The Best of All Possible Puzzle/Game Worlds?

[A sampling of the wide variety of modern puzzles and games. Fluxx cards, Bananagrams tiles, a wooden puzzle box, Pairs cards, David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register, Timeline cards, last month’s edition of The Crosswords Club, Puzzometry pieces, Cards Against Humanity cards, multi-sided roleplaying dice.]

This is the most exciting time in history to be a puzzler or board game enthusiast.

Think about it. If you want to play a game or solve a puzzle, you don’t have to go any farther than your pocket, since a plethora of puzzly goodness awaits you on your smartphone.

Puzzle apps are our bread and butter here at PuzzleNation, so this might feel like a cheap plug, but honestly, it boggles my mind how much more accessible puzzles and games are now than they were even five years ago.

And the app revolution is only one part of the story.

I was reading a book the other day, as I am wont to do on the long train rides to and from PuzzleNation HQ. Titled The Revenge of Analog, it was all about the cultural response to digital media, highlighting the resurgence of vinyl records, film, and other tangible alternatives to electronic formats.

In the chapter “The Revenge of Board Games,” the author discussed the social aspect of tabletop gaming, and how sitting down with people and playing a game is a far different, more rewarding experience than online gaming and other social media-based interactions. (A fine point to consider, what with International TableTop Day a little more than a week away.)

While I do think that’s partially true, I also think that downplays the ingenuity of the puzzle/game community. I think we’re the best of both worlds.

I mentioned in my Tak review last week that puzzles are being created today that could not have been five or ten or twenty years ago. The advent of 3-D printing and laser cutters for homes and small businesses has brought design, construction, and promotion literally to the doorstep of entrepreneurial puzzlers.

Just last week I received a new edition of Puzzometry in the mail, a perk for supporting a team for a school robotics competition. This laser-cut plastic jigsaw will keep me guessing for hours (if its puzzly siblings are anything to go by), and it was designed and manufactured by a single individual.

Old and new styles are meshing as never before. Many puzzle constructors are partially or fully supporting themselves via email puzzle subscriptions and direct sales to the customer. Events like the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games are organized and advertised mostly online.

Crowdfunding has leveled the playing field for many companies and designers in both puzzles and games, allowing more products than ever before to enter the market. (According to Kickstarter, tabletop game projects raised $52 million dollars in 2013, and that number has surely gone up in the meantime.)

You’ve got a proper board game renaissance as classic games and styles of play are meshing with new technology, and games from across the world are shared on YouTube, at Friendly Local Game Shops, or even in puzzle cafes like Toronto’s Snakes and Lattes or New York City’s The Uncommons.

Whether you’re a pen-and-paper solver or a Penny Dell Crossword App devotee, a fan of classics like Chutes and Ladders or a proud tabletopper experimenting with the newest games, this is an amazing time to be a puzzler or board gamer.

So keep playing. Keep puzzling. And share that with others.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Lightbox

Puzzle boxes are among the oldest and most intricate mechanical brain teasers in the long history of puzzles, and they’re only growing more complex and ambitious. With the advent of 3D-printing, access to new materials, and computer design elements to help bring ideas to fruition, the only limit at this point is the imagination.

In today’s blog post, we look at the latest innovation in the puzzle box genre of brain teasers: Lightbox by Eric Clough.

This Kickstarter-funded puzzle box arrives in fairly innocuous packaging. When you remove the lid, you find a second box make of lasercut felt inside. These six pieces of this box make up its own little puzzle, as well as doubling as light-absorbing packaging for the main event.

Inside, we find the Lightbox, a stack of ten magnetically-connected acrylic plates, plus the thicker bottom plate containing a USB-rechargeable battery.

I plugged in the USB cord (included, naturally) in order to charge the battery, and twisted a few of the plates into different configurations, watching as the box lit up in my hands. (I only needed to charge it a little bit before pulling the plug and playing with the Lightbox for almost an hour.)

As you manipulate the various plates into different combinations, the lights embedded in the various plates would activate, and light would play off of the holes cut into each plate, creating 3D sculptures of light and reflection within the Lightbox itself. I’ve never seen anything like it.

You can move individual plates or stacks of plates by lifting them off the main stack, twisting, and then repositioning them. (I call it twisting, even though you’re not twisting the box like parts of a Rubik’s Cube, you’re lifting them and rotating them 90 degrees, 180 degrees, or 270 degrees.)

Sometimes, it’s fun simply to see what effect each action has on the interplay of lit plates and dark plates. Getting the entire cube to light up is a real treat.

