PuzzleNation Product Review: Lunar Landing

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

ThinkFun has emerged as the premiere vendor of logic puzzles for solvers of all ages. Whether they’re challenging you with marbles, lasers, or electronic circuits, their complete-the-path games offer lots of puzzly fun.

Their latest offering, Lunar Landing, seems at first to fall into the same pattern, but as you learn the rules and begin tackling the challenge cards included, you quickly realize there’s more than meets the eye at play.

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In Lunar Landing, your goal is to pilot the red shuttle to an emergency entry port in the center of the landing grid. Sounds easy enough, right? But the twist is how you get there.

Scattered across the landing field are helper bots which help your shuttle move around the landing field. The shuttle can only move toward one of the helper bots in the same row or column. The shuttle must move from helper bot to helper bot until it reaches the emergency entry port.

Because Lunar Landing is set in space, the shuttle can’t just stop wherever it chooses. Once the shuttle is set on a path toward a helper bot, it continues along that path until it reaches that bot. This means you can pass right over the emergency entry port unless there’s a helper bot in the correct position to stop the shuttle on that red square.

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This movement mechanism is the engine behind each of the 40 challenge cards in the deck. Progressing in increasing difficulty from beginner to intermediate to advanced to expert, the challenge cards provide you with the starting layouts for each landing grid. You place the shuttle and helper bots as instructed, and then try to puzzle out how to complete the task at hand.

The early scenarios are all about moving the shuttle from place to place. In later challenges, you’ll have to move the helper bots as well, positioning them to form a path that’ll bounce your shuttle to the center of the grid.

The helper bots move in the same way as the shuttle — toward another helper bot along a row or column — and as the scenarios evolve, you’ll rely on moving the helper bots more and more.

It’s a bit like a sliding-tile puzzle, since you can only move the shuttle along certain paths, as determined by the locations of the helper bots. Many of the challenge cards can only be conquered by setting up a chain reaction, which gives Lunar Landing the feeling of a one-person chess game: You’re trying to see several moves ahead, looking for the perfect sequence of moves that will let you achieve victory.

Taking a simple scientific concept — objects in motion tend to stay in motion — and building a logic game around it is very clever, and it makes for a solving experience that feels new and challenging. Since each piece can potentially move, depending on the challenge card layout, there are more variables at play here than in previous ThinkFun logic puzzles.

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The helper bots are modeled on classic robot designs from the 1940s and 1950s, and that adds to the game’s charm, as if the vivid Technicolor visions that predated the Space Race have finally been realized.

The landing grid doubles as storage for the challenge cards and game pieces, making for an easily transported puzzle game that can be enjoyed anywhere at the drop of a hat.

Lunar Landing continues the fine tradition of ThinkFun puzzle games, keeping even experienced puzzlers on their toes with inventive gameplay and outside-the-box thinking. What a treat.

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


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PuzzleNation Book Review: Kubrick’s Game

Welcome to another installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!

All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR articles are either directly or indirectly related to the world of puzzling, and hopefully you’ll find something to tickle your literary fancy in this entry or the entries to come.

Let’s get started!

The subject of today’s book-review post is Derek Taylor Kent’s novel Kubrick’s Game.

Shawn Hagan is a film student at UCLA’s School of Film and Television, a gifted director of photography, cameraman, and lighting designer with aspirations toward directing. He’s probably like many cinephiles you know: obsessive, prone to losing himself in films, with a hard time relating to others.

He’s also a fan of puzzly scavenger hunts, tackling them with his friend Wilson, a former child star with his own directorial ambitions. They also recruit Shawn’s TA (and crush), Samira Singh, to join them. But when Shawn’s film professor asks for Shawn’s help deciphering the contents of a mysterious package, Wilson, Sami, and Shawn will find themselves on a puzzle hunt unlike anything they’ve ever seen.

The package is from visionary director Stanley Kubrick, a man who has been dead for fifteen years. Apparently, he left one last gift to his fans and fellow film lovers: an elaborate puzzle whose endgame could change history.

As Shawn, Wilson, and Sami unravel each clue, delving deep into Kubrick’s life and filmography, they discover they’re not the only ones in pursuit of the solution to Kubrick’s game; not only are students from other film schools also on the hunt, but shadowy forces are also working to solve the puzzle…forces that are willing to lie, cheat, steal, and worse to get what they want.

What could Kubrick have left behind to justify such means? Will Shawn, Sami, and Wilson solve the famous chessmaster’s last gambit?

Kubrick’s Game is a puzzly thriller/adventure piece very much in the vein of The Da Vinci Code, though a far more satisfying read, more akin to the Shakespeare-fueled mystery of Jennifer Lee Carrell’s Interred with Their Bones or Haunt Me Still than the smack-you-in-the-face-with-coincidence style of Mr. Brown. Kent is clearly a fan of Kubrick’s work, and that enthusiasm infuses every page of the story.

Part puzzle hunt, part tribute, and part whodunit, Kubrick’s Game revels in the minutiae of classic films, adding depth and meaning to cinematic quirks and questions that hardcore film geeks have been debating and theorizing about for years.

