Puzzle My World

[Image courtesy of Reddit.]

For me, one of the best things about puzzle-solving is the a-ha moment.

You’ve been staring at a clue, or a brain teaser, for what feels like forever. You’ve tackled it from seemingly every angle. And you’ve got nothing. You’re stymied. Flummoxed. You know the answer is within your reach, but you just can’t find it.

And then, the a-ha moment strikes. Wheels turn, pieces fall into place. And when the dust settles, you have your solution, and you can’t help but wonder how you didn’t see it sooner.

When puzzly thinking is taken outside the realm of puzzles and games and applied to the real world, it can make those a-ha moments even more enjoyable.

Now look at that image at the top of the page. Did you immediately realize what it was, or did you stare for a bit before having that a-ha moment?

Yes, it’s a map of the world done in the style of artist Piet Mondrian. How cool is that?

Today I’d like to look at a few maps that visualize our world in a different way and let you experience an a-ha moment or two.

[Image courtesy of Mental Floss. Click here for a larger version.]

This first map of the world has all of the familiar landmasses and borders that you know, but it has swapped around the actual countries so that the country’s population is now equivalent to its size.

It’s truly paradigm-altering to see countries like China, India, and Pakistan in those large landmasses, and on the flip side, the Netherlands taking the islands of the former Japan, while Japan moves to a much larger space in Africa.

Plus, there are a few countries that wouldn’t move in this situation, like the U.S., Brazil, Yemen, and Ireland, which is all the more striking when you see so many countries moving around them.

Just imagining the political landscape in this world is mind-boggling!

[Image courtesy of The Edge.ca.]

This next map says more about our culture than our numbers, but it’s still interesting. Here’s part of a map labeled only with song titles that mention these places.

It’s a very clever concept that not only name-checks many terrific songs, but mixes genres and eras of music in surprising ways. If you were to attempt this, how much of the world could you fill in with song titles?

[Image courtesy of Texas.gov. Click here for a larger version.]

And speaking of puzzly map challenges, I’ve got one for you, fellow puzzlers. Here’s a map of the United States.

I challenge you to print out this map and color it in using only four colors. The trick? No neighboring states can be the same color.

Hopefully, accepting this challenge will provide you with a puzzly a-ha moment of your own. Enjoy!


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A Monopoly Game Unlike Any Other

I’m always on the lookout for great puzzly stories, and a friend of mine passed along this link to a puzzly holiday proposal from last year that totally fits the bill.

This story comes from a reddit user named Justinlebon26, who was looking for a meaningful and unique way to propose to his girlfriend Michal.

Check out what he came up with:

That’s right, he designed a Monopoly board all about their relationship. After all, the two of them enjoyed playing Monopoly so much that their handmade board fell apart. And with that, a plan slowly came together.

He designed new property cards to go along with the new spaces on the board. Some were places they’d gone on vacation, others were the streets where they’d grown up. How they met, their first date — all were immortalized on the board.

New Chance and Community Chest cards would follow, with one special addition to the deck.

With a friend’s help constructing the board, our young romantic’s gift was done. (Complete with the secret lurking beneath the Luxury Tax space)

He waited until Christmas day to unveil his gift, and they celebrated with an inaugural game.

So… how did it all turn out?

This is easily the happiest ending to a Monopoly game in history. Kudos to Michal and Justinlebon26, and here’s hoping they have many happy years of gaming ahead of them.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Domino Wonder 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 our recent 5 Questions interviewee, Lily Hevesh, aka Hevesh5.

You might have seen the above video from Hevesh5, the amazing triple spiral, which we shared on our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

It’s honestly one of the coolest, most staggering domino creations I’ve ever seen, a 15,000-domino work of kinetic art that took Lily 25 hours to assemble, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone in that. The spiral got FOUR MILLION views in two days. It got major attention on Reddit, the YouTube front page, CNN, CBS News, and more!

It has amassed over TEN MILLION views in less than a fortnight.

And, as you might expect, Lily was not only humble, but grateful for the support of puzzlers and domino fans like.

