The First Viral Handheld Puzzle Game?

It’s fair to say that PuzzleNation knows a little something about the world of mobile puzzling. Mobile apps are our bread and butter, after all, and whether you’re talking about our Daily POP Crosswords App or the Penny Dell Crosswords App, we are connoisseurs of puzzles that fit in your pocket.

Of course, puzzle apps are a relatively new addition to the genre. Mobile puzzles, like matchstick puzzles, have existed for centuries.

In fact, more than a hundred years ago, a mobile puzzle game went “viral” and became a cultural sensation. (And it has made a recent return to prominence thanks to the HBO drama Westworld.)

Today, let’s talk about Pigs in Clover.

Pigs in Clover is a ball-in-a-maze puzzle invented in 1899 by toymaker Charles Martin Crandall. Although puzzle historians aren’t sure if Pigs in Clover was the first ball-in-a-maze puzzle created, it was definitely the first to capture the imagination of consumers.

You’ve probably solved a ball-in-a-maze puzzle at some point in your life. From the flat disc and labyrinth-inspired models to spherical and more complicated three-dimensional versions, they’re a fun test of both dexterity and strategic thinking.

A quick Google image search turns up dozens of variations on the concept, including an iPhone case with two ball-in-a-maze puzzles built into it!

Pigs in Clover was a simpler design, involving only three rings and a center “pen” to herd the “pigs” into. But it’s one that was supposedly so popular upon launch in January of 1889, it impacted the actual operation of the U.S. government.

But how popular was “popular” in 1889?

Well, according to the Waverly Free Press, “The toy works are turning out eight thousand of ‘Pigs in Clover’ a day, and are twenty days behind with their orders.” According to some sources, over a million games were sold by late April 1889!

And one of those games found its way into the hands of William M. Evarts, senator from New York. Depending on the version of events you read, he purchased a copy of Pigs in Clover from either a street vendor or, curiously, an aggressive street fakir.

He then took it home and played with it for hours. At work the next day — and by work, I mean the Senate of the United States — another senator, George Graham Vest, borrowed it and went to the cloak room to try to solve the puzzle game.

Yes, a sitting U.S. senator went and hid in the coats to play this game. It’s sorta like hiding under all the coats at a Christmas party and playing Angry Birds, except in fancier clothing.

Oddly enough, Vest was soon joined in the cloak room by four other senators — Pugh, Eustis, Walthall, and Kenna — who were also interested in trying their hands at the popular game. Apparently, they were too impatient to share Evarts’ copy of the game, since a page was enlisted to go out and buy five more copies of Pigs in Clover for the distracted senators.

Once each had his own game in hand, they engaged in a pig-driving contest. It must’ve been harder than it looks, since it took Vest 30 minutes to herd all of his pigs into the pen.

Yup, at least half an hour of senate business was derailed by a few little metal balls in a cardboard maze. Amazing.

Naturally, the story got out, and a political cartoon in the New York World on March 17th commented on this peculiar delay in President Benjamin Harrison’s agenda, likening the political landscape to the game. With the White House as the pen and various lawmakers as the pigs, the cartoon asked, “Will Mr. Harrison be able to get all these hungry pigs in the official pen?”

It makes you wonder just how many man-hours were lost to Pigs in Clover! After all, a simple game — solved by many — can prove costly.

Remember the Google Doodle in 2010 that allowed you to play Pac-Man? It’s estimated it cost $120 million dollars, and nearly five million hours, in terms of productivity.

Sounds like President Harrison should count himself lucky it was just a half-dozen senators… as far as we know.

[Sources for this article: The Strong Museum of Play, Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop, Le Roy Historical Society, Antique Toy Collectors of America, Wikipedia, and A History of Video Games in 64 Objects.]


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Math Puzzle Madness edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to revisit the world of viral puzzles and discuss two that have been making the rounds on Facebook recently.

If you’ve been on social media recently, you’ve no doubt seen one or both of these puzzles:

math

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Each was probably accompanied by some hyperbolic phrasing like “95% of people and most dogs can’t solve this puzzle! Heck, they can’t even agree on an answer! CAN YOU?!?!?!?!”

Well, duh. Of course they can’t agree on an answer. There’s plenty of room to make different assumptions.

Let’s look at the first puzzle again.

math

Now, if you take the puzzle at face value, the chain would appear to be this:

1 + 4 = 5

2 + 5 (+5) = 12 (We’ve added the previous answer, which is where the +5 comes from.

3 + 6 (+12) = 21

8 + 11 (+21) = 40

So the answer is 40.

But wait. if you assume that the pattern continues for the digits between 3 and 8, you end up with this:

1 + 4 = 5

2 + 5 (+5) = 12

3 + 6 (+12) = 21

4 + 7 (+21) = 32

5 + 8 (+32) = 45

6 + 9 (+45) = 60

7 + 10 (+60) = 77

8 + 11 (+77) = 96

And, in truth, it could be either. You’re not given enough information to know for sure how to proceed. It’s a coin toss whether the last line immediately follows the third line, or whether there’s a whole bunch of lines in between and you need to “get the pattern” to extrapolate the 8th line.

Now let’s look at that second puzzle again.

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This one also has the potential for alternate answers, but instead of inferences, it depends on whether you follow the traditional order of operations (parentheses, exponents, multiplication/division, addition/subtraction) or you simply read left to right.

If you use traditional order of operations, you end up with:

Horse + Horse + Horse = 30, so Horse = 10.

Horse + Horseshoes + Horseshoes = 18, so Horseshoes = 4 and Horseshoe = 2.

Horseshoes – Boots = 2, so Boots = 2 and Boot = 1.

Boot + Horse x Horseshoe = Boot + (Horse x Horseshoe) = 1 + (10 x 2) = 21.

But if you simply read the last equation from left to right, you end up with:

Boot + Horse x Horseshoe = 1 + 10 x 2 = 11 x 2 = 22.

So, in fairness, there is no right answer to either puzzle, given the information we have.

Which, to me, doesn’t seem like a great puzzle, but it probably makes for great clickbait.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: This Illusion’s Got Legs edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of viral optical illusions.

Last year, we had The Dress. Then, in March of this year, we had The Jacket. And in May, we asked the question How Many Girls?

Whether we’re spotting iPhones or looking for cats in woodpiles, we can’t seem to get enough of optical illusions.

And there’s a new one making the rounds recently:

[Image courtesy of TheChive.com.]

A woman named Bree tweeted this image of a pair of bare legs that look incredibly shiny. Are they false legs? Are they lotioned or wrapped in Saran wrap? What’s going on here?

I’ll give you a few moments to ponder the image before revealing the secret behind it. Because, as Bree said, “Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.”

Ready? Okay, here we go.

Like most optical illusions, the answer is startlingly simple.

[Image courtesy of TheChive.com.]

The illusion of shininess is actually the result of strategically placed streaks of white paint or toothpaste or something similar.

Pretty impressive once you really look at it, isn’t it?

This image has truly gone viral. As I write this, it’s been retweeted over 16,000 times, and liked over 20,000 times. Bree herself seems baffled by the attention the post has received.

Amazing what you can do with a bit of white paint.


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!