It’s Follow-Up Friday: Hunger Games 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 talk about hunger and games! (No, not THOSE hunger games).

This year marked the 30th anniversary of Tetris, one of the all-time favorite video games in history, and I recently posted about the world record Tetris game played on the side of a skyscraper in Philadelphia.

But did you know that Tetris could be good for your health?

In a recent study, visually distracting and engaging games like Tetris were found to reduce the urge to snack by up to 24%!

From the article:

According to a theory called Elaborated Intrusion, our cravings are driven by visual images that often pop into our heads. With this in mind, Plymouth University psychologists Jessica Skorka-Brown, Jackie Andrade, and Jon May wondered if a visually based task, like playing a video game, could decrease the frequency of craving imagery, and with it, the cravings themselves.

Apparently, only three minutes of gameplay was needed to make an impact on food cravings!

As if we needed another reason to love those distinctive little blocks.

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Tile style puzzling!

Tile puzzles and tile games have been with us for centuries, but I daresay they’ve never been as prominent in our game/puzzle culture as they are these days.

Let’s start with the basics: dominoes.

Chinese Dominoes, which are slightly longer than the regular ones pictured above (not to mention black with white pips), can be traced back to writings of the Song Dynasty, nearly a thousand years ago. Dominoes as we know them first appeared in Italy during the 1800s, and some historians theorize they were brought to Europe from China by traveling missionaries.

The most common form of playing dominoes — building long trains or layouts and trying to empty your hand of tiles before your opponent does — also forms the core gameplay of other tile-based games, like the colorful Qwirkle, a game that combines dominoes and Uno by encouraging you to create runs of the same shape or color.

A tile game with similarly murky origins is Mahjong, the Chinese tile game that plays more like a card game than a domino game. (Mahjong is commonly compared to Rummy for that very reason.)

Mahjong has been around for centuries, but there are several different origin stories for the game, one tracing back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), another to the days of Confucius (500 BC). The gameplay itself is about matching tiles (called melds) to build winning hands.

Rummikub, another tile game (but with numbers instead of characters on the tiles) also resembles card games in its gameplay, and anyone who has played Texas Rummy or Go Fish will instantly recognize the gameplay of building runs (1, 2, 3, 4 of the same color, for instance) and sets (three 1s of different colors, for instance).

All of these games employ pattern matching and chain thinking skills that are right in the puzzler’s wheelhouse, but some more modern tile games and puzzles challenge solvers in different ways.

The game Carcassonne is a world-building game wherein players add tiles to an ever-growing landscape, connecting roads and cities while placing followers on the map in order to gain points. Here, the tiles form just one part of a grander strategic puzzle, one encouraging deeper plotting and planning than some other tile games.

The Settlers of Catan also involves tile placement, but as more of a game starter, not as an integral part of the gameplay. Both Fluxx: The Board Game and The Stars Are Right employ tile shifting as a terrific puzzly wrinkle to their gameplay.

Our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles have a puzzle combining crosswords and tiles, Brick by Brick, which encourages the solver to place the “bricks” on the grid and fill in the answers.

And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the most popular electronic tile game in modern memory, Tetris.

Tetris — which turns 30 this year! — requires quick thinking, good spatial recognition, and an ability to plan ahead (especially for those elusive four-block pieces that can eliminate four rows at once!). There are plenty of puzzles that employ similar tiles — Blokus, tangrams, and pentominoes come to mind — but none that have engendered the loyalty of Tetris.

Last but not least, there are the sliding-tile puzzles. These puzzles take all the challenge of tile placement games like Dominoes and add a further complication: the tiles are locked into a frame, so you can only move one tile at a time.

Frequently called the Fifteen Puzzle because the goal is to shift all 15 numbered tiles until they read out in ascending order, sliding-tile puzzles are chain solving at its best. Whether you’re building a pattern or forming a picture (or even helping a car escape a traffic jam, as in ThinkFun’s Rush Hour sliding-tile game), you’re participating in a long history of tile-based puzzling that has spanned the centuries.

Heck, even the Rubik’s Cube is really a sliding-tile game played along six sides at once!

[Be sure to tune in on Thursday, when I explore tile-based word games like Scrabble!]

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A milestone worth celebrating.

It was #5 on G4’s Top 100 Video Games of All-Time countdown, and has been consistently ranked as one of the top games of all-time by IGN, EGM, and gamers of all ages.

It’s Tetris, and it’s turning 29 this week. Yes, Alexey Pajitnov’s incredibly addictive puzzle game baby is ready to start freaking out about the future because it’s almost 30.

Tetris combines the quick reaction time and coolness under pressure of video games with several aspects of puzzlesolving to create a marvelous puzzle game experience.

Firstly, you have the improvisation and adaptability necessary for other tile-placement puzzle games like Scrabble (or Words with Friends for the app-savvy in the audience). But utilizing pieces very similar to those in a pentominoes puzzle — as I discussed a few weeks ago — you also have a spatial puzzle aspect reminiscent of a Brick by Brick.

(FYI, here’s a sample puzzle, provided by our pals at pennydellpuzzles.com.)

From scientific studies linking gameplay with lessened post-traumatic stress to utterly inspired pranks turning buildings into playable surfaces, Tetris has left an indelible mark on both puzzle culture and pop culture. (Plus, I suspect it’s made us all a little better at packing up the car for long trips.)

Happy Birthday, Tetris.

Check this out, mate.

DIY puzzling is only limited by your imagination and inventiveness. After all, pencil and paper is all you need for most improvised puzzle games (hangman comes to mind, for instance).

But if you require a bit more inspiration for some down-home puzzling, look no further than a chess or checkerboard.

I’ve written about knight’s tours before, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to chess-based puzzles and brain-teasers.

You could challenge yourself with an Eight Queens puzzle. It sounds easy but it’s deceptively difficult. Place eight queens on a chessboard so that no queen is attacking (or capable of attacking) another.

This means that no queen shares a row, column, or diagonal with another queen.

There are only 12 distinct solutions, though each one can be rotated 90, 180, and 270 degrees, as well as mirrored on the board, leading to a much larger number of acceptable solutions. Numerous variations on this theme are available to test your wits and spacial reasoning, including placing 32 knights on the board without conflict, or nine queens and a pawn.

If that’s not your cup of tea, and you’ve got paper and scissors handy, you could whip up a quick game of pentominoes.

A pentominoes game consists of placing all of the above pieces into a given space without overlapping. You can play this on your own as a mental challenge, or add a bit of competition and strategy to it by alternating turns with other players and seeing who is the last person to place a piece on the board.

While you can use any size square or rectangle for your game board, a chessboard works well, especially since you can fit every piece on the board (leaving only a 2×2 space of uncovered squares). By setting or moving around this 2×2 space, you’ve instantly created a new challenge for yourself.

Personally, I’ve found them to be excellent palate cleansers after a few mentally-exhausting rounds of chess (though there are always variants on the game itself, like Pardu Ponnapalli’s TrimChess (image 2) and Jose Raul Capablanca’s expanded chess, if you’re looking for fresh ways to play.)

In any case, these are wonderful challenges with a minimum of set-up time, perfect for puzzlers looking for a new challenge without a lot of fuss. I hope you enjoy.