## Review

Sunome is a new logic puzzle, invented by Adam Bontrager. The name is an abbreviation of “Suji no meiro” which means “digit maze” in Japanese.

Sunome puzzles come in the form of a grid with numbers on the sides, and a Start (S) and End (E) cells inside. The goal is to design a “proper” maze with the given Start and End cells, such that the amount of vertical and horizontal walls in each row and column is predetermined by the numbers around the grid. The meaning of “proper” involves a lot of technical requirements, such as existence of a unique path from Start to End, lack of closed off regions, etc.

Initially, the rules of Sunome seem relatively complex in comparison to the likes of Sudoku and Kakuro. However, it takes little time to get a good grasp of them. The clues regarding the number of walls in the rows and columns are the ones used mostly, just like in a Nonogram. Once the player gets stuck, they need to apply some of the other rules, which unlock the solving process further. Overall, I find the experience highly enjoyable, since it requires paying attention to multiple components at once.

Each puzzle in the Sunome books is manually designed, so that the solution can be deduced analytically, without the need of a trial-and-error approach. The difficulty is generally lower than Sudoku and Kakuro which allows the player to complete a few puzzles in a 10 to 20 minutes long break and get back to working on other things.

While the original Sunome puzzles would hardly get boring, the author makes sure new puzzle mechanics are introduced in each successive book in the series:

• BOOK 2: Pits, Portals, and Passages – adds objects and complexity to the grid
• BOOK 3: Sunome Cubed – changes the shape of the grid to a cube
• BOOK 4: Sunome Blocks – instead of a creating a maze, the player must break the grid into shapes with predetermined sizes, similarly to Shikaku

In addition to Sunome, the author has started publishing a separate series of original Transportation puzzles. So far this includes Kartdoodle and Skyways, with Railways coming out soon. While all puzzles are highly entertaining, my personal favorite so far is Skyways. It plays a lot like Numberlink and the mobile game “Flow Free” but has some added complexity.

One can get the PDF versions of the books from itch.io for merely $1 each (at the time of publishing this post), which is a great bargain for such a good bundle of puzzles. Physical versions are also available on Amazon for$8. Each one of them is in the form of a small-format softcover, ideal to keep in the bag during travels. I hope the author will eventually consider combining all Sunome books in one deluxe hardcover edition and will do the same with his Transportation puzzles.

If you are still not convinced about Adam’s original puzzles, you can try the free sampler provided below. Also, for just a few bucks per month, you can subscribe to his Patreon. I am very happy to see such a prolific puzzle creator and looking forward to try his future work.

• about 100 puzzles in each book
• variations keep the puzzles engaging
• affordable PDF and physical formats

## Review

“Journal 29” is a series of three interactive book games by Dimitris Chassapakis, which were consequently re-released together in one premium hardcover edition. Each of the three books contains about 100 pages, full of creative puzzles and cryptic imagery. The puzzles are in the spirit of real-life Escape Rooms, mostly visual and loosely connected with an underlying story about alien encounters.

What made me immediate impression is the effort put into making the book resemble an actual journal. The illustrations look like they are scribbled with a pencil, the pages are yellow and have smudges all over them, the font is handwritten. There are QR codes printed on every other page that give quick access to online solution checkers, and their design fits well the Sci-Fi/mystery theme of the book.

In order to navigate the journal, the reader needs to use the official website journal29.com, so internet access is required. Each puzzle has its own unique URL, where the reader can input their guesses. If a correct answer is given, a KEY is provided which can be used for solving further puzzles. Currently, the keys need to be written down and stored manually. A nice potential feature would be if users could create accounts on the Journal29 website and have their keys stored there automatically.

While I appreciate the high quality art, the most important components of the book are naturally the puzzles. There is a great variety of them, providing a mix of both old and new ideas. The reader will encounter various cyphers, optical illusions, and classic puzzles with unique twists. In addition, a large assortment of new creative puzzles is devised.

As of writing this post, I have just finished the first book in the series. I find the puzzles so far to be very well-designed and logical, with varying levels of difficulty. Some ideas were naturally familiar to me, but there were also a lot of new, unexpected “A-Ha” moments. I particularly loved the way some of the puzzles required me to explore the book and interact with it in clever ways, like solving a mechanical puzzle.

My only criticism is that on 1 or 2 occasions I had to use Google search. Of course, this is necessary when a message in Braille or Morse code needs to be deciphered. However, I prefer that it is avoided for researching clues that are not considered common knowledge.

