Puzzling and Brain Health Update: Crosswords and Jigsaw Puzzles

brain health

[Loads of images come up when you google “brain health” or “brain fitness,”
but I liked this one much more than all of the ones with brains lifting barbells.]

“Brain health.” “Brain fitness.” “Brain-training.” Ever since I started writing for PuzzleNation Blog, I’ve been chronicling the debate over whether solving puzzles makes a verifiable, detectable impact on brain function, development, and overall health.

There are plenty of puzzle magazines, apps, websites, and services that claim to help with brain fitness. Some make vague assertions related to memory, mental flexibility, and other cognitive functions. Others are insanely specific, promising to reverse the aging process or to help prevent the onset of dementia and other cognitive difficulties later in life.

(Examples of the latter style of advertisement are rarer these days after Lumosity’s two-million-dollar payout for falsely advertising that their puzzle games could “reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with age and other serious health conditions,” as well as “stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease.”)

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[This puzzle by Ryger can be found here!]

Whether we’re talking short-term or long-term benefits to brain health from puzzling, you’ll find dozens of articles online arguing both sides. Unfortunately, so much of the data out there is inconclusive, or is hindered by test groups too small to be applicable to the general population.

However, the positive, verifiable data we can find is encouraging.

Tetris has been used by researchers to help people suffering from traumatic flashbacks, a type of post-traumatic stress. The University of Exeter conducted a study involving more than 19,000 participants that concluded that adults age 50 and older who regularly solve puzzles like crosswords and Sudoku have better brain function than those who do not.

(While 19,000 is still relatively small when compared to millions upon millions of adults over 50, it’s still one of the largest test groups yet assembled for brain health studies related to puzzles.)

dory

And while people are always discussing short-term memory or long-term memory and how they relate to puzzle solving, it turns out there’s a middle ground between the two that crosswords may have a positive effect on. An article from Scientific American last year discussed how crossword solving engages the episodic buffer, one of the mechanisms related to our working memory, our ability to temporarily hold information while performing cognitive tasks.

Most cognitive activities engage the working memory through either verbal components or visuospatial components. (Visuospatial means how we perceive the relationships between different objects in multiple dimensions). But as it turns out, while playing Scrabble or solving crosswords, both visuospatial and verbal components are utilized by the short-term memory.

Of course, this is preliminary work, and there’s so much more to learn about short-term and long-term memory, but apparently, wordplay like Scrabble and crosswords could have a unique effect on how our working memory functions. That’s pretty cool!

But they’re not the only puzzles that we’ve discovered some fascinating new details about. Jigsaw puzzles can have a positive effect on the brain during the solving process.

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Now, like crosswords and Sudoku puzzles, jigsaw puzzles have been the subject of several articles claiming they can help with brain health (or even decrease the presence of Beta-amyloid protein in the brain, a major component of the plaque that indicates Alzheimer’s disease). But I cannot verify those facts in scientific journals to my satisfaction, so I’m tabling that part of the argument.

What I do want to talk about it is how jigsaw puzzle solving can induce a mental state similar to dreaming, one that helps with stress, relaxation, and mood.

The company Sanesco Health is heralded as an industry leader in neurotransmitter testing, and according to an article on their site, placing those tricky little pieces in the right places can do you a world of good:

The connections made while working on jigsaw puzzles aren’t limited to our brain cells. Exercising both sides of the brain simultaneously also allows the brain to move from a Beta state, the wakeful mind, into an “Alpha” state, the same mental state experienced while dreaming. The Alpha state is where we tap into our subconscious mind.

Jigsaw puzzles naturally induce this state of creative, focused meditation, where connections can be made on deeper levels. And that release of dopamine with every puzzle piece you successfully place is an added bonus! Dopamine causes improved motor skills, an increase in concentration, optimism, confidence, and an enhanced recollection.

[Imagine how restful she felt after this!]

Considering that jigsaw puzzle sales spiked during the pandemic — with some outlets reporting sales increases of up to 500% — it sounds like people were either consciously or subconsciously making the perfect choice to cope with the stresses of lockdown.

As always, we’ll keep our eye out for any additional data on these findings.

But in the meantime, happy puzzling! It might be good for you!


dailypopwsicon

Well, summer’s over, but we still have deals galore for you to check out. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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The Mind-blowing Variety of Puzzles

[A sampling of puzzles of many sorts: crosswords, puzzle boxes,
mechanical brain teasers, tile puzzles, riddles, and more!]

It really is incredible how many forms puzzles can take.

