The Best of All Possible Puzzle/Game Worlds?

[A sampling of the wide variety of modern puzzles and games. Fluxx cards, Bananagrams tiles, a wooden puzzle box, Pairs cards, David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register, Timeline cards, last month’s edition of The Crosswords Club, Puzzometry pieces, Cards Against Humanity cards, multi-sided roleplaying dice.]

This is the most exciting time in history to be a puzzler or board game enthusiast.

Think about it. If you want to play a game or solve a puzzle, you don’t have to go any farther than your pocket, since a plethora of puzzly goodness awaits you on your smartphone.

Puzzle apps are our bread and butter here at PuzzleNation, so this might feel like a cheap plug, but honestly, it boggles my mind how much more accessible puzzles and games are now than they were even five years ago.

And the app revolution is only one part of the story.

I was reading a book the other day, as I am wont to do on the long train rides to and from PuzzleNation HQ. Titled The Revenge of Analog, it was all about the cultural response to digital media, highlighting the resurgence of vinyl records, film, and other tangible alternatives to electronic formats.

In the chapter “The Revenge of Board Games,” the author discussed the social aspect of tabletop gaming, and how sitting down with people and playing a game is a far different, more rewarding experience than online gaming and other social media-based interactions. (A fine point to consider, what with International TableTop Day a little more than a week away.)

While I do think that’s partially true, I also think that downplays the ingenuity of the puzzle/game community. I think we’re the best of both worlds.

I mentioned in my Tak review last week that puzzles are being created today that could not have been five or ten or twenty years ago. The advent of 3-D printing and laser cutters for homes and small businesses has brought design, construction, and promotion literally to the doorstep of entrepreneurial puzzlers.

Just last week I received a new edition of Puzzometry in the mail, a perk for supporting a team for a school robotics competition. This laser-cut plastic jigsaw will keep me guessing for hours (if its puzzly siblings are anything to go by), and it was designed and manufactured by a single individual.

Old and new styles are meshing as never before. Many puzzle constructors are partially or fully supporting themselves via email puzzle subscriptions and direct sales to the customer. Events like the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games are organized and advertised mostly online.

Crowdfunding has leveled the playing field for many companies and designers in both puzzles and games, allowing more products than ever before to enter the market. (According to Kickstarter, tabletop game projects raised $52 million dollars in 2013, and that number has surely gone up in the meantime.)

You’ve got a proper board game renaissance as classic games and styles of play are meshing with new technology, and games from across the world are shared on YouTube, at Friendly Local Game Shops, or even in puzzle cafes like Toronto’s Snakes and Lattes or New York City’s The Uncommons.

Whether you’re a pen-and-paper solver or a Penny Dell Crossword App devotee, a fan of classics like Chutes and Ladders or a proud tabletopper experimenting with the newest games, this is an amazing time to be a puzzler or board gamer.

So keep playing. Keep puzzling. And share that with others.


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The 2017 New York Toy Fair!

The 114th New York Toy Fair was this past weekend, and I joined several fellow puzzlers from Penny Dell Puzzles on an excursion to the Javits Center to check out everything the toy, puzzle, and game industries are bringing to the table in the coming year.

In short, it was fantastic. Dozens and dozens of companies, from the titans of the industry to small outfits utilizing the crowdfunding model to get their feet in the door, were there to show off their creations.

Although it’s a four-day event and we were only attending that Saturday, I suspect you could spend all four days exploring the complex and still miss out on some incredible stuff.

Like a giant singing LEGO Batman made of LEGOs.

But I digress.

My chums and I were on a mission: to check out what puzzle and game companies were bringing to market in 2017. After picking up our ID badges, maps, and guides to the Fair, we dove right in.

We started off in the Launchpad section, a place where first-time and developing exhibitors from all over the world could introduce themselves to press, buyers, and other reps in the toy industry.

I’m a huge fan of seeing what newcomers have cooked up — hence how often I’m on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites — and the Launchpad was loaded with intriguing puzzles and games.

For instance, the team at Floss & Rock focused on puzzling for kids, with balance, pattern matching, and memory games, while the crew at Brixies put their own spin on the LEGO model with specialized pieces designed for making intricate models of animals, famous landmarks, and more.

From there, we ventured into the Puzzles and Games section, and we were immediately awash in every style of puzzling and gaming imaginable.

