PuzzleNation 2020 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2020 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

We’re excited to be bringing you our biggest gift guide ever! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down into categories for ease of searching. We have puzzle books, subscription/downloadable puzzles, puzzles by mail, jigsaw puzzles, brain teasers, puzzle games, board games, card games, dice games, escape room games, party/group games, and miscellaneous puzzle swag.

We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


This year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide is sponsored by Daily POP Crosswords!

Daily POP Crosswords offers a different themed puzzle every single day, spanning everything from TV and film to sports and music!

Available for both Android and iOS users, you get terrific content from some of the world’s top constructors! And the download is free!


Puzzle Books

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

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Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like their Logic Problems Spectacular 3-Pack ($16.95), the Crossword Extravaganza collection ($7.99), or a value pack of Jumble puzzles ($13.95)! Maybe you’d like the ease of printing puzzles at home with Print N’ Solve Seasonal Crosswords ($2.99). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. They’ve got bundles and discounts for days!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–Paolo Pasco’s Crossword Puzzles For Kids ($9.99)

–Eric Berlin’s Puzzlesnacks: More Than 100 Bite-Size Puzzles for Every Solver ($7.79)

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($9.99)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Octopus Crosswords ($6.95)

–Matt Gaffney’s Fast & Fun Mini Crosswords ($7.95)

–Andrew Ries’s Maverick Crosswords ($9.99)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($7.67)

–Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords ($9.95)

USA Today’s Crossword Super Challenge 2 ($9.99)

–Cynthia Morris’s CynAcrostics Volume 6: Imagine That! and American Acrostics Volume 8: Puzzling American Authors ($9.95 each)

USA Today’s Sudoku Super Challenge 2 ($9.99)

–Andy Kravis’s Challenge Accepted!: 100 Word Searches ($6.56)

–Shawn Marie Simmons’s 25 Word Search Puzzles for Classic Literature Lovers and 25 Word Search Puzzles for MODERN Literature Lovers ($6.99 each) [available in a large print bundle as well ($12.99)]

USA Today’s Logic Super Challenge 2 ($9.99)

–Oliver Roeder’s The Riddler: Fantastic Puzzles from FiveThirtyEight ($14.49)

–Andrews McMeel Publishing’s Take Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for Peace, Take Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for Clarity, Take Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for Tranquility, and Take Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for Balance [featuring crosswords and other puzzles] ($8.99 each)

USA Today’s Jumbo Puzzle Book Super Challenge 2 ($12.99)

The Keymaster’s Bundle by Mike Selinker, Gaby Weidling, and Eric Harshbarger

The Maze of Games is one of the most diabolical puzzle books ever conceived. It allows the protagonists AND the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of different puzzles in the hopes of conquering each of the labyrinths within the book.

And The Keymaster’s Bundle combines The Maze of GamesThe Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, the Maze of Games Map, and the Keymaster’s Tome all in one place, along with some bonus digital downloads like the audiobook version of The Theseus Guide and The Gatekeeper’s Variety Hour radio show! It’s the entire Maze of Games experience! ($99.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze of Games!]

Puzzlecraft: How to Make Every Kind of Puzzle by Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder

Updated seven years after the original version hit shelves, the new and improved Puzzlecraft is a self-contained masterclass in puzzle creation. Covering everything from crosswords and Sudoku to logic puzzles and brain teasers, this is the perfect launchpad for any and all aspiring puzzlers and constructors! ($14.95 in PDF, $29.95 in PDF and softcover)

Plus there’s a new Puzzlecraft companion notebook to assist you in all your constructing endeavors! ($4.95 in PDF, $9.95 in PDF and softcover)


Email Subscription/Downloadable Puzzles

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between email subscriptions and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($22 for 1 year)

The Inkubator, edited by Laura Braunstein and Tracy Bennett (crossword puzzles constructed exclusively by women, twice a month, $25 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest (starts at $3 per month on Patreon)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($31 for 1 year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Freestyle themeless crosswords ($15 per year), and Aries Rows Garden ($30 per year) [available as a bundle together for $40]

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year) OR get both for $30!

–Will Nediger’s Bewilderingly weekly themed and themeless crosswords ($25 for 1 year)

–Paolo Pasco’s Expansion Pack crossword suite (pay what you want for the base set, $10 for the XL version)

–Eric Berlin’s Puzzlesnacks puzzles ($3 per month) and Puzzlesnacks Plus bundle ($7.99)

Crossword LA 2018 puzzle pack ($5)

–Bryant Park 2018 tournament puzzle pack ($5) and 2016/2017 bundle ($10)

Boswords 2020 Fall Puzzle Packet ($10) and previous puzzle packets ($5 each)

Topple puzzle magazine ($1 per issue)

–Lone Shark Games’ Puzzle Vault PDF collections, including Marching Bands, Rows Garden, Crosswords, Cryptics, and more ($7.77 – $14.95)

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Also, there are some wonderful puzzle bundles available in exchange for donations to worthy causes!

Grids for Good, a 42-puzzle bundle supporting coronavirus relief and groups fighting systemic racism

Queer Qrosswords 2, a 32-crossword bundle supporting LGBTQ+ charities and organizations

–Enrique Henestroza Anguiano’s Mexican Midis, a 5-puzzle bundle supporting COVID relief


Puzzles by Mail

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The Crosswords Club

A monthly publication with six Sunday-sized crosswords, The Crosswords Club utilizes some of the sharpest crossword constructors in the business today, and the puzzles are all edited by top constructor Patti Varol. Each bundle is as fun as it is challenging, plus each monthly bundle has an extra word game printed right on the envelope! ($40.95 for 12 issues)

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Wish You Were Here (The Enigma Emporium)

Imagine an entire mystery hidden across a handful of postcards. That’s the multilayered puzzle experience offered by Wish You Were Here, where a series of coded messages awaits you. Unravel all the secrets and discover an exciting tale of danger and spycraft along the way! ($15)

[And if you enjoy Wish You Were Here, there are all sorts of additional puzzle bundles to try out!]

