A Logic Puzzle Mystery, Brought to Life!

Halloween might be over and done with, but there’s still plenty of spooky puzzling to be found if you know where to look.

For instance, if you’re looking for a game that takes the traditional logic puzzle in a new direction, let’s talk about Return of the Obra Dinn, a PC game that has received some rave reviews recently.

In 1802, the merchant ship “Obra Dinn” set out from London for the Orient with over 200 tons of trade goods. Six months later it hadn’t met its rendezvous point at the Cape of Good Hope and was declared lost at sea.

Early this morning of October 14th, 1807, the Obra Dinn drifted into port with sails damaged and no visible crew. As insurance adjustor for the East India Company’s London Office, find means to board the ship and recover the Crew Muster Roll book for assessment.

With that intense historical premise to work with, you know you’re in for a few scares and some sinister storytelling.

So the game centers around a first-person perspective of this ship as you explore what happened to the crew. You’re armed with two items: a book that contains the ship’s manifest and other documents, and a pocketwatch that, when worn near a corpse, magically reveals what happened at the moment of the character’s death.

The book works like a standard logic problem’s puzzle grid, where you can fill in the information you know and deduce, say, the last names of five people in a marching band, their ages, and what instrument they play. Except, in the case of the Obra Dinn, instead of the details of a fictional marching band, you need to uncover the identity of every person on the ship, how they died, and who killed them.

The pocketwatch sequences are the centerpiece of the puzzle, giving you a static scene of the moment of death, the characters frozen in place, along with the sounds and dialogue that accompanied the person’s demise. You can walk around the frozen scene and examine details, using the book to help document what you discover and slowly eliminate possibilities from the list.

It’s a bit like a scene from Sherlock or Hannibal, as you play the detective walking through the death scene, trying to tease out the key information lurking within.

So the book is both a solving tool and the main body of the puzzle itself, a place for storing information, making guesses, and confirming when you have the correct chain of events for a given character’s death.

The Obra Dinn is one giant, interconnected puzzle, built out of many little moments like this, and only when you’ve taken the time to examine all of it, exploring the ship and the crew from all angles, can you fill in the story of what happened.

It’s essentially a murder mystery novel, but only the first chapter and the finale are in place; it is up to you as you piece together disparate fragments and assemble the narrative. In the end, it’s a simple story, but one told backward, forward, and out of order.

Return of the Obra Dinn is the kind of storytelling that takes puzzles off the page and plants them smack-dab in the center of your imagination. And that’s pretty cool.

If you’d like to try out the game for yourself, Return of the Obra Dinn is out now on PC and macOS for $19.99.

[For more information, check out these reviews from Kotaku and Screen Rant, as well as the creator’s homepage.]


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Come On Down! It’s Prime Time for Puns and Puzzles!

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 #PennyDellPuzzleTV, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with television shows, characters, catchphrases, actors, actresses, hosts, and more!

Examples include: I Love Loose Tile, Will Shortz & Grace, and Match Game of Thrones.

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


Puzzle TV Shows!

The Good Places, Please

Mighty Morphin’ Flower Power

Leave It To Weaver Words

Spinwheel of Fortune / Wheels of Fortune

Father You Know the Odds Best

The Addams Family Ties / Modern Family Ties / Family Ties Matters / All in the Family Ties / All Fours in the Family / Railroad Family Ties

All in the Crypto-Family

Mama’s Crypto-Family

Crypto-Family Feud

Tales From The Crypt-o-grams / Tales from the Crypto-Verses / Tales from the Crypto-Family

Bewitched Way Words

Sabrina the Teenage Which Way Words

My Three of a Kind Sons

Starspell Trek

ALF-abet Soup

Alphabet Talk Soup

Charlie’s Try-Angles

My Two at a Time Dads

Perfect Fit Strangers

Brooklyn Nine-Nine of Diamonds

Take it from St. Elsewhere

The Odds and Evens Couple / You Know the Odds Couple

Guess Who’s the Boss / Who’s Calling the Boss?

