## 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

## GET THE CYPHER SOLVER SERIES HERE

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## 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

## GET LOK HERE

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## 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

## GET ESCAPE THE ROOM HERE

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## 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 authors of the magazine have put efforts to provide a large variety of puzzles, so that everyone will find something they like. 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, second one of which has updated artwork. Before you purchase the magazine, you can take a look at the 4-page sampler we have provided below. If you enjoy the Topple puzzles as much as we do, we recommend you to get the latest issue and then keep buying the older ones in a 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 * This post contains affiliate links. We may receive a small compensation if you make a purchase. ## 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 * This post contains affiliate links. We may receive a small compensation if you make a purchase. ## 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 * This post contains affiliate links. We may receive a small compensation if you make a purchase. ## 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, many of them quite challenging, 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 cannot be removed from the paper, it is likely you won’t 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

## GET MANIFOLD HERE

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## Review

Gravity Maze is one of the most famous and accoladed products by ThinkFun. The premise of this unique puzzle/game is to create a 3D structure of blocks and tunnels which allows a small marble to travel the distance between two designated endpoints; one at the top of the structure, and one 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 placed on the grid either horizontally or vertically, and can also fit each other, similarly to 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

## GET GRAVITY MAZE HERE

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## Review

Creative expression, learning, and focusing are some of the most important activities children should be encouraged to practice from an early age. Driven by this idea, Elizabeth Carpenter has published several oversized books that give kids the opportunity to solve beautifully drawn line mazes, color them, and learn interesting trivia, all at once.

The Mummy Mazes Monumental Book contains 28 poster-size mazes based on Ancient Egypt themes, along with explanations about each of the included objects. The Dino Mazes Colossal Fossil Book contains 31 poster-size mazes, depicting various dinosaurs, accompanied by descriptions and quick facts about them. Recently, Elizabeth also published a Mandala Mazes book which is suitable for older people looking for fun and relaxing activities as well. In terms of difficulty, the Dino and the Mummy mazes seem to fall on the easier side, while the Mandala mazes are a bit more challenging. After being completed, the mazes can be detached and used as posters, even though we think they look best organized together.

All three books offer great quality and we would highly recommend them to any maze enthusiast.

• 8 – 12 years, 4 – 6 grade
• about 30 over-sized mazes per book
• beautiful line mazes, suitable for coloring
• mazes can be detached from the books
• books include interesting trivia

## GET ELIZABETH’S BOOKS HERE

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## Review

Mathematical Puzzles: A Connoisseur’s Collection by Peter Winkler is not your casual puzzle book. Even though most of the problems inside are easy to formulate, many of them require extensive mathematical background and well-developed analytical thinking. If you possess these two qualities, however, you will certainly enjoy this book. The puzzles are hard, the solutions are beautiful, and the explanations are very well-written. The book contains over 100 puzzles that are split into different categories – Insight, Numbers, Geometry, Geography, Algorithms, and others. In order to give you an idea of what to expect, I have selected several puzzles from the book which represent its overall level.

1. Given 10 red points and 10 blue points on the plane, no three on a line, prove that there is a matching between them so that line segments from each red point to its corresponding blue point do not cross.

2. A phone call is made from an East Coast state to a West Coast state, and it’s the same time of day at both ends. How can this be?

3. The hour and minute hands of a clock are indistinguishable. How many moments are there in a day when it is not possible to tell from this clock what the time is?

4. Associated with each face of a solid convex polyhedron is a bug that crawls along the perimeter of the face, at varying speed, but only in the clockwise direction. Prove that no schedule will permit all the bugs to circumnavigate their faces and return to their initial positions without incurring a collision.

MP:ACC is one of the most valuable puzzle books in my collection. If you are up to the challenge it offers, you owe yourself a favor to buy it. Even if you don’t feel too confident in your abilities to solve the problems in the book, you can still get it and study the solutions. And if you need more mathematical brilliance, you can check out Peter Winkler’s other puzzle book, Mathematical Mindbenders.

• 15 years and up
• math-heavy, difficult puzzles
• ingenious and elegant solutions
• various categories, including geography!
• great explanations and notes by the author

## GET MP: ACC HERE

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