Take Puzzles to the Next Level with a Puzzly Experience!

Hey there, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers. It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and naturally, our thoughts turn toward the upcoming holiday season. (Particularly with all the Black Friday advertising!)

Sure, we could use this opportunity to talk about our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, which went live Tuesday and features all sorts of marvelous games, puzzles, and products.

We could also talk about our fantastic lineup of apps, from Daily POP Crosswords and the Penny Dell Crosswords App to Penny Dell Sudoku and Classic Word Search. Of course we could do that.

But instead, today we’d like to talk about puzzly experiences.

If you’re looking for an engaging and interactive puzzly adventure to share with the puzzlers in your life, there are all sorts of options available to you.

There are yearly puzzle hunts like BAPHL, the Boston Area Puzzle Hunt League. There are crossword tournaments like Lollapuzzoola and the Indie 500 (plus local ones all over the country!). Murder mystery dinners, scavenger hunts… not only are there places that host all of these, but there are even kits available online that let you host your own!

More Escape Rooms pop up every year — from Breakin Escape Rooms in London to our friends at Escape 101 in Connecticut — and one near you is just a Google search away.

But there’s one particular puzzly experience I want to highlight as an option for you this holiday season.

Magician and crossword constructor David Kwong is launching a one-of-a-kind puzzle experience, The Enigmatist, at the High Line Hotel in New York City during the month of January.

Advertised as “an immersive evening of puzzles, cryptology and illusions,” the show is based on the experiences of William and Elizebeth Friedman’s work at Riverbank, a peculiar hotbed for codebreaking in the early days of the twentieth century.

David is a master at melding the world of puzzles with illusions, magic, and sleight of hand, deftly employing both humor and skill to wow audiences, and I expect he has outdone himself with this show.

The Enigmatist sounds like a unique and amazing puzzly experience, and if you’re interested, you can get tickets here.

For full details, visit the Enigmatist website. I think the show will be something truly special.


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Hide & Word Seek With These Puns We Toyed Around With

Yes, yes, it’s that time again. It’s hashtag game time!

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleToys, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with action figures, cars, dolls, brands, characters, and anything else related to toys!

Examples include: Connect Four Square, Ouija Exchange Boards, and Bop-It’s Your Move.

So, without further ado, check out what the puzzlers at PuzzleNation and Penny Dell Puzzles came up with!


My Little Puzzler

Cabbage Patchwords / Cabbage Patchworks Kids

Alphabet Soup-erball

Bowl Gameboy

Mix and Matchbox Cars

Mr. Potato Headings / Mr. Potato Heads and Tails

Barbie Styling Heads & Tails

Barbie and KenKen Dolls

Evel Ken-ken-ievel action figure

License Fashion Plates

Stretch Armstrong Letters

Etch A Stretch Letters

Slide-O-Crayon

Slip and Slide-o-grams

Chutes and Letter Addition

Word Play-Doh / Play-Doh-ku

Word Playmobil

Blue’s Clues in Twos

The Match Game of Life

Mousetriplex

Diamond Minecraft

Raggedy Anagrams

Trivia Pursuit Frame

Mega Blokbuilders

Slinkywords

Sock Monkeywords

Linkwords-in-Logs

Lincoln Logic Problems

Anagram Magic 8-Balls / Anagram Magic 8-Ball Square

Anagram “Magic—The Gathering” Square

Brick by Rubik’s Cube

KakuRubik’s Cube

Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Kakurobots

Giant (Sudo)Koo-ties

Toss Across and Down

Jack in the Letterboxes

Furby Another Name / All Furby One

Ted-Dilemma Ruxpin

View Masterwords

See n’ Say That Again

Speak & Spellbound / Speak & Spelldown / Speak & Starspell

Strawberry Shortz-cake

Mighty Morphin’ Flower Power Rangers

Flower Pow-Pow-Power Wheels Pow-Power Wheels POWER WHEELS!


