Prose, Poetry, and Puzzles: Multiple Ways to Look at the Same Text!

Puzzle fans are used to searching for multiple avenues of entry when it comes to solving.

Crosswords have the across and down clues. Some people go straight for the pop culture clues, while others seek out fill-in-the-blank clues. Diagramless crosswords add an additional challenge by removing the black squares and set numbers that guide you.

Fill-Ins and Word Seeks have all sorts of entries you can start hunting through the grid for. Logic problems have several clues you can use to whittle down possibilities and utilize the information you have.

Heck, Rubik’s solvers are positively awash in potential paths to success.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

Fans of more complicated jigsaw puzzles are also familiar with this concept. The standard approach is to find the edges and work your way in, but I know plenty of solvers who either sort by color or build from the middle around recognizable figures in the image.

Of course, jigsaw puzzle companies know this and they abandon the traditional rules of jigsaw puzzles, creating some diabolical ways to force you to change your tactics and find new ways in. There are jigsaw puzzles with no edge pieces (meaning no flat edges), so-called “infinite” puzzles like the one pictured above, and brain-teaser jigsaws where the pieces can be assembled in many different ways, but there’s only one correct solution.

And as it turns out, there are a few historical items that prove this sort of multi-approach thinking isn’t limited to puzzles.

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[Image courtesy of This Is Colossal.]

Say hello to a marvelous variation on the dos-à-dos book concept that resides in the National Library of Sweden.

Normally, dos-à-dos books (or back-to-back) books are just what they sound like: two books bound together at the spine. But this religious text is six books in one. Depending on which clasps you have open and shut, you can read this book six different ways.

Each book is a devotional text printed in Germany during the 16th century — including Der Kleine Katechismus by Martin Luther — and it’s a masterwork of craftsmanship, skill, and design. It boggles my mind just looking at it.

And yet, a single book with six ways to read it seems like a drop in the bucket when you compare it to a poem that can be read thousands of different ways.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

This is Star Gauge, also known as Xuanji Tu (Picture of the Turning Sphere). It is a palindrome poem by Su Hui, a 4th-century female Chinese poet whose most famous creation still amazes to this day.

Written in the form of a 29 x 29 grid of characters, Xuanji Tu can be read forward or backwards, horizontally or vertically or diagonally, or organized by its color-coded grids.

As you might have guessed, it’s called a palindrome poem because it can be read backwards or forwards, though some scholars have estimated more than 2,800 different rhyming poems can be produced by reading it different ways.

Most of her other works have been lost to history, but this one piece alone leaves an incredible legacy.

Whether it’s a six-fold book, a puzzle with an infinite number of arrangements, or a poem with thousands of different interpretations, it’s amazing what you can create with a puzzly mindset and the insight to approach things from a unique perspective.


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A Visual Puzzle Awaits You in a Roman Palace!

palazzo spada 2

Rome is home to many architectural wonders, and one could easily spend days wandering the city and still miss many of the artistic delights and design flourishes that make it a tourist destination and virtual gallery of creative energy.

But did you know there’s a puzzly secret lurking in one of the palaces along Piazza di Capo Ferro?

Indeed, Palazzo Spada is not only home to the Galleria Spada — a large art collection that includes works by Titian, Rubens, Caravaggio, and others — but it also hosts a gorgeous optical illusion that doubles as an architectural marvel.

palazzo spada 3

This corridor is the work of Francesco Borromini, an Italian architect who helped bring the Roman Baroque architectural style to prominence. He was hired by Cardinal Bernardino, who had purchased the palace and immediately began redecorating and redesigning it with the help of Borromini.

In the courtyard of the Palazzo, you will find this corridor, leading to a statue of Mars in a skylit garden area. The corridor appears to be more than 60 feet long.

But in reality, much of the corridor is an optical illusion. It’s less than half that size, measuring just 24 feet long.

Oh, and that marvelous statue awaiting you in daylight at the end of your journey, the kind you see in art galleries where you’re often left staring up at them in awe?

It’s only 2 feet tall.

A combination of careful column placement, a rising floor, and a descending ceiling create the illusion of a much larger space. And yet, even when you know the illusion is there, it’s startling to see someone towering over that statue.

