What is Your Favorite Kind of Puzzle?

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.
Other 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?)

11 comments on What is Your Favorite Kind of Puzzle?

  • The Snooze

    Another thing to ask is “What do you find satisfying about solving puzzles?” I’m a big fan of lateral-thinking word puzzle (e.g., crosswords and Post Hunt’s “(K)Night Moves”). Lately, 7 Little Words (http://sevenlittlewords.com/) has eaten up a lot of my time on my phone. This is admittedly a bit odd given my math-heavy vocation, so I’m curious about what draws people to their challenge of choice. In my case, I really enjoy that “Ah! That’s really clever!” moment when I’m able to view a phrase in a different light and get some completely new meaning out of it.

    For you, It sounds like you look for thrilling and novel first-hand experiences in your interactive/dynamic puzzles. I’m interested to see if there’s some correlation between people’s desire to experience a particular feeling and what puzzles they prefer.

    • clavicarius (author)

      I could’ve guessed you’d enjoy those types of puzzles since you basically wrote one! =) I wish I could go back and play (K)night Moves over again without the inversed board, it might have been one of my favorites of the day (but then again maybe not, since we were basically doing the right thing and still didn’t find the answer, haha).

      7 Little Words was surprisingly tricky! It’s just 7 little words, how hard can it be? Definitely revealing some big holes in my vocabulary! Thanks for sharing =)

      I am a big fan of the a-ha moment, but I’m not sure if it makes a difference to me what type of puzzle makes me experience that. Maybe the satisfying thing with word puzzles is it’s usually a very immediate recognition. You might muddle around for a while, but if you suddenly make a valid word, or if you recognize an alternate meaning of a word or phrase, it’s so unlikely to be a coincidence that you pretty much know it’s right and that you’re on the right track.

      I listened to a SnoutCast recently where they were talking about organizing a Portland Game (as in The Game) this year, and how they feel like the puzzles, while important, are not more important than the other aspects of The Game (locations, theme, food, etc.) that make it something special. People who want to play a Game are looking for a specific experience maybe.

      I think maybe most puzzle-solvers are looking for a mental challenge to overcome, while I am pretty lazy and more interested in the entertainment aspect.

  • Jason

    One of the most awesome live-action immersive puzzle events that I’ve played through is True Dungeon at GenCon. You’re on a timer, you’re generally working as a team, you’ve got some really cool decorations, props to manipulate and costumed actors to interact with. Over the years True Dungeon has had a huge sampling of various puzzle types.

    As for the puzzle types I like, I tend to prefer word and language based puzzles: codes, ciphers, crosswords (although, not so much anagrams). One of my all-time favorite puzzles involved translating the language of goats. And it wasn’t just a cipher – the goat language had its own special rules for syntax and grammar as well. I also tend to like heavily visual puzzles. And I even like the occasional logic puzzle. I really tend to enjoy (and do well at) puzzles that make heavy use of geek-pop culture as well.

    • clavicarius (author)

      I’ve heard of True Dungeon! I almost put it in the examples list, but I’ve never been and I wasn’t sure how puzzle-y it was. Thanks for letting me know! It sounds like it’s a really awesome experience, and really well-done.

      That goat puzzle sounds pretty intense, I’m amazed at people who can design really complex puzzles like that.

      Ah, pop culture puzzles, those are very new to me. I ran into a couple playing old DASH puzzles to prepare for DASH 4. I really liked them, though I’m not sure how well I’d do in an environment without easy internet access. Honky Tonk Music from the first DASH was reeeally fun to play through and so clever (though it took a lot of Googling!). They can be a little impossible if you are unfamiliar with the references. I’m not sure if I’d have a better chance at geek-pop culture puzzles, I feel like there are a lot of big gaps in my geek knowledge, haha.

