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[Image courtesy of Puzzle Ring.com.]

Puzzles come in all shapes and sizes. There are wooden boxes, plastic mazes, and metallic brain teasers. Shapes to be reassembled and combinations of wood, rope, and metal to untangle. There are wine bottles to free, locks to open, and secret compartments to uncover.

There are even puzzles you can wear.

Say hello to the puzzle ring.

[Image courtesy of UCT UK.]

These rings are made of overlapping metal bands that weave together to create elaborate designs, knots, and patterns. Puzzle rings can consist of as few as three bands or as many as seventeen, though between four and eight are the most common. When properly arranged, the bands align to form a particular design, and the pressure of your finger helps hold the bands in place.

When you take it off, the ring falls apart into its component bands. (Often, the rings are interconnected, which ensures they won’t be misplaced, but can also make solving them harder.)

And, as you might expect, the more bands that constitute the ring, the more difficult and elaborate the movements necessary to arrange the ring into its correct configuration.

[Image courtesy of Pinterest.]

Rings with Celtic knot or claddagh designs — inspired by Irish tradition — symbolize the thought and effort that keep the bonds of friendships or marriages strong. Faithfulness and loyalty, a bond forged by separate elements coming together as one.

Now, that’s a lovely thought, but some origin stories paint the puzzle ring as a symbol of mistrust. You see, according to legend, a Turkish king (or a soldier in the Middle East heading off to war, depending on the story), didn’t trust his beloved, so he had a puzzle ring forged for her. This way, if she was unfaithful — for instance, removing the ring so her new lover wouldn’t know she was married — the ring would fall apart, providing sure evidence that the ring had been removed and some sort of shenaniganry was afoot.

Those stories may very well have some fact behind them, but it’s more likely that puzzle rings evolved from the Elizabethan tradition of gimmal rings (or gimmel rings).

[Image courtesy of Pinterest.]

Gimmal rings are rings consisting of two or three hoops or pieces that form a single ring. Popular as engagement gifts, the rings would be worn separately until the wedding, when they would be reunited and used as the wedding ring. (The third piece was often worn by a witness to the wedding before it would be reunited with the others.)

Also known as joint rings, gimmal rings found enthusiastic audiences in Germany, England, and elsewhere in Europe, which is also where claddagh designs, dragon designs, and other imagery was added.

Some sites online claim that military veterans in Sweden sometimes receive puzzle rings representing the number of tours they’ve served (four bands representing one tour, five bands representing two tours, etc.), but I’ve been unable to independently verify that.

[Image courtesy of Puzzle Ring.com.]

But no matter the origins or the common uses, there’s no denying that puzzle rings are some of the most beautiful, elegant, and clever puzzles on the market today. (We’ve even added a board full of them to our Pinterest account!)

A cursory Google search turns up dozens of sites selling them, and the prices range from quite reasonable to thousands upon thousands of dollars for diamond-inlaid, golden puzzle rings sure to dazzle the eye and baffle the mind.

I think that, for now, I’ll stick with the 3D-printed puzzle ring I got for Christmas a few years ago.

Thanks 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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[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

The local carnival has already come and gone in my town, but there are many more county fairs, state fairs, and amusement park visits in the immediate future. After all, summer is almost here.

With carnivals and fairs, there are certain universal attractions. The Ferris wheel. The burlap sack slide. And, of course, those devious midway games.

Games of strength, games of dexterity, games of skill and chance… carnival games are tailor-made to separate you from your hard-earned dough. But we’re not any run-of-the-mill rube or mark for the carnival crews to exploit; we’re puzzlers!

So is there anything we can do to improve our odds?

You betcha.

Let’s look at a few classic carnival games and how we can increase our chances for stuffed animal prize success.

[Image courtesy of BGR.]

One of my personal favorites is the basketball shot. It seems simple, since all you have to do is make what looks like a regulation three-pointer.

