PuzzleNation 2016 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2016 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

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We’re so excited to be bringing you our biggest ever gift guide! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down into categories for ease of searching. We have puzzle apps, puzzle books, downloadable puzzles and puzzles by mail, jigsaw puzzles, puzzle games, board games, card games, party games, and trivia games. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


Puzzle Apps

The Penny Dell Crossword App, available for both iOS and Android users, not only features bundles of terrific puzzle content, but it offers a free daily puzzle to all solvers!

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Our new Penny Dell Sudoku app is also available for both Android and iOS, and offers four different difficulty levels: Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert! Whether you’re a newbie to Sudoku or a master, you’ll find the right puzzles for you!

You can check out our full line of puzzle apps on the PuzzleNation website!


Puzzle Books

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Logic Problems ($10.50) or the Fill-In Value Pack ($8.95). Or perhaps you like some variety in your solving, and you’d prefer the Stocking Stuffer Pack ($9), complete with pencils to keep you puzzling, or the Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket Puzzle 4-Pack ($24.50). Or you’d like to unwind with their Coloring Book 4-Pack ($17.95) and sip some coffee from a vibrant Word Nerd mug ($9.50). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. 15% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

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And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($6.88)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Easy Like Monday Morning Crosswords ($6.26) and Easy Breezy Crosswords ($8.95)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($8.95)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley and Francis Heaney’s Drunk Crosswords ($7.95)

–Patrick Berry’s Son of the Crypt Cryptic Crosswords ($15)

–David L. Hoyt’s Word Winder ($6.95) and Jumble Puzzles ($9.95)

–Cynthia Morris’s American Acrostics, CynAcrostics, and AnimaCrostics ($9.95)

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The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker

And we simply have to mention one of the most innovative puzzle books in recent memory, the interactive puzzle novel The Maze of Games! Now going into its second edition, this delightfully challenging read allows solvers to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of puzzles, this is a one-of-a-kind solving experience. Factor in the Wil Wheaton-read audiobook and Austin Wintory’s soundtrack, and you have a real winner here. ($49.95)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

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Collins Little Book of Bananagrams

Are you a Bananagrams fan who’s looking for something to give you an edge? The Collins Little Book of Bananagrams might be just what you need! With a list of words you might not otherwise think of, suggestions for other games to play with Bananagrams tiles, and techniques for speeding up your gameplay, you’re sure to be Top Banana with this handy guide in your pocket. ($9.95)

Secret Agent Training Manual by Elizabeth Singer Hunt

Looking for a terrific introductory guide to codebreaking and encryption for younger solvers? Check out the Secret Agent Training Manual, covering anagrams, ciphers, and other forms of encryption, complete with codes for readers to crack themselves! ($6.99)

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The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin

Join intrepid young puzzler Winston in unraveling an unexpected mystery in The Puzzling World of Winston Breen! Crack puzzles alongside him as he tries to uncover who’s behind a hometown puzzle hunt that’s gone unsolved for 25 years! And if you enjoy this one, there are two follow-up books to keep you engaged and solving! ($7.99)

[Check out our review of The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by clicking here!]


Downloadable Puzzles and Puzzles by Mail

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers, subscriptions, and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Crosswords Club, edited by Patti Varol (puzzle bundles by mail, available in both regular and large print; $39.95 for 12 issues, $59.95 for large print)

Puzzle Your Kids by Eric Berlin ($18 for 3 months, $32 for 6 months, $60 for 1 year)

Piece of Cake Crosswords by Patrick Blindauer ($30 for 1 year)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($20 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword ($24 per year) and Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords ($12 per year)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($25 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Various Themed Puzzlefests ($15 each)

–The LA Times’ Crossword LA 2016 puzzle pack ($5)

–Patrick Merrell’s Punchline Puzzles ($10) and Aha! Word Puzzles ($10)


Jigsaw Puzzles

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Puzzometry

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available as Puzzometry ($16), Puzzometry Jr. ($11), and Puzzometry Squares ($16), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

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Tavern Puzzles

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to free your heart from the tangled pieces of Heart’s Desire or remove the ring from the Iron Maiden, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($22)


Puzzle Games

These one- and two-player puzzle games are perfect to train your brain and keep you guessing!

