# Puzzly Techniques Help Reveal Secrets From the Dead Sea Scrolls!

[Image courtesy of WikiHow.]

Have you ever solved a cryptogram? (Or another coded puzzle where each letter is replaced with a different letter, digit, or symbol?)

While the solve can vary in difficulty, the solving experience is fairly simple: you look for and identify patterns in the encrypted message, then use that information to figure out which letter/number/symbol represents each letter.

Maybe you see QYR’P and XHR’P, and deduce that R and P are actually N and T because of the apostrophe. Maybe you see the letter pattern BRV at the end of several words and realize it’s -ING.

By finding these patterns, you can turn a pile of gibberish into a message, essentially creating your own Rosetta Stone for this particular puzzle.

[Image courtesy of The Guardian.]

It’s not just the repetition of characters and pattern recognition that reveal everything that can be learned from text, even text in a foreign language.

After all, plenty of crime stories rely on recognizing the handwriting from a random note or a threatening letter and matching it to a writing sample from another character in the story.

Taking this concept a step further, purveyors of handwriting analysis sometimes claim to be able to tell you about the writer (whether they’re male or female, how educated they are, and more). Beyond that, some assert they can infer details about the writer’s emotional state WHILE writing a given message, based on angles of pen strokes, closeness of letters, and so on.

[Image courtesy of PBL Forensic Investigations.]

While handwriting analysis is more a mix of pattern recognition, assumptions, and interpretation than a straightforward science, it’s still amazing what can be gleaned from the written records people leave behind.

And as it turns out, when you add computers to the mix, you can do the same on a more massive scale to uncover some pretty impressive insights.

Yes, we’re not just learning about languages and the contents of messages written long ago. As we implied above, we’re also starting to find clues about the authors themselves.

Take, for instance, this story about a recent computer analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

[Image courtesy of Artnet.]

Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of ancient Jewish and Hebrew religious manuscripts discovered in the Qumran Caves, near the Dead Sea. They consist of some of the oldest known surviving manuscripts of works later found in the Hebrew Bible and other important texts. In fact, they include fragments from every book in the Old Testament (except for the Book of Esther).

Mladen Popovic, professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen, teamed up with a colleague who has been working on software and hardware that would allow computers to “read” handwriting, particular handwriting from historical materials. Lambert Schomaker, professor of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, focused on one particular scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls, known as the Great Isaiah Scroll.

This scroll was chosen because, although the writing appears to be uniform, some scholars believed there were two scribes involved in writing it, suggesting that after column 27, a second scribe had taken over duties on the scroll.

From the article:

‘This scroll contains the letter aleph, or “a,” at least five thousand times. It is impossible to compare them all just by eye.’ Computers are well suited to analyse large datasets, like 5,000 handwritten a’s. Digital imaging makes all sorts of computer calculations possible, at the microlevel of characters, such as measuring curvature (called textural), as well as whole characters (called allographic).

[Image courtesy of FDE-Sperry.]

And what did this study reveal?

His analysis of textural and allographic features showed that the 54 columns of text in the Great Isaiah Scroll fell into two different groups that were not distributed randomly through the scroll, but were clustered, with a transition around the halfway mark.

Popovic expanded on this discovery, stating that “we can confirm this with a quantitative analysis of the handwriting as well as with robust statistical analyses. Instead of basing judgment on more-or-less impressionistic evidence, with the intelligent assistance of the computer, we can demonstrate that the separation is statistically significant.”

Yes, there were two scribes involved in writing the Great Isaiah Scroll. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of what we could learn about the many scrolls discovered in the Qumran Caves.

By taking these puzzly observational techniques and using the incredible computing power and analysis capabilities available to modern researchers, we’re slowly unraveling more mysteries from the past.

Who knows what we’ll unearth next?

Have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

# Our Annual TableTop Tournament Starts Next Week!

With International TableTop Day fast approaching, we are once again teaming up with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles to put together an in-house TableTop Tournament to celebrate the upcoming holiday (Saturday, April 27).

It’s a 12-person two-week tournament with different games to play every week, and round 1 kicks off next Tuesday. (This is actually the fourth year of the tournament, with all three previous champions competing again this year.)

One of the things I like about the layout of the tournament is that there are no one-on-one match-ups until the final. Instead of a single-elimination tournament, competitors are slotted into groups of three. Each group of three will play two games, and the two winners (one from each game) from each trio and move on to the next round.

So to survive round 1, I’ll need to win either Timeline or On the Dot.