Think about it. Whether you’re talking Rubik’s Cubes, cryptograms, jigsaws, Sudoku, brain teasers, riddles, crosswords, escape rooms, tangrams, word seeks, sliding tiles, deduction problems, coded messages, or anagrams, they all fall under the umbrella of puzzles.

A puzzle can be as simple as pencil and paper or as complex as a multi-stage puzzle hunt or escape room, replete with codes, keys, hidden buttons, mechanical devices to assemble or utilize, and more. The folks at ThinkFun, for instance, have employed everything from ropes and magnets to lasers and mirrors in their puzzles.

That’s some extreme variety.

And the field of possibilities only widens when we add video game puzzles to the mix. We’ve previously talked about games like Tetris and Portal, where you must think in 2D and 3D respectively. We’ve seen games where you change the rules of the world to proceed or even interfere with the coding of the game itself to solve problems.

In the last few years, indie game designers and big studios alike have produced puzzle games that continue to push the boundaries of puzzly minds.

For instance, in Iris Fall you solve puzzles and maneuver around obstacles by playing with light and shadow. By moving light sources and interacting with the environment, both the light and the shadows it creates allow your character to play with perspective and illusion in order to accomplish tasks. It’s very cool!

In a similar vein, the game Superliminal challenges you to solve puzzles and move from room to room by shifting perspective. For instance, if you pick up a small item and then pull it close to you so that it looks bigger, it BECOMES bigger.

Check out this playthrough to see this mindbending puzzler in action:

The game Maquette works off of a similar concept, but requires you to think in both big and small terms. In Maquette, you have a city to explore, and in order to do so, you also need to manipulate a miniature version of the city that affects the world outside.

For instance, there’s a bridge with the center path missing. How can you reach the other side with only a key in your hands?

Easy. You take the key, place it over the same bridge gap in the miniature, and then walk back to the real bridge, where a giant version of that key is now spanning the gap.

And now there’s Viewfinder, a game where you use a Polaroid-style camera to take pictures that you can then place into a three-dimensional world and turn them into structures you can interact with and solve problems!

These sorts of puzzle games help reinforce one of the fundamental rules of puzzle-solving: always be willing to change your perspective and come at the puzzle from another angle. It works with wordplay, it works with brain teasers, and it works in three-dimensional perspective puzzles in video games.

What’s your favorite flavor of puzzles, fellow PuzzleNationers? Have you learned something from one kind of puzzle that you’ve been able to apply in another style of puzzling? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


dailypopwsicon

Have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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A Kinder, Gentler Tetris? How!?

[Image courtesy of Eurogamer.]

If there was a Mount Rushmore of puzzle games, Tetris would have to be up there. It made the Game Boy one of the most successful mobile platforms in gaming history. It has been played on every continent AND aboard the International Space Station.

Everyone has played Tetris at one time or another. In fact, it’s so ubiquitous that you’ve probably not only played the original, but some variation on the classic version as well.

And there is no shortage of options on that list. Heck, Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov himself created several famous variations on Tetris, like Hatris (stacking similar hats to clear them from the board), Faces…tris III (where you create famous faces Tetris-style), and Welltris (where pieces fall down all four sides of a cube, and the bottom part is the communal playspace).

[A game of Welltris in progress.]

So what else is out there in the world of Tetris?

There is four-player Tetris (Familiss), Tetris with bombs (Super Tetris), Tetris in a cylinder (V-Tetris), color-specific Tetris (Tetris 2), 3-D Tetris, 3-D Tetris in a sphere (Tetrisphere), speed Tetris (20G or Tetris: The Grand Master), Tetris with earthquakes and meteors (Tetris Elements) and many many more.

As you can see, many of these variations are designed around making the classic game harder. One that we’ve discussed in the past, a 4-directional Tetris variation called Schwerkraftprojektionsgerät, was a personal favorite for a long time.

But easily the most diabolical version was created eleven years ago, and it was aptly named.

Hatetris.

Hatetris is designed to give you the worst possible piece on every turn.

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After figuring out what to do with multiple S pieces, Hatetris throws me a curveball with an I piece.

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Then once I’ve placed the I piece, they flip the script on me with a Z piece. Diabolical.

For the record, after about 30 minutes of play, my record was 3 lines.

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That is brutal.

And after the year or so that many of us have had, who needs brutal?

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Thankfully, the spiritual opposition to Hatetris has appeared for everyone to enjoy. It is, of course, called Lovetris, and it is designed to drop the exact piece you need to clear a line.

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Now, I know what you’re thinking. After a few easy ones, doesn’t it lose its flavor?

