A Labyrinth of Stone and Puzzly Invention

Many artistic and creative endeavors have a puzzly element to them. But it’s hard to think of one more intricate and puzzly than the construction of dry stone walls and structures.

Dry stone walls are built without mortar, relying entirely on careful selection and placement of stones that interlock and reinforce each other. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a game of Tetris, solved a brain teaser about fitting pieces into a particular space, or packed a bag for a long vacation has engaged in this sort of puzzling.

But dry stone structures put those piece placement skills to the test. They’re load-bearing collaborations.

Stone creations built in this manner can be found all over the world, from the English countryside to the mountainous heights of Machu Picchu.

But in the Dalby Forest, inside North York Moors National Park in England, ambitious puzzlers are taking this marvelous endeavor a step further.

They’re creating a labyrinth entirely from dry stone walls.

Yes, if all goes to plan, by 2024 this will be the home of the world’s largest dry stone wall maze.

Four inner circular walls, surrounded by five square outer walls, as well as small holes for wildlife and children to use as shortcuts (known as smout holes), will form a 260-square-foot labyrinth.

(Plus the designers plan to periodically update and rearrange the maze through the use of phantom gates — a technique for disguising passageways not in use — to encourage return solvers.

The first stone was placed in 2014, and a decade later, more than four thousand TONS of sandstone will reside there, assembled into a mind-boggling artifact of monstrous puzzly proportions.

Made from nothing more than stone and human ingenuity, we could soon see the completion of an iconic work of puzzly wonder. I for one cannot wait to see how it all turns out.


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Another A-maze-ing Visit to Animal Crossing: New Horizons!

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There are plenty of terrific video game puzzles out there. Whether you’re talking about video games where the vast majority of the gameplay is puzzle solving (like Myst, Portal, The Witness) or games in other genres that still use puzzles in creative ways (Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Uncharted), puzzles are part of the fabric of video games.

But sometimes, it’s almost more interesting when people introduce puzzly elements to non-puzzle games, because it shows off the creativity, cleverness, and skill of the designer.

People have designed escape room-style puzzles in Super Mario Maker (not to mention working calculators!) and Minecraft is known for its user-generated puzzly challenges.

But I don’t think I ever expected Animal Crossing: New Horizons to end up as a refuge for puzzly minds.

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For the uninitiated, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a game where each player gets their own island, on which they can build a house, create their own paradise, and interact with fellow players. You can collect animals, plants, fruit, and other resources to craft items. There are tasks to complete, and more characters will arrive to explore your island.

We previously reported on Animal Crossing back in May of 2020 when guest blogger Jen Cunningham discussed their May Day event. During the event, game designers created a special island with a maze and a series of tasks for players to complete as they solved the twisty turny path before them. It was a big success, one of many for the game in 2020.

But as it turns out, that’s not the only maze to be found if you go island-hopping in this popular game.

No, a user named Avery Monsen spent about two weeks turning his island into a diabolical labyrinth of his own design. After deep diving into the game, the creation of Avery’s maze was driven by two factors:

1. It was more fun than the traditional game play
2. It would make the game virtually unplayable, which would make it easier to put down for a while.

And it looks like his plan succeeded. Once the maze was finished, he put the game away. (He recently returned to the game to check out a programming update.)

Apparently, the maze is complex enough to cause travel from any key location to any other key location to last ten minutes. And for a game where you’re free to explore wherever, ten minutes to get from place to place is an eternity.

“I wouldn’t say I forgot about my maze, but I definitely forgot how much of a hassle it is. It’s a nightmare,” Monsen said. “So, I took a few screenshots and posted them to my Twitter. I was very quickly flooded with people who were impressed by my dedication and terrified by my obsession. Both of these reactions are valid.”

He has shared the address code so that other players can visit his island and try their hand at his now-famous labyrinth. “I hope people enjoy my island and I hope it doesn’t make me look totally nuts,” he said.

Who knows what other puzzly works are lurking out there in the world of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, just waiting to be revealed?


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PN Product Review: Caesar’s Codex and Minotaur’s Labyrinth

Puzzles come in many forms, all shapes and sizes, but there’s probably no puzzle genre that offers more variety and range in difficulty than mechanical brain teasers.

The physical element adds so much to the solving experience that cannot be replicated in other puzzle styles. Whether you’re assembling pieces into a given shape, manipulating two pieces to separate them (or put them together), or twisting and turning a puzzle until it becomes the desired shape, mechanical brain teasers offer a world of possibility.

And in today’s product review, we’ve got two different varieties of brain teaser to test out, all courtesy of the creative minds at Project Genius. Both are part of their True Genius line of wooden brain teasers, rated for ages 14 and up, and each has its own ranking on a scale of 1 to 5 in difficulty.

