PN Product Review: Zendo Expansion #2

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

Even the best designed games need a little sprucing up from time to time. This is especially true of logic/deduction games, where after a while, it can feel like you’ve seen every trick either the game or the other players can offer.

And there are very few game companies that consistently deliver great expansions. It’s a brutal tightrope to walk; you have to add to the established game in an interesting or fresh way, but without breaking the rules, introducing problems that players won’t know how to handle mechanically, or betraying in some manner the spirit of the original game.

For the team at Looney Labs, though, creating an expansion pack seems like another day at the office. We’ve reviewed expansion packs in the past for Fluxx (Fluxx Dice), Just Desserts (Just Coffee/Better with Bacon), and Star Trek Fluxx (the Bridge Expansion), and each one revitalizes the game and adds delightful new wrinkles without hampering any of the qualities that made the original game such a treat.

Today, we’re looking at a new expansion pack for one of the company’s most immersive and challenging puzzle games: Zendo.

In Zendo, the players pull pieces from a communal pile in order to build different structures, using pyramids, wedges, and blocks. One player, the moderator, chooses a secret rule for the players to uncover, and builds two structures. One of these structures follows the secret rule, and one does not, and both are marked as such.

Secret rules can be as simple as “must contain all three shapes” or “must contain exactly four pieces.” They can be as complex as “must contain more blue pieces than blocks” or “must contain at least one yellow piece pointing at a blue piece.” Some rules involve how pieces touch, or how they’re stacked, while others demand no touching or stacking whatsoever. The field is wide open at the start of the game.

Players then try to deduce the secret rule by building structures themselves, arranging pieces from the communal pile into various patterns and asking the moderator for more information.

So, how does Zendo Expansion #2 affect the original?

[Here are two sculptures: one that follows the secret rule and one that doesn’t. Can you figure out the secret rule? Is it about shapes? Colors? Placement? More?]

Zendo Expansion #2 is a ten-card deck of new secret rule cards that allow the moderator to create fresh challenges for the other players to unravel. The structures and arrangements may look the same, but players must reexamine what they think they know and observe to figure out the new secret rules.

Because, you see, the cards offer more than just the new rules. They demand greater cleverness from the moderator, in order to create designs that are fair for the players — not immediately obvious, but not impossible to discern either. It’s a difficult task for moderators.

And the challenge is even greater for players. After all, it’s not just about the shapes and how they interact, but all aspects of what the players see. Zendo Expansion #1 had cards where the rule involved the shape of the structure’s shadow. You could look at the pieces, the colors, how they’re placed, where they’re placed, how close, how far away, how many of each, and the shape of the shadow could NEVER occur to you.

[Here’s another sculpture that removes blue pieces as a possible
element in the secret rule. Have you figured it out yet?]

With one medium rule card and nine difficult rule cards (as opposed to the easy-to-difficult range of the first expansion pack), the game will only become more surprising and thoughtful from here.

These cards include rules about relationships between pieces, conditional rules (example: something that’s true of the sculpture if something else happens theoretically), and even rules regarding something that ISN’T happening in a particular sculpture. Players will have to wrack their brains and truly example both sculptures from every angle to puzzle out these new rules.

There are even decoy tags on certain cards, to make players think the card has more variables than there actually are! Diabolical!

Although I’m a moderator far more frequently than a player, I’m excited to try out both sides of these new rule cards. After all, with the base set and two expansions’ worth of cards, there’s no way I can remember ALL of the possible combinations available. I’m as likely to be outwitted and outpuzzled as the next player.

[One more chance. Here’s a much simplified version that DOESN’T
adhere to the secret rule. What can we learn from this one?]

And that’s the charm of Zendo. From a small gathering of pieces and rules, you can make practically any scenario you wish. Will the players figure it out first try, or will the moderator’s ability to reinvent their sculptures as needed be put to the ultimate test?

Zendo is at once the most collaborative and one of the most curiously devious puzzle-games in the Looney Labs catalog, and with this expansion pack, only the truly inventive and observant will thrive. What a treat.

[Zendo and the new Zendo Expansion #2 are available from Looney Labs, and the expansion pack is only $5!]


Oh, and if you figure out our secret rule for the post, we’ll send you a Zendo-themed prize!


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Fairness and Accessibility in Puzzles?

