Whether they're used as a leisure activity or incorporated into logic classes, puzzles have been a human pastime for centuries. Equal parts entertainment and education, puzzles keep people from getting bored while expanding the mind through deductive play. Puzzles have even been shown to improve a person's problem-solving skills over time.
In this list, you'll find fifteen of the most fun puzzles on the planet and some great examples of each. From riddles to crosswords and everything in between, there are puzzles in this guide to intrigue even the most jaded solver.
Escape rooms are a type of situational frame puzzle that has become increasingly popular over the past decade. While in the room, the person doing the puzzle has to find clues, solve smaller puzzles, and accomplish tasks to progress.
Escape rooms are a fairly new invention and weren't a documented leisure activity until the early 2010s. Today, these puzzles enjoy popularity across the United States, Europe, and parts of Asia.
While many digital puzzles have their origins in a physical puzzle type, escape rooms are one of the few examples of that relationship going the other direction--the first escape room was a video game built on a flash emulator by the video game designer Toshimisu Takagi. (Source: Big Escape Rooms)
Here are some of the most fun (and famous!) escape room puzzles found in the world:
Sudoku might seem like a relatively new puzzle type, but sudoku originates in an older puzzle game known as Latin Squares that was invented in the eighteenth century. Soduku began in Japanese culture in the mid-eighties, where it was known as Sūji wa dokushin ni kagiru or "the digits are limited to a single occurrence".
The objective of a Sudoku puzzle is to fill every square of a three by three grid with all the numbers 1 through 9 in such a way that each number is only represented one time. Most Sudoku puzzles only contain a single solution, and each puzzle often presents three starting numbers positioned at different points throughout the grid.
Here you'll find some examples of Sudoku to do at home:
Nonogram puzzles (also known as "paint by number" puzzles) involve coloring in spares on a puzzle grid according to numbers listed in the key until a picture is formed by filling the squares. Nonograms are often gridded in black and white, but there are also more complicated colored versions of these puzzles.
Nonograms are a type of Japanese crossword puzzle that originated in the late 1980s. When they were originally introduced, they were known as "window art puzzles". They were later renamed nonograms in recognition of the puzzle maker Non Ishida in 1990. (Source: Puzzly Game)
While nonograms and picross puzzles were originally limited to print media, these types of puzzles gradually made their way into electronic puzzles too. Mario's Picross, a nonogram-based video game on the Nintendo DS, has released eight separate titles.
Below you'll find some of the best nonogram collections for you to try your hand at this Japanese puzzle yourself:
Calcudoku (also known as KenKen or Kendoku) is another type of math-based logic puzzle similar to sudoku except that it builds on the premise to form a more complicated mathematical puzzle base. Kendoku math puzzles were originally designed to help train the brain's analytical capability without the necessity for mathematical instruction.
The main way that calcudoku complicates sudoku is by including the order of operations and arithmetic in the generation of the target numbers. (Source: Puzzle Mix) It's generally a good idea to become adept at sudoku before moving on to more complicated forms of math-based puzzles like calcudoku.
The Rubik's Cube was introduced to the puzzle world in the mid-seventies by the Hungarian puzzle maker Erno Rubik. Unlike sudoku puzzles, which are based on arithmetic or higher forms of math, Rubik's Cubes are based on simple geometry.
Rubik's Cubes are solved by twisting the cube until each side of the cube contains all tiles of a single color. Even though the Rubik's Cube attained the height of its popularity as a puzzle form in the eighties, it is still the favorite classic puzzle for many puzzle masters.
In world competition, "speedcubers" or competing Rubik's Cube enthusiasts compete to see who can complete the puzzle the quickest.
Here are some interesting facts about one of the world's most famous puzzles (Source: Mental Floss):
Crossword puzzles have been around for a little over a hundred years. These puzzles involve a white and black grid of squares that contain the answer to various word puzzles. The clues to the words in the puzzle are located in a key off to the side of the crossword, and this key is used by the puzzle solver to fill the grid in.
While crossword puzzles have enjoyed immense popularity over the century they've been around, they haven't always been legal for people to do. During World War II, crossword puzzles were banned in Paris since they were considered a means for spies to pass encrypted information to enemy agents. (Source: Gamesver)
The popular board game Scrabble is based on the mechanics of crossword puzzles, as is its electronic equivalent, Words With Friends. These games put the principles of crossword puzzles into competition against other wordsmiths.
Below you'll find an array of crossword puzzles suitable for any puzzle enthusiast:
While Boggle is also played as a competitive game, the mechanics of Boggle involve its function as a word-based puzzle. In Boggle, a covered tray filled with dice that are covered with letters is shaken until the dice are well-mixed.
Once the tray is shaken, the tray is laid down and the person solving the puzzle has to come up with as many words as possible out of the letters facing upwards in the tray before the sand runs out on a timer. In competitive Boggle, the person who wins is the person who comes up with not only the most words, but the most complicated words.
A "spot the difference" puzzle is a puzzle where two scenes or images which appear at first glance to be identical actually have subtle differences scattered throughout the image that the puzzle solver is supposed to find.
A little-known way of easily solving a solve the difference puzzle is to cross your eyes. This causes the two pictures to overlap and the differences between them to flicker in and out of visual focus. Spot the difference puzzles are meant to test a person's change blindness--this is a failure of perception where large changes can be made without attracting a person's attention. (Source: Science Direct)
Hangman is a pen and paper word puzzle game that is played either between two players or a player and a group.
In Hangman, the objective is for one person or the group to guess a phrase or word that has been chosen as the answer by the person drawing the Hangman. Enough correct letters must be guessed to guess the answer before the person drawing the Hangman has enough time to draw the gallows and a stick-figure.
