge Full of Tricks and Treats for Halloween!

Happy Halloween, puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

One of the best things about Halloween is guessing what people’s costumes are. Clever costumes can be great fun, and I’m a huge fan of costumes that only cost a few bucks to put together, because they really let your creativity shine through.

Punny costumes lend themselves to the low-budget costume genre brilliantly. So it’s only appropriate that we celebrate Halloween in the puzzliest way possible — by looking at some punny costumes!

It’s simple. I post a picture, and you guess what the costume is.

For example:

puncostume2021 ex

She’s the family breadwinner!

I’ve compiled ten costumes for you to figure out. Let’s see how many you can get!


PuzzleNation’s Punderful Halloween Costume Game!

#1

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#2

puncostume2021 02

#3

puncostume2021 03

#4

puncostume2021 04

#5

puncostume2021 05

#6

puncostume2021 06

#7

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#8

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#9

puncostume2021 09

#10

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[All photos will be accredited in our answer post next week!]


How many did you get? Have you seen any great punny costumes we missed? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you. And Happy Halloween!

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Puzzles and Games With a Sacred Touch?

In recent times, religion and the world of puzzles and games have crossed paths with sometimes surprising results.

The film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, a fairly puzzle-centric thriller, was widely denounced by members of the Catholic Church, and there was similar resistance, though less vocal, against the sequel film, Angels & Demons.

And, of course, in the 1980s, the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons was condemned as Satanic and dangerous to young minds.

I say that the above is strange because, for the most part, these seem to be anomalies or isolated incidents. There are numerous instances throughout history where puzzles and games were embraced by religion, even used as tools to teach aspects of religious beliefs.

For instance, in ancient Egypt, we’ve seen evidence of puzzly techniques used not just to secure the tomb of Tutankhamun, but also to disguise the language and rituals employed by elite members of their society. Puzzles were entrusted to keep their secrets well beyond the grave.

the seal on king tut's tomb

Plus one of the most ancient games in the historical record, Senet, seems to have evolved from being an enjoyable pastime into a spiritual tool.

You see, some Senet boards have religious iconography on them, believed to symbolize the journey into the afterlife. So gameplay — or the inclusion of the gameboard itself among the belongings of the deceased — represented that journey and the quest to learn more about it.

Some online articles have taken to referring to Senet as “the Rosicrucian board game of death,” which is a harsh misinterpretation.

There was also an afterlife connection with games for the Vikings.

According to Mark Hall, a curator at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, there have been 36 burials where board games of some description have been found in the graves around Northern Europe.

These grave sites grant intriguing insight into how the Vikings viewed board games as a learning tool. It’s believed that including a board game among the effects of the deceased signaled not only their skill and status as a warrior, but their preparedness for the afterlife itself. Heck, their win-loss records were even recorded for posterity!

Palindromes were believed to work as magical shields that protected those wearing the talismans bearing such clever wordplay.

Heck, even the shape of dice were influenced by changing religious views. Early dice games gave very little consideration to the shape or evenness of dice, because rolls were believed to be guided by Fate or some greater outside force, so the shape didn’t matter.

As religious beliefs evolved away from gods and greater forces intervening in such things, the general spirit of fairness in dice began to prevail, and the shape, balance, and pip distribution of dice became much more standardized.

And as for the Catholic Church, I certainly didn’t mean to make it look like I was picking on them in the introduction, because there are positive associations between the church and the world of puzzles and games as well.

And no, I’m not just talking about lighthearted products like BibleOpoly or the cottage industry of family-friendly games like Bible editions of Outburst, Scattergories, Apples to Apples, Scrabble, and Taboo.

Chess boards and other game boards have been found in houses formerly used by the Knights Templar, for instance.

There’s also the puzzly art of carmina figurata, poems wherein either the entire body of the poem or select parts form a shape or pattern. These works originated as religious tributes, poems where letters were colored red to stand out from the regular black lettering in order to draw attention to or highlight a certain religious figure.

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[“De laudibus sanctae Crucis” by Oliverus.
Image courtesy of WTF Art History.]

There would be hidden words or messages concealed in the text, some speaking of the religious icons at the center of the piece in glowing terms.

Do you have any favorite puzzles and games that have an element of religion to them, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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Tomorrow Is Free RPG Day!

Whenever I write about roleplaying games or Dungeons & Dragons in the blog — which isn’t all that often, given that it’s a niche activity, even in puzzle and gaming circles — I’m always encouraged by the fact that each post seems to inspire one or two people to reach out and ask for more details.

How does it work, exactly? How do you play a game with no game board? Does it have to be dungeons? Does it have to be dragons? How do I get started?

