Game Boy: A Puzzly Step Forward for Mobile Gaming

It’s no secret that we’ve got skin in the puzzle app game. The Penny Dell Crosswords App is our flagship project, and it’s part of a thriving puzzle app market.

But if you think back, mobile puzzle gaming really started decades ago with Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld video game console. It was a precursor to the smartphone app system we have today, even if the Game Boy didn’t exactly fit in your pocket.

And at a time when classic video game systems are being revived and re-released — the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo, and the Sega Genesis have all seen repackagings in the last year — could a Game Boy revival be far behind?

The crew at Gizmodo think so, and they made a list of 25 Game Boy games that belong on a revived system.

And as you might expect, there are several puzzle games suggested.

It makes sense, because many industry experts attribute some of the Game Boy’s success to the fact that every machine was packaged with a copy of Tetris, the addictive piece-moving game.

But that wasn’t the only puzzle game to make an impression on young gamers. Dr. Mario was all about pattern-matching in order to eradicate different colored viruses with stacks of similarly colored pills.

Either as a one-player challenge or in competition with another player, Dr. Mario taxed your ability to strategically use each pill provided, trying to eliminate as many viruses as possible.

And for a pure puzzle solving experience, there was Mario’s Picross.

This was a logic art puzzle where you had to use the lists of numbers along the top and side of the grid to deduce where to place black squares in order to reveal an image.

Although there was a timer attached to each puzzle, it wasn’t nearly as stressful a solving experience as Dr. Mario or Tetris, and it introduced an entirely new form of puzzle-solving to many young gamers.

Without the Game Boy and these puzzle games, it’s hard to imagine the success and growth of puzzle apps like the Penny Dell Crosswords App.


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A Legend of Zelda Escape Room? Puzzles Plus Adventure!

[Image courtesy of LaCrosse Escape Room.]

Escape Room puzzles are really pushing new boundaries in terms of themes and storytelling. Horror, post-apocalypse, and other disaster themes are fairly common, and we recently discussed a escape event in Chicago with a monsters-on-the-loose theme.

So I’m definitely not surprised to see media companies getting in on the action. As it turns out, Nintendo has gotten in on the ground floor and will be producing a touring escape-the-room event this year.

The theme: The Legend of Zelda. One of the most beloved video game franchises of all time.

Defenders of the Triforce offers the opportunity for game fans and puzzlers to leap into the vast universe of the Zelda games, exploring, solving puzzles, and becoming an adventure hero just like Link!

Unlike traditional escape-the-room challenges, you’re not locked in a room with only your team. Several teams use the space at the same time to try to solve all the puzzles and “escape,” but each team has its own table to serve as a base of operations. (Though the organizers warn “you will need to get up and explore the game space in order to find all the clues. Write everything down!”)

You have to buy tickets in advance to ensure a spot at one of these events, and teams of six will participate in the game. So you can sign up with friends or sign up on your own and join a team!

[Image courtesy of Zelda.com.]

No specific Zelda game knowledge is required in order to play, but I suspect long-time fans of the Zelda games will get more out of the experience.

These are the dates announced so far:

San Francisco: Jan 31 – Feb 5 (sold out)
Los Angeles: Feb 10 – Mar 12 (sold out)
Phoenix: Feb 15 – Feb 17 (1 date with spaces left)
San Diego: Feb 23 – Feb 25 (sold out)

Further information on events in Seattle, Houston, Chicago, and New York will be announced on January 24th. And be quick on the button, because these things are clearly selling out fast!

This sounds like a perfect matching of video game puzzlers and traditional puzzle solvers, and I can’t wait to hear about the events. I’ll be sure to keep you posted, and if anyone in the PuzzleNation readership is planning on attending, let me know! I’d love to hear from you!

[You can find more details on the event here, along with links to The Legend of Zelda and SCRAP, the escape room team organizing the event.]


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PuzzleNation Book Review: Tetris: The Games People Play

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 is Box Brown’s graphic novel Tetris: The Games People Play.

[Image courtesy of Macmillan.]

Tetris was a masterpiece right out of the gate. Simple, elegant, and infinitely replayable, it would go on to become one of the most beloved video games in history. And that popularity, that universal charm, sparked a bidding war unlike anything the video game world has ever seen. With secret meetings, dubious contracts, language barriers, and the involvement of the suffocating Soviet regime, it was a recipe for sitcom-style misunderstandings on a global scale.

