Puzzly World Records: Redux!

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[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

A few years ago, I wrote a post chronicling some of the puzzly world records I’d found while reading the latest edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. Back then, I was surprised to see a two-page spread dedicated to puzzle-centric records.

As I perused this year’s edition of the iconic record-keeping tome, there was a two-page spread dedicated to Rubik’s Cube world records alone. (There were numerous other puzzly records scattered throughout the book as well.)

So, since 2019 is drawing to a close in the next few weeks, why not dedicate one of the last blog posts of 2019 to the most up-to-date puzzly world records I can track down?

Shall we? Let’s shall.

Let’s start with a few Scrabble records.

On January 21, 2012, Singapore’s Toh Weibin amassed the highest score ever recorded in a Scrabble tournament at the Northern Ireland Scrabble Championship in Belfast, scoring 850 points.

January is apparently a good month for word-tile world records, as on January 5, 2015, Lakshan Wanniarachchi set a record for playing the most opponents in Scrabble simultaneously — 40! — in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He defeated 31 of the 40 players in order to qualify for the record.

(So, yeah, you might have more Words with Friends games going at once than Wanniarachchi did, but did you win that many? Probably not.)

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[Image courtesy of Chess.com.]

Instead of multiple opponents, how about one opponent for 20 hours and 15 minutes?

That’s how long chess masters Ivan Nikolic and Goran Arsovic faced off in Belgrade on February 17, 1989, where they set a world record for the most moves played in a single chess game: 269.

We can stick around Europe for one more puzzly world record, this time in Wageningen, Netherlands, as the Ceres Student Association teamed with Hasbro to create a Monopoly board the size of three-and-a-half tennis courts. Yes, on November 30, 2016, they unveiled a 9,687-square-foot version of the famously frustrating game board.

9,687 square feet? That’s pretty big, I guess. Unless, of course, you’re talking about a world record set in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where everything is ludicrously oversized and lavish.

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[Image courtesy of DMCC.]

On July 7, 2018, the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) unveiled the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle, a 65,896-square-foot puzzle that commemorated the late Sheikh Zayed.

And speaking of jigsaw puzzles, students at the University of Economics Ho Chi Mihn City in Vietnam set a record by completing the jigsaw puzzle with the most pieces — 551,232 pieces! — on September 24, 2011, breaking the record previously set in Singapore — 212,323 pieces — which had stood since 2002.

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[Image courtesy of Guinness.]

According to the Guinness article covering the event:

It took the students 17 hours to first break up the 3,132 sections, each containing 176 pieces, into which the jigsaw puzzle had been divided, and then re-assemble them to create the puzzle.

Seventeen hours of puzzling is ambitious, but what about 24 hours of puzzling?

That’s what Richard Bragg, Daniel Egnor, Amanda Harris, and Ana Ulin — aka Bloody Boris’s Burning Bluelight Brigade — tackled when they set the world record for most escape rooms attended in one day. On October 3, 2018, they visited 22 escape rooms in 24 hours in Moscow, Russia. The team’s success rate was just as impressive; the team escaped all but one of the rooms in the allotted time.

Now that’s an escapade.

Of course, we couldn’t have a world records puzzling post without talking about the Rubik’s Cube.

The official fastest time for solving a standard 3x3x3 Rubik’s Cube is held by Feliks Zemdegs, who set an average time of 5.8 seconds in the 2017 Malaysian Cube Open. (In competition solving, the average time across three different solves comprises your official time.)

The unofficial record for the fastest 3x3x3 solve — meaning it was outside of tournament conditions — was set in China: 3.47 seconds by Du Yesheng.

But that’s only the official size. What about other Cubes? Let’s look at the fastest solves (that I can verify):

  • 7x7x7: 1 min 47.89 sec by Max Park
  • 6x6x6: 1 min 13.82 sec by Max Park
  • 5x5x5: 37.28 sec by Max Park
  • 4x4x4: 18.42 sec by Max Park (starting to see a pattern here…)
  • 2x2x2 (average solve): 1.51 Lucas Etter
  • 2x2x2 (single solve): .49 sec by Maciej Czapiewski

And, just to show off, Stanley Chapel holds the record for a blindfolded 4x4x4 solve: 1 minute, 29 seconds.

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[A different blindfolded solver. Image courtesy of Le Rubik’s Cube.]

Of course, now that we’ve mentioned one weird way to solve a Cube, let’s explore a few others.