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Clue Master, Circuit Maze, and Back Spin (ThinkFun)

ThinkFun meshes learning and gameplay with three logic games ready to challenge kids and adults alike. Whether it’s the Rubik’s-inspired twisty-turny solve of Back Spin ($14.99), the Sudoku-style deduction of Clue Master ($12.99), or the electrical grid-building challenge of Circuit Maze ($29.99), young minds and older minds will soon be in fighting trim for puzzling!

[Check out our full product reviews of Back Spin by clicking here, Clue Master by clicking here, and Circuit Maze by clicking here!]

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Strata Sphere (Family Games America)

Can you crack the three-dimensional challenge of Strata Sphere? First you place each of the sliding bars into the gridwork, then you try to free all of your spheres before your opponent can do the same! A terrific, mind-bending puzzle unlike anything else! ($30.97)

[Check out our full product review of Strata Sphere by clicking here!]

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LEGO Ideas: Maze (LEGO)

Combine the classic puzzly hand-eye coordination of a wooden labyrinth with everyone’s favorite building toys, and you’ve got the Lego Ideas: Maze. Customizable with all sorts of different maze layouts and obstacles, this one is both fun to build and fun to solve! ($69.99)

[Check out our full product review of LEGO Ideas: Maze by clicking here!]


Board Games

Some of the puzzliest games on the market today are being made by top-flight board game companies, and we’ve got some marvelous games that will appeal to puzzlers of all ages!

Kill Doctor Lucky: Deluxe 19.5th Anniversary Edition (Cheapass Games)

You might be skilled at unearthing murderers in games like Clue, but how are you at committing them? In Kill Doctor Lucky, your only goal is to dispatch the fortuitous fellow without being seen by anyone! Strategy and timing are key in this wickedly enjoyable game. ($40)

[Check out our full product review of Kill Doctor Lucky by clicking here!]

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Castellan (Steve Jackson Games)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

[Review coming soon!]

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Quarto (Gigamic Games)

Four-in-a-row puzzle games are a staple of the genre, but rarely are they as beautiful or as diabolically simple as Quarto. With blocks of different shapes, sizes, and colors to choose from, you can attack the game from any angle. But watch out, or a crafty opponent just might beat you at your own game! ($34.99)

[Check out our full product review of Quarto by clicking here!]

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Walk-By Scrabble Board, Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($29.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($149.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

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Slideways (R&R Games)

Take Connect Four-style puzzling to the next level with Slideways! Not only can you shift pieces to the side here, but you can flip your opponent’s moves to your own color! It’s a race to four-in-a-row in this easily-portable game that will have you thinking five steps ahead! ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of Slideways by clicking here!]

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Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($29.99)

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Qwirkle (MindWare)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train Dominoes, Qwirkle is all about placing your tiles to maximize points and minimize helping your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($34.99)

Pyramid Arcade (Looney Labs)

With 22 different games in one box, Pyramid Arcade takes the Looney pyramid series above and beyond anything you’ve seen before. Challenge yourself or other players with strategy games, Tic-Tac-Toe-style competitions, stacking challenges, and more! ($77)

[Review coming soon!]


Card Games

Scrimish (Nexci)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

Get Lucky (Cheapass Games)

At a very peculiar dinner party, everyone is trying to kill Doctor Lucky, but can you outwit your opponents and Get Lucky first? Practice makes perfect in this game of persistence where every murder attempt increases your chances of knocking off the most desirable target in all of gaming! ($17)

[Check out our full product review of Get Lucky by clicking here!]

Schrodinger’s Cats (9th Level Games)

In this wagering game based on the famous scientific thought experiment, you have to figure out how many of Schrodinger’s Cats survived the experiment! And just like in poker, you can share some information while you wager in the hopes of improving your chances of success! With shameless card puns and opportunities for bluffing, this isn’t your usual card game! ($19.22)

[Check out our full product review of Schrodinger’s Cats by clicking here!]