      Thanks for sharing your favorites! =)

      • Jason

        True Dungeon often has a puzzle-heavy option and a combat-heavy option, though every adventure has a mix of both. (Combat is basically a specialized version of shuffleboard, and also fun.) If you sign up for the “Puzzle” variant, you’ll likely encounter several really cool puzzles with awesome hands-on props. True Dungeon and the GenCon Puzzlehunt are the two main reasons I go to GenCon every year. (Okay, I go there to see friends, too. Those are the two main game and puzzle related reasons I go.)

        You make a good point about pop culture puzzles. If it’s stuff you don’t recognize, then it’s virtually impossible to solve without outside help or reference materials. That’s why a lot of people hate them, and hunts rarely include them unless you’re going to have internet access for the hunt. Having vast stores of pop culture knowledge is not that big an advantage if everyone has Google. Although, there is some advantage – in DASH I often thought of an answer faster than my teammates could look it up.

        • clavicarius (author)

          I’d really like to make it out to GenCon sometime for all of this awesome puzzling! It sounds really great.

          How would you define a pop culture puzzle? Would you go so far as to include, for example, The Statue of Liberty puzzle at DASH which required knowledge of many countries and their capitols? What about puzzles that have crossword-style clues or require a wide vocabulary? Where do you draw the line between common/smart player knowledge and knowledge that players might need to reference?

          From the other side, as a player I felt pretty dumb about all the vocab/countries we had to look up at DASH, but there would have been no way we would have solved those puzzles if we hadn’t.

          I noticed when I was looking at a past BAPHL that they specifically request you don’t use any outside assistance, so I wonder if they do away with puzzles like that completely.

          (It’s definitely an advantage to just have the knowledge than to have to look it up! Between cold fingers, sun, and rain, we had a hard time doing searches at all that day, hah.)

  • Jason

    I think a pop culture (or at least geek-pop culture) puzzle relies heavily, or even mostly, on knowledge of movies, TV, comic books, games, anime, sci-fi… The sorts of things geeks do for fun. And I’ve encountered some (like identifying obscure Magic the Gathering cards, or one-shot Star Trek races) where I needed the internet to look almost everything up. Though, even if I don’t know some geek-pop culture subject matter, I generally enjoy researching it. It’s also true that many puzzle types (like crosswords) will employ some pop culture, but in a “pop culture puzzle”, identifying the pop culture elements and their connections is usually the primary goal.

    The sorts of subjects you learned in school like countries, states, presidents, chemical symbols, etc., I don’t consider to be “pop culture” knowledge, though those sorts of things do appear in lots of puzzles (and you still might need to look them up). Many hunt designers probably assume a basic working knowledge of those sorts of subjects, though, and might include some of the less obscure knowledge even if you don’t have outside assistance.

    Although, seriously, mobile phones with data access (and non-phone devices as well, like Kindle) have made it really easy to look up information in the field. It’s reached a point where hunt designers can practically assume that teams will have those tools available. That generally leads designers to make harder puzzles, which leads solvers to find better technology. You can really see the effect of that feedback loop by looking at the MIT Hunt.

  • Jen

    Man, I love a lot of those basic puzzle types you listed! Now that I think about it, with a lot of word and math puzzles, the process/solution is very black and white, which probably appeals to me, being an ISTJ. I like being able to tell you’re on the right track and that there aren’t many ways to be thrown off and come up with a wrong answer (like you’ll know you’re wrong). I start to get frustrated when you can’t tell if you’re right or wrong or all these what-ifs. I definitely like narrative/mystery (there were so many good books like that growing up…where you would try to pick up on clues and solve the mystery as the characters did, too), and interactive/dynamic of course. That’s why all your great house/show-type ideas (KICKSTART IT KICKSTART IT :P) are always so interesting and excite me!

    • clavicarius (author)

      That “knowing you’re on the right track” aspect is something I’m very slowly learning that I need to design into my puzzles! I think my puzzle upbringing with The Stone kind of beat that expectation out of me. I’m used to something really obscure and random and buried deep in a webpage from 2001 being the answer, and being okay with that, haha.

    • clavicarius (author)

      Thanks for sharing! I wish I had thought to do something like that while I was in college =)

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