How Puzzles and Games Evolve to Reach New Audiences


I am always intrigued when a puzzle, puzzle game, or board game makes the leap to a different medium. What changes will need to be made in order to adapt the puzzle/game to this new style? Does the puzzle lose something in the translation, or become something entirely different? Or does moving into this new medium prove to be a renaissance, a revitalization, for a puzzle or game that had grown stale?

The classic Nintendo puzzle game Dr. Mario recently made the leap to mobile apps as Dr. Mario World, for example, and the transition left the game relatively unscathed.

For the uninitiated, Dr. Mario is all about clearing your screen of virus characters in various colors by lining up pills of the same color to eliminate them. Much like Tetris, the pills fall from the top of the screen, and successfully clearing parts of your screen can cause headaches for your opponent in head-to-head battles.


[Image courtesy of CNET.]

Sure, the mobile version changed some aspects of the game. You only have a certain number of pills available to clear a given stage (unless you buy more with real-world cash) as opposed to the never-ending supply of the original. And Dr. Mario isn’t the only playable character, as other Mario characters are also doctors in this game (Dr. Peach, Dr. Bowser) with different abilities.

Time will tell if this translation is a success for Nintendo. But naturally, they’re not the only ones experimenting with new ways of bringing their puzzles and games to market.

Our friends at Looney Labs currently have two new projects underway, both of which are reinventing familiar styles of gameplay in fresh exciting ways.

Readers of the blog are familiar with the card game Fluxx, which is one of Looney Labs’ flagship products. The card game with the ever-shifting rules is coming to iOS and Android phones with Playdek’s Digital Fluxx!


[Image courtesy of Pocket Tactics.]

Launching in the next few days, Digital Fluxx promises both offline play and online play for 2-4 players (including human and AI opponents) and multiple language options for international players.

It’s apropos that a game where the rules and goals are constantly changing would continue to adapt in new and exciting ways, and I look forward to seeing how a digital version of the now-classic card game brings new eyes to the Looney Labs library of games.

But that’s not all.

Looney Labs has also teamed up with the game-publishing resource The Game Crafter to allow fans of the card-matching game Loonacy to create their very own custom Loonacy decks!

You can pick and choose from their library of possible card images or upload your own and create a truly unique Loonacy deck for yourself. I think it’s an awesome idea, one that makes a perfect gift for fellow game fans, and I can’t wait to see what sorts of clever creations Loonacy fans come up with through The Game Crafter.

Between a DIY design template for a fast-paced relative newcomer and a digital version of one of the mainstays in modern card games, Looney Labs is demonstrating two ways that puzzlers and game companies can find new, enticing ways to keep their products accessible.

I can’t wait to see what other companies and puzzlemakers come up with next.

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The First Viral Handheld Puzzle Game?

It’s fair to say that PuzzleNation knows a little something about the world of mobile puzzling. Mobile apps are our bread and butter, after all, and whether you’re talking about our Daily POP Crosswords App or the Penny Dell Crosswords App, we are connoisseurs of puzzles that fit in your pocket.

Of course, puzzle apps are a relatively new addition to the genre. Mobile puzzles, like matchstick puzzles, have existed for centuries.

In fact, more than a hundred years ago, a mobile puzzle game went “viral” and became a cultural sensation. (And it has made a recent return to prominence thanks to the HBO drama Westworld.)

Today, let’s talk about Pigs in Clover.

Pigs in Clover is a ball-in-a-maze puzzle invented in 1899 by toymaker Charles Martin Crandall. Although puzzle historians aren’t sure if Pigs in Clover was the first ball-in-a-maze puzzle created, it was definitely the first to capture the imagination of consumers.

You’ve probably solved a ball-in-a-maze puzzle at some point in your life. From the flat disc and labyrinth-inspired models to spherical and more complicated three-dimensional versions, they’re a fun test of both dexterity and strategic thinking.

A quick Google image search turns up dozens of variations on the concept, including an iPhone case with two ball-in-a-maze puzzles built into it!

Pigs in Clover was a simpler design, involving only three rings and a center “pen” to herd the “pigs” into. But it’s one that was supposedly so popular upon launch in January of 1889, it impacted the actual operation of the U.S. government.

But how popular was “popular” in 1889?

Well, according to the Waverly Free Press, “The toy works are turning out eight thousand of ‘Pigs in Clover’ a day, and are twenty days behind with their orders.” According to some sources, over a million games were sold by late April 1889!

And one of those games found its way into the hands of William M. Evarts, senator from New York. Depending on the version of events you read, he purchased a copy of Pigs in Clover from either a street vendor or, curiously, an aggressive street fakir.

He then took it home and played with it for hours. At work the next day — and by work, I mean the Senate of the United States — another senator, George Graham Vest, borrowed it and went to the cloak room to try to solve the puzzle game.

Yes, a sitting U.S. senator went and hid in the coats to play this game. It’s sorta like hiding under all the coats at a Christmas party and playing Angry Birds, except in fancier clothing.

Oddly enough, Vest was soon joined in the cloak room by four other senators — Pugh, Eustis, Walthall, and Kenna — who were also interested in trying their hands at the popular game. Apparently, they were too impatient to share Evarts’ copy of the game, since a page was enlisted to go out and buy five more copies of Pigs in Clover for the distracted senators.

Once each had his own game in hand, they engaged in a pig-driving contest. It must’ve been harder than it looks, since it took Vest 30 minutes to herd all of his pigs into the pen.

Yup, at least half an hour of senate business was derailed by a few little metal balls in a cardboard maze. Amazing.

Naturally, the story got out, and a political cartoon in the New York World on March 17th commented on this peculiar delay in President Benjamin Harrison’s agenda, likening the political landscape to the game. With the White House as the pen and various lawmakers as the pigs, the cartoon asked, “Will Mr. Harrison be able to get all these hungry pigs in the official pen?”

It makes you wonder just how many man-hours were lost to Pigs in Clover! After all, a simple game — solved by many — can prove costly.

Remember the Google Doodle in 2010 that allowed you to play Pac-Man? It’s estimated it cost $120 million dollars, and nearly five million hours, in terms of productivity.

Sounds like President Harrison should count himself lucky it was just a half-dozen senators… as far as we know.

[Sources for this article: The Strong Museum of Play, Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop, Le Roy Historical Society, Antique Toy Collectors of America, Wikipedia, and A History of Video Games in 64 Objects.]

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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!