PuzzleNation Product Review: Mad Libs: The Game!

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[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

There are a lot of puzzly games where wordplay is key. In Scrabble, Bananagrams, or Words with Friends, it’s all about forming words and fitting them into grids. In Taboo, it’s all about communicating without using certain words. In Balderdash, it’s all about crafting the perfect definition, either to mislead other players or to demonstrate your mastery of language and vocabulary.

Mad Libs: The Game follows in that grand tradition of wordplay, but instead of forming words, avoiding them, or defining them, this game is about using them to their utmost in order to entertain your fellow players.

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Each player starts with 7 Word cards. Each card depicts a word in noun, verb, adjective, or adverb form (or multiple forms, for adaptable words), and these cards are the ingredients for cooking up funny, weird, entertaining sentences in the game.

But what do you do with those cards? Easy! Just like the original fill-in-the-blank stories, you’re going to use those cards to conjure up the best ways to fill the blanks in our Sentence cards.

So each round begins with a new Sentence card and the players choosing Word cards from their hand in order to come up with the most entertaining words to fill in the blanks for this round’s Sentence card. Then everyone reads their completed sentence aloud, and a vote is held where players point to the player with the best completed sentence. That player then wins a point.

The first player to earn three points wins.

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Now, this style of gameplay won’t seem revolutionary to anyone who has played with magnetic poetry or indulged in the much-raunchier Cards Against Humanity or one of the many other games in that vein.

But whereas those games tend to traffic in shock value for their humor, Mad Libs: The Game is all about silliness. This is a game that encourages that same level of creativity, wordplay, and surprise, but in a way that’s appropriate for family gameplay. For example, unlike the very adult themes found in CAH, the harshest words in this game are more along the lines of “pierce” or “heartless,” nothing that would raise a parent’s eyebrow.

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[Example of a completed sentence:
Puppies may make the world go ’round,
but it’s flower girls that pay the bills.”]

This is a terrific gateway game for younger puzzlers to get them to not only think about words, but to explore how to use them effectively. It combines humor, storytelling, silliness, and craft to make a good, clean, and most importantly, fun time.

Looney Labs is usually the home of gleefully chaotic games like Fluxx and Loonacy, but they always manage to couch their products in family replayability, and Mad Libs: The Game is no exception.

You can pick up Mad Libs: The Game here, and to check out all of our reviews of Looney Labs games and products, click here!


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Compose Yourself

Compose Yourself, ThinkFun’s latest offering, is unlike any product I’ve ever reviewed before, and that’s part of what makes it special. It is a single unending puzzle and a million different smaller puzzles all at once. It is literally as simple or as complex as you choose to make it.

You’re given sixty transparent cards (two copies each of thirty distinct note patterns). Each card features four different codes: one for the notes as they appear, one for the notes rotated 90 degrees, one for the notes backward, and one for the notes backward AND rotated 90 degrees. This allows for a staggering number of choices for a budding composer.

As you play around with placing the transparent cards in various order, you can log into the ThinkFun website and use the code provided to access a digital composing program.

[A picture of my first composition in progress…]

Input the codes from your layout of transparent cards in groups of four — as many as you wish! — and then click play. You can hear your new composition played on marimba, performed by an orchestra, or in both modes simultaneously!

Now, I confess, I am not a musically inclined person, but after fifteen minutes or so playing around with random cards — placing, flipping, reversing, and rotating them — I finally clicked play, and I was surprised by the results. (I’d unintentionally created a tune that felt perfect for the background of a Legend of Zelda game. *laughs*)

It feels like your work comes to life at your fingertips. And all you can think about is how to improve it, how to make the most of it, and how new cards will change it.

Each card represents part of a puzzle, and you may have no idea what the finished product will be, but that doesn’t make the process any less satisfying. This is old-school free-form creativity, like dipping your hands into a bucket of LEGOs, pulling out some pieces, and seeing what you can create.

ThinkFun has challenged us in the past with puzzlers like Houdini and Gravity Maze, and they’ve offered younger solvers the chance to learn coding in Robot Turtles and optics in Laser Maze, all while enjoying an experience that feels like play because it IS play.

But they’ve truly outdone themselves with Compose Yourself; it’s a learning experience, a creative experience, and a puzzly experience all at once. What a treat.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: Indie 500 Puzzle 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.

May 30 marked the first (hopefully annual!) Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, hosted in Washington, D.C. by constructors Erik Agard, Peter Broda, Neville Fogarty, Andy KravisEvan Birnholz, and Finn Vigeland.

While I couldn’t attend the tournament, I did download the tournament puzzles, and after a few weeks, I had the opportunity to sit down and tackle the six puzzles prepared for the event. And today, after a few weeks’ reflection, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on those puzzles, both for the organizers and for any interested PuzzleNationers who might be considering participating in the future.

