PuzzleNation Product Review: Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse

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

All this week, we’ve been discussing different ways to enjoy escape room-style solving from home. We’ve measured each style against the various elements present in most escape rooms — searching the space, finding clues, interacting with the environment, solving puzzles, and experiencing the narrative — to see which ones help scratch this particular puzzly itch from the comfort of your own house.

Today, we continue that journey as we look at ThinkFun’s most elaborate and engaging escape room puzzle game yet. Join us as we accept the challenge of Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse.

Now, unlike our typical reviews which are absolutely loaded with pictures showing you the art, the puzzle layout, different solving styles, and so on, this review may feel a little sparse on the details. But unfortunately, when you’re talking about an escape room puzzle game that’s this involved, this elaborate, and this labor-intensive to bring it to fruition, I wouldn’t want to ruin a single moment of puzzle-solving fun for one of our readers.

So instead, let’s get into the spirit with a nice, spooky little intro.


Every neighborhood has that one house, the one kids whisper about. The one that inspires spooky stories and dares to see how far you can progress into the yard before you panic and run back to your friends.

Your neighborhood is no different. Mr. Garrity’s house has become that mysterious house, ever since his young daughter went missing. Now there are strange lights coming from the shed in his backyard, and other children have been reported missing.

What is going on in that mysterious shed? You decide to find out.

You sneak in, and you’re baffled to find nothing suspicious at all. Just a dollhouse sitting on the work table.

Except it’s glowing…

Drawing you closer…

Until you take one step too many…

Suddenly, the real game begins. And your puzzly skills are the only thing standing between you and a monstrous curse!


A three-dimensional interactive puzzle-solving experience, Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse is one of the most impressive puzzle games I’ve ever seen from ThinkFun. (And when you consider their previous efforts involving magnets, lasers, and other fantastic elements, that’s really saying something.)

Designed for solvers 13 and older, The Cursed Dollhouse is expected to take upwards of two hours to solve, and between the setup, exploring the various rooms, and tackling the numerous different puzzles inside, that feels like a very fair assessment.

After sliding the box from its protective (spoiler-preventing) sleeve, both the top and bottom of the box itself open up to form the frame of the dollhouse. Thick punch-out boards provide the floor, roof, and various pieces of furniture for the house, and an envelope full of different materials await eager solvers to challenge their minds with mechanical puzzles, riddles, deduction, and outside-the-box thinking.

Furniture, walls, ceiling, floor… every inch of the playspace is utilized in some form or fashion, creating one of the most immersive escape room game experiences I’ve ever played. Heck, some puzzle apps aren’t this engaging, and that’s with no physical barriers or restrictions when it comes to the puzzles.

One of the hardest things to replicate from the escape room experience is the tactile sensation of puzzle solving. The sheer joy and satisfaction of physically manipulating pieces, moving objects, finding secrets, fitting pieces together, and completing tasks is very difficult to simulate in miniature.

But this game has that solving fun in SPADES. Virtually every piece has to be handled or used in some way, and getting to play around with these pieces puts all sorts of solving skills to the test, whether it’s jigsaw-style puzzling, pattern recognition, brain teasers, or logical deduction.

And anyone who experienced their fair share of escape rooms knows the feeling of dealing with puzzles in stages. Some of the game pieces and items you find are relevant to the puzzles at hand, while others must be tucked aside or saved to be carried forward into different areas. The Cursed Dollhouse is no different, offering puzzles for each room in the house as well as information and game pieces to keep with you that will prove vital later.

It can be a bit overwhelming to have so much at hand at once, but it’s immensely satisfying to slowly assign different pieces to their particular puzzles and eliminate them one by one. It’s like whittling down the puzzliest to-do list of all time, and it’s great fun.

They’ve even added a new spin to a classic puzzler’s tool.

Anyone who has bent their brain with one of ThinkFun’s earlier Escape the Room games, as well as readers of yesterday’s post, will be familiar with one of the key solving elements: the decoder ring.

Utilizing a system of symbols for every puzzle, the decoder ring even has a locking feature to add a touch more suspense to the proceedings. Once you’ve turned each wheel and lined up your symbols, you slide the locking lever to the side, and several small windows open in the center of the disc. If the symbols revealed match the puzzle symbol, you’ve got the correct solution!

It’s a nice little touch that adds a lot to an age-old solving trope, and seeing the faces of younger solvers light up when the ring confirms their solve is a terrific moment of puzzling to treasure.

Similar to the Exit: The Game products, The Cursed Dollhouse also has a guidebook. It offers descriptions of the narrative as you progress and instructions on when you can proceed. For younger solvers, it’s a solid framework for the sometimes chaotic and undirected energy of escape room-style solving.

