Puzzles in Pop Culture: Garfield

Puzzles are ubiquitous. Once you start looking around for them, you’ll find them in every nook and cranny of popular culture.

Sometimes, they’re the basis for an entire episode of television, as in Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Parks and Rec. Sometimes, they serve as a linchpin metaphor, as they did in Sleepy Hollow. Other times, they’re good for a funny aside, as in Gilmore Girls, or as a prop to reveal deeper character insight, as on The West Wing.

Over the years, I’ve seen puzzles incorporated into storytelling in dozens of ways. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to stumble across puzzle references where I least expected them: the funny pages.

Yes, they’re such a part of the cultural fabric that they’ve even infiltrated comic strips.

The other day, I stumbled across this Garfield comic strip from last year:

Now, it’s meant to be funny, but I think any puzzler who has stood onstage in front of a whiteboard at ACPT, Lollapuzzoola, or another crossword tournament would agree with Jon over Garfield here.

That was one example. As it turns out, when you start digging, you find crossword gags strewn through the Garfield comics.

Like this one from November of 2005:

That’s a pretty simple gag, but it’s also a nice bonding moment for Jon and Garfield, as Jon’s rampant procrastination dovetails nicely with Garfield’s bottomless love for Italian food.

Jon has less luck making a puzzly connection in this comic from February of 1998:

If you ask me, a cookie and a crossword puzzle sounds like an excellent way to spend time with someone interesting. But I’m biased. I love cookies.

And as you can see in this comic from February of 1979, Jon’s crossword struggles have been an ongoing issue for decades now:

But it’s not just crosswords. Sudoku has gotten a fair amount of attention in the Garfield strip over the years. That’s understandable, as it’s one of the most recognizable pencil-and-paper puzzles in the world.

And as someone who isn’t the fastest Sudoku solver in the world, this series of comics from January of 2010 (an entire week’s worth!) speaks to me. I get it, Jon. I get it.

Honestly, it makes sense that Odie would have Sudoku wired. He’s a puzzle dog. He’s been appearing in crossword grids for years.

There’s a lovely callback to that previous crossword gag.

Finally, Jon triumphs! I admire both his resilience and his unwillingness to give up. Though, given that it took a week to complete a Sudoku, maybe Jon should stick to other puzzles.

Heck, our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles have the perfect book for him to try out.

[All images are courtesy of Garfield.com.]


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PuzzleNation Product Review: IcoSoKu

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

Most puzzles — whether we’re talking about puzzle boxes, jigsaw puzzles, physical brain teasers, or mechanical puzzles — operate under a simple premise: the puzzle arrives in one configuration, and it’s up to you to solve it and put it into a different configuration.

With puzzle boxes, you’re opening them. With jigsaws, you’re assembling the pieces. With physical brain teasers and mechanical puzzles, you’re separating them, freeing a given piece, or accomplishing a particular task. But in each case, they’ve arrived that way. You have been pitted against the designer.

Project Genius‘s IcoSoKu is something different. IcoSoKu challenges you to create your own puzzle, and then solve it.

The setup is elegant in its simplicity. It’s a puzzle ball consisting of a twenty-sided icosahedron base, twelve numbered pegs, and twenty triangular tiles with different combinations of pips at the corners.

To start, remove all of the tiles and all of the pegs from the icosahedron. Place the numbered pegs wherever you wish on the puzzle ball.

Then, you must figure out how to arrange the triangular tiles on the puzzle ball.

This is tougher than it seems. Each triangular tile has a different combination of pips in its corners. Some corners have none, while others have one, two, or three pips. And each corner neighbors a different numbered peg. Each numbered peg is surrounded by five corners, and the pips on each corner, when added together, should total the number on the peg.

And with numbers ranging from 1 to 12, you have to be both clever and careful in your tile placement. That peg labeled “1” can only have a single pip neighboring it, meaning that the other four tiles surrounding that peg should have empty corners.

[Three different looks at the same solved puzzle ball.]

IcoSoKu combines the deduction of placement puzzles like Minesweeper or Blackout! with the mathematical puzzling of a magic square or a Sudoku puzzle. And by making the puzzle three-dimensional, it places a healthy demand on your puzzly faculties. You’re constantly tipping and turning the puzzle ball, because you can never see the whole puzzle at once, making it much harder to manage your tiles and maintain a good sense of just how many of those valuable little pips you’ve already used.