Vintage puzzles were represented, with deluxe versions of Clue and Scrabble on display, as well as retro metal brain teasers and mazes from Meridian Point.

The folks at Orbet International were pushing the boundaries of what you can do with Rubik’s-style Twisty puzzles, and the team at Twizmo! Games put a Boggle-inspired spin on Rubik with their letter-filled take on the classic cube.

From dice games to deduction games, from puzzles that fit in your pocket to ones that require the entire dining room table, seemingly every form of puzzling and gaming you can think of was under one roof.

3-D jigsaw puzzles were well-represented by models like this one of Hogwarts in all its glory by Wrebbet 3D Puzzles

… as well as wooden models like this Eiffel Tower from IncrediBuilds

… not to mention this elaborate display celebrating 25 years of building fun with K’nex.

And, naturally, you couldn’t help but run into some familiar faces at the Toy Fair.

Looney Labs was out in force, with their Loonacy, Mad Libs, and Looney Pyramids brands on display.

And not only were they touting their latest edition of Fluxx — Math Fluxx, review coming soon! — but they’ll be celebrating 21 years of Fluxx games with Drinking Fluxx later this year!

(Plus, when I inquired about the Better With Bacon expansion pack to their Just Desserts game, an actual doctor told me to eat all the bacon I want. Now THAT’S how you hook someone.)

The team from Bananagrams also had a strong showing at Toy Fair, with the company’s line having grown to letter-tile sets in seven different languages! Between that, their inflatable Bananagrams banana balloon, and their terrific tote bags, the Bananagrams brand was everywhere!

All in all, the event was an absolute blast. The future of puzzles and games has never been brighter, and we here at PuzzleNation look forward to being a big part of that promising future.

[A LEGO model of the Javits Center.]

You can check out our full gallery of photos from the event on Facebook by clicking here, and be sure to come back Thursday for a closer look at some of the puzzles and games that really caught our attention at this year’s New York Toy Fair!


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Sneaker Solving edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

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 3-D puzzles.

[Image courtesy of Amazon.com.]

We’ve mentioned 3-D puzzles several times on the blog in the past — in discussions of 3-D printed puzzles, puzzles made of wood, and the Pict project at National Museums Scotland — and a new 3-D puzzle has been generating some buzz recently.

Friend of the blog, creator of Baffledazzle, and shoe aficionado Rachel Happen passed along this story about a promotional puzzle designed to mimic the qualities of the Air Flight Jordan 45 hightop basketball sneaker. Check it out:

Only 30 of these puzzles are being made, and they’re selling for 195 pounds in the UK, which is a staggering $245.85 in the US! Seems like quite a price to pay for a 19-piece puzzle. (Especially one, as this video shows, that can be solved fairly quickly.)

The creation of graphic artist Yoni Alter, this puzzle appears to be a new venture, diverting from his previous works in silkscreen and prints, including this similarly-styled lamborghini:

Too pricey for most puzzlers and not wearable enough for most sneaker enthusiasts, I’m not sure who this puzzle was designed for, but I’m curious to see how it sells.

As for me, I think I’ll save my 195 pounds for another day and another puzzle.


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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!

The Art of the Wooden Puzzle

Several varieties of puzzle fall under the umbrella of “wooden puzzles,” from sliding tile puzzles and jigsaws to puzzle boxes and brain teasers. Heck, I devoted an entire post to wooden puzzles last year, sharing several from my personal collection.

With the advent of more affordable laser-cutting machines, we’ve seen several puzzly Kickstarter campaigns (like Baffledazzle and Codex Silenda) successfully launched, pushing wooden puzzles into the 21st century with more ambitious designs and greater functionality than ever before.

So you can imagine both my surprise and my excitement when The Metagrobologist posted a link to a Popular Woodworking article on how to make your own wooden puzzles!

There are step-by-step instructions on how to create three different 3D wooden “burr” puzzles, and this article covers everything from construction to assembly. Exact measurements are included.

It’s clear the author is all about quality, understanding both the art behind these mechanical 3D puzzles and all the necessary steps to ensure a safe and successful build.

If only shop class in school had offered me the chance to make something like this!

In all seriousness, this post offers fascinating insight into how some of these mechanical brain teasers are made, but when you consider the care and precision it takes to produce one of these puzzles, even knowing how it’s done doesn’t make the puzzle any less fun. What a treat.