On the contrary! It actually offers some new challenges if you approach it from a different direction.

The designer warns that setting up a tetris — eliminating four lines with a single piece — can be difficult when the game is geared toward clearing single lines. That’s one possible challenge for you to solve.

Another that I quite enjoyed was trying to arrange the pieces so I cleared the board entirely. Can you arrange the pieces so that, once you’re done, you’re left with a clean slate to try over with?

A third option is to purposely drop five or six pieces in a row randomly — or even in a tower in the center of the screen — and then work with the program to dig your way out of your predicament.

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[Even with the AI’s help, this is a doozy to clear.]

Amazing that it took 37 years for someone to come up with this.

So what do you think, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Will you be trying out Lovetris, or enduring Hatetris for a spell, or trying out one of these many variants? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Intersections of Puzzle and Poetry

The more you look, the more you can find puzzles in all sorts of interesting places. We find them in literature, in historical documents, and in popular culture.

So it should come as no surprise that puzzles can be found in the world of poetry as well.

We’ve covered a few examples where poetry and puzzles have overlapped in the past, whether it’s the creations of Peter Valentine, the works of Edgar Allan Poe, or the art of carmina figurata.

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But that’s only scratching the surface.

One of the most common ways that puzzly techniques find their way into poetry is through acrostics. Acrostics spell out messages with the first letter of each line or verse.

One of the most famous is a poem by Lewis Carroll at the end of Through the Looking-Glass where he reveals the identity of the girl who inspired his famous stories:

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die.
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

Carroll certainly offers the most famous example, but I must confess that my favorite example comes from a story on Wikipedia. Poet Rolfe Humphries was banned from Poetry Magazine for life for an acrostic aimed at a diplomat and former president of Columbia University. The acrostic quite bluntly read “Nicholas Murray Butler is a horse’s ass.”

Of course, the message reading down — also known as an acrostich — isn’t the only way these messages can be hidden.

There are also examples of mesostich — where the word or message is spelled with letters in the middle of the verse — and telestich, where the last letters of each line spell a name or message.

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[Image courtesy of Twitter.]

These techniques were also used in ancient Greek inscriptions, where one particular example, AL205, featured acrostich, mesostich, and telestich messages at the same time.

Other puzzly stylings have also allowed poets to flex their wordplay muscles.

For instance, David Shulman wrote a 14-line sonnet about George Washington’s famous river crossing where every line is an anagram of “Washington crossing the Delaware”:

A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
“How cold!” Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!

The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general’s action wish’d “Go!”
He saw his ragged continentals row.

Ah, he stands – sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens – winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.

George can’t lose war with’s hands in;
He’s astern – so go alight, crew, and win!

There are also ABC poems, a form where the goal of each poem is to use words starting with each letter of the alphabet in order. You can find some entertaining and impressive examples here.

Some poets, however, have flipped the puzzle poem on its head by treating the poems like puzzles. The folks at UVA’s Puzzle Poetry group utilize Tetris-like puzzle pieces with words on them to assemble poems.

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[Image courtesy of the University of Virginia.]

The concept dates back to 2017, a creation of Neal Curtis and Brad Pasanek, serving as a way to both explore and deconstruct the art of poetry itself by making a puzzle out of it.

It’s a very cool idea, reminiscent of how magnetic poetry sets allow you to turn your fridge into a canvas by assembling and reworking the order of the various available words.

Puzzles by their very nature are about finding a solution, bringing order out of chaos, whether it’s assembling puzzle pieces, answering devious crossword clues to fill a grid, or unraveling a tricky brain teaser that pushes you to think in a different way.

And since poetry is all about expressing truths in a personal way, it makes a lovely sort of sense that puzzly techniques would intertwine with this thoughtful, elusive form of art.


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Forget 3-D Chess and Try 4-Directional Tetris!

[Image courtesy of Eurogamer.]

Tetris is the ultimate puzzle game. If you somehow haven’t played it, you’ve at least heard of it. The brainchild of Alexey Pajitnov conquered the world, not only making Nintendo’s Game Boy a bestselling video game platform, but turning millions of puzzlers into gamers and gamers into puzzlers as well.

Those iconic little Tetromino shapes are instantly recognizable, and the music can still induce panic and nervousness in players decades after the first time they heard those infamous notes.

And it serves as a brilliant template for ambitious game designers and puzzlers to add their own twists to the Tetris formula.

The basic concept is simple: try to arrange the constantly falling Tetromino blocks so that they make complete lines in the play area. If they do, that line disappears.