We love crosswords here at PuzzleNation. Crosswords are our bread and butter, as well as our pizza, our salad, and our desserts.

We strive to keep our puzzles as accessible as possible for solvers of all ages. And that’s tougher than non-puzzlers might think.

Recently we discussed a never-ending debate in crosswords as we delved into the many, sometimes contradictory, goals of creating a great crossword. You want entries to appeal to older solvers without alienating younger solvers, and vice versa. Some people despise pop culture references and proper nouns, while others embrace them.

Abbreviations, partial phrases, fill-in-the-blank clues, wordplay clues, clues that reference other clues… there’s a vast swathe of crossword qualities that must be balanced, and no matter how good a job you do, you’re probably still going to have a few dissenting voices who believe you should do better.

As a hobby still very much viewed as the purview of older white men — despite the many worthwhile voices of women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community that contribute to the world of crosswords in increasing numbers — the language featured in crosswords MATTERS.

It reflects our society, serving as a microcosm of the current day and our culture as a whole. Older solvers might not know new slang or black artists or trans performers or any number of references that are growing more commonplace AND gaining greater visibility. But updating the vocabulary of crosswords is a constant effort, and a worthwhile one.

But I said a lot of this in that previous post, so why am I returning to the topic now?

Well, because I find this continuing democratization of crosswords interesting, because it’s something required of crosswords, but not of many other types of puzzles.

Word seeks (except for some variations) give you the starting list, and then you go hunting for answers. Fill-Ins do the same thing, leaving you the empty grid to fill but requiring no specialized knowledge. Everyone gets the same running start.

(I snagged this helpful image from www.logic-puzzles.org.)

Traditional logic puzzles are also presented on an even playing field. You’re presented with information (say, hints about various names, places, times, and activities), as well as an end goal to figure out (the correct schedule of who did what, where, and when).

You don’t have to bring any foreknowledge or previous experience to the table. Given the opportunity, everyone should have an equal chance of solving the puzzle.

Naturally, this equality depends on the assumption that you, the solver, can read the language the puzzle is presented in.

Which brings me to, perhaps, the most democratically fair paper puzzle of all: Sudoku.

The rules are simple, even if the puzzles can be very challenging: place the numbers 1 through 9 in every row, column, and cell.

Even at a glance, without knowing the puzzle, pretty much anyone would have an idea of what’s going on and what needs to be done. Language doesn’t matter, so long as you can identify the nine different symbols to be placed. (This is why word and color variations of Sudoku exist, because the numbers themselves are irrelevent. You just need nine different things.)

Anyone can pick up a pen, a pencil, or a stylus and solve a Sudoku.

And we should strive for the same thing with crosswords.

Sure, all of those other puzzles require practice to get GOOD at them. But at a baseline, everyone who approaches them has a fair shot. Crosswords demand that solvers bring their own knowledge and info and trivia and vocabulary to the table.

But crosswords as a whole should seek that same democratization: Accessibility. Representation. That inviting X factor.

There’s already a touch of that in the medium. Anytime I see someone solving a puzzle on a train, or in an airport, or in some public place, there’s always someone else sneaking a peek or stealing a glance.

Have you ever seen someone complete a crossword for the very first time? I have, and it’s awesome. It’s a magnified version of the delicious a-ha moment when you unravel a tricky clue.

Do you remember the joy in your heart the first time you conquered a New York Times puzzle on a difficult day? The first time you solved a puzzle type you’d never bested before? The first time you cracked the meta lurking in the background of an already devilish design?

Everyone should get that feeling.

No crossword will ever be everything every solver wants it to be. And that’s fine. But I do look forward to the day when everyone looks at a puzzle and at least one of the clues speaks to them, makes them feel seen and heard and represented.

Puzzles should be for everyone.

[Thank you to ThinkFun and Michelle Parrinello-Cason for inspiring this post.]


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Solution to our May the 4th Jedi Logic Puzzle!

Last week, we celebrated Star Wars Day (aka May the Fourth) with a Jedi-themed brain teaser for our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers to solve!

How do you crack this Star Wars-inspired Jedi mystery? Let’s find out together!


On a small planet in the Mid Rim, a group of Jedi defeated several squads of battle droids. Reporters had a hard time piecing together descriptions of the five Jedi who saved the day, even after interviewing many witnesses.

