The Puzzly Art of Anamorphosis

Anamorphic illusions are all about perspective. Making the illusion work requires you to either be in a specific place (positioned a certain distance away and facing a certain direction) or the use of a mirrored cylinder or cone.

Using mirrored objects is called catoptric anamorphosis and using specific perspectives is known as oblique anamorphosis. It’s oblique anamorphosis we’ll be focusing on today.

Most of us have probably seen an example of anamorphosis recently, as it’s become a popular form of urban outdoor art. The ground is painted or colored to provide a fake perspective, and by standing in the proper spot, the illusion is formed.

This creates ample opportunity for some terrific photographs:

[Did you know we’ve got an entire Pinterest page dedicated to this?]

Having a hard time visualizing anamorphosis? Well, the folks at Brasspup have a fantastic YouTube page devoted to science and illusions, and they have several videos featuring some mind-blowing anamorphic illusions.

You can even use light to assist your illusion, as they do here:

What’s even more amazing is that these perspective tricks can move beyond two-dimensional works like paintings and photographs. If you know how to manipulate the viewer, three-dimensional illusions are within your grasp.

Check out this Escher-inspiring creation, built from pens and Jenga blocks! It looks positively impossible!

It really is baffling when you consider how many ways there are to trick the eye. From Necker cubes and shape illusions to forced perspective and anamorphosis, optical illusions are alive and well as a puzzly art form worth exploring.

Heck, look at what we can do with nothing more than black lines!

Imagine trying to walk a straight line in that room. Wow.


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A New Year’s Eve Countdown!

It’s New Year’s Eve, and we are literally counting down the hours until 2016, so why not celebrate the end of 2015 with a little countdown of our own?

Here are my 10 favorite blog posts from 2015!


#10 Rubik ‘Round the World

One of the most amazing things about the world today is how interconnected we all are. The Internet has made it easily to not only keep in touch with far-flung friends, but to forge new, meaningful friendships and connections with staggering ease.

And I confess, I am a total sucker for those heartwarming clickbait videos that spread the message that we are all the same. (The one of that guy doing the same dance in countries across the world comes to mind.) So seeing people from all over the world solve a Rubik’s Cube one move at a time…what can I say? It got me.

#9 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

#8 Music and Puzzles

Talking about how puzzles are relevant to daily life is one of my favorite subjects for blog posts. Brain health, stress relief, the long-term benefits of puzzle solving…we’ve discussed all these topics and more during my time as lead blogger.

This year I continued that tradition with this post about how listening to music can make you a more effective solver. It’s always interesting for me to do some research and really delve into a topic — especially scientific ones because they’re often so drastically misreported or misinterpreted by mainstream outlets — and give the PuzzleNation audience the straight story.

#7 The Dress

One of the most bizarre moments of 2015 was when someone shoved their iPhone in my face and asked me what color a dress was. It wasn’t until a few moments later that I found out this was a big thing on the Internet that people were vociferously debating.

The chance to explain exactly what was going on in the photo through one of my favorite puzzly mediums — the optical illusion — was too much fun to resist, and it resulted in one of the year’s most popular, most shared blog posts.

#6 The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

Although it’s a highlight of the puzzly calendar every year, this year’s ACPT was extra special for me because it was the first I attended in person.

Not only did I get to meet a lot of top names in crosswords — in many cases, finally getting a chance to put names to faces after many emails and tweets exchanged — but I got to enjoy the Big Fight feel of seeing so many friends and puzzlers test their mettle against some great puzzles.

#5 A Puzzly Wedding Proposal

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles pulled off one heck of a puzzly coup when an intrepid fellow puzzler asked them for help proposing to his girlfriend with a special Escalators puzzle.

I reached out to the lucky fiancé and got his permission to share the story with the PuzzleNation readership, and as I learned more about who was involved and how they’d managed to make it happen, I just became more and more enamored with the story. I have no doubt that years from now, this will still be one of my favorite blog posts.

#4 Max Reviews the Boston Festival of Indie Games

Guest bloggers are nothing new to PuzzleNation Blog, as Sherri regularly pops in with her app reviews, but Max Galpern pushed things to another level with his appearances throughout the year. Not only did he pioneer our first video review (with assistance from Fred), but he took over the blog for an entire day with his review of the Boston Festival of Indie Games.