Trade-Off Spaces

Home Runs Improvement

Rowan & Martin’s Fill-In

Dr. Fill-In

Doctor Guess Who

Doctor Who’s Calling?

Whose End of the Line is it Anyway?

Scoreboardwalk Empire

Scoremaster of None

Late Night with David Letterboxesman

Tosh.O and Turning

America’s Next Top to Bottom Model

Throwbacks Horseman

3rd Rock from the Sunrays

Everybody Loves Sunrays

It’s Always Sunrays in Philadelphia

Square Deal or No Deal

Spider’s Webster

The White Shadow

Kaku-Rizzoli and Loose T-Isles

Rocky and Bull’s Eye Spiral

Dancing with the Starspell

Nine(teen Kids) of Diamonds (and Counting), Add One, Plus Fours, Seven Up…

American Pickers-Upper

Give and Take Two

These Three’s Company

Trading Off Spaces

Sister, Sister: Double Trouble

Little Puzzler on the Prairie

Battleships Galactica

Smallville Change

Simon & Simon Says

Knight Ride-of-Way-r

The Price Is Right of Way

Happy Daisy

Daisy of Our Lives

Match-Upstairs, Downstairs

Match-Up Game

Say That Again to the Dress

Riddle Me This Is Us

One Day at a Rhyme Time

One Day at a Time Machine

First and Last Comic Standing

Three to One-der Years

Unsolved Mystery Movie (or Person or Melody or State)

Heads & Tails of the Class

McHale’s Na-V Words

Wizard Words of Waverly Place


Puzzle TV Miscellany!

“No Alphabet Soup for You!”

“Heeeeeeerrree…. (and There’s) Johnny!”

Benedict CumberBattleships

Sherlock Holmeruns

The Walking Dead Keep on Moving

Simon Says: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Home Reruns

In Living Colors

“I’ll Be (Here and) There for You”

“Those Were the Daisy”


And members of the PuzzleNation readership also got in on the fun!

On Twitter, the intrepid Screenhog contributed “Tales of the Cryptoquizzes.” Excellent stuff! Keep it coming, Screenhog!


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

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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!

New Puzzle Book Roundup!

It’s been a while since we’ve done a roundup of new puzzle books and packets available from top constructors, so I reached out to the puzzle community on Twitter and asked for recommendations for my fellow PuzzleNationers! Let’s see what we’ve got!


First off, Patrick Blindauer has a new PuzzleFest available, and this one is Broadway-themed!

Now, if you’re not theater-savvy, don’t worry. You’re not required to know anything about Broadway, it’s simply the unifying link between all the themed puzzles. So there’s some theatrical wordplay afoot!

Click here for more information. Patrick is charging $20 for a downloadable and easily printable PDF, and based on his track record of terrific PuzzleFests, this should be another great one!

Along a similar line, the puzzles from both this year’s Bryant Park puzzle tournament and last year’s tournament are available for download as a package deal for only $10! You can’t go wrong with two year’s worth of puzzles for such a low price!

Turning our attention to puzzle books, Foggy Brume has a collection of One-Word Word Searches available.

It sounds simple. All you have to do is find one word in a field of letters. How hard could that be? Well, it’s more challenging than you might expect!

This puzzle book is priced to move at $7.50 on Amazon.

Friend of the blog Cynthia Morris has a new edition in her long-running American Acrostics puzzle book series, and Volume 5 is all about American holidays and celebrations!

Did you know there’s a special day set aside each year to be in a bad mood? Or a day to do everything in reverse? There’s even a day to celebrate ice cream…

This puzzle book will run you $9.95 on Amazon.

And finally, puzzle book master Pierre Berloquin has a collection of puzzles centered around the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in Victorian London. Based on the classic novels and short stories, the world of Holmes comes alive with all sorts of puzzly fun wrapped in Sherlockian trappings.

This puzzle book and walk down Memory Lane for mystery fans is available on Amazon for $14.95.

Hopefully one of these puzzle books or puzzle sets piques your interest, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! Let us know if you snap any of them up!


