Suggestions from the World of Puzzle Books!

Back in March, we did a round-up of all sorts of puzzle books for solvers looking to return to the simplicity of solving with pencil and paper. We focused on books loaded with puzzles for your enjoyment.

But that’s only a small sampling of the books available to puzzle fans. In addition to straight-forward puzzle books, you can find guides on how to make puzzles and games, books offering historical or social insight on the puzzle-game genre, and even fiction books that incorporate puzzles into the storytelling.

So today, we’re doing another puzzle-book round-up, but we’re expanding the scope a bit to cover some delightful puzzle-themed books you might’ve missed recently.


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If you’re relatively new to solving — or you’d like to introduce someone to the world of puzzles — then Puzzle Snacks by Eric Berlin is a terrific place to start.

Loaded with over 100 puzzles that run the gamut from fill-ins and clued puzzles to brain teasers and wordplay games, Puzzle Snacks fits solvers of any experience level, helping build up your puzzle skills while introducing you to dozens of variations on the puzzles you know.

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For the word seek/word search fans, we’ve previously recommended the word search puzzles of Shawn Marie Simmons, which are geared toward bookworms with themed lists based on literature.

Her latest offering is 25 Word Search Puzzles for MODERN Literature Lovers. With word lists tailored to different iconic authors and works of literature — ranging from the Lord of the Rings and Virginia Woolf to Roald Dahl and Margaret Atwood — you can revisit your favorite reads as you go searching each grid for a bevy of fun and familiar words.

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But maybe you’d like to mix some light puzzling with a touch of adventure-filled storytelling for either you or younger solvers. In that case, the recent Netflix revival of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? might have what you’re looking for.

A series of tie-in books for the show are now on the market, and the best of them is Clue by Clue by Catherine Hapka. Centered around the former thief’s efforts to do good and thwart her former allies, Clue by Clue sets Carmen and the ACME team on a treasure hunt for a prize that’s been missing for centuries.

What makes this book so noteworthy is the decoder wheel built into the cover itself! By rotating the wheel, you can decipher different coded messages throughout the book, cracking the case alongside Carmen and her allies.

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If you’re looking for a little more narrative heft with your puzzling, then the latest addition to The Maze of Games universe is probably up your alley.

Now that The Maze of Games has finally been solved after years of attentive puzzling, a new answer guide is available: The Keymaster’s Tome.

But this isn’t just the perfect walkthrough for the ultimate puzzle novel; this is an in-universe story in its own right, as the characters of Colleen and Samuel Quaice share their thoughts and reactions to the puzzles they encountered through The Maze of Games.

It’s a really fun and clever take on answer guides, and offers some nice character notes from the heroic and determined Quaice siblings.

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Our last offering turns to the world of board games, as the author shares both his own personal experiences with games and how different types of games create different play experiences.

Avidly Reads Board Games by Eric Thurm covers topics like the pluses and minuses of cooperative games, the emergence of legacy games, the infamy of Monopoly, and the curious subgenre of political games (both the intentionally nasty and those that history has judged poorly). Along the way, Thurm offers glimpses into various aspects of modern gaming.

More a series of short essays than one cohesive narrative, Avidly Reads Board Games is one man’s look at a world of games that is constantly evolving, yet remains tied to its earliest successes.

Can you think of any terrific puzzle books we missed? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Delving into the BosWords 2019 Crosswords!

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I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hand at the puzzles from the BosWords Crossword Tournament last month. Given the talent involved amongst the organizers and constructors, I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed.

So let’s put those puzzles under the microscope and see what’s what!


Leading Ladies by John Lieb

This unscored opening puzzle served as a fun and pleasant warm-up, getting everyone into the puzzly spirit and ready to solve. The theme entries were five films with female leads (like CLEOPATRA, FOXY BROWN, and CAT BALLOU), and the revealer TITLE NINE nicely tied the five films together through their nine-letter titles.

With good flow and an accessible theme, this is a great confidence booster and a solid puzzle to shake off any nerves going into the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included SAMOANS, ZOWIE, DEEP-SIXED, and LANDO, and my favorite clue was “Got to square 100 first in Chutes and Ladders, e.g.” for WON.