Of course, just because the concept is simple, that doesn’t mean the game is. As your play area fills up with Tetrominos, the music speeds up, amping up the tension. And as you progress through different levels, the pieces fall faster and faster. You need quick reflexes and ice in your veins to handle the higher difficulty levels.

Thankfully, you only need to worry about the blocks falling from one direction.

But a new variation on Tetris quadruples the gameplay area in a very devious way.

Say hello to Schwerkraftprojektionsgerät, Stephen Lavelle’s take on Tetris. In Schwerkraftprojektionsgerät, Tetromino blocks appear in the center of the play area, and you control where the piece is placed in each of the four directions.

No, the blocks do not fall automatically, nor is there a time limit that forces you to place the blocks quickly. Yes, you can spin each piece before placing it.

But each block goes into all four play areas simultaneously, and in the same position on the opposing sides.

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As you can see, the straight piece lands flat in the east and west grid spaces, but standing upright in the north and south grid spaces. You have to work along each axis to find the best case scenario for all four of your play areas.

Yes, you’re trying to complete lines in four different directions at the same time. The T-shaped Tetromino will land in four different arrangements (flat, on one side of the T-bar, on the other side of the T-bar, and on the long end of the T-bar) with a single keystroke.

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It’s mind-blowing how challenging this makes the game, but it’s challenging in a good way.

I mean, in a regular game of Tetris, you need several dozen completed lines to conclude a level and feel like a champion. In Schwerkraftprojektionsgerät, you feel like a genius if you can get two completed lines in each of the four play areas before the game is over!

Just as addictive as the original, yet offering a totally new twist on the familiar style of puzzling, I foresee a lot of office hours being lost to this engaging four-directional experiment in space efficiency.

You can try Schwerkraftprojektionsgerät for yourself here, and check out all of Stephen’s games here. (He also has a YouTube channel featuring some of his creations.)

After 35 years, it’s cool to see there are still new ways to make Tetris feel fresh again.


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PuzzleNation 2019 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2019 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

We’re excited to be bringing you our biggest gift guide ever! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down into categories for ease of searching. We have puzzle books, subscription/downloadable puzzles, puzzles by mail, jigsaw puzzles, brain teasers, puzzle games, board games, card games, dice games, party games, miscellaneous puzzle swag, and puzzle events.

We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


This year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide is sponsored by Daily POP Crosswords!

Daily POP Crosswords offers a different themed puzzle every single day, spanning everything from TV and film to sports and music!

Available for both Android and iOS users, you get terrific content from some of the world’s top constructors! And the download is free!


Puzzle Books

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

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Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like their Logic Problems Spectacular ($8.99), the Crossword Extravaganza collection ($7.99), or a value pack of Jumble puzzles ($13.95)! Maybe you’d like some variety with the Mammoth Grab A Pencil Book of Brain Boosters ($10.50).

Or perhaps you’d like a little something extra, and you’d prefer the Merry & Bright Fill-Ins Puzzle Gift Set ($44.95), complete with pencils, coffee, and snacks to keep you puzzling, or the Merry & Bright Sudoku Puzzle Gift Set ($44.95). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. They’ve got bundles and discounts for days!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–Eric Berlin’s Puzzle Snacks: More Than 100 Bite-Size Puzzles for Every Solver ($7.59)

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($8.95)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Octopus Crosswords ($6.95)

–Matt Gaffney’s Fast & Fun Mini Crosswords ($7.49)

–Andrew Ries’s Maverick Crosswords ($8.95)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($8.95)

–Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords ($7.48)

USA Today Crossword Super Challenge ($9.99)

–The Puzzle Society’s Pocket Posh New Crosswords 1 and Pocket Posh New Crosswords 2 ($8.99 each)

–Cynthia Morris’s CynAcrostics Volume 4: My Word! and CynAcrostics Volume 5: My Word, Part 2 ($9.95 each)

–Andrews McMeel Publishing’s Posh Simple Word Search ($12.99)

–Andy Kravis’s Challenge Accepted!: 100 Word Searches ($8.39)

–Shawn Marie Simmons’s 25 Word Search Puzzles for Classic Literature Lovers and 25 Word Search Puzzles for MODERN Literature Lovers ($6.99 each) [available in a large print bundle as well ($12.99)]

USA Today Super Sudoku Challenge ($9.99)

–Oliver Roeder’s The Riddler: Fantastic Puzzles from FiveThirtyEight ($10.99)

USA Today Logic Super Challenge ($9.99)

–Andrews McMeel Publishing’s Posh Kurosu ($12.99)

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The Mysterious Mansion by Daria Song (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

Combining puzzles and riddles with mazes, coloring books, and a wonderful, intricate story, The Mysterious Mansion is designed to relax, engage, and puzzle the reader in equal measure. The gorgeous full-color illustrations are a feast for the eyes, and the puzzles are both fun and visually immersive. Daria Song gleefully takes activity books to the next level with this beautiful puzzle experience. ($16.99)

[Click here to check out our review!]

