Portal 2 Celebrates 10 Years with Time Travel!

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Last week, one of the most iconic puzzle games in the history of video games turned ten years old.

Portal 2 is the beloved sequel to the groundbreaking (and mind-bending) game about a gun that creates portals through which you can leap, fall, and maneuver your way past increasingly complex puzzles and locked rooms. You can make portals — blue or orange, one to enter, the other to exit — with the famous portal gun.

Whether there are buttons to be pressed, lasers to be re-directed, or inaccessible platforms to access, your portal gun is the only tool you need to finish the job… if you’re clever enough.

I reached out to some of my video game-savvy friends to ask their thoughts on ten years of Portal 2, and the feedback was unanimously positive:

Each puzzle taught a lesson, building upon your knowledge of the game’s “rules” and “tricks.” By the end of the game, your brain has been re-wired to solve some of the most brutal possible puzzles. It definitely felt like my brain was running at max capacity playing the portal games.

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The best puzzle games teach us lessons and allow us to build on those lessons to get better. The more crosswords you solve, the more experience you have unraveling clues and filling in grids. It’s the same thing with Portal.

Another video game enthusiast shared this:

It (along with Portal 1) is one of the only puzzle games that managed to complete from start to finish without resorting to an online hint guide of some sort. It was difficult enough that I felt challenged, but intuitive and logical enough that I was eventually able to figure everything out, which to me is the hallmark of a fun game.

Might also be the first time I ever felt genuine sympathy for a robot in a game. (Or at least the… well, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who has yet to play through it.)

Oh yeah, it’s also the only first-person puzzle game I can think of where I don’t want to spoil anything for people.

It’s a rare puzzle (and rarer game) indeed where failure doesn’t feel like failure, and instead feels like a learning experience that pushes you to try again with what you’ve learned. Some puzzles and games make that a crushing experience… but Portal makes it fun. Portal makes it compelling. And Portal makes it all so satisfying when you figure it all out.

And now, as fans mark a decade of brain-melting Portal 2 puzzles, a fan-designed free mod known as Portal Reloaded is set to challenge Portal 2 fans all over again.

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How? By adding time travel to the mix.

Yes, your portal gun isn’t just allowing you to manipulate space… it’s allowing you to manipulate time as well.

From the Kotaku article about Portal Reloaded:

Portal Reloaded is a mod, released just in time for Portal 2‘s 10th birthday, that introduces a new set of test chambers and, more importantly, a new portal colour. You’ll still be using the old blue and orange ones, but the green one you’ll also get will let you move through time, as you set up puzzles in one timeline and then move them along/solve them across two different eras, set 20 years apart.

When a game that already lets you bend space to your whim with some clever positioning, the possibility of bending time the same way is practically irresistible.

But will people be talking about Portal Reloaded in ten years the same way they do about Portal 2? Unfortunately, there’s no green portals to tell us the answer. We’ll just have to wait and see.


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A Video Game Puzzle That Baffled People Twice, Thirty Years Apart

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In the past, we’ve discussed the topic of intuitive puzzles vs. non-intuitive puzzles.

Non-intuitive puzzles used to be the bane of many video game fans — so much so that they spawned an infamous trope, That One Puzzle, describing a puzzle with a solution so utterly non-intuitive that it bordered on the nonsensical. One of the most infamous came from the Monkey Island series, where you needed a wrench, but instead of just finding one, you had to hypnotize a monkey with a banana on a metronome and use IT as your monkey wrench.

See what I mean about nonsensical?

These days you’re more likely to encounter a non-intuitive puzzle in an escape room or other physical puzzly activity than a video game.

But today, we have a doozy of an example for you. This non-intuitive puzzle managed to baffle people twice… thirty years apart.

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StarTropics was a video game released for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990. It featured a protagonist named Mike, who was visiting his scientist uncle in the South Seas. Mike wielded a yo-yo and had to search for his missing uncle, eventually exploring the island, the ocean, and outerspace along the way.

The game became famous for a non-intuitive puzzle that baffled many players. At one point in the game, you needed to find a three-digit code to utilize a transceiver your uncle had in his shoe. The only clue was “dip my note in water.”

But there was no way to do this in-game.

The solution was simple, but eluded many players because it wasn’t in-game. It was something the players actually had to do.

You see, there was a physical letter from the uncle included with the instruction manual to the game. That was the note you had to dip in water to reveal the three-digit code.

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So, yes, the game did tell you what to do, but it’s not intuitive because at no other point in the game do you have to do something outside the diegetic space of the game. It’s not like you need to jump up and down to make your character jump.

This sort of fourth wall breaking puzzling can certainly add to the gameplay, but it’s also very confusing for players not familiar with the concept.

