Puzzly Ideas in Time for Valentine’s Day!

Every year, we offer up some puzzly ideas for celebrating Valentine’s Day. Usually, we post it the same week of the holiday, but you know what? Even if they’re designed to be last-minute ideas, we thought we’d switch things up and offer a bit more lead time.

Yes, Valentine’s Day looms large, and sometimes it’s hard to find that perfect way to express your love for that certain someone… particularly if that certain someone is the puzzly type.

But we’ve got a few suggestions…

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Jigsaw puzzles are the perfect metaphor for relationships, as they require separate pieces working together to complete the picture.

There are necklaces and other pieces of jigsaw-themed jewelry, as well as do-it-yourself jigsaw patterns you can utilize. You could depict anything from a favorite photo to a specific Valentine’s message in the completed image.

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Now, you can always start with something simple, like a subscription to a puzzle service like The Crosswords ClubThe American Values Club Crossword, or Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest. New puzzles every week or every month are a great gift. (Especially the Valentine’s Deluxe Sets for the Penny Dell Crosswords app! *wink*)

If they’re more into mechanical puzzles, our friends at Tavern Puzzles offer several brain teasers that incorporate a heart shape.

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But if you’re looking for something more personalized, why not make a crossword for them yourself?

(Yes, you can also commission a top puzzler to do one for you, but you’d usually want to get the ball rolling on something like that well before Valentine’s Day.)

Now, to be fair, crosswords can be tough and time-intensive to make, so if that feels a little daunting, why not try a Framework puzzle instead? It involves the same crossing style, but doesn’t require you to use every letter.

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[This grid is presented fill-in style, in case you
don’t want to use crossword-style numbering.
Check out the original here.]

It allows you to maintain a terrific word list all about you and your significant other without all the effort of filling in every square crossword-style.

Or you could write the object of your affection a coded love letter! All throughout history, people have employed different tricks and techniques to keep their private messages away from prying eyes, and you could do the same! Whether it’s a simple letter-shifting cipher or something more complex, make sure your message is worth reading. =)

[Image courtesy of YouTube.]

Have you considered a puzzle bouquet? You could grab some newspaper crosswords and origami them into flower shapes for a fun puzzle-fueled spin on a holiday classic.

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Or you could hide jigsaw pieces around the house that, when put together, spell out a Valentine’s message or a picture of the two of you.

Put your own spin on the idea. A little bit of effort can go a long way, plus it doesn’t cost anything.

With a little more effort, you could whip up a scavenger hunt! You could leave clues around leading to a gift, or a romantic dinner, or some other grand finale. Maybe offer a rose with each clue.

Show off how much you know about him or her. You could make each clue or destination about your relationship or about your partner, allowing you to show off how well you know them… where you first met, favorite meals, favorite movie…

If you don’t want to leave things around where anyone could nab them, keep a few small tokens on you, giving one for each destination reached or clue solved. Heck, you could enlist a friend to text clues to your special someone once they’ve reached a particular destination!

Or for something less formal, you could make a game of your romantic wanderings and play Valentine’s Day Bingo.

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[I found this blank template on Makoodle.com.]

Maybe go for a walk or take your loved one out to dinner, and see if they can get bingo by observing different things. A couple holding hands as they walk, a Valentine’s Day proposal, outrageously priced flowers…

The possibilities are endless when you put your mind to it.


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An Ancient Andean Jigsaw Puzzle?

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

One of the best things about writing this blog is getting to talk about all of the amazing ways that people with puzzly skills have contributed to society. We’ve talked about codebreakers who saved Christmas and hunted Nazis, puzzlers who decoded ancient messages, and solvers who unraveled some of the mysteries of lost civilizations, all with the clever and insightful application of puzzle skills.

I’m surprised we haven’t talked about archaeologists more frequently, because they’re basically detectives of history who try to reassemble the past jigsaw-style.

Recently, researchers from UC Berkeley put their puzzly skills to the test to solve a 1,500-year-old mystery: what the pre-Incan Tiwanaku temple known as Pumapunku actually looked like.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

You see, the temple has been raided, pillaged, and ransacked over the centuries, leaving archaeologists with very little information on what the temple actually looked like, or how the many giant blocks that originally composed the temple were assembled.

But, with a combination of computer modeling, 3-D printed pieces, and their own puzzly knowhow and dedication, they have cobbled together a rudimentary idea of what the Pumapunku temple looked like.

From an article on the project:

The team created miniature 3D-printed models, at 4 percent actual size, of the temple’s 140 known pieces, which were based on measurements compiled by archaeologists over the past 150 years and Vranich’s own on-site observations of the ruins. The researchers used comparative analyses and interpolation to reconstruct broken pieces… Yes, the researchers could have performed this work exclusively in the virtual realm, but they had better luck with tangible, physical pieces they could freely move around.