The only thing the reporters were sure of? The names of the five Jedi:

  • Drosco Wrs
  • Ko Duus
  • Pramyt Gorc
  • Wendo Grars
  • Seredwok

Each of the Jedi wielded a different color lightsaber (green, yellow, blue, orange, or purple). Each held a different title within the Jedi Order (Padawan, Knight, Master, Instructor, or Council Member). And each of them was a different species (Barabel, Bith, Nautolan, Twi’lek, or Wookiee).

Based on the information gathered below, can you figure out which lightsaber color, title, and species belongs with which Jedi?

1. Drosco Wrs (whose lightsaber is either orange or green) is neither the padawan nor the knight.

2. Either Ko Duus or the Bith is the council member, and the other has the yellow lightsaber.

3. The Jedi with the blue lightsaber (who isn’t on the council) is either the Twi’lek or the Wookiee; if Twi’lek, then Drosco Wrs is the instructor, but if Wookiee, then Seredwok is the instructor.

4. The padawan (who has neither the blue lightsaber nor the green lightsaber) is not Seredwok.

5. Wendo Grars (who isn’t the knight) doesn’t have the yellow lightsaber or the blue lightsaber.

6. The Barabel (who is either Pramyt or Seredwok) isn’t the Jedi with the purple lightsaber.

7. The master has either the purple lightsaber or the yellow lightsaber. Neither the purple lightsaber nor the yellow lightsaber are wielded by the Nautolan.

So, where do we begin?

Well, there’s a lot of information here about the lightsabers, and that’s where we can start.

We know that the Nautolan doesn’t have the purple or yellow lightsabers (rule 7) or the blue lightsaber (rule 3). Similarly, we know that the Barabel doesn’t have the purple lightsaber (rule 6) or the blue lightsaber (rule 3). But we can also deduce that it doesn’t have the yellow lightsaber, because either Ko Duus or the Bith have the yellow lightsaber (rule 2), and Ko Duus isn’t a Barabel (rule 6).

That means the green and orange lightsabers are split between the Nautolan and the Barabel. That also means that Drosco Wrs is either the Nautolan or the Barabel, because his lightsaber is either green or orange (rule 1). But since he can’t be the Barabel (rule 6), Drosco Wrs is the Nautolan.

Let’s start our chart there:

sw puz 1

But we know more about Drosco Wrs. He is neither the padawan nor the knight (rule 1) and according to his lightsaber color, he is not the master (rule 7). He is also not the council member, who must be the Bith or Ko Duus (rule 2), so he is the instructor.

Because he is the instructor, we now also know that the Twi’lek has the blue lightsaber (rule 3).

We also know that the Jedi with the blue lightsaber isn’t the padawan (rule 4), the master (rule 7), the council member (rule 4), or the instructor (since Drosco Wrs is the instructor and his lightsaber is either green or orange). That means that the blue lightsaber is with a Twi’lek who is a knight.

Let’s update our chart:

sw puz 2

If we return to the Barabel, according to our chart they’re not the knight or the instructor, and they can’t be the master based on their possible lightsaber color. So they’re either the padawan or the council member. But the council member is either Ko Duus or the Bith (rule 2), and Ko Duus can’t be a Barabel (rule 6). So the Barabel must be the padawan.

And since Seredwok isn’t the padawan (rule 4), Pramyt Groc is the Barabel and the padawan.

But that’s not all. We know that the Barabel’s lightsaber is either green or orange, and the padawan’s lightsaber can’t be green (rule 4), so we have our first complete row.

sw puz 3

It’s taken a lot of work to get here, but now things are rolling.

Drosco Wrs, our Nautolan instructor, could only have a green or orange lightsaber (rule 1), and since orange is the padawan’s color, we now know his lightsaber is green.

So green, blue, and orange are all accounted for, and the council member cannot have a yellow lightsaber (rule 2), so the council member has a purple lightsaber, and the master has a yellow lightsaber.

Wendo Grars can’t have orange, blue, or green, based on our chart, nor can she have yellow (rule 5), so she has the purple lightsaber, making her the council member.

Our chart is looking pretty full now:

sw puz 4

Since Wendo Grars is the council member, Ko Duus must be the wielder of the yellow lightsaber (rule 2), which also makes Wendo Grars the Bith.

And process of elimination gives us one name left — Seredwok — and one species left — Wookiee — to assign.

