More Puzzle Blox

Brainwright's Fine Art Puzzle BloxThe Modern Art version of Puzzle Blox has already received a Major Fun Award. And the Fine Art Puzzle Blox, which uses the exact same mechanics (130 cubes which can be arranged into six different images, a plastic box within which to assemble the cubes, and posters the size of the box to help you determine what probably goes where), turns out to be as attractive, challenging, and Major Fun award-worthy as the Modern Art version.

disney puzzle bloxThere is yet another addition to the line – Disney Puzzle Blox. The mechanics are similar, but the cubes are larger and fewer (63 cubes instead of 130). Though the puzzle is understandably recommended for a younger audience (8 and up), it is enough of a challenge to entice deep parental engagement (which may need to be stifled when the kids are playing with it). There are, as you might have deduced, six different puzzles: Mickey, Goofy, Donald Duck, Mickey and Minnie, Minnie herself, and Mickey and Pluto. The space around the figures has fewer obvious details (so the challenge becomes a bit more interesting) but there are always subtle distinctions – spatters, streaks, and geometric designs – to guide players to puzzle Valhalla.

Though the manufacturer recommends that you place the poster for the particular puzzle you are trying to solve inside the box, we’ve found it easier to tape it to the outside (using only a couple pieces of tape). That way, as you make your way through the puzzle, you can lift the whole thing up, remove the poster, and see if the image beneath the puzzle you’re trying to solve is also correct. It proves not only to be a good clue, but adds to the magic and the fun of the puzzle.

cropped-majorfunaward-600.jpgAll in all, both are welcome additions to the line, and we applaud its extension. We especially applaud how the concept has been extended downward, to include younger as well as older players (the larger blocks are easier to handle and manipulate and discriminate between, making the puzzle that much more accessible to seniors as well as juniors).

Our kudos to Brainwright. The fun awaits you.

Plexi Puzzles

Plexi Hex

There are currently three Plexi Puzzles offered by Brainwright. They are beautifully made acrylic puzzles, all designed by Kate Jones (an exceptionally devoted designer and producer of truly elegant, and often profoundly puzzling puzzles). They are as much works of art as they are invitations to play.

Each of the three is as major in the fun it offers, each in a different way. They all include a tray (with transparent cover for storage and display), and a booklet of many different puzzles that can be explore with the pieces.

The Iamond Hex Plexi Puzzle (shown) is composed of 12 angled shapes made by combining equilateral triangles in various configurations – similar in conceptual and geometrical design to Pentominoes. The recommended minimal age is 10. I am almost 75. And let me tell you, both myself and my local ten-year-old found the puzzle to be more than sufficiently puzzling.

Then there’s the Roundominoes Plexi Puzzle – also acrylic, also beautifully made and presented with its own storage and assembly tray, offering an even greater variety of different puzzles to explore. This one is composed, as you might guess, of circles. There’s the 7 red singleround pieces (as you might imagine them to be) and the 7 orange doublerounds (two singlerounds connected), and then the 7 blue triplerounds, and an assortment of “bridges” (pairs of purple, orange and green circles with an extra thingy that fits around a round; and one light blue circle with thingy). Because there are so many more puzzles to explore, younger players (the recommended minimal age is 8) and even I found the puzzle more, well, friendly.

Finally, the Plexi XL, a set of 16 pieces built from hexagons. There’s one piece that’s a simple single hexagon, two pieces that are double hexagons, and the rest are “polyhexagons,” the shapes that result from joining sets of three, four or five hexagons in every possible combination. This puzzle is a larger format than the other two. It also has a recommended minimal age of 8. And the variety of puzzles described in the accompanying booklet is the most extensive of all.

These puzzles are, as I’ve tried to imply, not easy. But they are all enticingly beautiful, well-made, and opportunities to get deeply engaged in exploring the many the wonders of mathematical, geometrical and topological connections. For those of us who appreciate this kind of thing, these are about as Major, fun-wise, as you can get.




(I think Foooty might be pronounced “fooo-tee” to distinguish it from “footy” the game. Though you could certainly play footy, the game, with your Foooty. But Foooty is so much more.)

It’s made of a thing that looks like this.