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Cryptogram Puzzle Post (Jack Fallows)

A combination of different puzzles and encrypted messages interwoven together with bits of narrative, each edition of the Cryptogram Puzzle Post is a standalone story steeped in mystery and supernatural elements. But solve them all together, and a grand universe of storytelling unfolds. Sold in seasonal bundles and annual subscriptions, this episodic puzzly adventure is quite unique. (£5 for digital downloads, £20 for seasonal bundles)


Jigsaw Puzzles

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Enigma (The Enigmatist)

A jigsaw puzzle that’s more than meets the eye, Enigma combines traditional jigsaw puzzle solving with hidden codes and a crash course in the history of encryption. Based on David Kwong’s hit interactive puzzle show The Enigmatist, this puzzle teaches you while you solve ($39)

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Puzzometry

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available in seven different styles — Puzzometry ($18.50), Puzzometry Jr. ($14), Puzzometry Squares ($18.50), Puzzometry Hex ($18.50), Puzzometry Steps ($18.50), Puzzometry Six ($18.50), and Puzzometry Jr. 2 ($14) — you’ve got distinct challenges appropriate for all different ages!

[Check out the full review of the original Puzzometry by clicking here!]

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Cathedral Door (Project Genius)

Straddling the line between brain teaser and jigsaw puzzle, Cathedral Door challenges solvers to reassemble this beautiful door by placing all of the pieces of wooden adornment into the stained glass pattern. But the mix of peculiar shapes and colored clues create a more difficult solve than you might expect! ($14.99)

[Check out our review of Cathedral Door here!]

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Geode Puzzle (Uncommon Goods)

Forget looking for the edge pieces, because these nature-based puzzles take jigsaws beyond the usual patterning. Geode Puzzle‘s flowing, unusual shapes and vibrant colors create a unique solving experience. ($65)

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Gearjits Roller Coaster (Gearjits)

Bring your puzzle skills to life as you assemble a working roller coaster from these wooden pieces. Assembling handcranks and gears to operate the machine along with the structure of the roller coaster itself makes this 3-D puzzle more exciting and satisfying than the average 3-D puzzle. ($40.95)

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Wooden Fractal Tray Puzzles (Martin Raynsford)

Laser-cut precision and patterns built on fractal designs make these wooden tray puzzles as maddening as they are beautiful. The pieces fall so seamlessly into place that they practically vanish… that is, if you can puzzle out how to place them all into the tray. ($35.99)


Brain Teasers

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Sword in Stone (Project Genius)

Just twist and turn the sword until it slips from the stone. Sounds simple, right? When you’re talking about one of the brain teasers from the Constantin Puzzle series, what appears simple quickly becomes a proper puzzly challenge. ($15.99)

[Check out our review of Sword in Stone here!]

 

Tavern Puzzles / Tucker-Jones House Inc.

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to remove twice as many pieces in a Collaborative Effort or free the triangle from Tridiculous, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($26.50 each)

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Pocket Brainteasers (ThinkFun)

How good is your spatial awareness? You’re about to find out with this quartet of puzzlers, each its own obstacle for you to overcome. Can you reposition the four pieces into a smaller space in 4-T Puzzle or the wi-fi bars of Rec-Tangle into a new arrangement? Can you separate the 4-Piece Jigsaw, or combine the four chairs into The Fifth Chair? These bite-sized brain teasers will certainly keep you guessing. ($6.99 each)

[Click here to check out our review of all four Pocket Brainteasers!]

Lightbox (Eric Clough)

A puzzle box unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Lightbox creates different patterns of shadow and light as you shift and arrange the various plastic plates that make up the box. As you twist and reset them, different electrical connections are made, and different plates light up. As gorgeous as it is challenging, Lightbox is a very eye-catching puzzle that always wows new solvers. ($85)

[Check out our full review of Lightbox by clicking here!]

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Grecian Computer (Project Genius)

Can you crack this wooden brain teaser? That’s the question posed by Grecian Computer, a twisty puzzle where the correct solution requires all twelve columns to add up to 42 at the same time. Ready your puzzle skills and your math know-how for this one, or it’ll leave twisted and all turned around! ($14.99)

[Check out our review of Grecian Computer here!]


Puzzle Games

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Mystic Market (ThinkFun)

It’s a tough market out there, even for a skilled potion master. So you’ll have to be a wiz or a whiz at buying and selling magical ingredients at the right time to take advantage of the Mystic Market. This bright and cerebral game will require you to react to both your opponents’ actions and the ever-shifting demands of the game moment-by-moment in order to achieve victory. Can you find the winning recipe? ($19.99)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Zendo (Looney Labs)

Puzzle games are all about the rules, but what if you don’t know the rules? That’s where Zendo comes in. In this puzzle game, you arrange Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and then see if those designs conform to a mysterious rule. A game of deduction and trial-and-error, Zendo is a very different solving experience. ($40)

Plus there are two expansion packs available for Zendo, each offering additional rules and varying in difficulty! ($5 each)

[Check out our full review for Zendo here!]

