PuzzleNation Product Review: Color Cube Sudoku

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

Sudoku is one of the most popular pen-and-paper puzzles in the world. It’s found in numerous daily newspapers, puzzle books, and smartphone apps.

After years of tackling regular Sudoku, Extreme Sudoku, Word Sudoku, Mega Sudoku, Samurai Sudoku, Geometric Sudoku, Sum-Doku, and numerous other variations, you’d think the puzzle community at large would’ve exhausted every possible version of Sudoku.

Enter the crafty folks at ThinkFun, who have put a unique spin on another Sudoku variant: Color Sudoku. In Color Sudoku, you have nine colors to arrange instead of numbers.

ThinkFun has upped the ante with Color Cube Sudoku, their latest puzzle-game, by combining the twisty-turny cube possibilities of a Rubik’s Cube with Sudoku-style deductive solving.

It seems like a simple enough set-up. You’ve got a tray and nine multi-colored cubes. Each cube has four of the six possible colors: green, red, blue, yellow, orange, and white. And it’s up to you to arrange the nine cubes in the grid in a 3×3 pattern so that each color only appears once in each row and column.

But that arrangement already introduces complications. Unlike a pen-and-paper puzzle, where you can place any number (or in this case, any color) in any square you choose, the preset color arrangements on each cube limit your choices.

If you need a blue square in the first row, sixth column, given the cubes available to you, you might end up with a second yellow square in your row. Which means, instead of needing a new cube, you need to change one of the cubes you’ve already placed and try again.

What once seemed simple now offers a greater challenge.

But, like many ThinkFun puzzle-games, the more you play around with the possibilities, the more you begin developing new strategies and get into the psychology of the puzzle itself.

Once you’ve placed a few of the cubes, next-level deductive reasoning kicks in, and you can eliminate certain possibilities and begin working more than one step ahead at a time.

For instance, if you’ve placed two cubes in a column, you’ll know you need to change one of the cubes if the third cube will need a green spot in both columns. Since that’s impossible, even without placing the third cube, you know you need to change one of the two you’ve already placed. Which means you’re preventing wasted moves and pushing closer to an actual solution.

Whether you’re tackling Color Cube Sudoku alone or with partners, whether you’re trying to crack a regular 6×6 pattern or taking a whack at some of the variant challenges they suggest — like knight’s paths and other difficult patterns — this is a deduction puzzle that feels like play instead of work.

When I tested this out with a fellow puzzler, we immediately began playing it in a slightly more competitive way. One of us would place a cube, and then the other would place a cube, and we would keep going until no cube could be placed.

You can end the game there, or you can take it a step further, and introduce rules where moving or shifting previously-placed cubes becomes part of the game in order to extend the puzzly gameplay. Heck, if you go long enough, it eventually becomes a race to see who can actually solve the Color Cube Sudoku layout first!

The designers state that there are 2,641,807,540,224 different ways to arrange the 9 cubes, and with seemingly endless variation in such a simple set-up, this is one puzzle-game you can put down and return to numerous times without burning out or feeling like you’ve conquered it forever.

Color Cube Sudoku is available for $19.99 from ThinkFun and select retailers!


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The Rubik’s Cube World Championship!

This past week, Rubik’s Cube enthusiasts from around the world convened in Paris, France, for the Rubik’s Cube World Championship.

The event spanned three days, welcoming over 1,000 competitors from dozens of different countries to test their speed-solving abilities against fellow solvers.

Think about that. Dozens of countries. The Rubik’s Cube is truly ubiquitous these days. (Rubikquitous, perhaps?)

Although the bulk of the competitions were centered around speed, the list of events was pretty impressive, including solving a cube in the fewest moves, solving blindfolded, solving one-handed, and even solving with your feet! Plus there were events where competitors solved variations on the classic cube!

[From left to right, a Skewb, a Megaminx, and a Pyraminx. All three cube variants were used in speed-solving competitions.]

You can check out all of the results from the Championship by clicking here. But I do want to make a point of highlighting just how quick these competitors are.