Without further ado, let’s get solving!

First up, we have this 4-out-of-5-star difficulty puzzle box.

One of the most famous encryption techniques in history is named after Julius Caesar, so it’s quite apropos for Project Genius to name a puzzle box covered in symbols after the historical icon.

Caesar’s Codex is a beautiful wooden box with detailed patterns along all four sides. On the front, the box features four slider bars that can move up and down, each bearing eight different symbols and labeled with a different shape (triangle, star, square, circle).

The box also has a grid on the back depicting a host of different letters and characters, leaning heavily on the concept of encryption.

Your goal is seemingly simple: figure out what arrangement of characters on the four slider bars is required to open the box. But you’ll definitely need to keep your eyes open and your wits about you to unravel the secret behind Caesar’s Codex.

I do feel, though, that the difficulty ranking is too high. Perhaps I’m too accustomed to the tricks of puzzle boxes, but this seems more like a 2-out-of-5 difficulty, 3-out-of-5 at the max. This is a delightful mechanical brain teaser that I would absolutely use to introduce solvers to the world of puzzle boxes.

Now, for a proper 4-out-of-5 difficulty brain teaser, look no further than Minotaur’s Labyrinth.

Inspired by the myth of Theseus, the Minotaur, and the Cretan Labyrinth, solvers must spin and maneuver the Minotaur through the maze. But this is far more than simply a matter of choosing the correct path.

Playing around with the Minotaur piece involves figuring out how to navigate both the horns on top and the irregular shape of the peg underneath that you can’t always see. It’s a devious bit of puzzling that requires you to keep respinning and maneuvering the Minotaur in order to escape. The tight angles and variously placed obstacles make the Minotaur’s horns quite a challenge.

But once you do, the challenge is only half over.

You must now flip the piece upside down, reenter the labyrinth, and navigate your way back to the center.

[Yes, I am posting this picture just to prove I did it.]

This involves learning how to navigate the piece in its new arrangement, and the horns are much harder to judge now that they’re sliding around underneath the maze walls. It really does feel like solving a whole new maze, even though you’ve JUST conquered this one.

It’s brutal, but also immensely impressive to make the same maze twice feel like two totally different challenges. The first part of the puzzle is more like a 3-out-of-5 difficulty, but the second half absolutely earns the 4-out-of-5 difficulty rating on the box.


Caesar’s Codex and Minotaur’s Labyrinth are both available through Project Genius as well as certain online retailers.

Whether you’re looking for a deduction puzzle or a mechanical challenge, one of these impressive brain teasers from Project Genius is sure to hit the spot. And both are part of this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, coming soon, so be sure to check it out!

[Note: I received a free copy of each brain teaser in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]


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What’s Your Favorite Puzzly Place?

We talk about puzzly things all time. We discuss puzzly moments from history, puzzly events happening now, and the many ways puzzles are represented in modern life, both obviously and less so.

But it recently occurred to me that we rarely talk about puzzly places.

There are escape rooms and board game cafes, puzzle hunts that span cities and college campuses, corn mazes lovingly cultivated every year, and geocaches with puzzly elements awaiting intrepid hikers and nature lovers.

If you picture “puzzly place” in your mind, what do you see? The Labyrinth from Greek mythology? The Winchester Mystery House? The Hampton Court Maze?

Oddly enough, the first place that comes to mind for me is a woodland area in England, famed for its strange rock formations, caves, and trees.

It’s known as Puzzlewood.

This 14-acre space, located in the forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire, is one of the most gorgeous and peculiar places in the world. It is full of meandering pathways, old mining areas dating back to the Roman era, and cave systems that breached the surface untold years ago. There are bridges and rock formations, many covered in the moss that has conquered any sign of human intervention there.

It reportedly inspired not just the Forbidden Forest from the Harry Potter series, but several locations in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as well. It has been a filming site for shows like Doctor Who and Merlin as well as franchises like the Star Wars saga.

And it seems like a beautifully peaceful place for some puzzling.

It may not possess the order or intrigue of some of the world’s most famous hedge mazes, but in my estimation, what it lacks in design, it more than makes up for with atmosphere.

Puzzlewood truly lives up to the name.

What are your favorite puzzly places, fellow solvers? Do you have a favorite escape room, maze, or natural spot in which to get lost? Or is your puzzly place right at home with a puzzle book and some cocoa? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Kickstarter Roundup!

Oh yes, it’s that time again.

For years now, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been hotbeds of innovative puzzle and game design, and I’m always happy to spread the word about worthy projects that I think will delight and intrigue my fellow PuzzleNationers.