Check out this video discussing the video’s success, as well as Lily’s plans for the future:

So great to see such positive attention for her and her work. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Carpet Conundrum 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 in today’s post, I’d like to return to the subject of visual puzzles.

We’re keeping it simple today. In this photo that’s been making the rounds on Facebook and Reddit, can you find the iPhone?

Let us know if you spotted it! It’s tougher than you might think!

Happy Friday!


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The spooky app no one has solved!

Do Not Believe His Lies.

Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?

It’s the name of an app that has baffled solvers for more than a year with increasingly complex riddles, puzzles, and challenges.

It starts out simply, with the messages “We were expecting you,” “Your journey begins now,” “We await you on the other side,” and “Good luck” in simple white text on an otherwise pitch black screen.

From the very start, it’s an evocative presentation. It sets the mood immediately.

Then the first puzzle starts. You have to find a code word or phrase hidden on the screen (which is easy if your phone or computer’s brightness is turned all the way up.) When you input the code “The first time,” you get the second puzzle, which is in Morse Code and reads “I saw him there.”

The next puzzle was a scrambled grid, similar to the tile-shifting games many puzzlers know. One player inverted the colors, printed out the puzzle, cut it into squares and solved it that way, leading to this solution:

“The first time I saw him there, I was just a child.”

Here’s where the Halloween-appropriate element emerges. Each solution to these puzzles provides part of an ongoing narrative. Later messages include “I have to go now” and “Be careful friend.”

Anagramming, braille, music theory, cryptography, chemistry… as the puzzles increase in difficulty and complexity, they require an ever-growing skill set, challenging users in impressive fashion.

A dedicated community of solvers has come together to tackle the challenge of Do Not Believe His Lies, and they have fought, clawed, collaborated, and ingeniously solved their way to Puzzle #48, which they believe they’ve cracked, but they’re unsure of where to proceed from here.

[Another DNBHL puzzle, apparently a constellation…]

In an update on October 1, one of these diehard solvers posted this:

Welp, as most of you who have stayed logged in to our IRC channel can attest…we are pretty much out of ideas. But I’ll give a quick update for those of you who don’t regularly sign in…

The newest activity we have noticed has been the “Puzzle Solved” counter on the official DNBHL website. It’s not automatically updated, so we know that the Dev has been lurking around still. But whether it’s just a sign of life, or an unintentional “push” to let us know we have everything we need to progress further…none can say.

He goes on to discuss some of the lingering clues they’ve uncovered, as well as the theory that they’ll have to leave “the app and the old puzzles behind,” meaning the game will venture into the real world and involve physical locations!

The general theory going forward seems to be that the next puzzle is somehow time-sensitive, and cannot be solved before December 31. This does support what the app’s designer said in an interview with IO9:

Matablewski says that he does expect people to beat the game…but not anytime soon. “Not this year though, it’s not how it has been designed,” he told me. “If they work together, and only then … they will find the answer and complete the whole riddle someday next year.”

[These wavy words, upon closer inspection, are mathematical formulas. But to what end?]

Although solvers of this diabolical horror-fueled puzzle app are frustrated, they aren’t disheartened. The same diehard solver quoted above concluded his post with this:

So…until we get something a little better to work with, I think we’re all just taking a break…waiting for a Eureka moment to strike. Don’t get too disheartened though…I’m sure all the friends you’ve made on here will jump right back in to the fray as soon as things get busy again.

You can try Do Not Believe His Lies for yourself here. (For other stories on immersive online puzzle experiences, check out my previous posts on Cicada 3301 and the Portal ARG.)


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

How to Make a Crossword: Cluing Advice

After constructing the grid, cluing is the most daunting task facing a constructor. Constructor Robin Stears readily confessed, “Writing the clues is the most time-consuming process of puzzle construction, especially for common words that appear in many puzzles. Crossword Compiler allows me to keep a database of words and clues, but I try not to use the same clue twice.”

