Turn Your Smartphone Into a Rubik-Solving Sidekick?

I just can’t resist a bit of Rubik’s Cube news.

We’ve covered Rubik’s Cubes a lot on this blog. We’ve seen them solved underwater, while being juggled, during a skydive, and one move at a time by strangers on a world tour. And yes, we’ve seen them solved in increasing faster times, both by humans and machines.

The human record hovers around the five-second mark, while the machine record stands at .38 seconds, which is brain-meltingly fast.

Now there’s a new tool on the market to up your Rubik-solving game like never before. It’s called GoCube, and it’s on Kickstarter right now.

GoCube is a Rubik’s-inspired twisty puzzle that is Bluetooth-enabled in order to interact with a phone or tablet. It offers real-time updates on your solving progress — which corresponds to areas of the physical cube that light up — as well as carrying a whole host of other features.

You can use it as a training tool to teach you the tricks of the solving trade, whether you’re just learning how to solve a twisty puzzle or you have aspirations of being a speed-solver.

GoCube’s connectivity even allows you to compete in head-to-head solves with other users. Plus you can use the cube as a controller for mini-games, in dexterity challenges, and more.

This seems like an impressive step forward for twisty puzzles. Although the price tag is pretty hefty — the basic Kickstarter package starts at $69 (although the creators claim it will retail for $119) — the campaign has already blown past its initial goal of $25,000. It currently sits at over $400,000 in Kickstarter-backed funds with over a month to go.

Puzzles continue to grow and adapt to the modern technological revolution in unexpected and fascinating ways. I can’t wait to see what tech-savvy puzzlers cook up next.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: IcoSoKu

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

Most puzzles — whether we’re talking about puzzle boxes, jigsaw puzzles, physical brain teasers, or mechanical puzzles — operate under a simple premise: the puzzle arrives in one configuration, and it’s up to you to solve it and put it into a different configuration.

With puzzle boxes, you’re opening them. With jigsaws, you’re assembling the pieces. With physical brain teasers and mechanical puzzles, you’re separating them, freeing a given piece, or accomplishing a particular task. But in each case, they’ve arrived that way. You have been pitted against the designer.

Project Genius‘s IcoSoKu is something different. IcoSoKu challenges you to create your own puzzle, and then solve it.

The setup is elegant in its simplicity. It’s a puzzle ball consisting of a twenty-sided icosahedron base, twelve numbered pegs, and twenty triangular tiles with different combinations of pips at the corners.

To start, remove all of the tiles and all of the pegs from the icosahedron. Place the numbered pegs wherever you wish on the puzzle ball.

Then, you must figure out how to arrange the triangular tiles on the puzzle ball.

This is tougher than it seems. Each triangular tile has a different combination of pips in its corners. Some corners have none, while others have one, two, or three pips. And each corner neighbors a different numbered peg. Each numbered peg is surrounded by five corners, and the pips on each corner, when added together, should total the number on the peg.

And with numbers ranging from 1 to 12, you have to be both clever and careful in your tile placement. That peg labeled “1” can only have a single pip neighboring it, meaning that the other four tiles surrounding that peg should have empty corners.

[Three different looks at the same solved puzzle ball.]

IcoSoKu combines the deduction of placement puzzles like Minesweeper or Blackout! with the mathematical puzzling of a magic square or a Sudoku puzzle. And by making the puzzle three-dimensional, it places a healthy demand on your puzzly faculties. You’re constantly tipping and turning the puzzle ball, because you can never see the whole puzzle at once, making it much harder to manage your tiles and maintain a good sense of just how many of those valuable little pips you’ve already used.

And as soon as you’ve placed the final tile and searched the puzzle ball all over, confirming a successful solution… all you want to do is strip away all of the tiles and pegs to test your wits again.

Assigning pegs randomly creates a completely different solving experience from bundling all the large numbers together on one side and all the small numbers together on the other side of the ball. Although you will begin to spot certain patterns and techniques that will come in handy as you solve each successive permutation of the puzzle, you’ll still find IcoSoKu to be an engaging and satisfying challenge.

Plus there are other ways you can enjoy the puzzle after cracking it yourself. I challenged a fellow puzzler to a timed IcoSoKu solve-off! First, I arranged the pegs and timed how long it took her to solve the puzzle ball I’d devised. Then, she arranged the pegs and timed how long it took me to unravel the puzzle ball she’d created. It added a fun touch of competition and uncertainty to the solving experience, one that my patient solo-solving didn’t capture.

But whether you’re tackling IcoSoKu yourself or with a puzzly rival, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. It’s a DIY puzzle, masterfully put together and waiting for you to execute.

IcoSoKu is available from Project Genius and other participating retailers, appropriate for solvers 9 and up!