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Murder Mystery 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.

And in today’s post, I’d like to follow up on last week’s murder mystery post.

In the previous post, I gave you some of the backstory and logistics of our in-office murder-mystery event, and today, I wanted to discuss the event itself.

Our murder happened Monday night — the fictional J. Augustus Milverton Puzzlenationo would breathe his last breath near the photocopier — so Tuesday morning marked the official start of the game.

And since we’re an office full of puzzlers, the morning began with something of a logic puzzle, as the players were given a list of passcodes used to enter the building, but they needed to figure out who had used them and at what time.

You see, someone’s passcode being used at a certain time didn’t necessary mean that person was actually entering the building at that time. Someone could’ve used another player’s code. (Information involving times and identities was scattered throughout emails to all 10 participants, so it would take a fair amount of cooperation to unravel this.)

But since all of the players were suspicious of each other — which was wise, given that several “solvers” were actually following my orders throughout the event to fulfill certain tasks — the first day didn’t involve as much cooperative solving as I’d hoped. (That would come the next day out of necessity, as alliances began to form and more information was shared.)

As I fielded questions from players asking for further details — and several clues were discovered and analyzed — the first of several complications for the players was revealed: a fellow player was “killed.”

This not only upped the stakes for the players, but led to one of my favorite moments in the game. You see, when a fellow player stumbled upon the body, he wasn’t sad that his coworker was dead…he was sad because he couldn’t ask him any questions. (Though, intrepid solver that he was, he asked if a Ouija board was out of the question.)

For the rest of the day, I was fielding all sorts of instant messages and emails from players, asking for information, cashing in Holmes Tickets, clarifying things, and trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle into place. Early theories emerged. Some were wild guesses, and some were surprisingly close to the truth.

Our event played out in real time, so the players were aware that things could happen outside the workday that would impact the game. People seemed reluctant to leave, just in case they missed a clue.

Day Two opened with another red herring — punny threats sent to three of the players, delivered in envelopes that pointed to another player (a gambit by the killer to put the spotlight on someone else) — and a few secrets had already come out.

Players openly offered information to each other in a group email, which helped resolve some red herrings and put other pieces into place. More clues were uncovered, but the murder weapon remained elusive.

Lunchtime was orchestrated to be a tipping point. Not only would another murder occur, but other plans and clues would come together. I gave one of my collaborators two missions to accomplish while the players were away from their desks. Hopefully, she’d be able to accomplish both, but at the very least, she had to accomplish one of the tasks.

There were a few of these open-ended narrative moments written into the story where the players had the chance to surprise me with what happened and what didn’t. Not only did those moments make the game more fun for me to run, but it gave other players chances to really inhabit their characters and get into the performance side of the gameplay.

Lunchtime allowed for more group theorizing — something that the workday hampered, as you might expect — but the real fireworks awaited players upon their return.

A trap was sprung, and another player died unexpectedly. Although some chaos did ensue, most of the players realized this latest death was the work of another party, and several of the players solved it quickly before returning their attention to the first two murders.

In the midst of all this, two real-world complications arose on Day Two.

The first involved a player dropping out due to a mix of time constraints (she felt the game was distracting her too much from work) and general frustration with the format of the game (which, for someone unfamiliar with immersive storytelling like this, is totally understandable). I was sad to see her go, and adjusted the story accordingly, recovering a clue from her and redistributing it to an active player.

The second involved the pace of the game itself. I’d hoped to run it over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday and have it wrapped up that second day. But between the elaborate unfolding plot and the difficulty in balancing gameplay with, you know, actually getting our work done, things were progressing more slowly than expected.

That darn workday. Such a nuisance.

So the game rolled into Day Three, and players could sense the end was near. Most of the puzzle pieces were there for the taking, and several compelling theories emerged. (Honestly, one of them was better than the story I’d actually written, which was both funny and a little humbling.)

To add a bit of drama, I set a deadline of mid-afternoon. If the murders hadn’t been solved by then, the killer would escape scot-free.

