Puzzles in Pop Culture: NCIS: New Orleans

Last week, a murder investigation turned into a puzzly treasure hunt for a group of NCIS investigators, a team who investigates criminal cases involving members of the military. So join us as we rundown the events of “Treasure Hunt,” episode 17 of season 4 of NCIS: New Orleans.

The episode opens during a pirate-themed festival, as two women search for the secret entrance to an exclusive costume party. Unfortunately, instead of drunken revelry, they stumble upon a dead body, strung up inside a warehouse on the waterfront.

The NCIS team soon arrives, and the coroner identifies the victim as an oceanographer, Lt. Commander Elaine Dodd. Dodd was beaten before her death, and her arm was partially skinned, perhaps as part of an interrogation.

Dodd’s oceanographic work centered around Grande Isle, the former stomping grounds of the infamous pirate Jean LaFitte. The team makes contact with Dodd’s father, Tom, a former Green Beret. He expected her to show up at his house in Florida after an excited phone call, but she never arrived. This leads the team to believe that Dodd’s death had something to do with a treasure hunt, one of the things she and her father bonded over.

Forensic analysis reveals that her arm was skinned to remove a tattoo, but they’re able to reconstruct the image: a simple compass and some coordinates. These confirm the treasure hunt theory: Dodd had apparently made some progress in locating the lost Napoleon Fleur de Lis, a jewel-encrusted emblem stolen by Jean LaFitte and hidden away.

Following the coordinates to a church, Special Agent Pride and lab tech Sebastian search the area, finding their way upstairs to a lofted storage area. But someone has beaten them to the punch, opening fire and sending the agents scurrying for cover.

Pride chases the two suspects, but they get away, and when he doubles back to the loft, he finds Sebastian examining a statue stored in the church attic. Once the statue is removed from its pedestal, a secret compartment opens, revealing a wooden puzzle book wrapped in cloth.

The puzzle book is marked with a fleur de lis and bears an inscription of Jean LaFitte’s signature. The investigation of Dodd’s murder has officially become a treasure hunt.

Back at the field office, Agent Gregorio would prefer to use a knife to crack open the book, but Sebastian insists on solving the cipher to open the book, as some puzzle books include a vial of acid inside that would destroy the book if tampered with.

While he works on the puzzle book, cameras outside the church help the agents ID one of the suspects, a mercenary for hire. Dodd’s father Tom enters the office, hoping for progress, and recognizes the suspect. He points the agents toward the mercenary’s usual employer, a specialist in deep-sea diving and sunken galleons. Dodd’s father offers to arrange a meeting, and the team is wary, but takes him up on his offer.

Meanwhile, Sebastian and Gregorio check Dodd’s phone records and find several calls to a local professor, Michelle Faucheux, an expert in LaFitte and pirate history, who they believe helped Elaine find the coordinates. But when they arrive at her home, it has been ransacked, the professor locked in a closet. After they release her and calm her down, she confirms she’d been talking to Elaine.

Tom makes good on his word and lures his contact to a bar with the agents in tow. But the man, Walton, claims he hasn’t worked with either of the suspects in months. He warns Tom and the team away from the treasure hunt, clearly spooked by the ruthlessness he’s observed.

Sebastian and Gregorio bring Michelle back to the office, and she’s stoked to see the puzzle book. The cover of the puzzle book is encrypted, and they have to turn a dial in order to unlock it. But they need a key word to help solve the cipher. After trying out various words, they focus on LaFitte’s brother, Pierre — the most likely person to be hunting for LaFitte’s treasure. This leads them to try the word “Cabildo,” the jail in which Pierre had been incarcerated.

Using that as the key word — and a Vigenere cipher to crack the code — leads them to the answer “fleur de lis”, and they unlock the puzzle book’s cover. The iris in the center opens, revealing a latch, and they open the puzzle book.

On the left page is a clock puzzle, and on the right is a map with smaller code dials beneath it, along with a plate reading BLF6.

Agent Pride calls them, informing Gregorio that the two suspects are camped out right down the street from the office. He and the team are en route, but they expect trouble soon.

