5 Questions with PuzzleNation Director of Digital Games Fred Galpern

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

For the entire month of August, I’ll be introducing the PuzzleNation readership to many of the members of the PuzzleNation team! So every Thursday this month, you’ll meet a new name and voice responsible for bringing you the best puzzle apps on the market today!

And I’m excited to continue this series with Fred Galpern as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Fred is our Director of Digital Games, and he’s been the driving force behind our mobile app brand since Day One. With previous video-game experience working on iconic games like System Shock 2 and Thief, Fred brings illustration, digital art, and graphic-design knowhow to the table, bringing pen-and-paper puzzle concepts to new formats like mobile gaming and solving.

(He’s also a pretty sharp guitar and ukulele player, but as far as I know, that hasn’t factored into our app-development efforts yet.)

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

5 Questions with Fred Galpern

1. As Director of Digital Games, you’re the head honcho around these parts when it comes to app development. What does that job entail? What role do you play in bringing new features and apps to market?

PuzzleNation is a small team, which means we all wear multiple hats. For me, the most important, and coincidentally the most fun, hat is product management. In this role I set the direction for each of our apps, including sorting out what new features to add, which existing features to improve, what new content to offer to users and how to improve the look and feel of our apps.

Our approach always starts with what will be best for the app user; we then figure out how to make that good user experience work for us as business. Finally, we do our best to listen to user feedback so we can improve a feature after it’s released, so that our apps get better and better over time.

2. You had a background in game development and design before you began developing puzzle apps. How has your work in traditional video games informed your work with puzzles, and has working with puzzles changed how you view game design as a whole?

Prior to joining PuzzleNation I was fortunate to have had experiences all around the game industry, from intense hardcore game development projects to family-oriented games and even some gaming hardware. All of these experiences have been valuable, especially my experience at Blue Fang Games, where I was an Art Director and Producer for the Zoo Tycoon series. Working on that series showed me how fulfilling it can be to create games that appeal to people outside the stereotypical gamer audience of males aged 13 to 35.

PuzzleNation strives to provide users of all ages with great puzzle-solving experiences. The lessons I learned at Blue Fang are useful every day at PuzzleNation. Whether we’re planning new apps or improvements to our current apps, I often find myself recalling a previous project that suggests a solution for today’s projects.

3. The PuzzleNation audience first got to know you in our post announcing the free daily puzzle feature for the Penny Dell Crosswords app, where you mentioned you and your family are big board game players. Are there any new games that have become favorites in your house?

Oh yes, our passion for board games has not slowed down! Our current favorites include a mix of old and new games: X-Wing Star Wars miniatures game, Star Realms, Ascension, Marvel VS and 7 Wonders.

Of those, 7 Wonders has gotten the most play. It’s a wonderfully fun game that has a small learning curve followed by hours of enjoyable, strategic gameplay that works for all different play styles. I usually try aggressive strategies which are countered by more thoughtful approaches by my wife and kids. Board games are still in the midst of an amazing renaissance. I encourage readers to learn more on sites like Board Game Geek and The Dice Tower and Watch-It-Played YouTube channels.

[Fred, alongside the Puzzle Pope at last year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.]

4. What’s next for Fred Galpern and PuzzleNation?

For me, next up is lunch! I know that sounds like a joke, but it’s true. Since I work from home, getting out of the house at lunchtime is a ritual that adds a bit of adventure to my day. I’m lucky to live in Providence, RI, a small city with an abundance of excellent restaurants. Today, I’m thinking of heading to historic Federal Hill, well known for several of the top Italian restaurants in the country. I’ll most likely indulge with a delicious Italian grinder sandwich or maybe a chicken parmigiana.

As for PuzzleNation, our what’s next may not be as literally delicious, but you can be sure it will be equally enjoyable. We’re deep into development of two great new apps, and at the same time rolling out performance improvements for our current Crosswords apps. I can’t go into specifics but can say that puzzle lovers who enjoy the puzzles found in Penny Press and Dell Magazines will be pleasantly surprised. Stay tuned to the PuzzleNation blog and Newsletter for more details soon!

5. If you could give the readers, writers, programmers, aspiring game/app designers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

One piece of advice for all of those different folks? Wow, that’s a puzzle in itself!

I learned something many years ago about achieving goals. The only way to reach a goal is to never give up. On the surface this can seem like rah-rah, sports minded, “stay strong” type of advice. For me, the thinking behind it goes a bit deeper. “Never give up” doesn’t speak to just tenacity and willingness to keep trying, but also to the need to think differently about the path to a goal.

