PuzzleNation App Review: Paper & Light

Welcome to the sixth edition of PuzzleNation App Reviews! Today we continue our quest to explore the world of puzzly games and apps for your tablet or smartphone!

Our resident App player and puzzle fiend Sherri has another intriguing game for us today, so let’s get down to business and dive into her review of Paper & Light for iPad and iPhone!

If you enjoy mazes, then Paper & Light is the game for you. It is an iOS game in which you are a cardboard box who must navigate your way around obstacles to the exit.

This is a very cute game. You play a cardboard box, and your friend is a bright firefly. Your goal in each level is to find your way around other boxes, toolboxes, and various other obstacles to the exit. The firefly is quite helpful, as it’s your only source of light. While you only have a narrow range of light from the firefly, you can switch between the cardboard box and the firefly as needed.

The game is divided into chapters and there are 15 levels in each chapter. As the firefly, you can scope out the area to plot your route to the exit. You earn stars for not using the firefly, but you can redo the level to get the star. For collecting 12 stars in each chapter, you earn a special reward.

I played through the first chapter, The Basement. To open later chapters, you need to complete a certain number of levels. I was pulled in by the cute graphics. I enjoyed playing the game. The levels were laid out in a pleasing manner and became increasingly more difficult. A big drawback, though, is that you can’t move the box very quickly. My wrist became quite sore as I was playing.

[Pictures courtesy of Yahoo.]

The mazes became more and more challenging as the game progressed. It did become a bit monotonous, and my wrist hurt after a while, but it was still an enjoyable way to pass the time. Figuring your way out of the mazes really worked the brain.

Ratings for Paper & Light:

  • Enjoyability: 3/5 — If you enjoy mazes, this is the game for you.
  • How well puzzles are incorporated: 4/5 — This is quite a puzzly game. You need to plot your path around the obstacles well.
  • Graphics: 3/5 — The graphics are simple but cute. The eyes on the cardboard box move when you move it, and the firefly flutters. The obstacles have some nice detail.
  • Gameplay: 2/5 — The box doesn’t move very quickly, so your wrist can get quite sore trying to reach the exit.

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PuzzleNation Product Review: ThinkFun’s Brain Fitness line

The folks at ThinkFun are always trying to raise the bar when it comes to puzzly games that keep the mind in fighting trim. (You may remember them from our review of Laser Maze over the summer.)

In that vein, they’ve unleashed the Brain Fitness line of puzzle games, offering all sorts of exercises to challenge you one-on-one and put your puzzly skills to the test.

They sent us copies of three Brain Fitness games to review, each with its own distinct flavor.


Brain Fitness Solitaire Chess

Solitaire Chess presents you with various layouts of pieces on a 4×4 grid, challenging you to clear the board of all but one piece. Every single move must eliminate a piece until only one remains.

Even the beginner puzzles gave me pause at first, because the need to knock out a piece with every move is a very different style of chess than I’m accustomed to. But I very quickly got into the groove of plotting out the chain of moves necessary to clear each board. With two pawns, two knights, two bishops, two rooks, a queen and a king, there are myriad layouts of varying complexity to solve, and some of them were serious brain melters.

Oddly enough, I found some of the expert-level grids easier than the advanced-level puzzles, though you could easily spend five or ten minutes on a single crafty puzzle.

Not only is it a terrific mental exercise, but it just might make you a better chess player in the long run.

Brain Fitness Chocolate Fix

Chocolate Fix is a marvelous variation on the Sudoku model, offering nine sweets of varying shape and color, and tasking you with deducing the intended position of each in a 3×3 baking sheet.

The beginner-level puzzles are child’s play, and would actually be a terrific introduction for younger puzzlers. But as soon as you reach the intermediate-level challenges, the difficulty begins ratcheting skyward. Some clues give you colors only, others shapes only, and the occasional clue is centered around a given piece’s location on the baking sheet.

Midway through the advanced-level challenges, they stop referencing specific sweets at all, leaving you to do some serious deductive work with shapes and colors alone.

By the time you reach the expert puzzles (which abandon any clues providing all nine squares, leaving you to mentally assemble Tetris-like pieces with shape and color symbols), it becomes a serious mental workout that banishes any false confidence and bravado that the easy early rounds might’ve sparked.

Victory may be sweet, but Chocolate Fix’s later challenges will make you earn it.

Brain Fitness Rush Hour

Rush Hour is a variation on the classic sliding-tile game, except instead of tiles, you’re sliding cars and trucks back and forth in order to clear a path for your heroic little red car to escape the traffic jam.

Rush Hour (in various forms) has been a great success for ThinkFun over the years, and the Brain Fitness version is a brilliantly simple adaptation. Self-contained and perfect for puzzling-on-the-go, Rush Hour takes the chain-move thinking of Chess Solitaire to the next level.