But looks are deceiving. The hoop is usually higher than normal, as well as farther away. In addition, the ball is overinflated to increase unfriendly bounces, and the rim of the hoop is often bent in an oblong shape to discourage successful tosses. (At one carnival, the hoop was so warped that my friend’s toss actually landed ON the hoop, proving there was no way to successfully make a basket.)

Assuming the hoop actually allows for a ball to pass through, your best chance is to avoid the backboard entirely and go for a clean swish.

[Image courtesy of Art of Manliness.]

What about the rope ladder? The rope ladder seems like the fairest carnival game, since there’s little visual trickery involved. It’s all about balance after all.

But, as expected, it’s harder than it appears. Since the rope’s peak is anchored at only one point — not the two points of contact at the bottom — it’s far easier to tip over. You have to keep your center of balance as close to the center line of the ladder as possible. But it’s virtually impossible to stay in the center of the rungs as you climb, because lifting yourself up and away from the ladder — as you would in normal climbing — makes tipping over likely.

Many websites recommend using your left arm and right foot in tandem, then alternating to your right arm and left foot. If you have a strong center of gravity, that will definitely help. Be sure to stay low and flat, which will allow you greater control of the ladder. Ignore the rungs and focus on using the outside ropes to pull yourself.

And, of course, keep an eye on the operator. Some will hold the ladder steady for you at first, and then let go at an inconvenient moment for you.

[Image courtesy of Art of Manliness.]

Water guns and pellet guns also make appearances in carnival games, with the “shoot the star” game being among the most infamous. The goal in this game is to shoot away any traces of the star from the paper.

It goes without saying that the BB gun will not shoot true, so take a few practice shots to get used to adjusting for the gun’s idiosyncrasies.

Your instinct will be to aim at the center of the star and work your way out, but that’s guaranteed failure. Doing so creates little flaps of paper as the center is eaten away, and those flaps will fold and bend as they’re hit, rather than tearing away.

The recommended tactic is to shoot a circle around the star, which prevents those little energy-absorbing flaps from forming. Granted, if you are successful with this tactic, the star itself will become a flap near the end of the game. It’s best to leave the top part of the circle connected last, since gravity at the very least will be on your side. (If, for instance, you shot away the top part of the circle first, the circle could easily fold or tip down, making it much harder to hit.)

This is definitely one of the tougher midway games. The FBI actually studied how the size of the star affects players’ chances for success, and it turns out the smaller the star, the better your odds. (Specifically, an inch or smaller in diameter is your best bet. If the star is wider than 1.5 inches, you’re outta luck.)

CARNIVAL SCAM SCIENCE- and how to win - YouTube

This video features a terrific statistical breakdown of the odds of various carnival games and some techniques for beating them. (It also confirms what we’ve all long suspected… that no matter how quickly you win a prize, you’ve already overpaid for it.)

And before we go, let’s conclude the post with a few more tips for not getting scammed. After all, for the most part, we’ve treated these games as difficult, but ultimately winnable. That’s not always the case.

So make sure to watch a game for a while before you play. Some unscrupulous operators will use different balls or equipment in demonstration than you get to use when your money’s on the line. Be aware.

Also, when trying out a game, always try to stand where the operator was standing. Most carnival games involve showing you “how easy it is to win” in order to sucker you in. But if the operator won’t let you try to recreate exactly how they did it — including which ball and where they’re standing — you might be playing an unfairly rigged game.

Got any other advice for carnival game enthusiasts? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

Thanks 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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International TableTop Day is one of our favorite days of the year around here! Whether you play board games, role-playing games, card games, dice games, puzzles, or logic games, this is the holiday for you, family, and friends to come together and play games.

As we discussed in a previous post, there has been some controversy surrounding the date of TableTop Day this year, so we decided to celebrate our own in-house TableTop Day last Tuesday!