Above, three of the puzzles from Journal29 are presented. While many of the puzzles in the book are dependent on each other, these three can be solved separately. You can verify your answers using the official solution checkers provided below each puzzle. If you encounter difficulties, you can take a look at our hints.

This is a message written in Braille.

The code for each sector is formed by 3 pairs of digits. The first digit in each pair designates the number of skeleton parts in the corresponding group. The second digit encodes the type of those skeleton parts.

There are 3 differences between the two pictures. Find them and examine their coordinates in the grid.

Once I put my hands on the hardcover edition of Journal29, it quickly became one of my favorite puzzle books. I get back to it regularly, don’t rush it, and simply enjoy my time with it. I always pay much attention to details and I can see the author Dimitris does as well. In addition to designing 160 clever puzzles, he has also supplemented them with beautiful art, developed an accompanying website, and supports a forum where he personally helps readers. He has even built an Amazon Alexa skill that can provide hints for the puzzles if you ever get stuck. I can only appreciate all of that.

• 160 creative puzzles that take weeks to solve
• remarkable artwork and presentation
• accompanying website with solution checkers and forum
• the hardcover edition looks and feels premium

## Review

The Cipher Solver Series is a collection of cipher puzzle books, written by D. H. Bernhardt. Each of the books teaches about various cipher techniques and then provides examples that help the reader master them. So far, there are 3 volumes released, and a fourth one is on its way.

Each book in the series starts with a short history on ciphers. Then, it provides 2 chapters on how to encode and decode specific ciphers, followed by 2 chapters with puzzle-examples. Finally, the books end with hints and solutions.

Volume 1 and 2 focus on the so-called Route and Rail ciphers, while volume 3 introduces us to the Pen and Polybius ciphers. The former are examples of transposition ciphers, those are ciphers in which the symbols are preserved, but their order is scrambled. The latter are examples of substitution ciphers, those are ciphers in which the original symbols are replaced with new ones.

### Rail Cipher Example

The following example of a Rail cipher is taken out of the first book in the series. Let’s say the task is to encode the phrase “Beware of the attack from the North”. To do that, we create a rectangular grid and starting from the top left corner, we enter the letters of the phrase in a zigzag manner. We add some “X” letters at the end as padding, if necessary. This results in a route-like structure inside the grid, consisting of alternating diagonal rails.

Then, if we read the letters line by line, top to bottom, we get the encryption:

BOCT TXEE FAKM HRHX XWRA TFOE OXXA TRNX

To decrypt an encoded phrase, we just need to determine the dimensions of the grid and the size of the rails of the route. You can practice your route ciphering skills with the following puzzle from the book:

The transposition ciphers are fun but quite easy to solve, especially the Route ciphers. They all have been chosen with identical grid widths, so the only unknowns there are the route rails sizes. I recommend getting just one of the first two volumes, since the novelty in the second one lies mostly in the introductory chapter.

The two substitution ciphers are harder to solve and require more careful analysis. However, it is worth noting that the decoding procedure works identically for both of them, even though the ciphers use different encryption symbols.

Despite the remarks above, I think the books are educational, well-structured, and would be engaging to new cipher enthusiasts. I hope once the author completes his series, he considers combining the content in one larger edition divided into sections based on cipher type, such as transposition and substitution.

• a great presentation on various ciphers
• engaging educational chapters in the book introductions
• the route ciphers could have used various grid widths
• the substitution ciphers decoding works identically

## Review

LOK is a new original puzzle book, created by the musical and visual artist Blaž Gracar. It is his first published work in this domain and considering the attention to detail put into puzzle design, solutions system, and illustrations, I would say that’s an impressive start, and I am looking forward to his future endeavors.

The puzzle mechanics of LOK are quite innovative, and despite my long-time puzzle history, I cannot relate them to anything I have seen before. Each puzzle consists of a grid partially filled with letters and the goal is to black out all cells by marking certain words and then triggering their effects. For example, if one has the letters L, O, K in consecutive cells and marks the resulting word LOK, then they must black out the cells of all three letters plus an additional cell by choice.

There are 5 more trigger words that appear in the book, but since it is the solver’s challenge to figure out what their effects are, I will not spoil them for you. All I can say is that each of them works uniquely and sometimes solving the puzzles gives the feeling of planning ahead the moves of a chess game.

In addition to the funny-sounding trigger words, new chapters introduce various other mechanics, building upon the previous ones and making the puzzles progressively more complex. You will encounter ”conductors“ that let you connect separated letters, “clouds” that let you black out a given configuration of cells, and other interesting concepts.

