Make the Season Bright (and Puzzly)!

Christmas is fast approaching, but there’s still time to put a nice puzzly spin on this festive holiday.

Naturally, we have a few ideas for how to do that without shelling out more of your hard-earned cash. (This is why you won’t see puzzle boxes or those marble-run boxes for gift cards here. This is all DIY!)

So let’s look at some puzzle-inspired ways to enhance your Yuletide endeavors!


[Image courtesy of Destination Imagination.]

Scavenger Hunt / Puzzle Hunt

Yes, this is always the first suggestion on our list because it’s a fun idea you can tailor to any age group. Whether they’re solving riddles, figuring out vague references to places in the house, or simply searching for gifts like Easter eggs, it can freshen up the Christmas morning experience to exercise their brains before they put their arms to work tearing open wrapping paper.

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Puzzles for Presents / Puzzle Password

I know a couple who absolutely love cryptic-style crossword clues, and on more than one occasion, before one gives the other a birthday or Christmas gift, they’ll have to solve a cryptic clue.

Often they’re about the couple themselves, or multiple clues will spell out a message. It’s a sweet little puzzly way to “earn” your gifts, if you’re into that sort of thing.

You can easily do this with kids by pretending the wrapped gifts are “locked” and they have to figure out a code or find a “key” to free the present. (Heck, some ribbons are so resilient that you really can lock up a present!)

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Paper Locks

Similarly, you can create actual paper locks to be opened or employ the puzzly art of letterlocking to create a little mechanical puzzle to be unraveled before opening a gift.

There are some wonderful DIY tutorials and YouTube videos out there detailing how to create these whimsical little challenges, and it’s pretty impressive how much you can do with some paper, glue, and creativity.

[Image courtesy of Nadim’s Craft.]

Origami Puzzle Box

And speaking of all the things you can do with paper, it should come as no surprise that there are puzzle boxes out there that you can create with the Japanese paper-folding art of origami.

Some are simple, some are complex, and yes, none of these will stop a child determined to get to that gift, but these are wonderfully intricate and stylish ways to present someone you care about with a gift experience they’re remember.


Do you have any suggestions for making the holiday season puzzlier? Let us know in the comment section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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A Magic Puzzle Box? (Solved on YouTube For Your Convenience)

One of the cooler bits of promotion I’ve seen from a gaming company recently was executed by the team at Magic: The Gathering for their new Zendikar Rising brand.

For the uninitiated, Magic: The Gathering is a collectible card game where players buy starter decks and booster packs of cards in order to build the best possible deck with which to battle their friends in card-playing combat. Each player is a wizard known as a planeswalker, playing cards that represent creatures summoned, spells cast, magical items used, and more.

So what was their intriguing promotional tactic?

They sent out a bespoke chest — a puzzle box to entice players, gamers, and social media influencers — accompanied by a riddle which offered clues for each stage of the puzzle box to help solvers unravel its secrets.

Now, sending a puzzly chest of treasure to gamers is an instant win. If you’re a fan of fantasy narratives like those woven into the gameplay of Magic: The Gathering, this is the perfect enticement.

But that was only the company’s first stroke of genius in their Zendikar Rising campaign.

Their second was sending a box to YouTubers Rose Ellen Dix and Rosie Spaughton.

Rose and Rosie are a charming married couple who post all sorts of comedic content, social commentary, and slice-of-life vlog posts on YouTube. They also host a gaming channel where their specialty is being very bad at games.

So when I saw that they were tackling the M:TG bespoke mystery box for their next Let’s Play Games video, I knew it would make for terrific viewing.

I was not disappointed.

First, they read the letter accompanying the puzzle box, which detailed their role as adventurers trying to sort out this treasure box while the rest of the party continued on their adventure.

Their mission was to solve the riddle and uncover the treasure inside the mystery box.

Here’s the riddle that awaited them:

A brave adventurer
must apply pressure to the Planeswalkers
and they will venture
to reveal the key to their powers.

Strength in numbers is a sign of great force,
but only one truth can endure this course.
Find the pin that reveals the way,
and set it free before you’re led astray.

True secrets can only be seen
when you can align with the machine.
It will twist and it will turn
and it will be spun until your fingers burn.
Wait until you feel the lift
to reveal underneath the glorious gift.