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Lexicon-GO! (Winning Moves UK)

Are you a word-forming pro? Take your speed-solving skills and try them out with Lexicon-GO!, a Scrabble-style tile game suitable for solvers of all ages. And those very distinctive letter tiles are available in more ways than ever! You can enjoy Lexicon-GO! in its classic form, in Harry Potter style, or in famous Jumble style! ($14.95 in classic form)

[Click here for our full review of Lexicon-GO!]

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Minecraft Magnetic Travel Puzzle (ThinkFun)

Minecraft Magnetic Travel Puzzle pits the player against devious deduction puzzles with elements of the Minecraft universe included. Can you arrange three swords, pickaxes, and pieces of armor — all different colors — on the 3×3 crafting table to fit each challenge card? It’s Sudoku plus Minecraft in this travel-friendly puzzler! ($14.99)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

Pinbox 3000 (Cardboard Teck Instantute)

How about the chance to build your own game? Is that puzzle enough for you? Pinbox 3000 provides all the pieces you’ll need, plus valuable advice for brainstorming and creating your very own pinball game. It’s endlessly customizable, so you can make your Pinbox pinball game as simple or as complex as you like! ($49.95)


Board Games

Some of the puzzliest games on the market today are being made by top-flight board game companies, and we’ve got some marvelous games that will appeal to puzzlers of all ages!

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Martian Chess (Looney Labs)

Easy to learn but hard to master, Martian Chess reimagines a game we all know, and transforms it into one that challenges you in unexpected ways, like getting rid of checkmates and players losing control of pieces if you cross into your opponent’s territory! Can you outmaneuver your opponent and rack up enough captured pieces to win? Try chess from another world with Martian Chess! ($20)

[Check out our full review of Martian Chess here!]

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Catch the Moon (Bombyx Games)

Balance games like Jenga are all well and good, but none of them elicit the same mix of charm and tension as Catch the Moon. In this game, players take turns adding ladders to a ramshackle structure according to the roll of a die. But be careful! If you cause any ladders to fall, you’ll make the moon cry! This beautiful game is fun, elegant, and stressful all at once, and has quickly become a favorite. ($14.95)

The Island of Doctor Lucky (Cheapass Games/Greater Than Games)

People have been trying to kill Doctor Lucky for over twenty years, and this time around, you’re visiting his exotic island estate to try your murderous luck against the titular Doctor! The Island of Doctor Lucky offers a new gameboard to explore, new movement mechanics, and a very distracting cat. This is the best addition to the series yet! ($10)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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Castellan (Steve Jackson Games)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

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Chicken War (ThinkFun)

To win Chicken War, you’ll need to be more observant and more devious than the other players to either complete your army or be the last player standing. And it all hinges on your ability to observe your opponents’ moves while hiding your own. It’s deduction meets strategy in the barnyard! ($20.77)

[Read our full review of Chicken War here!]

The Abandons (Puzzling Pixel Games)

Can you escape a dangerous labyrinth that changes every time you explore it? The Abandons pits the solver against a random deck, where luck, quick decision making, and puzzly skill all must be on your side if you ever want to see daylight again.  ($15)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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Bunny Kingdom (IELLO)

There are plenty of board games where you control resources, build cities, and achieve glory. But how many of them let you do that while being BUNNIES? In Bunny Kingdom, a game combining drafting and area control mechanics, each player builds a fiefdom and tries to outmaneuver their fellow players in managing territory, materials, and trade. The most cunning bunny wins with the most points wins and captures the title “Big Ears!” ($39.45)

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

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Homeworlds (Looney Labs)

Let’s take to the stars in this complex space game where survival is the name of the game! In Homeworlds, each player is the leader of a galactic empire, and you must protect your homeworld while striking out against your opponent’s fleet. This marvelously intricate game offers a huge amount of gameplay in a tiny package and feels like epic space opera the whole time! ($20)

[Review coming soon!]

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Walk-By Scrabble BoardTile Securing Travel Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including Tile Securing Travel Scrabble for those who want to solve on the go ($39.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($249.95), but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Tak: A Beautiful Game (Cheapass Games/Greater Than Games)

Many new games build off of classic mechanics, but very few new games truly feel like they could have been played centuries ago. Tak definitely fits that mold, using simple wooden pieces to create a game that feels both fresh and ancient all at once. Inspired by the eponymous game in Patrick Rothfuss’s KingKiller Chronicles series, Tak is a wonderful two-player game that quickly grows addictive. ($30)

[Click here for our full review of Tak!]

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Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Try not to meet any other dragons or fly off the board! It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($30)

Chessplus

The first thing you learn in chess is how the pieces move. But what if that could change? What if you could make new pieces that move in unexpected ways? How would that change the game? With Chessplus, you’ll find out, as you mix and match chess pieces in order to capture your opponent’s king. The possibilities really are endless! ($44.95)

[Click here for our full review of Chessplus!]

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Qwirkle (MindWare)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train DominoesQwirkle is a tile-placing game where you try to maximize your points while minimizing the help you give to your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($14.99)

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Cheapass Games in Black and White (Cheapass Games/Greater Than Games)

Yes, we’ve got a book in the Board Game section. Allow us to explain.

The library of Cheapass Games is expansive, but even diehard fans don’t have the majority of the company’s original game library. Unless, that is, they own Cheapass Games in Black and White, a hardcover compendium of every game from the black-and-white era. Featuring the rulebooks for famous titles like Button Men and Kill Doctor Lucky, alongside more obscure entries like Escape from Elba, this is a terrific resource for any game fan. ($50)


Card Games

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Top Trumps Pub Quiz (Winning Moves UK)

Bar trivia has come home with Top Trumps Pub Quiz, a sharply packaged game of question-fueled competition. Each team opens their drawer on the carrying case and removes five cards, each with a different topic. Will your team triumph or will the other team’s trivia smarts win the day? ($14.95)

[Check out our full review here!]