Puzzle 1: Central Intelligence by Claire Rimkus and Andrew Kingsley

As you might expect from the first puzzle in the tournament proper, this puzzle was a fairly easy start, combining an accessible theme with interesting fill. Each of the three-letter words at the center of the theme entries spelled out a different degree one could earn, a la VET reading out in LONG LIVE THE KING.

The circles for the three middle letters in each themed entry are almost unnecessary, as between the title and the themed entries themselves, you could suss out the theme without much trouble.

(But then again, I’m a sucker for circles in a crossword grid, so I liked having them there.)

One of the theme entries was more obscure than the other three, but this was still a breezy solve to get the tournament going.

Interesting grid entries included THE UK, OBERON, SOIREE, and MASHUP, and my favorite clues were “Hacker’s problem?” for COUGH and “You don’t want to be under it” for ARREST.

[Image courtesy of SharpBrains.com.]

Puzzle 2: Don’t Strain Yourself by Ross Trudeau

Normally, you’d expect the difficulty to ratchet upward a bit for puzzle 2, but this one was pretty much on par with the first puzzle. The revealer NO FILTER explained the link between the theme entries (things like EMAIL SPAM and INSTANT COFFEE), but overall, I was a little underwhelmed by this one.

That’s not to say the puzzle wasn’t otherwise well-constructed, because it was. The longer down entries linking the themed entries were executed with finesse, and other than one tough entry (ILLINI), the fill was fair and the cluing solid.

Interesting grid entries included DOOMSDAY, TO THE MAX, IOLANI, AL EAST, and DALLIANCES, and my favorite clue was “Turns into a screenplay, perhaps” for ADAPTS.

Puzzle 3: Plus or Minus by Joon Pahk and Laura Braunstein

The increase of difficulty I was expecting in puzzle 2 arrived with gusto in puzzle 3, as the solver must figure out how to either add or remove a number from the theme entries. With the subtraction clues, it was easier, because you had the number spelled out in the entry (like STONE AGE DOOR, where the -1 in the clue indicates that the word ONE should be removed, making the more familiar STAGE DOOR).

With the addition entries, you had to get a little more creative. For instance, the entry PAT PENDING becomes PATENT PENDING when you add the +10 from the clue. It’s a clever hook, and certainly not the last time we’ll be seeing some puzzly math in this puzzle set.

Interesting grid entries included SEA MONKEYS, SQUEAK, UMAMI, and SAYSO, and my favorite clue was “Something that won’t stay hot” for FAD.

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Puzzle 4: Spill the Tea by John Lieb and David Quarfoot

My favorite gimmick from the tournament puzzles appears in puzzle 4, which took me longer to figure out than it probably should have. In this puzzle, longer theme entries are shortened by having a brand of tea contained in the answer reading down instead of across. So, HOTEL CHAIN reads HOTELCN across, because CHAI is reading down from the C instead.

This sort of visual gag in a crossword is hard to pull off, but Lieb and Quarfoot do so nicely, having five “spills” in the grid. (Cluing each tea reading down as an “Oops” was a nice touch, as was the Boston Tea Party reference in the tagline at the top of the page.)

Interesting grid entries included AP CALC, WIN BIG, UNCLE SAM and X-ACTO KNIFE, and my favorite clue was “Charlatan exposer of film” for TOTO.

Puzzle 5: Get the Picture by Paolo Pasco

The regular tournament concluded with puzzle 5, and Pasco ably brought it home with this film-centric puzzle where the theme entries all ended with synonyms for part of a film (SHOT, SCENE, FOOTAGE, TAKE, and CLIP). The theme is quickly uncovered, but the puzzle is by no means a cakewalk, as solid, creative fill makes for a more challenging solve than you expect.

There’s very little crosswordese — the grid instead focused on unusual entries in a well-constructed grid. (Heck, if Pasco had included J and X, this puzzle would have been a pangram as well!)

Interesting grid entries included SATYRS, CYBER, KAPOW, ME DAY, and GUIDE DOG, and my favorite clue was “Write this answer as EER, say” for ERR.

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[Image courtesy of @StalkingSarah.]

Championship Themeless by Finn Vigeland

After two years of championship puzzles being shepherded by the ambitious grids of David Quarfoot, Finn Vigeland steps up to the plate with a very intimidating themeless grid loaded with lots of long entries. With 3 nine-letter words in each corner and 3 thirteen-letter entries stacked in the middle of the grid, this one would probably give any solver pause at the outset, let alone those solving on stage in front of an audience.