The end of your journey arrives
Hold tight the stone and consider your lives.
For they will be pulled together by an invisible magic
Push down your might so it will not be tragic.
Turn it but a quarter of the way.
All four stones will ensure their sway,
Revealing a secret panel you must remove
and seek the answer that your talents will approve.

Brave adventurer, thy quest has come to an end,
but fear not, for your gifts will tend
to your strength in magic in Zendikar.

While Rose immediately suggests throwing the box or setting it on fire, Rosie focuses on the logo on top of the box, and Rose begins pressing on it. Eventually, Rosie pressed on the right spot, revealing a secret compartment and a key.

The key opened the outer box, which revealed two smaller puzzle boxes, both wrapped in fabric.

Rosie’s box had two dials on the lid, which both had to be turned to a certain point for the box to open. Rosie quickly figured this out, revealing two booster decks for their new Zendikar Rising game, as well as two small metal pyramids that would be needed for the next stage of the solve.

Rose’s box appeared to be nailed or screwed shut, but one of the pins could be removed, allowing the lid to slide open sideways and reveal the treasure inside: two more booster decks and two more small metal pyramids.

Inside the main box, below the two smaller treasure boxes, was an elaborate panel with four dials and two holes. The trick was to place the pyramids in the correct spaces, turn them a certain way, and lift the panel to reveal the treasure. This required a bit of trial and error, but the dynamic duo would not be denied.

The panel lifted, revealing two Zendikar Rising Commander Decks. The Commander Decks are designed specifically to introduce new players to the game and ease them into the world and gameplay. (The cards in the Booster Packs can augment and add to the Commander Decks.)

While the puzzle box is hardly the most challenging out there, it was an absolute delight to watch Rose and Rosie tackle it. They’re effortlessly hilarious, and their frustration (as well as the bickering that ensues) was very entertaining.

Also, it’s thoroughly enjoyable to hear two people who don’t play Magic: The Gathering describe the game. The mix of sheer enthusiasm and total vagueness regarding actual gameplay did a pretty solid job of making the game seem exciting and inviting.

I look forward to seeing them try their new Zendikar Rising sets out. It will probably be a terrific gateway video for new players.

Well played, Magic: The Gathering.


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The Best Puzzle Solvers in Horror Movies

horrorpuzzler0

[Image courtesy of Hayden Scott.]

Seven Halloweens have come and gone since I started writing for PuzzleNation Blog, and with an eighth one only a few days away, I’m writing a post about horror movies for the very first time.

Why did I wait so long, given the appropriate seasonal subject and the fact that I’m a huge horror movie buff?

Honestly, it’s mostly a matter of tone.

Horror movies by their very nature confront some fairly dark subjects. Fears, uncomfortable situations, horrific monsters, terrible villains, and no small amount of violence are part and parcel of the genre. And although I have discussed movies or TV shows with death in the past, it’s usually in the context of solving a crime in a puzzly fashion, a la Bones, NCIS: New Orleans, or the Crossword Mysteries.

I always strive to make the general tone of the blog as positive as possible, and for the most part, I don’t feel like horror movies are a good fit, no matter how puzzly some of them are (like Cube, Escape Room, and others).

So, what’s changed?

Well, I think I found a fun way to discuss the subject without dwelling on some of the less pleasant aspects of the genre.

Today, we’re celebrating the best puzzle solvers in horror cinema. These are the characters you want on your side, because they’re clever, decisive, and immensely capable. After all, most horror movies are populated with idiots who are destined to perish before the film’s conclusion.

So instead, these are the characters who break the mold.


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Nancy Thompson, A Nightmare on Elm Street

[Image courtesy of Horror Film Wiki.]

When you’re confronted with a monster who hunts people through their dreams, you have to be pretty clever to survive. After all, you have to sleep at some point. When it comes to the Elm Street franchise, they don’t come more clever than young Nancy Thompson.

Nancy discovers she has the ability to pull things from the dreamworld into the real world, and plans to use this ability to stop Freddy Krueger once and for all. She not only sets an alarm to ensure she wakes up before falling victim to Freddy in the dreamworld, but sets numerous booby traps in her house to ensnare and hurt Freddy.

Nancy is a top-notch puzzler for not only figuring out how to use her incredible ability to her advantage, but devising a plan (and a backup plan!) to save herself.

horrorpuzzler5

Kirsty Cotton, Hellraiser

[Image courtesy of Wicked Horror.]

The Lament Configuration is a Rubik’s Cube-like puzzle box that opens a portal to another dimension, where monstrous beings called Cenobites promise untold delights in exchange for your soul. Unfortunately, Kirsty is a clever enough puzzler to solve the Lament Configuration and open the portal.

Thankfully, Kirsty is also clever enough to outmaneuver the Cenobites, buying herself time by realizing someone has escaped their clutches and working to save herself by finding the fugitive.

So Kirsty not only figures out the rules of monsters from another dimension and how to use them, but solves a difficult puzzle box (first opening it, then solving it in reverse to close it) in order to save herself. A pretty sharp cookie, to be sure.

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Clarice Starling, The Silence of the Lambs

[Image courtesy of SBS.]

A young FBI trainee who finds herself tangling with two serial killers — one on the loose, another in custody — Clarice Starling has to not only save a young woman kidnapped by Buffalo Bill, but do so while unraveling the word games and riddles of the devious and brilliant Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Clarice is perhaps the most overtly puzzly of our heroes, solving anagrams and figuring out the double meaning behind many of Dr. Lecter’s riddles and clues in order to get closer to stopping Buffalo Bill. Along the way, she uncovers information missed by more seasoned investigators, even managing to survive an attack by Buffalo Bill (in the dark!) and saving the kidnapped girl in the process.

If you’re ever in danger, hope that Clarice Starling is on the trail.

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Bret, Lights Out

[Image courtesy of Where’s the Jump?]

Imagine that you’re being hunted by a monster that lurks in the dark. It seems like an obvious solution to simply stay in the light, but when that monster is both intelligent and cunning, that’s a taller order than you think. Bret, along with his girlfriend Rebecca and Rebecca’s family, are being pursued by Diana, a creature who can only appear when it’s dark.

When Diana cuts power to the entire neighborhood, everyone must scramble for safety. Thankfully, the resourceful Bret is on their side, and he thwarts Diana’s attacks several times. When she knocks the flashlight from his hands and charges him, he banishes her momentarily with the brightness of his smartphone screen. As he runs for a car outside, she ambushes him from a shadow, but he escapes again by using the key fob in his pocket to activate the car’s headlights.

Effective puzzlers always make the most of the tools at their disposal, and Bret is a most effective puzzler.

horrorpuzzler3

Joan Leaven, Cube

[Image courtesy of Movie Morgue Wiki.]

Sometimes, a good puzzler is plunked down in an unfamiliar situation and has to make sense of it all. (This is the premise of many an escape room or a video game, as well as the truth regarding many coded puzzles or puzzles with symbols.) The situation in Cube is like that times a thousand.

Leaven is one of six people trapped in a maze of interconnected cubical rooms, many of them booby-trapped in various ways. As a young mathematics student, Leaven is immediately intrigued by the numbers inscribed in the small passages that connect the various rooms. The group soon realizes that the rooms are shifting periodically, making the maze harder to solve.

After several theories don’t pan out, Leaven manages to unravel the pattern of the trapped rooms — realizing those rooms are related to prime numbers (specifically powers of prime numbers) — and navigates the group through the ever-shifting maze toward an exit.

The stakes may not always be as high as they were for Leaven, but she never gave up and always approached the puzzle from a fresh angle when thwarted. That’s a sign of a true puzzler.

horrorpuzzler6

Michelle, 10 Cloverfield Lane

[Image courtesy of Yahoo.]

After being run off the road in an accident, Michelle wakes up in a well-stocked underground bunker. She’s been taken there by Howard, the bunker’s owner, who tells her the surface is uninhabitable and the air outside is poisoned. Michelle quickly realizes that Howard is unstable, but must bide her time before attempting to escape.

Michelle is another remarkably resourceful individual, mapping out the ventilation system in the bunker (while doing repairs), fashioning a hazmat suit out of found items, and outwitting Howard long enough to escape. (Once free, she even manages to whip up a Molotov cocktail and dispatch an unexpected threat.)

Some of the most devious puzzles are the ones where you have to figure out how to use what’s in front of you in creative ways to complete a task. Michelle has this skill in spades.

horrorpuzzler1

Erin, You’re Next

[Image courtesy of The Dissolve.]

Erin joins her boyfriend at a family gathering, only for things to turn sour as masked invaders target the party’s guests. But they get more than they bargained for, as Erin quickly reveals herself as one of the most capable horror movie protagonists in the history of the genre.

Erin gathers information, sets traps, outwits the bad guys at seemingly every turn, and generally dazzles with her intelligence, tactical skill, and resourcefulness.

You know that puzzle where you have to connect all the dots in the square with only three lines, but to do so, you have to draw outside the square? That puzzle wouldn’t fool Erin for an instant. She is constantly thinking outside the box — and the house — in order to accomplish the most with the fewest moves.

Horror movies haven’t seen a puzzler like Erin before, and I almost feel bad for any bad guys who get in her way.


Did I miss any world-class puzzlers from horror movies? Let me know in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you!

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The Puzzling Art of Letterlocking

letterlocking

[Image courtesy of Letter Writers Alliance.]

When you think about puzzles and personal security, what comes to mind?

Do you think of puzzle boxes, those delightfully tricky little wooden creations with all their sliding pieces and hidden compartments? Or does your mind go to encryption, the art of concealing your message in plain sight with ciphers, scytales, and other techniques meant to baffle anyone but those in the know?

Some puzzle box designs date back centuries, and ciphers can be traced back even further. (One is named after Caesar, after all.)

But there’s another centuries-old puzzly procedure you might not know about, and it kept letters and messages safe using nothing more than paper and wax.

butterflylock

[Image courtesy of ibookbinding.com.]

This technique is known as letterlocking. It involves a mix of precise folds, interlocking pieces of paper, and sealing wax in order to create a distinctive design or pattern.

Although the pattern itself can work like a puzzle — requiring a particular trick to unfold it and reveal the message without ripping or damaging the letter — that’s only a secondary line of defense. The true goal of letterlocking is to reveal tampering. The folding techniques are distinctive, and the wax creates points of adhesion.

If you receive a letter and the folds are done (aka redone) incorrectly, or the wax is smeared (or the paper ripped where the wax would have held it tight), then you know the letter has been compromised.

daggertrap

[Image courtesy of ibookbinding.com.]

Some examples of letterlocking trace back to the 13th century, and key figures like Queen Elizabeth I, Machiavelli, Galileo, and Marie Antoinette employed letterlocking security in the past. Mary, Queen of Scots, wrote a message and letterlocked it with a butterfly lock six hours before her beheading. (For a more modern reference, letterlocking was employed in the Harry Potter films as well, most famously in Dumbledore’s will.)

The various techniques involved are as distinctive as knots. The triangle lock. The dagger-trap. The pinwheel letter. And some historians believe that those techniques imply connections between some of the important players in history.

For instance, both poet John Donne and the spymaster of Queen Elizabeth I employed a similar letterlocking style. Did they share a common source, or even an instructor in common? Or did a particular letterlocking technique provide a clue as to the contents of the letter within?

Letterlocking is a historical curiosity that was seemingly lost to time after the proliferation of the envelope and other security techniques, but it is slowly being rediscovered by a new generation, as well as reverse engineered by scientists and scholars. Yale and MIT both have teams exploring the burgeoning field of letterlocking.

Museums are discovering treasure troves of letterlocked messages by going directly to the source: post offices. A cache of 600 undelivered letters in the Netherlands, for instance, are being analyzed by researchers.

trianglelock

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

It’s a remarkable thing, really, this union of centuries-old skills with twenty-first century knowledge. These are puzzles, frozen in time, waiting to be solved and placed into the larger picture of history.

Letterlocking is nothing less than a rare and beautiful art combining puzzles and privacy, as elegant as it is clever. There are no doubt many more secrets to be found behind the folds, slits, and wax seals of these lovingly crafted messages.


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Puzzle Furniture Meets Musical Innovation!