Oddly enough, the suspects simply hang back and wait as the team reunites. The agents suspect the mercenaries are waiting for the team to lead them to the fleur. So the team focuses on the riddle, hoping for a chance to gather more info on whomever is bankrolling the gun-toting baddies.

The riddle “Move as the clock” offers a hint for how to find which code letters to enter, but they’re not sure where to start. Pride theorizes that BLF6 could point toward Barthelemy Lafon, an architect and city planner from the 1700s who also palled around with the LaFitte brothers. He is buried in a local cemetery, in a crypt located at F6 on the map.

Gregorio, Sebastian, and Michelle head to the crypt while Agents Percy and LaSalle keep their eyes on the suspects, getting close enough to clone their phones and gain access to their calls and text messages. Pride and Dodd’s father are back at the field office, trying to figure out who would literally kill to have the artifact.

The puzzle book trio spot an engraved fleur de lis over the letter L in “Lafon”. They try “moving as the clock” by moving clockwise to the next crypt. Another fleur de lis over another crypt engraving gives them the final letter they need, unlocking a compartment in the book and revealing both the suspected acid vial and a piece of paper. It’s a partial map with another riddle written in French. Michelle quickly translates it as “enter this last crypt to find the fleur de lis” and runs off.

At this point, all of the viewers become very suspicious of Michelle. I mean, come on, the riddle was four lines long, and given how tough the puzzle book had been to crack thus far, this seemed too easy.

Meanwhile, the suspects leave after receiving a text that the fleur is NOT in the cemetery. As you might have suspected, Michelle texted the suspects and has been behind everything the whole time. But the viewers are clearly one-up on the agents, who blindly follow Michelle to another crypt, where Michelle traps them inside and runs off.

We get some unnecessary backstory on Michelle involving a dead brother and being scammed out of treasure by the Spanish government, but who cares, what about the treasure hunt?

Pride and Tom go after Michelle while Percy and LaSalle hunts for the easily bamboozled agents, who are trapped in the crypt and running out of air. Pride and Tom head out to Fort Macomb, a repurposed, then abandoned, base which was formerly known as Chef Menteur. (It’s unclear whether they solved the map clue that Sebastian photographed and sent them before being trapped or if they just followed the hired goons.)

But nonetheless, they’re en route to the treasure while Gregorio and Sebastian set a fire inside the crypt, hoping the smoke will escape and lead their fellow agents to them before they suffocate. Their plan works, and they’re rescued.

At Fort Macomb, Pride orders Tom to stay with the car, and heads into the fort, getting the drop on Michelle. Unfortunately, her goons capture Tom, and Pride loses the standoff. In classic villain fashion, Michelle has Pride dig up the treasure for her.

At her moment of triumph, Tom puts his Green Beret training to work, taking out one of the hired thugs as Pride dispatches the other. Since we’re running on full cliche at this point, Tom has a chance to kill the woman who killed his daughter, but spares her after a speech from Pride. The better man and all that.

The episode closes with the team admiring the bejeweled source of everyone’s consternation. Tom decides to donate the fleur to the city, because that’s what his daughter would have done. Nice closer.

All in all, I was a little underwhelmed by the episode, because the plotline twists failed to keep up the same interest level that the treasure hunt did. Once they were done with the puzzle book, the cliches rapidly took over.

Who stops in the middle of a treasure hunt to tattoo a clue on themselves? Why wasn’t the tattoo artist a suspect? That would have been a nice touch. Also, Michelle’s transparent villainy wasn’t nearly as fun as her geeky schoolgirl excitement at cracking puzzles alongside Sebastian. That was easily the show’s highlight.

I do want to give a special shout-out to the Codex Silenda team, who created the specially weathered-looking puzzle book for the episode. I wrote about them back in August of 2016 when their wildly-successful Kickstarter campaign originally closed. They’ve been busy fulfilling orders for Kickstarter backers ever since, and they were clearly excited to see one of their puzzle books on a national stage like this.

What’s more amazing is that the puzzle book cracked by the NCIS team in this episode was only a few pages deep. The full Codex Silenda is much larger and more intricate! No doubt the real Jean LaFitte would’ve splashed out for the complete Codex in order to bamboozle potential treasure hunters.