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What Can YOU Solve In Under a Second?

Oh yes, it’s Rubik’s Cube time once again.

Every time I think I’ve seen everything someone can do with a Rubik’s Cube, a month or two later, another amazing video appears on the Internet, proving me wrong.

We’ve covered Rubik’s Cubes a lot on this blog. We’ve seen them solved underwater, while being juggled, during a skydive, and yes, we’ve seen them solved in increasing faster times.

As of last year, the record for a robot solving a Rubik’s Cube was .637 seconds. That robot, Sub1, has been the Guinness World Record holder ever since.

Until now, it seems.

That’s a right, a pair of engineers — Ben Katz and Jared Di Carlo — have nearly halved that world record with what they call their “Rubik’s Contraption.” This cube-solving bot posts a solving speed of .38 seconds.

Their machine is so fast that they had to program it to only allow one motor to move at a time. You see, in previous runs, more than one motor would try to move, and the cube would be RIPPED APART.

This lightning-fast robot is still waiting review by the team from Guinness, so, for now, Sub1’s record stands.

But for how long?


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The Robots Are Here and They Can Spell

[Image courtesy of World of Weird Things.]

I warned you, fellow puzzlers. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

The robots are coming, and they want our puzzles and games.

Let’s look at the hit list:

  • Deep Blue defeated Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov under standard chess tournament time constraints
  • IBM’s supercomputer Watson bested previous Jeopardy! champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings to nab a million-dollar prize
  • An AI program called DeepMind taught itself to play several Atari games with superhuman proficiency
  • There are several robots constructed out of LEGOs that solve Rubik’s Cubes in seconds flat
  • Dr. Fill, the crossword-solving computer program, competes at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and in a matter of five years, it has jumped from 141st place in the 2012 tournament to 11th place in the 2017 tournament
  • Just last year, an AI developed by Google, AlphaGo (a product of DeepMind), twice defeated Ke Jie, the 19-year-old Go tournament champion ranked number one in the world

And Scrabble fans, you’re the next ones in the crosshairs of the machines.

During last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the Industrial Technology Research Institute out of Taiwan debuted the IVS Robot — aka The Intelligent Vision System for Companion Robots — a machine capable of defeating human competitors at Scrabble.

[Image courtesy of ABC News.]

Instead of tiles and a standard Scrabble board, the IVS reads letter cubes (similar to a child’s alphabet blocks) played on a slightly larger gameboard. But time limits for play and standard rules still apply.

From an article on Engadget:

It’s hard not to be impressed by all the moving parts here. For one, the robot has to learn and understand the rules of the game and the best strategies for winning. It also needs to be able to see and recognize the game pieces and the spots on the board. That means it can read the letters on the cubes and identify the double-letter and triple-word score spots.

And, last but not least, it needs the dexterity to place the pieces on the board and not disturb the existing letters — which is especially difficult when you’re laying down two words next to each other to rack up those two-letter combos.

A quick Google search confirms that the robot bested practically every reporter, tech-savvy or otherwise, that crossed its path.

In the video below, North American Scrabble champion Will Anderson teams up with reporter Lexy Savvides to battle the robot, but a technical error prevents the game from getting very far:

Still, you can see the potential here. I’m sure it won’t be long before the IVS Robot is making appearances at Scrabble tournaments, attempting to establish machine dominance over another puzzly activity.

Stay strong, fellow puzzlers.


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PuzzleNation Blog Looks Back on 2017!

2017 is quickly coming to a close, and as I look back on an eventful year in the world of puzzles and games, I’m incredibly proud of the contributions both PuzzleNation Blog and PuzzleNation made to the puzzle community as a whole.

Over the last year, we explored board games and card games, strategy games and trivia games, dice games and tile games, do-it-yourself puzzlers and pen-and-paper classics. We met game designers, constructors, artists, and creative types of all kinds.

We unraveled math puzzles and tackled the Crossword from Hell. We accepted the challenge of diabolical brain teasers, optical illusions, Internet memes, and more, even pondering our place in the world of puzzles as electronic solvers like Dr. Fill and AlphaGo rise in capability.

We delved into puzzle history with posts about the legacy of female codebreakers in World War II, game dice from centuries ago, theories about Shakespeare’s secret codes, and the long history of cryptography and the NSA. We brought to light valuable examples of puzzles in art, popular culture, famous quotations, and even the natural world as we pondered whether bees are verifiable problem-solvers like crows and octopuses.

We spread the word about numerous worthwhile Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, watching as the puzzle/game renaissance continued to amaze and surprise us with innovative new ways to play and solve. We shared worthy causes like Puzzles for Progress, as well as amazing projects like new escape rooms, dazzling corn mazes, and the ongoing Kubrick’s Game interactive experience.