The jump from beginner-level to intermediate-level challenges is a sobering one, if only because the playing grid seems absolutely packed with cars! But you quickly realize that a packed grid means fewer possible moves, which helps to point you toward the solution.

The grid thins out again when you reach the advanced-level puzzles, but greater movement only leads to tougher challenges, since so many more moves are available to you, requiring chains of increasing complexity in order to rescue your little red car.

Having thoroughly tested all three games, I found Rush Hour the most difficult of the three (though Solitaire Chess wasn’t far behind), but I must admit, the multilayered colors / shapes / positioning clue style of Chocolate Fix provided the most unexpected challenge.

As an experienced puzzler, I was thoroughly impressed by the scalability of each idea. The easy puzzles were terrific introductions to the game, and the expert puzzles were challenges quite worthy of your time.

ThinkFun recommends 15 minutes of puzzling time a day with any of their Brain Fitness products in order to give your brain a proper workout, but I suspect you’ll have a hard time stopping there. If only physical workouts were as much fun as these mental ones!

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

Let’s get this puzzle (kick)started!

The Internet has become the new frontier for innovation. The global marketplace is more open than ever, and with blogs, websites, and social media, virtually anyone with an idea can get the word out. From artists to inventors, entrepreneurs to aspiring businessmen, the Internet is as close to a level playing field as you’re ever likely to find.

The newest tool in the arsenal of big thinkers and big dreamers is crowdfunding, wherein creators take their ideas directly to the people in the hopes that a lot of small donations will add up into capital to make their ideas reality.

Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have literally made dreams come true, and that’s as true for puzzle entrepreneurs as anyone else.

From a tangram game for your iPhone to the world’s biggest word search, from a X-shaped Rubik’s Cube variant to puzzly video games and short films, it seems like the puzzle community is as vocal in its support as it is generous.

And as I was browsing Kickstarter, I came across a few as-yet-unfunded projects that seemed interesting.

The first is a puzzle-based platformer game with a darkly artistic motif.

It’s called Monochroma, and it involves a pair of brothers solving numerous puzzles and overcoming obstacles as they explore a curious black-and-white cityscape. It’s heavy on atmosphere and suspense, and looks like great fun.

The second is an attempt to crowdfund a collection of cryptic crosswords made by some popular cryptic puzzlers (similar to successful efforts by Roy Leban, Trip Payne, and other puzzlers to fund their own puzzly endeavors). Cryptic crossword fans are a crafty and devoted fanbase, so I suspect this kickstarter will do well.

The third is an intriguing hybrid of books and board games, inspired by the legend of King Minos’s labyrinth from Greek mythology. Essentially, one player (or multiple players) tries to gain points and escape the maze that traverses every page of the book. Its one-and-done gameplay experience (there are no do-overs, apparently) might dissuade some donors, but the challenge could definitely entice some hardcore maze enthusiasts.

The last one is arguably the most ambitious, featuring a light-up life-size puzzle for attendees of the annual Burning Man festival.

Playuzzle is a grid of color-shifting polygons, and the challenge for players is to use strategically placed buttons and their own movements through the grid to make every polygon the same color. It’s like a life-size Q-Bert game!

With ideas as varied and interesting as these, the puzzle community can rest assured that we won’t run out of engaging puzzly challenges anytime soon.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check out our Classic Word Search iBook, play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

PuzzleNation Reviews: Laser Maze

Here at the PuzzleNation blog, we love spreading the word about great new puzzle-solving experiences of all sorts, so when the creative folks at ThinkFun passed along a free copy of their latest puzzle game, Laser Maze, we were all for testing it out.

And I’m pleased to say that Laser Maze is a terrific puzzle game.

The concept is deceptively simple. All you have to do is set up the mirrors, gateways, and other game pieces and light up your targets with the laser. Some pieces allow you to bounce the beam at a right angle, others allow you to split the beam in two, and still others can double as both reflecting mirrors and light up targets. An impressive amount of adaptability is packed into 11 game pieces.

There are 60 challenge cards that range in difficulty from beginner to expert. In the earliest challenges, there are only a few pieces on the game board, and you’re given both their location and the direction each piece faces, and it’s up to you to complete the laser’s path by adding only the pieces listed on the card.

In later challenges, you get less information. You might know a piece’s location on the board, but you don’t know which direction it should face. The number of targets to light up with the laser increases, and the solutions become more complex.

laser maze 2

But the genius of Laser Maze is that the beginner and intermediate puzzles teach you the fundamentals necessary to tackle the harder puzzles to come. Like the best puzzle games, Laser Maze allows you to learn by doing, building your skills, your deductive reasoning, and your bag of game-piece-centric tricks as you become more proficient at using the mirrors and beam-splitters to direct the laser precisely where you need it.

Plus, the gameplay itself is intuitive. With just a brief skim of the instructions and a minute to familiarize myself with the symbols key for the puzzles, I was in.

