The Ultimate Jigsaw Puzzle Table?

puzzle tables

Whether you’re a jigsaw puzzle solver or a tabletop game enthusiast, you’ve probably seen puzzle and game tables. A relatively new addition to the furniture options available for puzzlers and game fans, these tables generally come in one of two forms.

Either they have a removable top with a recessed area underneath to keep your puzzles mid-solve or games mid-play, or they have a central solving surface and side drawers to contain separated pieces. Sometimes this solving surface tilts up / tilts toward you to make it easier to work on.

But those are generally what you’ll see when it comes to puzzle / gaming tables.

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[This table is available on Etsy.]

Each has its pluses and minuses. With the removable top version, you have to put the top somewhere, and then you have the deeper solving space, which some solvers find uncomfortable.

With the center table and drawers, you’re still dedicating most of a table to puzzles, and many of them struggle to keep your work in place when folded up or moved around. (Some of these have a removable tray, which can slide into the body of the table, but this can also be unwieldy.)

simone table 3

As they say in the infomercials, there’s gotta be a better way. And YouTuber/inventor/DIY guru Simone Giertz came up with her own solution.

Simone is known for her wacky, inventive, hilarious, and creative construction projects, many of which involve robotics or moving parts. So let’s see what she came up with.

Puzzle-Table-feature-image-10012021

Her table features two hand cranks, each of which solves one of the problems with the removable top version of a puzzle/gaming table.

The first crank turns gears which roll the table top underneath and out of the way, revealing the hidden puzzle-solving space inside. This prevents you from having to worry about storing or handling a heavy or cumbersome tabletop while you solve.

simone table 2

The second crank raises the solving space until it’s flush with the sides of the table. This removes any need to lean down into a recessed play area or solving space to enjoy your puzzles and games. The puzzle literally comes to you!

simone table 4

Plus, this solves some of the issues with other solving tables. There’s no removable tray to navigate, or sliding drawers or flaps that could cause what you’ve already built to shift or fall apart. It simply lowers into the body of the table itself, otherwise resting just as you left it.

simone table

This video shares the entire construction process, including missteps, problems, new solutions, and the eventual successful reveal. (Fair warning: the video is mostly safe for work, but there are two random f-bombs in it, so be aware.)

As you can see, the final product is absolutely beautiful, and unlike virtually every other puzzle or game table you see on the market today.

Pretty much every jigsaw solver I know — and a fair few board game players — would love a piece like this in their house, myself included.

simone table 5

What do you think, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Would you like to have this lovely table in your house? Or is there another piece of puzzly furniture that’s caught your eye? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Puzzling and Brain Health Update: Crosswords and Jigsaw Puzzles

brain health

[Loads of images come up when you google “brain health” or “brain fitness,”
but I liked this one much more than all of the ones with brains lifting barbells.]

“Brain health.” “Brain fitness.” “Brain-training.” Ever since I started writing for PuzzleNation Blog, I’ve been chronicling the debate over whether solving puzzles makes a verifiable, detectable impact on brain function, development, and overall health.

There are plenty of puzzle magazines, apps, websites, and services that claim to help with brain fitness. Some make vague assertions related to memory, mental flexibility, and other cognitive functions. Others are insanely specific, promising to reverse the aging process or to help prevent the onset of dementia and other cognitive difficulties later in life.

(Examples of the latter style of advertisement are rarer these days after Lumosity’s two-million-dollar payout for falsely advertising that their puzzle games could “reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with age and other serious health conditions,” as well as “stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease.”)

cogs-in-the-shape-of-a-human-brain-ryger

[This puzzle by Ryger can be found here!]

Whether we’re talking short-term or long-term benefits to brain health from puzzling, you’ll find dozens of articles online arguing both sides. Unfortunately, so much of the data out there is inconclusive, or is hindered by test groups too small to be applicable to the general population.

However, the positive, verifiable data we can find is encouraging.

Tetris has been used by researchers to help people suffering from traumatic flashbacks, a type of post-traumatic stress. The University of Exeter conducted a study involving more than 19,000 participants that concluded that adults age 50 and older who regularly solve puzzles like crosswords and Sudoku have better brain function than those who do not.

