Game Boy: A Puzzly Step Forward for Mobile Gaming

It’s no secret that we’ve got skin in the puzzle app game. The Penny Dell Crosswords App is our flagship project, and it’s part of a thriving puzzle app market.

But if you think back, mobile puzzle gaming really started decades ago with Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld video game console. It was a precursor to the smartphone app system we have today, even if the Game Boy didn’t exactly fit in your pocket.

And at a time when classic video game systems are being revived and re-released — the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo, and the Sega Genesis have all seen repackagings in the last year — could a Game Boy revival be far behind?

The crew at Gizmodo think so, and they made a list of 25 Game Boy games that belong on a revived system.

And as you might expect, there are several puzzle games suggested.

It makes sense, because many industry experts attribute some of the Game Boy’s success to the fact that every machine was packaged with a copy of Tetris, the addictive piece-moving game.

But that wasn’t the only puzzle game to make an impression on young gamers. Dr. Mario was all about pattern-matching in order to eradicate different colored viruses with stacks of similarly colored pills.

Either as a one-player challenge or in competition with another player, Dr. Mario taxed your ability to strategically use each pill provided, trying to eliminate as many viruses as possible.

And for a pure puzzle solving experience, there was Mario’s Picross.

This was a logic art puzzle where you had to use the lists of numbers along the top and side of the grid to deduce where to place black squares in order to reveal an image.

Although there was a timer attached to each puzzle, it wasn’t nearly as stressful a solving experience as Dr. Mario or Tetris, and it introduced an entirely new form of puzzle-solving to many young gamers.

Without the Game Boy and these puzzle games, it’s hard to imagine the success and growth of puzzle apps like the Penny Dell Crosswords App.


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Birds have a monopoly on Monopoly!

The folks at Monopoly are constantly trying new things in order to stay relevant in today’s ever-evolving game market.

When they celebrated Monopoly’s 80th anniversary in 2015, some of the games were sent out with real money instead of Monopoly money, which is a fantastic idea to promote the game.

In 2013, though, they tried something different, offering a more permanent change. They replaced the token of the iron with a token of a cat. Hazel the Cat. I was less enthused with this change.

But, hey, it’s just one token. No big loss. You’ve still got Scottie the dog, the thimble, the race car, the boot, the battleship, the wheelbarrow, and the top hat.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

Well, that’s no longer the case.

Back in January, Hasbro launched an Internet poll to determine a new lineup of tokens for editions of the game going forward. You could vote to keep the current lineup, or you could select nominees from a list of dozens of possible replacements.

Those potential replacements included a goldfish, a trumpet, a telephone, a monster truck, a life preserver, a beach ball, a set of cufflinks, a bulky old cellphone, a bunny slipper, and several emoji faces.

Hasbro announced the results of their poll, and several of the original tokens didn’t make the cut.

[Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.]

That’s right. Not only did Hazel the Cat stick around — ugh! — but the boot, the wheelbarrow, and the thimble are gone.

They’ve been replaced with a rubber duck, a penguin, and a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Now, let’s be fair. A T-rex token is awesome. I can get behind that. But a rubber duck and a penguin? Were all the voters really really into Batman Returns or something? (As they pointed out on Gizmodo, all of the winners are weird birds.)

Granted, I for one am grateful that none of the stupid emoji characters — like the crying-laughing face or the smooch face — made it into the game.

But to see the thimble go hurts. I conducted an informal poll among my fellow game fans and puzzlers, and the thimble and Scottie the dog were far and away the most popular.

Oh well. At least now there’s the option for a rule about a T-rex stomping someone’s house and causing property damage. That would be one heck of a Chance card.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Bogus Brain Health 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 brain health and puzzles.

The physicist Emerson Pugh once said that “if the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t.”

We’re still working hard to unravel the mysteries of how we learn, how we store information, and how puzzle-solving affects the brain in the short term and in the long term. There have been many MANY studies published touting all sorts of results, both positive and negative. And there have been numerous products of a puzzly nature that claim everything from improved memory to staving off Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other debilitating conditions.

As a puzzle guy, I wholeheartedly believe that puzzle-solving has its benefits, and I’m always on the lookout for any new data on the subject to share with you, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers.