Yes, not only were they using the pieces they knew about, but they were reassembling decayed or broken pieces as well in order to assemble the temple.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

And the project continues!

Vranich’s team gave a copy of the 3D-printed blocks to the Pumapunku ruins site director and taught the staff how to record the stones and model them. Vranich hopes that more blocks will be uncovered at the site, and further reconstructions of the temple complex will continue.

“The blocks will also be made available online,” said Vranich. “My hope is that other people will print them out and through the wisdom of crowds, we can find additional matches and continue to reconstruct the form of [another Tiwanaku] building known as ‘the temple of the Andes.’”

With these techniques and the lessons learned by the Pumapunku build, the team is hoping to not only recreate this ancient Andean temple, but other destroyed historical sites as well, including those in the Middle East destroyed by ISIS.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

It’s an amazing investigative and deductive feat, made possible with puzzly skills.


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Jigsaw Puzzle Art Leads to Curious Creations!

If there’s one thing that puzzle fans of all shapes and sizes excel at, it’s pattern recognition. Whether it’s patterns of letters, patterns of numbers, patterns of logical facts, or patterns of puzzle pieces, puzzlers are outstanding at drawing order from chaos.

So it should come as no surprise that avid jigsaw puzzle solvers have noticed that some jigsaw puzzle companies use the same cutting molds over and over to create their jigsaw puzzles.

I myself realized this fact when I was younger. I was given three small Star Wars jigsaw puzzles, and all three of them were cut from the same mold. So once I’d solved one, solving the other two went much much faster. (I actually stacked them to make it even easier to complete the second and third puzzles.)

Naturally, this has led certain attentive and intrepid puzzlers to track down different puzzles with the same cutting mold to see how the two puzzles interact.

Artist Tim Klein is one of those observant individuals, and he’s had a lot of fun over the years crafting peculiar images by combining jigsaws with compatible molds:

Jigsaw puzzle companies tend to use the same cut patterns for multiple puzzles. This makes the pieces interchangeable. As a result, I sometimes find that I can combine portions from two or more puzzles to make a surreal picture that the publisher never imagined.

I take great pleasure in “discovering” such bizarre images lying latent, sometimes for decades, within the pieces of ordinary mass-produced puzzles. As I shift the pieces back and forth, trying different combinations, I feel like an archaeologist unearthing a hidden artifact.

And today, we’ve collected some of his puzzly creations for your enjoyment.


This mixture of summer and winter is marvelously balanced, particularly with the summer and winter bridges matching up so perfectly.

This fusion of a church and fairground adds a fun touch to an otherwise quiet and dignified image.

I like to call this one the Earth Mooover.

The Iron Horse comes to life in this surreal mashup.

In a natural evolution, this dinosaur train is no doubt the apex predator of the animal-train hybrid food pyramid.

This dinosaur/bunny monstrosity is a cuddly little ball of viciousness. No train parts needed.

Mixing up elements of three different puzzles brings us this Victorian ladypuppy in front of a scenic waterfall. This is dream or nightmare fuel, depending on your perspective.

This mixture of crosswords and fishing is wonderfully executed, offering the pleasantly appropriate metaphorical representation of “fishing for answers.”

And to close out this compilation of Klein’s jigsaw art, it seemed only appropriate to end on a holiday-themed note, with this kitty-in-kitty-in-present melange.


Klein’s jigsaw creations are as eye-catching as they are puzzling, and it makes you wonder what other hybrid constructions are awaiting the eagle eye of a devoted jigsaw puzzler.

[Images and quotation courtesy of Awkward.com and Twisted Sifter.]


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Puzzles Come to Life!

A few years ago, I wrote about the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle, a 5 feet by 19 feet, 33,000-piece monster called “Wildlife,” which took a young puzzle enthusiast 450 hours to complete.

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That was a cool story in and of itself, but as it turns out, some other puzzlers have gone one step further, using the Wildlife jigsaw puzzle as their canvas for a stop-motion animation video.

This YouTuber, who goes by the name of Sky!, transformed the Wildlife puzzle into games of Tetris, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and Mario Brothers, using completed sections of the puzzle as their gameplay elements.

It’s absolutely mind-blowing. Check it out:

Apparently, it took Sky! and a cohort over 400 hours to solve the puzzle and another 400 hours to animate the video. That is some serious dedication.

But that video got me thinking about other ways creative folks have used puzzly elements to tell stories.

And I was reminded of a video that’s been making the rounds on social media lately. It employs one of my favorite puzzle devices — a Rube Goldberg machine — to tell a story of three brothers who face danger and live to tell the tale. (They do use a bit of stop-motion animation at the start, but afterward, it’s all real-time motion.)