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Firefly Fluxx (Looney Labs)

The purveyors of sweet-tooth strategy game Just Desserts and quick-draw pattern-matching game Loonacy return to their flagship brand with one of the most beloved sci-fi shows in recent memory with Firefly Fluxx. Tackle the ever-changing rules in the hopes of finding the two cards you need for victory, all while enjoying inside jokes and references to this one-season wonder of a TV show! ($20)

[Check out our full product review of Firefly Fluxx by clicking here!]

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Noueni (263 Games)

You’ll need all of your strategy and cunning to win Noueni, a game of connections, overlaps, and careful card placement. Can you claim more territory than your opponents, or will they outthink you and steal your spotlight at a key moment? ($12.99)

[Check out our full product review of Noueni by clicking here!]

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Timeline (Asmodee Games)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before OR after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99)

Oh My Gods! (Gameworthy Labs)

Take Clue to the next level with Oh My Gods! as you investigate a crime on Mount Olympus! Play cards to reveal information or increase your chances for success, but please, try not to tick off the gods! ($24.98)

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The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]


Party Games

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Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]

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Mad Libs: The Game (Looney Labs)

Looking for a family-friendly alternative to Cards Against Humanity? Something that traffics in silliness instead of shock value? Mad Libs: The Game has got you covered. Draw cards to fill in the blanks and craft hilarious sentences to amuse one and all! ($20)

[Check out our full product review of Mad Libs: The Game by clicking here!]

Movie Buff (Golden Bell Entertainment)

How well do you know your movies, actors, characters, and famous quotes? Movie Buff will put your knowledge to the test, but instead of answering questions, you’re trying to make connections between films! It’s a fast-paced version of Six Degrees of Separation, but in a fun and frantic card game! ($24.95)


Trivia Games

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Linkee (Bananagrams/Big Potato Games)

Something connects a series for four trivia questions. Can you figure out what? If you can, Linkee is right up your alley. This trivia game is about more than answering questions, challenging players to make associative connections before the other trivia buffs in the room can! ($22.49)

[Check out our full product review of Linkee by clicking here!]

Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout (Bananagrams/Big Potato Games)

Put your knowledge to the test in Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout as two teams compete to name more entries on a Family Feud-style list. If you do, you win a drink! Collect five different drinks, and you win! A game of trivia and opportunity perfect for a group setting! ($19.99)

[Check out our full product review of Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout by clicking here!]


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

And 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!

The Art of the Wooden Puzzle

Several varieties of puzzle fall under the umbrella of “wooden puzzles,” from sliding tile puzzles and jigsaws to puzzle boxes and brain teasers. Heck, I devoted an entire post to wooden puzzles last year, sharing several from my personal collection.

With the advent of more affordable laser-cutting machines, we’ve seen several puzzly Kickstarter campaigns (like Baffledazzle and Codex Silenda) successfully launched, pushing wooden puzzles into the 21st century with more ambitious designs and greater functionality than ever before.

So you can imagine both my surprise and my excitement when The Metagrobologist posted a link to a Popular Woodworking article on how to make your own wooden puzzles!

There are step-by-step instructions on how to create three different 3D wooden “burr” puzzles, and this article covers everything from construction to assembly. Exact measurements are included.

It’s clear the author is all about quality, understanding both the art behind these mechanical 3D puzzles and all the necessary steps to ensure a safe and successful build.

If only shop class in school had offered me the chance to make something like this!

In all seriousness, this post offers fascinating insight into how some of these mechanical brain teasers are made, but when you consider the care and precision it takes to produce one of these puzzles, even knowing how it’s done doesn’t make the puzzle any less fun. What a treat.


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!

Kickstarter Updates: Pairs, Baffledazzle, and Board Games for the Blind!

The Internet has truly changed everything: how we communicate, how we shop, how we learn, how news spreads, how businesses rise and fall. And the puzzle world is no different.

The Internet allows us to bring PuzzleNation apps right into your phones and tablets. Constructors are making names for themselves marketing directly to solvers. And now, with the growing influence of Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other crowd-funding platforms, puzzlers and game designers are bringing terrific, innovative puzzles to life like never before.