For instance, more than one escape room game I’ve encountered outwitted and baffled some players by utilizing images on the game box itself (or even the bar code) as part of a puzzle. Since this is “outside” what the player has been told is part of the game — the components inside the box — this is clever, but also unexpected. (An entire video game, File://maniac, was built around this concept.)

That puzzle was confusing enough for players, but it got worse almost thirty years later.

In 2019, the game was ported over to the Nintendo Switch, the latest Nintendo console, allowing a new generation of gamers to rediscover this cult-classic 8-bit adventure.

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Except they forgot about the puzzle and the letter and the dipping into water thing.

So there was literally no way for new players to solve the puzzle, because there was no letter included with the instructions.

This wasn’t the first time StarTropics had been ported over to a new console. But it was the first time they forgot to do something to help players with the letter puzzle. Often, it was a digital copy of the letter, complete with an animation of it being “dipped” into water and revealing the code.

But the Switch version didn’t have that.

So players were stuck.

There’s creating a really non-intuitive outside-the-box puzzle, and then there’s breaking the game entirely by removing the only clue to the solution.

So yeah, StarTropics. A charming game, but baffling in all the wrong ways… twice… thirty years apart.


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The Internet Rallies Together to Solve a Fall Guys Jigsaw Puzzle!

[Image courtesy of Fabrik Brands.]

It’s always fun when companies use puzzles as part of their marketing campaign. We’ve seen it loads of times over the years with varying degrees of success.

On the plus side, there was the intriguing trailer hunt for the Cartoon Network show Infinity Train, and the excitement when Game of Thrones launched a viral challenge where folks hunted down copies of the Iron Throne around the world.

On the minus side, there was the Busch Beer Pop Up Schop promotion where days of little puzzles led to hundreds more attendees showing up to the event than expected, and many were turned away disappointed when the free beer and merch dried up quickly.

I think my favorite thing about all of these puzzly campaigns is how people from all over the Internet rally together to solve them. They share information, theories, speculation, and general enthusiasm, driving each other toward a solution.

We got to see another example of collective puzzle-solving on the internet recently for fans of Fall Guys.

[Image courtesy of Wired.]

Fall Guys, for the uninitiated, is a game where dozens of players can compete in silly obstacle courses, tag-style chase games, and other sporty competitions as these goofy little costumed toddling characters, the fall guys.

It’s great fun and rapidly became one of the go-to games for streamers on YouTube to share their successes, frustrations, and all the shenanigans involved in playing.

The team behind Fall Guys, Mediatonic, teased the third season of Fall Guys by launching Operation #JigSawus, wherein they sliced a promotional photo into three hundred pieces and distributed them to fans across a number of different Twitter and Instagram accounts and Discord servers.

Then, it was up to the fans. Would people put aside the competitiveness that made Fall Guys so fun in order to find out just what the jigsaw would reveal?

Of course they would. Puzzle people are good people.

[Image courtesy of Mediatonic.]

It took only a few hours for the entire image to be revealed: a promotional poster for the theme for Fall Guys Season 3, Winter Knockout.

Yes, most fans probably assumed that the third season, launching in wintertime, would have a winter theme, but hey, it’s a bit of fun, and another nice reminder of how people can come together to solve puzzles and support each other.

Puzzles really do make the world a better place.


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Puzzles Come to Animal Crossing for May Day!

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[Image courtesy of Nintendo.]

The latest edition of the video game franchise Animal Crossing — New Horizons — has been out for a few months now. But recently, they ventured into the world of puzzles as a special promotion.

Thankfully, friend of the blog Jennifer Cunningham — puzzler, artist, musicologist, and former Tabletop Tournament Champion — has returned to the blog with the lowdown on the recent May Day event.

So, without further ado, let’s turn things over to Jen for her piece on Animal Crossing: New Horizons.


Possibly one of the most anticipated video game releases of the year, Animal Crossing: New Horizons arrived at just the right time, hitting Nintendo Switch consoles at the end of March.

The latest installment in the Animal Crossing series finds its players arriving at a beautiful island paradise. There are multiple goals in the game including expanding your home, gaining wealth, collecting insects and fish to donate to the local museum (or to sell for profit), and of course improving your island’s appeal so that popular singer/songwriter K.K. Slider will play a concert for you and the other residents.

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[Image courtesy of VG 24/7.]

Players across the world have gone wild for this game, making it their entertainment of choice while stuck at home at this uneasy time. The social aspect of the game, which allows players to virtually invite their friends to their islands, share gifts and resources, and even to chat, has helped many feel less isolated.