Still, it’s always nice to see crime shows explore the possibilities that puzzles offer. Splicing up the occasional murder with a puzzle (or better yet, a treasure hunt) is a pleasant change of pace for the procedural genre. Nicely done, NCIS: NO.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Brad Hough’s The Maze

Mazes are nothing new to even the most casual solver. Whether it’s a puzzle collection, a place mat at a chain restaurant, or a coloring book loaded with time-filling activities, we’ve all traced a path through a maze with pencil, crayon, or marker.

But in most paper-and-pencil mazes, we look down on the map from above, so we have the advantage of perspective, the ability to spot dead-ends ahead of time, the opportunity to make wiser choices with more information.

As anyone who has ever tackled a corn maze will tell you, maze navigation is far more challenging when you’re inside the puzzle itself, rather than observing it from a bird’s-eye view.

And that’s what makes Brad Hough’s The Maze series of puzzle books something different and far more challenging: they’re mazes designed from the first person perspective. You must imagine yourself walking through this maze, selecting each turn and hoping it will lead you to the promised land.

It’s a marvelous concept, offered in a variety of difficulty levels according to the size of the maze:

  • Easy is a grid of 5 rooms by 5 rooms.
  • Normal is a grid of 7×7.
  • Moderate is 9×9, Challenging is 12×12, and Intense is 15×15.

As you make your choices, you’ll flip to different pages in the book, just as you would in a Choose Your Own Adventure-style story, maneuvering your way to either a dead-end (forcing you to turn back) or your desired exit.

But those are the only decisions you’ll make. There are no monsters to slay or traps to navigate, as there are in labyrinths in Dungeons & Dragons. There are no moral conundrums to unravel, as in Choose Your Own Adventure books. There is simply The Maze… and you. This is bare bones storytelling designed as both a pure puzzle-solving experience and as a blank skeleton upon which you can built your own story.

There are no tricks or endless loops to wander into. This is a fair challenge meant to be unraveled by crafty minds with excellent spacial skills.

Although The Maze lacks the frills of many other labyrinth-style puzzles, it does a marvelous job of portraying the sort of blindness and trepidation that comes with actually residing within a maze, knowing that each choice is more crucial the farther you venture forth.

The Maze (in various sizes) is available from Amazon and other online retailers.


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A different way to puzzle: the Norway way!

Puzzles are a truly global phenomenon, and it’s always fun to explore how other countries tackle classic puzzle styles and designs.

In the past, we’ve looked at German puzzle magazines, Spanish puzzle magazines, Sudoku books in Russian, French, and Japan, and we’ve even embarked on a global tour of Logic Art puzzles from all over.

In today’s post, we add Norway to the list as we check out a Norwegian puzzle book. (Thank you to friend of the blog Amy Roth for sharing this gem with us!)

As you can see, in many European-style crosswords (including these), the clues are placed right into the grid itself, rather than being offset and gathered in one place. Couple this with the intriguing arrow paths roaming throughout the grids, and you’ve got some tight, crafty construction.

But crosswords aren’t the only kind of puzzle to get the Norwegian treatment. Here, a Quotagram and a Bull’s-Eye Spiral take a trip through the Google Translator and come out the other side ready to be solved.

Thankfully, some puzzles remain universally solvable no matter what language you’re in. A Framework-style Fill-in and a Word Search with Scandinavian origins can both be cracked with relative ease.

And there you have it! This Norwegian puzzle book shows not only the endless variations in puzzle design and construction across countries, but surprising similarities as well.

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into the world of foreign puzzle books! If you’d like to see more posts like this, let us know in the comments section below!


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Kickstarter Roundup!

I’ve covered a lot of puzzle-centric Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns in the blog, because I think it’s fascinating how many puzzle variants there are, and how many puzzle-loving creators are enthusiastically seizing the opportunity to add their own delightful gaming and puzzling twists to the market.

In previous posts, we’ve seen Baffledazzle‘s jigsaws with a twist, Completely Puzzled‘s community-building outreach, and 64 Oz. Games‘ campaign to adapt popular board games and card games for vision-impaired players. Some very creative and worthwhile projects have been realized with the help of crowdfunding.

Heck, several of the games and puzzles showcased at last month’s New York Toy Fair were brought to life thanks to crowdfunding!