The Keymaster’s Bundle by Mike Selinker, Gaby Weidling, and Eric Harshbarger

The Maze of Games is one of the most diabolical puzzle books ever conceived. It allows the protagonists AND the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of different puzzles in the hopes of conquering each of the labyrinths within the book.

And The Keymaster’s Bundle combines The Maze of GamesThe Theseus Guide to the Final Maze hint book, the Maze of Games Map, and the new Keymaster’s Tome all in one place, along with some bonus digital downloads! It’s the entire Maze of Games experience! ($74.95)

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Of course, if you’ve already got The Maze of Games, The Theseus Guide, and the Maze of Games Map, you can pick up The Keymaster’s Tome on its own right here! ($18.71)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze of Games!]

Puzzlecraft: How to Make Every Kind of Puzzle by Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder

Updated seven years after the original version hit shelves, the new and improved Puzzlecraft is a self-contained masterclass in puzzle creation. Covering everything from crosswords and Sudoku to logic puzzles and brain teasers, this is the perfect launchpad for any and all aspiring puzzlers and constructors! ($29.95)


Email Subscription/Downloadable Puzzles

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between email subscriptions and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($22 for 1 year)

The Inkubator, edited by Laura Braunstein and Tracy Bennett (crossword puzzles constructed exclusively by women, twice a month, $25 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword ($26 per year) and Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords ($12 per year), Aries Freestyle themeless crosswords ($45 per year), and Aries Rows Garden ($30 per year) [available in monthly bundles as well]

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($31 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year) OR get both for $30!

–Will Nediger’s Bewilderingly weekly themed and themeless crosswords ($25 for 1 year)

–Eric Berlin’s Puzzlesnacks puzzles ($3 per month)

Crossword LA 2018 puzzle pack ($5)

–Bryant Park 2018 tournament puzzle pack ($5) and 2016/2017 bundle ($10)

Topple puzzle magazine ($1 per issue)

–Lone Shark Games’ Puzzle Vault Bundle (8 PDF collections including Marching Bands, Rows Garden, Crosswords, Cryptics, and more, $44.95)


Puzzles by Mail

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The Crosswords Club

A monthly publication with six Sunday-sized crosswords, The Crosswords Club utilizes some of the sharpest crossword constructors in the business today, and the puzzles are all edited by top constructor Patti Varol. Each bundle is as fun as it is challenging, plus each monthly bundle has an extra word game printed right on the envelope! ($39.95 for 12 issues)

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Wish You Were Here (The Enigma Emporium)

Imagine an entire mystery hidden across a handful of postcards. That’s the multilayered puzzle experience offered by Wish You Were Here, where a series of coded messages awaits you. Unravel all the secrets and discover an exciting tale of danger and spycraft along the way! ($15)

[And if you enjoy Wish You Were Here, there are 3 addition puzzle bundles to try out!]

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Cryptogram Puzzle Post (Jack Fallows)

A combination of different puzzles and encrypted messages interwoven together with bits of narrative, each edition of the Cryptogram Puzzle Post is a standalone story steeped in mystery and supernatural elements. But solve them all together, and a grand universe of storytelling unfolds. Sold in seasonal bundles and annual subscriptions, this episodic puzzly adventure is quite unique. (£5 for digital downloads, £20 for seasonal bundles)


Jigsaw Puzzles

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Puzzometry

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available in seven different styles — including Puzzometry ($18.50), Puzzometry Jr. ($14), Puzzometry Squares ($18.50), and the new Puzzometry Hex ($18.50) — you’ve got distinct challenges appropriate for all different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

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Geode Puzzle (Uncommon Goods)

Forget looking for the edge pieces, because these nature-based puzzles take jigsaws beyond the usual patterning. Geode Puzzle‘s flowing, unusual shapes and vibrant colors create a unique solving experience. ($65)

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Gearjits Roller Coaster (Gearjits)

Bring your puzzle skills to life as you assemble a working roller coaster from these wooden pieces. Assembling handcranks and gears to operate the machine along with the structure of the roller coaster itself makes this 3-D puzzle more exciting and satisfying than the average 3-D puzzle. ($39.95)