(While 19,000 is still relatively small when compared to millions upon millions of adults over 50, it’s still one of the largest test groups yet assembled for brain health studies related to puzzles.)

dory

And while people are always discussing short-term memory or long-term memory and how they relate to puzzle solving, it turns out there’s a middle ground between the two that crosswords may have a positive effect on. An article from Scientific American last year discussed how crossword solving engages the episodic buffer, one of the mechanisms related to our working memory, our ability to temporarily hold information while performing cognitive tasks.

Most cognitive activities engage the working memory through either verbal components or visuospatial components. (Visuospatial means how we perceive the relationships between different objects in multiple dimensions). But as it turns out, while playing Scrabble or solving crosswords, both visuospatial and verbal components are utilized by the short-term memory.

Of course, this is preliminary work, and there’s so much more to learn about short-term and long-term memory, but apparently, wordplay like Scrabble and crosswords could have a unique effect on how our working memory functions. That’s pretty cool!

But they’re not the only puzzles that we’ve discovered some fascinating new details about. Jigsaw puzzles can have a positive effect on the brain during the solving process.

BrainGames-scaled

Now, like crosswords and Sudoku puzzles, jigsaw puzzles have been the subject of several articles claiming they can help with brain health (or even decrease the presence of Beta-amyloid protein in the brain, a major component of the plaque that indicates Alzheimer’s disease). But I cannot verify those facts in scientific journals to my satisfaction, so I’m tabling that part of the argument.

What I do want to talk about it is how jigsaw puzzle solving can induce a mental state similar to dreaming, one that helps with stress, relaxation, and mood.

The company Sanesco Health is heralded as an industry leader in neurotransmitter testing, and according to an article on their site, placing those tricky little pieces in the right places can do you a world of good:

The connections made while working on jigsaw puzzles aren’t limited to our brain cells. Exercising both sides of the brain simultaneously also allows the brain to move from a Beta state, the wakeful mind, into an “Alpha” state, the same mental state experienced while dreaming. The Alpha state is where we tap into our subconscious mind.

Jigsaw puzzles naturally induce this state of creative, focused meditation, where connections can be made on deeper levels. And that release of dopamine with every puzzle piece you successfully place is an added bonus! Dopamine causes improved motor skills, an increase in concentration, optimism, confidence, and an enhanced recollection.

[Imagine how restful she felt after this!]

Considering that jigsaw puzzle sales spiked during the pandemic — with some outlets reporting sales increases of up to 500% — it sounds like people were either consciously or subconsciously making the perfect choice to cope with the stresses of lockdown.

As always, we’ll keep our eye out for any additional data on these findings.

But in the meantime, happy puzzling! It might be good for you!


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The Rapid Advancement of Wooden Puzzles!

The essential elements of puzzles are centuries old. The knot to be unraveled, the wordplay to be processed, the pieces to be reassembled, the message to be decoded, the inconsistency to be spotted.

And yet, puzzles continue to evolve, finding new ways to express and employ these ancient components into fresh, satisfying solving experiences.

We recently discussed the evolution of Rubik’s-style twisty puzzles thanks to 3-D printing and computer modeling, and the same is true for an even older puzzle style: wooden puzzles.

Wooden puzzles frequently adhere to one of several formats:

Many of these puzzles are still effective and satisfying challenges today. If you’ve ever tried to hold four pieces in place at once in order to assemble a wooden camel, or suss out the dozen or so steps to open a himitsu-bako (or Japanese puzzle box), you know what I’m talking about.

Of course, like their twisty counterparts, these puzzles have only grown more complex over time.

And a relatively recent addition to the arsenal of wooden puzzle designers and creators is at-home laser cutters allowing for efficient production of puzzles and pieces at an affordable rate.

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Over the years, we’ve seen projects like Cirkusu and the Baffledazzle line of specialized jigsaw puzzles, as well as the hit Kickstarter project Codex Silenda (which even appeared in an episode of NCIS: New Orleans), thanks to crowdfunding campaigns and affordable laser cutters.

Check out some of the most recent wooden puzzles I’ve encountered, created through laser cutter design:

Martin Raynsford’s Antikythera Tablets

This collection of five puzzle tablets, each themed around different aspects of Greek mythology, create a beautiful and well-constructed narrative chain that feels brilliantly unique and immersive.

iDventure’s Cluebox Escape Rooms in a Box

These multi-stage puzzle boxes are completely self-contained. You need to explore every inch of its surface to find clues and tools to unlock each stage of the puzzle box and reveal further challenges!