And the makers of Animal Crossing are doing their part to keep the game interesting and engaging for players who have likely been obsessively playing since the release date. As months change, so do your island’s insects and fish, and special events ensure players keep coming back. An Easter-themed event called Bunny Day saw players collecting eggs to build themed objects, and more recently an environmentally centered event called Nature Day encouraged activities related to planting trees and flowers.

May Day on May 1st was part of the Nature Day celebration. Starting on this day, everyone’s favorite raccoon/tanuki mogul Tom Nook gave players a special ticket for a May Day Tour on a special getaway island via Dodo Airlines. Unlike other island excursions that players may take, this particular tour package had an unusual surprise. Players were transported to an island with a puzzly secret: a maze!

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[Image courtesy of Jennifer Cunningham.]

Normally Animal Crossing doesn’t involve much in the way of problem solving — it’s a pretty straightforward collect-and-build-style game — so to challenge players with a puzzle was a surprise.

The entire May Day Tour island is composed of a hedge maze, blocked off in spots by boulders, trees, and shrubs. Using a simple shovel supplied at the maze entrance, players must collect resources such as fruit, wood, and iron ore to build more tools and make their way through the maze.

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[Image courtesy of Newsweek.]

In addition, players could collect “Bell vouchers” which can be traded in for Bells (the game’s currency). At the end of the maze awaited the main prize as supplied by a mysterious returning character popular to fans of the game’s previous generations. (I admit as a new fan, this wasn’t a big draw for me, but for die-hard fans, this was a very big deal.)

The maze was intuitive, and it didn’t take long for me to figure out how to navigate it, although it does involve a lot of backtracking to meet the necessary steps in the correct order.

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[Image courtesy of Super Parent.]

That said, the maze did offer some challenges. I completed my first attempt fairly quickly, but failed to maintain enough fruit in my stores to remove three boulders and access a group of bell vouchers. (For a bit of context, consuming fruit boosts players’ strength, allowing them to dig up whole trees or break boulders).

Thankfully the maze offered a reset option. It took me about three attempts to finally perform every necessary action in the correct order to collect all of the maze’s prizes.

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[Image courtesy of Animal Crossing World.]

Overall, while not the most challenging of puzzles, it was refreshing to do some problem solving in a game that can admittedly get a little repetitive. There was a hint within the game’s dialog that there may be more islands of this sort, and I do hope that is true. Likely these will be included in future events to keep players coming back for more.

If you haven’t jumped on the Animal Crossing bandwagon yet and want to try your luck at the maze before it’s too late, the May Day event runs through May 7.


Thank you Jen for that marvelous report!

Will you be participating in the May Day Animal Crossing event, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

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Farewell, Kazuhisa Hashimoto, Creator of the Konami Code

We talk about codes a lot in this blog. We’ve discussed codebreaking, hidden messages, encryption, spycraft, and password protection in the past. But we haven’t talked much about another kind of code, the sort that grants secret access to new abilities, powers, and other benefits.

In the video game world, these are commonly known as cheat codes. There are various famous ones from different eras of gaming, but one code stands head and shoulders above the rest: the Konami Code.

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[Image courtesy of Newegg.]

Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.

Ubiquitous in the 1980s and 1990s, the Konami Code was named for Konami, the video game publisher whose games utilized this code. It was first used in the Nintendo version of the arcade game Gradius in 1986, giving the player the full set of power-ups (rather than forcing the player to earn them throughout the game).

You see, the video game designer and producer working on converting the game, Kazuhisa Hashimoto, found the game too difficult to play during his testing phase. He then created a cheat code to make the game easier, allowing him to complete his testing. The code he chose became known as the Konami Code.

It’s most famously associated with the game Contra, a side-scrolling platformer that pitted Rambo-inspired heroes against an invading alien force. The game was famously difficult because one hit could kill you, and you only had three lives for the entire game. Entering the Konami Code granted the player 30 lives and a much greater chance of success.

(I, of course, could beat it without the Konami Code. But this article isn’t about me and my old-school video game wizardry.)

The code became part of video game pop culture, continuing to appear not only in Konami games, but all sorts of other games, up through the modern day. Often with different results.

In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, you got extra lives. But if you used it in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, it would unlock a playable version of Spider-Man. If you use the code in Assassin’s Creed 3, a turkey will wear the character’s famous hood, weirdly enough.

The code has transcended gaming as well, not only becoming the name of a famous wrestler’s gaming-centric YouTube channel, but appearing everywhere from Family Guy and Wreck-It Ralph to Dance Dance Revolution and Rocket League.

It even allows for a bit of festive fun on the website for Bank of Canada. On the page revealing the new $10 bank note, inputting the code hilariously activates a rain of money-confetti and plays the Canadian National Anthem.