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Star Trek: Voyager Fluxx (Looney Labs)

The chaos and ever-changing rules of Fluxx venture farther than ever before as they tackle the crew of far-flung Federation starship Voyager. Work with Janeway and her team to outwit the Kazon, the Borg, time travelers, and more, all in a card game that boldly goes where only a few other versions of Fluxx have gone before! ($20)

And if Star Trek isn’t your style, maybe you’d enjoy Astronomy Fluxx, Spongebob Fluxx, or any of the other marvelous variations on this classic quick-changing card game!

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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Codenames (Czech Games)

It’s a race against time to locate all of your spies before your opponents. But in order to do so, you need to communicate information with a single word. Codenames will put your word association skills to work as you try to find secret agents disguised with code words, while avoiding innocent citizens and dangerous assassins along the way! ($19.95)

[Read our full review of Codenames here!]

Deluxe Pairs (Hip Pocket Games/Greater Than Games)

Building on the legacy already established by the bar-friendly series of Pairs decks available, Deluxe Pairs offers a new artistic spin on the classic Pairs “Fruit Deck,” as well as a companion booklet with rules for numerous Pairs variants you can play with the deck! This isn’t just one card game, it’s dozens! ($5)

[Click here for our full review of Deluxe Pairs!]

Spaceteam (Timber and Bolt)

Can you repair your ship and get the engines up and running before a black hole ends your space adventure forever? That’s the name of the game in Spaceteam, a cooperative, communication-based game where you have to accomplish various tasks with your fellow players while sharing tools. It’s delightful chaos, heightened by the five-minute hourglass timer counting down your dwindling seconds before disaster strikes! A definite favorite around here. ($26.95)

Unspeakable Words (Playroom Entertainment)

Some word games might drive you mad, but only Unspeakable Words actually makes keeping your sanity part of the gameplay! As you spell different words, you have to make a die roll to see if spelling the word cost you a bit of your sanity. If you lose too much of it, you’ll start uttering unspeakable words, which can be worth more points… if your sanity can take it! A fun twist on Scrabble and other word-forming games. ($26.94)

Constellations (Xtronaut Enterprises)

Sometimes, we can move heaven and earth! Constellations is all about collecting stars and building famous constellations, then placing them in the night sky! The more effective your constellation-building, the higher your score! ($30)

[Check out our full review of Constellations here!]

Scrimish (Nexci)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

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Timeline (Zygomatic Games)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before or after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99)

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The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($12.79)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]


Dice Games

Knot Dice and Knot Dice Squared (Black Oak Games)

Can you twist, turn, and spin these dice to complete beautiful, elaborate patterns inspired by Celtic knots? That’s the name of the game with Knot Dice, a dice game as challenging as it is gorgeous. With single-player and multi-player puzzles included, you’ll be tying yourself in knots for days! ($34.99, available in green or blue)

And you can add new wrinkles and patterns to your solving with Knot Dice Squared, an expansion set with 26 additional dice, new rules, and more! ($44.99)

[Click here to check out our full review of both games!]

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Bananagrams Duel (Bananagrams)

Bananagrams specializes in crossword-inspired fun for groups, but what if you’re looking for a head-to-head challenge? Well then, Bananagrams Duel might be what you’re looking for. Utilizing letter cubes instead of tiles, you’ll have to build a grid of related words fitting a given theme before your opponent can! It’s a new twist on an old classic! ($8.99)

[Click here for our full review!]

Sagrada (Floodgate Games)

One of the most beautiful strategy games on the market today, Sagrada is a singularly peaceful gaming experience. Compete with other players to build the most beautiful stained glass window, but with dice instead of glass! Unique and challenging, Sagrada is something else. ($39.95)

Tenzi

All of us have rolled dice in games before, but can you roll what you need as fast as possible? That’s the challenge of Tenzi, a game that pits up to four players against each other in tests of speed and dexterity. Can you roll ten 6’s before everyone else? ($14.95)


Escape Room Games

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Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse (ThinkFun)

Can you construct and then escape one of the most fully realized home escape room games on the market today? The Cursed Dollhouse is a diabolical and immersive puzzly experience, encompassing five rooms and a host of different puzzles to unravel in the hopes of escaping a horrible fate! ($42.99)

[Check out our spoiler-free review here!]

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Exit: The Game: Dead Man on the Orient Express (Kosmos)

Exit: The Game products create an escape room experience by combining a deck of cards, a guidebook, a sliding decoder ring, an interactive phone app, and miscellaneous items to be used throughout the game. What sets Dead Man on the Orient Express above and beyond is that there’s a mystery to solve in the background, even as you tackle all the delightful escape room-style puzzles! ($10.59)

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Unlock!: Squeek and Sausage (Asmodee)

Unlock! games consist of entirely of a deck of cards and your app. The cards provide locations, challenges, helpful items, solutions, and warnings, all identified with numbered or lettered cards in the deck. And while there are numerous Unlock! escape games to try — covering everything from haunted houses to desert islands — we recommend the mad scientist-fueled Squeek and Sausage, which is enjoyably silly and still a satisfying challenge! ($11.99)


Party/Group Games

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Cracker Games: The Imp Box (The Dark Imp)

Six unique family games in a reusable box that looks like a Christmas cracker? What an idea! Voting, collecting, observation, and trading are among the gameplay styles you’ll find in The Imp Box, and this neat little package packs a lot of variety into a small space! (£19.99)

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Smart10 (Bananagrams)

Can you pick one correct answer from a field of possibilities? Smart10 challenges you and a group of friends to do just that by selecting correct answers from a list of possible responses. It’s tougher than it sounds, and it’ll test your trivia skills and your ability to think under pressure. ($19.99)

[Check out our full review here!]