The speeds we are talking about here? Mind-blowing. The 3×3 cube champion averaged 6.85 seconds across 5 solves. His fastest solve was 5.87 seconds. That’s madness.

And that level of speed was not an outlier. You had to ratchet things up in both size and complexity, all the way to a 6×6 cube, before a championship-winning time exceeded one minute.

But individual achievement was not the only game in town here. For the first time, three-member teams from various countries competed in the Rubik’s Nations Cup.

The competition was modeled around a relay race. The first team member would solve a cube, then the second, then the third, and their aggregate time (as well as individual times) recorded.

72 teams competed in the Nations Cup, but the victory went to one of the German teams! Although it wasn’t a sanctioned event, it was a real crowd pleaser, and something that would definitely offer some puzzly bragging rights on the speed-solving circuit.

And although this was a competition, the spirit of camaraderie and community that infused the event was wonderful. You could really sense that this was an opportunity to make friends, to show off your skills, and to remember that puzzling is a universal language, whether you’re talking crosswords or cubes.

You can check out some of the event highlights, as well as a message from Erno Rubik himself, in this video:

All in all, it looks like an absolute blast was had. Now that’s some quality puzzling.


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Rise of the Machines!

I don’t mean to alarm you, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, but the machines may be taking over.

First, there was Deep Blue, defeating Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov under standard chess tournament time constraints.

Then, there was IBM’s supercomputer Watson, sitting at the buzzer on Jeopardy!, besting previous champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings to nab a million-dollar prize.

An AI program called Deep Mind can play several Atari games with superhuman proficiency.

These days, you can design robots with LEGOs that are capable of solving Rubik’s Cubes in seconds flat.

And, of course, crossword fans probably know of Dr. Fill, the crossword-solving computer program that competes at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament each year. In a matter of five years, it has jumped from 141st place in the 2012 tournament to 11th place in the 2017 tournament.

Now, the machines are coming for Go players next. Google has developed an artificial intelligence known as AlphaGo which twice conquered Ke Jie, the 19-year-old Go tournament champion ranked number one in the world.

This strategy board game is played with white and black gamepieces called stones, and the objective is to surround a greater total amount of territory on the game board than your opponent. Along the way, you can surround your opponent’s pieces in order to capture them and remove them from play.

Wikipedia aptly describes the depth and difficulty of the game:

Despite its relatively simple rules, Go is very complex, even more so than chess, and possesses more possibilities than the total number of atoms in the visible universe. Compared to chess, Go has both a larger board with more scope for play and longer games, and, on average, many more alternatives to consider per move.

People have been playing Go for over 2,500 years, and yet, machines have already surpassed our greatest player.

Science fiction movies have been warning us about this for years. I just never expected them to come after our games and hobbies first.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Fidgitz

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

The goal of most mechanical brain teasers is simple: complete a certain task. Sometimes, you’re twisting a cube until each face is a different color, or removing one piece from a multi-piece setup, or disassembling a three-dimensional cube entirely, or puzzling out the necessary steps to open a box.

But no matter the task, the ultimate satisfaction comes from conquering the puzzle. ThinkFun’s newest brain teaser, Fidgitz, turns that concept on its head by making the act of manipulating the puzzle as gratifying as solving it.

Fidgitz consists of six spheres that are all connected with ball-in-socket joints, allowing you to twist, slide, and manipulate the puzzle in all sorts of ways. Each sphere is half blue and half white, and your ultimate goal is to maneuver the spheres so that the puzzle is all white on one side and all blue on the other.

I liken solving Fidgitz to solving a Rubik’s Cube, because it has the same sort of chain solving to it. Each move you make affects many parts of the puzzle, so you need to work a few steps ahead of where you are in order to make the most of each action you take.

But unlike Rubik’s famous cube and other twisty puzzles, Fidgitz offers an immensely enjoyable level of engagement as you’re solving that’s unlike practically any other puzzle I’ve encountered. It’s fun to manipulate the puzzle, but it’s also very calming.

The seemingly infinite chain of twisting, shifting, and rotating the spheres is soothing. It didn’t matter that, at times, I thought I would never manage to get all six spheres arranged together. The sheer act of attempting to do so was engaging enough.