And there’s no better time to get started than right now, because tomorrow, October 16th, is Free RPG Day.

[Image courtesy of Lewis Brown.]

The concept behind Free RPG Day is simple. All over the world (but mostly in the United States), local game shops, hobby shops, and other outlets team up with RPG publishers to distribute new, fresh, and most importantly, free material for all sorts of different roleplaying games, systems, and settings.

Not only can you receive a wealth of new ideas and playing options in one fell swoop, but it serves as a terrific way to meet fellow roleplayers and build a community of game enthusiasts.

You can click this helpful link to find local spots near you that are participating in Free RPG Day, and I would highly recommend searching online for local game shops, game cafes, and even community centers like your local public library to see who is participating.

These shops will often be running demonstrations of games, tutorials on how to play, hosting raffles and contests, and offering terrific sale prices to encourage you to find the game that fits you best.

Every year, dozens of companies get involved, not only to encourage the growth of the game world, but to promote their own products. And what better way is there to get people hooked than with free exclusive materials begging them to try out this brand new world of play?

If you’re a Facebook or Twitter user, Free RPG Day has accounts on both platforms, and there are hashtags you can search to get more details on participating companies AND locations.

The world of roleplaying games is so much deeper than just the medieval hack-and-slash that is depicted on TV. Sure, there are swords to wield, monsters to fight, zombies to elude, but there are also gorgeous, peaceful games.

For instance, there’s Green Ronin Publishing’s Blue Rose AGE, set in a wild forest as full of spirits and beauty as it is potential danger. For Free RPG Day, they’re releasing a quickstart version of the game to give you a chance to sample its unique charm and play style.

The folks at 9th Level Games are publishing a collection of different indie RPGs, offering you a sampler of all sorts of play styles and settings all in one place.

[Image courtesy of GameZEnter.]

Other companies are offering sci-fi and steampunk and colorful animal adventurers, everything from Japanese anime-inspired adventure to Lovecraft-inspired World War II intrigue.

Here’s hoping you venture out this weekend and find something great. Roleplaying games offer a unique form of puzzling, gaming, and storytelling, and this could mark the start of something exciting and new. Roll the dice. Give it a shot.

And if you have any questions about roleplaying games in general or specific games and settings in particular, please let us know! We’d be happy to point you in the right direction.


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The Ultimate Jigsaw Puzzle Table?

puzzle tables

Whether you’re a jigsaw puzzle solver or a tabletop game enthusiast, you’ve probably seen puzzle and game tables. A relatively new addition to the furniture options available for puzzlers and game fans, these tables generally come in one of two forms.

Either they have a removable top with a recessed area underneath to keep your puzzles mid-solve or games mid-play, or they have a central solving surface and side drawers to contain separated pieces. Sometimes this solving surface tilts up / tilts toward you to make it easier to work on.

But those are generally what you’ll see when it comes to puzzle / gaming tables.

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[This table is available on Etsy.]

Each has its pluses and minuses. With the removable top version, you have to put the top somewhere, and then you have the deeper solving space, which some solvers find uncomfortable.

With the center table and drawers, you’re still dedicating most of a table to puzzles, and many of them struggle to keep your work in place when folded up or moved around. (Some of these have a removable tray, which can slide into the body of the table, but this can also be unwieldy.)

simone table 3

As they say in the infomercials, there’s gotta be a better way. And YouTuber/inventor/DIY guru Simone Giertz came up with her own solution.

Simone is known for her wacky, inventive, hilarious, and creative construction projects, many of which involve robotics or moving parts. So let’s see what she came up with.

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Her table features two hand cranks, each of which solves one of the problems with the removable top version of a puzzle/gaming table.

The first crank turns gears which roll the table top underneath and out of the way, revealing the hidden puzzle-solving space inside. This prevents you from having to worry about storing or handling a heavy or cumbersome tabletop while you solve.

simone table 2

The second crank raises the solving space until it’s flush with the sides of the table. This removes any need to lean down into a recessed play area or solving space to enjoy your puzzles and games. The puzzle literally comes to you!

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Plus, this solves some of the issues with other solving tables. There’s no removable tray to navigate, or sliding drawers or flaps that could cause what you’ve already built to shift or fall apart. It simply lowers into the body of the table itself, otherwise resting just as you left it.

simone table

This video shares the entire construction process, including missteps, problems, new solutions, and the eventual successful reveal. (Fair warning: the video is mostly safe for work, but there are two random f-bombs in it, so be aware.)

As you can see, the final product is absolutely beautiful, and unlike virtually every other puzzle or game table you see on the market today.