The field has advanced so far in just last few years, so who knows where wooden puzzles will go in the future?

Have you seen any mind-blowing wooden brain teasers that you’d recommend, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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How People Used Puzzles and Games to Endure the Pandemic

Puzzles and games have been there for many people during the pandemic.

Many puzzle and game companies offered (and continue to offer) “COVID discounts” and giveaways to help people financially impacted by the crisis. Companies released free online or zoom-compatible versions of their products to help people get by.

There are all sorts of articles out there about how Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games have served as critical socializing tools in virtual hangouts. Bar-style trivia, zoom games, Jackbox, Board Game Arena, Fall Guys, Among Us… lots of communal activities went virtual as puzzles and games filled a rapidly growing niche.

Whether solved alone or with other members of the household, jigsaw puzzles sales increased 500% or more. Online sites to coordinate trades sprang up, allowing people to swap puzzles they’d solved before for ones new to them.

At a terrible time for many people, puzzles and games helped us cope.

And honestly, if you know the history of games and puzzles, it makes sense. Many of them have been born out of unpleasant circumstances.

Monopoly was a hit during the Great Depression, offering an escape and the illusory feeling of being rich. The game itself only cost two dollars, so it was a solid investment with a ton of replay value.

Candy Land was created to entertain children with polio (although that fact wasn’t commonly known for 50 years). Clue was designed during air raid drills as a way to pass the time. The Checkered Game of Life (later The Game of Life) was inspired by Milton Bradley’s own wild swing of business misfortune.

Risk and other conflict-heavy games weren’t popular in postwar Germany, so an entire genre of games that avoided direct conflict was born: Eurogames.

It’s just as true in the modern day. What game was flying off the shelves during COVID-19 lockdowns? Pandemic.

That combination of escapism and social interaction is so powerful. Games are low-stakes. They offer both randomness (a break from monotony) and a degree of control (something sorely missing during lockdown).

Puzzles too assisted folks in maintaining their mental health. And isn’t it interesting that crossword solving, something viewed by many as a solitary endeavor — I guess they never needed to ask someone else 5-Down — helped fill a crucial social role for people?

Constructors stepped up in interesting, inventive ways. The sense of community fostered by online crossword events like Crossword Tournament From Your Couch (which filled the void of ACPT in 2020) and the Boswords Themeless League was absolutely invaluable to puzzlers who couldn’t attend some of the highlights of the puzzle calendar year.

As I said before, there are numerous articles out there celebrating the benefits of roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and more.

Roleplaying games certainly helped keep me sane during lockdown. It might sound ridiculous, but dealing with world-threatening threats, fiercely dangerous monsters, and sinister plots that I could DO something about was medicinal. It was escape in its truest form. It recharged me, allowing me to lose myself in storytelling with friends.

The last 18 months were hard. There may be hard months ahead. But I’m grateful for the puzzle/game community — and the many marvelous pastimes they’ve created — for helping me and many others get by. To smile. To cope. To socialize. And to enjoy.

What games and puzzles have helped you deal with unpleasant circumstances, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.


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What’s Better in Puzzles and Games – Loud or Quiet?

One of my favorite things about puzzles is how peaceful they are.

Sure, escape rooms can be cacophonous, and dropping a jigsaw puzzle can be infuriating, but for the most part, puzzles are soothing.

The satisfying scratch of pencil on paper as you fill in a word, watching the pile of unplaced jigsaw pieces slowly dwindle as the picture continues to form, getting a little victory chime when you solve a puzzle in your favorite app…

Board games, on the other hand, tend to get loud.

Sometimes, it’s good-natured debate or enthusiastic contributions, like when things get tense in a cooperative game, or when the game generally encourages rambunctiousness, like Throw Throw Burrito.

Other times, it’s a by-product of the gameplay itself. There’s a fair amount of frenzied clacking in Hungry Hungry Hippos, for instance, but I never hear people complain about the noise that comes along with a round or two of marble-chomping.

[Image courtesy of Grey Mass Games.]

