PuzzleNation Product Review: Puzzle Books Galore!

As part of our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, we reached out to companies far and wide to explore as big a swathe of the puzzle/game world as we could. And a plethora of puzzle books arrived in response.

With eight in total to cover in this review, we’re going to work from simplest to toughest in terms of difficulty, whilst bundling some books with similar puzzles or styles of presentation together for ease of navigation.

So please enjoy as we peruse offerings from USA Today, the Puzzle Society, and Andrews McMeel Publishing.


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We start our puzzle book journey with objectively the easiest type of puzzle in the group: word searches.

Posh Simple Word Search collects grids and lists of hidden words to test your word recognition skills. The different sizes, themes for puzzles, and variations of word search puzzles (like an Eiffel Tower-shaped grid!) across more than 100 puzzles will have you looping words to your heart’s content.

Factor in a spiral binding that allows you to lay each page flat as you solve, and you’ve got a perfect intro to puzzles.

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From word searches to another iconic and traditional puzzle type: crosswords.

For a travel-friendly puzzle book with eye-catching cover designs and enjoyable pocket-sized puzzles, look no further than Pocket Posh New Crosswords 1 and New Crosswords 2.

With fun, accessible clues and grids designed to test newer, less experienced solvers, Pocket Posh New Crosswords won’t stand in the way of a New York Times-level solver, but they will serve as a satisfying puzzle experience for solvers working their way up the difficulty ladder.

Featuring more than 50 puzzles each, these books are loaded with content created by The Puzzle Society’s pool of talented constructors. (All of whom are credited by name!)

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For a step-up in difficulty and notoriety, check out USA Today’s Crossword Super Challenge.

Packed with 200 puzzles previously published in USA Today, this collection offers a range of difficulty levels depending on the constructor. And the names here are top-notch. Puzzly elites like Elizabeth Gorski, Martin Ashwood-Smith, Gail Grabowski, Frank Longo, and George Barany are featured in the collection, along with numerous contributions by USA Today‘s Crossword Editor, the inimitable Fred Piscop!

This array of 15×15 grids presents loads of different types of themed clues, serving as an ideal crash course in crosswords for solvers with a bit more experience but also have room to grow. Perfect for anyone who enjoys your local daily/weekly syndicated newspaper crossword.

It’s a little thick to make a great travel book — not as pocket-friendly as the Pocket Posh series — but it’s just right for an afternoon or two of cozy armchair solving.

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We then move from one world-conquering puzzle style to another that more recently took the world by storm: Sudoku.

Another in the USA Today series of Super Challenge titles, USA Today’s Sudoku Super Challenge is armed to the teeth with 200 Sudoku puzzles to challenge any fan of the infamous puzzle juggernaut.

Each puzzle is ranked on a scale of 1 to 5 stars in terms of difficulty, so you’ll be solving your way through increasingly tricky number puzzles the deeper you get into this book.

And despite being packed with hundreds of puzzles, this one will easily fit into a pocket, purse, or carry-on for any trip.

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Are you a Sudoku-savvy solver looking to test your number-placement skills in a new way? Posh Kurosu might just have what you’re seeking.

With dozens of examples of Kurosu puzzles — also known as noughts and crosses — this puzzle book packs a surprising amount of variety into a simple solving mechanic. Instead of nine digits to fill the grid, all you have are Xs and Os. And you can’t have more than two Xs or Os next to each other in any column, row, or diagonal.

This is the only kind of puzzle in this selection of puzzle books that I’d never encountered before, and it was a welcome change of pace to try my hand at something that felt familiar and yet fresh all at once. Posh Kurosu tests your logic and deduction chops in fun, unexpected ways.

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After collections of Sudoku and Kurosu puzzles, it feels appropriate to follow up with a puzzle book loaded with puzzles that test your logic and deduction skills in other ways.

USA Today’s Logic Super Challenge fits the bill nicely, mixing traditional story-driven logic problems (complete with those iconic solving grids to help you weed out false paths) with other logic-based puzzles like Killer Sudoku, Battleships, and Domino Search.

All of these puzzles will bend your brain around corners as you try to hold multiple facts in your head at the same time, waiting for them to fall into place and reveal a new piece of the overall puzzle solution.

And with 200 logic problems in various forms, you certainly won’t run out of devious deduction puzzles anytime soon.