For the seventh year in a row, we put aside some time to indulge in some puzzles and games with our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles, and as always, it was a delight. Games were played, snacks were consumed, and fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers were introduced to some terrific games.

For our TableTop Day event, we focus on quick-play games and games for 2 to 4 players, since that allows people the opportunity to try several games without taking too big a bite out of the workday. Not only that, but with smaller groups or 1-on-1 games, it’s easier to introduce someone to a game and really get into the mechanics and gameplay swiftly.

[The spread of games available for the event. Can you name them all?]

As usual, the event started with people picking out their favorites and introducing new players to the game. Quarto was immediately snatched up, and I played several rounds of Tak with a newcomer to the game who really enjoyed the board game’s strategy, simplicity, and elegant design.

At another table, several rounds of the quick-play pattern-matching card game Loonacy marked a fast-paced and chaotic start to the day’s festivities for new players and familiar faces alike.

A few games of the British History edition of Timeline soon followed, as well as new players trying out the labyrinth-building challenge of The Abandons, which quickly proved both difficult and addictive for one particular celebrant. One-player puzzles like Puzzometry and Knot Dice were also popular.

We concluded our celebration of gaming and community in suitably epic fashion with a round of Exploding Kittens. The players bravely tried to avert and avoid the catastrophes induced by various adorable, oblivious, combustible cats, and it made for a fun, silly ending to another terrific event.

People got to blow off some steam, try some new games, and enjoy some snacks. What more can you ask for? All in all, we definitely call that a success!

[Naturally, people waited with baited breath to see who won our raffle AND this terrific bundle of games and goodies!]

So, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, do you celebrate International Tabletop Day? Let us know in the comment section! We’d love to hear from you!

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[Image courtesy of Game Informer.]

Our readership isn’t a predominantly video game-savvy audience. We have lots of app users and lots of pencil-and-paper solvers in the PuzzleNation membership, but fewer gamers.

So you may wonder why I periodically write about video games when it’s a niche interest for the majority of our readers. That’s an entirely fair question.

As a puzzle enthusiast, I’m constantly seeking out new ways to build puzzles and solve them. Brain teasers, word problems, riddles, and mechanical puzzles all fit under the umbrella of “puzzles,” but they’re all very different solving experiences. Similarly, there’s a huge difference between a pencil-and-paper puzzle and an escape room, a murder mystery and a scavenger hunt, an encrypted message and a puzzle box.

But they’re all puzzles. And that’s what I find so fascinating. There are endless ways to challenge ourselves in puzzly fashion, and video games are constantly innovating when it comes to puzzle-solving.

[Image courtesy of Zelda Dungeons.]

Whether we’re talking about navigating past guards with well-placed arrow shots in the Thief games, navigating the labyrinth of the Water Temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or maneuvering around a room in mind-bending ways with your portal gun in Portal, video games can take 2D puzzle ideas and bring them into the third dimension in amazing ways.

A friend recently told me about a game called Iris Fall, where you actually manipulate light and shadows in order to solve puzzles. That’s not just ingenious, it’s beautiful as well.

There are even games that let you change the rules of the puzzle itself in order to solve it.

[Image courtesy of Born Frustrated Studio.]

And another game in that vein recently came to market, a detective game called File://maniac.

In this murder mystery, you’re tasked with tracking down a devious murderer who happily taunts you with messages as you pursue them. But instead of pursuing leads and accomplishing tasks in more traditional detective-game format, you actually have to manipulate the files of the game itself as you play.

Yes, the very coding and organization of the game is the basis of the puzzles and codes for you to unravel.

Heather Alexandra at Kotaku explains more:

Getting rid of a locked door might require placing the door’s files in your recycling bin. Finding the password to a lock means opening up a handful of notebook files and searching until you find the code. It’s a different sort of puzzle solving, one that encourages the player to be aware of the game world’s artificiality… playing around with the actual game files creates a fun mixture of puzzling and “exploration” as you poke around folders and directories.