And as soon as you’ve placed the final tile and searched the puzzle ball all over, confirming a successful solution… all you want to do is strip away all of the tiles and pegs to test your wits again.

Assigning pegs randomly creates a completely different solving experience from bundling all the large numbers together on one side and all the small numbers together on the other side of the ball. Although you will begin to spot certain patterns and techniques that will come in handy as you solve each successive permutation of the puzzle, you’ll still find IcoSoKu to be an engaging and satisfying challenge.

Plus there are other ways you can enjoy the puzzle after cracking it yourself. I challenged a fellow puzzler to a timed IcoSoKu solve-off! First, I arranged the pegs and timed how long it took her to solve the puzzle ball I’d devised. Then, she arranged the pegs and timed how long it took me to unravel the puzzle ball she’d created. It added a fun touch of competition and uncertainty to the solving experience, one that my patient solo-solving didn’t capture.

But whether you’re tackling IcoSoKu yourself or with a puzzly rival, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. It’s a DIY puzzle, masterfully put together and waiting for you to execute.

IcoSoKu is available from Project Genius and other participating retailers, appropriate for solvers 9 and up!


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Those Sudoku Puzzles Can Be Criminally Tough!

Even when I’m not thinking about puzzles or intending to learn about puzzles, puzzles find me.

I was reading one of the most recent editions of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, those delightful compendiums of all things amazing, weird, and unlikely. Everything from world records and peculiar habits to once-in-a-lifetime events and mind-bending coincidences are found between the covers of these collections.

And one particular fact caught my eye:

Eighty-six prisoners at Exeter Jail in Devon, England, signed a formal letter of complaint claiming that a Sudoku puzzle in the local newspaper — the Exeter Express and Echo — on May 21, 2015, was impossible to solve.

I was instantly intrigued.

[Image courtesy of The Telegraph.]

Here is the message the prisoners sent to the editor of The Exeter Express and Echo:

Dear Sir/Madam, I am sadly writing this letter in A LOT of disappointment.

As you will see, I’ve enclosed last week’s Sudoko [sic] page and we (along with 84 other prisoners) believe you printed a ‘hard’ Sudoku which is IMPOSSIBLE to complete.

As being prisoners we are only aloud [sic] access to Thursday’s issue, so we couldn’t verify the truth.

Yours FAITHFULLY,

Michael Blatchford
Shane Smith

Yes, The Exeter Express and Echo is printed twice a week, and since the answers to Thursday’s puzzles appear on Monday, and the inmates don’t have access to Monday’s issues, they were unable to check their own work.

So, naturally, I had to see whether this Sudoku puzzle was as unsolvable as the inmates claimed.

Finding a copy of the puzzle wasn’t hard. Here, I’ll post it here, in case you want to try your hand at it yourself:

[Image courtesy of The Telegraph.]

So, is it impossible?

Well, no.

In all honesty, I’m not the strongest or the fastest Sudoku solver. But I did complete this puzzle, difficult as it was. I suspect, given time, you would complete it as well. I don’t mean to impugn the Sudoku skills of the Exeter Jail population. I’m just saying.

As it turns out, the inmates had made a few key mistakes, mostly in the middle section, and since they apparently solve in ink, it made things much harder.

But, in a lovely response, the staff at The Exeter Express and Echo promised to make Monday papers available to the inmates as well, so they can double-check their answers next time. That’s nice.

And here’s hoping their Sudoku solving has been smooth sailing ever since. Apparently, it has been, since Ripley’s has yet to mention them a second time.


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Wine Is Better For Your Brain Than Puzzles?

[Image courtesy of Bevlaw.]

“It’s time to trade in your Sudoku and crossword puzzles for a glass of wine.”

That was the opening quote in an article sent to me by a friend (and wine enthusiast) who thought I’d be interested to hear just why we should be tossing aside our puzzles for a bit of vino.

That article discusses the book Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, by Yale neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd, and Shepherd posits that the flavor of wine “engages more of our brain than any other human behavior.”

More than listening to music, solving math problems, or hitting a baseball? Apparently so. Even more than solving one of our beloved crossword grids? Shepherd certainly believes that to be the case, and he’s packing some serious science to back it up.