I sincerely enjoy sharing crowd-funding news with the PuzzleNation audience, because it’s a rare opportunity to see a puzzle or a game go from an idea to a finished product from start to finish. I’ve reported on plenty of them, and today, I’d like to update you on a few successful campaigns that made it through the crowd-funding gauntlet and recently delivered their products to market.

The first comes from our friends at Cheapass Games, who actually launched two Kickstarter campaigns this year. Not only did they recently wrap up the funding process for a storytelling strategy game called Stuff and Nonsense, but they introduced a terrific new card game, Pairs, under their Hip Pocket Games brand.

[A handful of different Pairs decks, including a pirate-themed deck,
a goblin-themed deck, and a Professor Elemental-themed deck.]

Their campaign did so well that they’ve released the original Pairs deck (known as the Fruit Deck, pictured above) and ELEVEN alternate decks, each with a different theme, great custom artwork, and rules for an additional card game specific to that deck.

A social card game that’s easy to learn and hard to master, Pairs (confidently and humorously subtitled A New Classic Pub Game) recently hit stores, and I expect it will be a big hit.

Back in April, I posted about a campaign launched by the folks at 64 Oz. Games called Board Games: Now Blind Accessible. The campaign raised funds for several products designed to bring established board games to the visually impaired, including braille sleeves for card games and a 20-sided braille die, each allowing sighted players and non-sighted players to enjoy the same gaming experience.

It’s a wonderful cause, and I’m pleased to report that this month, they’ve released accessibility kits for numerous popular games, including Munchkin, The Resistance, and AEG Love Letter, with more on the way!

In addition to the accessibility kits, they’ve produced a card game called Yoink!, designed to be played blindfolded and relying on touch alone. I received a copy this weekend and tried it out with friends with great success.

[Check out the different patterns and shapes on these Yoink! cards. You have to collect three of a kind or three totally different ones to win, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.]

With other top games on the to-do list, 64 Oz. Games is doing great work for board game fans everywhere.

Finally, I have an update about Rachel Happen’s Baffledazzle campaign.

Raising nearly $14,000 dollars for a laser cutter and supplies to bring her jigsaw puzzles-with-a-twist to life, Rachel has completed production on her first run of Baffledazzle puzzles, shipping them out to backers AND loading up her new Etsy store.

And in honor of her successful campaign, I thought I’d do a brief series of unboxing photos to show you the care and attention she paid in packaging her puzzles for backers and customers.

Here’s the absolutely monstrous box I received in the mail,
loaded to the brim with packing peanuts.

And here are the carefully bubble-wrapped parcels of each Baffledazzle brand puzzle. The larger ones came complete with storage bags, hint and solution envelopes, and pins for each puzzle. (You can see two in the corners of the puzzle cards, as well as one on the drawstring of the top green bag.

And here’s a better look at some of the packaging. High-quality bags protect the wooden and acrylic puzzle pieces, and each is labeled with a signature “Hello, my name is Baffledazzle” sticker.

Two of the beautiful laser-cut wooden pieces from the Ozuzo puzzle.

A close-up of some of the carefully crafted puzzle pieces for the Cirkusu puzzle.

Rachel absolutely outdid herself with the Baffledazzle campaign, and I cannot wait to see what she cooks up next.

With the successes of Pairs, Board Games: Now Blind Accessible, and Baffledazzle, we can chock up three more victories for the online puzzle community. With so many creators out there and the technology at our fingertips, the puzzly possibilities are virtually limitless.

And in closing, I’d like to hear from you, PuzzleNationers. Have you supported any Kickstarter or Indiegogo puzzle campaigns? If not, would you in the future? Let me know!

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!

5 Questions with Puzzle Creator Rachel Happen of Baffledazzle

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, board game creators, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m overjoyed to have Rachel Happen as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Rachel is the entrepreneur behind Baffledazzle, a Kickstarter campaign to create visually striking, challenging jigsaw puzzles for a new generation of savvy puzzlers. Baffledazzle originated as Tumblr and Twitter accounts that encouraged viewers to try different activities and explore Rachel’s unique brand of visual and mental puzzles.

As an avid puzzle solver herself, Rachel strives to turn every new puzzle into a learning exercise, making Baffledazzle puzzles an intriguing mixture of hands-on puzzling and solver-driven exploration.