Constructor and puzzle archivist David Steinberg: “When writing clues, it’s important to strike a balance between original clues and clues that exist in databases. For entries that appear frequently and/or have a limited number of cluing possibilities, such as ALAI (traditionally clued as [Jai ___]), I feel it’s best to go with a database clue. In the case of ALAI, almost all clever cluing possibilities, such as [Half-court game?], have been exhausted.

“Original clues for such an entry often end up feeling strained or wordy and/or rely on a less common usage of a word, which solvers generally don’t appreciate as much.”

Constructor Ian Livengood also stressed finding a balance between creativity and accessibility: “Keep you clues relatively short, especially if you’re creating puzzles for outlets with strict line counts. But don’t just use one-line clues for everything, since that will bore solvers. Try to toss in some fun trivia, wordplay, etc. that seems interesting to solvers.

“And, like filling the grid, make sure you clues are appropriate for the intended day of the week. [High line?] for ELEVATED TRAIN works well for a tough puzzle, but would only fluster new solvers in a Monday puzzle. [Above-the-street transportation] is easier and more welcome for beginners.”

Constructor Robin Stears reminds you to utilize the many resources available: “Personally, I use a number of websites to help me write clues: Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha, The Free Dictionary, Crossword Tracker, Internet Movie Database, Reddit, and Google. In the old days, I used to spend hours in the reference section of the library, but nowadays, it’s much easier to search the Internet. There’s a wikia for almost everything.”

When it comes to determining the difficulty of a clue, constructor Doug Peterson suggests doing a bit of research: “My best advice is to solve lots and lots of puzzles of varying levels of difficulty. It won’t take long for you to get a feel for what types of clues are found in what types of puzzles. And it’s OK to have a few hard clues on a Monday or a Tuesday. Just make sure their answers don’t cross.”

Los Angeles Times Crossword Editor Rich Norris and assistant Patti Varol touched on how cluing can set a puzzle’s difficulty: “With the right grid, a talented, creative editor can transform an expert-level puzzle into one that any newbie can solve (and that an expert would still enjoy). Every editor has his or her own ‘familiarity test,’ which is the educated guess we make to determine if a clue or an entry will resonate with or be recognized by our solvers.

“It’s subjective, sure, but there are also pretty straightforward guidelines. If an entry is not in most major dictionaries and only gets 10K or so Google hits, well, that’s pretty obscure and probably shouldn’t be used at all. The editor needs to know the solving audience and needs to know how to balance current and older pop culture references -– much of what the Millennials find easy will completely baffle the Boomer solvers, and vice versa.”

They were also kind enough to offer an example of how cluing a given word can affect clue difficulty:

“Take the entry SMITH, for example. Will SMITH and Ozzie SMITH are arguably more famous than Patti SMITH, who is arguably more famous than Matt SMITH. Plain clues — [Actor Will], [Baseballer Ozzie], [Singer Patti], [Actor Matt] – tend to be hard. Ozzie is the exception in this example, because Ozzie is such an unusual name in baseball that even nonfans are likely to word-associate their way to the correct answer.

“What information is added to those semi-naked clues is key. Thus, [“Men In Black“ actor Will] is an easy clue for SMITH because “Men In Black” is a popular movie franchise and having the first name narrows down the potential answers. Compare [“Just Kids” memoirist Patti]. Even with that first name in the clue, it’s a tough clue — more solvers know Patti Smith as a singer than as a writer, and the title of her memoir doesn’t even hint at her singing career. For a nonfan, [Hall of famer shortstop Ozzie] is about the same difficulty as [Baseballer Ozzie], but, alas, it’s likely only a Doctor Who fan will recognize any clue for Matt SMITH.

“There’s Kate SMITH, and Bessie SMITH, and Agent SMITH of the Matrix movies. Each one resonates with a different solver. The easiest kind of clue for SMITH is, of course, the generic kind: [Common alias] or [Popular surname] or [Suffix with lock or gun]. And then there’s the fun, inferable kind: [Surname that comes from an occupational suffix].”