Sure, sticking doggedly to the path you’re on may get you to your goal; however, creative exploration and finding alternate paths is often a more enriching, fulfilling journey. I know that may sound a bit mystical, but I assure you it’s not. It’s as simple as settling on a goal to strive for, then waking up every day and checking in that you’re still on a path towards that goal. The path may change every day, every few days or not at all. As long as you’re still on a path that can logically lead to the goal, you are making progress towards that goal.

A huge thank you to Fred for his time! I can’t wait to see some of those new apps hit the market and watch the PuzzleNation brand expand and flourish!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

A New Year’s Eve Countdown!

It’s New Year’s Eve, and we are literally counting down the hours until 2016, so why not celebrate the end of 2015 with a little countdown of our own?

Here are my 10 favorite blog posts from 2015!

#10 Rubik ‘Round the World

One of the most amazing things about the world today is how interconnected we all are. The Internet has made it easily to not only keep in touch with far-flung friends, but to forge new, meaningful friendships and connections with staggering ease.

And I confess, I am a total sucker for those heartwarming clickbait videos that spread the message that we are all the same. (The one of that guy doing the same dance in countries across the world comes to mind.) So seeing people from all over the world solve a Rubik’s Cube one move at a time…what can I say? It got me.

#9 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.

#8 Music and Puzzles

Talking about how puzzles are relevant to daily life is one of my favorite subjects for blog posts. Brain health, stress relief, the long-term benefits of puzzle solving…we’ve discussed all these topics and more during my time as lead blogger.

This year I continued that tradition with this post about how listening to music can make you a more effective solver. It’s always interesting for me to do some research and really delve into a topic — especially scientific ones because they’re often so drastically misreported or misinterpreted by mainstream outlets — and give the PuzzleNation audience the straight story.

#7 The Dress

One of the most bizarre moments of 2015 was when someone shoved their iPhone in my face and asked me what color a dress was. It wasn’t until a few moments later that I found out this was a big thing on the Internet that people were vociferously debating.

The chance to explain exactly what was going on in the photo through one of my favorite puzzly mediums — the optical illusion — was too much fun to resist, and it resulted in one of the year’s most popular, most shared blog posts.

#6 The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

Although it’s a highlight of the puzzly calendar every year, this year’s ACPT was extra special for me because it was the first I attended in person.

Not only did I get to meet a lot of top names in crosswords — in many cases, finally getting a chance to put names to faces after many emails and tweets exchanged — but I got to enjoy the Big Fight feel of seeing so many friends and puzzlers test their mettle against some great puzzles.

#5 A Puzzly Wedding Proposal

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles pulled off one heck of a puzzly coup when an intrepid fellow puzzler asked them for help proposing to his girlfriend with a special Escalators puzzle.

I reached out to the lucky fiancé and got his permission to share the story with the PuzzleNation readership, and as I learned more about who was involved and how they’d managed to make it happen, I just became more and more enamored with the story. I have no doubt that years from now, this will still be one of my favorite blog posts.

#4 Max Reviews the Boston Festival of Indie Games

Guest bloggers are nothing new to PuzzleNation Blog, as Sherri regularly pops in with her app reviews, but Max Galpern pushed things to another level with his appearances throughout the year. Not only did he pioneer our first video review (with assistance from Fred), but he took over the blog for an entire day with his review of the Boston Festival of Indie Games.

Here’s hoping we can get Max back for 2016 a few times, though I suspect he’ll be in high demand.

#3 Will Sudoku

We do a lot of reviews (board game and card game reviews, puzzle reviews, tournament reviews, app reviews, etc.) and I thoroughly enjoy introducing new puzzly products and events to my fellow PuzzleNationers and sharing my thoughts on them.

But it’s rare that we get the first shot at introducing a brand-new never-before-seen puzzle or product, and that’s what separates the Will Sudoku post from many others. Serving as the debut outlet for a new puzzle was great fun and very exciting, one of those rarities that made 2015 such a terrific year.

#2 Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Island Seesaws

Brain teasers were a big part of 2015 for the blog, since several challenging ones went viral this year. But I don’t think any of them taxed my brain — both to solve AND to explain how to solve — like the island seesaw brain teaser from an episode of Fox’s sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine did.

It is an epic-length blog post — one I needed a mathematician friend of mine to help me write — but it broke down a tough puzzle bit-by-bit and explained every step. In a year of brain-melting puzzle posts, it still stands out.

#1 Announcing Free Daily Puzzles for the Penny Dell Crosswords App

I almost put announcing the Android release for the App here instead — because so many people had been asking about it for so long — but in the end, the free daily puzzle announcement won out, and not simply because it was a terrific new feature for the App, one that I feel would draw a lot of new eyes to the product.