The Cursed Dollhouse offers fewer moments of frantic running around, but you won’t miss it; you’ll be too busy poring over every inch of the house and the gameplay pieces to miss all the skittering about you’re used to.

Be careful, though; younger solvers and older alike should be wary of the tape and sticky substances holding many of the various gameplay elements in the house in place. I worried on more than one occasion that I might damage one of the gamepieces just trying to free it. They’ve traded a bit of user-friendliness in service to keeping the puzzle elements in their places.

The game also offers an online resource to print and recreate any puzzle elements you manipulate or destroy in the course of your solve, so that you can reset the game for other players. It’s a nice touch that ensures more players get a chance to tackle this devious series of puzzles, and also helps mitigate a price point that’s a little higher than the average at-home escape room set.

The webpage also offers solving hints and solutions for any puzzles that flummox you, complete with visuals and videos, so you can not only progress forward, but learn precisely how the puzzle works (so if you encounter a similar puzzle in the future, you’ll know what to do).

I really can’t say anymore with giving something away, so I can only hope this review has managed to convey just how impressed I am by this puzzle game. The amount of thought, detail, and care that has gone into it is staggering, only matched by the ingenuity and deviousness of the puzzle designers. It brings the escape room experience home like never before, and young solvers and older alike will find plenty to enjoy in this meticulously crafted package.

Plus it’s gloriously spooky, which makes it perfect for fall and Halloween solving.

Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse will be available on October 1st from Amazon for $42.99, and it’s worth every penny.


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BosWords Crossword Tournament Goes Virtual This Weekend!

boswords online

Sunday, July 26th, from 12:30 to 5, puzzlers from all over will log in for the first virtual edition of the BosWords Tournament (and the fourth edition of the tournament overall)!

If you haven’t signed up yet, registration closes tonight at 11:59 PM!

With two divisions to choose from — Individual and Pairs — puzzlers of all ages and experience levels will have the opportunity to test their puzzly wits.

Tournament organizers Andrew Kingsley and John Lieb have gathered a murderer’s row of talented constructors for this year’s puzzles. The five themed puzzles in regular competition (as well as the championship final) will be constructed by Andrea Carla Michaels, Amanda Rafkin, Sid Sivakumar, Andrea Yanes, Sam Trabucco, Rob Gonsalves, and Jennifer Lim.

For this virtual edition of the tournament, BosWords is asking for $10 for adults, $10 for pairs, and $5 for students to attend and compete, which is a serious bargain!

(And if you want to solve the puzzles but not compete, it’ll only cost you $5 for the puzzle packet, which you’ll receive Sunday night by email!)

You can visit the BosWords website for full details! And to check out our thoughts on last year’s tournament puzzles, click here!

Will you be virtually attending the BosWords tournament, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you!


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Kickstarter Roundup!

Oh yes, it’s that time again.

For years now, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been hotbeds of innovative puzzle and game design, and I’m always happy to spread the word about worthy projects that I think will delight and intrigue my fellow PuzzleNationers.

So let’s take a look at some projects that are currently seeking funding and see if any pique your interest! (This time around, we’ve got twice as many recommendations as usual! So much puzzly potential!)


atoz crossword

The first is a project by Fireball Crosswords and Fireball Newsflash Crosswords constructor Peter Gordon, entitled A-to-Z Crosswords Volume 2: More Petite Pangram Puzzles.

The project is easy to explain, but mindblowing to think about. Every single day for 24 WEEKS, you get a 9×11 crossword puzzle that contains all 26 letters. The puzzles range from easy to medium in difficulty, arrive by email, and are constructed by Gordon and professional puzzler Frank Longo.

This is a very cool project that deserves your support — they’re a little more than a third of the way there, with 9 days to go — and you should definitely check it out!

puzzle postcard

The next project is Puzzle Postcards: Season Two by the Enigma Emporium.

Last year, Wish You Were Here was part of our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, and it’s fantastic to see that the Enigma Emporium is Kickstarting another puzzle postcard mystery this year.

Essentially, an entire mystery is concealed within a handful of postcards, challenging you to mine them for every scrap of information as you uncover a series of coded messages. It’s spycraft in an envelope, very clever stuff.

Already funded with 12 days to go — and carrying a solid track record of previous successful Kickstarter projects behind them — I cannot recommend this one highly enough. I loved Wish You Were Here, as well as the follow-up series.

fuzzies

For a change of pace, our next project is The Fuzzies.

Basically, this is a Jenga-style dexterity game, but made out of little fuzzy balls instead of pieces of wood. And instead of choosing which piece you remove and place on top, that is determined by a deck of cards instead.

I don’t know how it works — actually staying upright in the first place — but apparently it does.

This family-friendly game has already tripled its funding goal with 29 days to go, so it might be right up your alley.

enigmas

The next project we’re sharing today is the ENIGMAS deck of puzzle playing cards.