So here are a few more projects that I think are worth your time.

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The Maze is a series of Choose Your Own Adventure-style books with a curious puzzly twist: they place the reader inside a labyrinth and challenge you to read through the book and escape!

It’s an extended spacial-awareness puzzle where you need to visualize where you are in the maze at all times, overcoming obstacles and pitting your memory against the labyrinth itself.

A third of the way to its funding goal, The Maze envisions a series of mazes of varying difficulties for readers to tackle. It’s an intriguing take on a classic puzzle genre.

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For a more traditional puzzle product, there’s The Grid. This multi-colored visual delight challenges players to place all of their tile pieces on the board before their opponents, mixing luck and strategy in a Qwirkle-style battle.

The Grid combines clever tile design with visually arresting gameplay, and the campaign has already reached its initial funding goal, meaning that additional donors are helping to refine the game with higher quality pieces and other add-ons.

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From the elegant to the gloriously silly, our next campaign is Munchkin Shakespeare.

This latest edition of Munchkin from the team from Steve Jackson Games adds a literary touch to its famous line of puzzly card-battle games, as players do their best to team up, betray each other, and run amok in the hopes of gaining loot and escaping combat intact.

The bard himself and characters from his most famous plays are unleashed in cartoon form, ready to wreak havoc in all sorts of creative ways, wielded by cunning players and puzzlers with a penchant for sword-swinging nonsense in iambic pentameter.

This is another campaign where the initial funding goal has already been reached, and with only a day or two left in the campaign, they’re pushing towards some exciting stretch goals.

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Our last campaign combines logic and deduction with mechanical puzzles, as the crew from ThinkFun launches their very first Kickstarter to bring Roller Coaster Challenge to life!

In the spirit of Gravity Maze and Laser Maze Jr., Roller Coaster Challenge presents players with some of the pieces of a puzzle and tasks them with completing a working model with their remaining pieces. This time around, you’re building a roller coaster track, with all the soaring loop-de-loops and plunging slides you’d expect from the theme park attraction.

With expansions including Kickstarter-exclusive roller coaster cars and additional pieces to create even taller, more complex models, this one could be a winner. Will you be able to complete the numerous twisting, turning variations, or will the perfect roller coaster track elude you?

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But before I go, I want to revisit a previous Kickstarter success story that we’ve covered in the past: The Maze of Games.

Mike Selinker’s interactive puzzle novel has been on the market for a few years now, and as far as he knows, no one has conquered the final maze in the book.

And to give solvers a better chance at completing the book, the diabolical puzzlesmith has created The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, a tie-in story with hints for cracking the most diabolical puzzly labyrinth that giant tome has to offer.

It’s only available for a short time, so if you’re hoping to one day best The Maze of Games, be sure to snag a copy!

And let us know if any of these puzzly Kickstarters piqued your interest! With so many worthy projects and products in the pipeline, hopefully one of them catches your eye and receives your support!


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Do you accept the Cryptiq challenge?

Normally, this would be a Follow-Up Friday post. But since Follow-Up Friday is all about continuing or expanding upon previous topics we’ve covered, and I suspect today’s post will be something we’ll return to in the future, it gets the nod this week.

I’ve written about puzzle contests plenty of times in the past, whether they’re single crosswords to solve or elaborate multi-step puzzle suites to unravel. Constructors are constantly innovating, and we’ve reached a point where you can tackle amazing puzzly challenges without even leaving your favorite chair.

So if you’re looking for a diabolical new puzzle series you can sink your teeth into from the comfort of your own home, Cryptiq fits the bill nicely.

Cryptiq is a collection of puzzles — available both on their website and in book form — designed to test your puzzly mettle. There are dozens of logic, deduction, and visual puzzles involved, and the designers have clearly set a very high bar for solvers.

From the Cryptiq website:

To win the game you must solve all the puzzles on the given pages on http://www.cryptiq.com or in the book Cryptiq. Once you solve the puzzles you will be left with a code that has 6 values. Be the first to enter these 6 values, in the correct order, on the code input page and you will be moved forward to the verification step. The game can only be won through skill.