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GolfWords (David L. Hoyt)

Combining the skill of golf with a love of wordplay, GolfWords takes puzzles off the page and into your home, testing you both mentally and physically! Complete with the letter mat, putters, golf balls, scoring pads, and other accessories, this unique combination of puzzle and sport can be played solo or by the whole family! ($299.99)

Slapzi (Tenzi)

Slapzi will keep you on your toes. In this quick-reaction game, you’ve got to match your picture cards to the clue cards before your opponents. But with clues like “Not sold in a hardware store” or “Two of the same letter together,” this isn’t as easy as it appears! ($19.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of Slapzi!]

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Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($16.99)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]

Decrypto (IELLO)

Can you covertly communicate with your teammates without revealing your secret code to the opponent team? That’s the name of the game in Decrypto, a party game all about word association and deduction. The first team to crack the opposing team’s codes twice wins! ($22.68)


Miscellaneous Puzzle Swag

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Flying Colors coloring book (Penny Press)

Our puzzly pals at Penny Press know that sometimes, you need a break from puzzles, so why not unwind with their Flying Colors coloring book ($6.99).

All of the Things

If you’re looking for puzzly coasters, pins, earrings, teddy bears, and more, the team at All of the Things have puzzle treats for you! Their table has been a highlight of the marketplace at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament for several years now, and we’re happy to welcome them back to the Gift Guide this year!


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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What makes a great riddle?

[Image courtesy of PNG Find.]

I have always suspected that riddles were our first experiments with puzzles and puzzly thinking. Long before crosswords, Sudoku, codebreaking, and magic squares, the potential for wordplay and outside-the-box thinking would have appealed to storytellers, teachers, philosophers, and other deep thinkers.

Who doesn’t enjoy unraveling a riddle, parsing the carefully constructed sentences for every hint and nuance lurking within, and then extracting that tiny purest nugget of a solution from the ether?

Riddles appeal to our love of story and adventure, of heroes with wits as sharp as their swords. Riddles are the domain of gatekeepers and tricksters, monsters and trap rooms from the best Dungeons & Dragons quests.

And so, for centuries upon centuries, even up to the modern day, riddles have been a challenging and intriguing part of the world of puzzling.

We can trace them back to the Greeks, to Ancient Sumeria, to the Bible through Samson, and to mythology through the Sphinx. Riddles abound in literature; we find riddles in Shakespeare, in the works of Joyce, Carroll, and Austen, all the way up to the modern day with The Hobbit and Harry Potter. Every locked room mystery and impossible crime is a riddle to be unraveled.

[Image courtesy of Campbell County Public Library.]

But this raises a crucial question: what makes a good riddle?

At first glance, it should be confusing or elusive. But after some thought, there should be enough information within the riddle to provide a solution, either through wordplay/punnery OR through looking at the problem from a different perspective.

Let’s look at an example. In this instance, we’ll examine the riddle from Jane Austen’s Emma, which is posed to the title character by a potential suitor:

My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
Another view of man, my second brings,
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!

The answer is “courtship.”

The first half of the riddle refers to the playground of royalty — court — and the second half to the domain of her suitor — ship — and when combined they form the suitor’s desire. This riddle is confusingly worded, to be sure, but it makes sense when analyzed and it’s totally reasonable when the clever Emma figures out the answer… and turns down the suitor’s attempt at riddly courtship.

[Image courtesy of Yale.edu.]

So, what’s an example of a bad riddle? Well, unfortunately, we don’t have to look too hard for an example of one. Let’s examine Samson’s riddle from The Book of Judges in the Old Testament, which he poses to his dinner guests (with a wager attached):

Out of the eater,
something to eat;
out of the strong,
something sweet.

The answer, bafflingly, is “bees making a honeycomb inside the carcass of a lion.”

This is borderline nonsense unless Samson actually told you the story of killing a lion with his bare hands and later returning to the corpse to find bees building a hive inside. So, basically, this riddle not only screws over his dinner guests — who lost a wager to buy fine clothing if they couldn’t solve the rigged riddle — and serves as an excuse to brag about killing a lion. Samson is a jerk.

This is a bad riddle, because it’s designed to be confusing, but does not offer enough information to get to the desired solution. It’s purposely unsolvable, and that sucks. Riddles shouldn’t be arbitrary or nonsensical.

James Joyce pulled this in Ulysses. Lewis Carroll pulled it in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And each of these examples give riddles a bad name. (Even if they do serve a literary purpose, as scholars claim they do in the Joyce and Carroll examples.)

Even if you want the hero to seem (or be) smarter than the reader, the riddle should still make sense. When confronted with five riddles by Gollum in The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins solves four of them (and answers the fifth through charmingly dumb luck). It doesn’t hurt his character or make the reader feel like they’re being cheated when these riddles are resolved.

That’s another quality of a great riddle. Even if you don’t solve it, when you DO find the answer, it should feel like you were outwitted and you learned something, not that you were involved in a rigged game.

