Touching a Piece of Puzzle History

Friend of the blog Peter Kanter came by the other day and showed me this curious piece of puzzle history that his brother had stumbled upon in a garage sale or a flea market.

Little did I realize I would soon be holding a puzzle that predates the crossword puzzle by over twenty years.

According to the instruction manual — which features rules for ten different spelling and anagramming games, one or two of which bear no small resemblance to Bananagrams in play style and spirit — this game was copyrighted in 1890 by McLoughlin Bros.

According to one of their catalogs, this game “consists of a box full of letters, so selected as to be most useful in a number of exceedingly interesting spelling games. The letters, printed on cardboard, are easily distinguished and handled. The box label is unusually bright and attractive.”

Yes, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I’ve been able to do a little research on this marvelous find.

McLoughlin Bros. was a publishing firm based in New York that operated from the mid-1800s until the early 1900s. They specialized in children’s books and picture books, but also published linen books, games, paper dolls, puzzles, and toys.

They were among the first publishing houses to employ color printing techniques in products marketed specifically for children. (They also helped popularize the works of Thomas Nast, curiously enough.)

[A sampling of McLoughlin Bros.-style art, a style definitely reflected in the box art of the anagram game above.]

As it turns out, after the death of one of the founders, the company was sold to none other than Milton Bradley — makers of Battleship, Axis & Allies, Candyland, Connect Four, Operation, and Jenga, among many many others — who had continued success with some of the McLoughlin Bros. products, including mechanical paper toys called “Jolly Jump-Ups.” (You might know “mechanical paper toys” better as pop-up books.) Production of those toys was halted, however, during World War II, presumably to save materials for the war effort.

There is now a collector’s market for McLoughlin products — check out this listing for a game board produced by the firm — and if this anagram game is any indication, the color and striking artistic designs from a century ago still hold up today.

And although I can’t definitively say that this exact game predates the crossword, there’s no doubt that this sort of wordplay was delighting kids and adults alike well before Arthur Wynne’s “Word-Cross” puzzle saw the light of day.

How cool is that?


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TableTop Day: PuzzleNation Style!

The third annual International TableTop Day was last Saturday, and according to reports across the Internet, it was the most successful and joyous TableTop Day yet! Games were donated by some of the top companies (our friends at Looney Labs and Steve Jackson Games among them) as well as by the folks at Geek & Sundry, and the puzzle game community came together once again to prove how amazing and warm puzzlers and gamers can be.

For the second year in a row, we at PuzzleNation had our own little TableTop Day event with our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles, and it was great fun! Games were played, an insane amount of sugary treats were prepared, snacks were consumed, and fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers were introduced to some terrific games.

I raided my personal puzzle and game collection to provide some choice offerings for my fellow puzzlers, and readers of the blog will no doubt recognize several items from previous product reviews!

Here’s the full rundown of games we had:

(Sadly, a lot of personal favorites had to be excluded because they would take more than 30 minutes to play, like some of the offerings from Cheapass Games and other great companies, and it was a work day. I promise, this is a fraction of my full puzzle and game collection.)

Timeline proved to be one of the biggest hits of the day, because it’s so simple to play and offers endless replay value. (Especially with seven different editions of the game to choose from!)

I also managed to win my first game of Jenga in what seems like a decade!

There was plenty of switching between games as well. Here, a game of Just Desserts immediately followed a round of Bananagrams Wild Tiles!

But that wasn’t all! To include fellow puzzlers who couldn’t attend the event in person, we had our own Hashtag Game running in-house all day. Inspired by both @midnight hashtag games and our friends at Schmovie, we had a contest to create “Penny/Dell Puzzle Movies.”

I’ll be posting ALL of the entries on Friday, but here are a few favorites:

  • The Scarlet Letterboxes
  • Schindler’s List-A-Crostic
  • Double Trouble Indemnity

All in all, it was an awesome time. Hope everyone enjoyed!

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It’s Follow-Up Friday: TableTop Day edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of puzzly holidays!

Saturday, April 11 is the third annual International TableTop Day, a day that has been set aside for family and friends to get together and play games. Board games, card games, role-playing games, puzzles… anything that involves gathering in person and having fun around a table fits the bill!

Although the actual holiday is tomorrow, we’re celebrating early around here! The PuzzleNation Crew is getting together with our friends from Penny/Dell Puzzles for a few hours of TableTop Day fun this afternoon!

[A few of the games we’ll be partaking in today.]

I’ll be posting pics on social media throughout the day, and there will be a full recap in Tuesday’s blog post!

Not only that, but we’ve added two new collections to our library of puzzles for in-app purchase for the Penny Dell Crosswords App! The April 2015 Deluxe Set has 35 puzzles to challenge you, and Collection 5 has a whopping 150 puzzles to choose from! Just in time for TableTop Day!

 

Will you be participating in tomorrow’s festivities, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let me know! I’d love to hear about your plans!