Eventually, the time comes when you’re ready to put the Lightbox away for a bit. (That little battery ensures that just unplugging the USB cable doesn’t do the job.) And no puzzler worth their salt is going to put it away still lit up, right?

And then, of course, another layer of puzzling begins, as you twist and place the various plates and watch them either light up or go dark, depending on their positions. It can be both amazing and frustrating when you twist a plate halfway up the stack, and suddenly the entire box lights up! Diabolical!

Lightbox straddles the line between puzzle and art, making it a great desktop bauble. (Though I think I’ll leave mine at home. Otherwise, I won’t get anything done at work.) The smart packaging and clever design ensure you’ll return to this puzzle again and again.

Admittedly, some of the lights flicker a bit instead of shining brightly, as if the connections aren’t quite perfect, but that’s a small nitpick for something this delightful.

[You can find more information about Lightbox by clicking here, and explore its long journey from idea to product by clicking here.]


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The Art of the Wooden Puzzle

Several varieties of puzzle fall under the umbrella of “wooden puzzles,” from sliding tile puzzles and jigsaws to puzzle boxes and brain teasers. Heck, I devoted an entire post to wooden puzzles last year, sharing several from my personal collection.

With the advent of more affordable laser-cutting machines, we’ve seen several puzzly Kickstarter campaigns (like Baffledazzle and Codex Silenda) successfully launched, pushing wooden puzzles into the 21st century with more ambitious designs and greater functionality than ever before.

So you can imagine both my surprise and my excitement when The Metagrobologist posted a link to a Popular Woodworking article on how to make your own wooden puzzles!

There are step-by-step instructions on how to create three different 3D wooden “burr” puzzles, and this article covers everything from construction to assembly. Exact measurements are included.

It’s clear the author is all about quality, understanding both the art behind these mechanical 3D puzzles and all the necessary steps to ensure a safe and successful build.

If only shop class in school had offered me the chance to make something like this!

In all seriousness, this post offers fascinating insight into how some of these mechanical brain teasers are made, but when you consider the care and precision it takes to produce one of these puzzles, even knowing how it’s done doesn’t make the puzzle any less fun. What a treat.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Kickstarter Roundup edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of crowdfunding.

First, let’s talk about Herbaceous. Ed and the Herbaceous team were hoping for $6500 to make the game a reality, and they absolutely crushed that goal!

The final total was a staggering $59,032! Congrats to everyone involved, and kudos to all the PuzzleNationers that contributed!

And in the spirit of such marvelous Kickstarter success, let’s take a look at four very different projects that might appeal to puzzle fans and game enthusiasts!

I missed my chance to try out Originz: The Superpowered Card Game at the CT FIG event earlier this year — though you can try it out at the CT FIG mid-year event this weekend in Newington, CT! — but I definitely like what I’ve seen from their Kickstarter campaign.

In this deck-building game, you try to equip your villain or hero with the best mix of powers imaginable to keep your foes at bay! This accessible game is richly illustrated and detailed, a sure-fire hit with any fans of superheroics in your household.

If you’re looking for a more traditional style of puzzling, there are only a few days left to get in on the ground floor of LightBox, a Rubik’s-style light-up puzzle box.

By rotating and rearranging the layers of plastic that form the cube, you will illuminate different layers and create different patterns of light! Whether you’re solving to create a particular pattern or to shut the LightBox off entirely, you’re sure to work your brain into knots with this curious puzzle box.

And speaking of short deadlines, there are only a few days left to contribute to Word Domination, an intriguing mix of Scrabble-style spelling and a strategy card game.

The concept is devilishly simple: by spelling words, you acquire artifacts to help you in your criminal escapades. The mix of tactical spelling — sometimes, shorter words have more value than longer words — with the roguish qualities of an evildoer allow for all sorts of gameplay possibilities.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen these two puzzle-game formats combined like this before, and the result could be something great.

Our fourth and final project today has the most potential, simply because of its design. It’s the PinBox 3000, and it’s a foundation for designing, decorating, and constructing your very own pinball game.

Merging DIY possibilities with a classic form of game play seems like a no-brainer, and I can’t believe we haven’t seen something like this on the market before. This is the perfect community builder, and I can foresee forums and Pinterest pages popping up all over, as fans and creators share their unique designs. What an awesome palette to work with!

Hopefully one or more of these projects piques your interest, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! I wish all of these creators the best of luck in shepherding their brainchildren toward success!


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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!