PuzzleNation First Look: Letters to Margaret, an interactive puzzle novel

Some of the coolest puzzle experiences of the last decade have come from the team at Lone Shark Games. Not only have they spearheaded numerous puzzle packs connected to various charitable causes, but they also created Puzzlecraft, a one-stop shop for learning how to construct dozens of different puzzles!

Their masterpiece, though, is The Maze of Games, a wonderful story-driven series of puzzles that took literal years to finally be unraveled by dedicated solvers.

These days, The Maze of Games encompasses an audiobook version read by Wil Wheaton, an accompanying radio show full of audio puzzles, a poster map, The Keymaster’s Tome, The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, and the main book featuring hundreds of pages of story and puzzles detailing the epic adventure of the Quaice siblings and their quest to escape the clutches of the diabolical Gatekeeper. It’s an entire world to explore.

So, when I heard that there was a new narrative puzzle project on the horizon for this talented team, you better believe I was excited.

And that project is going live on Kickstarter today!

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Letters to Margaret is a solvable, double-sided 128-page comic book loaded with crossword puzzles. Yes, there are two overlapping narratives here, exploring the story from two perspectives, each with its own puzzles and insights.

Knowing what they pulled off with The Maze of Games, I’m already psyched to see the final version of Letters to Margaret, but I’m even more intrigued knowing that Lone Shark Games is working with artist Hayley Gold on this project.

Hayley is an incredibly talented artist who previously combined her creative spark with an wry insightful look at the puzzles published in The New York Times in her webcomic series Across and Down. Each comic focused on a particular puzzle, offering a delightful mix of humor, tongue-in-cheek wordplay, and savvy commentary from an experienced solver, discussing themes, crosswordese, and pop culture all in one fell swoop.

Honestly, this is a can’t-miss pairing. Both Hayley and the Lone Shark team have plenty of experience crafting engaging visual narratives, and each brings a keen understanding of puzzles to the table in their own unique ways.

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The first chapter alone opens with a crossword to solve, delves a bit into crossword history, introduces our main characters, and gets the narrative rolling, all with some smartly snarky commentary on college life, modern media, and crossword solvers (and their blogs). It’s a brilliant whirlwind of an opening, and you genuinely won’t want to wait to read (and solve!) the rest of the book.

But you don’t have to wait! We’ve been granted an early look at some of the art for the comic book. One picture is featured above, but here are two more exclusive images! (They are missing any dialogue and the notations from the omniscient commenters that appear throughout the book. But you can’t fault the team for keeping gems like those tucked away for now.)

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But that’s not all!

We’ve also got an exclusive puzzle preview for you to enjoy!

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[Click this link to download a copy of this puzzle!]


You can click here to check out the Kickstarter campaign for Letters to Margaret, which includes information on the puzzles, Hayley’s perspective on the story, and much more!

It’s a really smart, sincere story told from two sides, loaded with top-notch puzzles and a lot of humor and worthwhile commentary. It would be cliche to call it a love letter to crosswords, and incorrect to boot. It’s more like a slyly subversive wink to crosswords and crossword culture through a thoroughly modern lens. I really dig it, and I think you will as well.

Thank you to Mike Selinker, Hayley Gold, Andy Kravis, and the entire Lone Shark Games team for giving us an early look at the project. I think it’ll be a grand success!


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Kickstarter Roundup!

I’ve covered a lot of puzzle-centric Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns in the blog, because I think it’s fascinating how many puzzle variants there are, and how many puzzle-loving creators are enthusiastically seizing the opportunity to add their own delightful gaming and puzzling twists to the market.

In previous posts, we’ve seen Baffledazzle‘s jigsaws with a twist, Completely Puzzled‘s community-building outreach, and 64 Oz. Games‘ campaign to adapt popular board games and card games for vision-impaired players. Some very creative and worthwhile projects have been realized with the help of crowdfunding.

Heck, several of the games and puzzles showcased at last month’s New York Toy Fair were brought to life thanks to crowdfunding!

So here are a few more projects that I think are worth your time.

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The Maze is a series of Choose Your Own Adventure-style books with a curious puzzly twist: they place the reader inside a labyrinth and challenge you to read through the book and escape!

It’s an extended spacial-awareness puzzle where you need to visualize where you are in the maze at all times, overcoming obstacles and pitting your memory against the labyrinth itself.

A third of the way to its funding goal, The Maze envisions a series of mazes of varying difficulties for readers to tackle. It’s an intriguing take on a classic puzzle genre.

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For a more traditional puzzle product, there’s The Grid. This multi-colored visual delight challenges players to place all of their tile pieces on the board before their opponents, mixing luck and strategy in a Qwirkle-style battle.

The Grid combines clever tile design with visually arresting gameplay, and the campaign has already reached its initial funding goal, meaning that additional donors are helping to refine the game with higher quality pieces and other add-ons.

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From the elegant to the gloriously silly, our next campaign is Munchkin Shakespeare.