[Image courtesy of Go Go Free Games.]

It’s a brilliantly meta concept. Whereas many games and puzzle experiences are all about immersion, ensuring you forget you’re playing a game and encouraging you to dive into the narrative and gameplay itself, File://maniac demands that you not only remember you’re playing a game, but forces you to think like the designers of the game to circumvent each challenge.

It’s like being trapped in a maze, then being able to shift your perspective to an overhead view of the maze and navigate yourself out with omniscient ease. It’s a total perspective shift, and the a-ha moment of figuring out how to change the rules to your advantage is an immensely satisfying reward.

Do you know of any games out there that create unique and unexpected puzzly experiences? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

Thanks 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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Last week, we brought back one of our trickiest recurring features, the View a Clue game!

If you recall, we selected ten words that commonly show up in crossword grids — frequently and infamously enough that they’ve becomes crosswordese at this point —  to see if the PuzzleNation audience could identify them from pictures.

Without further ado, let’s get to it!

#1 (3 letters)

Answer: SST, aka supersonic transport

#2 (5 letters)

Answer: AERIE, a high nest for a bird of prey

#3 (3 letters)

Answer: TAW, a large marble used as a shooter

#4 (4 letters)

Answer: SERF, a medieval laborer bound to serving a feudal lord

#5 (5 letters)

Answer: AIOLI, mayonnaise flavored with garlic

#6 (4 letters)

Answer: YEGG, a safecracker

#7 (5 letters)

Answer: SABOT, a wooden shoe worn in European countries

#8 (4 letters)

Answer: OGEE, a pointed arch or molding in an S-shape

#9 (4 letters)

Answer: APSE, a semicircular vaulted area of a church

#10 (3 letters)

Answer: ELL, a building extension added at a right angle to the main building

How did you do? Let us know in the comments below!

Thanks 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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Four years ago, a new crossword tournament joined the ranks of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and Lollapuzzoola, immediately carving out its own niche in the puzzle world. The Indie 500 offered topnotch puzzles and a pie-fueled solving experience both live in Washington, D.C., and for solvers at home.

And it’s back! The fifth edition of The Indie 500 is happening on Saturday, June 1, and this year, the theme is “Going Around in Squares.”

This year’s tournament follows the same format as previous years: five preliminary puzzles of varying difficulty, plus a final puzzle for the top three scorers in both divisions.

[There’s also a fair amount of slapstick.]

Registration is open for the tournament! They’re at capacity for attending in person (there is a waiting list in case anyone drops out!), but worry not, because solving from home is only $10!

Not only that, but there’s a travel-themed meta suite that lets you name your own price, as well as access to the previous tournament bundles for $5 apiece. Those are super-affordable prices for some outstanding puzzles!

Andy Kravis, Erik Agard, and Neville Fogarty all make their fifth appearance as veteran constructors — understandable, since they’re also event organizers — and they’re joined once again by Angela Olson Halsted and Peter Broda, as well as tournament constructors Jenna LaFleur, Bryan Betancur, Janie Smulyan, Rebecca Falcon, and Yacob Yonas!

And, of course, there will be pie.

You can click here for the Indie 500 home page, and click here for a rundown of last year’s puzzles!

Will you be competing, or participating from home? Let us know in the comments below!

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!

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Hello puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

We’re excited to announce new puzzle sets for both of our marvelous crossword puzzle apps! Yes, whether you’re a fan of our Penny Dell Crosswords App or our Daily POP Crosswords app, we’ve got something special for you!

First off, for Daily POP Crosswords users, we have our latest featured set, Superhero Fun!

Consisting of ten puzzles, all with superpowered themes, this puzzle set offers the smart, pop culture-savvy cluing you’ve come to expect from PuzzleNation, all in ten marvelous puzzles collected for your convenience and enjoyment!

The Avengers might have reached their Endgame, but we’re just getting started!