Here’s hoping we can get Max back for 2016 a few times, though I suspect he’ll be in high demand.

#3 Will Sudoku

We do a lot of reviews (board game and card game reviews, puzzle reviews, tournament reviews, app reviews, etc.) and I thoroughly enjoy introducing new puzzly products and events to my fellow PuzzleNationers and sharing my thoughts on them.

But it’s rare that we get the first shot at introducing a brand-new never-before-seen puzzle or product, and that’s what separates the Will Sudoku post from many others. Serving as the debut outlet for a new puzzle was great fun and very exciting, one of those rarities that made 2015 such a terrific year.

#2 Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Island Seesaws

Brain teasers were a big part of 2015 for the blog, since several challenging ones went viral this year. But I don’t think any of them taxed my brain — both to solve AND to explain how to solve — like the island seesaw brain teaser from an episode of Fox’s sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine did.

It is an epic-length blog post — one I needed a mathematician friend of mine to help me write — but it broke down a tough puzzle bit-by-bit and explained every step. In a year of brain-melting puzzle posts, it still stands out.

#1 Announcing Free Daily Puzzles for the Penny Dell Crosswords App

I almost put announcing the Android release for the App here instead — because so many people had been asking about it for so long — but in the end, the free daily puzzle announcement won out, and not simply because it was a terrific new feature for the App, one that I feel would draw a lot of new eyes to the product.

Getting to interview Fred and talk about not just what we’ve been working on for years, but where we were headed in the future, made it feel like a special event for the PuzzleNation Team as a whole. Plus it was a chance to introduce all of you to another member of the team, something I hope to do more of in 2016.

It may sound self-serving or schlocky to talk about our flagship product as #1 in the countdown, but it’s something that we’re all extremely proud of, something that we’re constantly working to improve, because we want to make it the absolute best it can be for the PuzzleNation audience. That’s what you deserve.

Thanks for spending 2015 with us, through logic problems and love stories, through dresses and debuts, through Rubik’s Cubes and revelations. We’ll see you in 2016.


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The art (and science) of optical illusions

Visual trickery plays an important role in puzzles. It can be the clever rebus that challenges you to find the words each image represents, or a visual brain teaser that forces you to think outside the box.

But nowhere in the realm of puzzles is visual trickery more obvious or more disconcerting than in optical illusions. Some are simple, like the famous old woman/young woman image above (or this hilarious video version). But others are not only more complex, they’re absolutely mind-bending.

And if we’re talking mind-bending optical illusions, at some point, you have to mention the work of Akiyoshi Kitaoka.

[Akiyoshi Kitaoka’s “A Bulge,” featuring nothing but squares.]

Dr. Kitaoka is a professor of psychology at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, and he has extensively studied biology and psychology. He has quickly emerged as a modern master of optical illusions, utilizing not only shapes and color gradients to trick the eye, but also to simulate motion in a static image!

Two of the techniques frequently cited in his work with illusions are perceptual transparency and visual completion. Both rely heavily on how our brain and eye process the incredible amount of information we perceive every second of every day.

This is probably the most famous example of a visual completion illusion:

Basically, our brain employs mental shortcuts in order to simplify the information. For instance, visual completion (also known as filling-in) occurs when information unavailable to the eye is assumed to be there and mentally added by the brain.

Perceptual transparency, on the other hand, involves how we can perceive one surface behind another.

Check out this amazing photo from a published paper on perceptual transparency, entitled Zen Mountains:

[The mountains in the background look transparent,
even appearing to overlap each other in impossible ways.]

Dr. Kitaoka’s illusions utilize visual shortcuts and processes such like these, but his most famous creations involve a perceptual technique known as the Fraser-Wilcox Illusion, which involves using lighter and darker gradients of black and white in order to trick the eye into perceiving motion. Essentially, moving from dark to light gradually creates the illusion of motion.

Kitaoka’s work, however, maximizes this effect by employing contrasting color schemes in order to challenge the eye further.