Oh, and speaking of learning, that reminds me of another example of a challenging yet fair riddle, one that comes from Ancient Sumeria (now, modern-day Iraq):

There is a house. One enters it blind and comes out seeing. What is it?

The answer, as you might have puzzled out, is “a school.”

Riddles can be devious or tricky; they can rely on misdirection, our own assumptions and biases, or careful word choice to befuddle the reader. But they should always be learning experiences, like the house you enter blind and leave seeing.

What are some of your favorite riddles, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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The Best Puzzle Solvers in Young Adult Fiction

In the past, we have assembled super-teams of the best puzzle solvers in horror films, television, and literature. The goal was to highlight characters who stand out, the ones you’d want on your side, because they’re clever, decisive, and immensely capable.

In the fourth installment in this delightful series, we turn our attention to books for young adult readers, seeking out the quickest minds and the deftest problem solvers from the printed page.

So let’s meet (or revisit) some wickedly bright minds from teen-centric reads.


nancy drew

[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

Nancy Drew

Originally created as a female counterpart to the Hardy Boys, detective Nancy Drew has largely eclipsed them at this point, cementing her reputation as one of the most prominent teen detectives in literature. Nancy’s interest in numerous fields — psychology, language, and many others — served her well as she dove headlong into each case.

Her gift for association — making connections others miss — gave her a leg-up in locating clues and building cases before her lawyer father and the local police could do so. The criminal element in River Heights never left a puzzle that the diligent and outspoken Nancy couldn’t solve.

hermione-granger

[Image courtesy of Claire Fox Writes.]

Hermione Granger, Harry Potter series

When you’re a student of magic at one of the most dangerous schools in the world, you need to be sharp and ready. And Hermione Granger has those qualities in abundance. As studious as they come, Hermione is one of the puzzliest characters in modern literature. She brewed the notoriously difficult Polyjuice Potion, solved Professor Snape’s potion riddle, and deduced that Remus Lupin was a werewolf.

She’s as comfortable bending time to enhance her coursework (and save a few lives) as she is battling the gossip and lies of the treacherous Rita Skeeter. Numerous mysteries surrounding Hogwarts and Voldemort are solved by the trio of Ron, Harry, and Hermione, but without the stalwart and clever Miss Granger, Ron and Harry would’ve been out of luck.

wide window

[Image courtesy of Thrifty Teachers.]

Violet Baudelaire, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

The eldest of the three Baudelaire orphans, Violet has the most mechanical mind of the trio. She is a prolific inventor, making marvelous contraptions out of whatever’s handy, and often getting her and her siblings out of dangerous situations in the process. Pursued by the malevolent and greedy Count Olaf, Violet outwits Olaf on more than one occasion, paying close attention to him and tailoring her behavior accordingly.

Whether she’s inventing a grappling hook to save her sister or picking a lock to find evidence against Count Olaf, Violet has a mind made for puzzles, whether she’s putting things together or taking them apart. As imaginative as she is capable, no mechanical brain teaser could stymie her for long.

ender game

[Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.]

Ender Wiggin, Ender’s Game series

Although Ender’s story is not as happy as some of the others in this list, as mistreated and manipulated as he is throughout the first book, he should absolutely be counted among the best puzzlers in young adult literature. He is a phenomenal tactician, first in laser tag competitions in zero gravity, then later in simulated interstellar combat scenarios as part of his command training.

Ender uses his cleverness to circumvent the final test and win an unwinnable battle. And when he discovers that the battle was NOT simulated, and he had in fact won a war through his clever ruthlessness, he turns his puzzly mind to figuring out the mistakes that led to the war in the first place. As his adventures continue, he unravels numerous mysteries, often saving lives in the process.

ready player one

[Image courtesy of Goodreads.]

Parzival, Aech, and Art3mis, Ready Player One

In a virtual world known as the OASIS — a fully immersive Internet where work, school, and recreation are conducted — the characters of Ready Player One are on the ultimate puzzle hunt. For five years, the prize has remained unclaimed, no matter how expansive or expensive the methods employed to find it. Entire corporations are dedicated to solving it, because the prize is nothing less than control of the OASIS itself.

Which makes it all the more impressive that game and puzzle-loving teenagers are the ones to uncover several of the keys needed to complete the hunt. They are clever, determined, and resourceful puzzlers who combine a thirst for knowledge, top-notch gaming skills, and impressive deductive reasoning to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

westing game

[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

Turtle Wexler, The Westing Game

When you find yourself — and everyone else in your apartment building — on the list of possible heirs for a dead millionaire’s fortune, you know something strange is going on. And if it’s a race to a fortune predicated on solving an intricate puzzle, solving a murder, and uncovering a mysterious secret, then Turtle Wexler is the person you want on your side.

Possessing a keen mind and some serious analytical chops — after all, she plays the stock market at 13 years old — Turtle’s intellect is nearly as quick as her shin-kicking feet. Another strong tactician, Turtle takes advantage of opportunities (and creating a few of her own), eventually winning the Westing Game.

queen's thief

[Image courtesy of Christina Reads YA.]

Eugenides, The Queen’s Thief Series

The puzzles that Eugenides concerns himself with are far different than the ones tackled by other characters on this list. Eugenides is a master strategist, a chess player who must treat entire countries as his gameboard. Eugenides is observant and patient, playing out slow-burn tactics that can take months or years to come to fruition, all in the hopes of protecting those he serves.