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Wooden Fractal Tray Puzzles (Martin Raynsford)

Laser-cut precision and patterns built on fractal designs make these wooden tray puzzles as maddening as they are beautiful. The pieces fall so seamlessly into place that they practically vanish… that is, if you can puzzle out how to place them all into the tray. ($35.99)


Brain Teasers

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Waiter’s Tray (Project Genius)

Just move the wine bottles so you can remove the Waiter’s Tray. Sounds simple, right? When you’re talking about one of the brain teasers from the Constantin Puzzle series, what appears simple quickly becomes a proper puzzly challenge. ($20)

[Check out our review of Waiter’s Tray here!]

 

Tavern Puzzles / Tucker-Jones House Inc.

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to remove twice as many pieces in a Collaborative Effort or free the triangle from Tridiculous, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($25 each)

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The Curated Collection (Project Genius)

Why tackle one brain teaser when five different challenges are there for the solving? The Curated Collection represents five different historical eras with five distinct styles to unravel. Distribute them around the room or pit one friend against the entire gauntlet! ($19.97)

[Our full review now available here!]

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Cat Stax (Brainwright)

Can you place the feline figures into the purrfect arrangement to complete each challenging design? That’s the question posed by Cat Stax, a terrific introduction for younger solvers to spatial-awareness puzzles and Tetris-style solving! ($6.39)

Lightbox (Eric Clough)

A puzzle box unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Lightbox creates different patterns of shadow and light as you shift and arrange the various plastic plates that make up the box. As you twist and reset them, different electrical connections are made, and different plates light up. As gorgeous as it is challenging, Lightbox is a very eye-catching puzzle that always wows new solvers. ($85)

[Check out our full review of Lightbox by clicking here!]

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Ghost Cube (Project Genius)

A regular Rubik’s Cube is challenging enough, but at least you can trust that, no matter how mixed up the colored squares get, you’re still dealing with a standard cube. Well, that’s not the case with Ghost Cube.  Bending into all different shapes as you manipulate the many twisting pieces, this puzzle will force you to examine Rubik’s-style solving from a whole new angle! ($21.95)

[Click here to read our full review!]


Puzzle Games

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Thinking Putty Puzzle (ThinkFun)

It’s not a stretch to call this one of the most inventive and creative puzzle games of the year. Thinking Putty Puzzle pits the player’s wits and planning against some deviously sticky and tricky puzzle scenarios. Can you connect all the dots without your putty paths crossing? ($29.99)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Zendo (Looney Labs)

Puzzle games are all about the rules, but what if you don’t know the rules? That’s where Zendo comes in. In this puzzle game, you arrange Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and then see if those designs conform to a mysterious rule. A game of deduction and trial-and-error, Zendo is a very different solving experience. ($40)

Plus there’s a brand-new expansion pack with additional rules for the game! ($5)

[Check out our full review for Zendo here!]

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Domino Maze (ThinkFun)

Test your deduction skills and your balance in this diabolical puzzle game. Domino Maze tasks you with not only figuring out how to place the dominoes and complete your path, but being dexterous enough not to set it off too early! ($29.99)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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Lexicon-GO! (Winning Moves UK)

Are you a word-forming pro? Take your speed-solving skills and try them out with Lexicon-GO!, a Scrabble-style tile game suitable for solvers of all ages! ($13.27)

[Click here for our full review of Lexicon-GO!]

Chroma Cube (Project Genius)

Deduction puzzles have never been so colorful! In Chroma Cube, you need to puzzle out where to place twelve richly colored cubes, with only a few tricky clues to help you out! Take logic puzzles into the third dimension with this minimalist delight! ($20)

[Check out our full Chroma Cube review here!]

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Invasion of the Cow Snatchers (ThinkFun)

One of the most creative deduction puzzle games I saw all year, Invasion of the Cow Snatchers has you piloting a UFO and picking up different cows on an obstacle-laden field. Can you figure out how to magnetically nab all of the cows while avoiding fences, bushes, walls, and silos? ($29.99)

[Read our full review of Invasion of the Cow Snatchers here!]

Pinbox 3000 (Cardboard Teck Instantute)

How about the chance to build your own game? Is that puzzle enough for you? Pinbox 3000 provides all the pieces you’ll need, plus valuable advice for brainstorming and creating your very own pinball game. It’s endlessly customizable, so you can make your Pinbox pinball game as simple or as complex as you like! ($49.95)


Board Games

Some of the puzzliest games on the market today are being made by top-flight board game companies, and we’ve got some marvelous games that will appeal to puzzlers of all ages!

