Another one of those just right kind of casual intensities available to the fun-seeking computer-user, similar to that of the Filler. Available, did I say? Perhaps a better word would be "essential" - because such games bring a needed balance to our everso serious quest for sanity, challenging our intellect while celebrating the joy of having one.
There's a taste of that fun you get when you're doing puzzles - solving them, completing them, breaking them back into pieces, putting them back together again, putting them away - a complex, varied, many-textured taste.
The computer has proven to be a highly nurturing environment for the flowering of experiences that taste like that. Puzzles built on puzzles, fantasy, logic, art, music all put together to serve us that particular kind of puzzle-solving fun, over and over again.
neutral provides a good demonstration of the state of that particular delicious art of puzzle-solving, for those who can taste the fun of it.
Fairy chess, explains the Wikipedian, "is a term in a chess problem which expands classical (also called orthodox) chess problems which are not direct mates. The term was introduced before the First World War. While selfmate dates from the Middle Age, helpmate was invented by Max Lange in the late 19th century. Thomas Dawson (1889-1951), pioneer of fairy chess, invented many fairy pieces and new conditions. He was also problem editor of The Fairy Chess Review (1930-1951)."
"On the other hand," comments the Funsmith, "Fairy Chess is an invitation to a cornucopious collection of what can only be called "Variant Chess Games," or, shall we say, more ways to play chess than you could shake a pawn at."
"Fairy Chess," continues the Funsmith, eyes akimbo with conceptual glee, "is, in fact, the chessular embodiment of Junkyard Sports, New Games and every one of those noblly playful efforts to return the power of play to the hands, hearts and minds of the players."
A Pieceless Puzzle looks very much like your standard jig-saw puzzle. A two-sided standard jig-saw puzzle. Made of some kind of rubbery, foamy stuff, the colorful puzzle is solved by fitting what you might think of as pieces together, just like a jig-saw puzzle. Except they're not really pieces, they're connected to each other, permanently, in one, continuous, many-branching, uh, piece.
Putting one together is a bit like weaving - you start somewhere, anywhere. Like all jig-saw puzzles you probably want to start at a corner or edge. Unlike any jig-saw puzzle, you simply follow the connection - as much as you can - in case the non-piece it's connected to will actually somehow fit into it. Sometimes it doesn't. Which is weird. Which is what makes the puzzle so much fun. Because you have to find another branch.
If you can, try to lay the puzzle flat. This is not as easy as it sounds. It means untangling and untwisting the whole strand. If you're trying one of the more complex puzzles from the "12 and up" series, the untangling, untwisting, flattening strategy can be challenging enough to be a puzzle in its own right.
All in all, we found the Pieceless concept to be a welcome innovation. The puzzles themselves are extremely satisfying to solve. They tend to take a lot less time than a corresponding uh "pieced" puzzle, but the time they do take is a good one - absorbing, visually, tactilely, conceptually pleasing.
And, yes, sure, it's really wonderful that you don't have to worry about losing any pieces. One giant leap for all puzzlekind.
It's been what you might call a pervasive theme of this blog. You might call it "new games from old" is what you might call it. As so clearly exemplified by this simple crossword puzzle.
First of all, there's that Wheel-of-Fortune-like interaction with the puzzle, where instead of filling in each blank, the letter you select goes in every highlighted blank. So, for example, in the illustration - all the squares highlighted in yellow take the same letter - one of the letters in the panel on the right. Is it an "A"? No, because then you'd get AUB. Hmmm. Maybe a "P" - that'd give you PUB, but it would also give you CP_W. What, oh what could it be?
Well, you get my drift. It could be a new kind of crossword puzzle. One unique to computers. Faster to play, and as inviting as even the best of crossword puzzles - challenging, perhaps, one might say, even fun.
I'm not saying that this is the ultimate crossword puzzle, nor that it is the best, but rather that it represents what much of this blog is about.
Lonpos 303. Lonpos, because that's the name of the inventor. 303 because that's how many different puzzles there are. Puzzles of two different varieties: the rectangular, 2-dimensional variety, and the 3-D pyramid puzzles. There are 12 pieces, each made of a cluster of small balls, each a different color and shape. The shapes are pentomino-like in their variety (different configurations of clusters of 3, 4 and 5 units), so their mathematical properties are noteworthy - notably to mathematicians. All the pieces fit snugly in the case, which also most neatly serves to house the instruction booklets.
