Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Puzzly Delights!

Merry Christmas, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! (And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then Happy December 25th, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!)

I’m a sucker for a festive event, so I’ve got a puzzly double feature lined up for you today.

First, allow me to present a delightful video concocted by friend of the blog Hevesh5. Lily is a domino master who has created numerous domino chains and Rube Goldberg-style machines with elements that fit a given theme. So naturally, given the season, she’s devised a marvelous domino chain with all sorts of holiday elements. Enjoy!

And since we’re on a holiday kick, there’s an anagram challenge for you too!

What are the longest common words you can make from the letters in the following phrase?

M-E-R-R-Y C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S

No plurals or proper nouns are allowed, and you can only use the letters in the phrase. (Meaning, for instance, you can use 3 Rs, but not 4, since there are only 3 in the phrase.)

We came up with one 10-letter word, four 9-letter words, twelve 8-letter words, and thirty 7-letter words.

Let’s see how you do!

Have a marvelous holiday (or day), and happy puzzling to you!


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An Ancient Andean Jigsaw Puzzle?

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

One of the best things about writing this blog is getting to talk about all of the amazing ways that people with puzzly skills have contributed to society. We’ve talked about codebreakers who saved Christmas and hunted Nazis, puzzlers who decoded ancient messages, and solvers who unraveled some of the mysteries of lost civilizations, all with the clever and insightful application of puzzle skills.

I’m surprised we haven’t talked about archaeologists more frequently, because they’re basically detectives of history who try to reassemble the past jigsaw-style.

Recently, researchers from UC Berkeley put their puzzly skills to the test to solve a 1,500-year-old mystery: what the pre-Incan Tiwanaku temple known as Pumapunku actually looked like.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

You see, the temple has been raided, pillaged, and ransacked over the centuries, leaving archaeologists with very little information on what the temple actually looked like, or how the many giant blocks that originally composed the temple were assembled.

But, with a combination of computer modeling, 3-D printed pieces, and their own puzzly knowhow and dedication, they have cobbled together a rudimentary idea of what the Pumapunku temple looked like.

From an article on the project:

The team created miniature 3D-printed models, at 4 percent actual size, of the temple’s 140 known pieces, which were based on measurements compiled by archaeologists over the past 150 years and Vranich’s own on-site observations of the ruins. The researchers used comparative analyses and interpolation to reconstruct broken pieces… Yes, the researchers could have performed this work exclusively in the virtual realm, but they had better luck with tangible, physical pieces they could freely move around.

Yes, not only were they using the pieces they knew about, but they were reassembling decayed or broken pieces as well in order to assemble the temple.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

And the project continues!

Vranich’s team gave a copy of the 3D-printed blocks to the Pumapunku ruins site director and taught the staff how to record the stones and model them. Vranich hopes that more blocks will be uncovered at the site, and further reconstructions of the temple complex will continue.

“The blocks will also be made available online,” said Vranich. “My hope is that other people will print them out and through the wisdom of crowds, we can find additional matches and continue to reconstruct the form of [another Tiwanaku] building known as ‘the temple of the Andes.’”

With these techniques and the lessons learned by the Pumapunku build, the team is hoping to not only recreate this ancient Andean temple, but other destroyed historical sites as well, including those in the Middle East destroyed by ISIS.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

It’s an amazing investigative and deductive feat, made possible with puzzly skills.


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Storytelling and Puzzles Unite in Wordventures! Available now!

There’s nothing more exciting than announcing a brand-new puzzle app we’ve been working on, and today, we’ve got something truly special for you to enjoy.

Our newest app, Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate is now available for download!

A town’s children have gone missing. A mysterious undead pirate and his ragtag crew lurk nearby. And the only person who can unravel the mystery and find the children is you!

In Wordventures, you can immerse yourself in a investigation while solving word search puzzles to uncover clues, reveal secrets, and move the story forward!