So let’s take a look at some projects that are currently seeking funding and see if any pique your interest! (This time around, we’ve got twice as many recommendations as usual! So much puzzly potential!)


atoz crossword

The first is a project by Fireball Crosswords and Fireball Newsflash Crosswords constructor Peter Gordon, entitled A-to-Z Crosswords Volume 2: More Petite Pangram Puzzles.

The project is easy to explain, but mindblowing to think about. Every single day for 24 WEEKS, you get a 9×11 crossword puzzle that contains all 26 letters. The puzzles range from easy to medium in difficulty, arrive by email, and are constructed by Gordon and professional puzzler Frank Longo.

This is a very cool project that deserves your support — they’re a little more than a third of the way there, with 9 days to go — and you should definitely check it out!

puzzle postcard

The next project is Puzzle Postcards: Season Two by the Enigma Emporium.

Last year, Wish You Were Here was part of our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, and it’s fantastic to see that the Enigma Emporium is Kickstarting another puzzle postcard mystery this year.

Essentially, an entire mystery is concealed within a handful of postcards, challenging you to mine them for every scrap of information as you uncover a series of coded messages. It’s spycraft in an envelope, very clever stuff.

Already funded with 12 days to go — and carrying a solid track record of previous successful Kickstarter projects behind them — I cannot recommend this one highly enough. I loved Wish You Were Here, as well as the follow-up series.

fuzzies

For a change of pace, our next project is The Fuzzies.

Basically, this is a Jenga-style dexterity game, but made out of little fuzzy balls instead of pieces of wood. And instead of choosing which piece you remove and place on top, that is determined by a deck of cards instead.

I don’t know how it works — actually staying upright in the first place — but apparently it does.

This family-friendly game has already tripled its funding goal with 29 days to go, so it might be right up your alley.

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The next project we’re sharing today is the ENIGMAS deck of puzzle playing cards.

David Kwong — constructor, magician, and all-around puzzly fellow — has masterminded a puzzle mystery and a series of hidden messages and ciphers, all contained within a deck of cards.

ENIGMAS marries some of the ideas from his Enigmatist show — specifically the historical aspects — with an ingenious puzzle hunt to create an intriguing solving situation. Plus, once you’ve cracked all the puzzly elements, you’ve still got a beautiful deck of cards to enjoy.

This project has blasted well past its funding goal, and with 9 days to go, they’ve added a special limited-run deck of red cards (to compliment the standard blue deck) that will only be offered to Kickstarter backers and never sold in stores. With a pedigree like David’s, you can’t go wrong!

sherlock

Our next project is bigger and no less ambitious. It’s Sherlock’s Mysteries: An Interactive Puzzle Adventure (not to be confused with another Sherlock-based Kickstarter running right now).

Combining board game and escape room elements, this project contains 10 mysteries (described as chapters) that combine into one interwoven narrative where you try to save the life of Sherlock Holmes!

By combining murder mystery-style solving with puzzles like ciphers and deduction puzzles, this project definitely tries to encapsulate the experience of being the Great Detective from the comfort of your own home.

About halfway to its goal with 21 days left, this project isn’t a lock (given the price tag of $135 to experience the entire story), but it’s definitely worth a look. (I’m especially intrigued by the fact that certain levels offer “refill kits” that allow the experience to be played more than once!)

shivers

For something just as puzzly but more immersive from a roleplaying point of view, there’s The Shivers.

In this game, someone has gone missing in the house owned by the Shivers family, and you play one of the family members trying to solve the mystery and defeat dangerous foes at work in various sinister and creepy scenarios.

This gameplay is bolstered by pop-up 3-D models of the various rooms of the house, bringing the setting and different stories to life right before your eyes.

This is a very clever combination of puzzle hunt, roleplaying game, and pop-up book that I’ve never really seen before, and like some of these other projects, it has blown past its funding goal with strong support from interested gamers and puzzlers.

legacy

Following the escape room/puzzle mystery at home template, Legacy: Quest for a Family Treasure is our next project to discuss.

You receive a black box in the mail, and inside, you discover in your estranged father’s will that there is a family treasure hidden somewhere in Europe. And you’ll have to unravel secrets of the past in order to secure your future.

This immersive mystery involves audio and video clues, physical evidence to pore over, and even incorporates Internet searching into the gameplay. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the level of depth and attention to detail in this one, and clearly I’m not the only one, as the project has already met and surpassed its funding goal with 10 days to go.

The familial element adds a neat twist to the mystery-at-home genre, and I suspect this project will do very well.

labyrinth

The last project we’ll be sharing today is The Labyrinth: An Immersive Multi-Platform Puzzle Challenge.