As far back as 2013, I was digging through every brain health article I could find, trying to find something substantial about the role of puzzles in brain health. I was hoping for a solid yea or nay, but the scientific community inevitably served up a resounding “maybe?”

Heck, as recently as this past September, I mentioned the conflicting data out there regarding brain health and puzzle-based programs like those on the Lumosity website.

And a recent article on Gizmodo may have put the final nail in the coffin when it comes to all of these lofty brain-health promises.

Citing a paper from Psychological Science in the Public Interest, the article discusses a recent attempt to comb through the numerous previous studies and test them under more rigorous scientific conditions.

The end result? From the Gizmodo article:

“Based on our extensive review of the literature cited by brain-training companies in support of their claims, coupled with our review of related brain-training literatures that are not currently associated with a company or product, there does not yet appear to be sufficient evidence to justify the claim that brain training is an effective tool for enhancing real-world cognition,” conclude the authors in the study.

Not surprisingly, brain-training can improve performance on the particular task or puzzle that’s being trained for. But there was very little evidence to show that these brain-games extend beyond that. These programs simply don’t improve everyday cognitive performance.

While I doubt this will be the last we’ve heard of puzzles as the be-all end-all cure for brain health, it’s good to know that dedicated minds are hard at work exposing the snake oil amidst the real science.


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These brain teasers are the cat’s meow.

[Image courtesy of Psychlinks.ca.]

It’s difficult to write about the potential health benefits of puzzles. Believe me, I’ve tried.

But many scientific articles, research studies, and other professional analyses disagree on the short-term or long-term benefits that puzzles have on the brain. There’s a wealth of material out there on brain health and the impact of puzzles, but much of it is inconclusive.

I’ve always tried to be careful to discuss any scientific articles on brain health for that reason, especially after Lumosity’s two-million-dollar payout earlier this year for falsely advertising that their puzzle games could “reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with age and other serious health conditions,” as well as “stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease.”

That’s less of an issue, thankfully, when writing about other puzzle-solving creatures, though. In the past, we’ve seen crafty cockatoos, clever crows, outwitting octopuses, and deductive dogs. Apparently, we can also add cats to the list of fellow puzzlers!

[A mobile feeder toy. Image courtesy of Purina One.]

A recent article in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery reports that their findings indicate that a healthy dose of puzzle-solving at mealtime is beneficial to a kitty’s welfare.

According to the folks at Gizmodo, by utilizing food puzzles that require cats to roll a toy to release some food or manipulate a game board to reveal food, “these puzzles take advantage of the feline hunting instinct, fulfilling their ingrained desires. By ‘foraging’ for food in this way, cats are more physically active, they experience reduced levels of stress, and they become less demanding of their owners.”

Apparently, it’s all about engaging the cats, giving them something to work against in order to earn the food. The case studies cited by the report include behavioral issues and obesity that were overcome thanks to the use of food puzzles.

[A stationary puzzle feeder. Image courtesy of CatFoodDispensersReviews.com.]

I already knew that cats were skilled at treasure and scavenger hunts — based on the absolutely ludicrous places I would find the toys my sister’s cats left behind, often weeks after their visits — but I had no idea they belonged among the elite puzzle-solving animals we’ve previously chronicled here.

Makes sense, though. I solve puzzles for snacks sometimes. *shrugs* It’s a living.


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Rube Goldberg Overload!

A Rube Goldberg machine, for the uninitiated, is a device designed to accomplish a simple task in as many unnecessary, ludicrous steps as possible. The name comes, appropriately enough, from Rube Goldberg, a cartoonist and inventor most famous for his cartoons featuring singularly silly and elaborate machines like the one pictured below.

We’ve posted videos of Rube Goldberg machines in the past, because they’re a perfect example of a mechanical puzzle in action. Only when things happen in a precise order does the machine complete its task.

And they’ve been around long enough that we’re starting to see fun variations on the concept. Beyond simply accomplishing a task, many Rube Goldberg devices tell stories or center around a given theme. (We even featured one that was designed to take weeks to complete!)

And today, I’ve got four videos of Goldbergian goodness to share with you.

