PuzzleNation Product Review: Fidgitz

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

The goal of most mechanical brain teasers is simple: complete a certain task. Sometimes, you’re twisting a cube until each face is a different color, or removing one piece from a multi-piece setup, or disassembling a three-dimensional cube entirely, or puzzling out the necessary steps to open a box.

But no matter the task, the ultimate satisfaction comes from conquering the puzzle. ThinkFun’s newest brain teaser, Fidgitz, turns that concept on its head by making the act of manipulating the puzzle as gratifying as solving it.

Fidgitz consists of six spheres that are all connected with ball-in-socket joints, allowing you to twist, slide, and manipulate the puzzle in all sorts of ways. Each sphere is half blue and half white, and your ultimate goal is to maneuver the spheres so that the puzzle is all white on one side and all blue on the other.

I liken solving Fidgitz to solving a Rubik’s Cube, because it has the same sort of chain solving to it. Each move you make affects many parts of the puzzle, so you need to work a few steps ahead of where you are in order to make the most of each action you take.

But unlike Rubik’s famous cube and other twisty puzzles, Fidgitz offers an immensely enjoyable level of engagement as you’re solving that’s unlike practically any other puzzle I’ve encountered. It’s fun to manipulate the puzzle, but it’s also very calming.

The seemingly infinite chain of twisting, shifting, and rotating the spheres is soothing. It didn’t matter that, at times, I thought I would never manage to get all six spheres arranged together. The sheer act of attempting to do so was engaging enough.

In that way, it’s very similar to the bracelets and other tangle toys given to folks with anxiety or conditions like trichotillomania, where keeping your hands occupied can serve as a beneficial tool for easing nervous impulses.

As a single, self-contained puzzle, Fidgitz is travel-friendly, and whether you’re looking for a new brain teaser to challenge you or a satisfying tool to keep your hands occupied, ThinkFun’s newest product has got you covered.

Fidgitz is available from ThinkFun through Amazon and other online retailers. Click here to check out other ThinkFun product reviews!


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Kickstarter Roundup!

I’ve covered a lot of puzzle-centric Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns in the blog, because I think it’s fascinating how many puzzle variants there are, and how many puzzle-loving creators are enthusiastically seizing the opportunity to add their own delightful gaming and puzzling twists to the market.

In previous posts, we’ve seen Baffledazzle‘s jigsaws with a twist, Completely Puzzled‘s community-building outreach, and 64 Oz. Games‘ campaign to adapt popular board games and card games for vision-impaired players. Some very creative and worthwhile projects have been realized with the help of crowdfunding.

Heck, several of the games and puzzles showcased at last month’s New York Toy Fair were brought to life thanks to crowdfunding!

So here are a few more projects that I think are worth your time.

The Maze is a series of Choose Your Own Adventure-style books with a curious puzzly twist: they place the reader inside a labyrinth and challenge you to read through the book and escape!

It’s an extended spacial-awareness puzzle where you need to visualize where you are in the maze at all times, overcoming obstacles and pitting your memory against the labyrinth itself.

A third of the way to its funding goal, The Maze envisions a series of mazes of varying difficulties for readers to tackle. It’s an intriguing take on a classic puzzle genre.

For a more traditional puzzle product, there’s The Grid. This multi-colored visual delight challenges players to place all of their tile pieces on the board before their opponents, mixing luck and strategy in a Qwirkle-style battle.

The Grid combines clever tile design with visually arresting gameplay, and the campaign has already reached its initial funding goal, meaning that additional donors are helping to refine the game with higher quality pieces and other add-ons.

From the elegant to the gloriously silly, our next campaign is Munchkin Shakespeare.

This latest edition of Munchkin from the team from Steve Jackson Games adds a literary touch to its famous line of puzzly card-battle games, as players do their best to team up, betray each other, and run amok in the hopes of gaining loot and escaping combat intact.

The bard himself and characters from his most famous plays are unleashed in cartoon form, ready to wreak havoc in all sorts of creative ways, wielded by cunning players and puzzlers with a penchant for sword-swinging nonsense in iambic pentameter.

This is another campaign where the initial funding goal has already been reached, and with only a day or two left in the campaign, they’re pushing towards some exciting stretch goals.

Our last campaign combines logic and deduction with mechanical puzzles, as the crew from ThinkFun launches their very first Kickstarter to bring Roller Coaster Challenge to life!

In the spirit of Gravity Maze and Laser Maze Jr., Roller Coaster Challenge presents players with some of the pieces of a puzzle and tasks them with completing a working model with their remaining pieces. This time around, you’re building a roller coaster track, with all the soaring loop-de-loops and plunging slides you’d expect from the theme park attraction.

With expansions including Kickstarter-exclusive roller coaster cars and additional pieces to create even taller, more complex models, this one could be a winner. Will you be able to complete the numerous twisting, turning variations, or will the perfect roller coaster track elude you?

But before I go, I want to revisit a previous Kickstarter success story that we’ve covered in the past: The Maze of Games.

