PuzzleNation Product Review: Puzzle Books Galore!

As part of our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, we reached out to companies far and wide to explore as big a swathe of the puzzle/game world as we could. And a plethora of puzzle books arrived in response.

With eight in total to cover in this review, we’re going to work from simplest to toughest in terms of difficulty, whilst bundling some books with similar puzzles or styles of presentation together for ease of navigation.

So please enjoy as we peruse offerings from USA Today, the Puzzle Society, and Andrews McMeel Publishing.


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We start our puzzle book journey with objectively the easiest type of puzzle in the group: word searches.

Posh Simple Word Search collects grids and lists of hidden words to test your word recognition skills. The different sizes, themes for puzzles, and variations of word search puzzles (like an Eiffel Tower-shaped grid!) across more than 100 puzzles will have you looping words to your heart’s content.

Factor in a spiral binding that allows you to lay each page flat as you solve, and you’ve got a perfect intro to puzzles.

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From word searches to another iconic and traditional puzzle type: crosswords.

For a travel-friendly puzzle book with eye-catching cover designs and enjoyable pocket-sized puzzles, look no further than Pocket Posh New Crosswords 1 and New Crosswords 2.

With fun, accessible clues and grids designed to test newer, less experienced solvers, Pocket Posh New Crosswords won’t stand in the way of a New York Times-level solver, but they will serve as a satisfying puzzle experience for solvers working their way up the difficulty ladder.

Featuring more than 50 puzzles each, these books are loaded with content created by The Puzzle Society’s pool of talented constructors. (All of whom are credited by name!)

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For a step-up in difficulty and notoriety, check out USA Today’s Crossword Super Challenge.

Packed with 200 puzzles previously published in USA Today, this collection offers a range of difficulty levels depending on the constructor. And the names here are top-notch. Puzzly elites like Elizabeth Gorski, Martin Ashwood-Smith, Gail Grabowski, Frank Longo, and George Barany are featured in the collection, along with numerous contributions by USA Today‘s Crossword Editor, the inimitable Fred Piscop!

This array of 15×15 grids presents loads of different types of themed clues, serving as an ideal crash course in crosswords for solvers with a bit more experience but also have room to grow. Perfect for anyone who enjoys your local daily/weekly syndicated newspaper crossword.

It’s a little thick to make a great travel book — not as pocket-friendly as the Pocket Posh series — but it’s just right for an afternoon or two of cozy armchair solving.

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We then move from one world-conquering puzzle style to another that more recently took the world by storm: Sudoku.

Another in the USA Today series of Super Challenge titles, USA Today’s Sudoku Super Challenge is armed to the teeth with 200 Sudoku puzzles to challenge any fan of the infamous puzzle juggernaut.

Each puzzle is ranked on a scale of 1 to 5 stars in terms of difficulty, so you’ll be solving your way through increasingly tricky number puzzles the deeper you get into this book.

And despite being packed with hundreds of puzzles, this one will easily fit into a pocket, purse, or carry-on for any trip.

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Are you a Sudoku-savvy solver looking to test your number-placement skills in a new way? Posh Kurosu might just have what you’re seeking.

With dozens of examples of Kurosu puzzles — also known as noughts and crosses — this puzzle book packs a surprising amount of variety into a simple solving mechanic. Instead of nine digits to fill the grid, all you have are Xs and Os. And you can’t have more than two Xs or Os next to each other in any column, row, or diagonal.

This is the only kind of puzzle in this selection of puzzle books that I’d never encountered before, and it was a welcome change of pace to try my hand at something that felt familiar and yet fresh all at once. Posh Kurosu tests your logic and deduction chops in fun, unexpected ways.

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After collections of Sudoku and Kurosu puzzles, it feels appropriate to follow up with a puzzle book loaded with puzzles that test your logic and deduction skills in other ways.

USA Today’s Logic Super Challenge fits the bill nicely, mixing traditional story-driven logic problems (complete with those iconic solving grids to help you weed out false paths) with other logic-based puzzles like Killer Sudoku, Battleships, and Domino Search.

All of these puzzles will bend your brain around corners as you try to hold multiple facts in your head at the same time, waiting for them to fall into place and reveal a new piece of the overall puzzle solution.

And with 200 logic problems in various forms, you certainly won’t run out of devious deduction puzzles anytime soon.

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But if you’re looking for a unique solving experience, something that is as visually immersive as it is engagingly puzzly, then you can’t go wrong with Daria Song’s The Mysterious Mansion.

Mixing lushly illustrated scenes with black and white drawings meant for you to color in, this narrative puzzle book incorporates mazes, spot-the-difference games, word searches, and other puzzly endeavors in a story about one girl’s journey through a strange and confusing mansion.

Designed to relax, engage, and puzzle the reader in equal measure, this book is one you could lose yourself in for hours. The gorgeous full-color illustrations are a feast for the eyes, and the puzzles are seamlessly woven into the art and story of each scene.

Daria Song gleefully takes activity books to the next level with this beautiful puzzle experience, a fairy tale that you not only help write, but make your own by doing so.


All of these puzzle books are available from Andrews McMeel Publishing as well as some local and online retailers. They’re also part of this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

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


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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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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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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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