The PN Blog 2018 Countdown!

It’s one of the final blog posts of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2017 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


But before we get to the countdown, I want to briefly mention two interesting landmarks for the blog in 2018.

In January, we were cited as a source in a college term paper, which is pretty gratifying.

And in April, we were name-dropped in a CNET article about friend of the blog Hevesh5.

Okay, enough bragging. Let’s get to the countdown!


#10 Robot Invasion

With the rise of puzzle-solving programs like Dr. Fill and game-playing AIs like AlphaGo, we’ve been joking for years about machines trying to topple humanity from the top spot as Earth’s resident puzzle-solving masters.

But this year, it kinda stopped feeling like a joke. With Scrabble-playing robots, self-solving Rubik’s Cubes, and a computer program that might’ve cracked one of the most celebrated unsolved mysteries in puzzles, the machines might just be taking over.

#9 Crossword Fun

Crosswords are still the #1 paper puzzle in the world. With more than a hundred years of creativity, cluing challenge, and cunning construction behind them, they continue to fascinate and frustrate us. And we had a lot of fun with crossword topics this year in the blog. Two of my personal favorite entries were asking questions about common crossword clues and the post where we explored the brief-lived moral panic sparked by crosswords.

#8 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

#7 Unsung Heroes

They say history is written by the victors, and that’s true in the short term. But in the long term, history belongs to truth, and more and more, unsung heroes are coming to the fore and getting the well-deserved recognition denied to them earlier.

This is true in the world of puzzles as well, and this year, we had the privilege of putting the spotlight on two iconic women from puzzle history that had previously been lost to time and revisionism: codebreaking visionary Elizebeth Smith Friedman and spymaster Alexandrine, the Countess of Taxis.

#6 Citizen Shoutout

Interacting with the puzzle community is one of the highlights of doing social media for PuzzleNation. And some of the most enjoyable blog posts from this year involved focusing on members of the community and giving them kudos for their contributions to PuzzleNation and the world of puzzles in general.

As such, we created our Citizen Shoutout series to honor those folks, and along the way, we’ve thanked game shops, local escape rooms, and dedicated solvers who make the puzzle community a better place.

#5 PNVR

April Fools Day pranks are an Internet tradition at this point. Some websites go all out in celebrating the holiday. (Heck, ThinkGeek has started using the holiday to tease the public’s interest level in “fake” products, going on to actually release some of those April Fools pranks as real items later in the year!)

So after last year’s Puzzles for Pets gag was a big hit, we couldn’t resist getting in on the pranking fun again this year. The result — PNVR, a fake virtual reality puzzling experience — was as layered as it was silly, complete with fake quotes, splash pages, photos of people riding bikes while playing, and more. The visuals were amazing and hilarious.

#4 Puzzle Events

There are few things better than spending time with fellow puzzlers and gamers, and we got to do a lot of that this year. Whether it was cheering on our fellow puzzlers at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament or putting our hands dirty with some knock-down, drag-out, game-playing ferocity during our Tabletop Tournament, these interactions were both invigorating and encouraging. Events like these really help solidify the spirit of community that comes with being puzzly.

#3 International Puzzle Day Puzzle Hunt

And speaking of interacting with fellow puzzlers, for International Puzzle Day this year, we masterminded a little online puzzle hunt for PuzzleNation solvers. Involving clues hidden in both that day’s Daily POP Crosswords puzzle and Penny Dell Crosswords App free daily puzzle, solvers had to anagram and solve their way around the website in order to earn a prize. It was a serious challenge to design, and great fun to unleash on the world.

#2 Women in Crosswords and Roleplaying Games

Using the blog as an amplifier to get the word out about important causes and worthwhile projects is one of the best things about writing here. And this year in particular, we can be proud of doing our damnedest to vocalize the incredibly valuable role that women have played (and continue to play) in the puzzle/game community.

Whether it was discussing the gender disparity in published constructors in the major crossword venues or pulling back the curtain on misogynist gatekeeping in roleplaying games, we were privileged to ally ourselves with a brilliant, underappreciated contingent of the puzzle community.

#1 Wordventures

There’s nothing more exciting than getting to announce the launch of a product that has been months or years in the making, so picking #1 was a no-brainer for me. It had to be the announcement of Wordventures.

But it’s not just the app, it’s everything behind the app. I’ve watched it grow and evolve in development, and it’s truly unlike anything we’ve released before. The mix of music, imagery, storytelling, and puzzle-solving is so atmospheric and engaging.

It may sound self-serving or schlocky to talk about our flagship products as #1 in the countdown, but it’s something that we’re all extremely proud of, something that we’re constantly working to improve, because we want to make our apps the absolute best they can be for the PuzzleNation audience. That’s what you deserve.