Mike Selinker’s interactive puzzle novel has been on the market for a few years now, and as far as he knows, no one has conquered the final maze in the book.

And to give solvers a better chance at completing the book, the diabolical puzzlesmith has created The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, a tie-in story with hints for cracking the most diabolical puzzly labyrinth that giant tome has to offer.

It’s only available for a short time, so if you’re hoping to one day best The Maze of Games, be sure to snag a copy!

And let us know if any of these puzzly Kickstarters piqued your interest! With so many worthy projects and products in the pipeline, hopefully one of them catches your eye and receives your support!


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The Art of the Wooden Puzzle

Several varieties of puzzle fall under the umbrella of “wooden puzzles,” from sliding tile puzzles and jigsaws to puzzle boxes and brain teasers. Heck, I devoted an entire post to wooden puzzles last year, sharing several from my personal collection.

With the advent of more affordable laser-cutting machines, we’ve seen several puzzly Kickstarter campaigns (like Baffledazzle and Codex Silenda) successfully launched, pushing wooden puzzles into the 21st century with more ambitious designs and greater functionality than ever before.

So you can imagine both my surprise and my excitement when The Metagrobologist posted a link to a Popular Woodworking article on how to make your own wooden puzzles!

There are step-by-step instructions on how to create three different 3D wooden “burr” puzzles, and this article covers everything from construction to assembly. Exact measurements are included.

It’s clear the author is all about quality, understanding both the art behind these mechanical 3D puzzles and all the necessary steps to ensure a safe and successful build.

If only shop class in school had offered me the chance to make something like this!

In all seriousness, this post offers fascinating insight into how some of these mechanical brain teasers are made, but when you consider the care and precision it takes to produce one of these puzzles, even knowing how it’s done doesn’t make the puzzle any less fun. What a treat.


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A Puzzly Success Story: The Codex Silenda

In the past, I’ve covered plenty of puzzly Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns that I thought might interest my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers.

Today, I’m not so much recommending a campaign — since it’s pretty much closed right now — but I do want to share the story of that campaign, because I think they’ve learned from the mistakes of other campaigns and they’re doing things right.

So let’s talk about the Codex Silenda project.

Codex Silenda: The Book of Puzzles is a series of mechanical puzzles, each of which unlocks the next “page” until you get to the final puzzle, which reveals a prize. It’s an awesome concept, and all of the photos of the 5-page Codex look gorgeous.

Now, there are several noteworthy things about this particular Kickstarter campaign. The first is that the puzzle project funded in a day, and within two days, every tier that allowed you to receive a complete Codex was filled up. By day three, even the tier that stated you’d receive the Codex disassembled and you’ve have to put it together yourself was filled up.

So in 72 hours, if you wanted the Codex for yourself, you had to settle for the lower tier allowing you to receive a single page of the Codex of your choosing, or you had to set yourself for a long wait until the Kickstarter campaign had been fulfilled and the team had moved on to accepting orders once more.

That brings me to the second noteworthy thing about this campaign: their patience and forethought.

Many Kickstarter campaigns that turn out to be more successful than expected become victims of their success, accepting more and more backing from supporters, adding loads of stretch goals to fulfill, and basically getting caught up in the excitement of being a well-funded runaway success.

[Image courtesy of expertrain.com.]

Unfortunately, those campaigns are often overwhelmed once they finally realize the monumental task ahead of them: producing the product for LOADS of supporters, becoming stressed by delays, missteps, and the ever-looming deadline they promised during the campaign. I’ve seen it time and time again, even with well-staffed, supremely organized campaigns. Things happen.

But the Codex team nipped that possibility in the bud early, declaring that they would NOT be adding additional tiers. Although this would mean losing out on more funding AND potentially disappointing interested customers, they wanted to fully commit to the supporters they already had and not overtax their team.

It’s an act of patience and restraint that will serve them well, even if it did leave latecomers to the campaign like me a little disheartened.

And that brings me to the third noteworthy aspect of this campaign: planning for the future.

[Image courtesy of tibco.com.]

Now that they had secured funding and already turned their eyes toward production, they offered an olive branch to all the interested supporters who had found them after that amazing 72-hour launch to success. You see, one of the few stretch goals they had built into the campaign were 6th and 7th pages to add to the Codex, which would be exclusive to the Kickstarter campaign.

That means that the Codex produced for customers after the campaign would only be 5 pages, and latecomers would miss out. The team thought that was unfair, so they’ve offered a unique solution: an upgrade voucher.

By adding a bit more to your donation for one of the non-Codex tiers, you would receive a voucher proving you were a Kickstarter supporter. That way, when the Kickstarter campaign is complete, all those orders are filled, and the team begins accepting orders from customers, that voucher entitles you to a Codex with the Kickstarter-exclusive 6th and 7th pages.

Now that is smart marketing and customer service.

I look forward to seeing where the Codex Silenda team goes from here, and how the campaign proceeds once they move into formal production and eventually, product delivery. With forethought and planning like this, I think they’ll be a big success.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Back Spin by ThinkFun

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

Imagine someone hands you a small puzzle game. You twist and turn it this way and that way, trying to line up all the different colored components so that they match, spinning and manipulating it so that one particular piece falls into place, but by doing so, three others end up somewhere else, and now you have to chase them down.

