ZenBenders is a sliding-block puzzle, of the infamous 15 Puzzle ilk, with a twist, which is to say, a flip.

Each of the 4 puzzles in the ZenBenders series consists of 8 blocks that can be slid around inside of a 3×3 matrix. What makes the puzzles unique is that you can also flip the blocks over, so that a different face is revealed. After you play around with the puzzle for a while, you begin to discover that you can not only flip the blocks, but, by moving a block so that it is either vertically or horizontally adjacent to the empty square, you can actually reorient the blocks, almost as if you twisted them, hence the twist, as well as the flip.

The puzzles are designed to be played almost anywhere. They come in a compact-like case. The top of the case is a transparent lid. The bottom of the case twists off to reveal a collection of 36 different challenges, with three different levels of difficulty. There’s even a slit in the case so it can hold and display your chosen challenge card, affording you something close to complete puzzle portability.

As you play these puzzles, you begin to appreciate the uniqueness of the concept (the intricacies of the slide as well as the flip with the conceptual twist) as well as the added perceptual challenges posed by each of the 4 different designs. This is reason enough to buy at least 2 of the series. If not all 4. Another reason for getting more than one is the extra game play potential of racing each other to the solution.

These puzzles are as fun as they can be frustrating (that’s why there are different levels of challenge). It takes only a few minutes to learn how to work the puzzle. Most of the puzzles can be solved fairly quickly (the people at Out-of-the-Box claim that they can be solved in 2 minutes. This, however, was not our experience. But this also was where much of the fun came in. The puzzles can get really, really challenging. For adults as well as kids. Hence, the Major FUN Family Award.

Designed by Ariel Laden, ZenBenders is recommended for kids who are 8 and older. It is well-conceived, well-executed, and, well, to coin a phrase, Major FUN.

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