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The World of Wooden Puzzles!

dragon1

Puzzles come in all shapes and sizes, adopting numerous forms that challenge the mind in seemingly endless ways.

While I spend a lot of time on PuzzleNation Blog talking about pen-and-paper puzzles (and their electronic siblings), today I’d like to focus on a brand of physical puzzles: ones made of wood!

As you’d expect, there are hundreds of different puzzles to choose from when discussing wooden puzzles, but I’ve tried to narrow the field down to a manageable size. Enough chatter, let’s get to it!


Sliding Tile Puzzles

[Available from FineWoodenToys.com.]

One of the oldest varieties of physical puzzles, sliding tile puzzles can be found in plastic, electronic, and wooden forms. And whether you’re shifting pieces in order to create a picture or pushing tiles around in order to put numbers in a specific order, the chain-solving technique is the same.


Tangrams

[Available from BrilliantPuzzles.com.]

A tactile and intuitive brand of puzzling, tangrams are a staple of the wooden puzzle market, utilizing simple geometric shapes in order to match designs or fit the pieces into a given space, as in the image above.


Brain Teasers

[Available from Mango Trees.]

These beautiful and elegant puzzles involve a level of craftsmanship and attention to detail that goes far beyond the usual mechanical puzzle experience.

Sometimes, you’re figuring out how to disassemble a shape into its component pieces (six examples of this sort of puzzle-solving appear above), while in others, you have to remove a given piece from a more complex arrangement, often involving ropes and other obstacles that interact with the wooden puzzle itself.


Puzzle Boxes

[Image found on FineWoodworking.com.]

A practical sibling of the brain teasers above, a puzzle box offers an additional incentive to the solving experience, since puzzle boxes can make terrific delivery mechanisms for cash or other gifts. (Sometimes solving them involves only one step, other times it can involve a dozen or more!)

My younger sister has a habit of employing puzzle boxes like the one pictured below to make my oldest nephews work a little harder for their birthday money. (One particularly diabolical design involved concealed magnets holding the trick access point shut.)

[Available from Pandora’s Puzzle Boxes.]


Labyrinths

Everyone knows the goal of a maze or labyrinth: to get through it with as few wrong turns as possible. But when you have to navigate a steel ball through the labyrinth without falling into one of many pits, that becomes an even greater challenge.

Whether you’re using handles to manipulate the maze and allow gravity to shift the ball from point to point or turning the labyrinth this way and that in order to move the ball toward the finish line, your dexterity and patience are sure to be pushed to the limit.


Jigsaw Puzzles

I would be remiss if I ignored the most common variety of wooden puzzle: the jigsaw puzzle!

Whether we’re talking about the more traditional shapes in a Ravensburger puzzle or a jigsaw incorporating unique and interesting pieces like those produced by Wentworth or our friend Rachel Happen of Baffledazzle (like the ones pictured below), jigsaw puzzles are among the first puzzles to which a young child is exposed.


3-D Jigsaw Puzzles

Of course, despite the many tough jigsaw puzzles available these days, you might be looking for a jigsaw with an additional dimension of difficulty. Thankfully, there are 3-D puzzles to give your spatial reasoning a run for its money!

Both the dragon at the top of the page and the camel pictured above are 3-D puzzles that were sent to me by the lovely Sara Kingsland, owner of Completely Puzzled in Port Townsend, Oregon.

And let me tell you, these puppies put my jigsaw skills to the test. Let’s look at the camel disassembled:

Is it immediately clear to you how to proceed? It certainly wasn’t to me! Now let’s look at the dragon disassembled:

dragon2

Believe it or not, I solved the dragon before the camel!

dragon3

This is because the puzzles involve different approaches. The dragon was designed to be assembled from tail to head, and rarely required me to hold more than two pieces at a time to continue solving it.

The camel, on the other hand, has to be solved legs first, which means holding numerous pieces in place while manipulating others in order for everything to come together.


With the advent of laser printing, the sky is truly the limit when it comes to imagining new and challenging wooden puzzles. I can’t wait to see what these wickedly brilliant puzzlers come up with next.

Are there any types of wooden puzzle I missed, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let me know! (Other than Scrabble, that is. I left that one off the list intentionally.) And while you’re at it, tell me what your favorite kind of wooden puzzle is!

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