Things finally steamrolled to their conclusion when the murder weapon was revealed — in the hands of a thief who had been woven into the plot — and one of the players came close enough to cracking all three murders that I declared the mystery solved. (And our ace detective did so before the deadline, so no escape for our dastardly murderer.)

It was different from any murder-mystery event I’d run before, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. There were certainly flaws in execution, as there are in any first attempt, but I learned some valuable lessons in this play-through that will make other such events in the future smoother, more satisfying, and more engaging.

Although…I hadn’t considered the potential consequences of the event on workdays going forward; everyone seems a bit more wary of each other. (And there are a few vengeful “spirits” lurking about, hoping to avenge themselves in future games.)


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Puzzles in Pop Culture: Square One TV

Puzzles in Pop Culture is all about chronicling those moments in TV, film, literature, art, and elsewhere in which puzzles play a key role. In previous installments, we’ve tackled everything from The West Wing, The Simpsons, and M*A*S*H to MacGyver, Gilmore Girls, and various incarnations of Sherlock Holmes.

And in today’s edition, we’re jumping into the Wayback Machine and looking back at the math-fueled equivalent of Sesame Street: Square One TV!

[The intro to Square One TV, looking more than a little dated these days.]

This PBS show ran from 1987 to 1994 (although reruns took over in 1992), airing five days a week and featuring all sorts of math-themed programming. Armed with a small recurring group of actors, the writers and producers of Square One TV offered many clever (if slightly cheesy) ideas for presenting different mathematical concepts to its intended audience.

Whether they were explaining pie charts and percentages with a game show parody or employing math-related magic tricks with the aid of magician Harry Blackstone, Jr., the sketches were simple enough for younger viewers, but funny enough for older viewers.

In addition to musical parodies performed by the cast, several famous musicians contributed to the show as well. “Weird Al” Yankovic, Bobby McFerrin, The Fat Boys, and Kid ‘n’ Play were among the guests helped explain fractions, tessellations, and other topics.

[One of the many math-themed songs featured on the show.]

Two of the most famous recurring segments on Square One TV were Mathman and Mathcourt. (Sensing a theme here?)

Mathman was a Pac-Man ripoff who would eat his way around an arcade grid until he reached a number or a question mark (depending on this particular segment’s subject).

For instance, if he came to a question mark and it revealed “3 > 2”, he could eat the ratio, because it’s mathematically correct, and then move onward. But if he ate the ratio “3 < 2”, he would be pursued by Mr. Glitch, the tornado antagonist of the game. (The announcer would always introduce Mr. Glitch with an unflattering adjective like contemptible, inconsiderate, devious, reckless, insidious, inflated, ill-tempered, shallow, or surreptitious.)

Mathcourt, on the other hand, gave us a word problem in the form of a court case, leaving the less-than-impressed district attorney and judge to establish whether the accused (usually someone much savvier at math than them) was correct or incorrect. As a sucker for The People’s Court-style shenanigans, this recurring segment was a personal favorite of mine.

But from a puzzle-solving standpoint, MathNet was easily the puzzliest part of the program. Detectives George Frankly and Kate Tuesday would use math to solve baffling crimes. Whether it was a missing house, a parrot theft, or a Broadway performer’s kidnapping, George and Kate could rely on math to help them save the day.

These segments were told in five parts (one per day for a full week), using the Dragnet formula to tackle all sorts of mathematical concepts, from the Fibonacci sequence to calculating angles of reflection and refraction.

These were essentially word problems, logic problems, and other puzzles involving logic or deduction, but with a criminal twist. Think more Law & Order: LCD than Law & Order: SVU.

Granted, given all the robberies and kidnappings the MathNet team faced, these segments weren’t aiming as young or as silly as much of Square One TV‘s usual fare, but they are easily the most fondly remembered aspect of the show for fans and casual viewers alike.

Given the topic of Tuesday’s post — the value of recreational math — it seemed only fitting to use today’s post to discuss one of the best examples of math-made-fun in television history.