Tetris: The Games People Play brings the whole ridiculous story to life with immense charm and style. From the creation of Alexey Pajitnov’s delightfully addictive brainchild to the globe-spanning race that ensued as production rights went international, this is a story as convoluted and madcap as it is epic.

Although the drawings accompanying the story are relatively simple, the large cast of characters — from executives and game designers to members of the Soviet government — never feels overwhelming or confusing.

[Image courtesy of DownTheTubes.net.]

Illustrator and author Box Brown brings the story to life with the same panache and colorful style that made his visual biography of Andre the Giant such a warm, enjoyable read. The rounded edges and busy frames help sell both the silliness and chaos of the story, and the mix of yellow, black, and white shading in each illustration harkens back to the earliest days of video games.

(The yellow feels especially inspired, given how easily the story could’ve bogged down in the omnipresent gray tones of Soviet society or the bureaucratic doubletalk that typifies business negotiations.)

Most importantly, Brown never allows readers to lose sight of Alexey’s role as creator and keeper of the faith, a man who, under one of the most oppressive regimes in history, brought to life a game that continues to delight generations of fans.

As entertaining as it is insightful, Tetris: The Games People Play is a fun, fascinating read.

[Tetris: The Games People Play is available in paperback wherever books are sold.]


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The end of Sudoku?

I recently read in Owen O’Shea’s book The Call of the Primes that there are 5,472,730,538 unique solutions for a 9×9 Sudoku grid.

Yes, five billion is a very big number, but these days, billions aren’t what they used to be. I mean, think about how many newspapers, magazines, and puzzle books feature Sudoku puzzles. It’s a huge amount of material every year.

So, the thought occurs to me…how long before those 5,472,730,538 unique solutions run out?

To be fair, it’s not like reaching Peak Oil or a point of no return. I’ve solved a lot of Sudoku puzzles, and never once have I felt like I was re-solving a grid I’ve seen before, even if I was. This is purely a matter of mathematical curiosity. How long would it take for us to use up every last possible 9×9 grid?

Man, where do I begin?

Well, if I’m going to talk Sudoku puzzles, it makes sense to start with our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles.

Across seventeen Sudoku titles, they publish approximately 23,236 Sudoku puzzles a year, and probably an additional 350 per year across their Crossword/Variety and Variety titles for a total of 23,586 puzzles in a calendar year.

Now, Penny Dell Puzzles is the top puzzle publisher in North America — #humblebrag — and let’s assume there are another half-dozen publishers worldwide matching their output. That gives us a ballpark of 165,100 Sudoku puzzles published worldwide.

But what about newspapers?

According to the Newspaper Association of America, there were 1,331 daily newspapers in 2014, and there were 1,450 daily newspapers in 2005, making an 8.2% decrease from a decade before. If we apply that percentage to the number of daily newspapers worldwide as of 2005, 6,580 titles, we get 6,040 daily newspapers worldwide. And although they may not ALL have a daily Sudoku, this will help cover some of the major magazines that also carry Sudoku that I’ve excluded from my ballpark calculations.

That gives us 6,040 newspapers x 365 puzzles a year for a total of 2,204,600 puzzles a year.

Now, for other publishing efforts regarding Sudoku, Amazon.com lists 20,718 results for Sudoku, and if we apply an average of 217 puzzles per title — which seems a fair approximation, based on the stats published by our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles, the fact that some books will have more puzzles, and some results will be ABOUT Sudoku and probably contain few to none actual puzzles — that’s 4,495,806 puzzles available right now in the world’s biggest bookstore. (Yes, obviously not all of them were published this year, but hey, this is meatball mathematics.)

Unfortunately, statistics on Sudoku are sketchy at best for the mobile app market, online puzzling, and downloadable puzzles through Playstation Network, Wii, and other gaming platforms, so I can’t factor those puzzles into my calculations.

But just with the numbers I’ve got here, we’re talking about 6,865,506 Sudoku puzzles worldwide. So, if each of those Sudoku puzzles is unique — which is possible, if unlikely — that barely makes a dent in our total of possible Sudoku grid layouts, which you recall is 5,472,730,538.

So, if we’re producing 6,865,506 unique Sudoku puzzles a year, it’ll take nearly 800 years to use every possible 9×9 grid! (For the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles, it would take nearly 232,033 years! So they’re in the clear. *laughs*)

I guess we won’t be running out anytime soon.


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