Rachel 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 Rachel Happen

1.) How did you first get into puzzles?

Honestly, I can’t remember! I have always been really into puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles were my school-break staple for many years. I’d spend snowy days lying on the floor, sorting pieces by color. In fourth grade I had a math teacher that would give us those grid-based logic puzzles to fill time. I just devoured them. I solved them all and collected them in a binder. She had no idea what to think of me.

But my interest in puzzles really ramped up a couple of years ago when I stumbled on a 1960s-era Springbok and it knocked my socks off. They were doing things that pushed the jigsaw puzzle medium forward, visually and conceptually. I absolutely love exploration and challenges so finding both in a jigsaw puzzle was heaven.

I started buying up old Springboks and learned all about Par and Stave and the centuries-old tradition of beautiful wooden jigsaw puzzles. Then I read Anne Williams’ excellent book on jigsaw puzzle history and just thought, “I have to try making my own puzzles.”

[A glimpse at Code Breakers, one of Rachel’s puzzly designs.]

2.) Many of your creations, both on your YouTube channel and in your Kickstarter campaign, have both a puzzle aspect and a research aspect. Is it safe to say that your optimal solving experience goes beyond paper or puzzle pieces? What appeals most to you about that style of puzzling?

Ah, you put this so beautifully! Yes that’s exactly right. I want to use puzzles as a path, instead of making puzzles for puzzles’ sake. I aim to make puzzles that take you somewhere new, show you something you haven’t seen before. The solving experience I’m looking for is one of discovery.

I love that style of puzzling because one minute you’re quietly solving a puzzle and the next you’re combing through the history of public transit in France or plugging common Polish sayings into Google Translate, hot on the trail of the next clue. It pulls you away from your desk and pushes you out into the world. By making puzzles about real things (facts, people, moments in history, cultural traditions, etc.) I’ve tried to give solvers another way to engage with the world, another way to explore it.

I also love that there are no rules! They’re puzzles where you’re supposed to look up the answers on your phone. I wanted to make puzzles that acknowledged the omnipresence of information. I’ve tried to draw on that skill for searching by asking solvers to harness it and navigate into new waters, find new sources, and piece things together.

[In this video, Rachel discusses the Baffledazzle Kickstarter
campaign she launched earlier this month.]

3.) You mention in your Kickstarter video that you’re also a dancer and a clothing designer. How does the creative process for those activities compare to creating a BaffleDazzle video or puzzle?

Ooh, good question! I feel like the creative process is very similar because I’m hyper-focused on experience. Creation of any kind usually starts with an experience of my own. Maybe I saw something, learned something, or felt something that I thought was worth sharing. From there I think about how I can capture that experience in an object, activity, or performance.

For me, it’s not enough to just share the thing. Seeing a picture of that hilarious dog isn’t the same as walking around a street corner and just seeing it there. You don’t feel that same silly elation of encountering something bizarre out of nowhere. Similarly, reading a couple of sentences about a clever British spy isn’t the same as sliding a dusty book off the shelves of a deathly quiet library, flipping it open, and seeing her face, discovering her story like some forgotten treasure.

I do everything I can to capture that experience, then iterate and iterate and iterate! I credit my love of “let’s try it again!” to years of training in a ballet conservatory, where you can never practice too much.

When it starts to feel done, I take a step back and ask if I’ve made something that rewards people for their time. Have I captured the experience? Does this deliver something new? Will people walk away seeing the world a little differently? If the answer is yes then I push it out into the world!

[A few of the intricate pieces that make up the Baffledazzle puzzle
Cirkusu, which we’ll be reviewing on Tuesday!]

4.) What’s next for Rachel Happen and Baffledazzle?

More puzzles!! I have a big backlog of puzzle ideas that I’d love to create. Having my own laser cutter will make prototyping new puzzles much easier, so I’m putting 110% into this Kickstarter campaign to (hopefully!) fund that purchase.

Aside from puzzles, I’d like to explore other experiences that could be paths to discovery. We’ll see what sorts of shenanigans I can get up to with a laser cutter in the workshop!