Square One TV may not have been nearly as successful or as long-lasting as its Muppet-friendly counterpart, but its legacy lives on in the hearts and memories of many puzzlers these days.


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(More Than) 5 Questions: Escape the Room edition!

Welcome to a very special edition of 5 Questions!

Usually, 5 Questions is simply that: five individual questions answered by our guest. But this time around, we’ve ditched the 5 Q format in lieu of a more relaxed, conversational interview. I hope you enjoy!


Escape the Room games started as a video-game phenomenon, but have since moved into the real world with great success as teams are tasked with physically finding clues and solving puzzles in order to escape!

[Darcy, right, poses with another solver, complete with
deerstalker and Meerschaum pipe a la Sherlock Holmes.]

Penny Dell Puzzles social media coordinator (and friend of the blog) Darcy recently tackled the challenge posed by Mission Escape Games, and she was gracious enough to take the time out to answer some questions about this intriguing puzzle-solving experience.

So without further ado, let’s get to it in a very special edition of 5 Questions!


So, Darcy, correct me if I’m wrong, but your friend invited you to be locked in a room with her, with only your wits and cunning to help you both escape within a certain amount of time? How did this come about?

As unfavorable as it may seem, it was actually a birthday gift. My husband bought me tickets to Mission Escape Games in NYC, and we went with a group of friends.

Oh, so how many of you could be in a given escape room? (I’m assuming there is more than one.)

There are a few rooms. We had 9 people in our room. Our group was teamed up with another group to find out what happened to Dr. Jekyll before Mr. Hyde showed up.

All the other rooms have other themes, and the owners try to change up the challenges frequently. That’s so people can keep coming back and playing something fresh, but also so others who have played won’t give away the secrets of how to escape

So your group and another team are all in a room together. What does the room look like? Is there someone there to guide you and answer questions, or are you on your own?

You’re on your own! We were told that we had an hour to escape and to look everywhere — and they mean everywhere — for clues. We walked into a small Victorian-era room with a fireplace and other period props and just started searching. We upended tables, took out drawers, you name it.

Many clues didn’t make sense at first, but as the game progressed, we realized every clue was there for a reason. There was also a small TV screen in the corner of the room that very ominously counted down your time.

But as we found out, the TV screen served a dual purpose. We had someone watching us the entire time who would provide clues, if necessary, through the screen.

Can you give us an example of some of the clues you found, and how they made more sense as the game progressed?

Not to give too much away, but we found a key that seemed to have no relevance at first, since it didn’t open the only door in the room. We soon discovered our little room was not as small as it seemed.

Most clues turned out to be more than they seemed at first. There were a lot of puzzles solved by trying to find out what was missing, rather than where something was hiding.

You said that the people running the game could give you clues through the television. Could you elaborate on that?

If we got stuck, we could ask for a hint. At one point, we were all standing over a chess board, befuddled because we knew it needed to come into play, we just didn’t know how. After discussing chess moves for a while, the TV screen showed us a poem using the words “King,” “Queen,” and “Knight.”

This reminded us that much earlier, we had found a deck of cards, so we knew that the deck of cards and the chess board were both necessary to solving that part of the puzzle.

How long did you have to escape?

One hour.

And did you?

Technically, no. But we came so close, our “handler” gave us an extra two minutes to finish.

Do you feel like a bigger or smaller group would have helped more?

You know, at first I wasn’t so sure about working with complete strangers, but by the end of the mission, I felt that every single person contributed in some way.

In my case, the more people present, the more knowledge brought to the table. For instance, I’m terrible with numbers, but others in the group used their very strong math skills to keep us afloat. My strength is in brain teasers and optical illusions, so I could help identify some of the riddles and visual tricks.

So you would definitely go again?

Absolutely! We had such a good time! We made new friends and, despite not escaping in time, we still felt very proud of ourselves.


Many thanks to Darcy for her time and her story about Mission Escape Games! You can check out her social media skills on the Facebook and Twitter accounts for Penny Dell Puzzles!

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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!