Those long entries were bolstered by a lot of terrific crossings that made use of the open grid, making for a mostly great solving experience, save one or two specious phrases (AREN’T I?, ick).

But the impressive ones far outweigh the occasional clunkers, and Vigeland’s first championship themeless for BosWords will most likely not be his last.

Interesting grid entries included PR FARM, FUTURAMA, I CAN’T EVEN, and ARMREST, and my favorite clue was “One of a breakfast trio” for SNAP.


Bonus puzzle: Do the Math by John Lieb

Although this wasn’t an official tournament puzzle, I have to mention it because this bonus grid was my favorite in the entire set. Treating common hyphenated phrases with numbers as if they were equations, the theme entries in this puzzle required a little outside-the-box thinking to come up with the correction solutions.

For instance, “Combo from Rocky Balboa” would normally be “ONE-TWO PUNCH,” but since we’re thinking mathematically, ONE minus TWO is NEGATIVE ONE, so our themed answer is actually NEGATIVE ONE PUNCH.

The revealer DIFFERENCE MAKERS was just the icing on the cake for a puzzle that took something in plain sight and turned it on its head in a clever way. It was the perfect conclusion to a day of enjoyable puzzling.

Interesting grid entries included ELIXIR, RELAXED FIT, YIKES, and K’NEX, and my favorite clues were “Pricey place for a fan” for SKYBOX and “Improvises musically” for VAMPS.


Overall, I was mostly impressed by the array of puzzles assembled for this year’s tournament. There were tricky themes, visual themes, and math themes, all of which made great use of both the cluing and the grids themselves. Yes, one or two puzzles didn’t connect with me as strongly as the others, but the entire gauntlet of puzzles were challenging and creative in their design without being off-putting or getting too esoteric.

BosWords is probably the tournament that is friendliest to new solvers in terms of puzzle difficulty — not nearly as challenging as those at Lollapuzzoola or The Indie 500, but increasingly just as experimental and inventive — while still remaining engaging.

It’s the right mix of challenge and creativity for solvers accustomed to NYT-style solving, and I think the constructors and organizers did one heck of a job putting together the tournament.

Can’t wait to see what they cook up for us next year.


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Daily POP Word Search Is Here!

Friends and fellow PuzzleNationers, it’s our pleasure and our privilege to introduce you to the newest puzzle app to join our family of world-class mobile puzzling experiences!

Yes, it’s here! The latest innovation in word seek-style solving, Daily POP Word Search is now available!

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Available for both iOS and Android users, Daily POP Word Search puts all the fun of word-hunting puzzles at your fingertips… literally! Just drag your finger along each hidden word to highlight it and cross it off your list!

That’s right, no need to tote around a magazine and a pen or pencil to solve your favorite puzzles! You can do it all right from your phone with Daily POP Word Search!

And just like Daily POP Crosswords, you can expect up-to-date themes, entries, and topics! You won’t be hunting down silent film stars, you’ll be looking for entries for the music, TV, film, literary, and pop culture properties you enjoy today!

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We’re talking about free themed daily word search puzzles right in your pocket every day! Each day has a different pop culture theme, running the gamut from music and movies to sports and history, so no matter what piques your interest, the app is guaranteed to have puzzles for you!

Yes, we did use the magic word. Daily POP Word Search is FREE to download and FREE to play!

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With our responsive word-looping, cutting edge themes, and all sorts of ways to keep track of your solving progress — including optional timed solves, calendars with delightful emojis for each day’s puzzle, and more! — word search solving has never been this fun or this interactive! And it’s ready for you to enjoy right now!

Your search for the next great puzzle app is over! You can’t go wrong with PuzzleNation, and Daily POP Word Search is our best yet!


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A Shift in Puzzly Perspective

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I’ve had 3-D puzzling on the brain for a few days now, after a conversation about video games with a well-informed friend of mine.

What do I mean when I say 3-D puzzling? Well, I don’t just mean a puzzle that exists in three dimensions. I mean a puzzle where the solving experience requires all three dimensions.

Think about your average maze or a jigsaw puzzle. Although they’re three-dimensional objects, the solving is two-dimensional. Yes, there are certainly variations on these themes, like maze cubes where you navigate a marble from one place to another, or 3-D jigsaw puzzles that allow you to reconstruct famous landmarks. But these still rely heavily on two-dimensional solving.