Feliks Zemdegs set another world record by solving a 3x3x3 one-handed in 6.88 seconds. On March 1, 2015, Bhargav Narasimhan solved five Rubik’s Cubes one-handed in a blistering 1 minute, 23.93 seconds.

Daniel Rose-Levine holds the record for solving a 3x3x3 with his feet: 16.96 seconds. Not to be outdone, Que Jianyu unscrambled a trio of Rubik’s Cubes with his hands and feet simultaneously in just 1 minute, 36.38 seconds, in Xiamen, Fujian Province, China. (For the record, he solved one in each hand and one with his feet).

He later hung from a pole to record the fastest time to solve a Rubik’s Cube upside-down: 15.84 seconds. (He also holds the record for solving three Cubes while juggling, doing so in 5 minutes, 2.43 seconds.)

Jack Cai solved one blindfolded in 16.22 seconds. On July 22, 2018, at the Delhi Monsoon Open in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India, Shivam Bansal shattered the field with the most Rubik’s Cubes solved while blindfolded: 48 out of 48 in under 1 hour.

George Turner holds the record for solving on a pogo stick: 24.13 seconds.

Krishnam Raju Gadiraju solved 2 Cubes simultaneously — underwater! — in 53.86 seconds. Kevin Hays achieved a world record for solving eight 3x3x3 Cubes underwater on August 19, 2015. He held his breath for 2 minutes and 4 seconds.

[Here’s a YouTube video of a different, but still impressive, underwater solve.]

Now let’s get truly ridiculous.

Phillip Kwa’han Espinoza holds the world record for most 3x3x3 Cubes solved while running a marathon. On November 14, 2015, he solved 839 Cubes over the course of 4 hours, 56 minutes, and 1 second during the 26.2 mile run in the REVEL Canyon City Marathon in Azusa, California, shattering the previous record of 175 Cubes.

26.2 miles is pretty good. But what about 12,000 feet?

That’s how high up Dan Knights was in June of 2003 when he jumped from a plane and solved a Rubik’s Cube in freefall while skydiving. He solved it in 34 seconds… which is good, because he only had 40 seconds before he’d have to deploy his parachute to safely execute a 12,000-foot fall.

To close things out today, let’s look at some Rubik’s records about quantity.

What about the most cubes solved:

  • one-handed while treading water in one hour? 137 by Shen Weifu
  • on a unicycle? 250 by Caleb McEvoy
  • on a bicycle? 1,010 by P K Arumugam

Finally, in January 27, 2018, the Kaligi Ranganathan Montford Group of Schools set a world record by bringing together the most people simultaneously solving Rubik’s Cubes — 3,997 — at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai, India. The average time to solve for the assembled students? A few minutes.

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[Image courtesy of Guinness.]

Imagine the records people will set in the 2020s.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Bananagrams Duel

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[Note: I received a free copy of these games in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. /end disclaimer]

When it comes to word-forming tile games, the folks at Bananagrams are the masters. Their fruit-inspired packaging is synonymous with that particular brand of puzzling, giving Scrabble a run for its money in terms of letter-tile games. And they have an uncanny knack for putting new spins on classic puzzle-game tropes, breathing new life into the genre.

For instance, Bananagrams Duel replaces the iconic Bananagrams tiles with letter dice. Does this really make a difference in the game play? Let’s find out together.

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Bananagrams Duel is a two-player word/grid-forming game, consisting of 24 six-sided letter dice, a handful of banana cards, and a handy carrying case. When it comes to travel-friendly puzzle games, it doesn’t get much simpler than this.

Instead of pulling from a shared pool of letter tiles, each player gets 12 of the 24 letter cubes. The goal is the same as a traditional Bananagrams game: to create a criss-crossing grid of recognizable words. You’re allowed to shift and flip any of your dice to other letters as needed, and the grid can change at any time. (Unlike, say, Scrabble, you’re not locked into a word if you’ve already spelled it. Anagramming is always an option.)

The first player to use all 12 letter dice and call out “Bananas!” wins the round and is awarded one banana card for the victory. First player to 10 banana cards wins.

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But those little banana cards do more than help you keep score. On the other side of each card is a theme. In one of the variant rule sets detailed in the little instructional guide, your completed grid must now contain at least one word that fits the given theme.

That little tweak can make a traditional Bananagrams game much more challenging. After all, if you’ve ever played the regular version of the game, you know how words can just evaporate from your vocabulary during play, only to suddenly return once your opponent has completed a grid. Now imagine that same feeling, but with a theme of sports or six-letter words attached to it.