After you have entered the correct code, you will be prompted to supply a written solution showing that your solve of the puzzles was not by chance. Once your solve is verified as skill, you will be declared the winner and receive the prize.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a puzzle contest that requires written explanation of the solve in order to prove your skills, but when you consider that the winning purse is $5,000 — and there’s a chance that prize could increase — the team at Cryptiq wants to be sure that someone EARNS that prize, rather than getting lucky.

[Kind of Cunning, one of Cryptiq’s many mind-bending obstacles.]

Best of all? There is no purchase necessary to enter or to win the game. Everything you need to play is right there online. (The book version costs $20, but has all the same information as the website.)

So, fellow friends and PuzzleNationers, will you accept the Cryptiq challenge? Let me know if you do! I’d love to hear about it!


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PuzzleNation 2016 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Age

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2015 Holiday Gift Guide!

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We’re so excited to be bringing you our biggest ever gift guide! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down by age group, so we’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for puzzlers of any age on your list!


For Ages 6 and Up

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Qwirkle (MindWare, board game)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train Dominoes, Qwirkle is all about placing your tiles to maximize points and minimize helping your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($34.99)


For Ages 7 and Up

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Collins Little Book of Bananagrams (puzzle book)

Are you a Bananagrams fan who’s looking for something to give you an edge? The Collins Little Book of Bananagrams might be just what you need! With a list of puzzle words you might not otherwise think of, suggestions for other games to play with Bananagrams tiles, and techniques for speeding up your gameplay, you’re sure to be Top Banana with this handy guide in your pocket. ($9.95)


For Ages 8 and Up

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Clue Master, Circuit Maze, and Back Spin (ThinkFun, puzzle games)

ThinkFun meshes learning and gameplay with three logic games ready to challenge kids and adults alike. Whether it’s the Rubik’s-inspired twisty-turny solve of Back Spin ($14.99), the Sudoku-style deduction of Clue Master ($12.99), or the electrical grid-building challenge of Circuit Maze ($29.99), young minds and older minds will soon be in fighting trim for puzzling!

[Check out our full product reviews of Back Spin by clicking here, Clue Master by clicking here, and Circuit Maze by clicking here!]

Pyramid Arcade (Looney Labs, board game)

With 22 different games in one box, Pyramid Arcade takes the Looney pyramid series above and beyond anything you’ve seen before. Challenge yourself or other players with strategy games, Tic-Tac-Toe-style competitions, stacking challenges, and more! ($77)

[Review coming soon!]

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Strata Sphere (Family Games America, puzzle game)

Can you crack the three-dimensional challenge of Strata Sphere? First you place each of the sliding bars into the gridwork, then you try to free all of your spheres before your opponent can do the same! A terrific, mind-bending puzzle unlike anything else! ($30.97)

[Check out our full product review of Strata Sphere by clicking here!]

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Firefly Fluxx (Looney Labs, card game)

The purveyors of sweet-tooth strategy game Just Desserts and quick-draw pattern-matching game Loonacy return to their flagship brand with one of the most beloved sci-fi shows in recent memory with Firefly Fluxx. Tackle the ever-changing rules in the hopes of finding the two cards you need for victory, all while enjoying inside jokes and references to this one-season wonder of a TV show! ($20)

[Check out our full product review of Firefly Fluxx by clicking here!]

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Timeline (Asmodee Games, card game)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before OR after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99)

AnimaCrostics series (Cynthia Morris, puzzle book)

These collections of easy, animal-themed puzzles for kids and new acrostic solvers are perfect to introduce a different style of puzzling to puzzlers who might only know crosswords, word seeks, and the like. With vocabulary and topics geared for younger readers, AnimaCrostics are a terrific source of puzzle fun for family solving! ($9.95)

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Quarto (Gigamic Games, board game)

Four-in-a-row puzzle games are a staple of the genre, but rarely are they as beautiful or as diabolically simple as Quarto. With blocks of different shapes, sizes, and colors to choose from, you can attack the game from any angle. But watch out, or a crafty opponent just might beat you at your own game! ($34.99)

[Check out our full product review of Quarto by clicking here!]