It’s amazing what a mastery of puzzly elements like perspective and space can create, isn’t it?


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A Shift in Puzzly Perspective

toyfair44

I’ve had 3-D puzzling on the brain for a few days now, after a conversation about video games with a well-informed friend of mine.

What do I mean when I say 3-D puzzling? Well, I don’t just mean a puzzle that exists in three dimensions. I mean a puzzle where the solving experience requires all three dimensions.

Think about your average maze or a jigsaw puzzle. Although they’re three-dimensional objects, the solving is two-dimensional. Yes, there are certainly variations on these themes, like maze cubes where you navigate a marble from one place to another, or 3-D jigsaw puzzles that allow you to reconstruct famous landmarks. But these still rely heavily on two-dimensional solving.

Compare that with the iconic puzzle video game Portal, for instance. Portal requires you to accomplish different tasks, and you can only do so with your portal gun, a device that allows you to connect two different locations on the map.

[Image courtesy of Game Informer.]

That requires a complete realignment of your perspective, because you can walk in a straight line through one portal and emerge above, below, or at a 90-degree angle from where you started. This isn’t two-dimensional thinking anymore.

Between 3-D printing techniques and the constantly evolving engines behind video game systems, we’re seeing more and more examples of three-dimensional thinking in puzzles, and I’m perpetually amazed by what creators and designers come up with.

Check out this video of gameplay from the new puzzle game Etherborn:

Your character navigates elaborate three-dimensional landscapes, and gravity is wholly dependent on how your character is oriented at the moment. So you need to be clever enough to use the landscape in order to move your character in very unorthodox ways.

It’s fascinating, a step beyond some of the puzzles seen in previous games like Portal and Fez. (In those games, gravity still only worked in one direction, whereas Etherborn breaks even that fundamental baseline.)

I think this sort of puzzling appeals to me so much because the change in perspective that comes from solving in an additional dimension completely rewrites the rules we thought we knew.

Imagine for a second that you’re inside a corn maze. Now think about the paper mazes you’ve solved. See the difference? In the first scenario, you’re beholden to the meager information you get from following each path, whereas in the second, you can plan a route from above because you have much more information. You can see dead ends and avoid them.

The three-dimensional scenario is far more challenging than the 2-D solving you’re doing with the paper maze.

ThinkFun managed a similar feat with Gravity Maze, a puzzle game that required you to move a marble from the starting cube to the ending cube. The main challenge was that you had to build the path with only the given materials, and then just drop the marble in. All the puzzling happened at the beginning, and then you became a bystander as the marble traversed the solution you built.

This isn’t just plotting a path like in a normal maze, it was understanding a chain of events you were setting in motion, like cause and effect. It’s like building a simple Rube Goldberg machine and watching it go.

But whether you’re manipulating portals, shifting perspectives, dropping marbles, or solving corn mazes, you’re pushing your puzzly skills into new dimensions. And that’s just the puzzles we have now. Imagine what comes next.


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The Floor Is Not to Be Trusted.

We love optical illusions here at PuzzleNation Blog. They’re puzzles for the eye, mind-bending ways that our senses can be tricked by clever manipulators of color, angle, and perspective.

And if you’re looking for visual trickery in flooring, look no further than the tile wizards at Casa Ceramica, a UK flooring manufacturer that decided to kill two birds with one stone. (Well, more like many tiles than one stone, but I digress.)

Supposedly, they had a problem with people running down the hallway to their store, and wanted to dissuade such shenanigans.

So they created an optical illusion to make it look like the floor was more treacherous than it really is. That way, ne’er-do-wells would be forced to slow down for their own “safety.”

And not only are they making their place safer, but they’re showing off their impressive skills while they do so! It’s a win-win.

What do you think, fellow puzzlers? Will it work? Or is it just a clever marketing scheme to draw attention to their topnotch tile skills?

Although I firmly believe it’s just an ingenious way to get the word out about their company, they’re not wrong in thinking that this sort of thing could dissuade rambunctious types. Other designers and stores have employed similar trickery in the past.

I mean, if you were trying to get across this floor, would you risk running?

I think not.


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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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