[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

From an NPR piece about the book:

The apparently simple act of sipping Merlot involves a complex interplay of air and liquid controlled by coordinated movements of the the tongue, jaw, diaphragm and throat. Inside the mouth, molecules in wine stimulate thousands of taste and odor receptors, sending a flavor signal to the brain that triggers massive cognitive computation involving pattern recognition, memory, value judgment, emotion and of course, pleasure.

Now, of course, we’re all about engaging the brain in a positive way in this blog. We’ve spent plenty of time debunking faulty promises about “brain-training” puzzle sites and the like that make grand, unfounded promises about what puzzles can do to stave off Alzheimer’s, memory issues, dementia, and more. The science is still out on exactly how long-term puzzle-solving affects the brain, and whether there are benefits, so we’ll table that idea for now.

But savoring a sip of wine and exercising the brain? Now that’s something we can get behind.

[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

Or you could be evil, slap one of these brain teasers on the bottle, and annoy your friends.

Then again, this just makes me think you should enjoy a glass of wine WHILE solving a crossword. The best of both worlds!


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Two Puzzly Events: One Soon, One Today!

If you’re looking for puzzly events in the very near future to keep your solving skills sharp, then this is the post for you.

After all, the 41st annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is only six weeks away! Yup, on March 23rd to the 25th, puzzlers shall descend on the Stamford Marriott Hotel once again to put their puzzly skills to the test in what is lovingly known as “the Nerd Olympics.”

I’ve attended the event for several years now, and it is always one of the highlights of the puzzle year. The tournament itself takes place over two days, with six puzzles to solve on Saturday, followed by one on Sunday. Then the top three finishers in the A, B, and C brackets solve the championship puzzle on whiteboards in front of the audience.

On Friday and Saturday night, there are puzzle events, demonstrations, and panels by top puzzlers and figures in the puzzle world as well.

It’s a terrific way to not only see how you’d fare in a tournament setting, but also to meet many of your fellow puzzlers, including prominent constructors and previous tournament winners!

(Click here to read our rundown of last year’s event, and click here to visit the Facebook page for attendees and new solvers to share info and learn more about the event!)

But maybe March is too far away for you. What if you’re looking for a puzzly challenge right now?

Well then, The World Puzzle Federation has you covered, because The WPF Puzzle Grand Prix returns today!

With similar rules to the Sudoku Grand Prix (which kicked off last month), the Puzzle Grand Prix consists of multiple rounds over the course of the year, spanning all types of puzzles, including kakuro, deduction puzzles, and more.

And although only members of the WPF are active competitors for those rankings, you can still solve each round’s puzzles and see how you fare against the best in the world!

The Turkish team have prepared the puzzles for Round 1, which will be available from noon on February 9, 2018 (GMT + 1 hour) to 11:59 PM on February 12, 2018 (GMT + 1 hour).

So what do you say, PuzzleNationers? Do you accept the challenge of the Puzzle Grand Prix?

Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you!


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The 2018 WPF Sudoku Grand Prix Is Here!

That’s right, puzzle fans! The World Puzzle Federation, international arbiter of many puzzle competitions across the globe, invites you to test your puzzly skills from home against the world’s top solvers!

Today marks the first of eight rounds in the Sudoku tournament that will determine the rankings for the Sudoku Championship held later this year.

And although only members of the WPF are active competitors for those rankings, you can still solve each round’s puzzles and see how you fare against the best in the world!

As stated on the WPF website:

All the logical puzzles and Sudoku fans can take part and compare their results with the world’s top players without leaving the comfort of their home.

You can expect first class puzzles prepared by the top puzzle authors from all over the world. Most of the authors contributing to the GP have also prepared puzzles for the past World Puzzle / Sudoku championships. The puzzles in the Grand Prix will be designed for all the players with different solving skills, for beginners as well as for the world’s best players.

The Netherlands team have prepared the Sudoku puzzles for Round 1, which will be available from noon on January 26, 2018 (GMT + 1 hour) to 11:59 PM on January 29, 2018 (GMT + 1 hour).

So what do you say, PuzzleNationers? Do you accept the challenge of the Sudoku Grand Prix?

Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you!


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