In that way, it’s very similar to the bracelets and other tangle toys given to folks with anxiety or conditions like trichotillomania, where keeping your hands occupied can serve as a beneficial tool for easing nervous impulses.

As a single, self-contained puzzle, Fidgitz is travel-friendly, and whether you’re looking for a new brain teaser to challenge you or a satisfying tool to keep your hands occupied, ThinkFun’s newest product has got you covered.

Fidgitz is available from ThinkFun through Amazon and other online retailers. Click here to check out other ThinkFun product reviews!


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Pi Day and Puzzly Foods!

It’s Pi Day — March 14th, a.k.a. 3.14 — and as one of the nerdiest days of the year, we happily celebrate it here at PuzzleNation.

A friend of the blog asked if we’d be celebrating Pi Day with some apple pi pie, and sent me this video from YouTuber Rosanna Pansino:

That gave me an idea. Why not dedicate an entire blog post to puzzly foods?

Naturally, I have to start with some Rubik’s-inspired foods. It’s blocky style lends itself to foodly imitations, and in previous blog posts, we’ve shown off both Rubik’s fruit salads (like the one above) and Rubik’s cakes.

And while we’re talking about cakes, that brings me to another puzzly product that is easily replicated in food form: Tetris.

These cupcakes adorned with Tetris pieces are a perfect puzzly dessert, and a simple way to marry puzzling and food.

But if you’re looking for something a bit more challenging and involved, check out this Tetris bento box, crafting Tetrominoes into blocky veggies on a bed of rice for lunchtime enjoyment!

And puzzly foods only get more creative and complicated from here. Let’s talk about bagels.

Yes, there is a way to cut a bagel to leave two interconnected pieces. In fact, there are several ways to cut a bagel allowing for a more mathematical eating experience! It’s the mobius bagel!

But if you’re looking for the puzzliest food I can find, look no further than the Churroduo: two interlocked churro pyramids.

I think this excerpt from a write-up on Geekologie sums up the appeal of the Churroduo nicely:

Still, the best thing about the Churroduo is that you don’t have to feel bad about eating the whole thing, because you only ordered ONE of something, you can’t help that it’s actually like twelve churros stuck together.

Do you have any examples of puzzly foods that I missed? Are you celebrating Pi Day in a puzzly way? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

Happy Pi Day, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!


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The 2017 New York Toy Fair, Part 2!

On Tuesday, I gave you a general rundown of what it was like exploring the massive spread of puzzles and games on display at this year’s New York Toy Fair.

In today’s post, I’d like to highlight some of the puzzles and games that most impressed me. I think many of these will also appeal to many of my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers as well.

So let’s dive right in!


One of the prime spots in the Launchpad area for first-time attendees was given to the team at Steamforged Games Ltd., who have brought the video game franchise Dark Souls into the board-game realm.

Between one and four players can test their mettle against various creatures, battling to capture their souls and use them to make your character stronger and more capable. The impressive array of miniatures, player cards, and tokens makes for an interactive experience that should satisfy both video game fans and board gamers alike.

For a more traditional family-friendly puzzle game, the crew at Befuddled Games has you covered with Kerfuddle and Tree Top Hop, both of which are suitable for solvers of any age group.

Kerfuddle combines a touch of Boggle with the ever-changing gameplay of Fluxx. Roll the dice and use them to form words, but be careful — the “Shake It Up” cards can make your word forming much more challenging.

Tree Top Hop is a great intro game for young players, as they move around the tree top, spelling words on their cards and racing to the treasure at the center of the board. By combining word-building and strategy, this is a terrific gateway game for new players.

Along the same lines as Kerfuddle is Twizmo! Words, except instead of dice, you have a Rubik’s Cube-style Twisty puzzle providing you with the letters you’ll use to build your word list. Designed by the same team who brought us Tak•tak, Twizmo! Words is a strong quick-play game for any Boggle fans in your household.

