Puzzle Day Kickstarter Round-up!

Happy (Inter)National Puzzle Day, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

As I explained on Tuesday, today is a day dedicated to all things puzzly, and lots of puzzlers are joining the celebration!

For instance, our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles are running a timed Word Seek challenge and encouraging solvers to share pics of themselves doing the challenge on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #PDPPuzzleDayChallenge!

And, in the spirit of the day, I thought I’d do a crowdfunding round-up of some of the interesting puzzly projects on Kickstarter right now.

First off, I want to talk about Unspeakable Words, a Scrabble-style word-building game with a dash of H.P. Lovecraft.

The game went out of print a while ago, and remaining copies have been in high demand since the game was featured on Wil Wheaton’s board game webseries TableTop. The goal is to print a deluxe version of the game (originally allowing for seven players instead of six, but with several stretch goals reached, they’ve expanded to eight!), with additional stretch goals allowing for better game components.

Now, this is already a Kickstarter success story, because the game funded the first day, so you’re guaranteed to see a finished game before it hits stores.

For a taste of something different, Facets is a wood-and-magnets constructing puzzle toy that allows you to make various shapes based on the Platonic solids. Whether you’re interested in 3-D geometry or just like wooden building toys with a twist, Facets is right up your alley.

Facets has just crossed its funding goal with less than two weeks to go, and it looks like this might be the start of the next generation of Tinker Toys-style constructing toys.

Now, there are a LOT of other campaigns I could mention, like the small 3-D printed puzzle ship (pictured above) or this campaign to make the fake game Cones of Dunshire from NBC’s Parks and Recreation a real Settlers of Catan-style game, but I want to focus on one campaign that’s using puzzles to spread a deeper message.

Alyssa’s Puzzle Project is the brainchild of a young lady named Alyssa who is 12 years old and wants to educate the world — and her fellow students — about the dangers of moral and governmental corruption. So she’s created an awareness-building activity around a jigsaw puzzle, designed for classrooms and students to assemble together. It’s symbolic group problem-solving to raise awareness and spark conversation.

You can read more about Alyssa’s project and her ambitious goals here.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the phenomenal success of Exploding Kittens, a strategy card game that launched with a goal of $10,000 and has raised over 4 MILLION dollars in its first eight days.

It is now the most backed Kickstarter campaign in history, with more than 100,000 backers, and the sky truly appears to be the limit for this card game based on art from The Oatmeal.

I’ve been watching and funding Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns for a few years now, and I (and the rest of the world) have never seen anything like it.

Did I miss any puzzly Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns you’ve seen launched recently, fellow puzzlers? Let me know!

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Puzzles in Pop Culture: Parks and Recreation

In a previous installment of Puzzles in Pop Culture, Amanda of amandalovesmovies suggested checking out a puzzle-centric episode of Parks and Recreation. Well, Amanda, your wish is our command, and by wish, I mean suggestion, and by command, I mean I finally got around to tracking down the episode in question.

Today we’ll be exploring puzzly goodness of the Season 4 episode entitled “Operation Ann.”

It’s Valentine’s Day in Pawnee, and town employee Leslie Knope has gone all out, as per usual. Not only has she organized a Valentine’s Day dance in the hopes of finding someone for her best friend Ann, but she’s cobbled together an elaborate scavenger hunt for her boyfriend Ben. (The final clue will tell him where to meet her that night.)

His first clue is a cryptex, a locked cylinder popularized by The Da Vinci Code, and the five-letter code that opens it is a word that represents their third date. Ben is totally stumped, and turns to affable dolt Andy and mustachioed he-man Ron for help. Ron smashes the cryptex open with a hammer.

Inside is a rhyming clue pointing toward several murals throughout City Hall. Ron instantly deduces that the next puzzle is an acrostic, requiring the first letter of each marked mural. The three men split up and gather the necessary letters, which Ron then solves with impressive anagramming skills.

It’s worth noting that throughout this adventure, Ron repeatedly states how much he hates riddles, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Ben is now totally reliant on Ron’s help, and as it turns out, their next clue leads directly to Ron. (Leslie has managed to hide a clue on the bottom of Ron’s shoe.)

They discover there are TWENTY-TWO more clues to go. Ron again states that he hates riddles. They decide to split up, as Ben heads for the snow globe museum, Ron to a local bar, and Andy sticks around City Hall.

Their hunt continues in the following video clip:

As Ben begins to despair that he’ll disappoint Leslie by not finishing the scavenger hunt, Ron delivers one last time, suggesting that the only thing Leslie likes more than making people happy is being right. So Ben considers anything that Leslie changed his mind on, and quickly figures out where she is. Valentine’s Day is saved!

In a hilarious episode chock full of puzzle fun — anagrams and acrostics and riddle-solving of all kinds — it’s very cool that one of the core values of puzzle-solving is what saved the day: deductive reasoning.

Every crossword clue and riddle requires a certain mindset, where you get into sync with what the riddlemaster or puzzle creator was thinking, usually in a glorious a-ha moment. Seeing Ron and Ben do the same when all other puzzle skills failed was a testament to the puzzly tenacity and deductive reasoning that makes for a truly satisfying puzzle-solving experience.

As always, it’s a real treat to see puzzles incorporated into a narrative like this. Instead of a time-killer or a mere passing interest, they become linchpins of each story. The puzzles create conflict, drive epiphanies, and bring people together.

And in that spirit, I can’t think of a more perfect way to end this entry than this video clip, featuring the episode’s last few moments: