Birdbrains Are Starting to Look Pretty Good Right Now…

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve no doubt noticed that one of our favorite topics is puzzle-solving animals. In the past, we’ve discussed examples of puzzle solving in catsdogscrowscockatoosoctopuses, bees, pigs, and squirrels.

You probably noticed we’ve got two types of birds on that list already. The more we learn about birds, the more they add to their puzzly resumes.

For instance, did you know that sulphur-crested cockatoo parrots in Australia are teaching each other how to open trash bin lids in order to grab snacks. It’s not all that different from the birds that raided milk containers in Britain a century ago. Many birds learned quickly from their more clever brethren.

As for crows, they’re probably the puzzly kings of birddom.

There was a famous study about a crow named Betty, who would bend pieces of wire in order to obtain food.

Originally, Betty was treated as a genius, only for scientists to later discover that many other crows also have a penchant for making tools and figuring out innovative solutions to problems.

The story of Betty no doubt inspired another study, which tested both the puzzle solving wits and social skills of crows.

There were two crows gathered from different locations with no discernable previous connection. On a table, the scientists placed two pieces of wire — a hooked piece of wire and a straight piece of wire. Each crow had a bottle with meat inside. The crows could see each other, but each had to solve the problem separately. Each crow grabbed one of the two wires.

There are differing accounts of this study, and I couldn’t track down the original. Some say the straight wire was the only way to get the food out, others the hooked wire.

[Image courtesy of Royal Society Publishing.]

In the end, the result was the same. During the first test, only one crow could get the food.

Scientists ran the test a second time, expecting the crows to fight for the one wire that allowed the victor to acquire their food.

And yes, both crows went for the same wire.

But not as competitors.

One held the wire in place, the other bent it. They cooperated, without language, so that both could get food.

That is some solid puzzly thinking.

Factor in other studies about crow cooperation (crooperation?) and stories from Japan about crows building decoy nests to distract patrols intended to remove their real nests from city power grids, and you start to wonder whether crows will join Dr. Fill at the next edition of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve heard some stories about puzzle-solving raccoons that I need to follow up on. The menagerie of puzzly animals just grows and grows.

Have you heard any stories about clever creatures that belong on the list of puzzle-solving animals, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you


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Go For a Nice Relaxing Puzzle Hunt with Letterboxing!

Who can resist a treasure hunt? Who doesn’t want to play the role of the clever intrepid adventurer who reads maps, deciphers clues, solves riddles, and finds a hidden cache that eluded so many others?

We’ve discussed them in the past, covering famous ones like Forrest Fenn’s poem or the visual treasure hunt clues of The Secret, as well as tips for creating one of your own.

But did you know there’s another sort of treasure hunting out there that requires nothing more than your wits, your patience, and your willingness to exercise and explore?

[Image courtesy of Underhobby.]

It’s called letterboxing.

Essentially, you’re hunting for small, weatherproof boxes in publicly accessible areas — parks, for instance — with the goal of celebrating your success locating the well-concealed box. From a given starting point — a letterboxing catalog, or a website, or one given to you by the letterbox designer themselves — you must hunt down the box. (Your state might even maintain an archive of available letterboxing spots. Mine certainly does!)

Sometimes there are clues, or puzzles to be solved, or it’s simply meant to be found by determined, keen-eyed hunters.

Inside, you’ll find a logbook awaiting your personal stamp (to mark that you found it) as well as a stamp unique to that letterbox for you to use in your own record book to record your success in locating the box.

Devoted letterboxers often keep careful records of how many letterboxes they’ve planted, how many they’ve found, which letterboxing events they’ve attended, and more.

And it’s a hobby that dates back more than 150 years!

[Image courtesy of Ms. Nasser’s Art Studio.]

Now, if this sounds familiar, there’s good reason for that. Over the last fifteen years, an updated version of letterboxing has emerged: geocaching.

Geocaching functions mostly along the same lines, but with one crucial difference.

Geocaching is all about finding exact GPS coordinates.

But it can also involve the same exploration, puzzling, and problem-solving as letterboxing. I’ve seen some that contain puzzles that reveal coordinates to other geocaches, like popsicle sticks that have to be sorted to reveal the necessary numbers. There are even some that require you to solve a puzzle to open the letterbox itself.

Some people are very clever indeed, and they’re waiting for you to accept the challenge.

Have you ever been letterboxing or geocaching, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Are you planning to try it out in the future? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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Hey, have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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A Puzzly Touch of Spring!

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

It snowed over the weekend here on the East Coast, and after a disappointing prediction of six more weeks of winter from some of the more famous groundhogs around the world, you may find yourself longing for spring and all the marvelous greenery it promises.

In that spirit, I thought I would dedicate this February day to some mind-bogglingly lovely mazes that combine nature’s beauty with the ingenuity of humans.

[Image courtesy of Mental Floss.]

To start, feast your eyes upon the lavender labyrinth at Cherry Point Farm and Market in Shelby, Michigan, one of the oldest operating farms in Michigan.

The owner began designing the labyrinth in 2001, and it has since grown large enough to be seen on Google Earth! Finding your way to the center of the labyrinth should take about an hour, and attendance is free!

Be sure to visit in mid-July, when the French lavender is in full bloom, and enjoy the gorgeous scenery not far from Lake Michigan.

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

Of course, if you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge when it comes to your homegrown mazes, the Longleat Hedge Maze in Wiltshire, England will pique your interest.

It’s the longest hedge maze in the world — but not the largest — and consists of more than a mile and a half of meandering paths, including dead ends.

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

With six raised bridges and a tower from which to survey the entire maze, it’s one of the most striking labyrinths I’ve ever seen.

It’s actually one of several mazes on the property — others include the Lunar Labyrinth and the Sun Maze — but it’s by far the largest on the property. Although it only dates back to 1975 (while some mazes in England date back centuries), it’s truly a sight to behold.

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

To close out our look at labyrinths around the world, we venture into the southern hemisphere to explore the Enchanted Maze Garden in Arthurs Seat, Australia.

Although it is the year-round home of “a traditional hedge maze with a Japanese Garden at its center, an ancient turf labyrinth, and a circular roomed maze for children,” it’s the constantly evolving Maize Maze that puts Arthurs Seat in the record books every year.

Each year, a new maze is designed, and with GPS assistance, over 100,000 stalks of corn are planted to create the Maize Maze. Sprawling across two and a half acres, the Maize Maze is open from mid-February through late April.

Hopefully these glimpses into the amazing depth and breadth of hedge and corn mazes around the world has you looking forward to springtime puzzling outdoors! Or, at the very least, not feeling so dreary about winter.


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