Like lots of you, I enjoy puzzles. Word puzzles, logic puzzles, physical puzzles, programming puzzles. You name it. I love the challenge of mentally facing down an enigma, wrestling with it, and eventually solving it. Or, you know, not.
But if you really want to challenge yourself, try sitting on the other side of that table and being the constructor crafting the puzzle for some solver or solvers.
I’ve done some puzzle construction — physical puzzles exchanged at International Puzzle Party as well as the occasional puzzle hunt for my friends or my daughter — and it’s hard. I know firsthand that when you decide to create a puzzle, you’re facing a dozen questions right out the gate. Who is my audience? What type would be fun for the person? Which type conveys the answer I want?
But perhaps the biggest of all: How do you even start?
Enter Puzzlecraft, the second edition of a book published by Lone Shark Games; the first edition sprang from a series of articles in GAMES magazine. Puzzlecraft is a crash course on probably every puzzle type you can imagine, and a few I’m sure you can’t.
The book’s authors, Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder, are well known in the puzzle community, and the sheer breadth of knowledge and experience the two (and their production staff) show is astonishing. Just under one hundred puzzle types — from word puzzles to logic puzzles to puzzle hunts — are covered. For each puzzle, the authors provide a short sequence of steps and style guides they follow when crafting the puzzles, examples of which are included in each section. And they emphasize their general points by providing details about how they crafted those sample puzzles. While reading these specifics is best done after solving the puzzle, they can definitely be read before you dive in as well.
The breadth of the book means that you won’t get a deep dive on any given puzzle type. For instance, you’ll find seven pages or so on building a traditional crossword puzzle, but there are whole books devoted to that subject. On the other hand, you’re unlikely to find any book about building “tour puzzles,” covered in Puzzlecraft, where a message is spelled out by following chess pieces around a board.
Depending how far you’ve gone down the puzzle path, you may find yourself at times wishing for a glossary. If you skip the section on cryptic crosswords, or perhaps even if you don’t, you may find yourself wondering what “unchecked” means in the context of “standard crossword rules.” (A square that only has one answer going through it instead of two or more, almost always not allowed in crosswords and their non-cryptic variants.) But in general, the book does a good job of walking you through terms and concepts, with sidebars giving history and humorous anecdotes.
While you probably won’t launch your full-time puzzle constructing career based on this book alone — if nothing else, you’ll need practice practice practice — you should be able to use it to start building puzzles for friends and family alike.