Snippets takes the list-building idea in another direction. Instead of random letters, you’re given a three-letter snippet of a word, and it’s up to you to come up with as many words containing that snippet as possible. So, if you’ve got TRA, you can write down EXTRA, TRAIN, STRAP, and so on.

And to close out this collection of word-forming games, we have Letter Tycoon, which adds a monetizing mechanic that really spices up the gameplay. Here, not only are you making money by forming words, but you can patent letters so that when other players use them, you cash in as well. It’s a really clever take on the word-building genre of games.

We now move on from combining letters to combining jigsaw pieces. The puzzles from Palmetto Puzzle Works all center around tessellations — shapes that repeat and interlock in many different ways.

Whether you’re trying to fit the pieces into a given space or you’re connecting them freestyle, these well-made wooden puzzles bring an M.C. Escher touch to the world of jigsaw-style solving.

Beasts of Balance, on the other hand, has players using game pieces in a different way, as solvers stack the animal shapes and try to keep their ever-growing tower of creatures and artifacts from toppling over. The game has a tablet interaction feature that enhances both the gameplay and the storytelling aspect of the game, making the most of new school and old school puzzling.

But if you’re looking to do some puzzly building in a different way, Maze by Seedling is a solid choice. Here, you can map out and design your own marble maze, and then tackle your own creation with a fully-functioning labyrinth board, complete with marbles, walls, and holes to avoid.

And while we’re on the subject of do-it-yourself puzzling, the crew behind Pinbox 3000 have designed a build-your-own pinball game system that allows for infinite customization. They give you everything you need to build a functioning game, and then leave the theme, bells, and whistles totally up to you.

I wrote about this one back when it was a Kickstarter project, and it was cool to see the brand continuing to thrive and grow.

Another gaming classic with a modern twist is Tatsu, which combines Asian-inspired mythology with backgammon-style gameplay. Designed by the same creative team as the tile-placement game Hive, Tatsu is a clever, elegant game all about strategy and guile. It’s easy to learn and tough to master, and I suspect it will do quite well.

If you’re looking to combine strategy with rapid-fire gameplay, Tenzi is for you. In Tenzi, you’re given ten dice, and you have to keep rolling them until all ten match. It’s like Speed Yahtzee! But with dozens of additional variant games at your disposal, from stacking to scoring to rule-shifting games, this dice game has legs and is easy to tote around to play anywhere.

If you’re looking to take your card games anywhere, the team at Narrows Hill have a great solution for you. The Card Caddy is not only a protective case for any deck of cards, but it opens up into a perfect card-dealing and sorting setup for ease of play.

We also got an early glimpse of a forthcoming addition to the Fluxx family of card games. Since Fluxx is celebrating 21 years on the market this year, the crew at Looney Labs is celebrating with Drinking Fluxx, a spirits-soaked version of their famous chaotic rule-shifting card game.

You can mix and match the various ingredients to try to create a winning formula (and perhaps a sideline as a bartender for your fellow players). Just make sure you call a cab after playing.

Whereas Tenzi and Fluxx are quite portable, Banana Bandits from CMON Games requires some space, since you have an entire 3-D building to set up as your game board. As you and your fellow players try to prove yourselves as worthy successors to the boss of the Banana Bandits, you’ll climb and explore the building, collect coins, and tangle with opponents, all on an impressively realized game space.

Will you be top banana, or is it time for you to split?

And the last game I’ll be discussing today is Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks, an elaborate galaxy-spanning game where you play as one of six Doctors traveling across time and space in order to complete missions, save the innocent, thwart your enemies, and generally wreak timey-wimey havoc.

Between the terrific miniatures and the expansive options available for players, this was one of the highlights of Toy Fair for me, and I can’t wait to see how they incorporate additional Doctors into the game later down the line.

Obviously this is just a small sample of all the fantastic, eye-catching puzzles and games that graced New York Toy Fair this year. But nonetheless, it’s an impressive group, covering so many different aspects of the puzzle and game world, and constantly blazing new trails in terms of creativity and innovation.

I have no doubt you’ll be seeing more about some of these projects as 2017 rolls onward.

[You can check out our full gallery of photos from New York Toy Fair on Facebook by clicking here!]


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