Of course, that increase in volume can be for reasons that are a little more heated. Maybe someone betrayed someone else in a game like Sheriff of Nottingham. Monopoly famously inspires people to flip the board in frustration.

Social deduction games where identities are secret, or where there’s some level of deception involved, also tend to get pretty loud. Whether it’s Mafia, Ultimate Werewolf, Secret Hitler, Blood on the Clocktower, or others, raised voices are common.

But when it comes to loud board games, I think we can all agree that one particular dexterity takes the cake.

Say it with me now…

JENGA!

Yes, Jenga — by design — is loud. The only way the game can end is with a toppling tower of wooden blocks. CRASH! I know several board game cafes that have banned it for that specific reason.

Sure, KerPlunk can be loud, but even a stack of falling marbles doesn’t seem to compare to the jarring clatter of a stack of Jenga tiles hitting the table and/or the floor.

Sure, Perfection can be loud, but that’s kind of the point. You’re trying to complete the task BEFORE the buzzer. So it is possible to play without the cacophony.

Jenga is so infamously loud that there are other games that sell themselves on being quieter than Jenga but offering the same stacking mechanic. Rhino Hero and Rhino Hero Super Battle employ cards instead of wooden blocks, so the collapse is less more tolerable, while Catch the Moon employs ladders, which makes for an oddly soothing yet still stressful game experience.

But where do you stand on noise-making games and puzzles? Do you like them soothing and soft or calamitous and crashing? And just what is the loudest game? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.


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Prose, Poetry, and Puzzles: Multiple Ways to Look at the Same Text!

Puzzle fans are used to searching for multiple avenues of entry when it comes to solving.

Crosswords have the across and down clues. Some people go straight for the pop culture clues, while others seek out fill-in-the-blank clues. Diagramless crosswords add an additional challenge by removing the black squares and set numbers that guide you.

Fill-Ins and Word Seeks have all sorts of entries you can start hunting through the grid for. Logic problems have several clues you can use to whittle down possibilities and utilize the information you have.

Heck, Rubik’s solvers are positively awash in potential paths to success.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

Fans of more complicated jigsaw puzzles are also familiar with this concept. The standard approach is to find the edges and work your way in, but I know plenty of solvers who either sort by color or build from the middle around recognizable figures in the image.

Of course, jigsaw puzzle companies know this and they abandon the traditional rules of jigsaw puzzles, creating some diabolical ways to force you to change your tactics and find new ways in. There are jigsaw puzzles with no edge pieces (meaning no flat edges), so-called “infinite” puzzles like the one pictured above, and brain-teaser jigsaws where the pieces can be assembled in many different ways, but there’s only one correct solution.

And as it turns out, there are a few historical items that prove this sort of multi-approach thinking isn’t limited to puzzles.

book-1

[Image courtesy of This Is Colossal.]

Say hello to a marvelous variation on the dos-à-dos book concept that resides in the National Library of Sweden.

Normally, dos-à-dos books (or back-to-back) books are just what they sound like: two books bound together at the spine. But this religious text is six books in one. Depending on which clasps you have open and shut, you can read this book six different ways.

Each book is a devotional text printed in Germany during the 16th century — including Der Kleine Katechismus by Martin Luther — and it’s a masterwork of craftsmanship, skill, and design. It boggles my mind just looking at it.

And yet, a single book with six ways to read it seems like a drop in the bucket when you compare it to a poem that can be read thousands of different ways.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

This is Star Gauge, also known as Xuanji Tu (Picture of the Turning Sphere). It is a palindrome poem by Su Hui, a 4th-century female Chinese poet whose most famous creation still amazes to this day.

Written in the form of a 29 x 29 grid of characters, Xuanji Tu can be read forward or backwards, horizontally or vertically or diagonally, or organized by its color-coded grids.

As you might have guessed, it’s called a palindrome poem because it can be read backwards or forwards, though some scholars have estimated more than 2,800 different rhyming poems can be produced by reading it different ways.

Most of her other works have been lost to history, but this one piece alone leaves an incredible legacy.

Whether it’s a six-fold book, a puzzle with an infinite number of arrangements, or a poem with thousands of different interpretations, it’s amazing what you can create with a puzzly mindset and the insight to approach things from a unique perspective.


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