So our completed chart looks like this:

sw puz 5

Oh, we also hid a little puzzly easter egg in this puzzle. Each of our Jedi names were anagrams of popular puzzles:

  • Drosco Wrs = Crossword
  • Ko Duus = Sudoku
  • Pramyt Gorc = Cryptogram
  • Wendo Grars = Rows Garden
  • Seredwok = Word Seek

Did you manage to unravel this devious Jedi-themed logic puzzle? Did you spot the wordplay in the Jedi names? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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May the Fourth Be With You!

Hello fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! It’s Star Wars Day, and what better way to celebrate than with a puzzly Star Wars brain teaser!

Yes, we’ve created a Jedi-themed logic puzzle for you to unravel! Can you crack this Star Wars-inspired mystery?


On a small planet in the Mid Rim, a group of Jedi dispatched several squads of battle droids. Reporters had a hard time piecing together descriptions of the five Jedi who saved the day, even after interviewing many witnesses.

The only thing the reporters were sure of? The names of the five Jedi:

  • Drosco Wrs
  • Ko Duus
  • Pramyt Gorc
  • Wendo Grars
  • Seredwok

Each of the Jedi wielded a different color lightsaber (green, yellow, blue, orange, or purple). Each held a different title within the Jedi Order (Padawan, Knight, Master, Instructor, or Council Member). And each of them was a different species (Barabel, Bith, Nautolan, Twi’lek, or Wookiee).

Based on the information gathered below, can you figure out which lightsaber color, title, and species belongs with which Jedi?

1. Drosco Wrs (whose lightsaber is either orange or green) is neither the padawan nor the knight.

2. Either Ko Duus or the Bith is the council member, and the other has the yellow lightsaber.

3. The Jedi has the blue lightsaber (who isn’t on the council) is either the Twi’lek or the Wookiee; if Twi’lek, then Drosco Wrs is the instructor, but if Wookiee, then Seredwok is the instructor.

4. The padawan (who has neither the blue lightsaber nor the green lightsaber) is not Seredwok.

5. Wendo Grars (who isn’t the knight) doesn’t have the yellow lightsaber or the blue lightsaber.

6. The Barabel (who is either Pramyt or Seredwok) isn’t the Jedi with the purple lightsaber.

7. The master has either the purple lightsaber or the yellow lightsaber. Neither the purple lightsaber nor the yellow lightsaber are wielded by the Nautolan.

Good luck, fellow puzzlers! This puzzle requires NO actual knowledge of Star Wars to solve. All you need are your puzzly wits!

Let us know if you solved it in the comments below! And May the Fourth Be With You!


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Solutions to Last Week’s Detective Riddles!

cluedupp1

Last week, we delved into a curious cousin of brain teaser family — detective riddles. These crime-fueled and investigation-filled little logic problems often cast you as the detective, the accused, or simply someone putting on their deerstalker hat and endeavoring to suss out the actual truth.

And we couldn’t resist putting your puzzle skills to the test with a few detective riddles. Did you unravel them easily or find yourself stumped?

Let’s find out, shall we?


#1

A Japanese ship was leaving the port and on its way to open sea. The captain went to oil some parts of the ship and took his ring off so it wouldn’t get damaged. He left it on the table next to his bunk. When he returned, it was missing. He suspected three crew members could be guilty and asked them what they had been doing for the ten minutes that he had been gone.

The cook said, “I was in the kitchen preparing tonight’s dinner.”

The engineer said, “I was working in the engine room making sure everything was running smoothly.”

The seaman said, “I was on the mast correcting the flag because someone had attached it upside down by mistake.”

The captain immediately knew who it was. How?

Answer: The seaman was to blame.

The key to this one is paying attention to the ship and the flag. A Japanese ship would be flying the Japanese flag, and it’s hard to believe a white field with a red circle in the center could be hung “upside down.”

302568

#2

A chemist was murdered in his own lab. The only evidence was a piece of paper that had the names of chemical substances written on it. The substances were nickel, carbon, oxygen, lanthanum, and sulfur. The chemist only had four people come by his lab on the day of the murder: fellow scientist Claire, his nephew Nicolas, his wife, and his friend Marc.

The police arrested the murderer right away. How did they know who it was?

Answer: Nephew Nicolas was to blame.