The book is split into 12 parts: 8 chapters with a total of 80 puzzles, 2 expansions with 10 extra puzzles, Rules that explain all the concepts in the book that have been left to the solver to discover, and Solutions that provide the answers to all puzzles. The parts are separated by beautifully illustrated pages of cute worm-like creatures, called ”Loks”, performing various activities, such as flying in space or working in a factory, on 10 additional solvable grids. Of course, the author could assemble the book just with all the 100 puzzles inside, and it still would have been great, but that extra touch of art is what makes LOK even more special for me.

While the market is currently flooded with all kinds of derivative logic books filled with computer generated Sudokus and Kakuros, LOK differentiates itself as an ingenious passion project of someone who simply wants to contribute to the world of puzzling. You can get the digital version of LOK for free from the author’s website by clicking the button below. If you like, there you can also purchase the physical edition and solve the puzzles the way they are intended to be solved, with pencil and eraser on paper. For those who prefer to keep their puzzle books in immaculate condition, a transparent draw board is included in the package. Thanks!

• appropriate for all ages
• more than 90 carefully hand-crafted puzzles
• surprising mechanics taught through practical solving
• explained rules and solutions included

## Review

With the huge success of real-life Escape Rooms all around the world, more and more puzzle manufacturers have been trying to recreate the experience with their solve-at-home kits. ThinkFun‘s latest offering, Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse, is possibly the closest you can get to the real thing, so far.

The setup of “The Cursed Dollhouse” is quick and simple. Within a few minutes you get to build a cardboard model of a dollhouse, turn on the recommended soundtrack of creepy music, and light up a few candles to get into the right mood. Once you do this, you can start reading the story of the house and unravel its mysteries.

You begin the adventure in the living room, where you have to solve several puzzles, involving a broken bookshelf, a dusty carpet, and a spiderweb on the wall. Then, you make your way through the rest of the house: kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, until you get to the attic. Each of the rooms you visit contains multiple objects, including hidden ones, which you need to use in order to solve its three challenges. Once you solve a challenge, you get a cryptic symbol which you must enter in the “solution wheel”. Get the three symbols correctly and proceed to the next room.

As you progress, you will encounter various puzzles, including many mechanical ones. You will have to cut, fold, entangle, and do all kinds of fun activities. The puzzles are logical and satisfying to solve. There were one or two which my group found a bit confusing, but fortunately, ThinkFun has created a website, where players can get small hints without spoiling the entire puzzles. In the end, all participants were very happy with the time we spent playing together.

While the price of “The Cursed Dollhouse” is a bit steep, the game provides a lengthy and immersive experience which justifies the cost. It also can be replayed by another group of people using the provided printable forms from the official website.

• 1-4 players, 13 years and up
• over 30 puzzles to solve within 2.5 hours
• realistic small-scale Escape Room experience
• puzzles are re-printable from the official website

## Review

Topple is a new online magazine that can be printed out and solved with pen and paper, the old-fashioned way. The price of each issue is just a meager $1, and for that amount you get a PDF of about 10 pages and up to 20 puzzles. The magazine authors have worked hard to offer a wide range of puzzles for everyone to enjoy. There are interesting trivia questions, rebuses, grid logic puzzles, as well as some unique challenges I have never encountered before. The number of puzzles in the magazine keeps increasing with each next issue: Issue 1: 7 Issue 2: 7 Issue 3: 10 Issue 4: 10 Issue 5: 10 Issue 6: 12 Issue 7: 16 Issue 8: 18 Issue 9: 18 The quality of the puzzles keeps improving as well, as you can see from these two identical puzzles, the second one of which has updated artwork. To catch a glimpse of the activities you will encounter in Topple, you can check the 4-page sampler provided below. Regular issues are much longer and feature proper formatting, complete with front and back covers. It’s just like purchasing any magazine from a newsstand. If you enjoy these puzzles as much as we do, we recommend you get the latest issue of Topple and then start collecting the previous ones in reverse order. At just$1, it will be hard to find something that provides better value for the money.