David Kwong — constructor, magician, and all-around puzzly fellow — has masterminded a puzzle mystery and a series of hidden messages and ciphers, all contained within a deck of cards.

ENIGMAS marries some of the ideas from his Enigmatist show — specifically the historical aspects — with an ingenious puzzle hunt to create an intriguing solving situation. Plus, once you’ve cracked all the puzzly elements, you’ve still got a beautiful deck of cards to enjoy.

This project has blasted well past its funding goal, and with 9 days to go, they’ve added a special limited-run deck of red cards (to compliment the standard blue deck) that will only be offered to Kickstarter backers and never sold in stores. With a pedigree like David’s, you can’t go wrong!

sherlock

Our next project is bigger and no less ambitious. It’s Sherlock’s Mysteries: An Interactive Puzzle Adventure (not to be confused with another Sherlock-based Kickstarter running right now).

Combining board game and escape room elements, this project contains 10 mysteries (described as chapters) that combine into one interwoven narrative where you try to save the life of Sherlock Holmes!

By combining murder mystery-style solving with puzzles like ciphers and deduction puzzles, this project definitely tries to encapsulate the experience of being the Great Detective from the comfort of your own home.

About halfway to its goal with 21 days left, this project isn’t a lock (given the price tag of $135 to experience the entire story), but it’s definitely worth a look. (I’m especially intrigued by the fact that certain levels offer “refill kits” that allow the experience to be played more than once!)

shivers

For something just as puzzly but more immersive from a roleplaying point of view, there’s The Shivers.

In this game, someone has gone missing in the house owned by the Shivers family, and you play one of the family members trying to solve the mystery and defeat dangerous foes at work in various sinister and creepy scenarios.

This gameplay is bolstered by pop-up 3-D models of the various rooms of the house, bringing the setting and different stories to life right before your eyes.

This is a very clever combination of puzzle hunt, roleplaying game, and pop-up book that I’ve never really seen before, and like some of these other projects, it has blown past its funding goal with strong support from interested gamers and puzzlers.

legacy

Following the escape room/puzzle mystery at home template, Legacy: Quest for a Family Treasure is our next project to discuss.

You receive a black box in the mail, and inside, you discover in your estranged father’s will that there is a family treasure hidden somewhere in Europe. And you’ll have to unravel secrets of the past in order to secure your future.

This immersive mystery involves audio and video clues, physical evidence to pore over, and even incorporates Internet searching into the gameplay. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the level of depth and attention to detail in this one, and clearly I’m not the only one, as the project has already met and surpassed its funding goal with 10 days to go.

The familial element adds a neat twist to the mystery-at-home genre, and I suspect this project will do very well.

labyrinth

The last project we’ll be sharing today is The Labyrinth: An Immersive Multi-Platform Puzzle Challenge.

There’s a lot of stuff included in this one: puzzle boxes, ciphers, maps, tools. They’re sending you a CRATE full of material here. The goal is to move through the various chambers of a labyrinth, solving puzzles as you go.

With 55 puzzles included — and an expected solve time of 8-10 hours — this is a breathtaking amount of puzzly paraphernalia. So there’s cost to consider here. The full puzzle costs $195 (there’s even a more expensive deluxe edition), so although that easily makes it the priciest project we’re discussing today, but also one of the most visually impressive.

And yet, with 14 days to go, they’ve already passed their funding goal nine times over. Check it out and see what you think of the expansive puzzle selection offered here.


Have any of these games or projects hooked you? Tell us which ones you’re supporting in the comments section below! And if there are any campaigns you’re supporting that we missed, let us know!

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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.


ampws

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.

amppocketxwd1      amppocketxwd2

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!)

ampxwd

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.

ampsudoku

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.

ampkurosu

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.

amplogic

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.

mysteriousmansionsmall

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.]


Thank you 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!

A New Maze Experience with a Ghostly Twist!

pacman1

[Image courtesy of Pixilart.]

Whether it’s a hedge maze or an escape room, an inflatable obstacle course or a murder mystery dinner, there’s nothing quite like life-sized interactive puzzling. It’s an immersive experience that can challenge you both physically and mentally, creating memories of challenges conquered and victories achieved that will last a lifetime.

And next year, the citizens of Houston will get to test their puzzly mettle in an iconic scenario: the Pac-Man maze.

pacman2

[Image courtesy of Pinterest.]

That’s right, thanks to The Maze, intrepid puzzlers will take on the role of Pac-Man and try to outmaneuver Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde while collecting various pieces of fruit around the play area.

But as it turns out, that’s not all!