There’s a lot of stuff included in this one: puzzle boxes, ciphers, maps, tools. They’re sending you a CRATE full of material here. The goal is to move through the various chambers of a labyrinth, solving puzzles as you go.

With 55 puzzles included — and an expected solve time of 8-10 hours — this is a breathtaking amount of puzzly paraphernalia. So there’s cost to consider here. The full puzzle costs $195 (there’s even a more expensive deluxe edition), so although that easily makes it the priciest project we’re discussing today, but also one of the most visually impressive.

And yet, with 14 days to go, they’ve already passed their funding goal nine times over. Check it out and see what you think of the expansive puzzle selection offered here.


Have any of these games or projects hooked you? Tell us which ones you’re supporting in the comments section below! And if there are any campaigns you’re supporting that we missed, let us know!

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Puzzles Come to Animal Crossing for May Day!

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[Image courtesy of Nintendo.]

The latest edition of the video game franchise Animal Crossing — New Horizons — has been out for a few months now. But recently, they ventured into the world of puzzles as a special promotion.

Thankfully, friend of the blog Jennifer Cunningham — puzzler, artist, musicologist, and former Tabletop Tournament Champion — has returned to the blog with the lowdown on the recent May Day event.

So, without further ado, let’s turn things over to Jen for her piece on Animal Crossing: New Horizons.


Possibly one of the most anticipated video game releases of the year, Animal Crossing: New Horizons arrived at just the right time, hitting Nintendo Switch consoles at the end of March.

The latest installment in the Animal Crossing series finds its players arriving at a beautiful island paradise. There are multiple goals in the game including expanding your home, gaining wealth, collecting insects and fish to donate to the local museum (or to sell for profit), and of course improving your island’s appeal so that popular singer/songwriter K.K. Slider will play a concert for you and the other residents.

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[Image courtesy of VG 24/7.]

Players across the world have gone wild for this game, making it their entertainment of choice while stuck at home at this uneasy time. The social aspect of the game, which allows players to virtually invite their friends to their islands, share gifts and resources, and even to chat, has helped many feel less isolated.

And the makers of Animal Crossing are doing their part to keep the game interesting and engaging for players who have likely been obsessively playing since the release date. As months change, so do your island’s insects and fish, and special events ensure players keep coming back. An Easter-themed event called Bunny Day saw players collecting eggs to build themed objects, and more recently an environmentally centered event called Nature Day encouraged activities related to planting trees and flowers.

May Day on May 1st was part of the Nature Day celebration. Starting on this day, everyone’s favorite raccoon/tanuki mogul Tom Nook gave players a special ticket for a May Day Tour on a special getaway island via Dodo Airlines. Unlike other island excursions that players may take, this particular tour package had an unusual surprise. Players were transported to an island with a puzzly secret: a maze!

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[Image courtesy of Jennifer Cunningham.]

Normally Animal Crossing doesn’t involve much in the way of problem solving — it’s a pretty straightforward collect-and-build-style game — so to challenge players with a puzzle was a surprise.

The entire May Day Tour island is composed of a hedge maze, blocked off in spots by boulders, trees, and shrubs. Using a simple shovel supplied at the maze entrance, players must collect resources such as fruit, wood, and iron ore to build more tools and make their way through the maze.

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[Image courtesy of Newsweek.]

In addition, players could collect “Bell vouchers” which can be traded in for Bells (the game’s currency). At the end of the maze awaited the main prize as supplied by a mysterious returning character popular to fans of the game’s previous generations. (I admit as a new fan, this wasn’t a big draw for me, but for die-hard fans, this was a very big deal.)

The maze was intuitive, and it didn’t take long for me to figure out how to navigate it, although it does involve a lot of backtracking to meet the necessary steps in the correct order.

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[Image courtesy of Super Parent.]

That said, the maze did offer some challenges. I completed my first attempt fairly quickly, but failed to maintain enough fruit in my stores to remove three boulders and access a group of bell vouchers. (For a bit of context, consuming fruit boosts players’ strength, allowing them to dig up whole trees or break boulders).

Thankfully the maze offered a reset option. It took me about three attempts to finally perform every necessary action in the correct order to collect all of the maze’s prizes.

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[Image courtesy of Animal Crossing World.]

Overall, while not the most challenging of puzzles, it was refreshing to do some problem solving in a game that can admittedly get a little repetitive. There was a hint within the game’s dialog that there may be more islands of this sort, and I do hope that is true. Likely these will be included in future events to keep players coming back for more.

If you haven’t jumped on the Animal Crossing bandwagon yet and want to try your luck at the maze before it’s too late, the May Day event runs through May 7.


Thank you Jen for that marvelous report!

Will you be participating in the May Day Animal Crossing event, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

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