But Kent goes one step further by including relevant images and frames of film, allowing the reader to follow the narrative. You can’t quite solve the puzzles alongside the protagonists, especially in the later puzzles (unless you’re a serious Kubrick aficionado, that is), but you know enough to avoid any possible frustration.

On the puzzle side, there are really three puzzly narratives to unravel. The first is the puzzle hunt early in the game, which is very straightforward. The second is Kubrick’s game itself. The third is the whodunit of the story, pondering who Shawn and his team can trust and who they’re working against. It’s a multilayered narrative that never bogs down, despite the twists and turns and numerous characters in play.

[Image courtesy of Biography.com.]

Kubrick himself becomes a major player in the story, as his motivations, his choices, and his interests are crucial to the plot. His films as well become intriguing characters — particularly Eyes Wide Shut, often a maligned part of Kubrick’s legacy, though one I have more appreciation for after reading this book.

(And Kent is clearly having some fun with some of the conspiracy theories surrounding Kubrick’s life and works in this novel, but he does so without mocking.)

As for the human characters, Sami and Wilson are amiable support characters; they’re likable and capable, focused and flawed in their own ways, but Shawn is clearly the centerpiece of the novel, so most of Sami and Wilson’s more intriguing character aspects only emerge in reaction to Shawn.

As for Shawn, he’s a little polarizing, because you want to like him, but several of his choices make it hard to do so. Some of this can be attributed to Shawn’s social awkwardness and insensitivity; there are certain character moments that are selfish and border on the emotionally brutal.

(Some characters theorize that Shawn is on the spectrum, but I don’t feel comfortable commenting either way. It isn’t particularly germane to the plot, so long as you can accept that Shawn is fairly tone-deaf socially and has difficulty connecting with others.)

That being said, you cheer when Shawn succeeds and you root for him when he falters, which are signs of a solid protagonist.

Although the antagonists descend a bit into cartoonish villainy, that’s a minor quibble. For the most part, the stakes feel high and the mentality of Shawn, Wilson, and Sami’s team against the world is an easy one to buy into.

Kent has done an impressive job of constructing an elaborate mystery worthy of Kubrick’s labyrinthine storytelling, one that should satisfy thriller fans and puzzle fans alike.

Kubrick’s Game is available on Amazon in hardcover, softcover, audiobook, and ebook.

[Full disclosure: I received a free copy of today’s book in exchange for a review.]


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PuzzleNation wordplay = Now radiant puzzle ploy

[Alternate anagrams include “Puzzle patron, now daily” and “Plow into any rad puzzle.”]

Anagrams are a cornerstone of modern pen-and-paper puzzling.

They make frequent appearances in cryptic (or British-style) crossword clues, and many puzzles and puzzle games — from Anagram Magic Square and Text Twist to Secret Word and Bananagrams — rely heavily on anagrams as an integral part of the solve.

I’ve written about them several times in the past, but for the uninitiated, an anagram is a reordering of the letters in a word to form a new word or phrase. PEALS anagrams into LEAPS, PALES, LAPSE, SEPAL, and PLEAS.

As the old joke goes, “stifle” is an anagram of itself.

But the best anagrams rearrange the letters in a word into something related to that word. Fans of The Simpsons may recall that Alec Guinness anagrams into “genuine class.”

There are numerous examples of great anagrams all over the Internet. Here are a few classics:

  • The eyes = they see
  • Clint Eastwood = Old West action
  • Eleven plus two = Twelve plus one
  • Dormitory = Dirty room
  • A decimal point = I’m a dot in place
  • A gentleman = Elegant man

One of the best online anagram programs out there is hosted by wordsmith.org, and at the top of their page, they remind us that “internet anagram server” anagrams into “I, rearrangement servant.”

You can find some unexpected surprises when you play with anagrams. Did you know that William Shakespeare anagrams into both “I am a weakish speller” and “I’ll make a wise phrase”?

There are entire forums online dedicated to terrific anagrams, some fiendishly clever, others impressively insightful. (Of course, sometimes crafty punctuation makes all the difference.)

Madame Curie becomes “Me? Radium Ace.”

Monty Python’s Flying Circus becomes “Strongly psychotic, I’m funny.”

The possibilities seem endless when you delve into longer phrases. I’m going to close out this tribute to anagrams with two of the most amazing ones I’ve encountered during my time as a puzzler.

The first involves the iconic line as humanity took its first steps onto the surface of the Moon:

Neil Armstrong: That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind

anagrams into…

Thin man ran; makes (a) large stride, left planet, pins flag on moon! On to Mars!

[I’ve included both what Neil said and what was broadcast back to Earth. Hence, the A in parentheses in both versions.]

The second takes one of Shakespeare’s best known lines and offers some engagingly meta commentary on the play itself:

To be or not to be, that is the question, whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…

anagrams into…

In one of the Bard’s best-thought-of-tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.

So whether you’re playing Scrabble or tackling David L. Hoyt‘s Jumble, anagramming is a worthwhile tool that belongs in every puzzler’s skillset.

Do you have any favorite anagrams, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let me know! I’d love to see them!

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