Feast your eyes upon “Rotating Snakes,” Kitaoka’s most diabolical optical illusion:

[For the full effect, click the image and
scroll down for a full-screen version!]

By employing color as well, the rotation illusion is even more striking. In all honesty, I can’t look at it too long or my stomach starts to feel a little off-kilter!

Similarly, Kitaoka tricks the eye into perceiving waves rolling diagonally over this quilt-like sheet in “Primrose’s Field:”

As we understand more about the eye and how it perceives the visual stimuli it receives, as well as more about the brain and how it processes information, I suspect we’ll be able to craft even more convincing, mind-blowing, and unnerving examples of visual sleight of hand.

And undoubtedly, Akiyoshi Kitaoka will be leading the way.


Many thanks to Dr. Kitaoka for granting permission for me to feature three of his illusions in this post. You can check out more of his amazing work on his website, as well as some of his books on Amazon here!

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!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: That Dress edition

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today I’d like to return to the subject of optical illusions.

Yes, by popular demand, I’m talking about The Dress.

untitled-12-660x334

[The original photo is in the middle. To the left, the photo has been color-corrected toward white and gold. To the right, the photo has been color-corrected toward black and blue.]

For those who haven’t heard — and wow, I’m sincerely amazed you haven’t by now — the above picture of a dress was uploaded to Tumblr not too long ago, and the Internet collectively lost its mind debating whether the dress was white and gold or black and blue.

Some people think that color blindness has something to do with the different opinions on the dress, but the answer is simpler than that.

I’ve written about optical illusions in the past, and this photo is another prime example. As for why people are seeing two different sets of colors, it’s all about visual context and how we interpret contrasting colors.

The photo is saturated with sunlight, which skews the color of the dress. But for some people, when their eye color-corrects to determine what they’re looking at, they discount the blue in the photo, and end up seeing white and gold. Other people discount the gold in the photo, and see blue and black.

(This was also one of those cases where actually tilting your laptop screen could significantly change how the colors looked, since changing the angle of your screen altered how the image interacts with whatever light sources are nearby.)

I’ll give you another example. Check out this image from Gizmodo:

18kyr2pu3n22hgif

These green and blue spirals, contrasted against the pink and orange, appear to be different colors, but they are actually the exact same color. Our eyes are fooled into seeing them as different shades by the alternating stripes around them. (The “green” have orange contrast while the “blue” have pink.)

The differing interpretations of The Dress operate under the same principle.

Oh, and for the record, here’s the dress without the sunlight skewing the color scheme, as seen on Ellen DeGeneres’s show:

people-behind-the-dress-appear-on-ellen-02

So which camp were you in, fellow puzzlers? White and gold or black and blue?

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!

Follow-Up Friday: Optical Illusion edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of optical illusions.

Puzzles for the eye, optical illusions challenge the viewer to shift perspectives and accept that seeing is not always believing. And whether it’s Ok Go!’s tricky music video or a carefully crafted LEGO illusion, they’re a favorite subject here at PuzzleNation Blog. I mean, heck, we’ve got entire boards on Pinterest dedicated to them!

So you can imagine my delight when I stumbled upon a CollegeHumor video that had some fun with a few classic optical illusions.

I present Optical Illusion Girlfriend:

Have a marvelous weekend, puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! Here’s hoping everything you see is what it seems. =)

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!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: Optical Illusion edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

For those new to PuzzleNation Blog, Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and update the PuzzleNation audience on how these projects are doing and what these people have been up to in the meantime.

And today, I’d like to follow up on the subject of optical illusions with a marvelous new example for you.

I’ve written about optical illusions on several occasions, because they’re wonderful visual puzzles that play with our perceptions in clever, unexpected ways. We either see two images in one, or an object floating in space, or we’re simply misled by careful use of angles and lighting.

The band OK Go released their latest music video this week for the song The Writing’s On the Wall, and the video beautifully utilizes numerous optical illusions to create a mind-bending visual experience.

Check it out:

And this is not the band’s first foray into puzzly music video creation, since they took part in an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine for their song This Too Shall Pass:

Here’s hoping they unleash more puzzle-infused fun in their next video.

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!