It probably sounds like I’m describing solving a Rubik’s Cube, but the same description fits cracking the latest puzzle game from ThinkFun: Back Spin.

And you know what? Back Spin is the younger sibling of the Rubik’s Cube that I wish I could’ve tried out first.

[Both sides of Back Spin, with the spheres all mixed up between the two.]

Designed for solvers aged 8 and up, Back Spin only features two sides (front and back) to Rubik’s six, but each of those sides has six small colored chambers, intended to hold matching colored spheres. Rotating the front or the back allows you to line up these chambers and swap spheres between them.

As for the spheres, there are nine different colors to sort; red, yellow, and orange are on both sides, but each side has a different shade of blue, green, and pink/purple, meaning some spheres can go on either side, but some are only meant for the front or the back.

Whether you’re moving colored spheres from back to front or rotating them in overlapping chambers to shift the spheres’ positions within the chamber — a la the sliding tiles in one of those picture puzzles — this is an introduction to chain-thinking and solving, a step up from simpler mechanical brain teasers, but not nearly as daunting as Rubik’s infamous cube.

[Alright, it’s solved! Oh, no, wait, this is only one side. Darn.
There are still spheres misplaced on the other side of the puzzle.]

And although the game is marketed as a single-solver puzzle, you really need two: one to mix all of the spheres up, and the other to unravel it. It’s much more satisfying to conquer the challenge someone else sets out for you than one you set for yourself, because you can’t help but retain some of the steps involved in mixing up the puzzle.

Having someone else mix up the spheres not only allows for a tougher solve, but the process of mixing them up for another solver is just as valuable a puzzling experience as solving it.

[Okay, this time I’ve got it. All the spheres properly placed on both sides. Phew!
(You can also see that there are only two purple spheres, since one chamber
has to allow a sphere to pass from back to front for the puzzle to be solvable.)]

Back Spin is a wonderfully vivid variation on a classic style of puzzle solving, one whose simple mechanics — a wheel that goes back and forth and holes that line up — allow for deep, meaningful, logic-based puzzling.

It encourages exploration and experimentation, staving off both the boredom and the frustration that more difficult brain teasers often spark. It’s a terrific addition to the ThinkFun line-up of puzzle games that teach while you play.

Back Spin is available for $14.99 on the ThinkFun website. To check out previous ThinkFun product reviews on PuzzleNation Blog, click here.


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Puppy Puzzling!

Most of the time when I write about puzzles, I write about humans solving them, because we are, by a long shot, the biggest consumers of puzzles and games in the world.

But, from time to time, I learn about other species that also have a knack for solving puzzles, and I welcome them to the puzzle-solving community. In the past, we’ve talked about crows, cockatoos, and octopuses solving various mechanical puzzles.

And then a friend of the blog brought another puzzle-solving species to my attention: dogs!

I shouldn’t have been surprised by this. After all, one of my dogs has a knack for getting his tennis ball stuck in the strangest corners and beneath furniture that shouldn’t allow a tennis ball at all!

So I did a little research, and it turns out, there’s an entire puzzle-solving industry devoted entirely to dogs. They’re almost exclusively mechanical puzzles with food rewards, just like the puzzles we’ve seen birds and octopuses solve, but they involve the same sort of step-by-step chain puzzle-solving. And some of it gets pretty complicated!

There are one-step devices, like the Trixie Dog Activity Poker Box, which involves four boxes that open in different ways.

There are two-step devices, like the Jigsaw Glider, which requires the dog to open pieces on either side and then shift the center piece back and forth in order to nab every treat inside.

In a similar vein, there’s the Doggy Brain Train 2-in-1, a food-centric version of a sliding tile puzzle, where the dog must deduce that there’s food beneath each disk, and slide the disks aside to acquire the treats beneath.

And the puzzles only grow more complex from there. In the Dog Activity Gambling Tower, the dog has to pull away three floor pieces in order to make the treats drop, like a snacky version of Ker-Plunk.

Various companies produce each of these products. But the queen of puppy puzzles is clearly Nina Ottosson, who has a fleet of food-puzzle products to put your puppy to the test.

Check out this one, the MixMax Puzzle B:

It’s the second difficulty level in a series of toys, where the dog has to rotate the center piece, push out one of the cones (with treats inside), rotate the piece again, and finally free the cone and the treats. That is a LOT of work for a few treats.

She also has ones where the dog has to remove one element to unlock a little drawer containing a treat. In this video, a dog named Amos solves the Dog Casino, a Nina Ottosson food-puzzle toy that uses this puzzle style:

We can officially add dogs to the elite puzzle-solving ranks of crows, cockatoos, octopuses, and humans, though I must admit, it’s a little embarrassing to realize that those other four species are all smart enough to do their own puzzle-solving for treats. No one ever gives me a treat for solving a puzzle.

Hmmm. Maybe they’re even smarter than we thought.


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