It’s quite something to solve a puzzle in front of you, but it’s something else entirely to solve the next five puzzles before they’ve even shown themselves. Over the course of The Queen’s Thief series, Eugenides shows a tremendous understanding of how others think, what motivates them, and who can be trusted. There’s not a logic problem or a brain teaser around that Eugenides couldn’t plot his way past.

benedict

[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

Sticky, Constance, Kate, and Reynie, The Mysterious Benedict Society

If you’re looking for the most overtly puzzly quartet in young adult lit, this should be your first stop. These books are loaded to the brim with puzzles and mysteries, and this fearsomely brilliant foursome is equipped to handle any riddle, cipher, or brain teaser in their way.

Whether it’s Reynie’s logical deduction skills, Kate’s incisive ability to find shortcuts, Sticky’s memory and recall, or Constance’s penchant for finding patterns in plain sight, the sinister plans of Mr. Curtain (and any other puzzly evildoer out there) don’t stand a chance.


Did I miss any world-class puzzlers from famous (or obscure) works of young adult lit? Let me know in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

The Best Puzzle Solvers in Fiction

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Last year, we assembled super-teams of the best puzzle solvers in horror films and television respectively. The goal was to highlight characters who stood out, the ones you’d want on your side, because they’re clever, decisive, and immensely capable.

In the third installment in this illustrious series, we turn our attention to literature, seeking out the quickest minds and the deftest problem solvers from the printed page.

Yes, this list will be a bit detective-heavy, since they’re the protagonists most frequently put into situations where puzzly problem-solving becomes synonymous with the character. But we still think it’s a fair representation of the best puzzlers in the medium.


Oh, two quick notes before we get on with the post.

1.) Since both Batman and Sherlock Holmes were listed amongst the best puzzle solvers on television, we’ve opted to exclude them from this entry in order to make room for other individuals. Obviously they still make the cut, but it never hurts to share the spotlight.

2.) Fans of children’s books and young adult novels may be disappointed that the likes of Nancy Drew and Winston Breen didn’t make the list. But that’s for good reason. They’ll be getting their own list in the near future.


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Inspector Morse (Colin Dexter)

[Image courtesy of eBay.]

Detective Chief Inspector Endeavour Morse is the protagonist of 13 novels and dozens of hours of television. This opera-loving detective is famous for enjoying cryptic crosswords, and several of his novels challenge the reader with a crossword clue early on, revealing the answer in a later chapter.

Possessing a keen intellect, Morse solves cases through diligence, intuition, and a near-photographic memory. When you factor in his puzzle skills, you end up with someone who can, for instance, effortlessly realize that the spelling mistakes in a piece of evidence are a hidden threatening message, not mere errors.

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Lord Peter Wimsey (Dorothy L. Sayers)

[Image courtesy of LibraryCat.]

Although investigation is a hobby for Lord Peter Wimsey rather than a profession, that doesn’t make his efforts any less impressive or diligent. He offhandedly solves a cryptic clue for his valet during breakfast, something that will prove helpful later when he has to solve “The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager’s Will.”

Resourceful in the extreme, Wimsey always manages to gather the necessary info to crack the case, whether that requires faking his own death or unraveling an entire cryptic puzzle in order to settle an acrimonious family gathering.

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C. Auguste Dupin (Edgar Allan Poe)

[Image courtesy of Learnodo-Newtonic.]

Perhaps the first literary detective, this creation of Edgar Allan Poe combined a keen eye for observation with an impressive knack for abductive reasoning (inference or making good guesses, as Sherlock Holmes does). Equally at home solving mysteries or chasing forgotten manuscripts, Dupin is the template from which so many crime solving characters sprung.

A master at demystifying enigmas, conundrums, and hieroglyphics, Poe’s creation employed “ratiocination” to place himself in the shoes of criminals and work out not only what they’d done, but where they went after the crime. Surely no criminal mastermind or logic puzzle could withstand the skills of C. Auguste Dupin.

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Mary Russell (Laurie R. King)

[Image courtesy of Goodreads.]

Fans of Sherlock Holmes know that he retired from crime solving and spent his twilight years beekeeping. But worry not, England, because Mary Russell ably fits the role Holmes left behind. As observant and strong-willed as her mentor, Mary is brilliant, proving herself a worthy student for Holmes while still a teenager.

A student of many languages, a theology scholar, and an avid reader, Mary is a fierce and intriguing character who embodies many of the puzzliest attributes of Holmes, but with her own idiosyncratic touches, even managing to resolve lingering threads from some of Holmes’s most famous cases.

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George Smiley (John le Carré)

[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

There are many characters in literature that think ten steps ahead and manage to succeed, but George Smiley is one of the few who does so in believable fashion. The fictional spymaster and intelligence agent may not have Bond’s rakish good looks, but he has the puzzly chops to crack even the most diabolical schemes.

With an encyclopedic knowledge of spycraft and a perceptive mind capable of subtly getting information out of people, George Smiley is a master of looking at the chessboard of international gamesmanship and figuring out the best moves to make, which pieces to sacrifice, and how to read your opponent and outmaneuver him.

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William of Baskerville (Umberto Eco)

[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

Given how many cryptic crossword constructors in England name themselves after Inquisitors, it’s appropriate to find a strong puzzle solver during the time of the Inquisition. Franciscan friar William of Baskerville, often regarded as insightful and humble, refused to condemn a translator as a heretic, deducing that he was innocent. Later, after leaving the ranks of the Inquisition, William is asked to help explain a series of strange deaths at a Benedictine monastery.

William manages to solve the case AND disprove the presence of a demonic force in the abbey, but not in time to prevent tragedy. Nonetheless, his impressive deductions and masterful efforts to unravel the mysteries at the heart of the case — braving labyrinths both real and invented — are key to the novel’s success.