And for the Penny Dell Crosswords App, we have two new deluxe sets available!

If you’re looking for something sweet, we have the Dessert Deluxe bundle, and if you want a playful twist on crosswords, there’s the Games Deluxe bundle!

With special themed puzzles and loads of great crosswords at all difficulty levels for you to enjoy, these bundles are a fresh and fun way to relax and keep your puzzly wits sharp!

All three are available now for in-app purchase, so don’t miss out on these terrific new puzzle bundles!

Happy puzzling, everybody!

Thanks 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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Welcome to the latest edition of one of PuzzleNation Blog’s most visual features: the View a Clue game!

I’ve selected ten words that commonly show up in crossword grids — frequently and infamously enough that they’ve becomes crosswordese at this point — and I want to see if the PuzzleNation audience can identify them from pictures. It’s a visual puzzle I call View a Clue!

Without further ado, let’s give it a shot!

#1 (3 letters)

#2 (5 letters)

#3 (3 letters)

#4 (4 letters)

#5 (5 letters)

#6 (4 letters)

#7 (5 letters)

#8 (4 letters)

#9 (4 letters)

#10 (3 letters)

How many did you get? Let me know in the comments below! And if you have ideas for another View a Clue game, tell us below!

Thanks 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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What is it about exploring a maze that is so satisfying? We’ve covered labyrinths before — in book form, in wood form, even in LEGO form — but we’ve never sampled something quite like The Abandons.

The Abandons is a one-player labyrinth-building game that is different every time you play. And unlike most labyrinths that are predetermined for you (and are observed from above), you have to explore it room by room, dealing with the surprises and consequences revealed by your choices.

[A sampling of the cards you’ll see; clockwise from upper left: an item card, a stairs card, the card backing, a corridor card with choices, the end card, the beginning card.]

This quick-play game is simple to learn, simple to set up, and difficult to conquer. Locate the beginning and end cards, remove them from the deck, then shuffle the remaining 48 cards. Once they’re shuffled, place the end card at the bottom of the deck. This is now your draw pile.

Place your beginning card down on the table. You’ll notice it has a diamond at the door. The diamonds represent how many cards you draw in order to move forward. With one diamond, you simply draw the next card and play it. With two, you discard one card and play the next. With three, you discard two cards and play the third. And so on.

[Sometimes you reach a quick dead end.]

As you pull cards from the draw pile and add them to the labyrinth, you’ll come to intersections that allow for multiple paths. You’ll pick one direction and follow it. If you come to a dead end, you can retrace your steps back to the nearest intersection with an unexplored path and continue your journey.

But if you encounter enough dead ends, you’ll find yourself without any unexplored paths, and you lose, having trapped yourself in the labyrinth forever. Bummer.

You can see in this playthrough, we were lucky with our first cards, as we drew an item card immediately (and set it aside for later), followed by an intersection card with three paths to choose from. We went left, drew another intersection card, and then had a choice to make.

If one of those paths leads to a dead end, we’re still in good shape since there are currently four unexplored paths to fall back on. Options are life in this game.

Unfortunately, we went right, drew another intersection card, and then went left, drawing the collapse card.

If you draw this card, you wipe all of your progress from the play area and go back to the start, as if you’ve fallen into a lower level of the labyrinth and must start your search anew for an exit. (This is one of two cards that can cause this game reset. The other, the stairs card, gives you the choice of continuing with your current path or going back to the start. It’s slightly more pleasant than the collapse card.)

So you don’t just have dead end cards to worry about. Sometimes you’ll be pretty deep into your explorations, and suddenly, you’re back at the start. It’s a kick in the teeth, to be sure.

Now here’s a game where we’ve gotten pretty far. You can see in the top left and the bottom center areas of your screen, a few dead end cards have appeared. But we have several unexplored paths to fall back on, as well as three item cards.