If you know your elemental abbreviations, you probably noticed the correlation between what the chemist wrote down and one of the suspects. Ni + C + O + La + S spells the criminal’s name and points the finger at the criminal from beyond the grave.

#3

A man was found on the floor dead with a cassette recorder in one hand and a gun in the other. When the police arrived at the scene they pressed play on the recorder. It was the man’s voice. He said, “I have nothing else to live for. I can’t go on,” followed by the sound of a gunshot.

After listening, the police knew that this was a murder, not a suicide. How?

Answer: Dead men don’t rewind.

The cassette recorder was all prepped for someone to press play, which means someone stopped the tape and rewound it after the gunshot was recorded. If it had been a suicide, the tape recorder would have just kept running after the gunshot, since there wasn’t anyone alive to stop it.


How did you do, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Did you solve all three? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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Be a Sleuth with Detective Riddles!

cluedupp1

Brain teasers come in many forms. Riddles, logic problems, math puzzles, and deduction games all fall under the umbrella of brain teasers.

One variety of brain teasers that has always appealed to me is the detective riddle. It’s probably because, deep down, who wouldn’t want to glance at a crime scene and deduce what happened, a la Sherlock Holmes?

While brain teasers can consist of all sorts of scenarios, detective riddles usually center around a crime committed or a police investigation to be completed.

crossword mysteries td 0

Here’s an example of a detective riddle:

A dead female body lies at the bottom of a multistory building. It looks as though she committed suicide by jumping from one of the floors.

When the detective arrives, he goes to the first floor of the building, opens the closed window, and flips a coin towards the floor. He goes to the second floor and does the exact same thing. He continues to do this until he gets to the top floor of the building.

When he comes back down, he states that it was a murder and not a suicide. How does he know that?

This is a good example of the detective riddle, because you’re given all of the information you need in the writeup. Some detective riddles involve making strange, unlikely assumptions, which are a sign of a poorly constructed brain teaser. This one is fair, but not ideal.

The solution, of course, is that the window was closed on every floor, meaning that someone shut the window after the person’s body went out the window. (We ARE told that the body fell from “one of the floors,” but doesn’t that necessarily preclude the roof? That little question mark keeps this riddle from being an ideal example of the form.)

bestpuzsherlock

Now, here’s an example of a bad detective riddle:

Nicole went to the police to report that someone had stolen her vintage ring. When the police got to her house they notice that the window was broken, there was a total mess inside, and there were dirty footprints on the carpet. But, there were no other signs of a break-in.

The next day, the police arrested Nicole for fraud. Why?

The solution? Well, according to the source I found: As soon as the police got to the “crime scene,” they knew that Nicole has most likely staged the break-in. The glass from the broken window was all outside of the house, meaning that it had been broken from the inside.

But the riddle doesn’t mention any glass. In fact, it says there were “no other signs of a break-in,” which would include the glass on the OUTSIDE.

See? This one is full of holes.

Now that you have a sense of how detective riddles work, let’s test your puzzly skills with a few!


#1

A Japanese ship was leaving the port and on its way to open sea. The captain went to oil some parts of the ship and took his ring off so it wouldn’t get damaged. He left it on the table next to his bunk. When he returned, it was missing. He suspected three crew members could be guilty and asked them what they had been doing for the ten minutes that he had been gone.

The cook said, “I was in the kitchen preparing tonight’s dinner.”

The engineer said, “I was working in the engine room making sure everything was running smoothly.”

The seaman said, “I was on the mast correcting the flag because someone had attached it upside down by mistake.”

The captain immediately knew who it was. How?


chemistryfluxx

#2

A chemist was murdered in his own lab. The only evidence was a piece of paper that had the names of chemical substances written on it. The substances were nickel, carbon, oxygen, lanthanum, and sulfur. The chemist only had four people come by his lab on the day of the murder: fellow scientist Claire, his nephew Nicolas, his wife, and his friend Marc.

The police arrested the murderer right away. How did they know who it was?


#3

A man was found on the floor dead with a cassette recorder in one hand and a gun in the other. When the police arrived at the scene they pressed play on the recorder. It was the man’s voice. He said, “I have nothing else to live for. I can’t go on,” followed by the sound of a gunshot.

After listening, the police knew that this was a murder, not a suicide. How?


Did you unravel these detective riddles? Let us know in the comment section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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