[Note: I solved the PDF versions of these puzzles, which apparently differed in some ways from the PUZ versions.]


Puzzle 1: Welcome to D.C. by Erik Agard

The opening puzzle offered a solid challenge, utilizing the colors for the various lines of the Washington Metro as clues for the themed entries. (For instance, “Red Line” led you to the answer BASE PATH.)

Agard’s effort set the tone for the rest of the tournament with a some accessible pop culture-fueled clues as well as a fleet of strong, fair clues most puzzlers should have no difficulty cracking. A few more obscure references were made — an Internet meme and a Hunger Games “ship” name among them — but without hindering fair cluing.

Interesting grid entries included GINSU, YOUSE GUYS, and NIQAB, and my favorite clue was probably “Summer’s end?” for TOTAL.

Puzzle 2: Looseness of the Vowels by Peter Broda

Broda’s puzzle incorporated shared boxes — some grid squares were divided in half, allowing two vowels to be placed instead of one — and answering each themed clue required a two-word phrase that shared every consonant.

(For instance, clue 52 Across read “With 52 Across, what David Ortiz practices that annoys his neighbors?” And the grid, once filled, read B[I/A]GP[A/I]P[IE]S, a.k.a. BIG PAPI’S BAGPIPES. This is why the clue cites itself in “With 52 Across,” so that the solver knows the answer word applies twice)

Those neat touches of wordplay weren’t the only tough crossings, however. The crossing of two unusual phrases in BE GENTLE with LAYS STAX actually forced me to abandon the puzzle at one point and return to it later to complete.

Interesting grid entries included TV CHEF, ICE KING, and VISA BILL, and my favorite clue was “Former red giant” for USSR. (Being a science and astronomy geek, I was instantly misled by this one.)

Puzzle 3: Candy Bars by Finn Vigeland

Finn was chosen as the guest constructor to join the five fierce puzzlers who organized the Indie 500, and I was thoroughly impressed with the very clever construction of his grid. In Finn’s puzzle, certain paired black squares were replaced with a graphic of a candy bar, and it was up to the solver to deduce that each entry, either down or across, that touched the candy bar was missing either C, Y, or both.

[The candy bars were in color in the PDF, but I printed them in b and w for solving.]

For instance, in this section of the grid, DIS and ALL (clued as “Checker, for one” and “Word after straight or male, in social justice conversations,” respectively) were actually DISC and ALLY when you added the CY. [Get it? CandY bar?] Similarly, REST and ALTA were actually CREST and YALTA, and the across entry CLING WRAP was actually the theme entry CYCLING WRAP.

This was my favorite of the six puzzles in the tournament, one with a great hook and excellent execution.

Interesting grid entries included SENIOR GALA, DOT GOV, OH BEHAVE!, and PT BOATS, and my favorite clue was easily “Brian who crosswords would have you believe is the only musician worth knowing (other than 97-Across, maybe)” for ENO. (97-Across was, predictably, ONO.)

Puzzle 4: A Cute Puzzle by Andy Kravis

After a pair of heavy-thinking puzzles, Puzzle 4 was an excellent palate cleanser difficulty-wise, complete with solid cluing and some fun entries. Kravis’s puzzle had solvers adding an accented E to the end of themed entries in order to complete them. For instance, “A giant leap for elephant-kind?” was JUMBOJETE.

A well-constructed puzzle (quite possibly designed to lure solvers into a false sense of security before Puzzle 5 walloped them), this was probably the most accessible puzzle of the six, one that casual solvers would quite enjoy.

Interesting grid entries included MINAJ, TEAM USA, KOOPA, and A-MINUS, and my favorite clues were the mildly-risque pair of “Prince Albert’s can?” for both ARSE and LOO.

Puzzle 5: Swap Meet by Neville Fogarty

Apparently, whether it’s the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament or the Indie 500, Puzzle 5 shall forever be a beast of a solve.

Fogarty’s puzzle was by far the toughest of the six, and I admit, it took me forever to uncover the hook: antonyms which crossed at the same starting box were swapped. For instance, 1-Across was “Numbskulled” for THICK and 1-Down was “Dilute” for THIN, but you had to place THICK as 1-Down and THIN as 1-Across.

Beyond that, challenging crossings like IDEA MAN and LAD MAG kept me guessing, and the creative grid entries left few crossword standards for any struggling solvers.

Interesting grid entries included ONE SEC, SHAKY CAM, FAIR GAME, XKCD, and IRISH STEW, and my favorite clue was probably “Number for the troops” for OVER THERE.

[Say, since we’re discussing crosswords, have you checked out the
Penny Dell Crosswords App? This concludes our shameless plug.]