Ten things, actually. Which you can cunningly assemble to look like this:


by doing this (but probably not as quickly as depicted):

You can also make a minor myriad other things with your Foooty components, such as a football-shaped Foooty, a Frisbee-shaped Foooty, 5 little juggling Foooties, or Foootie lamps:


It’s not exactly available right now. But, if what I see from the burgeoning success of their Kickstarter is any indication (which it most definitely is), it should be available by June.

I have one. If you are feeling impatient and supportive, a $17 donation to their Kickstarter will get you one too, probably by sometime in June.



So, what, you ask, is a “Rolling Block Brainteaser”? It’s a puzzle in which you roll a block, obviously, from block-face to block-face, across and around a grid. The block and grid are designed with raised ridges and grooves so that each face of the block fits snugly within the grid. The object: to roll the block, vertically or horizontally and always landing flat on your the face, from the designated start position to the designated finish position in no more than the indicated number of rolls. There are 24, two-sided puzzle cards, making 48 different levels of inexorably increasing difficulty.

There are two different blocks – one is shaped like a brick, the other like an arch. The arch-shaped block is chock full of more complex implications, and is used only with the second half of the puzzle deck. Its shape is different enough to make the more advanced puzzles feel almost like an entirely different set of challenges, even though the movement principles are the same.

Like many of the best of such puzzles, CoCoCross is a model for how to structure a good learning experience. Puzzle by puzzle you learn more about the kind of thinking you need to do to figure things out. When you graduate to the advanced level, you apply everything you learned in the first to a whole new set of challenges.

puzzlesThe design of the package is especially appealing. The transparent grid forms the lid of the container in which the cards and puzzle pieces are housed. Because there are only two pieces, aside from the cards, it is wonderfully easy to keep track of everything. And it’s small enough (less than 4×5 inches) to take with you everywhere – in the car, the plane, to the beach and beyond.

In sum, it’s a model of good design and good fun. It’s compact enough to be endearingly convenient, complex enough to stimulate curiosity and invite you to exercise your logical and mathematical skills, varied enough to offer surprise after surprise, and fun enough to make you want to play and play until you master every one of the 48 challenges.

In sum: major fun.


Cat Stax

cat stax

Cat Stax is a puzzling thing.

You get 12 cat-like pieces, each of a different color and shape. You get two decks of 24, two-sided cards. One deck is for the puzzles, the other for the solutions. This makes it very easy to control your cheating impulses, or to lose control entirely – which, as you progress through the puzzles, you may in fact do.

Each puzzle shows you a grid and which of the cats you’ll need to fill in the grid, perfectly (no hanging cat parts allowed). This is all fun and familiar to your average cat puzzle-solver, until you arrive at puzzle #7 – the first puzzlesTWO LAYER cat puzzle, wherein the reason for the name of the game becomes tantalizingly evident. Two layers, as in some cats don’t lie down like the good little puzzle-piece-cats you think they should be. They stand up. And later, you discover that some cats don’t just stand on their feet, but on their back ends or front ends or heads, even. And, later on, by the time you get to puzzle #23, you get three layers of cats! And on and on until you find yourself trying to figure out how to make a three-layer cat stack using all 12 cats!

The puzzle comes in a travel box with a transparent lid (easier to keep track of your cats that way). The manufacturers are quick to note that it you might very well arrive at a totally different, but entirely acceptable solution all on your own, because, as we have all been so oft told, there is more than one way to stack your cats.

As you make use of the two decks (puzzle deck and solution deck) you’ll come to appreciate ingenuity and compassion embodied in this minor, but brilliant innovation.

Cat Stax was invented by Bob Farron and designed by Mike Mendolese. from Brainwright


They call it Houdini, ThinkFun does, explaining that it’s the “World’s First 40-Challenge Escape Puzzle.” It consists of what one can only call a “most unusual” collection of Houdini-like accoutrements. There’s a big plastic piece that depicts what is clearly the worlds first legless person to have a huge hole in his middle, with arms and hands are tied together most securely with many locks and chains, to have two, snap-on, fabric legs. Then there’s an unopenable plastic lock, a large red “trap cage” upon which are embedded three ominous trapping rings, two ropes – each ending in openable rings, two rings (one a hollow plastic barrel, the other impervious metal), and a deck of 20, double-sided puzzle cards, rung together with a handy explanatory card that instructs you, in general terms, how one might tie Houdini up (to begin a puzzle) and recommendations for how to go about attempting to free the poor, shackled, gutless, plastic lad. And, of course, a mesh, drawstring travel bag (which turns out to be not only handy but essential insofar as you’ll need to almost destroy the box to get at all the components).

