‘We really like puzzling’? That’s puzzling.

I’m not opposed to the occasional jigsaw or even three dimensional puzzle.  I like mind games, and seeing how all the tiny pieces of something fit together is, in and of itself, interesting.  Ravensburger (a major puzzle brand name) is a name well-known to me.  I even like the puzzles with 1000+ pieces,  which are often quite time consuming.  However, I don’t necessarily think a bigger puzzle is better.

Ravensbuger evidently does.  In order to celebrate their 125th anniversary of operation in that town, they’ve created the biggest puzzle in the world in the town square.  The puzzle is 1,141,800 pieces big and nearly covers the square, and was created in five hours from an assemblage of smaller (252-piece) pre-assembled puzzles. About 15,000 people contributed and participated.  Great publicity stunt, and probably a fun thing to participate in.  Still, I wish there was more.

Why did the thing have to be made out of smaller puzzles?  What’s wrong with a town square-sized giant puzzle with one pattern?  Sure, it would take considerably longer to assemble, but so what?  Think of what an awesome public park installation that would be – giant puzzle.  Hey, you may have to carry this tiny piece over a yard-square area to find where it fits, but so what?  Think of it as both mind and body exercise.

Now I just have to figure out logistically how to make this thing and where to put it…

Ok, so I’m a nerd.

If you’ve ever met me, this has probably come up in conversation at least once.  Perhaps it even came up during our initial conversation, though I’m not so socially inept that I typically introduce myself as ‘Nerd Stacey’.
Really.  Still, you might have noticed that I get excited about nitpicky little facts about the migration of humans, the way molecules interact, or certain types of Legos.

One of my nerd-loves in computer games.  You’re either nodding your head or gasping in horror.  Let me explain a bit further: COMPUTER games.  Not video games.  Not stand-up giant machines that used to be in arcades next to the pinball (although I do like pinball…).  Not any crazy-shot ’em up, drive tanks, kill people or cars or zombies craziness.  I have no great wish to kill or even maim real or imaginary things.  I’m talking the old-school solve-puzzles, talk-fairy, get-bowl, adventure games like King’s Quest and Monkey Island and even some later games like Myst. These games apply to the mathematical side of my brain (different number and directional systems to be understood, puzzles to solve) as well as the storytelling side.  And while some of them may be more or less graphically pleasing, they leave enough room for me to imagine solutions and methods and most of all, exploration of some other place.  It’s like having a secret garden without the work of maintaining a garden.

Of course, technology has sped up to a point where these types of games mostly are not on the market anymore.  There’s the Nancy Drew mystery games, which are somewhat similar.  There’s probably movie-related games that I am unaware of that didn’t ever really spark my interest.  There’s Portal, a video game which I only know about because of Mike and is basically a live physics problem (how cool is that?  Nerd).  But really, there’s not much, and quite possibly not a big market for it.

When I was in China, however, with tons of free time on my hands, I discovered AGS.  It’s a website/community/freeware system devoted to the preservation and continuation of adventure games.  I love it.  Every once in awhile I go back there when I have some extra free time to see if there’s anything new.  I also am supposedly working on a game myself, which was supposed to be done for my sisters before I got back from China.  Oops.  But the point is not really about my own lack of motivation.  The point is that somewhere out there in a land far, far away (known as the UK), despite a lack ‘sell-ability’, there are still people hanging on to this imperfect dream that is my-kind-of-game.  For those of you who did not meet it in its nascent splendor, there’s KQ I and II (free!).  Thank you blue cup man and co., wherever you are.

Game playing at the glacial level.

So I was reading one of the happy blogs I like, shape and color, (definitely check it out if you have not – there’s always fun stuff there) and discovered yet another wonderful little toy – tetris ice cube trays.  Wha?  How cool is that?  Silicon shells make them flexible for popping out even at low temperatures, so there’s less risk of breaking off one of the ‘legs’ of your little game piece.  While I’m not sure how cool these will actually look in your drink, they are fun melting on the table beforehand.  Besides, who wants ice in their drink?  Ice is obviously for playing with.

So, what other gamable ice is there out in the wide world?  Well, there are the obvious shaped varieties that have always been with us – rounded, rectangular, square, or, for the wildly minded, giant punch-ring bundt-cake shapes.  And those are fun.  Kinda.  Or, in a slightly new iteration, these little various shapes add a bit of fun.  But what can you really DO with them?  Not much.  Also in this vein are the newly popular ‘jewel’ ices.  Can we say pretty pretty princess?  But again, these are really only useful in the drink (though maybe sometime soon some clever diva will turn them into ice ring pops).  There is at least one more step up from mundane ice with these frozen shot glasses – useful, quaint, and fun.  They are highly functional, so you can do something with them.  But they aren’t nearly as playful as Tetris – once they’ve served thier one (or two or three or four, gulp) purpose, they can only be left to melt away.  Or maybe placed into another, larger drink.

Enter the king of playing-with-your-ice:  the indomitable LEGO.  True, thus far there are only the two-by-four varieties, but I see a day in the not-so distant future when every lego shape will be available ‘on ice’ and the world will glow with ice-playing.  Leave your chainsaws, picks, and other ice-sculpture materials at home – I gots lego.

There is no I in Tame

One of the notable parts of going to a private upper-tier school for college is that most of the the people there think they’re smart. Other notable parts include lots of female athletes and Jews, but the first thing that really smacks you in the face as a freshman is the way even the dumb ones think they’re smart.

Take that guy on my freshman floor, who we’ll call ‘John’. I’m sure he had good memorization skills, and maybe a scientific mind. He was a perfectly nice guy, too, he just didn’t really understand basic social interaction. He did, however, know how to solve a Rubik’s Cube. I looked at him make a few quick turns and have the thing solved, and I knew I should be able to do the same. I’m spatial, I’m an architect. I get how the cube is suppose to revolve, how you have to move things around in conjunction with other colors and sides of the cube.

In the ending months of 2007 I was finally ready to fulfill this lifelong dream. I had a Rubik’s Cube. I had my dazzling intellect. I had plenty of spare time at my job. What more did I need?

Alas, as of the turn of the year, I’m still stuck. I’ve got the four top corners easily, and I can get the whole of one side complete, but everything breaks down beyond that. The Cube keeps sitting on my desk, taunting me. I keep wondering if it would come out better if I just twisted the sides without looking, random chance guiding the steps. Occasionally co-workers who know my predilection for puzzles point and laugh. And most unfortunately, this particular cube has the melted-plastic colors rather than stickers, so no cheating. Although I have considered snapping the thing apart in order to suitably rearrange the sides.

Instead, to tame this little tangle, I’m turning to my old friend, the interweb. And, lo and behold, step-by-step instructions from the pros. Best of all, they teach you the strategy behind the thing, rather than just giving you a simple solution. Reading just a bit I’ve discovered there are multiple solutions and people actually went out and found bunches of them. Way to go, math brainiacs who can actually communicate effectively.

So I am going over this silly cube square face by square face just as soon as I finish typing. And this time (with the help of a few dozen others) I will succeed!