A New Maze Experience with a Ghostly Twist!

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[Image courtesy of Pixilart.]

Whether it’s a hedge maze or an escape room, an inflatable obstacle course or a murder mystery dinner, there’s nothing quite like life-sized interactive puzzling. It’s an immersive experience that can challenge you both physically and mentally, creating memories of challenges conquered and victories achieved that will last a lifetime.

And next year, the citizens of Houston will get to test their puzzly mettle in an iconic scenario: the Pac-Man maze.

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[Image courtesy of Pinterest.]

That’s right, thanks to The Maze, intrepid puzzlers will take on the role of Pac-Man and try to outmaneuver Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde while collecting various pieces of fruit around the play area.

But as it turns out, that’s not all!

From the write-up on The Maze’s website:

You can get lost in a huge arcade-style maze that will have you and your friends dodging ghosts left and right and trying to collect different pieces of fruit. Collecting fruit isn’t your only objective though, you’ll need to complete a coded “Puzzle”! If you’re the first to finish the puzzle and gather all the fruit, you’ll be at the top of the leaderboard and crowned the ultimate winner!

BUT, if you get caught by a cheeky ghost, you’ll lose a life (not a real one, thankfully) – lose three and you’re out!

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[Image courtesy of Gamespot.]

I can’t find any pictures from a previous Maze event, so I’m not sure what it will look like. Of course, as you can tell from the picture above, this isn’t the first time Pac-Man has ventured into the third dimension.

In 2015, a life-size Pac-Man game was created for a Bud Light “Up for Whatever” Super Bowl commercial (but without the additional coded puzzle advertised for the upcoming Houston event).

And if Houston is anything close to this, it’ll be an absolute blast.

Would you like to test your puzzly skill against the dreaded ghosts of Pac-Man, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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A Shift in Puzzly Perspective

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I’ve had 3-D puzzling on the brain for a few days now, after a conversation about video games with a well-informed friend of mine.

What do I mean when I say 3-D puzzling? Well, I don’t just mean a puzzle that exists in three dimensions. I mean a puzzle where the solving experience requires all three dimensions.

Think about your average maze or a jigsaw puzzle. Although they’re three-dimensional objects, the solving is two-dimensional. Yes, there are certainly variations on these themes, like maze cubes where you navigate a marble from one place to another, or 3-D jigsaw puzzles that allow you to reconstruct famous landmarks. But these still rely heavily on two-dimensional solving.

Compare that with the iconic puzzle video game Portal, for instance. Portal requires you to accomplish different tasks, and you can only do so with your portal gun, a device that allows you to connect two different locations on the map.

[Image courtesy of Game Informer.]

That requires a complete realignment of your perspective, because you can walk in a straight line through one portal and emerge above, below, or at a 90-degree angle from where you started. This isn’t two-dimensional thinking anymore.

Between 3-D printing techniques and the constantly evolving engines behind video game systems, we’re seeing more and more examples of three-dimensional thinking in puzzles, and I’m perpetually amazed by what creators and designers come up with.

Check out this video of gameplay from the new puzzle game Etherborn:

Your character navigates elaborate three-dimensional landscapes, and gravity is wholly dependent on how your character is oriented at the moment. So you need to be clever enough to use the landscape in order to move your character in very unorthodox ways.

It’s fascinating, a step beyond some of the puzzles seen in previous games like Portal and Fez. (In those games, gravity still only worked in one direction, whereas Etherborn breaks even that fundamental baseline.)

I think this sort of puzzling appeals to me so much because the change in perspective that comes from solving in an additional dimension completely rewrites the rules we thought we knew.

Imagine for a second that you’re inside a corn maze. Now think about the paper mazes you’ve solved. See the difference? In the first scenario, you’re beholden to the meager information you get from following each path, whereas in the second, you can plan a route from above because you have much more information. You can see dead ends and avoid them.

The three-dimensional scenario is far more challenging than the 2-D solving you’re doing with the paper maze.

ThinkFun managed a similar feat with Gravity Maze, a puzzle game that required you to move a marble from the starting cube to the ending cube. The main challenge was that you had to build the path with only the given materials, and then just drop the marble in. All the puzzling happened at the beginning, and then you became a bystander as the marble traversed the solution you built.

This isn’t just plotting a path like in a normal maze, it was understanding a chain of events you were setting in motion, like cause and effect. It’s like building a simple Rube Goldberg machine and watching it go.

But whether you’re manipulating portals, shifting perspectives, dropping marbles, or solving corn mazes, you’re pushing your puzzly skills into new dimensions. And that’s just the puzzles we have now. Imagine what comes next.


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A Corn Maze for Grown Ups?