I played through a number of beginner, intermediate, advanced, and expert puzzles. As a pretty puzzle-savvy guy, I expected to breeze through the early challenges, but a few of the intermediate puzzles made me pause and restrategize. By the time my confidence grew and I was sure none of the intermediate puzzles would stymie me, I still didn’t WANT to move on to the next level. I was having too much fun.

I progressed through the advanced challenges and into the expert puzzles, and then went back to the intermediate puzzles to test the game’s replay value. And that’s when I discovered another facet of Laser Maze.

Once you’ve solved a given puzzle, you clear the board and prepare for the next one. By design, you start with a clean slate. But you’re also forced to completely ignore any preconceived notions you have about the puzzle to come, because each one has its own challenges.

As I played through puzzles I knew I’d played before, they still FELT like fresh challenges, because of the sheer adaptability of the game pieces. This wasn’t going to end up a one-time playing experience.

You’ll no doubt note similarities between Laser Maze and the popular game Khet, which also features a laser. That’s to be expected, since they were both invented by devious puzzlesmith Luke Hooper. But while Khet is a strategy game to played against an opponent, Laser Maze pits a single player against the game itself. It’s a learning experience disguised as an incredibly fun game.

Plus, every time I’ve played, I’ve attracted family and friends as onlookers and collaborators. It might be designed for one player, but it’s hardly a solitary endeavor.

Of course, I’m covering the gameplay as an adult solver, and Laser Maze is designed for ages 8 and up. (Plus, there’s an actual REAL laser, so safety first, fellow solvers.)

Fellow PuzzleNationer Fred took the game home and unleashed his kids on the game, and as you can see, he had ample time to snap a pic of his very focused son Max, ready to activate the laser and solve his latest challenge.

All in all, Laser Maze is both great fun and an engaging puzzle-solving experience. ThinkFun really knocked it out of the park with this one.

(Check out Laser Maze on ThinkFun or on Amazon!)

Puzzled what to get someone for Christmas?

The holiday season is upon us, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday already making way for Thoroughly-Frustrated Shopper Thursday, I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer up some puzzly suggestions for holiday gifts.

As you might expect, I come from a puzzly family. So Christmas has always featured brain-teasing toys, 3-D puzzles, and whatever else parents and other relatives could find to keep us busy and baffled. My younger sister has passed this tradition on to the next generation with puzzle boxes for my nephews, ensuring that any holiday money is well earned by mid-afternoon.

Here are a few ideas for the puzzle lovers in your life.

For any Rubik’s Cube masters in your household, Eric suggests a marvelous variation with The Brain Cube. Instead of matching colors, you’re matching the geography of the brain, ensuring that each fold and wrinkle lines up with its neighbors. This is a real brain-teaser, available at Marbles — The Brain Store.

We’ve featured ThinkFun products on the blog before — most notably their puzzly day-to-day calendar — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They’ve got puzzle games and brain-teasers galore, suitable for all ages and levels of difficulty. (This hexagon one caught my eye while I was browsing.)

The folks at Hammacher Schlemmer offer all sorts of gadgetry and products, and two of them caught my eye as I perused their catalog for gift ideas.

The first was the maze bank pictured above, The Labyrinthine Piggy Bank. Any coins that fall off the track are safe and secure, but only someone with the patience and dexterity to navigate the ten feet of track within will be able to gain access!

The second piqued my interest as a lover of words and wordplay. It’s The Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble game, a 21×21 grid with more tiles and squares than the original, allowing for more flexibility and more elaborate words. Perfect for the verbivore Scrabble enthusiast in your life.

If you’re looking for pen-and-paper puzzle goodness, our pals at PennyPress and Dell Magazines offer perfect stocking stuffers, as well as digest-sized and full-sized puzzle books. Whether it’s logic, crosswords, word seeks, fill-ins, sudoku, variety puzzles, or the Brain Boosters shown above, they’ve got you covered.

And, of course, you can’t go wrong with a one-year PuzzleNation gift subscription! With access to ten different puzzle games, as well as score tracking and two-player mode to solve with friends,  hours of puzzle-solving fun await.

This is just a small sampling of the puzzle-wonderful delights available this holiday season, but hopefully these suggestions will help you trim down your shopping list this year. So good luck, keep calm, puzzle on, and I’ll catch you next time.

Puzzlin’ ’til the cows come home

Yesterday Eric posted a link to a marvelous site called MazeLog, which features numerous puzzles that require a bit more brainpower than the average maze.

His post reminded me of a challenging maze puzzle I discovered last year in Ian Stewart’s deeply mathy and thoroughly engrossing book Cows in the Maze: And other mathematical explorations.

Basically, you have two starting points, and your first move can determine whether you complete the puzzle or not. All you have to do is follow the instructions, which sounds simple. Believe me, it isn’t.

“Where are the Cows?” (or “Cows in the Maze”) is impressive, to say the least, and I think it’s a worthy challenge for any dedicated puzzler. Enjoy!

(I know the image above is a little small. Click here for the full-sized version.)