In one of our test games, we actually made this harder on ourselves by trying to make EVERY word in the grid fit the theme.

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As you can see here, we were allowed to choose our own theme, and we chose “Space/Astronomy.” I was devilishly close to completing my grid, but lacked the “L” I needed to spell Pluto. Meanwhile, my opponent went with a two-word grid that gelled nicely.

I don’t recommend trying it this way — unless you’re looking for a serious challenge — because the usual themed rules are tough enough.

Although an occasional bad pool of letter cubes can leave you without a letter — like, for instance, an L you really need — for the most part, it didn’t feel like the letter cubes were more restrictive or limiting than a traditional pool of Bananagrams letter tiles. All the dice shifting made for a different, yet familiar solving experience.

Plus it’s super-easy to come up with your own variant rules to enrich repeated games. The instructions list 5 alternate rule sets, and I would gladly recommend one that went well with us: having your opponent roll one of your dice for you and making you use it as the starting letter for a grid word.

Bananagrams Duel manages to boil down the Bananagrams formula to its most essential and playable form yet. And with a much faster clean-up (or pack-up and stash-away, if you’re on the road/in the airport), it’s more travel-friendly than ever before. They’re not lying when they call it a small space word race.


Bananagrams Duel is available from Bananagrams and participating local and online retailers, and it’s featured in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

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Saving Puzzle Games for Posterity

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[Image courtesy of Medium.]

One of the coolest things about the Internet is how it facilitates the gathering of information. Not only does it connect you to valuable sources around the world — experts, researchers, scholars, and collectors — but it grants you access to libraries and repositories of knowledge unlike anything the world has seen before.

I mean, think about it. Looking for a famous text? Google Books or Project Gutenberg probably has you covered. A movie? The Internet Movie Database is practically comprehensive. Different fandoms and franchises have their own individual Wikis that cover episodes, characters, and more.

Although there’s no single repository for all things puzzly — though we here at PuzzleNation Blog certainly try — there are some online repositories of puzzle knowledge available, like XwordInfo, the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, and Cube Index.

And other place online that’s helping to preserve puzzle history is The Internet Archive.

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[Puzzling out a jailbreak in The Secret of Monkey Island with a curious piece of equipment. Image courtesy of Final Boss Blues.]

The Internet Archive is a nonprofit digital library that archives computer games, books, audio recordings and videos. In terms of computer games, that means everything from text adventures to more well-known ’80s and ’90s games, and even early experiments with 3D modeling.

Recently, more than 2,500 MS-DOS games were added to the Archive. Adventure and strategy games were among the numerous entries included in the latest update, as well as a fair amount of puzzle games, both famous and obscure.

“This will be our biggest update yet, ranging from tiny recent independent productions to long-forgotten big-name releases from decades ago,” Internet Archive software curator Jason Scott wrote on the site’s blog.

In addition to Sudoku, Chess, and Scrabble games, there were loads of Tetris variants (like Pentix), a crossword-inspired game called Crosscheck, and even TrianGO, a version of the classic game Go played on a hexagonal field.

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[Image courtesy of Google.]

In this update alone, you can find virtually every kind of puzzle to enjoy. If you like building Rube Goldberg devices, there’s The Incredible Machine 2. If you’re looking for a puzzly version of the beloved Nintendo game Bubble Bobble, then try Puzzle Bobble.

You can building dungeon romps with The Bard’s Tale Construction Set or crack challenging cases in Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Serrated Scalpel. You can find your way out of maze-like platforming traps in Lode Runner or enjoy the tongue-in-cheek humor and devious point-and-click puzzles of one of my personal favorites, The Secret of Monkey Island.

There are even iconic horror puzzlers like Alone in the Dark and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream if you’re looking for something a bit spookier and more sinister.

This is a treasure trove of old puzzle-game content, and it’s all available with the click of a button. These games will be joining such previously archived classics as Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and The Oregon Trail in the Internet Archive’s vast and ever-growing library.

And thanks to their efforts, more than a few puzzle games will be saved from obscurity or oblivion.


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Inclusiveness in Puzzles: New LGBTQ+ Scrabble Words!

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From time to time, someone will ask me whether a certain word is appropriate for a crossword. It could be a new constructor, or an aspiring constructor, or a fan of crosswords. It could be about a relatively new slang term, or an obscure word, or a foreign word, or a celebrity. Sometimes, they’re wondering if it’s too hard, or too new, or too niche, or whether it’s appropriate for crosswords at all.