Summer is officially here!

Usually, that doesn’t really mean much in the world of puzzles. After all, puzzles are a year-round activity, not beholden to seasonal changes in weather or temperature.

Unless, of course, we’re talking about corn mazes.

Cultivated and shaped over the course of weeks or months, corn mazes are grand puzzly creations, as immersive as they are impressive. Few puzzles can inspire the same feeling of wonder as a corn maze as you explore and roam the various twists and turns laid out by intrepid farmers and entrepreneurs.

Plus they’re family-friendly. It’s rare for a corn maze to provide a genuine challenge, so the genre as a whole tends to be viewed as an endeavor more suitable for families or children than adults on their own.

The folks at Holmberg Orchards & Winery in Gales Ferry, Connecticut, however, have something in different in mind this year.

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Find the Wine: A Grown Up Corn Maze Adventure is being held in August and September, and puzzlers must be 21 years old and up in order to attend.

This corn maze features stations hidden amongst the various labyrinthine pathways, and these stations will be offering samples of both wine and hard cider for your enjoyment!

Each event runs from 6 pm to 8:30 pm, which is ample time to explore both the maze and various libations in a relaxed and unique puzzly environment, and there will be live music and food truck options available after you’ve completed the maze.

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You can click here for ticket details, or visit their websites for further information on the event. There are six Find the Wine dates available — Friday August 23rd, Saturday August 24th, Friday August 30th, Saturday August 31st, Friday September 6th, and Friday September 13th — and tickets are both limited and date-specific.

I think it’s a clever take on the traditional corn maze, and a very smart marketing concept for the winery itself, eliminating some of the noise and chaos of kid-friendly events and creating more of an air of a date night or casual social gathering.

It sounds like a pleasant evening of puzzling for the tipplers out there, don’t you think?


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PuzzleNation Product Review: The Abandons

What is it about exploring a maze that is so satisfying? We’ve covered labyrinths before — in book form, in wood form, even in LEGO form — but we’ve never sampled something quite like The Abandons.

The Abandons is a one-player labyrinth-building game that is different every time you play. And unlike most labyrinths that are predetermined for you (and are observed from above), you have to explore it room by room, dealing with the surprises and consequences revealed by your choices.

[A sampling of the cards you’ll see; clockwise from upper left: an item card, a stairs card, the card backing, a corridor card with choices, the end card, the beginning card.]

This quick-play game is simple to learn, simple to set up, and difficult to conquer. Locate the beginning and end cards, remove them from the deck, then shuffle the remaining 48 cards. Once they’re shuffled, place the end card at the bottom of the deck. This is now your draw pile.

Place your beginning card down on the table. You’ll notice it has a diamond at the door. The diamonds represent how many cards you draw in order to move forward. With one diamond, you simply draw the next card and play it. With two, you discard one card and play the next. With three, you discard two cards and play the third. And so on.

[Sometimes you reach a quick dead end.]

As you pull cards from the draw pile and add them to the labyrinth, you’ll come to intersections that allow for multiple paths. You’ll pick one direction and follow it. If you come to a dead end, you can retrace your steps back to the nearest intersection with an unexplored path and continue your journey.

But if you encounter enough dead ends, you’ll find yourself without any unexplored paths, and you lose, having trapped yourself in the labyrinth forever. Bummer.

You can see in this playthrough, we were lucky with our first cards, as we drew an item card immediately (and set it aside for later), followed by an intersection card with three paths to choose from. We went left, drew another intersection card, and then had a choice to make.

If one of those paths leads to a dead end, we’re still in good shape since there are currently four unexplored paths to fall back on. Options are life in this game.

Unfortunately, we went right, drew another intersection card, and then went left, drawing the collapse card.

If you draw this card, you wipe all of your progress from the play area and go back to the start, as if you’ve fallen into a lower level of the labyrinth and must start your search anew for an exit. (This is one of two cards that can cause this game reset. The other, the stairs card, gives you the choice of continuing with your current path or going back to the start. It’s slightly more pleasant than the collapse card.)

So you don’t just have dead end cards to worry about. Sometimes you’ll be pretty deep into your explorations, and suddenly, you’re back at the start. It’s a kick in the teeth, to be sure.

Now here’s a game where we’ve gotten pretty far. You can see in the top left and the bottom center areas of your screen, a few dead end cards have appeared. But we have several unexplored paths to fall back on, as well as three item cards.

The item cards offer different options depending on how many you have. If you have one, you can spend it to look at the top three cards of the draw pile (as if you’ve found part of a map of the labyrinth). If you have two, you can spend them on a bomb to blast your way through a dead end or another wall, giving yourself another unexplored path (and another chance for escape). And if you have three, you can spent them on a magic mirror that allows you to return to the start and take a new path.