It turns out that much of Houdini’s magic is based on what mathematicians like to call topological puzzles – puzzles of such lasting folk-worthiness that they’ve been handed down through the ages, as this recent stamp from Greenland, honoring such, so clearly demonstrates.

greenland puzzle stamp
The instruction card also indicates the precise URL of the page on the Internet from whence you can find clearly depicted videos of how to tie the dude up, and how to release him.

The first puzzle, I’m glad to say, the one marked “Beginner 1,” is fairly easy to assemble. Even I was able to figure out how to tie Houdini to the trap cage using only a rope and the metal ring. And, subsequently, completely flummoxed by my attempts to figure out how to release Houdini from the illustrated entrapment. Completely.

After some deliberation, I decided to evaluate, shall we say, the clarity of the solution videos. And, upon clicking my way over to the appropriate link, beheld an amazing feat of graphic clarity which I could almost follow, but which immediately led me to exclaim something like “What?” and then “Who Knew?” and then, upon third viewing, to achieve the necessary clarity to make the attempt. And, behold, after only two more viewings, it proved to be child’s play.


puzzlesWhat we have here is Major Fun of historic proportions. Truly challenging puzzles that tie your puzzle-solving centers into conceptual knots. Puzzles whose solutions are often so surprising that they make you laugh most entirely. And the ingenious use of the computer to support both the making and unmaking of the puzzles makes the whole thing so much more fun – just knowing that real, carefully illustrated help is only a click or two away is almost all you need to keep you happily engaged.

Designed by Nicholas Cravotta and Rebecca Bleau, Houdini is recommended for people who are mature enough to understand the joy of deep challenge.

Color Clash

Color Clash
You are, of course, familiar with the Stroop Effect? As an avid follower of the work of the famous psychologist John Ridley Stroop, author of the oft-cited research paper “Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions,” you’ve doubtlessly spent many an indolent hour of pleasurable Strooping.

You haven’t? Or you may have, but didn’t know you were?

Well, dear fun-seeker, have we got a game for you! O, yes we have.

It’s called Color Clash.

You get 36 round “Color Clash tiles” and six larger, also round “Chameleon tiles.”  You only need the Chameleons in some of the games, but all of the games use the Color Clash tiles. You also get a well-illustrated instruction booklet describing eight (8) different games. Yes, 8 (eight) different games – some for three or more players, some for two or more, and the last two games both solitaires. Now, before we go on, I need must point out that the eight different games are not variations of each other, but each one a game in its own delightful rightMajor Fun Award – equally playable, equally fun-provoking. This, in itself, is a rare and most praiseworthy accomplishment.

As you may have noted from the illustration, each tile has three attributes: a written word naming a color, the color of that written word, and a colored image. As you, already being familiar with the joys of Strooping, so well know how the crux of the challenge lies in the fact that the words that name a particular color are most often themselves printed in a different color.

Let us, for the sake of brevity, examine only the first game, “Guess What I’m Thinking.” For this, and the next game, which we shall only name in passing (“Between Four”), requires three or more players. You lay out all 36 of the Clash Tiles, face-up (both yours and theirs). When it’s your turn to start, you select (mentally) any one tile and take note of the its three different attributes (the color described by the word in the outer ring, the color in which that word is printed, and the color of the image in the center of the tile) (you try to do this without staring too hard or too long at the tile you’ve chosen). You then announce all three colors, in any order your whim suggests, and all the other players conceptually scramble to be the first to cover that one particular tile with their hand. The first player to identify the correct tile wins that round, and that tile. We recommend that that player be the next tile-chooser (though the rules stipulate that some turn order be established aforehand). The game continues until only six tiles are left, the winner being the player who has collected the most tiles.

And that’s just the first game.

Easy to learn. Deeply challenging. Often laughter provoking. Major Fun.

Color Clash comes to you from the oft Major Fun awarded Blue Orange Games and is designed by FabienTaguy, illustrated by Stephane Escapa, for 1-8 non-color-blind players, ranging in age from 7-years-old to senior.

Stroop on!