• appropriate for all ages
• PDF booklet for easy printing
• about 10-20 puzzles per issue
• fun old-school vibes
• just $1 ## GET TOPPLE MAGAZINE HERE ## Minecraft: Magnetic Travel Puzzle ## Review Minecraft: Magnetic Travel Puzzle (M:MTP for short) is a travel game by ThinkFun in which the goal is to arrange 3 types of objects, each coming in 3 different colors, in a 3 by 3 grid, such that certain conditions are satisfied. As you progress through the 40 included challenges, the types of conditions you encounter become gradually more complex. While in the beginning you may be given all the colors of the objects with one clue and all the types of the objects with another, later on you need to analyze 5 or 6 clues at once, which makes the game more challenging and fun. That being said, at the hardest levels, M:MTP is still relatively easy, so experienced puzzlers will probably breeze through it within an hour or two. At its core, M:MTP is identical to ThinkFun’s previously released Clue Master. Both games are presented in the form of magnetic notebooks, so they are easy to pick up and travel around with. The illustrations of the Minecraft edition are all based on the popular video game, so its fans may be particularly appreciative. If you are looking for a casual puzzle to pass an hour or two on a road trip, then M:MTP would be a great choice. I only wish there were more challenges included, especially more difficult ones. • 1 player, 8 years and up • 40 challenges with increasing difficulties • easy to transport and play on the go • cool Minecraft based art • most puzzles can be solved with a few simple techniques ## GET M:MTP HERE ## Cat Crimes ## Review Cat Crimes is a logic game by ThinkFun inspired by classic deduction puzzles. It consists of 40 challenges split into four difficulty groups. Each challenge presents the player with a cat crime which they must solve. One of six items on a carpet has been ruined, and several clues written on a card point towards the cat which is responsible. The player must analyze each of the clues, as well as the models of the cats and the carpet (included in the box), and find the perpetrator. Even though the puzzles can be completed just as easily with pen and paper only, the inclusion of cardboard models makes the solving process much more fun. The beautiful artwork of the set and the sturdy cardboard additionally improve the experience. The included puzzles are best suited for students in primary and middle schools, but older people can enjoy them as well. Overall, Cat Crimes is a wonderful twist on a traditional type of puzzle, and I highly recommend it. • 1 player, 8 years and up • 40 challenges, 4 difficulty levels • a fun variation of a classic deduction puzzle • beautiful models of cats and carpet ## GET CAT CRIMES HERE ## Manifold: The Origami Mind Bender ## Review In an age of video games and noisy high-tech toys, Brainwright’s Manifold is a rare find. I got truly delighted by the idea of folding little papers into origami, trying to achieve some easy-to-understand task. The goal is simple – you start with an 8×8 paper which has 16 black, 16 white, and 32 empty squares printed on its front. You must make several folds so that the paper ends up as a 4×4 piece with all black squares on one side and all white squares on the other. For just about$10 I was able to get a set of 100 puzzles, which translates into several hours of gameplay. The difficulty of the puzzles gradually increases, which makes Manifold appropriate for all ages. Despite my highly positive impressions, I have to point out several (minor) flaws. First, the glossy paper, despite its high quality, may not be the best choice for making origami. Second, there is too much space left at the edges of the papers, which may get in the way when one needs to make many folds in one puzzle. Finally, since the creases can’t be removed from the paper, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to solve the puzzles more than once.

If you want to try some sample puzzles from the set before buying it, you can print them from this PAGE.

• 1 player, 10 years and up
• 100 challenges, 4 difficulty levels
• origami-based puzzles
• many hours of gameplay
• the glossy paper makes it hard to fold
• puzzles are likely to be discarded after solved

## Review

Gravity Maze is one of the most popular and recognized products by ThinkFun. The goal of this puzzle/game is to build a 3D structure using blocks and tunnels. The structure should enable a small marble to travel from a starting point at the top to a finishing point at the bottom.

Gravity Maze comes in a large box and includes a plastic 5×5 grid, 11 colorful blocks of varying sizes, 3 marbles, and 60 challenge cards. The blocks are composed of small cubes and contain short tunnels passing through them. They can be positioned on the grid horizontally or vertically, and can also interlock, like LEGO blocks. This allows the solver to design an extended system of tunnels, essentially creating a labyrinth for the marbles to travel through. The challenge cards are split into 5 groups by difficulty, ranging from simple beginner puzzles (involving just a few blocks) to expert puzzles (involving up to ten blocks). Solving each of the puzzles requires careful analysis of the given pieces and all the possible ways in which they can be combined. When the structure is completed, the solver must drop a marble into one of the pieces and watch it find its way to the destination. Testing whether the constructed solution works is arguably the best part of the puzzle and it is what makes Gravity Maze so much fun.

Even though the recommended age for Gravity Maze is 8 years and up, many of my academic friends enjoyed playing with it. I am sure that middle and high schoolers will like it even more.

• 1 player, 8 years and up
• 60 challenges with varying difficulty
• unique and fun concept
• finding the solution is very satisfying
• the challenge cards are a bit flimsy