Puzzle 6: The Final Lap by Evan Birnholz

The closing puzzle of the tournament was offered in two difficulty levels: the Inside Track (designated for solvers who finished in the top 25% of the field in a crossword tournament with published standings in the past 5 years) and the Outside Track (designated for everyone else). I opted for the Outside Track, then looked over the cluing for the Inside Track.

This themeless closer was no layup, though; no matter which track you were on, the cluing relied on solid trivia knowledge and classic puzzle-solving skill. (Kudos to Evan for crafting a solid grid with tough AND tougher clues. And for dropping a much-appreciated Army of Darkness reference in the Inside Track clues.)

Interesting grid entries included WHAT ON EARTH?, MOON UNIT, EDIT MENU, and PIE CHART, and my favorite clue (among many I quite liked) was probably “Things a benched player might work on during practice” for ETUDES.


Overall, I thought the Indie 500 was an impressive series of puzzles, rich with cleverness and style. Puzzle 5 easily rivaled ACPT’s Puzzle 5 in terms of difficulty, and the cluing was topnotch. I look forward to its return next year, and hopefully some of you will join me in accepting the Indie 500 challenge!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

PuzzleNation Product Reviews: Loonacy

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Looney Labs is a game company with a creative model everyone can get behind: high replay value through wildly interactive, adaptable game play. Perhaps best known for their card game Fluxx, Looney Labs games are designed for portability, packing a lot of punch into smaller, more efficient packaging.

Their latest release is Loonacy, a pattern-matching card game that requires quick reflexes, a quicker eye, and no small amount of strategy.

In Loonacy, players compete to drop all of the cards in their hand by dropping them one-at-a-time into various piles by matching one of two symbols on the card. For instance, if you’ve got a card with a cookie and a brain on it, you can drop that card onto a pile with a cookie on top or a brain on top.

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You can try to strategize by arranging cards into your hand by symbol or possible chains — brain/cookie, cookie/ship, ship/puppy — but you have to play each card individually before you can drop the next card. And since everyone is racing to empty their hands at the same time, it can rapidly become a very chaotic playing experience.

(And in your enthusiasm, you’ll probably end up bending a few cards. Hey, it happens.)

But there is an element of strategy to the gameplay. If you have multiple cards with a cookie, you’ll want to play the card where the other symbol doesn’t help your opponents. (For instance, if there’s already a brain symbol showing and no one can play on it, play the cookie/brain card.)

That way, you can play your second (and hopefully, your third) cookie cards in a row and decrease the number of cards in your hand in a hurry. Of course, if someone drops their card on top of that cookie card, your strategy might go right out the window.

But that’s part of the fun. Loonacy tests observation, reflexes, and decision-making skill, all in the matter of a few minutes per game.

While it’s light on the puzzling, it’s high in charm, replay factor, and style. The sheer number of potential images to match makes this far more interesting than the average card game or pattern-matching challenge.

Looney Labs has a winner on their hands with Loonacy. I suspect it’ll be a big hit on Saturday during our International TableTop Day celebrations at home.

[Click here to check out our reviews of several other Looney Labs products!]


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

PuzzleNation App Reviews: Glyph Quest

Welcome to the latest edition of PuzzleNation Reviews! Today will be the first installment of a new review series: PuzzleNation App Reviews! That’s right, we’re delving into the world of games and apps for your tablet or smartphone!

Not only that, but we’re also introducing a new member of the PuzzleNation Crew. Please welcome our resident App player and puzzle fiend, Sherri!

Sherri will be giving you the lowdown on puzzle games and apps of all sorts, including both new and well-known games. So, without further ado, let’s explore Sherri’s first PuzzleNation App Review: Glyph Quest!


Glyph Quest is an iOS game app that combines elements of a fantasy role-playing game with a simple matching game.

I am a big RPG fan, so this game sounded right up my alley. I found it to be really very enjoyable, a terrific way to pass the time and much more than simply matching items. The simple 2D animation is cute and has a retro feel to it. You are able to choose your own character, a male or female spellcaster, and as that character, you go on quests to defeat monsters simply by matching 2 or more glyphs.

However, the game isn’t quite that easy. The glyphs represent six elements: earth, air, fire, water, dark, and light. There is some strategy involved. Making chains of matches, i.e. matching earth glyphs more than two times in a row, increases the power of the earth spell, but if you cast an air spell (its opposite) after an earth chain, that air spell is much more powerful! You also have to pay attention to the monsters you fight, as some are resistant to certain types of spells but weakened by others.

Beyond the matching element is the RPG element. Your character levels up as he or she defeats monsters and completes quests. You also have a health meter that you need to keep an eye on. Your spells get upgraded the more you use them, and you can use the money you earn from the quests to make upgrades to your knapsack, among other things. With the sack you have the ability to carry health potions and some offensive weapons.