Overall, I really enjoyed playing this game. Many explore-a-world games require lots of setup, whereas this one gets going in seconds and plays out in about ten minutes or so. The mix of strategy and luck makes each game unpredictable — even if it’s a bit frustrating to draw a dead end card early on that squashes the whole game. The item cards allow for some solid tactical planning — I’m a huge fan of bombing my way through walls — which offsets the randomness of the draw pile.

Yes, it’s true that this isn’t really a game that you can master, since randomness will always be a big part of the gameplay, but it’s certainly a game you can get better at playing. After just a few tries, you start to get the hang of how to choose your paths and try to make the draw pile work for you, not against you. (In that way, it becomes a puzzly version of poker where you’re playing against the deck itself.)

It’s a terrific solo solving experience, a great intro game for younger players (I certainly think you can go younger than the 14+ recommended by the designers), and small enough to fit in your pocket. This is one quick-play game that won’t sit on the shelf for very long.

The Abandons is available from Puzzling Pixel Games and select online retailers.


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Daedalus, The Original Master of Mazes

[Image courtesy of Lofty Dreams 101.]

Writing about The Maze of Games Kickstarter last week got me thinking about labyrinths and mazes, so naturally, my thoughts turned to the ultimate maze builder: Daedalus.

Stories about Daedalus are inconsistent — his workshop was variously attributed to Crete, Sicily, or Athens, and even when he lived is up for debate — but his reputation as the premiere craftsman of his day is unparalleled.

His most famous creation was the Cretan Labyrinth, an enormous baffling maze with a roof, so there could be no assistance or solving from above. The Minotaur, a hulking creature with the body of a man and the head of a bull, was imprisoned inside it by King Minos.

[Image courtesy of Medium.com.]

It would fall to the Athenian hero Theseus to navigate the Labyrinth and slay the Minotaur in order to stop periodic sacrifices of young men and women from Athens to the monster. Theseus did so thanks to a magic ball of wool given to him by the daughter of King Minos, Ariadne. By tying one end of the wool string to the entrance of the Labyrinth — and following instructions given to him by Ariadne — he would be able to find his way back.

(As it turns out, this technique would also prove useful for solving a riddle later in Daedalus’s life, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.)

Theseus bested the Minotaur in a fierce battle, saving the potential sacrificees and ending Minos’s reign of terror over the Athenian people.

But who gave Ariadne the wool and the instructions on how to navigate the Labyrinth? Daedalus, of course.

For his betrayal, Minos imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in the Labyrinth.

[Image courtesy of Fine Art America.]

We all know this part of the story. Daedalus fashions wings for himself and Icarus, and they fly off to escape. Unfortunately, Icarus ventures too close to the sun, melting the wax holding his wings together, and he plummets into the sea.

Daedalus, heartbroken, continues his flight, eventually finding himself in Camicus, Sicily, a land ruled by King Cocalus. Cocalus welcomed Daedalus and promised him protection from the vengeful King Minos.

During his time serving King Cocalus, Daedalus was credited with creating other, less famous wonders, like a perfect honeycomb made of gold, and self-moving “living” statues, and a fortified citadel for Cocalus that was so well designed, three or four men could hold off an invading army.

Naturally, King Minos was still hunting the fugitive inventor, and he devised a puzzly scheme to expose Daedalus wherever he was hiding.

[Image courtesy of Baburek.]

As he traveled around pursuing Daedalus, Minos would bring a large spiral seashell with him, challenging any clever people he encountered to thread a string through its many interconnected chambers. If they could do so, he would pay them a hefty reward.

Hmmm… threading a string though a convoluted maze of chambers. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Minos’s travels brought him to Sicily, and King Cocalus wanted that reward money, so he brought the seashell to Daedalus in secret.

Daedalus drilled a small hole at the top of the shell, and placed a drop of honey at the mouth of the shell. He then glued a thread to an ant and placed it in the hole. As the ant explored the interior of the seashell, hunting for that tempting drop of honey at the end of the maze — like cheese to a lab rat — it towed the string through the shell. Eventually, the little ant completed the task, and Cocalus returned the solved puzzle to Minos.

Naturally, Minos demanded that Cocalus turn over Daedalus — the only person who could’ve possibly solved the seashell puzzle — and Cocalus agreed.

Of course, Cocalus instead had his daughters murder Minos in a hot spring instead. As you do, when you’ve been denied the puzzly prize money you were promised.

So, if you’re ever confronted with a maze — of corn, of wood, or lurking inside a book — make sure you’ve got a ball of yarn or wool with you. And possibly an ant as well.


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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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