[Image courtesy of Praktrik.]

Puzzle furniture is an intriguing, complex subset of the puzzling world that requires skill, craftsmanship, dedication, and ingenuity working in tandem in order to create a single piece.

Now, those qualities are staggeringly common amongst puzzlers. After all, those words apply to many of the constructors and puzzle designers I know, because they all take great pride in their creations, whether we’re talking mechanical puzzles, puzzle grids, or interactive solving events like puzzle hunts or escape rooms.

But there’s something about puzzle furniture that adds an additional wow factor to the endeavor. Sometimes you’re the one assembling the puzzle, as you do with tables from our friends at Praktrik. Other times, you’re unraveling the hidden secrets of what appears, at first, to be a deceptively ordinary (yet still exquisite) piece of furniture, like the ones created by Craig Thibodeau.

Whether you’re finding hidden buttons, using magnets to reveal concealed storage areas, or sliding aside wooden pieces to reveal keyholes or additional hints, pieces of puzzle furniture like the one featured above are challenging and unforgettable solving experiences.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen one as unique or as mind-boggling as this creation by Kagen Sound…

A musical puzzle table.

Kagen Sound, formerly known as Kagen Schaefer, has built an impressive reputation for unusual and visually striking puzzle furniture. One piece requires you to rotate different rings on a table surface in order to form patterns that unlock other features. Another is a puzzle box that demands nineteen specific moves in the correct order before you can open the lid.

And even these difficult puzzles pale in comparison to one where music is part of the solution.

Each drawer, when opened or closed, produces a different note. But there are additional drawers that must be unlocked before you can perform the entire piece of music concealed within the table.

It’s a remarkable design that rewards patience and experimentation as well as puzzly skill, and I could easily imagine losing hours upon hours exploring the table and trying different patterns and chains of movement in order to unlock other drawers or reveal additional secrets.

I think what makes this brand of puzzling so intriguing and so charming is how it employs old-world craftsmanship with hands-on solving. Although Kagen doesn’t employ 3-D printing or computer modeling, I know that many mechanical puzzle designers incorporate modern tools into classic puzzle styles.

The creativity of puzzle designers like Kagen Sound is truly boundless, and every time I think I’ve seen every trick, every puzzle, or every variation out there, I am gladly, gleefully surprised by twists, reinventions, and fresh ideas I could never have even imagined.

[You can check out more of Kagen’s designs on his website, as well as on this Pinterest board featuring previous works of his.]


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The Fine Art of Puzzle Cabinetry

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about puzzle furniture, a small but growing niche of the puzzle world. We explored modular sofa, chair, and desk designs, as well as impressive tables designed by the puzzle wizards at Praktrik.

But what happens when you combine a designer of fiendishly clever puzzle boxes and a furniture designer with an impeccable knack for melding mechanical puzzles and beautiful woodworking?

You get the Wisteria Puzzle Cabinet, an absolute masterpiece that serves as both a stylish cabinet and an incredibly complex puzzle box.

It’s the most beautiful and complicated safe you could ever want, and it would hide in plain sight in your home.

Check out this video detailing some — but I suspect not all — of its secrets, including hidden compartments, an internal elevator, and multi-piece keys that must be uncovered, assembled, and reused:

The puzzly aspects were designed by Robert Yarger (also known as Stickman in the puzzle box world) and the actual cabinet built by Craig Thibodeau, and together, they’ve brought this mind-blowing piece of puzzle art to life.

Granted, the price of an piece like this is pretty steep.

On his website, Thibodeau states that his “latest work exploring mechanical furniture, puzzles and hidden compartments is the most expensive furniture I build due to the highly complex design and fabrication process. These pieces typically start at around $30,000 and go up from there due to the complexity of the internal mechanisms and the variety of hidden details incorporated into the design of these highly unique pieces.”

Although that’s out of my price range, it’s a testament to how much preparation, design, and labor goes into a puzzle as gorgeous and labyrinthine as this cabinet. Even at five figures, it seems well worth the price.

Oh, and if you’re looking for more puzzly furniture, you can also check out the table designs of David Lundell on YouTube, like this magic-themed coffee table:

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go check every piece of furniture in my house for secret compartments. You know, just in case.


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