First off, another terrific entry from Purdue University. The school has really made a name for itself in the Rube Goldberg field over the last few years, and perhaps my favorite device of theirs is this record-setting machine charting the progression of human history:

From human history to racing history, we now turn our attention to this car part-themed device from the team at Arrow FiveYearsOut, complete with an unexpectedly zippy finale:

When it comes to devices with many moving parts in complex interactions, it’s hard to top watches with their myriad of miniature gears, wheels, and other intricate details.

So it should come as no surprise that Seiko has gotten into the Rube Goldberg spirit with their own timepiece-themed device, “The Art of Time.” Involving over 1,200 individual watch pieces, this might be the smallest, most elegant Rube Goldberg device I’ve ever seen:

And finally, we have my favorite of my recent discoveries. This video from YouTuber Kaplamino has been making the rounds on Facebook — uncredited, unfortunately — and it’s a marvel. It’s entitled “Magnets and Marbles,” but should really be called “Magnets and Marbles and Momentum and a Metric Buttload of Patience.”

Built on a tilted table, “Magnets and Marbles” is not a true Rube Goldberg device — there was never one complete uninterrupted run — but it remains a thoroughly impressive design.

According to the creator, “Each screen was recorded separately, and even like that, some of them only work 10% of the time. I can’t give you a number because I didn’t count the fails, but I think it’s over 100.”

Nonetheless, the clever use of magnets makes this one of the most dynamic and creative machines I’ve seen in quite a while:

Rube Goldberg devices are only growing more ambitious, audacious, and creative, and I cannot wait to see what people come up with next.


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A musical puzzle a thousand years in the making…

Most of the time, if I’m writing a blog post centered around a certain video, I explain the story of the video first, laying out all the necessary exposition so you as a reader will go into the video properly informed. Then I’ll share the video, share a few parting thoughts, and wrap things up.

I’m not going to do that today, though. Today, I’d like you to watch this video first and allow me to explain its significance afterward:

In all likelihood, that’s the first time you’ve heard this song. And there’s good reason for that. Until it was performed on April 23, it hadn’t been heard in a thousand years.

It has taken two decades of masterful puzzle solving, diligent research, and careful extrapolation to allow Sam Barrett of Cambridge University to reconstruct these melodies.

From the article on the University of Cambridge website:

The task of performing such ancient works today is not as simple as reading and playing the music in front of you. 1,000 years ago, music was written in a way that recorded melodic outlines, but not ‘notes’ as today’s musicians would recognise them; relying on aural traditions and the memory of musicians to keep them alive. Because these aural traditions died out in the 12th century, it has often been thought impossible to reconstruct ‘lost’ music from this era – precisely because the pitches are unknown.

Akin to decrypting an encoded poem, Barnett had to identify what are known as neumes (symbols representing a form of musical notation employed during the Middle Ages, specifically the 11th century), and then puzzle out how to translate those neumes into actual notes for musicians to perform.

The discovery of a missing manuscript leaf proved to be the key to unlocking what are now known as the Cambridge Songs:

“After rediscovering the leaf from the Cambridge Songs, what remained was the final leap into sound,” he said. “Neumes indicate melodic direction and details of vocal delivery without specifying every pitch and this poses a major problem.

“The traces of lost song repertoires survive, but not the aural memory that once supported them. We know the contours of the melodies and many details about how they were sung, but not the precise pitches that made up the tunes.”

This remarkable accomplishment marks the latest in a series of transformations the work has gone through since its creation in the sixth century as a poetic treatise on philosophy by Boethius.

His work was translated, then set to music, and then lost to the ages before being reconstructed and reimagined by Barnett and the three-piece group known as Sequentia, who perform a snippet of it in the video.

There have been times while I’ve been working on this that I have thought I’m in the 11th century, when the music has been so close it was almost touchable. And it’s those moments that make the last 20 years of work so worthwhile.

This is the sort of tenacity, creativity, and resolve I have come to expect from puzzle-minded people over the years, and it’s one more example of how seemingly nothing is beyond the reach of people willing to put in the time and effort to discover (and rediscover) what was once believed lost.

Amazing stuff.

[Although the information in this post came from the original article on the University of Cambridge website, I became aware of the story thanks to this article on Gizmodo.com.]


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