The item cards offer different options depending on how many you have. If you have one, you can spend it to look at the top three cards of the draw pile (as if you’ve found part of a map of the labyrinth). If you have two, you can spend them on a bomb to blast your way through a dead end or another wall, giving yourself another unexplored path (and another chance for escape). And if you have three, you can spent them on a magic mirror that allows you to return to the start and take a new path.

Overall, I really enjoyed playing this game. Many explore-a-world games require lots of setup, whereas this one gets going in seconds and plays out in about ten minutes or so. The mix of strategy and luck makes each game unpredictable — even if it’s a bit frustrating to draw a dead end card early on that squashes the whole game. The item cards allow for some solid tactical planning — I’m a huge fan of bombing my way through walls — which offsets the randomness of the draw pile.

Yes, it’s true that this isn’t really a game that you can master, since randomness will always be a big part of the gameplay, but it’s certainly a game you can get better at playing. After just a few tries, you start to get the hang of how to choose your paths and try to make the draw pile work for you, not against you. (In that way, it becomes a puzzly version of poker where you’re playing against the deck itself.)

It’s a terrific solo solving experience, a great intro game for younger players (I certainly think you can go younger than the 14+ recommended by the designers), and small enough to fit in your pocket. This is one quick-play game that won’t sit on the shelf for very long.

The Abandons is available from Puzzling Pixel Games and select online retailers.

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Whether you’re a casual game show watcher or a dedicated trivia buff, you’ve probably heard the name James Holzhauer by now.

The professional sports gambler has dominated Jeopardy! for weeks now, increasing viewership and sparking debate with his aggressive play style and confident wagering. By going after the highest-value questions first and purposely bouncing around the board in search of Daily Doubles to pad his bankroll, he appears to have “cracked” the Jeopardy! code unlike any other contestant in history.

Holzhauer has amassed 20 consecutive victories as of last night, becoming only the second contestant in history to pass the million-dollar mark on the show. His winnings currently stand at $1,528,012.

But his single-game performances are just as impressive. Not only does he hold the top score for most money won in a single game — $131,127 — but he holds the top ten positions on the board for single-game winnings. (The amounts in the top ten range from his top score of $130k to $80,006.)

He is the only person to earn more than $100,000 in a single game. In fact, he has done so on FIVE separate occasions. (For some context, the previous single-game record was $77,000, a record which stood for nine years before Holzhauer obliterated it.)

How do I know all this? Easy. Jeopardy! has launched an official tracker to keep viewers up-to-date on his stats.

With an impressive amount of knowledge behind him, the guts to wager big money, and the rapid-fire reaction time to buzz in first more often than not, he is a Jeopardy! triple threat, a juggernaut that shows no signs of slowing down.

In an interview with The New York Times, he credited his profession with preparing him for game-show dominance:

The fact that I win and lose money all the time helps desensitize me, so I can write down $60,000 as the Final Jeopardy wager and not be trembling at the thought of losing that money.

But it’s not always big money that makes the difference. On Monday’s show, he won by a mere $18 in a heartstopper of a Final Jeopardy.

And, despite his mind-blowing performance thus far, he has awhile to go before he surpasses Jeopardy!’s top money earner, Ken Jennings.

Jennings holds the all-time record with $2,520,700, which he amassed over the course of 74 victories in 2004. But Jennings was more conservative in his wagering than Holzhauer, who has closed the gap between them to less than $1 million dollars in just 20 days. Statisticians postulate that he is on track to pass Jennings’s total after 34 games. (Fewer than half the number of games won by Jennings!)

What does host Alex Trebek think of all this? According to reports, he’s not a fan of Holzhauer’s Daily Double hunting and aggressive betting, but I suspect he’s more than pleased with the boost in ratings and notoriety for the long-running game show.

Of course, Alex might be miffed for another reason. On average, Holzhauer is making more money than the estimated $50,000 per episode that host Alex Trebek earns.

Holzhauer might want to start tipping the host from time to time, just to keep him happy.

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