Combining the world-class puzzle solving you expect from PuzzleNation with a multilayered storytelling experience offers the best of both worlds. You’ll explore the town, meet fascinating characters, and even keep notes in a journal as you play through the story!

You control the pace, you control the difficulty, and you push the narrative forward with every puzzle you solve!

Solve a mystery like never before with Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate! Click here to learn more about the app and download it now!


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Zendo Expansion

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. And this concludes the disclaimer.]

Expansion sets have become an integral part of the gaming experience. Whether they offer new wrinkles to an established game, allow you to add additional players, or create new ways to use the same game pieces, they revitalize games that might’ve become less fun or interesting after lots of play.

It’s difficult to strike a balance with expansion sets, since they must respect the game that came before and add to it in a meaningful way, but without introducing any game-breaking mechanics or otherwise compromising what made the original game fun in the first place.

The designers at Looney Labs are absolute pros when it comes to balancing their expansion packs. Each one enhances the gameplay without sacrificing any of the original game’s clarity or cohesiveness.

In the past, we’ve looked at Looney Labs expansions like Fluxx Dice (which add further mayhem to an already chaotic game of Fluxx), the Just Coffee and Better with Bacon expansions for Just Desserts (which add new dishes and characters to deepen gameplay options), and the Bridge Expansion for Star Trek Fluxx and Star Trek: The Next Generation Fluxx (which allow you to combine both games into one).

Today, we’re looking at an expansion pack for one of the company’s most immersive and challenging puzzle games: Zendo.

In Zendo, the players pull pieces from a communal pile in order to build different structures, using pyramids, wedges, and blocks. One player, the moderator, chooses a secret rule for the players to uncover, and builds two structures. One of these structures follows the secret rule, and one does not, and both are marked as such.

Secret rules can be as simple as “must contain all three shapes” or “must contain exactly four pieces.” They can be as complex as “must contain more blue pieces than blocks” or “must contain at least one yellow piece pointing at a blue piece.” Some rules involve how pieces touch, or how they’re stacked, while others demand no touching or stacking whatsoever. The field is wide open at the start of the game.

Players then try to deduce the secret rule by building structures themselves, arranging pieces from the communal pile into various patterns and asking the moderator for more information.

So, how does the Zendo Expansion affect the original?

[The gray areas of the card are variable options to choose from, meaning each card offers several different possible rules depending on the moderator’s choices.]

The Zendo Expansion is a ten-card deck of new secret rule cards that allow the moderator to create more complex and challenging structures for the other players to unravel.

But these ten cards offer much more than just the rules themselves. They encourage both the moderator and the players to be more creative, considering not just the shapes and how they interact, but the overall look of the structure.

One of the cards requires players to shape the structure’s shadow into a given shape. Moving beyond the pieces themselves and incorporating the light and shadow of the play area is a clever and unexpected way to use the Zendo pieces.

It immediately sends your brain in new directions, both as a player trying to deduce other secret rules in later game sessions and as a moderator looking for new ways to prove or disprove players’ theories with your own builds.

Not only does the Expansion deck add all sorts of new twists on the original game, but it makes you want to be more ambitious and clever in your guesses and structures the more you play.

With new rule cards ranging from easy to difficult, players of all skill levels will benefit from adding this set of cards to their puzzle game arsenal.

Zendo and the Zendo Expansion are available from Looney Labs, and both are featured in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!


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A Rubik’s Cube is Brought to Life in this Short Film!

In the world of puzzles, there are certain images that are unmistakable, no matter what language you speak. A few concepts that are universally familiar and instantly recognizable.

A Scrabble tile. The black and white pattern of a crossword grid.

A small, multicolored cube.

The Rubik’s Cube is iconic, and it feels like part of the fabric of puzzles at this point. We’ve seen people set new records in speed-solving them, computers designed to solve them, and foods crafted to look like them. There have been Rubik’s Cube Halloween costumes, marriage proposals, and art installations. People are even designing and 3-D printing their own Rubik’s-inspired creations.