Pretty much every jigsaw solver I know — and a fair few board game players — would love a piece like this in their house, myself included.

simone table 5

What do you think, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Would you like to have this lovely table in your house? Or is there another piece of puzzly furniture that’s caught your eye? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Another Brain Teaser Submitted by Readers For Your Puzzly Pleasure!

[Image courtesy of SharpBrains.com.]

When’s the last time you had your brain properly tied in knots by a riddle?

That’s a pretty common occurrence around here, honestly. In our puzzly explorations of the world, we stumble across all manner of brain teasers, riddles, logic puzzles, math problems, mind ticklers, deduction games, and wordplay-fueled bits of linguistic legerdemain.

Sometimes, we even receive them directly from our fellow PuzzleNationers!

And on those occasions, we happily share them with you, dear reader, so that you can also enjoy the challenge of unraveling whatever fiendish puzzly conundrum has been placed before us.

This time around, a solver named Bethany submitted this riddle she found online. It’s known as the Peppermint Patty Riddle.

Let’s see how we do.


The Peppermint Patty Riddle

You’re facing your friend, Caryn, in a “candy-off,” which works as follows: There’s a pile of one hundred caramels and one peppermint patty. You and Caryn will go back and forth taking at least one and no more than five caramels from the candy pile in each turn. The person who removes the last caramel will also get the peppermint patty. And you love peppermint patties.

Suppose Caryn lets you decide who goes first. Who should you choose in order to make sure you win the peppermint patty?


Now that’s interesting, because it doesn’t ask us specifically HOW to achieve victory. But the question basically demands that you not only achieve victory, but figure out how to do so with your very first move.

Tricky indeed.

Will you be accepting this puzzly challenge from a fellow PuzzleNationer? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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The D’Agapeyeff Cipher, Unsolved for 80 Years!

[Image courtesy of Derek Bruff.org.]

One of my all-time favorite cryptography stories comes from the book The Spy That Couldn’t Spell, a true-life espionage story about a dyslexic man who hid, then encrypted the locations of, thousands of pages of sensitive documents he had stolen from the U.S government.

Why is it one of my favorite stories? Well, because the man in question FORGOT one of the cipher words he used to encrypt the location of his caches.

And it sort of unravels your master plan when you can’t remember a key element of it.

Amazingly enough, this isn’t the only example of a self-trained cryptographer who forgot how to solve his own creation. In fact, one example of this very dilemma remains one of the most famous unsolved codes and ciphers in the world:

The D’Agapeyeff Cipher.

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This is the D’Agapeyeff Cipher. This seemingly simple list of numbers contains a secret message. The only problem is… the creator, Alexander D’Agapeyeff, can’t remember how to decrypt it.

When he published a starter book on cryptography — Codes and Ciphers, first edition — D’Agapeyeff included this chain of 5-digit number bundles as a final challenge for the readers to unravel.

One of the first steps many aspiring cryptographers take is to break the numbers down into pairs instead of groups of five:

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One result of this is the pattern that every pair has 6, 7, 8, 9, or 0 in the tens column and 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 in the ones column, which doesn’t seem like a coincidence.

And see those sequences where the same number appears three times in a row? Some cryptographers believe that is also not a coincidence.

Then, they cut off the two double-zero pairings at the end — because they believe they were nulls, empty space-filling characters simply designed to fit the 5-letter groupings pattern of the original code as a way to throw off codecrackers. (And, to be fair, D’Agapeyeff himself wrote about null entries in the book Codes and Ciphers.)

If you remove those double-zero pairings, you can arrange the numbers into a 14×14 pairing grid, like so:

daga 3

See those sequences where the same number appears three times in a row? More of them now.

Many cryptographers consider this to be the true starting point of cracking the D’Agapeyeff Cipher.

But then what?

Some believe that the key to solving the grid lies in the Polybius Square, another encryption device mentioned by D’Agapeyeff.

Essentially, you place the alphabet into a 5×5 grid, and use those numbers to encrypt the letters. Here’s a straightforward example:

daga 4

In this case, the word PUZZLE would be 35 45 55 55 31 15.

Another way to use the cipher is to pick a keyword to start it. For instance, if you chose POLYBIUS as the key word, then you go across, then down, writing POLYBIUS and then the rest of the unused letters of the alphabet in order, like so:

daga 5

Instead of 1-5 both across and down, you could do 1-5 across the top and 6-0 across the side, reflecting the pairings in the D’Agapeyeff Cipher.

Or, as someone pointed out, perhaps we’re thinking in the wrong language. Triple-letters are uncommon in English words, but more common in Russian words, and D’Agapeyeff was Russian born.

Overlooking simple things like that can make you miss crucial ways into an encrypted message.

So, do you have any thoughts on how to solve this 80-year-old encrypted challenge, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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