One of our contributors went above and beyond in musical fashion, resurrecting the old Crossfire riff for some puzzly fun:

It’s some Timed Framework in the future
The ultimate challenge
CROSSWORDS!
CROSSROADS!
You’ll get caught up in the
CROSSBLOCKS!
CROSS PAIRS!
You’ll get up in the
CROSS ARITHMETIC!
CROSS ANAGRAMS!
CROSSOUT QUOTE!
CROSSNUUUUMMMBBBEEEEEERRRRRRSSS!!!!


Have you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzle Toys entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

It’s Puzzle Magic!

[Crossword constructor and magician David Kwong wows an audience.]

There is a certain sense of wonder that accompanies a well-constructed puzzle. The skill and artistry it takes to craft a quality crossword or brain teaser, weaving together words and leaving a finished puzzle in your wake, rather than a bundle of crosswordese and obscurities is truly something remarkable.

But that’s not the sort of puzzle magic we’re discussing today. No, instead, we’re returning to the CW summer series Penn and Teller: Fool Us to observe the magic of another puzzly entertainer at work.

For the uninitiated, Fool Us is a show where magicians and performers from all around the world present their best tricks, illusions, and bits of magical wizardry to try and stump the famous duo.

And on a recent episode, magician John Michael Hinton performed two acts of magical trickery involving a Rubik’s Cube.

Check out this video where he dazzles Penn and Teller:

That final reveal was a thing of beauty!

You can check out more of John Michael Hinton’s magic on his YouTube page! And let me know if you’ve seen any other acts of puzzle magic! I’d love to check them out!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: Rubik’s Magic edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today I’d like to return to the subject of puzzle magic!

Oh yes, puzzle magic is most definitely a thing. Arguably the most famous practitioner is friend of the blog and crossword constructor David Kwong, who not only contributes both puzzles and magic to television shows and film projects, but has created some truly mindblowing magic tricks involving puzzles.

The other night, I was watching Penn and Teller: Fool Us, a show where magicians and performers from all around the world present their best tricks, illusions, and bits of magical wizardry to try and stump the famous duo. And lo and behold, another master of puzzle magic appeared!

But where David Kwong works his magic with crosswords, Steven Brundage uses a different puzzly tool: Rubik’s Cubes.

Check out this video where he dazzles Penn and Teller with several quick solves and feats of puzzly manipulation:

That behind-the-back trick was pretty fantastic, wasn’t it? You can check out more of Steven’s magic on his YouTube page! And let me know if you’ve seen any other acts of puzzle magic! I’d love to check them out!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

PuzzleNation Product Review: Houdini

Whether made of wood, metal, plastic, or rope, mechanical brain teasers can be some of the most challenging and well-crafted puzzles a solver will ever encounter.

Engaging both the solver’s deductive skills and patience, these puzzles often involve removing one key piece from an elaborate interconnected grouping, be it a ball from a seemingly solid maze of wooden posts or a heart from a web of unyielding metal linkages.

The cunning and clever brains at ThinkFun have put their own unique spin on the mechanical brain teaser with their latest product, Houdini, putting you in the legendary escape artist’s shoes and pitting you against numerous scenarios, all intended to keep the magician’s plastic namesake firmly trapped.

Although Houdini’s body and arms are one solid piece — representing his wrists being shackled together — his legs are felt, allowing you to bend and twist them in ways that replicate Houdini’s legendary flexibility. As the ropes are wound around and through both Houdini’s limbs and various obstacles designed to prevent his movement, it’s up to the solver to find the hidden loophole that will allow Houdini to escape scot-free.

With only a lock, a barrel, a solid ring, the three-looped base, and a few easy-clip ropes, ThinkFun has conjured 40 layouts of increasing difficulty, and I admit, some of these seriously taxed my puzzly skills.

The later puzzles involve multiple steps to free Houdini, utilizing tricks you’ve learned solving the earlier puzzles. It’s a brilliant slow-build solving experience, one that ThinkFun has employed with similar success with Laser Maze, Gravity Maze, and other products.

