5 Questions with Tanya Thompson of ThinkFun

Welcome to the fifth edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, writers, filmmakers, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m excited to have Tanya Thompson as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Tanya is Head of Inventor Relations at ThinkFun, literally traveling the world to meeting with inventors and puzzle innovators in order to create new puzzle game products under the ThinkFun brand. She was part of the team that made Laser Maze a reality — check out our review of Laser Maze — and in the photo, she’s playing around with their latest puzzle game, WordARound (another coup for her and the ThinkFun team).

Tanya was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for Tanya Thompson

1.) What in your estimation makes for a truly great puzzle or puzzle game?

Good question. It depends on the context. If you’re asking me personally, as an avid gamer and puzzler, I like puzzles that are new or innovative. I have over 1000 puzzles in my collection and I attend the International Puzzle Party (IPP) where some of the brightest puzzle minds (creators and solvers) gather. I love it when I see something truly new, whether it be a mechanism, a component or a solving technique.

If you’re asking me what I look for regarding a ThinkFun puzzle or puzzle game, that’s different. For ThinkFun it needs to be commercially viable. It has to be interesting to the masses, not just puzzle nuts like myself. If it can sit on the shelf and cause people just walking by to pick it up and play with it, then it might be right for ThinkFun.

As for my favorite puzzles – That’s a tough question. I have a lot of favorites. I love Rush Hour because I think ThinkFun revolutionized the toy and game industry with it. This was an entirely new way of doing puzzles. Of the classics, I love the Soma Cube, both for its elegance and its mathematical completeness.

I must mention designers here too. I love Iwahiro because he always surprises me with his puzzles. One year he’ll do wood, then aluminum, then cloth. He is so creative. Vesa Timonen and Timo Jokitalo develop wonderful single player games as well as aha-style. Oskar van Deventer has revolutionized twisties. Akio Kamei creates the most beautiful puzzles that look like everyday objects and the key to their solutions lie in those objects. Kagen Schaefer does exquisite puzzle furniture. I could go on and on!

2.) What ThinkFun products are your favorites, and which are you most proud of? Is it difficult to walk the tightrope of producing challenging, educational, AND fun products?

I love ThinkFun and what we stand for. We produce addictively fun games that sharpen and challenge your mind. We want to make the world better thinkers. I think our products do just that. I’m especially proud of this year’s releases Laser Maze and Word Around because I championed them into the company from the inventors. However kudos need to be given to the amazing Product Development team that took the ideas and made them into exceptional products as well as our incredible sales and marketing teams who knew just how to get them out into the world. You asked if it is difficult to walk the tightrope of producing challenging, educational AND fun products, it’s not so much that it’s difficult, it’s more that it is who we are. We’re awesome tightrope walkers!

3.) What’s your relationship to puzzles and games, and how did you come to be an integral part of ThinkFun?

I’ve always loved puzzles and games. My first career was a mathematics teacher and I used puzzles and games in my classroom to inspire my students. One of ways I did this as a teacher was to organize a SNAP Math Fair in my school. It brought puzzles into the classroom.

Through my work with SNAP I met Bill Ritchie, the CEO of ThinkFun. Bill soon hired me, and now I travel the world meeting inventors to bring in the new ideas for ThinkFun, and then work as part of a team that develops the ideas into products. Bill is also very passionate about reaching communities of people that want activities and games to exercise their brains. So I am also on a team of people working on programs that do just that! I love what I do and I’m blessed to have such a great job with ThinkFun!

4.) What’s next for Tanya Thompson and ThinkFun?

What’s next for me? Who knows. I’d love to attend TED someday, I’d love to travel to Asia and I’d love to sit and play a board game with Wil Wheaton. More imminent, I have been asked to launch a puzzle/game newsletter this fall. It will focus on great puzzle/game people in our industry, and will include a puzzle/game takeaway.

I am also excited to soon be off to find our next big thing! I’ve built an incredible network of inventors and creatives and I look forward to the fall when our submission cycle opens back up and I’ll be out there seeing great new ideas again! What’s next for ThinkFun? You’ll have to wait and see but you can be certain that it will be more products and programs that will sharpen and challenge your mind!

5.) If you could give the readers, aspiring inventors, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Live passionately and get involved. I am passionate about mathematics, puzzles, games and education. When I was a teacher, I taught with passion. It brought me to ThinkFun and I now have a job that allows me to work within the fields I’m passionate about. 

Also, get involved with other people who share similar passions. I chair a committee called the Gathering for Gardner – Celebration of Mind (G4G – CoM) that promotes Martin Gardner’s life’s work. Martin wrote a column for 25 years in Scientific American called Mathematical Games. He was passionate about math, magic and puzzles.

Around his birthdate of October 21st parties/events occur around the world. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that people gather to share math, magic and puzzles. I was lucky enough to call Martin a friend and I am honored to be a part of this organization.

I am also on the Executive Advisory Board of the Chicago Toy and Game Week, a great series of events held in November for anyone wanting to know more about or to network within the Toy and Game Industry.

Many thanks to Tanya Thompson for her time and ThinkFun for their puzzly camaraderie! With so many interesting and innovative puzzle games in their arsenal, I’m sure we’ll be talking about them again soon.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!