Getting to interview Fred and talk about not just what we’ve been working on for years, but where we were headed in the future, made it feel like a special event for the PuzzleNation Team as a whole. Plus it was a chance to introduce all of you to another member of the team, something I hope to do more of in 2016.

It may sound self-serving or schlocky to talk about our flagship product 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 it the absolute best it can be for the PuzzleNation audience. That’s what you deserve.

Thanks for spending 2015 with us, through logic problems and love stories, through dresses and debuts, through Rubik’s Cubes and revelations. We’ll see you in 2016.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

Max reviews the Boston Festival of Indie Games!

Hello Puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! Today we’ve got a special treat for you! The intrepid Max Galpern, 12-year-old game enthusiast and son of our Director of Digital Games Fred Galpern, will be taking over PuzzleNation Blog for the day!

[Max, trying out a new virtual reality game at Boston FIG.]

You may remember Max from his cameo appearance in our Laser Maze product review or his work in our first video review for Star Realms (alongside his dad).

I’m happy to hand over the reins to Max as he gives us the lowdown on the Boston Festival of Indie Games.

[Glenn’s note: the photo comments are my only contributions.]

Take it away, Max!

I went to the Boston Festival of Indie Games (FIG) on September 12 in 2015. This festival has been going on for many years now. It used to only show digital games and this year is the first year they’re introducing tabletop games.

[A brief glimpse of Boston FIG.]

First, I went into the tabletop showcase, and when I walked in I saw a big poster for EPIC, the card game. I’ve played EPIC before. Earlier this year, my dad backed the Kickstarter campaign, so we already have the game and really like it. I walked right over to the EPIC booth and played a game with my dad right away. I crushed him in the game we played!

[A sample of some of the stunning art featured in EPIC.]

EPIC is a card game that consists of 120 cards that are all different, and among them are 4 colors/factions: Red (evil), Green (wild), Yellow (good), and Blue (sage). If you know how to play Magic:The Gathering (MTG) you may pick this game up as easily as I did. It has many of the same abilities as MTG but worded differently. EPIC is a really fun game, and I totally recommend it.

After EPIC, I walked around and saw this game called PBL Robots.

[Here’s an illustration of a sample attack in PBL Robots.]

My dad and I walked past it and it looked pretty cool, so I wanted to check it out when we circled back. We walked around for awhile and then sat down to learn about PBL Robots. When the creators were explaining the rules, I realized I had thought of a game like this one many years ago.

You start with a base robot and a pilot. Then you play cards that may be an arm, a pair of legs, shoulders, an action, a hangar, crew members, or a better pilot. When you’re ready to attack, you roll dice according to the part you are attacking with and/or the part you are attacking. It was amazingly fun to play, and I hope to play it again.

After that I went to the video game section, where I tried a game called Space Jammers. It was pretty fun, and if you have a Windows computer you can play it at igs.io/spacejammers.

Next, I played a video game called Sylvio.

[Max, matching wits with Sylvio on a PC. Now THAT is focus…]

It’s a survival horror game where you take the role of a girl who records ghosts with a microphone. The sound in the game makes it even more creepy. It is a very fun game. If you like games like Slender you may like this too.

Last but not least, I played a game called Loose Nozzles by my Dad’s friend Chris Foster and his son Ian. It’s a fun game for iPad where you fly a rocket ship to save the stranded people below. I recommend this game for children of all ages to play.

[Ian welcomes you to give Loose Nozzles a try!]

This year’s Boston FIG was a blast, and I can’t wait for next year to revisit things I saw this year AND see new stuff.

P.S. My Dad bought a card game called Poop (it’s like Uno, but more gross). I accidentally left it at the festival but two awesome people who work there found it and are sending it to us. Thanks, Caroline & Shari!

Thanks for the terrific rundown, Max! We’ll have to have you back again soon.

For more info on the Boston Festival of Indie Games, click here! And if you’d like Max to take over more often, let us know in the comments below!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

Video Review: Star Realms

We do lots of reviews here on the PuzzleNation Blog, between Sherri’s app reviews (returning next week!) and my book reviews and product reviews.

And I’m pleased to announce that Fred, our Director of Game Development at PuzzleNation, is also getting into the spirit.

He teamed up with his son Max to create a video review of the deckbuilding card game Star Realms, and it was featured as a guest review on Edo’s Game Reviews on YouTube!

Check it out:

Fred and Max do a terrific job of breaking down the game mechanics, their favorite aspects of the game play, and the game’s pluses and minuses, all within a few minutes. It’s great stuff, and I hope they get the chance to do another review soon!

And let me know if you’d like to see more video content from us in the future!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!