Houdini is not only a wonderful tribute to an entertainment legend, it’s a terrific puzzle toy that introduces a new world of brain teasers to younger solvers.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

5 Questions with James Ernest of Cheapass Games

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, writers, filmmakers, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m overjoyed to have James Ernest as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

James Ernest represents Cheapass Games, a company with a brilliantly simple rationale: they know you have board games at home, so why jack up the price of their games by making you buy more dice, chips, or tokens? Their games contain exactly what you need to play the game, and describe precisely what you’ll need to scrounge up from other games in order to play.

As president and game designer, James is instrumental not only in maintaining the Cheapass Games legacy of great games for a fair price, but he’s also adept at utilizing Kickstarter campaigns and social media to communicate directly with the devoted board game and card game audience. In doing so, he’s helped introduce numerous hilarious and innovative games to the market, including:

  • Unexploded Cow: a card game where you try to rid the world of mad cows and unexploded ordnance.
  • U.S. Patent Number One: a game where you and your opponents build time machines and race back in time to register for the very first patent. [Glenn’s note: Currently out of print, but one of my all-time favorite board games.]
  • Veritas: a Risk-like strategy game where you try to become the predominant Truth in Dark Ages France while monasteries burn down around you. (Check out our full product review here!)

James was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for James Ernest

1.) For nearly two decades now, the Cheapass Games brand has been synonymous with affordable games with tongue-in-cheek humor and high replay value. How do you know when a game is right for your brand? What role do you play in bringing these games to market?

I’m the designer as well as the publisher for Cheapass Games, so I play nearly all the roles. I try to create products that fit into that format. When I make something that doesn’t fit the format, I often look for other ways to bring it to market, such as finding another publisher, or using a separate imprint under Cheapass Games.

For a while I used “James Ernest Games” as an imprint for my higher-priced games, though I currently release everything as Cheapass. I also used the “Hip Pocket” brand for smaller, more abstract games, and that one will be coming back next year.

2.) Many of the games in your library rely on a combination of strategy and step-by-step chain thinking, both skills most puzzle enthusiasts have in spades. Are you a puzzle fan? And what about that style of gameplay appeals to you?

The challenge in creating a strategy game is to make a puzzle with variety, so it can be replayed without getting dull. Part of that variety comes from rules that can give rise to meaningfully different game paths, and part of it comes from the interaction of players with different strategies.

As you’ve mentioned, I also like games to have stories, and that works in a similar way: the story has to be open-ended enough that it can proceed differently each time. The game is more like an environment where the players tell their own stories, rather than a way to tell a linear story. This is obvious for RPGs [roleplaying games] but I think it’s true for other games as well.

3.) You’ve created games of your own as well as helping others bring their games to life. What puzzles and board games, either in gameplay or in the experience of producing them for sale, have most influenced you?

I learned a lot about game construction from playing and working on Magic: the Gathering. A lot of my games have decks of different card types, balanced to produce the right mix of hands, based on my experience doing deck construction in Magic.

I also draw a lot of my approach to games from Pitch, which is a cutthroat trick-taking game. In a nutshell, you can choose different strategies in that game, either to play conservatively and win slowly, or to take risks and have the potential to win quickly or move backwards. Neither of those strategies is dominant and that makes the game good. Of course I also play a lot of poker, which contains similar choices.

4.) What’s next for James Ernest?

My next project is Pairs, a “New Classic Pub Game,” which I will be Kickstarting in February. After that, I have a couple of older Cheapass Games that I want to bring back into print. And I’m working on a new tabletop miniatures game called Cagway Bay, which is pirate-themed and diceless. I have a number of new game projects as well, but right now I’m not announcing any of them because I can’t be sure when they will be ready.

5.) If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring game designers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

If you want to create things, there is no substitute for practice. Don’t just read about games; don’t just play them. You have to make a lot of games.

Many thanks to James for his time. You can check out the latest news from Cheapass Games on their website — including their upcoming Kickstarter campaign for the game Pairs! — or follow James on Twitter (@cheapassjames). I cannot wait to see what he and the great folks at Cheapass Games come up with next.

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