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United we solve…

[President Bill Clinton and Brit Hume team up to tackle one of Merl Reagle‘s crosswords.]

A while back, I wrote a post about some of the many puzzle competitions and tournaments that are hosted around the world. But ever since then, I’ve been pondering how odd it is that puzzle competition is so prevalent when puzzles themselves have always been a collaborative effort.

Think about it. Jigsaw puzzles can be solved alone, but aren’t your memories of previous jigsaw puzzles always the ones you solved with others? When you get stuck on a crossword, what’s the first thing you do? You ask someone nearby. I know plenty of couples that solve crosswords and other puzzles together.

[How great is this stock photo I found? It makes me laugh every time I look at it.]

Paradoxically, most group puzzle games are competitive, like Boggle or Bananagrams. Even the games where you build something together, like Words with Friends, Scrabble, Jenga, or Castellan, are all competitive games.

Board games follow the same pattern. The vast majority of them pit players against each other, encouraging adversarial gameplay that leaves a single winner.

[Let the Wookiee win…]

But thankfully, there is a small (but growing!) number of board games that have the same cooperative spirit that pen-and-paper puzzles often do. These cooperative games encourage the players to strategize together and help each other to accomplish tasks and achieve victory as a team. Essentially, instead of playing against each other, they’re playing against the game.

Whether you’re defending your castle from monsters (Justin De Witt’s Castle Panic) or trying to stop a monstrous evil from conquering the world (Arkham Horror), you succeed or fail as a team. It’s a wonderful gameplay experience either way.

One of the top names in cooperative board games is Matt Leacock, creator of Pandemic and Forbidden Island. His games are exceedingly challenging but an immensely good time, even if you fail to stop the viruses or the island sinks before you can gather up all the treasures. It just makes you more determined to play better next time. (This is a wonderful counterpoint to the disillusionment that can crop up when one player trounces another in standard board games.)

There are some cooperative games, like Shadows Over Camelot or Betrayal At House On The Hill that have it both ways, serving as a team game until one player betrays the others, and then it becomes a team vs. spoiler game.

While competitive gameplay certainly does have its advantages, sometimes it’s nice to take some time out and win or lose as a team.

What do you think, PuzzleNationers? Do you prefer games with a winner, or do you enjoy cooperative games? Are there any great cooperative games or puzzles I missed? Let me know!

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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Jenga Edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

For those new to PuzzleNation Blog, Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and update the PuzzleNation audience on how these projects are doing and what these people have been up to in the meantime.

Today, I’d like to revisit our TableTop Day event and ponder the possibilities…

One of the games that received a lot of attention on TableTop Day was Jenga. That’s not surprising, since it’s a classic game, one that’s quick to set up and play.

And I did quite poorly. I lost five out of six games that day. (Though, to be fair, Corin the Puzzle Bear didn’t fare so well, either…)

In the wake of my dismal Jenga performance, one of my fellow puzzlers sent me the following YouTube clip, featuring quite possibly the largest Jenga game ever played:

I must say, that makes me wonder if my Jenga playing might improve if I used a proxy. Not one of these behemoth construction machines, of course, but maybe one of those little robot arms from Radio Shack (like the one pictured at the top of today’s post) could do the job!

Either that or I could bust out one of my old LEGO Technic kits and build my own.

[Picture from Technicopedia.com]

Okay, that’ll be the plan. Next TableTop Day, I’m bringing a robot arm and a desire for redemption!

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!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: TableTop Day Edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

For those new to PuzzleNation Blog, Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and update the PuzzleNation audience on how these projects are doing and what these people have been up to in the meantime.

And today, I’m following up on all the International TableTop Day goodness we got up to this week.

The PuzzleNation offices weren’t open on April 5 for the actual TableTop Day, so we celebrated a few days late with an event on Tuesday, and we invited our pals from Penny/Dell Puzzles to join us in all the puzzly game activities we had planned.

Here’s the table of available games for play that day! Everything from one-player brain teasers from ThinkFun (like Rush Hour and the Sudoku-inspired Chocolate Fix) to bigger group games like Apples to Apples and Scattergories, and everything in between! (Including previously reviewed games like Castellan, Pink Hijinks, ROFL!, Fluxx: The Board Game, and Loonacy!)

Here, fellow puzzlers partake in a spirited round of Apples to Apples, the perfect way to blow off a little steam at work after a long morning of puzzlesmithing.

Furiously contested games of Bananagrams and Qwirkle were conducted at either end of our play area, and both were big hits with attendees.

I even had the opportunity to test my mettle against Penny/Dell’s well-traveled Corin the Puzzle Bear in a few rounds of Jenga.

While he beat me handily in two straight games, the tide soon turned against him in round three.

We had a pretty decent turnout overall, and everyone who attended had fun. What more can you ask for, really? (Other than more excuses to play games during work, that is…)

I hope your International TableTop Day was just as enjoyable. As Wil Wheaton says on his YouTube show TableTop, play more games!

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