Deblockle (Project Genius)

It sounds so simple! Just move your four cubes from one side of the board to the other. But Deblockle is more than meets the eye, and as you race against your opponent to puzzle out a path to victory, you’ll push your puzzly skills to the limit! ($24.99)

[Check out our full review of Deblockle here!]

The Island of Doctor Lucky (Cheapass Games)

People have been trying to kill Doctor Lucky for over twenty years, and this time around, you’re visiting his exotic island estate to try your murderous luck against the titular Doctor! The Island of Doctor Lucky offers a new gameboard to explore, new movement mechanics, and a very distracting cat. This is the best addition to the series yet! ($27.39)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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Castellan (Steve Jackson Games)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

The Abandons (Puzzling Pixel Games)

Can you escape a dangerous labyrinth that changes every time you explore it? The Abandons pits the solver against a random deck, where luck, quick decision making, and puzzly skill all must be on your side if you ever want to see daylight again.  ($15)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

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Walk-By Scrabble BoardTile Securing Travel Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including Tile Securing Travel Scrabble for those who want to solve on the go ($39.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($249.95) — not to mention the mind-boggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Tak: A Beautiful Game (Cheapass Games)

Many new games build off of classic mechanics, but very few new games truly feel like they could have been played centuries ago. Tak definitely fits that mold, using simple wooden pieces to create a game that feels both fresh and ancient all at once. Inspired by the eponymous game in Patrick Rothfuss’s KingKiller Chronicles series, Tak is a wonderful two-player game that quickly grows addictive. ($40 and up)

[Click here for our full review of Tak!]

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Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Try not to meet any other dragons or fly off the board! It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($30)

Chessplus

The first thing you learn in chess is how the pieces move. But what if that could change? What if you could make new pieces that move in unexpected ways? How would that change the game? With Chessplus, you’ll find out, as you mix and match chess pieces in order to capture your opponent’s king. The possibilities really are endless! ($44.95)

[Click here for our full review of Chessplus!]

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Qwirkle (MindWare)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train DominoesQwirkle is a tile-placing game where you try to maximize your points while minimizing the help you give to your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($14.99)


Card Games

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Fluxx (Looney Labs)

The chaos and ever-changing rules of Fluxx finally meet their match as they tackle the crews of the Federation’s most famous outposts, Deep Space Nine. Work with Sisko and his eclectic team to outwit the Dominion, the Cardassians, and more, all in a card game that boldly goes where only a few other versions of Fluxx have gone before! ($20)

And if Star Trek isn’t your style, maybe you’d enjoy Jumanji Fluxx, Marvel Fluxx, or any of the other marvelous variations on this classic quick-changing card game!

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Codenames (Czech Games)

It’s a race against time to locate all of your spies before your opponents. But in order to do so, you need to communicate information with a single word. Codenames will put your word association skills to work as you try to find secret agents disguised with code words, while avoiding innocent citizens and dangerous assassins along the way! ($19.99)

[Read our full review of Codenames here!]

Deluxe Pairs (Hip Pocket Games)

Building on the legacy already established by the bar-friendly series of Pairs decks available, Deluxe Pairs offers a new artistic spin on the classic Pairs “Fruit Deck,” as well as a companion booklet with rules for numerous Pairs variants you can play with the deck! This isn’t just one card game, it’s dozens! ($14.85)

[Click here for our full review of Deluxe Pairs!]

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Are You a Robot? (Looney Labs)

In this social deduction game, your space station has been invaded by robots that can masquerade as human. Is one already in the room, or are you just being paranoid? The more packs you have, the more people can play, and the more devious and exciting the gameplay becomes. If you’ve ever played Mafia or Ultimate Werewolf, you’ll enjoy Are You a Robot? ($2 per pack)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

Spaceteam (Timber and Bolt)

Can you repair your ship and get the engines up and running before a black hole ends your space adventure forever? That’s the name of the game in Spaceteam, a cooperative, communication-based game where you have to accomplish various tasks with your fellow players while sharing tools. It’s delightful chaos, heightened by the five-minute hourglass timer counting down your dwindling seconds before disaster strikes! A definite favorite around here. ($24.95)

Unspeakable Words (Playroom Entertainment)

Some word games might drive you mad, but only Unspeakable Words actually makes keeping your sanity part of the gameplay! As you spell different words, you have to make a die roll to see if spelling the word cost you a bit of your sanity. If you lose too much of it, you’ll start uttering unspeakable words, which can be worth more points… if your sanity can take it! A fun twist on Scrabble and other word-forming games. ($18.75; deluxe edition $29.38)

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Time Breaker (Looney Labs)

Time itself is in danger as you chase a fugitive across history in this clever strategy game. Whether you’re moving your token through time across the board or playing special cards to leap to specific moments in time, you’ll have to be quick and cagey to prevent the Time Breaker from escaping your clutches. ($25)

[Check out our full review here!]