Each time an incorrect letter is guessed, the letter is written off to the side and crossed out, and a piece is added to the Hangman. If a full gallows and stick-figure are drawn before the phrase or word can be correctly guessed, the Hangman solver loses.
While Hangman is a popular schoolyard game, it is also the functional basis for the famous game show Wheel of Fortune. Wheel of Fortune is basically a hybrid of Hangman and Vegas-style roulette games.
Disentanglement puzzles are a type of mechanical puzzle where the objective is to untangle one set of puzzle pieces from another set of puzzle pieces. These puzzles are broken into several categories such as wire-and-string puzzles, closed-string puzzles, wire puzzles, and plate-and-ring puzzles.
Some disentanglement puzzles are deliberately designed to appear simple to solve, but are actually impossible to solve. These puzzles are also known as figure-eight puzzles. In disentanglement puzzles, most solvers try to solve the puzzle through mechanical manipulation alone, but there are also mathematical formulas related to disentanglement theory.
Here are some of the best disentanglement puzzles available on the market:
Mazes are also known as tour-based puzzles, and they involve trying to navigate a convoluted space. The solution to the maze is found by finding your way from one end of the maze to the other. Outside of walking mazes, there are also pen and paper mazes where the object is to draw a line from one end of the maze to the other.
As puzzles, mazes have had strong symbolism for human culture going back hundreds of years. One of the most famous mazes is the Labyrinth of Crete, designed by Daedalus to hold the minotaur in Greek mythology.
Another famous type of maze in human culture is the hedge maze. These topiary mazes were once a common mainstay of formal English gardens and could be found on the property of many castles and palaces.
Here are some of the coolest mazes and labyrinths you can visit in the world:
Scavenger hunts are one of the oldest group-based puzzles that still sees popularity in modern life, and these hunts actually originated from older folk games. Scavenger hunts typically incorporate aspects of other puzzles such as mazes, spot the difference puzzles, and riddles.
While scavenger hunts have been casually performed in homesteads and villages through human history, they enjoyed renewed interest in the 1930s when the famous New York City gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell began throwing scavenger hunts with the rich and famous who attended her gatherings.
Two popular variations of the scavenger hunt are treasure hunts (popularized by fictional pirates) and annual Easter egg hunts. In each type of scavenger hunt, puzzlers use deductive reasoning to locate the objects being hunted.
Here are a few more fun facts about scavenger hunts:
Cryptograms are also known as cyphers and involve puzzlers trying to decrypt or translate a piece of encrypted text. The same cryptology that goes into solving cryptograms is used in military-level codebreaking and other espionage practices. Most cryptograms for popular leisure are designed to be simple enough to solve in hand.
Cryptograms first originated in medieval abbeys, where monks used them as a way to create logic-based puzzles for personal amusement in an environment where amusements were hard to come by. But an even older origin of the cryptogram is the cypher, a type of cryptographic code first used by the ancient Greeks for military strategy around 400 BC. (Source: Brittanica)
Here are a few cryptogram collections to see if you can't crack the code:
The word "riddle" covers a variety of different word-based logic puzzles, and this form of puzzle has been used for entertainment in communities across the world for a large part of human history. (Source: Word Grabber)
The oldest known riddle in existence dates all the way back to Mesopotamia, the oldest human civilization on planet Earth. Riddles are often based on metaphors and are sometimes used to illustrate a moral example or story.
One famous use of the riddle puzzle is by Zen Buddhist monks, who present riddle parables to their apprentices that are called koans. (Source: Ashida Kim) These riddles are supposed to give insight into the Buddha's teachings and are discussed philosophically after meditation between master and student.
These are some riddles you can try to solve for yourself:
The original form of the classic jigsaw puzzle was invented in the 1760s when mapmakers of the time used a saw to cut maps engraved onto planks of wood into dissected pieces that could then be placed back together. Since their introduction, map-based jigsaw puzzles have been used as an educational toy by generations of children to teach them geography. (Source: Puzzle Warehouse)
Solving jigsaw puzzles as a leisure activity saw an uptick in popularity in the early 1900s. Since that time, jigsaw puzzles have become a puzzler's mainstay. Puzzles became even more popular up into the 1930s, where they were seen as a much-needed distraction from the historical troubles of the time.
While puzzles were initially cut with each piece representing a figure or shape, mass production of puzzles led to the development of the interlocking jigsaw puzzle, where pieces of the puzzle are cut into randomized shapes that can then be put back together.
Here are some of the best jigsaw puzzles available on the market:
Many traditional puzzles are completed by pen and paper or with physical objects like jigsaw puzzle pieces or wire puzzles, but what about digital puzzles? With the advent of digital technology, more and more new puzzles are showing up in video games and software apps rather than physical mediums.
Puzzles have always played a large role in video games, but since their increase in popularity over the past thirty years, digital puzzles have become their own genre. These games vary in nature from platform-based puzzles to deductive-reasoning murder mysteries.
Here are some of the most popular (and famous) digital puzzle games:
Traditional pen and paper or tabletop puzzles are still popular in puzzle circles, but video games and other digital media are stepping up to the plate to provide new puzzle mechanics and effects that can't be produced physically (like portal or time travel). Video games can also add narrative, visual impact, and effects to puzzles to make them more exciting or fun to solve.
Puzzles are one of the oldest forms of human entertainment, but they've also been a large part of how humans teach logic to other humans, and with good reason. Puzzles provide a wide variety of different logic-based tasks that can not only keep people from becoming bored, it can make them smarter and more resourceful at the same time.
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