This is the story of a ball named Biisuke. Enjoy!

It’s adorable and even has a song! How could you not love that?

It just goes to show you there’s no end to the puzzly stories you can tell with a little creativity.


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The 2017 New York Toy Fair, Part 2!

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On Tuesday, I gave you a general rundown of what it was like exploring the massive spread of puzzles and games on display at this year’s New York Toy Fair.

In today’s post, I’d like to highlight some of the puzzles and games that most impressed me. I think many of these will also appeal to many of my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers as well.

So let’s dive right in!


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One of the prime spots in the Launchpad area for first-time attendees was given to the team at Steamforged Games Ltd., who have brought the video game franchise Dark Souls into the board-game realm.

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Between one and four players can test their mettle against various creatures, battling to capture their souls and use them to make your character stronger and more capable. The impressive array of miniatures, player cards, and tokens makes for an interactive experience that should satisfy both video game fans and board gamers alike.

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For a more traditional family-friendly puzzle game, the crew at Befuddled Games has you covered with Kerfuddle and Tree Top Hop, both of which are suitable for solvers of any age group.

Kerfuddle combines a touch of Boggle with the ever-changing gameplay of Fluxx. Roll the dice and use them to form words, but be careful — the “Shake It Up” cards can make your word forming much more challenging.

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Tree Top Hop is a great intro game for young players, as they move around the tree top, spelling words on their cards and racing to the treasure at the center of the board. By combining word-building and strategy, this is a terrific gateway game for new players.

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Along the same lines as Kerfuddle is Twizmo! Words, except instead of dice, you have a Rubik’s Cube-style Twisty puzzle providing you with the letters you’ll use to build your word list. Designed by the same team who brought us Tak•tak, Twizmo! Words is a strong quick-play game for any Boggle fans in your household.

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Snippets takes the list-building idea in another direction. Instead of random letters, you’re given a three-letter snippet of a word, and it’s up to you to come up with as many words containing that snippet as possible. So, if you’ve got TRA, you can write down EXTRA, TRAIN, STRAP, and so on.

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And to close out this collection of word-forming games, we have Letter Tycoon, which adds a monetizing mechanic that really spices up the gameplay. Here, not only are you making money by forming words, but you can patent letters so that when other players use them, you cash in as well. It’s a really clever take on the word-building genre of games.

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We now move on from combining letters to combining jigsaw pieces. The puzzles from Palmetto Puzzle Works all center around tessellations — shapes that repeat and interlock in many different ways.

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Whether you’re trying to fit the pieces into a given space or you’re connecting them freestyle, these well-made wooden puzzles bring an M.C. Escher touch to the world of jigsaw-style solving.

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Beasts of Balance, on the other hand, has players using game pieces in a different way, as solvers stack the animal shapes and try to keep their ever-growing tower of creatures and artifacts from toppling over. The game has a tablet interaction feature that enhances both the gameplay and the storytelling aspect of the game, making the most of new school and old school puzzling.

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But if you’re looking to do some puzzly building in a different way, Maze by Seedling is a solid choice. Here, you can map out and design your own marble maze, and then tackle your own creation with a fully-functioning labyrinth board, complete with marbles, walls, and holes to avoid.

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And while we’re on the subject of do-it-yourself puzzling, the crew behind Pinbox 3000 have designed a build-your-own pinball game system that allows for infinite customization. They give you everything you need to build a functioning game, and then leave the theme, bells, and whistles totally up to you.

I wrote about this one back when it was a Kickstarter project, and it was cool to see the brand continuing to thrive and grow.

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Another gaming classic with a modern twist is Tatsu, which combines Asian-inspired mythology with backgammon-style gameplay. Designed by the same creative team as the tile-placement game Hive, Tatsu is a clever, elegant game all about strategy and guile. It’s easy to learn and tough to master, and I suspect it will do quite well.

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If you’re looking to combine strategy with rapid-fire gameplay, Tenzi is for you. In Tenzi, you’re given ten dice, and you have to keep rolling them until all ten match. It’s like Speed Yahtzee! But with dozens of additional variant games at your disposal, from stacking to scoring to rule-shifting games, this dice game has legs and is easy to tote around to play anywhere.

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If you’re looking to take your card games anywhere, the team at Narrows Hill have a great solution for you. The Card Caddy is not only a protective case for any deck of cards, but it opens up into a perfect card-dealing and sorting setup for ease of play.

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We also got an early glimpse of a forthcoming addition to the Fluxx family of card games. Since Fluxx is celebrating 21 years on the market this year, the crew at Looney Labs is celebrating with Drinking Fluxx, a spirits-soaked version of their famous chaotic rule-shifting card game.