And it’s part of the evolution of PuzzleNation and PN Blog. Even as we work to ensure our current products are the best they can be, we’re always looking ahead to what’s next, what’s on the horizon, what’s to come.

Thanks for spending 2018 with us, through robots and Rubik’s Cubes, through discoveries and daily delights, through puzzle launches and landmark moments. We’ll see you in 2019.


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A Rubik’s Cube is Brought to Life in this Short Film!

In the world of puzzles, there are certain images that are unmistakable, no matter what language you speak. A few concepts that are universally familiar and instantly recognizable.

A Scrabble tile. The black and white pattern of a crossword grid.

A small, multicolored cube.

The Rubik’s Cube is iconic, and it feels like part of the fabric of puzzles at this point. We’ve seen people set new records in speed-solving them, computers designed to solve them, and foods crafted to look like them. There have been Rubik’s Cube Halloween costumes, marriage proposals, and art installations. People are even designing and 3-D printing their own Rubik’s-inspired creations.

But no one has ever brought the Rubik’s Cube to life quite like Bastiaan Schravendeel and the team at Polder Animation.

In the short animated film Scrambled, we’re introduced to two unforgettable characters on a train platform: a girl named Esra and a nameless Rubik’s cube.

When Esra misses her train and busies herself with her phone while waiting for the next one, the perceptive little Rubik’s Cube makes its presence known.

This short is reminiscent of a Miyazaki film — a world with hidden surprises — as well as the charming interactions of Pixar films like Wall-E, and it will no doubt be the best six minutes of your day:

I could talk about all the messages and subtext underpinning this wonderful little story: analog play vs. digital, the value of feeling a well-earned sense of accomplishment, the magic of puzzles. You no doubt detected the same themes while you watched the short.

But instead, I’d rather give a shout-out to the wonderful animators who brought this world to life. Esra is instantly relatable, shutting out the world for a bit while waiting for her train, and the hilarious, puppy-like antics of the Rubik’s Cube are immensely engaging. You can’t help but root for the little guy, even if solving him seems to bring an end to his interactions with Esra.

It’s amazing how quickly you forge a bond with the Rubik’s Cube, and the animators deserve high praise for making a puzzle that inspires wonder and frustration in equal measure into one so endearing.

In an interview with Short of the Week, Schravendeel said:

The biggest challenge was to create a genuinely believable, likable and relatable character from a Rubik’s cube without making it about anything other than it being a Rubik’s cube. I’ve always liked films that manage to evoke emotion and personality from objects that usually don’t have any, especially if it can be done without dialogue.

Dialogue would have ruined the simplicity and wonder of Esra and the Cube’s interactions, and the mix of wordless communication and physical comedy made for a wonderful viewing experience.

Scrambled is a delight. I hope you enjoy.


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Hide & Word Seek With These Puns We Toyed Around With

Yes, yes, it’s that time again. It’s hashtag game time!

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleToys, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with action figures, cars, dolls, brands, characters, and anything else related to toys!

Examples include: Connect Four Square, Ouija Exchange Boards, and Bop-It’s Your Move.

So, without further ado, check out what the puzzlers at PuzzleNation and Penny Dell Puzzles came up with!


My Little Puzzler

Cabbage Patchwords / Cabbage Patchworks Kids

Alphabet Soup-erball

Bowl Gameboy

Mix and Matchbox Cars

Mr. Potato Headings / Mr. Potato Heads and Tails

Barbie Styling Heads & Tails

Barbie and KenKen Dolls

Evel Ken-ken-ievel action figure

License Fashion Plates

Stretch Armstrong Letters

Etch A Stretch Letters

Slide-O-Crayon

Slip and Slide-o-grams

Chutes and Letter Addition

Word Play-Doh / Play-Doh-ku

Word Playmobil

Blue’s Clues in Twos

The Match Game of Life

Mousetriplex

Diamond Minecraft

Raggedy Anagrams

Trivia Pursuit Frame

Mega Blokbuilders

Slinkywords

Sock Monkeywords

Linkwords-in-Logs

Lincoln Logic Problems

Anagram Magic 8-Balls / Anagram Magic 8-Ball Square

Anagram “Magic—The Gathering” Square

Brick by Rubik’s Cube

KakuRubik’s Cube

Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Kakurobots

Giant (Sudo)Koo-ties

Toss Across and Down

Jack in the Letterboxes

Furby Another Name / All Furby One

Ted-Dilemma Ruxpin

View Masterwords

See n’ Say That Again

Speak & Spellbound / Speak & Spelldown / Speak & Starspell

Strawberry Shortz-cake

Mighty Morphin’ Flower Power Rangers

Flower Pow-Pow-Power Wheels Pow-Power Wheels POWER WHEELS!