Timeline is a card game where every card depicts a different moment in history, and the players are trying to place cards from their hand into a historically correct timeline. Players take turns adding cards to the timeline, placing them before or after previously played cards. You don’t have to know the exact year the event on a given card took place; you simply have to figure out when it happened in relation to the other events that have already been played.

You play your card, and then flip it over to reveal the actual year the event occurred. If you’re correct, the card stays, and you have one fewer card in your hand. If you’re wrong, the card is removed from the timeline and you draw a new card. The first player to place every card in their hand wins.

On the Dot is a pattern-matching game. Each player has four clear cards with randomly placed colored dots on them, and it’s up to the player to arrange all four cards so that the colored dots showing match a given pattern. The first player to match three patterns moves on to the next round.

Timeline can be a bit of a crapshoot, depending on your knowledge of a given subject and whatever cards you draw. I suspect I’ll have a better chance of making the second round with On the Dot; I’m fairly quick with pattern recognition and manipulation, and actually won three games in a row last year to secure my spot in the next round. Hopefully I can repeat the same feat this year.

But you never know. With new competitors and returning champions in the tournament this year, there are sure to be some diabolical surprises.

Here’s hoping when it’s all said and done, I’ll be wearing the Game Geek crown and holding the scepter high…

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

# PuzzleNation Product Review: Mary Engelbreit Loonacy

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

If you’re looking for frenetic, quick-play card games, they don’t come much quicker or more chaotic than Loonacy.

In Loonacy, players compete to dump all of the cards in their hand by dropping them one-at-a-time into various piles. They do so by matching one of two symbols on their card with the symbol atop the discard piles. For instance, if you’ve got a card with an owl and a queen on it, you can drop that card onto a pile with an owl on top or a queen on top.

But since every player in the game is doing the same thing at the same time — there’s no taking turns here — it’s a race to drop a matching card from your hand before any of the other players can drop a card from theirs.

Looney Labs has published two previous editions of the game — Loonacy and Retro Loonacy — but neither is as eye-catching, as lovely, as charming, or as unexpected as the latest edition, Mary Engelbreit Loonacy.

Unlike the cartoony character-centric images of the original or the nostalgia-fueled artsy icons of the retro version, Mary Engelbreit Loonacy brings a peaceful, almost folksy sense of style and humor to the game.

The imagery is gorgeous and heartwarming, depicting uplifting images that would fit in with any kitchen or living room. Words of wisdom like “She who laughs, lasts” and “Sooner or later, we all quote our mothers” mix with scenes of familial bliss, childhood innocence, or simple pleasures.

In a game that’s all about observation, decision making, instantaneous pattern matching, and rapid reflexes, juxtaposing that sort of anxiety-inducing gameplay with these peaceful, fun images is a stroke of genius, one that forces you to pause, even for just a moment, in order to simply enjoy Engelbreit’s delightful art.

Mary Engelbreit Loonacy bridges the gap between the kid-oriented silly imagery of the original and the adult-oriented artsy feel of the sequel, making the best of both in one family-friendly package.

Mary Engelbreit Loonacy is available from Looney Labs and other participating retailers.

It’s also featured in our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, alongside all sorts of terrific puzzly gift ideas, including other Looney Labs products like Zendo, Get the MacGuffin, Star Trek Fluxx, and more!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

# PuzzleNation Product Review: Constellations

Plenty of games offer ambitious goals for the players to achieve. You become a real estate tycoon in Monopoly, a castle owner in Castellan, and a time-traveling adventurer in U.S. Patent Number 1. You could traverse the country in The Oregon Trail, save the world in Pandemic, or conquer it in Risk. That’s part of the magic of games.

But what if you could build the night sky? What if you could harness the stars themselves, assemble constellations, and place them into the heavens above?

Now that is a puzzly endeavor worthy of your attention. And that’s the concept behind the game in today’s product review. We’ll be trying out Constellations by Xtronaut Enterprises.

Constellations combines the resource management card game mechanics of Just Desserts with the pattern-matching tile play of Carcassonne to create an educational and engaging play experience.

Each player starts with five star cards. Each star card represents a different type of star (or in some cases, two of that type of star). The star cards are used to assemble various constellations in order to score points.

The game begins with one constellation already placed in the sky, as well as three possible constellations to build. Players may reserve one of the three constellations, making it their primary goal and removing it from play for the other players.

As you can see in the picture above, different constellations require different combinations of star cards. Some constellations are simpler, so they’re worth fewer points. Other constellations have higher values, but more complex combinations of star cards, which may be harder or more time-consuming to collect.

[One constellation tile, plus the star cards played to complete it. As you can see, you can use extra stars as needed (like a Two B-Type Stars card above), as well as using O cards as wild cards (as I did for the two A-type stars needed to complete this constellation.]

