The Modern Maze Experience

[Image courtesy of Bergmann Corn Maze.]

Fall is here, and sadly, the epic season of corn mazes, hay bale mazes, and other seasonal labyrinths is coming to a close.

But fear not! You can still have a proper maze experience if you shop in the right places.

For instance, have you ever felt a bit like Theseus in the Labyrinth in certain warehouse-type stores?

[Image courtesy of Extraordinary Conversations.]

Instead of simply wandering one of several central pathways to the department desired, you’re forced to follow a particular, circuitous route, and all attempts to circumvent this experience can leave you turned around, confused, or feeling lost. It’s a unique sort of maze where you’re overwhelmed by powerlessness instead of myriad options.

IKEA is probably the store most associated with maze-like shopping experiences, and some professors and psychologists believe it’s entirely intentional.

[Image courtesy of The Reluctant Runner.]

According to Alan Penn, professor of Architectural and Urban Computing at The Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, there is a psychological effect induced by the layout of the store:

By delaying the ability of the shopper to fulfill their mission, at the same time as disorienting them and dissociating them from everyday life, when eventually they are “allowed” to start buying, the shopper feels licensed to treat themselves. The result is impulse buying.

That sense of dissociation is common to other industries. Casinos famously avoid having windows or clocks to evoke a sort of timelessness, leaving patrons disconnected from traditional cues that alert them to the passage of time.

This idea is so universal that a story satirizing the maze-shopping experience went viral on Facebook and other social media platforms recently.

[Image courtesy of There Is News.]

In the parody news story, a man was arrested for placing fake arrow decals on the floor of an IKEA and intentionally creating an unsolvable maze.

According to the text (which I have paraphrased for clarity):

Police and firemen arrived at the scene and entered by the exit door. Once inside, they observed the cashiers playing Candy Crush because there were no clients. Initiating a rescue protocol, they quickly arrived at the carpet section, where they observed that all customers were walking in circles and chasing “fake arrows.”

The article goes on to describe disoriented patrons who couldn’t remember their names, as well as a pregnant woman forced to give birth on a fake living room carpet.

Although the story is exaggerated, there’s no denying it can feel close to the truth in certain stores.

The suburban maze environment can be fun, to be sure, but I think I’ll stick to corn mazes for the time being.


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The First Viral Handheld Puzzle Game?

It’s fair to say that PuzzleNation knows a little something about the world of mobile puzzling. Mobile apps are our bread and butter, after all, and whether you’re talking about our Daily POP Crosswords App or the Penny Dell Crosswords App, we are connoisseurs of puzzles that fit in your pocket.

Of course, puzzle apps are a relatively new addition to the genre. Mobile puzzles, like matchstick puzzles, have existed for centuries.

In fact, more than a hundred years ago, a mobile puzzle game went “viral” and became a cultural sensation. (And it has made a recent return to prominence thanks to the HBO drama Westworld.)

Today, let’s talk about Pigs in Clover.

Pigs in Clover is a ball-in-a-maze puzzle invented in 1899 by toymaker Charles Martin Crandall. Although puzzle historians aren’t sure if Pigs in Clover was the first ball-in-a-maze puzzle created, it was definitely the first to capture the imagination of consumers.

You’ve probably solved a ball-in-a-maze puzzle at some point in your life. From the flat disc and labyrinth-inspired models to spherical and more complicated three-dimensional versions, they’re a fun test of both dexterity and strategic thinking.

A quick Google image search turns up dozens of variations on the concept, including an iPhone case with two ball-in-a-maze puzzles built into it!

Pigs in Clover was a simpler design, involving only three rings and a center “pen” to herd the “pigs” into. But it’s one that was supposedly so popular upon launch in January of 1889, it impacted the actual operation of the U.S. government.

But how popular was “popular” in 1889?

Well, according to the Waverly Free Press, “The toy works are turning out eight thousand of ‘Pigs in Clover’ a day, and are twenty days behind with their orders.” According to some sources, over a million games were sold by late April 1889!

And one of those games found its way into the hands of William M. Evarts, senator from New York. Depending on the version of events you read, he purchased a copy of Pigs in Clover from either a street vendor or, curiously, an aggressive street fakir.

He then took it home and played with it for hours. At work the next day — and by work, I mean the Senate of the United States — another senator, George Graham Vest, borrowed it and went to the cloak room to try to solve the puzzle game.

Yes, a sitting U.S. senator went and hid in the coats to play this game. It’s sorta like hiding under all the coats at a Christmas party and playing Angry Birds, except in fancier clothing.

Oddly enough, Vest was soon joined in the cloak room by four other senators — Pugh, Eustis, Walthall, and Kenna — who were also interested in trying their hands at the popular game. Apparently, they were too impatient to share Evarts’ copy of the game, since a page was enlisted to go out and buy five more copies of Pigs in Clover for the distracted senators.

Once each had his own game in hand, they engaged in a pig-driving contest. It must’ve been harder than it looks, since it took Vest 30 minutes to herd all of his pigs into the pen.

Yup, at least half an hour of senate business was derailed by a few little metal balls in a cardboard maze. Amazing.

Naturally, the story got out, and a political cartoon in the New York World on March 17th commented on this peculiar delay in President Benjamin Harrison’s agenda, likening the political landscape to the game. With the White House as the pen and various lawmakers as the pigs, the cartoon asked, “Will Mr. Harrison be able to get all these hungry pigs in the official pen?”

It makes you wonder just how many man-hours were lost to Pigs in Clover! After all, a simple game — solved by many — can prove costly.

Remember the Google Doodle in 2010 that allowed you to play Pac-Man? It’s estimated it cost $120 million dollars, and nearly five million hours, in terms of productivity.

Sounds like President Harrison should count himself lucky it was just a half-dozen senators… as far as we know.

[Sources for this article: The Strong Museum of Play, Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop, Le Roy Historical Society, Antique Toy Collectors of America, Wikipedia, and A History of Video Games in 64 Objects.]


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A Puzzly Touch of Spring!

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

It snowed over the weekend here on the East Coast, and after a disappointing prediction of six more weeks of winter from some of the more famous groundhogs around the world, you may find yourself longing for spring and all the marvelous greenery it promises.

In that spirit, I thought I would dedicate this February day to some mind-bogglingly lovely mazes that combine nature’s beauty with the ingenuity of humans.

[Image courtesy of Mental Floss.]

To start, feast your eyes upon the lavender labyrinth at Cherry Point Farm and Market in Shelby, Michigan, one of the oldest operating farms in Michigan.

The owner began designing the labyrinth in 2001, and it has since grown large enough to be seen on Google Earth! Finding your way to the center of the labyrinth should take about an hour, and attendance is free!

Be sure to visit in mid-July, when the French lavender is in full bloom, and enjoy the gorgeous scenery not far from Lake Michigan.

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

Of course, if you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge when it comes to your homegrown mazes, the Longleat Hedge Maze in Wiltshire, England will pique your interest.

It’s the longest hedge maze in the world — but not the largest — and consists of more than a mile and a half of meandering paths, including dead ends.

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

With six raised bridges and a tower from which to survey the entire maze, it’s one of the most striking labyrinths I’ve ever seen.

It’s actually one of several mazes on the property — others include the Lunar Labyrinth and the Sun Maze — but it’s by far the largest on the property. Although it only dates back to 1975 (while some mazes in England date back centuries), it’s truly a sight to behold.

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

To close out our look at labyrinths around the world, we venture into the southern hemisphere to explore the Enchanted Maze Garden in Arthurs Seat, Australia.

Although it is the year-round home of “a traditional hedge maze with a Japanese Garden at its center, an ancient turf labyrinth, and a circular roomed maze for children,” it’s the constantly evolving Maize Maze that puts Arthurs Seat in the record books every year.

Each year, a new maze is designed, and with GPS assistance, over 100,000 stalks of corn are planted to create the Maize Maze. Sprawling across two and a half acres, the Maize Maze is open from mid-February through late April.

Hopefully these glimpses into the amazing depth and breadth of hedge and corn mazes around the world has you looking forward to springtime puzzling outdoors! Or, at the very least, not feeling so dreary about winter.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Brad Hough’s The Maze

Mazes are nothing new to even the most casual solver. Whether it’s a puzzle collection, a place mat at a chain restaurant, or a coloring book loaded with time-filling activities, we’ve all traced a path through a maze with pencil, crayon, or marker.

But in most paper-and-pencil mazes, we look down on the map from above, so we have the advantage of perspective, the ability to spot dead-ends ahead of time, the opportunity to make wiser choices with more information.

As anyone who has ever tackled a corn maze will tell you, maze navigation is far more challenging when you’re inside the puzzle itself, rather than observing it from a bird’s-eye view.

And that’s what makes Brad Hough’s The Maze series of puzzle books something different and far more challenging: they’re mazes designed from the first person perspective. You must imagine yourself walking through this maze, selecting each turn and hoping it will lead you to the promised land.

It’s a marvelous concept, offered in a variety of difficulty levels according to the size of the maze:

  • Easy is a grid of 5 rooms by 5 rooms.
  • Normal is a grid of 7×7.
  • Moderate is 9×9, Challenging is 12×12, and Intense is 15×15.