I was concerned, Defender of the Playful that I am, that perhaps the 3-D puzzles would be too, shall we say, challenging. After all, how do you effectively convey a 3-D puzzle in a 2-D booklet? So I tried those first. In fact, I tried the first one first. The illustration very clearly and painstakingly showed me how to place the first 11 pieces. All I had to do was figure out how to place the 12th. I must say that I was experiencing something akin to sensual delight as I built the puzzle - each piece fitting so satisfyingly snugly onto the board or onto other pieces. And, since there was only one piece left to place, and since it so clearly fit in only one possible position, I was able to experience the almost immediate reward of that final click, when everything falls together, and the full glory of pyramid-building manifests itself in multi-colored, opalescence.
Then I tried the next puzzle. Hmmm. A bit more difficult to figure out how to follow the instructions, to envision the proper piece when all you can see is the particular slice of it that appears on each level. And then the next. And another intriguing hmmm. And as I solved each puzzle, I felt I was being taught, carefully, playfully, invitingly, a bit more about the pentomatically puzzling properties of pyramid-building. And it wasn't really too difficult. I mean it could get difficult. There were many puzzles in the booklet o' puzzles. And they got progressively more and more, well, challenging. But I could select whatever challenge I was ready for. And I said unto myself, behold, this is fun. And I'm learning things. More than fun, actually. Major fun, even.
Lonpos 303 is very much like Lonpos 101, except Lonpos 101 only has 101 puzzles. And Lonpos 101 is very much like Kanoodle, which is similarly very much like Level Up. But there is only one Lonpos 303. And once you start playing with it, you'll be grateful for every one of the 202 additional challenges that await. After which you might want to contemplate the significance of knowing that there are actually 360,984 unique rectangle puzzles, and 2,582 similarly unique pyramids puzzles that you could potentially create with your 12 little Lonpos pieces.
Sprout is the winner of the Second CasualGamePlay Design Competition. This is news of some significance. First of all, there is some significant significance in knowing that there is an effort underway to acknowledge what a fellow named Jay calls "Casual Gaming." You gotta love that term: "Casual Gaming." So descriptive of the kind of gaming to which we who seek the light-hearted depths of fun find ourselves most inexorably drawn. Next, there is at least equally significant significance in learning that not only was there a CasualGamePlay Design Competition, but that also this is the second one already. And, significantly enough, that Sprout was the winner of the design award and the audience award.
But all significance aside, there's the game itself, Sprout, in all it's elegant, artfully simple, innovative, gentle, point-and-click-worthy glory. Drop a coconut. Plant another coconut tree, or perhaps an apple tree, or take your chances on floating a seed or two, and make your casual way across an imagined world, towards some real fun.
Since I published my article on some of the new puzzles from ThinkFun, I've heard from two more, very different, very dedicated and innovative sources for yet more puzzles. Though the focus of this weblog is on games as social experiences, puzzles, even though designed to be solitary exercises, can easily become the source of a great deal of focused, collaborative, social play. And it is in that light that I share with you yet two more resources.
First to contact me was Bogusia Gierus, inventor of Hexatrix, an elegant and challenging arithmetic puzzle in which players try to connect all the numbers and signs to create a mathematically correct statement. It's what you might call an "elegant" puzzle - simple to understand, challenging, and almost infinitely variable (click this to see the solution for the puzzle in the illustration) - unless you don't like playing with numbers.
And today, I heard from Alex Colket, about his website Play with your mind. I quote: "PlayWithYourMind.com is about mind games, brain puzzles and IQ tests. Between the various word games, logic puzzles, typing tests, memory challenges, multi-tasks, and a mind sport, PlayWithYourMind.com boasts nearly 100 original games - among the largest such collections on the internet. Challenging abilities as diverse as memory, focus, logic, spatial sense, perception, verbal skill and numerical prowess, the brain games here provide plenty of opportunities to play with your mind."
My suggestion, find a friend and try any of these puzzles together. Play with you shared mind.