Once a player has gathered all of the star cards necessary to complete the constellation, they then must play it in the night sky, placing it adjacent to one or more of the constellations already completed.

You score points by placing a constellation so that the gemstones along the edges match the neighboring constellation(s), and there are additional points available for placing constellations beside other constellations (as they would appear in the actual night sky). For instance, Leo Minor offers a two-point bonus when placed next to either Leo or Lynx.

Different arrangements of gemstones around the edges of the constellation tile require you to be crafty when and where you place your tile, since more matching gemstones means more points.

[In this layout, Taurus was added perfectly, matching gemstones with both Perseus and Ophiuchus. Pegasus, on the other hand, matched Perseus nicely, but only matched one gemstone with Orion.]

Unfortunately, you have to play a completed constellation, and sometimes the gemstone patterns don’t match up at all. If that’s the case, you’ll lose two points for a constellation played out of place. (Once again, the closer you get to placing your constellation as it would actually appear in the night sky, the better it is for your game.)

All of the game’s mechanics are designed around actual science, which is a very cool touch. The star cards include “Did You Know?” facts about each type of star, and the instruction booklet also includes a short guide to stargazing, star classification, and little write-ups for each constellation included in the game. (There’s even a criss-cross-style crossword on the back page!)

Constellations is great fun, requiring strategy, timing, and puzzly observational skills in order to effectively play the game. The educational aspect doesn’t detract from the gameplay at all, and the alternate rules offered in the back (as well as rules for shorter and longer gameplay times) offer an impressive amount of replay value.

All in all, Constellations mixes card games and tile games with ease, and it makes for a fun and mellow gameplay experience.

[Constellations is available from Xtronaut Enterprises and other select retailers.]

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

# PDP Tabletop Tournament: Round 1

The spirit of puzzly competition is alive and well. Not only are we still basking in the afterglow of the ACPT, but the third round of the World Puzzle Federation Puzzle Grand Prix is this weekend! AND registration for this year’s Indie 500 Crossword Tournament is now open!

But that’s not all!

The crew at Penny Dell Puzzles put together a Tabletop Tournament in honor of the upcoming International Tabletop Day on Saturday, April 28.

It’s a 16-person four-week tournament with different games to play every week, and round 1 kicked off this week. (This is actually the third year of the tournament, but this year has more competitors than ever before! Plus, both the 2016 and 2017 winners are competing again this year.)

One of the things I liked about the layout of the tournament is that there are no one-on-one match-ups until the final. Instead of a single-elimination tournament, competitors were slotted into groups of four. Each group of four would play two games, and the two winners (one from each game) would come from each foursome and move on to the next round.

The two games for Round 1? On the Dot and Bananagrams.

Bananagrams is a tile game where, much like Scrabble, players pull letter tiles and try to form small crossword-like grids. But in Bananagrams, you can anagram and rearrange the grid as needed, instead of being locked into using the words you’ve already played. Each player starts with a certain number of tiles, and each time you’ve used all your tiles, you say “Peel!” and each player grabs a new tile. This continues until the tile pile is depleted. Then the first player to complete their grid and say “Bananas!” is the winner, moving on to round 2.

On the Dot is a pattern-matching game. Each player has four clear cards with randomly-placed colored dots on them, and it’s up to the player to arrange all four cards so that the colored dots showing match a given pattern. The first player to match three patterns would move on to the next round.

This two-winner-per-group arrangement is nice, because it offers people with different puzzle/game skills multiple chances to move on, instead of a one-and-done scenario. The two games also allow two different quartets to compete at the same time; as one group plays Bananagrams, the other plays On the Dot. Since we only had our lunch hour to complete round 1 (and 16 competitors crammed into the conference room), time was of the essence.

My group was first to compete in Bananagrams, and as the sole representative for PuzzleNation in the tournament, I was determined to make a strong showing for the brand.

Things started off smoothly. We had 21 tiles to start with, and I quickly formed a strong anchor word with DONKEY. But before long, my puzzly competitors proved their own skills were formidable, as cries of “Peel!” began to ring out, and the tile pile quickly diminished.

Honestly, I don’t think I said “Peel” once. I was always close to completing my grid, but never fast enough. But I seized my chance once the tile pile was empty. I only had a few letters left, and some quick anagramming had me confident. I called “Bananas!” and the judges came over to check my grid.

But alas, I’d made an error. I had originally played the word MAKO in part of the grid, then stole the M and A to form other words, intending to come back and fix that part later. But in my overzealousness, I left KO in the grid, which is not a word, so I was disqualified. Curses!