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But if you’re looking for a unique solving experience, something that is as visually immersive as it is engagingly puzzly, then you can’t go wrong with Daria Song’s The Mysterious Mansion.

Mixing lushly illustrated scenes with black and white drawings meant for you to color in, this narrative puzzle book incorporates mazes, spot-the-difference games, word searches, and other puzzly endeavors in a story about one girl’s journey through a strange and confusing mansion.

Designed to relax, engage, and puzzle the reader in equal measure, this book is one you could lose yourself in for hours. The gorgeous full-color illustrations are a feast for the eyes, and the puzzles are seamlessly woven into the art and story of each scene.

Daria Song gleefully takes activity books to the next level with this beautiful puzzle experience, a fairy tale that you not only help write, but make your own by doing so.


All of these puzzle books are available from Andrews McMeel Publishing as well as some local and online retailers. They’re also part of this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

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


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Escape Room Tips Galore!

The movie Escape Room opens today in theaters, so naturally, I’ve got escape rooms on the brain.

For the uninitiated, an escape room is an interactive series of puzzles or challenges set in a closed space. The group needs to explore the room and complete various tasks in order to escape the room within the allotted time.

Escape rooms have exploded in popularity over the last few years, so it’s likely you’ve either already participated in one or at least heard of them.

But the idea of being locked in a room with a fixed time limit and an unknown number of tasks to accomplish can be intimidating or discouraging.

So today, I thought I could offer some helpful tips to get you going.

#1 Communication

Whether it’s your first escape room or your twentieth, communication is always key. There’s a room to search, puzzles to solve, and tasks to complete, and everyone is going to have their own unique insights.

So speak up! Point out things you notice, keep everyone informed of what you’re doing or trying to do, and let people know if you’ve solved or discovered something.

And if you need help or you’re not sure about something, ask. It’s a team game.

#2 Note-taking

Most of the escape rooms I’ve done usually give you a whiteboard and a marker or a notepad and pencil to take notes with. This is an incredibly useful tool in solving the room, because it lets you keep track of code words, number chains, and possible combinations for the various locks you’ll encounter. And once you’ve used a code to unlock something, you can cross it out so nobody wastes time reusing a code you’ve already figured out.

If there’s not some way to physically keep track, you can always ask someone to try their best to mentally keep track of which ones you have used or might need in the future.

#3 Organization

There’s a lot going on in any escape room, so keep things simple by setting up two areas: puzzles in progress and puzzles solved.

Many puzzles or tasks you encounter in an escape room take time to fully form. For instance, you might get a keycard in one color, and not know what it’s for. But as you explore the room and solve a few puzzles, you find more keycards in other colors. Suddenly, you’ll find the use for ALL of them in a new puzzle. So have a designated place to keep things you find that you haven’t used yet. You’ll be glad you did.

Also, once a puzzle is complete or a clue is used, put it into your “puzzles solved” area. You don’t need extraneous clutter confusing you, and it’s a good way to discard solved locks, used keys, and other parts of the game you’ve completed in a way that won’t slow you down moving forward.

Doing so is also part of good communication, since everyone will immediately know what’s still in play and what’s been handled.


That should be enough to get you started, but if you’d like more advice, check out this terrific breakdown of more escape room tips that can make your solving experience more fruitful:

Whether you’re enjoying a friendly day of solving or tackling a monstrous challenge like the characters in the Escape Room film, these clues are bound to come in handy.


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5 Questions for Author Derek Taylor Kent (Plus a Puzzly Announcement!)

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to continue this series with Kubrick’s Game author Derek Taylor Kent as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Derek is a screenwriter, musician, and author, and his works have spanned print, TV, virtual reality, and soon, film. Although he’s better known for his middle grade efforts like Simon and the Solar System and the Scary School series, he has recently ventured into books for adults with his cinematic puzzle-fueled thriller Kubrick’s Game (which I recently reviewed here).

He has an exciting announcement connected to Kubrick’s Game to share with you, but before we get to that, let’s spend a little time getting to know this ambitious and amiable author, shall we?

Derek was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Derek Taylor Kent

1. Was Kubrick’s Game your first foray into combining puzzles and writing? If so, what inspired the union of the two? If not, which came first for you, puzzles or writing?

In terms of puzzles being the crux of a plot, yes. I had incorporated some riddles and simple puzzles into some of my children’s fiction before, but only as a small element.