That’s the thing. There is no one source you can go to for all your crossword questions. There’s no definitive list of appropriate words or phrases, because the language is constantly changing and evolving. Pop culture is dynamic, and new ideas, concepts, and personalities are always cropping up. In that way, crosswords are essentially eternal, because the source material constantly shifts in popularity and familiarity. There are always new words to fill those iconic black-and-white grids.

But, if you were looking for that mythical definitive list of appropriate words, it’s not unreasonable to assume you’d go to the International Scrabble Dictionary, the official source for what is allowed as a valid answer word in a game of Scrabble.

Recently, for the first time since 2015, new words were added to the approved list. Over 2800 fresh entries are now officially eligible for tournament and at-house use, and they’ll all appear in the latest edition of Collins Official SCRABBLE Words. (Collins, which also publishes the Collins English Dictionary, added the words after they were approved for use in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary last year. These 2800 words join over 276,000 already approved for Scrabble play.)

It’s quite appropriate that we’re covering this story in June. As many of you are aware, June is Pride Month, and awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and culture affects all aspects of life, even puzzle games!

Among those 2800 newly-approved entries are non-binary and gender-neutral words like “genderqueer” and “agender,” as well as related terminology like “misgender” and “cisgender.”

But the LGBTQ+-friendly term that’s getting the most attention in Scrabble circles is “ze”. This two-letter word is a gender-neutral pronoun, allowing individuals who don’t identify as strictly male (he/him) or female (she/her) to better differentiate themselves and their gender identity.

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For Scrabble players, the word opens up a whole host of new possibilities. After all, “ze” allows far greater opportunity to score big points by playing that valuable Z tile. (“Ze” is only the third two-letter z-word to be authorized for the game, joining “za” and “zo.”)

Now, obviously, in the grand scheme of things, this is a very small step for LGBTQ+ representation, but it is a step. After all, every opportunity to include LGBTQ+ culture and embrace it is part of making it a more familiar part of life for all of us.

In this small way, Scrabble includes previously marginalized individuals by not only accepting these new words, but by changing and adapting in order to do so. It’s an act of welcoming.

Here’s hoping there are far more acts like this, big and small, to come.

[Sources: Pride.com, New York Times, Collins Dictionary.]


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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 World of Puzzle Luxury

As recreational pastimes go, puzzles are pretty affordable.

A New York Times crossword subscription runs you $40 for the year. Many top constructors — like those featured in our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide — offer outstanding puzzles on a weekly basis for less than that.

Puzzle magazines like those from our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles run $5 to $10 (even for the big ones!) and puzzle collections by constructors and puzzle outlets rarely crack double digits.

(Heck, our apps are free downloads!)

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw some constructors on Twitter discussing a subscription service called Puzzlelux that costs nine hundred dollars a year!

[In this actual photo from the website, a woman from a 1990s Calvin Klein TV ad appears to be mildly inconvenienced by an elegant puzzlenado that has swept her into the air, risking all sorts of luxurious papercuts.]

Yes, Puzzlelux offers seasonal bundles of puzzles — Sudoku, crosswords, Cryptograms, and word scrambles — for $75 a month.

Now, not having solved any of their puzzles, I cannot fairly judge whether they’re worth that kind of cash splashing. But I am skeptical, given that I can get awesome puzzles elsewhere for 1/30th that price.

I mean, $899 dollars is pretty steep. A trip on Cunard’s crossword cruise last year was cheaper than that!

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised that someone came along to corner the market on high-end puzzlesmithing, since in the past, I have encountered a few examples of puzzle luxury items in my travels.

Every year in the Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, I jokingly mention that the folks at Hammacher Schlemmer offer a $12,000 Scrabble game in their catalog.

Yes, The World’s Largest Scrabble Game takes up an entire wall of your home, but the odds are slimmer that you’ll ever misplace one of the game tiles in your couch cushions.

Then again, $12,000 looks reasonable next to $100,000, which was the price tag for a specialty version of Monopoly produced for FAO Schwarz.

With a solid gold board, emeralds and sapphires embedded in the board (as well as in hotels and houses), and real U.S. currency in place of the play money, this might be the peak of puzzle-game excess.

Unless, of course, you commission your own labyrinth, or want to solve Sudoku in space, or something like that. But who knows what the future holds for super-wealthy puzzlers out there?


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