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

See how many chips you can eat in a stack! But seriously, I would say: make things first, then worry if they’re any good. The only difference between someone with a business and someone with a good idea is that one of them acts like they know what they’re doing.


But wait! There’s more! Rachel has hidden a puzzle in this interview! The first person to provide the answer — either in a comment on this post or on one of Rachel’s social media platforms — will win a set of four Code Breakers puzzles!

(This offer is not contingent on the success of the campaign; she’s already produced these Code Breakers. And this puzzle never expires! If someone solves it years from now, she’ll still send them their prize.)


Many thanks to Rachel for her time. You can check out (and support) the Baffledazzle Kickstarter by clicking here, and be sure to check out Rachel’s other creative endeavors by following her on Facebook, Twitter (@Baffledazzle), and on her Tumblr page.

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

Puzzles and Brain Health

There is a lot of talk nowadays about brain boosting and other attempts to combat the effects of aging on the brain. There are numerous websites and products boasting that they can help keep your wits sharp, your memory keen, and the threat of Alzheimer’s at bay.

From visual acuity and perception to coordination, critical thinking to spatial reasoning, from observational skill to improved memory, there are a lot of promises being made about brain health.

Unfortunately, there’s a wealth of conflicting and inconsistent data out there. (This article by The New York Times points out some of the inconsistencies in brain health reporting when it comes to puzzles.)

From a recent NPR article:

Molly Wagster, chief of the behavioral and systems neuroscience branch at the National Institute on Aging, studies how puzzles can benefit brains. “What we know is that it probably makes us better at puzzle solving, but it may not necessarily make us better at other types of cognitive activities,” Wagster explains.

However, in general, experts agree that puzzle solving is good for us. But what puzzles do the most good, and when should you start solving?

I’ve done my best to comb through the available data — both through reports from news sources and scientific papers themselves — and there’s one thing that they all seem to agree on…

Start puzzling when you’re young.

A study by the University of Chicago said that children who play with jigsaws and other shape-based puzzles at a young age tend to develop better spatial and math-related skills.

And there are other studies that support the idea that a fundamental base of puzzling at a young age contributes to better brain health later in life.

A study at Berkeley published in the Archives of Neurology (and covered by CBS News) found a correlation between crossword puzzle solving (and other challenging mind games) and a decreased likelihood to develop a particular marker for Alzheimer’s disease.

This study also said that when you engage in these activities is a factor. Like the University of Chicago study, the Berkeley study states that adults who engaged in crosswords and similarly brain-stimulating activities in their early and middle years had the lowest amount of these markers.

There is plenty of data to suggest that crosswords and other associative puzzles can have unexpected brain health benefits.

My friend Jake had major brain surgery years ago, and part of his post-surgery recovery consisted of solving crosswords. It was considered excellent speech/occupational therapy, and he sought out more crosswords post-recovery.

(This article from The New York Times discusses in detail another example of the curious relationship between crosswords, memory, and post-surgery treatment.)

But what about those who’ve come to puzzles later in life? Are all the promises made by those websites and brain-boosting products possible?

It depends on the puzzle. There are plenty of puzzles that are great at exercising various brain functions and observational skill, but there’s precious little scientific data to back up whether these games and puzzles actually help with memory retention or other faculties challenged by age.

But a recent article by Dr. Rob Winningham suggests that certain types of puzzle solving are more beneficial than others.

Crossword puzzles involve getting a cue and then attempting to retrieve previously learned information, which is something that people with age related cognitive impairment and even early to mid stage dementia can do fairly well.

Age related changes in cognition and earlier stages of dementia are primarily associated with impairments in the ability to concentrate, pay attention, and make new memories; crossword puzzles don’t really exercise those abilities, but Sudoku puzzles do.

According to Dr. Winningham, the heavy demand Sudoku puzzles place on concentration and active attention-keeping — especially when solved with distractions like television or conversation in the mix — exercise those parts of the brain associated with the formation of new memories, encouraging better memory retention and other mental faculties so many solvers of all ages want to keep in top condition.

While there’s still more research to be done to narrow down exactly what puzzles are best for your brain in the long term, there’s no denying that puzzle solving is always a healthy decision.

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