Scrimish (Nexci, card game)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

tsuro

Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games, board game)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($29.99)

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Walk-By Scrabble Board, Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer, board games)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($29.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($149.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

slideways

Slideways (R&R Games, board game)

Take Connect Four-style puzzling to the next level with Slideways! Not only can you shift pieces to the side here, but you can flip your opponent’s moves to your own color! It’s a race to four-in-a-row in this easily-portable game that will have you thinking five steps ahead! ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of Slideways by clicking here!]

Oh My Gods! (Gameworthy Labs, card game)

Take Clue to the next level with Oh My Gods! as you investigate a crime on Mount Olympus! Play cards to reveal information or increase your chances for success, but please, try not to tick off the gods! ($24.98)

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The Puzzling World of Winston Breen (Eric Berlin, puzzle novel)

Join intrepid young puzzler Winston in unraveling an unexpected mystery in The Puzzling World of Winston Breen! Crack puzzles alongside him as he tries to uncover who’s behind a hometown puzzle hunt that’s gone unsolved for 25 years! And if you enjoy this one, there are two follow-up books to keep you engaged and solving! ($7.99)

[Check out our review of The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by clicking here!]


For Ages 9 and Up

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Puzzle Your Kids (Eric Berlin, subscription puzzles)

A puzzle subscription designed specifically for children, Puzzle Your Kids is the brainchild of constructor and author Eric Berlin, and guarantees two puzzles a week emailed right to you, designed with younger solvers in mind! ($18 for 3 months, $32 for 6 months, $60 for 1 year)


For Ages 10-12 and Up

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games, board game)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

[Review coming soon!]

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LEGO Ideas: Maze (LEGO, puzzle game)

Combine the classic puzzly hand-eye coordination of a wooden labyrinth with everyone’s favorite building toys, and you’ve got the Lego Ideas: Maze. Customizable with all sorts of different maze layouts and obstacles, this one is both fun to build and fun to solve! ($69.99)

[Check out our full product review of LEGO Ideas: Maze by clicking here!]

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Noueni (263 Games, card game)

You’ll need all of your strategy and cunning to win Noueni, a game of connections, overlaps, and careful card placement. Can you claim more territory than your opponents, or will they outthink you and steal your spotlight at a key moment? ($12.99)

[Check out our full product review of Noueni by clicking here!]

Kill Doctor Lucky: Deluxe 19.5th Anniversary Edition (Cheapass Games, board game)

You might be skilled at unearthing murderers in games like Clue, but how are you at committing them? In Kill Doctor Lucky, your only goal is to dispatch the fortuitous fellow without being seen by anyone! Strategy and timing are key in this wickedly enjoyable game. ($40)

[Check out our full product review of Kill Doctor Lucky by clicking here!]

Secret Agent Training Manual (Elizabeth Singer Hunt, puzzle book)

Looking for a terrific introductory guide to codebreaking and encryption for younger solvers? Check out the Secret Agent Training Manual, covering anagrams, ciphers, and other forms of encryption, complete with codes for readers to crack themselves! ($6.99)

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Mad Libs: The Game (Looney Labs, party game)

Looking for a family-friendly alternative to Cards Against Humanity? Something that traffics in silliness instead of shock value? Mad Libs: The Game has got you covered. Draw cards to fill in the blanks and craft hilarious sentences to amuse one and all! ($20)

[Check out our full product review of Mad Libs: The Game by clicking here!]

Get Lucky (Cheapass Games, card game)

At a very peculiar dinner party, everyone is trying to kill Doctor Lucky, but can you outwit your opponents and Get Lucky first? Practice makes perfect in this game of persistence where every murder attempt increases your chances of knocking off the most desirable target in all of gaming! ($17)

[Check out our full product review of Get Lucky by clicking here!]

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Castellan (Steve Jackson Games, board game)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review of Castellan by clicking here!]

Movie Buff (Golden Bell Entertainment, party game)

How well do you know your movies, actors, characters, and famous quotes? Movie Buff will put your knowledge to the test, but instead of answering questions, you’re trying to make connections between films! It’s a fast-paced version of Six Degrees of Separation, but in a fun and frantic card game! ($24.95)

Schrodinger’s Cats (9th Level Games, card game)

In this wagering game based on the famous scientific thought experiment, you have to figure out how many of Schrodinger’s Cats survived the experiment! And just like in poker, you can share some information while you wager in the hopes of improving your chances of success! With shameless card puns and opportunities for bluffing, this isn’t your usual card game! ($19.22)

[Check out our full product review of Schrodinger’s Cats by clicking here!]