From the write-up on The Maze’s website:

You can get lost in a huge arcade-style maze that will have you and your friends dodging ghosts left and right and trying to collect different pieces of fruit. Collecting fruit isn’t your only objective though, you’ll need to complete a coded “Puzzle”! If you’re the first to finish the puzzle and gather all the fruit, you’ll be at the top of the leaderboard and crowned the ultimate winner!

BUT, if you get caught by a cheeky ghost, you’ll lose a life (not a real one, thankfully) – lose three and you’re out!

pacman3

[Image courtesy of Gamespot.]

I can’t find any pictures from a previous Maze event, so I’m not sure what it will look like. Of course, as you can tell from the picture above, this isn’t the first time Pac-Man has ventured into the third dimension.

In 2015, a life-size Pac-Man game was created for a Bud Light “Up for Whatever” Super Bowl commercial (but without the additional coded puzzle advertised for the upcoming Houston event).

And if Houston is anything close to this, it’ll be an absolute blast.

Would you like to test your puzzly skill against the dreaded ghosts of Pac-Man, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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PN Video Game Review: Untitled Goose Game

goosegame1

[Image courtesy of USG.]

A game review? We know, it’s been a long time. Yes, we often discuss the puzzly aspects of video games both new and old, but it’s rare that we review them.

Thankfully, friend of the blog Jennifer Cunningham — puzzler, artist, musicologist, and former Tabletop Tournament Champion — offered to step up and review a puzzle game as clever as it is subversive, one that’s already made quite an impression across social media.

So, without further ado, let’s turn things over to Jen for her take on Untitled Goose Game.


On September 23rd, 2019, a new video game release took the Internet by storm.

Untitled Goose Game, an independent stealth and puzzle game from House House, has a straightforward description: It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose.

That’s it. That’s the tagline. And yet it has already won the hearts (and memes) of many.

goosegame2

[Image courtesy of Polygon.]

Yes, players take on the role of a rogue goose, being mischievous and causing mayhem in a quiet English village. The objective of the game is to complete a series of tasks to advance to the next area of the town. Players are given very simple abilities as the goose: you can waddle and run, you can grab and pick up items with your beak, you can honk, you can duck (pun not intended), and you can flap your wings.

With these skills, players must determine how to complete their “To Do List” tasks, while avoiding being thwarted or chased away by the village’s (perhaps justifiably) irate citizens. Such tasks include “get into the garden,” “break the broom,” and “be awarded a flower.”

Unlike many video games, there are no hints given to players such as flashing or highlighted items, arrows, dialog, etc., so players must experiment and problem-solve in order to accomplish the vaguely-described tasks.

goosegame3

[Image courtesy of Goose Game.]

Since there is no life system and no time limits, players are free to explore the world and see what sticks. Sneaking around, hiding objects, and sometimes deliberately calling attention to your goose-self are required to succeed. It is completely up to the player to figure out how to approach each endeavor. Additionally, players will discover some hidden tasks as they experiment and try to solve each task’s unique puzzle.

Untitled Goose Game is fun, farcical, and highly entertaining. It will make you think, laugh, and almost wish you were a rebellious goose yourself. But a word of warning: it is a relatively quick game. Players can easily win the entire game in just a few hours.

While there are bonus tasks that open up after winning, there isn’t must incentive to replay the game over and over unless you’re determined to beat your own personal timed record. We can only hope that the developers come up with a sequel or expanded gameplay in the future.

Untitled Goose Game is available for digital purchase in the Nintendo Switch Store and for PC/Mac at Epic Games.

goosegame4

[Image courtesy of EuroGame.net.]

Ratings for Untitled Goose Game:

  • Enjoyability: 4/5 — This game provides a high level of entertainment despite the limited world. You truly feel as one with the goose. The varying difficulty of tasks is well balanced to allow players of all puzzle-solving abilities to accomplish the game’s objectives.
  • Puzzle incorporation: 4/5 — Completing tasks requires the player to determine how to use your basic goose skills to achieve them with no clear directive on how to accomplish them. Prepare for a lot of trial-and-error. It is truly a problem-solving puzzle game.
  • Graphics: 3/5 — Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is an indie game so the graphics are not on par with most PC/Switch video games or franchises. The graphics are somewhat flat, similar to paper cutouts. But at the same time, that is part of the game’s charm (much like its non-title title) and detail is certainly not lacking. The colors are muted but calming, the world is crisp and clean, and movement is smooth.
  • Gameplay: 4/5 — The drive to sow a little chaos lives within all of us, and this game lets us play out that devious urge in perhaps the most innocent way while challenging players with puzzly goodness. If you’re going to cause trouble, might as well be a cute goose just doing its goose thing. The satisfaction that comes with completing a task is extremely gratifying, as is the sandbox-esque freedom of being able to cause mayhem for no honkin’ reason at all.

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!