Compare that with the iconic puzzle video game Portal, for instance. Portal requires you to accomplish different tasks, and you can only do so with your portal gun, a device that allows you to connect two different locations on the map.

[Image courtesy of Game Informer.]

That requires a complete realignment of your perspective, because you can walk in a straight line through one portal and emerge above, below, or at a 90-degree angle from where you started. This isn’t two-dimensional thinking anymore.

Between 3-D printing techniques and the constantly evolving engines behind video game systems, we’re seeing more and more examples of three-dimensional thinking in puzzles, and I’m perpetually amazed by what creators and designers come up with.

Check out this video of gameplay from the new puzzle game Etherborn:

Your character navigates elaborate three-dimensional landscapes, and gravity is wholly dependent on how your character is oriented at the moment. So you need to be clever enough to use the landscape in order to move your character in very unorthodox ways.

It’s fascinating, a step beyond some of the puzzles seen in previous games like Portal and Fez. (In those games, gravity still only worked in one direction, whereas Etherborn breaks even that fundamental baseline.)

I think this sort of puzzling appeals to me so much because the change in perspective that comes from solving in an additional dimension completely rewrites the rules we thought we knew.

Imagine for a second that you’re inside a corn maze. Now think about the paper mazes you’ve solved. See the difference? In the first scenario, you’re beholden to the meager information you get from following each path, whereas in the second, you can plan a route from above because you have much more information. You can see dead ends and avoid them.

The three-dimensional scenario is far more challenging than the 2-D solving you’re doing with the paper maze.

ThinkFun managed a similar feat with Gravity Maze, a puzzle game that required you to move a marble from the starting cube to the ending cube. The main challenge was that you had to build the path with only the given materials, and then just drop the marble in. All the puzzling happened at the beginning, and then you became a bystander as the marble traversed the solution you built.

This isn’t just plotting a path like in a normal maze, it was understanding a chain of events you were setting in motion, like cause and effect. It’s like building a simple Rube Goldberg machine and watching it go.

But whether you’re manipulating portals, shifting perspectives, dropping marbles, or solving corn mazes, you’re pushing your puzzly skills into new dimensions. And that’s just the puzzles we have now. Imagine what comes next.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Invasion of the Cow Snatchers

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

Nobody does deduction and logic puzzle games quite like the folks at ThinkFun. We’ve wielded lasers, electrical circuits, robots, and even putty in order to conquer some of their most recent and diabolical puzzles. But they always have some new tricks up their sleeves, and their latest offering is positively magnetic.

So join us as we give the full PuzzleNation Blog review treatment to Invasion of the Cow Snatchers, a puzzle game all about bringing species together… with magnets.

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The challenge is deceptively simple: you’re an alien, and your job is to maneuver your UFO around the farm and pick up all of the cows, then finally the bull, before leaving the area.

Sounds easy, right? You’re a member of an advanced alien species, you can travel the galaxy. Picking up a few curious Earth creatures should be a cakewalk.

Well, obviously, the crew at ThinkFun already thought of that. And you’ll have plenty of obstacles to navigate and overcome before you can complete your task. Not only is there a silo you can never pass over, but there are barriers of varying heights that can impede your path.

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[Here, we’ve captured one cow, so we can pass over the green row of crops. In the second pic, we’ve captured our second cow. In the background, you can see the silo (which we can’t pass at all) and the white fence, which we can pass over with up to 2 cows.]

For instance, if you’ve already captured one cow, you can’t carry it over a barn wall, but you can carry it over the row of crops. (The walls allow between 0 and 3 cows to be carried over them, depending on their height.)

Note: Be aware that you need a completely flat surface for this game. The magnets are powerful, and they’re liable to shift and move when the UFO comes near. The bull is especially prone to this.

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Each Challenge Card requires you to navigate the grid in a specific way in order to capture all of the cows and be successful. After all, once a cow is captured, you can’t drop it. Demanding that the bull be collected last adds another wrinkle to the gameplay, since you cannot pass over the bull until all of the cows are collected, which requires creative thinking and good planning.

Honestly, I can’t think of another ThinkFun puzzle to date that requires this much movement or utilizes the full space of the board as effectively as Invasion of the Cow Snatchers.