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Puzzometry (jigsaw puzzle)

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available as Puzzometry ($16), Puzzometry Jr. ($11), and Puzzometry Squares ($16), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

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The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys, card game)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]


For Ages 13-14 and Up

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The Maze of Games (Mike Selinker, puzzle book)

And we simply have to mention one of the most innovative puzzle books in recent memory, the interactive puzzle novel The Maze of Games! Now going into its second edition, this delightfully challenging read allows solvers to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of puzzles, this is a one-of-a-kind solving experience. Factor in the Wil Wheaton-read audiobook and Austin Wintory’s soundtrack, and you have a real winner here. ($49.95)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

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Linkee (Bananagrams/Big Potato Games, trivia games)

Something connects a series for four trivia questions. Can you figure out what? If you can, Linkee is right up your alley. This trivia game is about more than answering questions, challenging players to make associative connections before the other trivia buffs in the room can! ($22.49)

[Check out our full product review of Linkee by clicking here!]

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Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze, party game)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]

Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout (Bananagrams/Big Potato Games, trivia game)

Put your knowledge to the test in Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout as two teams compete to name more entries on a Family Feud-style list. If you do, you win a drink! Collect five different drinks, and you win! A game of trivia and opportunity perfect for a group setting! ($19.99)

[Check out our full product review of Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout by clicking here!]

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Tavern Puzzles (jigsaw puzzles)

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to free your heart from the tangled pieces of Heart’s Desire or remove the ring from the Iron Maiden, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($22)


For Ages 18 and Up

Most puzzle books would probably fall in the Age 9-10 and Up range, but oftentimes, the cluing is geared toward an older audience, so to avoid confusion, I’ve bundled the majority of the puzzle books here.

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Logic Problems ($10.50) or the Fill-In Value Pack ($8.95). Or perhaps you like some variety in your solving, and you’d prefer the Stocking Stuffer Pack ($9), complete with pencils to keep you puzzling, or the Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket Puzzle 4-Pack ($24.50). Or you’d like to unwind with their Coloring Book 4-Pack ($17.95) and sip some coffee from a vibrant Word Nerd mug ($9.50). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. 15% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

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And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($6.88)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Easy Like Monday Morning Crosswords ($6.26) and Easy Breezy Crosswords ($8.95)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($8.95)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley and Francis Heaney’s Drunk Crosswords ($7.95)

–Patrick Berry’s Son of the Crypt Cryptic Crosswords ($15)

–David L. Hoyt’s Word Winder ($6.95) and Jumble puzzles ($9.95)

–Cynthia Morris’s American Acrostics, CynAcrostics, and AnimaCrostics ($9.95)

And that doesn’t even cover the many great by-mail and downloadable puzzle books and sets available this holiday season!

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers, subscriptions, and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Crosswords Club, edited by Patti Varol (puzzle bundles by mail, available in both regular and large print; $39.95 for 12 issues, $59.95 for large print)

Piece of Cake Crosswords by Patrick Blindauer ($30 for 1 year)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($20 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword ($24 per year) and Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords ($12 per year)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($25 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year)

–Patrick Blindauer’s Various Themed Puzzlefests ($15 each)

–The LA Times’ Crossword LA 2016 puzzle pack ($5)

–Patrick Merrell’s Punchline Puzzles ($10) and Aha! Word Puzzles ($10)

And naturally, PuzzleNation offers terrific puzzle apps for the discerning puzzle solver!

The Penny Dell Crossword App, available for both iOS and Android users, not only features bundles of terrific puzzle content, but it offers a free daily puzzle to all solvers!

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Our new Penny Dell Sudoku app is also available for both Android and iOS, and offers four different difficulty levels: Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert! Whether you’re a newbie to Sudoku or a master, you’ll find the right puzzles for you!

You can check out our full line of puzzle apps on the PuzzleNation website!


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

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