You can mix and match the various ingredients to try to create a winning formula (and perhaps a sideline as a bartender for your fellow players). Just make sure you call a cab after playing.

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Whereas Tenzi and Fluxx are quite portable, Banana Bandits from CMON Games requires some space, since you have an entire 3-D building to set up as your game board. As you and your fellow players try to prove yourselves as worthy successors to the boss of the Banana Bandits, you’ll climb and explore the building, collect coins, and tangle with opponents, all on an impressively realized game space.

Will you be top banana, or is it time for you to split?

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And the last game I’ll be discussing today is Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks, an elaborate galaxy-spanning game where you play as one of six Doctors traveling across time and space in order to complete missions, save the innocent, thwart your enemies, and generally wreak timey-wimey havoc.

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Between the terrific miniatures and the expansive options available for players, this was one of the highlights of Toy Fair for me, and I can’t wait to see how they incorporate additional Doctors into the game later down the line.

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Obviously this is just a small sample of all the fantastic, eye-catching puzzles and games that graced New York Toy Fair this year. But nonetheless, it’s an impressive group, covering so many different aspects of the puzzle and game world, and constantly blazing new trails in terms of creativity and innovation.

I have no doubt you’ll be seeing more about some of these projects as 2017 rolls onward.

[You can check out our full gallery of photos from New York Toy Fair on Facebook by clicking here!]


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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 2017 New York Toy Fair!

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The 114th New York Toy Fair was this past weekend, and I joined several fellow puzzlers from Penny Dell Puzzles on an excursion to the Javits Center to check out everything the toy, puzzle, and game industries are bringing to the table in the coming year.

In short, it was fantastic. Dozens and dozens of companies, from the titans of the industry to small outfits utilizing the crowdfunding model to get their feet in the door, were there to show off their creations.

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Although it’s a four-day event and we were only attending that Saturday, I suspect you could spend all four days exploring the complex and still miss out on some incredible stuff.

Like a giant singing LEGO Batman made of LEGOs.

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But I digress.

My chums and I were on a mission: to check out what puzzle and game companies were bringing to market in 2017. After picking up our ID badges, maps, and guides to the Fair, we dove right in.

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We started off in the Launchpad section, a place where first-time and developing exhibitors from all over the world could introduce themselves to press, buyers, and other reps in the toy industry.

I’m a huge fan of seeing what newcomers have cooked up — hence how often I’m on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites — and the Launchpad was loaded with intriguing puzzles and games.

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For instance, the team at Floss & Rock focused on puzzling for kids, with balance, pattern matching, and memory games, while the crew at Brixies put their own spin on the LEGO model with specialized pieces designed for making intricate models of animals, famous landmarks, and more.

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From there, we ventured into the Puzzles and Games section, and we were immediately awash in every style of puzzling and gaming imaginable.

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Vintage puzzles were represented, with deluxe versions of Clue and Scrabble on display, as well as retro metal brain teasers and mazes from Meridian Point.

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The folks at Orbet International were pushing the boundaries of what you can do with Rubik’s-style Twisty puzzles, and the team at Twizmo! Games put a Boggle-inspired spin on Rubik with their letter-filled take on the classic cube.

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From dice games to deduction games, from puzzles that fit in your pocket to ones that require the entire dining room table, seemingly every form of puzzling and gaming you can think of was under one roof.

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3-D jigsaw puzzles were well-represented by models like this one of Hogwarts in all its glory by Wrebbet 3D Puzzles

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… as well as wooden models like this Eiffel Tower from IncrediBuilds

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… not to mention this elaborate display celebrating 25 years of building fun with K’nex.

And, naturally, you couldn’t help but run into some familiar faces at the Toy Fair.

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Looney Labs was out in force, with their Loonacy, Mad Libs, and Looney Pyramids brands on display.

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And not only were they touting their latest edition of Fluxx — Math Fluxx, review coming soon! — but they’ll be celebrating 21 years of Fluxx games with Drinking Fluxx later this year!

(Plus, when I inquired about the Better With Bacon expansion pack to their Just Desserts game, an actual doctor told me to eat all the bacon I want. Now THAT’S how you hook someone.)

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The team from Bananagrams also had a strong showing at Toy Fair, with the company’s line having grown to letter-tile sets in seven different languages! Between that, their inflatable Bananagrams banana balloon, and their terrific tote bags, the Bananagrams brand was everywhere!

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All in all, the event was an absolute blast. The future of puzzles and games has never been brighter, and we here at PuzzleNation look forward to being a big part of that promising future.

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[A LEGO model of the Javits Center.]

You can check out our full gallery of photos from the event on Facebook by clicking here, and be sure to come back Thursday for a closer look at some of the puzzles and games that really caught our attention at this year’s New York Toy Fair!


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!