This is a really cute and fun game. It is a great way to pass time when you want something that will engage your brain but won’t overtax it.

Ratings for Glyph Quest:

  • Enjoyability: 4/5
  • How well puzzles are incorporated: 4/5
  • Graphics: 2/5 (for the retro feel; the graphics aren’t great but fit the retro feel)
  • Gameplay: 3/5 (it can get a bit repetitive but there is enough variety with the monsters to keep it fresh)

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Tumblr, download our puzzle iBooks and apps, play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

PuzzleNation Product Review: Pink Hijinks, Chrononauts, and Fluxx: The Board Game

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Looney Labs is a game company with a creative model everyone can get behind: high replay value through wildly interactive, adaptable game play. Perhaps best known for their card game Fluxx, Looney Labs games are designed for portability, packing a lot of punch into smaller, more efficient packaging.

They offered us the opportunity to try out three of their games for the Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, each with its own unique flavor and playing style, and we put them to the full PuzzleNation Blog test.

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The set-up for Pink Hijinks seems simple enough. Three stacks of pink pyramids (small on top of medium on top of large, like a little tree) occupy the middle row of a 3×3 grid.

Based on the roll of the die, you and your opponent maneuver your pieces with one of two goals in mind: either trying to either fill your home row with all three pyramids of a given size, or pushing all nine pyramids into your opponent’s row.

It’s a miniature chess game, allowing for offensive and defensive strategies. After a few rounds, we started improvising new rules and different gameplay styles, and discovered how much fun you could have with nine little pink pyramids. Pretty good for a game that fits in your pocket.

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Pink Hijinks is part of Looney Labs’ multi-colored Looney Pyramids series, an ever-expanding line of puzzle games built around their signature pyramid game pieces. Not only can you buy individual games, but the company is constantly releasing new variations on their games through their website, allowing players to combine pieces from multiple Looney Pyramids products and play brand-new games. (They’ve even compiled a listing of fan-designed games using Looney Pyramids!)

As far as I can tell, the Looney Pyramids series has the loftiest of goals: to offer as many unique playing experiences as a deck of cards, arguably the most adaptable tool in a gamester’s arsenal. And based on their lineup thus far, Looney Labs is well on their way toward reaching that goal.

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Time travel isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would do it. And Looney Labs takes that idea to the next level with Chrononauts, a card game where multiple time travelers are manipulating history, capturing artifacts, and racing to return to their own time with their missions complete.

Chrononauts is all about the cards. You’ve got mission cards, ID cards, timeline cards that make up the playing space, artifact cards, cards that change history (and others that change it back), as well as cards that can help or hinder your fellow time travelers.

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The history-changing aspect is the most puzzly part of the game, as you determine what moments to change (and which to protect from your opponents) in order for your timeline to come to pass, but ensuring you don’t accidentally end the game by creating too many temporal paradoxes. The designers did an impressive job figuring out how major points in history were interconnecting, and watching the effect ripple down through the cards after making a bold history-altering move is arguably the best part of the game.

My one caveat regarding Chrononauts is that the game goes far too quickly with only two players. It’s a game designed around consequences, and the more consequences that are out of your hands, the more engaging and challenging the game becomes. I’d recommend you always recruit as many players as possible to make the gameplay last.

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There are certain things you take for granted when playing a board game. You pick your game piece, and that’s yours for the duration of the game. You draw a given number of cards per turn. The board itself is static, so you can strategize.

But in Fluxx: The Board Game (titled to distinguish it from Fluxx: The Card Game), all of these givens are up for grabs, making for easily the most gleefully chaotic board game experience I’ve ever had. The board is made up of nine individual tiles, which can be shifted or rotated by your fellow players. The rules can be changed, affecting the number of spaces you move per round, how many cards you can hold, and even how many goals you must achieve before the game is over.

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[A simple punch card helps players keep track of the ever-shifting rules.]

It’s mind-melting fun, a game that demands constant awareness and a strong ability to think on your feet, since the rules can change in an instant. (One game, a card was played that made the players switch game pieces, so I went from little blue men to little green circles, and the swerve threw me off for at least two rounds.)

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Fluxx is the perfect example of the Looney Labs creative model: high replay value through wildly interactive, adaptable game play. Every game of Fluxx is different, not only because the rules are so malleable, but because with multiple games under your belt, you and your opponents become craftier, more adeptly manipulating the board and the rules to your advantage. It’s a great time.

I think puzzle fans and board game fans alike will find quite a bit to enjoy with the games from Looney Labs. So if you’ve got some Christmas cash burning a hole in your pocket, check them out!


Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Tumblr, download our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!