Today I thought it might be fun to explore different puzzle types, figure out which ones I like the most, and ask you readers to do the same. I’m still so new to puzzling, so I’m sure there are tons of puzzle styles I don’t know about or will forget to include, so be sure to share your knowledge in the comments!
As always, I’ll be trying to organize and make structure from these different types as I think of them, which can often prove difficult, so forgive me if my classification and nomenclature aren’t great.
Basic Puzzle Types:
- Word and Language – Word association, wordplay, riddles, ciphers, codes, crosswords, word searches, anagrams.
- Math and Numbers – Puzzles that involve finding numerical patterns, using numbers creatively, or solving unusual math problems.
- Logic – If/then questions, logic grids, knights and knaves, chessboard puzzles.
- Visual – Puzzles that only (or heavily) include visual elements.
- Mechanical – Rubik’s cube, sliding tiles, disentanglement puzzles, locks. These are a bit different than the other basic puzzle types.
- Hybrids – Of course, most puzzles are hybrids that mix several of the basic elements together and add in other, less easily-definable concepts. Examples: DASH, Post Hunt, The Master Theorem.
- Research / Investigation – An opening clue gives you a lead to research online until you discover the subject of the puzzle, and then the answer to a question about that subject. Examples: Pretty much every puzzle on The Stone / Scarecrow’s Field, or perhaps the kind of puzzle a real-life mystery might be.
- Narrative / Mysteries – Observing people and making deductions to figure out whodunnit, or solve some other mystery. Examples: Mystery novels, murder mystery parties/dinners, The Mole, The Last Express.
- Interactive / Dynamic – Not really sure if this is the best name, but puzzles where you physically interact with objects or systems and observe changes. Sometimes these puzzles are just interactive versions of the basic puzzles listed above, other times they are very unique. Examples: The Crystal Maze, Legends of the Hidden Temple, The Mole’s Hitchcock Hotel game, 5 Wits Adventures, True Dungeon. Many video games have virtual manifestations of these types of puzzles, like in the Portal series, escape the room games, and many point-and-click adventure games.
If anyone contributes any more types or examples in the comments, I’ll try to add them to the lists above.
So now for the second half of this post (I sound like Perd Hapley!), my preferences! Starting with the puzzle type I never enjoy: MATH. Though I’m trying to improve, I don’t work well with numbers. Don’t ask me to do simple math functions in front of you, I will seize up. And certainly don’t ask me to do a math puzzle, I will laugh in your face. Luckily I have a husband who loves math and hates reading. We’re the perfect puzzling match.
I think logic puzzles kind of have the same effect on me as math puzzles, where I see them and my brain immediately says “work” instead of “fun.” Mechanical puzzles…. meh.
I’m usually decent when it comes to word-based puzzles, and I find them enjoyable, though I think I’m more of a visual person and I really enjoy when puzzles incorporate visual elements. I also really love puzzles that use music and sound, though I’m not sure they count as their own type. I have a lot of puzzle tenacity when it comes to reading and research, thanks to The Stone, and I do enjoy learning new things (as long as the rabbit hole doesn’t go too far down). I like to think I’m good at more abstract puzzles and thinking outside the box, though I don’t get a lot of opportunities to prove it. I enjoy narrative/mystery puzzles in theory, but sometimes it takes a little effort for me to get past feeling like they’re more work than fun (though it’s usually very satisfying if I can make it past that point, like with The Last Express).
But what is my favorite type of puzzle? As a kid, I was constantly trying to get my friends to do wild goose chase style treasure hunts, taking turns writing hunts for each other (most friends enjoyed playing a hunt designed for them, but didn’t really want to reciprocate). I think these were my favorite puzzles as a kid partially because I didn’t know about very many puzzle types, but mostly because they involved that little bit of mystery in discovering something hidden. They are also great puzzles for kids because they make you feel pretty clever and there is a bit of instant gratification each time you solve a clue.
I’ve really enjoyed learning about different puzzle styles since starting this blog, and especially had a great time with DASH and all of the creative puzzles presented there.
Currently, the most appealing puzzle type for me by far is the interactive/dynamic puzzle. It’s those words I keep throwing around: immersion, experience, presence, urgency, novelty. I want my heart to race while I’m solving a puzzle! I want the puzzle to feel like it means something. I want puzzles that infiltrate my reality. One might argue that these elements have nothing to do with actual puzzle mechanics, and I guess that’s mostly true, though some puzzles are certainly more suited to this style than others (Good: use the exercise bike in your hotel room to generate a blacklight in his dark hotel room, revealing hidden messages. Bad: hey everybody sit down and solve this sudoku?). It’s hard to understand and explain. Help me out, commenters!
And now take some time to look at your own puzzle preferences! Are there certain puzzles you’re really good at, or particularly enjoy? How about the ones you absolutely hate? Any places you want to improve? Any favorite puzzles from past events?
(And anybody else out there also obsessed with this interactive/dynamic stuff?)