As you make your choices, you’ll flip to different pages in the book, just as you would in a Choose Your Own Adventure-style story, maneuvering your way to either a dead-end (forcing you to turn back) or your desired exit.

But those are the only decisions you’ll make. There are no monsters to slay or traps to navigate, as there are in labyrinths in Dungeons & Dragons. There are no moral conundrums to unravel, as in Choose Your Own Adventure books. There is simply The Maze… and you. This is bare bones storytelling designed as both a pure puzzle-solving experience and as a blank skeleton upon which you can built your own story.

There are no tricks or endless loops to wander into. This is a fair challenge meant to be unraveled by crafty minds with excellent spacial skills.

Although The Maze lacks the frills of many other labyrinth-style puzzles, it does a marvelous job of portraying the sort of blindness and trepidation that comes with actually residing within a maze, knowing that each choice is more crucial the farther you venture forth.

The Maze (in various sizes) is available from Amazon and other online retailers.


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Kickstarter Roundup!

I’ve covered a lot of puzzle-centric Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns in the blog, because I think it’s fascinating how many puzzle variants there are, and how many puzzle-loving creators are enthusiastically seizing the opportunity to add their own delightful gaming and puzzling twists to the market.

In previous posts, we’ve seen Baffledazzle‘s jigsaws with a twist, Completely Puzzled‘s community-building outreach, and 64 Oz. Games‘ campaign to adapt popular board games and card games for vision-impaired players. Some very creative and worthwhile projects have been realized with the help of crowdfunding.

Heck, several of the games and puzzles showcased at last month’s New York Toy Fair were brought to life thanks to crowdfunding!

So here are a few more projects that I think are worth your time.

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The Maze is a series of Choose Your Own Adventure-style books with a curious puzzly twist: they place the reader inside a labyrinth and challenge you to read through the book and escape!

It’s an extended spacial-awareness puzzle where you need to visualize where you are in the maze at all times, overcoming obstacles and pitting your memory against the labyrinth itself.

A third of the way to its funding goal, The Maze envisions a series of mazes of varying difficulties for readers to tackle. It’s an intriguing take on a classic puzzle genre.

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For a more traditional puzzle product, there’s The Grid. This multi-colored visual delight challenges players to place all of their tile pieces on the board before their opponents, mixing luck and strategy in a Qwirkle-style battle.

The Grid combines clever tile design with visually arresting gameplay, and the campaign has already reached its initial funding goal, meaning that additional donors are helping to refine the game with higher quality pieces and other add-ons.

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From the elegant to the gloriously silly, our next campaign is Munchkin Shakespeare.

This latest edition of Munchkin from the team from Steve Jackson Games adds a literary touch to its famous line of puzzly card-battle games, as players do their best to team up, betray each other, and run amok in the hopes of gaining loot and escaping combat intact.

The bard himself and characters from his most famous plays are unleashed in cartoon form, ready to wreak havoc in all sorts of creative ways, wielded by cunning players and puzzlers with a penchant for sword-swinging nonsense in iambic pentameter.

This is another campaign where the initial funding goal has already been reached, and with only a day or two left in the campaign, they’re pushing towards some exciting stretch goals.

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Our last campaign combines logic and deduction with mechanical puzzles, as the crew from ThinkFun launches their very first Kickstarter to bring Roller Coaster Challenge to life!

In the spirit of Gravity Maze and Laser Maze Jr., Roller Coaster Challenge presents players with some of the pieces of a puzzle and tasks them with completing a working model with their remaining pieces. This time around, you’re building a roller coaster track, with all the soaring loop-de-loops and plunging slides you’d expect from the theme park attraction.

With expansions including Kickstarter-exclusive roller coaster cars and additional pieces to create even taller, more complex models, this one could be a winner. Will you be able to complete the numerous twisting, turning variations, or will the perfect roller coaster track elude you?

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But before I go, I want to revisit a previous Kickstarter success story that we’ve covered in the past: The Maze of Games.

Mike Selinker’s interactive puzzle novel has been on the market for a few years now, and as far as he knows, no one has conquered the final maze in the book.

And to give solvers a better chance at completing the book, the diabolical puzzlesmith has created The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, a tie-in story with hints for cracking the most diabolical puzzly labyrinth that giant tome has to offer.

It’s only available for a short time, so if you’re hoping to one day best The Maze of Games, be sure to snag a copy!

And let us know if any of these puzzly Kickstarters piqued your interest! With so many worthy projects and products in the pipeline, hopefully one of them catches your eye and receives your support!


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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.

snippets

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.

tenzi

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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