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Sadly, the reason that I’ve got the Konami Code on my mind today is that Kazuhisa Hashimoto passed away this week. The veteran game designer was 61 years old, and after being hired by the company in his twenties, spent nearly 30 years working for Konami, first on coin-operated games and later on console titles.

There’s not a huge amount of information readily available about Hashimoto or his life outside the world of video games. In fact, some articles about Hashimoto claim he was 79 years old at the time of his death. And the one photo I can find that’s attributed to him appears to be a picture of Star Trek actor George Takei instead.

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We here at PuzzleNation mourn the loss of this influential designer and contributor to pop culture. May both his games and his famous code live on as fine, smile-inducing examples of his hard work and playful nature.


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Intuitive vs. Non-Intuitive Puzzles

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[Image courtesy of The Spruce Crafts.]

Sometimes, when you look at a puzzle, you know immediately what to do and how to solve. In my opinion, a great deal of Sudoku’s success is due to its intuitive nature. You see the grid, the numbers, and you know how to proceed.

Crosswords are similarly straightforward, with numbered clues and grid squares to guide new solvers. (The “across” and “down” directions also help immensely.)

That’s not to say that these puzzles can’t be off-putting to new solvers, despite their intuitive nature. I know plenty of people who are put off by crosswords simply by reputation, while others avoid Sudoku because they’re accustomed to avoiding ANY puzzle that involves numbers, assuming that some math is involved. (I suspect that KenKen, despite its successes, failed to replicate the wild popularity of Sudoku for similar reasons.)

But plenty of other puzzles require some explanation before you can dive in. A Marching Bands or Rows Garden puzzle, for instance, isn’t immediately obvious, even if the puzzle makes plenty of sense once you’ve read the instructions or solved one yourself.

The lion’s share of pen-and-paper puzzles fall into this category. No matter how eye-catching the grid or familiar the solving style, a solver can’t simply leap right into solving.

Thankfully, this won’t deter most solvers, who gleefully accept new challenges as they come, so long as they are fair and make sense after a minute or so of thought. Cryptic crossword-style cluing is a terrific example of this. At first glance, the clues might appear to be gibberish. But within each clue lurks the necessary tools to unlock it and find the answer word.

Brain teasers often function the same way. You’re presented with a problem — a light bulb you can’t see and three possible switches for it, for instance — and you need to figure out a way to solve it. It might involve deduction, wordplay, or some clever outside-the-box thinking, but once you find the answer, it rarely feels unfair or unreasonable.

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[Image courtesy of Deposit Photos.]

But, then again, there are also puzzles that can baffle you even once you’ve read the instructions and stared at the layout for a few minutes. Either the rules are complex or the solving style so unfamiliar or alien that the solver simply can’t find a way in.

In short, puzzles as a whole operate on a spectrum that spans from intuitive to non-intuitive.

Want an example of baffling or non-intuitive? You got it.

GAMES Magazine once ran a puzzle entitled “Escape from the Dungeon,” where the solver had to locate a weapon in a D&D-style dungeon. A very small crossword puzzle was found in one room on a paper scroll.

But the solution had nothing to do with solving the crossword.

The actual solution was to take the crossword to a magician who removed letters from the fronts of words. Removing the C-R-O-S left you with a sword, completing the overall puzzle.

That sort of thinking is so outside the box that it might as well be in a different store entirely. Video games, particularly ones from the point-and-click era, have more than their fair share of non-intuitive puzzles like this. You can check out these lists for numerous examples.

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And as escape rooms grow in popularity, more of them seem to be succumbing to less intuitive puzzling as a result of trying to challenge solvers.

For example, in one escape room I tried, various fellow participants uncovered two stars, a picture of the three blind mice, and four different items that represented the seasons. Amidst all the locks to open, puzzles to unravel, and secrets to find, it never occurred to any of us that these three unconnected numbers would have to be assembled as a combination to a lock. By asking for a hint, we were able to figure out to put them together and open the lock, but it’s not a terribly intuitive puzzle.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for a puzzle constructor — be it a pen-and-paper puzzle, an escape room scenario, or a puzzle hunt dilemma — is not creating a dynamite, unique puzzle, but ensuring that finding the solution is fair, even if it’s difficult or mind-boggling.

This sort of thinking informs not only my work as a puzzlesmith, but the designs for my roleplaying games as well. If my players encounter a gap, there’s some way across. If there’s a locked door, there’s a way through it. Oftentimes, there’s more than one, because my players frequently come up with a solution that eluded me.

In the end, that’s the point. All puzzles, no matter how difficult, exist for one reason: to be solved. To provide that rush, that a-ha moment, that satisfaction that comes with overcoming the clever, devious creation of another sharp mind.

And non-intuitive puzzles are tantamount to rigging the game.


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