The player to my left was only about a half-second behind me, and she made no clumsy errors. Her grid was clean, and she was declared the first winner from our group to move on.

I would have to try my luck at On the Dot if I hoped to salvage the day.

We switched games with the other competing foursome at the table, and distributed the clear cards for the next contest: On the Dot.

Although I was disappointed with my performance in Bananagrams, I remained confident going into On the Dot, since I’m fairly strong in pattern-matching and similar forms of puzzling.

The first pattern to match was revealed, and we were off!

On the Dot really consists of two skills: being able to place the cards so the dots are in the right places AND hiding the dots and colors you don’t need. That second part can be more difficult than simply matching the pattern, honestly. If you need a yellow dot in a certain spot and nothing near it, it’s not good enough to have a yellow dot in that spot and a purple one right beside it.

I quickly cracked the first pattern, earning 1 point (and a few groans from the other competitors in my quartet).

I was able to follow that with two more victories, earning three points and a clean sweep. I was officially bound for Round 2. Huzzah!

Several other competitors that day turned in similarly dominating performances in On the Dot, while other rounds were hotly contested and came down to the wire.

The rounds of Bananagrams were a little bit slower, but still interesting. I wasn’t the only competitor who was snake-bit by improper words in Bananagrams that day. NAT disqualified one competitor, while NI disqualified another. (At least, according to the online Scrabble Dictionary we were using as our source. No matter what those knights say.)

One of the games ended in a deadlock, as neither player remaining could complete their grid. Another ended in so contentious a fashion that a tiebreaker game was needed to determine a winner!

Fortunately, the judges were prepared for this possibility, and a quick round of Slapzi was used to settle any such ties/issues.

Slapzi is a quick-reaction game where each player is dealt five double-sided cards. Each card has a unique image on each side — everything from dogs and fire hydrants to ladybugs and lawnmowers. Then a description card is played — “has two syllables” or “made of wood,” for instance — and the first person to play one of their cards that matches the description drops that card from their hand. The first person to empty their hand wins.

Between the three games, eight competitors moved on to round 2 (including last year’s champ), one step closer to a grand prize of a Game Night Gift Pack, complete with snacks!

But that’s not all. The winner would also get a crown and scepter to carry around, in order to better lord their victory over their vanquished foes!

With a prize pack and a shot at becoming Tabletop Tournament Royalty on the line, things just got a lot more interesting.

To be continued…

[You can check in on the next round of the tournament live on Tuesday on our Instagram account!]

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

# PuzzleNation Product Review: Slapzi

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

One of my favorite games that we featured in our New York Toy Fair posts was the dice game Tenzi. The mix of strategy, luck, and quick reaction times made for a perfect storm of chaotic fun.

So, when I found out that the team behind Tenzi also had a card game, Slapzi, I figured it was worth a look.

Slapzi’s concept is simple. There are two kinds of cards: picture cards and clue cards.

You are dealt five picture cards, each one bearing a picture of an object on the front and a picture of a different object on the back. Your goal is get rid of the five cards in your hand.

Each turn, a clue card is flipped over, revealing a quality of certain objects (“Not sold in a hardware store”) or a quality of certain objects’ names (“Two of the same letter together”).

You need to quickly look at your picture cards and determine which one fits the clue card. The first player to slap a picture card down over the clue card successfully gets rid of that card.

The sheer variety of objects on the picture cards — ranging from “hammock” and “teddy bear” to “eagle” and “sandwich” — means that there are plenty of chances to match the clue cards as they come up, but only if your reflexes are fast enough.

The creators also included plenty of variant rules, including ones where you match two clue cards at the same time, ones where you avoid matching the clue cards, and even one where every clue card is in play at the same time, with all players racing to empty their hands first.

Naturally, we couldn’t resist putting a slightly puzzlier spin on the game by playing with only one side of each picture card available to players. This added a level of strategy to the game, since you had to decide which objects might prove most beneficial.

After all, if you don’t have a living creature in your hand, you could find yourself out of luck with many of the clue cards. This restrictive gameplay introduced a more tactical element than some of the other rule variants.

That being said, every version of the game that we tried was a lot of fun. The rush to slap cards down, the excitement as your hand dwindles, and even the occasional pause where someone tries to justify an odd choice (like “teddy bear” for “thinner than a pizza box” by arguing about teddies who have lost their stuffing) made for great moments and plenty of laughs.

If you’re looking for a quick-reaction card game for all ages with loads of variation for more strategic solvers, Slapzi is an excellent choice.

Slapzi is available on Amazon, at various online retailers like The Good Toy Group, and in stores now.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!