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[Continuing the challenge card from above, we pass over the white fence, pick up our third cow, and pass over the hay bales, before rounding the corner, capturing the bull last, and making our escape.]

Finally, you have to escape the board, and there are no walls that allow you to pass with more than three captured cow tokens, so your escape route also has to be considered.

The Challenge Cards increase in difficulty as you work your way through the deck. Easy and Medium Challenges give way later to Hard and Super Hard puzzles that will have you wracking your brain to stealthily maneuver your UFO around the farm setting.

This is probably my favorite design I’ve seen from ThinkFun. The clever use of magnets, the plastic casing that separates the UFO from the rest of the board, and the impressive variety of challenges they’ve conjured with relatively few obstacles makes for a game with tons of replay value and puzzles that are always engaging, never frustrating. You KNOW there’s a path to victory. You just have to be cagey enough to find it.

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Oh, and remember how I said you can’t drop any of the cows? Well, you can if you accept the challenge of the twenty Genius level Challenge Cards that are also included. These cards utilize everything you’ve learned up to this point, but add crop circles where you can drop off cows (but not the bull) temporarily.

Why? Because it’s not just about capturing all of the cows, then the bull, then escaping. Now you must capture the cows in a very specific order. (Suddenly, the color coding of the cow tokens becomes more than a fun design choice. It becomes an integral part of the puzzle.)

This new gameplay option completely reinvents the concept. Before, it didn’t matter what in order you captured the cows, only that you got them all. It almost feels like you’re starting over from scratch, because the walls aren’t the primary obstacle anymore (though they can still offer some intriguing challenges to this new gameplay model).

The crop circles are another delightfully tongue-in-cheek addition to the already fun design of the game, playing nicely on the alien abduction gimmick.


All in all, I was thoroughly impressed by ThinkFun’s latest logic puzzle game. The concept is hilarious, the colorful and clever pieces make for fun reactive gameplay, and the puzzles are harder than you’d expect. Watching the cows fly up and snap! against the plastic as the UFO captures them never gets old!

It’s simple enough for the youngest puzzlers to get into, but there’s plenty here for parents and older puzzlers as well. (Some of the Genius level Challenge Cards really tax your brainpower!)

[Invasion of the Cow Snatchers is for ages 6 and up, available from ThinkFun and other participating retailers.]


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Detective Days in Connecticut All Throughout September!

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I have to say, Connecticut has been crushing it this year when it comes to hosting puzzly events to interest and engage solvers of all ages.

In addition to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament every year in Stamford, we’ve discussed the Find the Wine corn maze event happening this month in Gales Ferry. Heck, the world’s first animal-centric Live-Action Roleplaying event was held in Redding just a month or so ago, and Goat LARP was widely praised as a successful and exciting puzzle endeavor for all involved!

And CT isn’t done yet. No, four different cities in September will be offering full, puzzly murder mysteries to be solved!

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Yes, the team at CluedUpp, a British game company that specializes in outdoor city-spanning mysteries similar to the film Clue, will be running their latest event, Sneaky Finders, in Stamford and Bridgeport on September 14th and then in Hartford and New Haven on September 21st.

Participating teams will scramble around town, hunting down witnesses, unearthing clues, and trying to unravel the mystery, all through an interactive downloadable app and their own investigative efforts!

According to the event page for the Stamford edition of the game, you’ll need the following to play:

  • A team of detectives (at least 2 but up to 6 players per team)
  • Access to a Smartphone (Android or iOS)
  • A clever team name
  • Awesome Sneaky Finders / 1920’s inspired fancy dress (dressing up is optional but good fun!)

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You only need to purchase 1 ticket per team of 6 adults. Children under 16 can play as an extra for free. Team Tickets are normally $60, but if you act now, you can nab Earlybird Team Tickets for just $46!

And even if you don’t crack the mystery, prizes will be awarded in such categories as:

  • Fastest team
  • Best fancy dress (Sneaky Finders / 1920’s inspired)
  • Best team picture
  • Best team name
  • Best little detective (kids prize)
  • Best K-9 detective (dogs prize)

This sounds like an absolute blast, and I suspect the turnout for each event will be terrific. You can click here for details on all things CluedUpp, and their full schedule of upcoming events in the United States can be found here.

Will you be attending one of the four Sneaky Finders events, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!


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