One of our contributors went above and beyond in musical fashion, resurrecting the old Crossfire riff for some puzzly fun:

It’s some Timed Framework in the future
The ultimate challenge
CROSSWORDS!
CROSSROADS!
You’ll get caught up in the
CROSSBLOCKS!
CROSS PAIRS!
You’ll get up in the
CROSS ARITHMETIC!
CROSS ANAGRAMS!
CROSSOUT QUOTE!
CROSSNUUUUMMMBBBEEEEEERRRRRRSSS!!!!


Have you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzle Toys entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

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!

Give This Rubik-Solving Robot a Hand (Or at Least a Few Fingers)!

Wait a minute, didn’t you write about robots and Rubik’s Cubes just last week?

Yes, gentle reader, I certainly did.

But, as it turns out, that iconic little puzzly cube and all its twisty brethren are incredibly useful to AI and robot designers.

Not only do the acts of pattern recognition, visual assessment, and solving provide ample challenges to programmers — both in terms of speed and efficiency — but the physical manipulation of the cube itself is a frequent subject of testing.

In this particular case, a robot has been developed which can solve the cube one-handed. And, as eloquently stated in this Gizmodo article, that’s a feat in itself:

At one point in time, it was considered an accomplishment when a robot arm could pick up something as delicate as an egg without crushing it between a pair of pincers. But as researchers from the University of Tokyo’s Ishikawa Senoo Lab demonstrate — with the assistance of a high-speed camera monitoring the subtle movements — this agile three-fingered hand can manipulate and reposition Rubik’s fiendish puzzle cube with impressive dexterity.

Check it out:

This is a very different mechanical rig when compared to some of the other speed-solving rigs we’ve seen before. Instead of an elaborate array of motors and manipulators, it’s simply a few limber fingers.

This level of dexterity could prove to have all sorts of applications, from robotic surgery and meal preparation to improving bomb-defusing equipment and hazardous material disposal.

And all thanks to this twisty little puzzle. That’s pretty cool.


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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!

This Puzzle Solves Itself!

The slow, steady march of technological advancement in all fields continues to progress, and the world of puzzles is no exception. In previous blog posts, we’ve discussed not only technological leaps forward in making puzzles (like 3-D printers), but also new developments in solving puzzles.

We’ve joked that robots are coming for our puzzles, thanks to advanced machines and AI programs that can play games like chess, Go, and Scrabble on par with — and sometimes, far better than — human experts.

It’s the same with Rubik’s Cubes and other twisty puzzles. Even though speed solvers continue to break new ground in terms of sheer speed and efficiency, we can’t compete with robots that solve cubes in the blink of an eye.

And now, it seems we’ve reached the natural end of this journey…

A self-solving Rubik’s Cube.

Check it out:

The creation of a Japanese technician and self-styled “hardware hacker,” this Rubik’s Cube is the same size as the traditional cube, but the similarities end there.

Instead of the traditional plastic network of connections that allows you to twist and turn the cube every which way, this cube is packed to the gills with electronics, wiring, a series of motors, and the interconnected pieces that give the Rubik’s Cube its signature movement and flexibility.

A marvel of miniaturization and design, this self-solving Rubik’s Cube clearly has its own built-in solving algorithm. It doesn’t simply memorize the twists employed to scramble the cube and then reverse them; the solution and scrambling are completely different chains of events.

All in all, it’s a thoroughly impressive creation. Of course, if I’d known there were going to be self-solving Rubik’s Cubes, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time trying to solve one myself!


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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!

It’s Puzzle Magic!

[Crossword constructor and magician David Kwong wows an audience.]

There is a certain sense of wonder that accompanies a well-constructed puzzle. The skill and artistry it takes to craft a quality crossword or brain teaser, weaving together words and leaving a finished puzzle in your wake, rather than a bundle of crosswordese and obscurities is truly something remarkable.

But that’s not the sort of puzzle magic we’re discussing today. No, instead, we’re returning to the CW summer series Penn and Teller: Fool Us to observe the magic of another puzzly entertainer at work.

For the uninitiated, Fool Us is a show where magicians and performers from all around the world present their best tricks, illusions, and bits of magical wizardry to try and stump the famous duo.

And on a recent episode, magician John Michael Hinton performed two acts of magical trickery involving a Rubik’s Cube.

Check out this video where he dazzles Penn and Teller:

That final reveal was a thing of beauty!

You can check out more of John Michael Hinton’s magic on his YouTube page! And let me know if you’ve seen any other acts of puzzle magic! I’d love to check them out!


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!