But no one has ever brought the Rubik’s Cube to life quite like Bastiaan Schravendeel and the team at Polder Animation.

In the short animated film Scrambled, we’re introduced to two unforgettable characters on a train platform: a girl named Esra and a nameless Rubik’s cube.

When Esra misses her train and busies herself with her phone while waiting for the next one, the perceptive little Rubik’s Cube makes its presence known.

This short is reminiscent of a Miyazaki film — a world with hidden surprises — as well as the charming interactions of Pixar films like Wall-E, and it will no doubt be the best six minutes of your day:

I could talk about all the messages and subtext underpinning this wonderful little story: analog play vs. digital, the value of feeling a well-earned sense of accomplishment, the magic of puzzles. You no doubt detected the same themes while you watched the short.

But instead, I’d rather give a shout-out to the wonderful animators who brought this world to life. Esra is instantly relatable, shutting out the world for a bit while waiting for her train, and the hilarious, puppy-like antics of the Rubik’s Cube are immensely engaging. You can’t help but root for the little guy, even if solving him seems to bring an end to his interactions with Esra.

It’s amazing how quickly you forge a bond with the Rubik’s Cube, and the animators deserve high praise for making a puzzle that inspires wonder and frustration in equal measure into one so endearing.

In an interview with Short of the Week, Schravendeel said:

The biggest challenge was to create a genuinely believable, likable and relatable character from a Rubik’s cube without making it about anything other than it being a Rubik’s cube. I’ve always liked films that manage to evoke emotion and personality from objects that usually don’t have any, especially if it can be done without dialogue.

Dialogue would have ruined the simplicity and wonder of Esra and the Cube’s interactions, and the mix of wordless communication and physical comedy made for a wonderful viewing experience.

Scrambled is a delight. I hope you enjoy.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Mary Engelbreit Loonacy

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. And this concludes the disclaimer.]

If you’re looking for frenetic, quick-play card games, they don’t come much quicker or more chaotic than Loonacy.

In Loonacy, players compete to dump all of the cards in their hand by dropping them one-at-a-time into various piles. They do so by matching one of two symbols on their card with the symbol atop the discard piles. For instance, if you’ve got a card with an owl and a queen on it, you can drop that card onto a pile with an owl on top or a queen on top.

But since every player in the game is doing the same thing at the same time — there’s no taking turns here — it’s a race to drop a matching card from your hand before any of the other players can drop a card from theirs.

Looney Labs has published two previous editions of the game — Loonacy and Retro Loonacy — but neither is as eye-catching, as lovely, as charming, or as unexpected as the latest edition, Mary Engelbreit Loonacy.

Unlike the cartoony character-centric images of the original or the nostalgia-fueled artsy icons of the retro version, Mary Engelbreit Loonacy brings a peaceful, almost folksy sense of style and humor to the game.

The imagery is gorgeous and heartwarming, depicting uplifting images that would fit in with any kitchen or living room. Words of wisdom like “She who laughs, lasts” and “Sooner or later, we all quote our mothers” mix with scenes of familial bliss, childhood innocence, or simple pleasures.

In a game that’s all about observation, decision making, instantaneous pattern matching, and rapid reflexes, juxtaposing that sort of anxiety-inducing gameplay with these peaceful, fun images is a stroke of genius, one that forces you to pause, even for just a moment, in order to simply enjoy Engelbreit’s delightful art.

Mary Engelbreit Loonacy bridges the gap between the kid-oriented silly imagery of the original and the adult-oriented artsy feel of the sequel, making the best of both in one family-friendly package.

Mary Engelbreit Loonacy is available from Looney Labs and other participating retailers.

It’s also featured in our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, alongside all sorts of terrific puzzly gift ideas, including other Looney Labs products like Zendo, Get the MacGuffin, Star Trek Fluxx, and more!


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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!