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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Puzzle My World

[Image courtesy of Reddit.]

For me, one of the best things about puzzle-solving is the a-ha moment.

You’ve been staring at a clue, or a brain teaser, for what feels like forever. You’ve tackled it from seemingly every angle. And you’ve got nothing. You’re stymied. Flummoxed. You know the answer is within your reach, but you just can’t find it.

And then, the a-ha moment strikes. Wheels turn, pieces fall into place. And when the dust settles, you have your solution, and you can’t help but wonder how you didn’t see it sooner.

When puzzly thinking is taken outside the realm of puzzles and games and applied to the real world, it can make those a-ha moments even more enjoyable.

Now look at that image at the top of the page. Did you immediately realize what it was, or did you stare for a bit before having that a-ha moment?

Yes, it’s a map of the world done in the style of artist Piet Mondrian. How cool is that?

Today I’d like to look at a few maps that visualize our world in a different way and let you experience an a-ha moment or two.

[Image courtesy of Mental Floss. Click here for a larger version.]

This first map of the world has all of the familiar landmasses and borders that you know, but it has swapped around the actual countries so that the country’s population is now equivalent to its size.

It’s truly paradigm-altering to see countries like China, India, and Pakistan in those large landmasses, and on the flip side, the Netherlands taking the islands of the former Japan, while Japan moves to a much larger space in Africa.

Plus, there are a few countries that wouldn’t move in this situation, like the U.S., Brazil, Yemen, and Ireland, which is all the more striking when you see so many countries moving around them.

Just imagining the political landscape in this world is mind-boggling!

[Image courtesy of The Edge.ca.]

This next map says more about our culture than our numbers, but it’s still interesting. Here’s part of a map labeled only with song titles that mention these places.

It’s a very clever concept that not only name-checks many terrific songs, but mixes genres and eras of music in surprising ways. If you were to attempt this, how much of the world could you fill in with song titles?

[Image courtesy of Texas.gov. Click here for a larger version.]

And speaking of puzzly map challenges, I’ve got one for you, fellow puzzlers. Here’s a map of the United States.

I challenge you to print out this map and color it in using only four colors. The trick? No neighboring states can be the same color.

Hopefully, accepting this challenge will provide you with a puzzly a-ha moment of your own. Enjoy!

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A “Tolkien” Bit of Puzzly Wordplay

[A simple rebus, courtesy of mentalfloss.com.]

We’ve explored lots of puzzles in the time I’ve been writing for PuzzleNation Blog. Sudoku, crosswords, riddles, logic problems, anagrams, brain teasers, all sorts of coded puzzles and cryptograms… the list is seemingly endless.

But in all that time, we haven’t really covered one of the most accessible, visual puzzles still popular today: the rebus.

In a rebus puzzle, pictures (often with single letters added or subtracted) represent words and phrases, spelling out a message hidden in plain sight.

For instance, in the above rebus, you have an urn, a nest, then a hem, some ink, and someone being weighed. Put it all together, and you get… Ernest Hemingway.

Anyone who watched the game show Concentration or the later edition Classic Concentration probably remembers the rebus puzzles that featured prominently in the show.

As the players randomly chose numbered tiles two at a time, they revealed various prizes beneath the tiles. If they managed to find a match — uncovering the same prize with both guesses on a given turn — they banked that prize. Those tiles then went away, revealing part of the rebus beneath. If a player solved the rebus, he or she won all of the prizes they matched earlier.

Although rebuses tend to be simpler than most other puzzles, the difficulty can depend on the cleverness of the puzzler creating it. After all, the celebrated author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien, was known to create rebus letters in his youth and send them to family members and friends.

Can you unravel this message from the future creator of Middle-Earth?

If you’re stuck, I can break down the first line for you. You have the number 1000, an eye, a deer, several Y’s, an owl, the country of France with “Fr.” written on it, and a snake hissing.

1000 equals M in Roman numerals, so paired with the eye, you have “my.” Y’s is a soundalike for “wise.” The rest are pretty clear. So put them all together and you have “My dear wise owl Fr. Francis.” Tolkien was pretty clever even back then!

Unfortunately, this is only the front page of the rebus, so the solved message is incomplete. To see the back page, you need to look up the original letter in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. (And, sadly, the PuzzleNation Blog travel budget only covers trips to the diner and back.)

But, if you’d like to check out another Tolkien rebus puzzle, one written when he was 11 years old, click here!

As visual wordplay and puzzling in one of its purest forms, the rebus has been around for centuries, and with the advent of emojis in texting, I doubt they’re going away anytime soon.

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!