This latest edition of Munchkin from the team from Steve Jackson Games adds a literary touch to its famous line of puzzly card-battle games, as players do their best to team up, betray each other, and run amok in the hopes of gaining loot and escaping combat intact.

The bard himself and characters from his most famous plays are unleashed in cartoon form, ready to wreak havoc in all sorts of creative ways, wielded by cunning players and puzzlers with a penchant for sword-swinging nonsense in iambic pentameter.

This is another campaign where the initial funding goal has already been reached, and with only a day or two left in the campaign, they’re pushing towards some exciting stretch goals.

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Our last campaign combines logic and deduction with mechanical puzzles, as the crew from ThinkFun launches their very first Kickstarter to bring Roller Coaster Challenge to life!

In the spirit of Gravity Maze and Laser Maze Jr., Roller Coaster Challenge presents players with some of the pieces of a puzzle and tasks them with completing a working model with their remaining pieces. This time around, you’re building a roller coaster track, with all the soaring loop-de-loops and plunging slides you’d expect from the theme park attraction.

With expansions including Kickstarter-exclusive roller coaster cars and additional pieces to create even taller, more complex models, this one could be a winner. Will you be able to complete the numerous twisting, turning variations, or will the perfect roller coaster track elude you?

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But before I go, I want to revisit a previous Kickstarter success story that we’ve covered in the past: The Maze of Games.

Mike Selinker’s interactive puzzle novel has been on the market for a few years now, and as far as he knows, no one has conquered the final maze in the book.

And to give solvers a better chance at completing the book, the diabolical puzzlesmith has created The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, a tie-in story with hints for cracking the most diabolical puzzly labyrinth that giant tome has to offer.

It’s only available for a short time, so if you’re hoping to one day best The Maze of Games, be sure to snag a copy!

And let us know if any of these puzzly Kickstarters piqued your interest! With so many worthy projects and products in the pipeline, hopefully one of them catches your eye and receives your support!


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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!

PuzzleNation Review: The Maze of Games

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Today’s review is going to be a little bit different. You might have noticed that I didn’t title this a product review or a book review, and that’s because today’s subject, The Maze of Games, defies classification.

It’s billed as an interactive puzzle novel, and it lives up to that description, combining the long-form narrative of a novel with a topnotch puzzle book and a strong element of choose-your-own-adventure flavoring on top. This is not a mystery with a few crosswords tossed in; this is a novel where the puzzle-solving is integral to the reading experience. And I can honestly say it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.

The novel opens in the late 1800s with siblings Samuel and Colleen Quaice at the library, where Colleen is on a mission to read something macabre and engaging. After being offered the newest offering by Bram Stoker — a tome called Dracula — Colleen stumbles upon a slim volume tucked away in the stacks: The Maze of Games.

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Soon, Samuel and Colleen are swept into the realm of the Gatekeeper — a dapper, witty, and unforgiving skeletal game master who delights in challenging the unsuspecting to fiendish puzzle challenges — and they’re left to navigate the first of the book’s mazes: the Castle Maze.

As you roam the labyrinth with Colleen and Samuel, you encounter puzzles to be solved, each of which provides you with a keyword you’ll need for later. From word searches and crosswords to logic puzzles and code-breaking challenges, your puzzly chops will be put to the test and then some by the Gatekeeper’s many mind-bending obstacles. (Although meant for adolescents and teens, I think adults would also thoroughly enjoy many of the Gatekeeper’s puzzles.)

Once you’ve reached the end of the labyrinth, a final puzzle awaits you, and you must use your collected keywords and puzzly skills to escape the maze and move onward.

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Five mazes stand between you and victory over the Gatekeeper, all of them steeped in mythology, genre storytelling, and adventure-tinged backstory. (And several of which offer some wickedly barbed humor.)

This is a terrific concept, and brilliantly executed. The sheer variety of puzzles, not to mention the creative hooks that tie into the narrative, makes for a puzzle book that will keep puzzlers busy for quite a while.

And the novel aspect is just as enjoyable. Samuel and Colleen are no mere placeholders. They’re rich, fully-formed characters in their own right, bickering, bantering, and bringing different skills to every challenge they face. (Their ongoing banter with the Gatekeeper in his sporadic appearances is easily the highlight of the narrative.)

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Lush, atmospheric art backs up the storytelling, bringing the novel to life and adding wonderful personality to the characters. (Not to mention there’s both an ebook edition and an audiobook version read by Wil Wheaton!)

And if you’re still not puzzled out after tackling The Maze of Games (or you just need a break), there’s a bundle of bonus puzzles in the back of the book, featuring such familiar names as Ken Jennings, Will Shortz, Patrick Blindauer, and Brendan Emmett Quigley.

All of these factors contribute to as immersive a puzzle book as I’ve ever seen, and a testament to the sort of forethought, complexity, and creativity a first-class puzzler can weave into a singular solving experience.

Mike Selinker has been a fixture in the board game and puzzle world for years, and he’s really outdone himself with The Maze of Games.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!