We cheered the 75th anniversary of the New York Times Crossword, and chronicled the many celebrations that marked the occasion, from guest crossword constructors like Bill Clinton and Lisa Loeb to a puzzle-centric cruise across the Atlantic!

We also mourned as friends and fellow puzzlers passed on. We said goodbye to David Lindsey and Raymond Smullyan, two underappreciated giants of the field. The pun-fueled show @midnight this year, which inspired our monthly hashtag game, also closed up shop, sadly.

We celebrated International TableTop Day, made puzzly bouquets in honor of International Puzzle Day, marveled at the records broken at the Rubik’s Cube World Championship, attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and New York Toy Fair, and dove deep into an ever-expanding litany of puzzle events like the Indie 500, BosWords, Lollapuzzoola 10, and Crosswords LA.

We found puzzly ways to celebrate everything from Pi Day, the Super Bowl, and Star Wars Day to Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and we were happy to share so many remarkable puzzly landmark moments with you. We even discovered Puzzle Mountain!

It’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to explore the world of puzzles and games with you, my fellow puzzle lovers and PuzzleNationers. We marked five years of PuzzleNation Blog this year, I recently penned my 800th blog post, and I’m more excited to write for you now than I was when I started.

And honestly, that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune, hard work, and accomplishments in 2017 went well beyond that.

Every month, we delivered quality content for the Penny Dell Crosswords App. From monthly deluxe sets and bonus boxes to Dell Collection sets and holiday bundles, dozens upon dozens of topnotch puzzles wended their way to our loyal and enthusiastic solvers.

And just last month, we launched our newest puzzly endeavor — Daily POP Crosswords — bringing you fresh, up-to-date cluing and relatable themes in world-class puzzles created by some of the industry’s best constructors! (Many of whom you’ve gotten to know in our recent interview series, Meet the Daily POP Crosswords Constructors!)

But whether we’re talking about the Penny Dell Crosswords App or Daily POP Crosswords, I’m proud to say that every single puzzle represents our high standards of quality puzzle content crafted for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

And your response has been fantastic! Daily POP Crosswords is thriving, the blog has over 2200 followers, and with our audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms continuing to grow, the enthusiasm of the PuzzleNation readership is both humbling and very encouraging.

2017 was our most ambitious, most exciting, and most creatively fulfilling year to date, and the coming year promises to be even brighter.

Thank you for your support, your interest, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. The new year looms large, and we look forward to seeing you in 2018!


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This Rubik’s Cube Feat Is a Real Toss-Up!

You know, every time I think I’ve seen it all when it comes to Rubik’s Cubes, some enterprising solver proves me wrong yet again.

Over the years, I’ve seen a LOT of cool things done with Rubik’s Cubes.

I’ve seen the world’s most complex Rubik’s-style cube being solved, a building turned into a solvable Rubik’s Cube, and a Rubik’s Cube solved one move at a time by strangers across the globe.

I’ve even seen a Rubik’s Cube solved during a skydive.

So when I saw the video below, I originally thought it would fit right in with the cavalcade of impressive solves we’ve shared in the past.

I mean, solving three Rubik’s Cubes in 20 seconds… while juggling them? That’s incredible!

Check it out:

Wait, what’s that?

If you watch very closely, there’s something strange going on in this one.

Yes, it turns out it’s been faked. This is not a real solve.

But the reveal of how they pulled it off is almost more impressive than actually solving them so quickly:

That’s a lot of effort to make it look real.

But has anyone actually done a juggling solve of multiple Rubik’s Cubes?

Yes. A little more searching turns up the following six-minute doozy:

Here, as far as I can tell, is a genuine video of someone solving three Rubik’s Cubes while juggling them. It takes him six minutes, and he solves them one at a time (one twist at a time, every third throw, as you can see if you slow it down).

The camera isn’t steady; it’s constantly moving around. And the daunting length of the video adds to the credibility. You saw all the work that went into digitally animating 20 seconds. Doing so for six straight minutes with far greater variation in light and framing? That would be a Herculean effort in editing.

The only thing that’s weird about this one is how nonchalant everyone around this guy acts while he’s performing an amazing feat of concentration and dexterity.

It might not be a rapid-fire speed-solve, but it is a worthwhile watch nonetheless.

Now, to close out today’s post, here’s the opposite of speed-solving, as two Rubik’s pros take 18 minutes (sped up in the video) to solve the world’s largest Rubik’s Cube:

I like how the sheer size of the cube seems to flummox them a bit. After all, it’s not as easy to look at all sides of the cube and assess it as you would a normal Rubik’s Cube.

Still, it’s a very cool feat to document.

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here, trying to crack a regular old cube. Good thing I’ve got extra time off for the holiday. I’ll need it.


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