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Sirius Black (J.K. Rowling)

[Image courtesy of Boxlunch.]

Yes, he was a devotee of the Daily Prophet crossword, but it takes more than that to land you on this list. Although reckless at times after a long incarceration in Azkaban, Sirius proved on more than one occasion to have a quick, clever, and strategic mind, a trait shared by many great puzzlers.

He managed to sneak into Hogwarts twice, escaped the infamous Azkaban prison, and deduced where he could find the traitorous Peter Pettigrew. Not bad, especially when you consider the damage Dementors can do to someone’s psyche.

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The Black Widowers (Isaac Asimov)

[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

A fictional dining club (men only, sadly), the Black Widowers often solve problems without ever leaving the dinner table. While many mystery novels walk you through the detective’s deductions and theories at the very end as the crime is solved, each Black Widowers case is solved in front of you, as they ask questions and pose solutions, before the final deduction (and correct solution) emerges.

Combining skills in chemistry, cryptography, law, art, and math, the Black Widowers are equipped to handle every puzzle, even if common-sense solutions occasionally elude them.


Did I miss any world-class puzzlers from famous (or obscure) works of literature? Let me know in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

Answers to the Punderful Halloween Costume Game!

Halloween has come and gone, but the glorious puns remain.

That’s right, today we’ve got the answers to our latest edition of the Punderful Halloween Costume Game!

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the punny answers!


#1

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It’s Hawaiian Punch!

[Image courtesy of Hikendip.]

#2

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It’s back to the drawing board for this fella!

[Image courtesy of Country Living.]

#3

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It’s Scar-Face!

[Image courtesy of Upbeat News.]

#4

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It’s prime rib!

[Image courtesy of The Kitchn.]

#5

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It’s a Rey of sunshine!

[Image courtesy of Hannah Sloan.]

#6

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Snitches get stitches in this lovely mix of idiom and Harry Potter!

[Image courtesy of sprace.]

#7

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It’s a two-fer here with the cat’s pajamas and the bee’s knees!

[Image courtesy of Devon Prokopek.]

#8

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It’s a creative outlet!

[Image courtesy of Mental Floss.]

#9

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It’s chicken cord on blue (chicken cordon bleu)!

[Image courtesy of Hikendip.]

#10

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It’s Edgar Allan Poe Dameron in this mix of Star Wars and classic literature!

[Image courtesy of rottenartist.]


How many did you get? Have you seen any great punny costumes we missed? Let us know!

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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!

The Puzzling Art of Letterlocking

letterlocking

[Image courtesy of Letter Writers Alliance.]

When you think about puzzles and personal security, what comes to mind?

Do you think of puzzle boxes, those delightfully tricky little wooden creations with all their sliding pieces and hidden compartments? Or does your mind go to encryption, the art of concealing your message in plain sight with ciphers, scytales, and other techniques meant to baffle anyone but those in the know?

Some puzzle box designs date back centuries, and ciphers can be traced back even further. (One is named after Caesar, after all.)

But there’s another centuries-old puzzly procedure you might not know about, and it kept letters and messages safe using nothing more than paper and wax.

butterflylock

[Image courtesy of ibookbinding.com.]

This technique is known as letterlocking. It involves a mix of precise folds, interlocking pieces of paper, and sealing wax in order to create a distinctive design or pattern.

Although the pattern itself can work like a puzzle — requiring a particular trick to unfold it and reveal the message without ripping or damaging the letter — that’s only a secondary line of defense. The true goal of letterlocking is to reveal tampering. The folding techniques are distinctive, and the wax creates points of adhesion.

If you receive a letter and the folds are done (aka redone) incorrectly, or the wax is smeared (or the paper ripped where the wax would have held it tight), then you know the letter has been compromised.

daggertrap

[Image courtesy of ibookbinding.com.]

Some examples of letterlocking trace back to the 13th century, and key figures like Queen Elizabeth I, Machiavelli, Galileo, and Marie Antoinette employed letterlocking security in the past. Mary, Queen of Scots, wrote a message and letterlocked it with a butterfly lock six hours before her beheading. (For a more modern reference, letterlocking was employed in the Harry Potter films as well, most famously in Dumbledore’s will.)

The various techniques involved are as distinctive as knots. The triangle lock. The dagger-trap. The pinwheel letter. And some historians believe that those techniques imply connections between some of the important players in history.

For instance, both poet John Donne and the spymaster of Queen Elizabeth I employed a similar letterlocking style. Did they share a common source, or even an instructor in common? Or did a particular letterlocking technique provide a clue as to the contents of the letter within?

Letterlocking is a historical curiosity that was seemingly lost to time after the proliferation of the envelope and other security techniques, but it is slowly being rediscovered by a new generation, as well as reverse engineered by scientists and scholars. Yale and MIT both have teams exploring the burgeoning field of letterlocking.

Museums are discovering treasure troves of letterlocked messages by going directly to the source: post offices. A cache of 600 undelivered letters in the Netherlands, for instance, are being analyzed by researchers.

trianglelock

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

It’s a remarkable thing, really, this union of centuries-old skills with twenty-first century knowledge. These are puzzles, frozen in time, waiting to be solved and placed into the larger picture of history.

Letterlocking is nothing less than a rare and beautiful art combining puzzles and privacy, as elegant as it is clever. There are no doubt many more secrets to be found behind the folds, slits, and wax seals of these lovingly crafted messages.


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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!