Constellations (Xtronaut Enterprises)

Sometimes, we can move heaven and earth! Constellations is all about collecting stars and building famous constellations, then placing them in the night sky! The more effective your constellation-building, the higher your score! ($23.98)

[Check out our full review of Constellations here!]

Scrimish (Nexci)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

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Timeline (Asmodee Games)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before or after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($8.99 and up)

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Star Trek Chrono-Trek (Looney Labs)

Can you bend time to your will and make the future you desire come to pass? In Star Trek Chrono-Trek, you take on the role of a famous member of Starfleet and try to alter the fabric of space-time itself in order to win. But be careful, because other players are changing the timeline too, and there are consequences for meddling with time! ($25)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($10.23)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]


Dice Games

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Bananagrams Duel (Bananagrams)

Bananagrams specializes in crossword-inspired fun for groups, but what if you’re looking for a head-to-head challenge? Well then, Bananagrams Duel might be what you’re looking for. Utilizing letter cubes instead of tiles, you’ll have to build a grid of related words fitting a given theme before your opponent can! It’s a new twist on an old classic! ($7.99)

[Click here for our full review!]

Sagrada (Floodgate Games)

One of the most beautiful strategy games on the market today, Sagrada is a singularly peaceful gaming experience. Compete with other players to build the most beautiful stained glass window, but with dice instead of glass! Unique and challenging, Sagrada is something else. ($39.95)

Tenzi

All of us have rolled dice in games before, but can you roll what you need as fast as possible? That’s the challenge of Tenzi, a game that pits up to four players against each other in tests of speed and dexterity. Can you roll ten 6’s before everyone else? ($14.95)


Party Games

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Smart10 (Bananagrams)

Can you pick one correct answer from a field of possibilities? Smart10 challenges you and a group of friends to do just that by selecting correct answers from a list of possible responses. It’s tougher than it sounds, and it’ll test your trivia skills and your ability to think under pressure. ($19.95)

[Check out our full review here!]

Slapzi (Tenzi)

Slapzi will keep you on your toes. In this quick-reaction game, you’ve got to match your picture cards to the clue cards before your opponents. But with clues like “Not sold in a hardware store” or “Two of the same letter together,” this isn’t as easy as it appears! ($19.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of Slapzi!]

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Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]

Decrypto (IELLO USA)

Can you covertly communicate with your teammates without revealing your secret code to the opponent team? That’s the name of the game in Decrypto, a party game all about word association and deduction. The first team to crack the opposing team’s codes twice wins! ($19.98)


Miscellaneous Puzzle Swag

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I’d Rather Be Puzzling travel mug (Penny Press)

After a long day of puzzling, sip some coffee from a snazzy I’d Rather Be Puzzling Travel Mug ($7.95).

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Flying Colors coloring book (Penny Press)

Our puzzly pals at Penny Press know that sometimes, you need a break from puzzles, so why not unwind with their Flying Colors coloring book ($6.99).

All of the Things

If you’re looking for puzzly magnets, keychains, teddy bears, and more, the team at All of the Things have puzzle treats for you! Their table was one of the marketplace highlights at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and we’re happy to welcome them back to the Gift Guide this year!


Puzzle Events

The Enigmatist

“An immersive evening of puzzles, cryptology, and illusions” created by magician and crossword constructor David Kwong, The Enigmatist is based on William and Elizebeth Friedman’s work at Riverbank, a peculiar hotbed for codebreaking in the early days of the twentieth century.

Tickets are available in New York City until January 11th, then again in May, but in Los Angeles this time at the Geffen Playhouse! (Prices range from $59 to $150 in NYC, $30 to $130 in LA.)

Escape Room gift cards/vouchers

When it comes to the puzzler in your life, why not buy them a gift card or voucher for your friendly local escape room? It’s a terrific unique puzzle experience they can share with friends, loved ones, and fellow puzzlers!

Most escape room companies offer them, and a quick Google search should turn up an escape room near you!

But here’s a smattering of terrific escape rooms to check out:


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

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

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