Laser Maze, Jr.

laser maze jr

Laser Maze, Jr is “Junior” only because, unlike it’s Major Fun award-winning parent, Laser Maze (senior?) (which you can now play online):

  • the laser is safely secured to the puzzle frame, hence avoiding accidental lasering of eyes and things
  • there are 40 puzzles instead of 60, though the puzzles span four levels of difficulty, many of which are difficult enough to confound your local non-juniors
  • the puzzles are on large cards which fit beneath the top stage of the frame so as to make it easier to know precisely how to set up each puzzle
  • there’s a space fantasy theme to the whole game
  • it says “Jr” so you know it’s supposed to be for kids
  • the puzzle frame is exceptionally sturdy, the base flared for even more stability

The two “rocket target” pieces reflect the laser into their tops, causing the whole piece to glow when hit by the laser – a very rewarding reinforcement for any junior puzzle-solver. Yes, the more complex puzzles, with all their reflections and refractions, result in a somewhat more subtle rocket glow – but still wonderfully satisfying. The challenge cards are ingeniously designed – the part that shows you where to put the pieces at the onset of the puzzle sliding under the grid so as to be perfectly aligned and very easy to follow. The challenge part is indicated on the tab, showing clearly which pieces need to be added in order to complete the solution. The cards are two-sided, each side showing another puzzle. The solutions are all in the accompanying booklet, and are shown graphically, so no reading is required.

Here, from the puzzle’s producer, ThinkFun, (who has brought to us so many Major Fun-worth puzzles) a brief explanatory video:

Two triple-AAA batteries, not included. Yes. Not.

Invented by Luke Hooper – the same who invented the other Laser Maze puzzle, and The Laser Game: Khet, with the challenge cards designed by Wei-Hwa Huang. As you probably guessed, it’s all Major Fun (and not just for Juniors).


Dots incredible

You are indubitably familiar with our rave review of David Kalvitis’ The Greatest Dot-to-Dot Adventure. I suggest you read the review so you can prepare yourself emotionally for the second coming. Well, the second book in the series.

What seems to us to be consistently amazing is how he keeps coming up with new kinds of dot-to-dot puzzles. Some of the challenges are really challenging. It’s not just dot-to-dot, it’s dot-to-OMG-to-dot. There are four-page puzzles. Three-page puzzles. There’s a puzzle where you connect the coordinates and another where instead of dots you have words, and you connect them alphabetically.

And then there’s the adventure – a picture story that only becomes clear after you’ve completed all the puzzles. One reward after another.

This is the second in Kalvatis’ Dot-to-Dot Adventure series. The first also earned a Major Fun award.

And in all of his work, it’s quality of the drawings themselves that makes the fun so major: always surprisingly masterful, and deeply satisfying when you complete them – satisfying enough to entice your resident artist (my wife) to making that extra artist effort to color them in.



Brain Cheeser

brain-cheeserAlthough most of the games that earn the Major Fun Award are ones that involve multiple players, there are times when you just want to play by yourself. Solitaire games help pass the time when there is nothing to do but wait, but that doesn’t mean they have to be brainless.

Brain Cheeser by SmartGames is a puzzle game for one person that can be easily carried in a small bag or a large pocket. It’s a slim board book, about 4 inches square, with a snap-clasp and a magnetic back cover. The magnets that stick to that cover are 8 slices of Swiss cheese and 6 round mice. The pages of the booklet present 48 puzzles (of increasing difficulty) all of which involve fitting the mice into the holes created by the slices of cheese.

The cheese slices are cut so that some of the edges form half-circles. When placed next to other slices, some of the demi-circles line up to form complete circles that are large enough to fit the round mice pieces. The mixing and matching of the cheese slices forms the heart of the puzzle. Each challenge presents you with a few starting slices and/or the location of some of the mice. It’s then up to you to arrange the rest of the 8 cheese slices so that the mice fit in the holes.

The challenges are arranged in four levels (starter, junior, expert, and master). The starter level is very easy and would be great for very young children to learn how to manipulate the pieces before moving on to the higher levels. Older kids and adults should probably skip on to the junior level as their starting place.

The puzzles are engaging and the magnetic pieces do a great job of holding everything together. The game is designed for travel and in this regard the magnetic surface makes a lot of sense. It’s cute and challenging and easy to bring along in the car or the doctor’s waiting room. Major Fun for those times when your best company is you.

Solo play. Ages 6+

Brain Cheeser was designed by SmartGames (Belgium) and is © 2013. The game was provided to us by KEH Communications.

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