My primary inspiration for combining the two came from reading Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One back in 2011. In that book, the characters have to solve three intricate puzzles based on ’80s pop culture. The author was obsessed with 80s movies, music, and video games, so I began ruminating about what my subject would be if I were to write such a story. The obvious choice was Stanley Kubrick. He had been my favorite director since I was in high school and I was obsessed with his movies and all of the mystery that surrounded them.

As I delved further into it, the choice became more and more clear. Kubrick himself was an avid gamesman who loved puzzles, symbolism, and subliminal messages. The more I studied, the more I realized that it was not only believable, but almost likely, that he might have created a complex puzzle connecting each of his films. From there, it was just a matter of playing it out using markers that were already present.

[Image courtesy of Cinema Research Institute.]

2. How did the puzzles in the book come together? What did Kubrick’s game look like in its earliest iteration?

I had specific ideas for several of the puzzles and a general idea for others that I wanted to incorporate. Early in the process, I recruited two of the premiere puzzle-creators alive — Bob Glouberman and Larry Toffler of Fantastic Race. They create city-wide scavenger hunts, escape rooms, and puzzles for TV and movies. Luckily, they happened to be just as obsessed with Kubrick as I was and were very excited to come on board to help me create them.

If I were to write a book based on diabolical puzzles, I knew the book could only be as good as the puzzles themselves. While I could have probably created okay puzzles myself, I knew that theirs would be incredible and indeed they blew my mind.

I also knew that I wanted the puzzles to be Kubrickian, or cinematic in nature. That is, the clues would incorporate imagery, music, editing, and symbols, as opposed to wordplay or mathematical riddles. Also, they could only be solved by those familiar with the filmmaking process and masterful in its techniques, such as editing, lighting, projection, and sound design.

The final puzzle, which I dare not give away here, was present from the very beginning and had me most excited to write the book. I knew it had to end in that very special place, and was a type of puzzle that had never been created before, but it also made total sense considering the themes and hidden meanings of Kubrick’s final films.

3. If you’d been presented with a mystery like the one in your book, would you have taken the UCLA approach, the USC approach, or the antagonist’s approach?

Since the UCLA teammates are our protagonists, they were enacting my personal approach…most likely. They were most concerned with playing the game how Kubrick would have wanted it to be played, as opposed to other groups who, shall we say, put ethics aside for the sake of victory.

4. What’s next for Derek Taylor Kent?

Depending on how well Kubrick’s Game is received, I have plans for a continuation of cinema-themed puzzle adventure novels. I am also still writing middle-grade fiction and picture books and hope to have more of those released in the near future. I also wrote a horror feature film that is currently in pre-production, which will hopefully be coming out winter of 2018.

If your readers are interested in checking out any of my other work, everything is at DerekTaylorKent.com. Oh, and if you go to the Fun and Games section of ScarySchool.com, there’s a memory game you can play, and beating it will earn you the weirdest trophy you’ve ever seen.

5. If you could give the readers, writers, film enthusiasts, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Well, since that is a very wide range of people, I think I will share my favorite piece of advice I ever received, which happened to come from the great actor Robert Forster. He told my class: “99% of everything you ever hear in your life will be somebody trying to convince you of something that’s not true in order to get into your pockets.”

What I like best about it, besides the encouragement of skepticism, is that as a novelist, I love being able to make a living selling something that isn’t BS. I can honestly tell kids, parents, or now my grown-up readers, that for a very reasonable price, my books will give you many hours of entertainment, and perhaps some enlightenment.


And speaking of hours of entertainment, it’s time for Derek’s big announcement!

As a marvelous real-world tie-in to Kubrick’s Game, Derek has launched The Game, an interactive solving experience guaranteed to challenge solvers and delight puzzlers worldwide!

This is a game for all readers to play.
If you’re reading this, play has already begun.
Six different puzzles each month to the day
Need to be solved for the game to be won.

That’s just a snippet of the introduction to set the scene. You can click here for full details — the first clue was revealed yesterday! — and sign up for his newsletter (bottom of the page here) to keep up on all things Derek Taylor Kent and Kubrick’s Game! (And, of course, you need to read the book to give yourself a fighting chance at solving The Game and finding the treasure!)

I think it’s an awesome way to expand on the world of the novel and to give solvers a puzzly conundrum to look forward to cracking! Good luck, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

Thank you, Derek, for taking the time out for 5 Questions! I can’t wait to see how The Game unfolds!


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!