|What is a Puzzle?
By Scott Kim
|My favorite definition of "puzzle" came out of a conversation with puzzle collector and longtime friend Stan Isaacs:
Part 1 of the definition says that puzzles are a form of play. Part 2 distinguishes puzzles from other forms of plays, such as games and toys.
Figure 1. What letter has been folded once to make this shape?
Take a moment to solve this puzzle if you like. The answer is given at the end of this article.
|Is it fun?
There are several things that help make this puzzle fun.
But, like beauty, fun is in the eye of the beholder What may be fun for one person may be torture for another. For instance, some people prefer word puzzles and wont touch visual or logical puzzles. Puzzles that are too easy for one person may be too hard for another. Bridge puzzles are fun only if you know how to play bridge.
|Does it have a right answer?
So does my letter puzzle have a right answer? It does in the sense that when shown the answer, most people will agree that this is the best answer. But what constitutes a letter is a subjective matter. For instance, in a squarish typeface, the following shapes could be interpreted as a lowercase R or a capital J:
Figure 2. These shapes could be the letters R and J.
I could plug this leak in my puzzle by showing the particular alphabet of letters I have in mind:
Figure 3. The answer comes from this typeface..
Notice that my definition doesnt insist that there be only one right answer. If you interpret the diagram differently, there are many other possible answers. For instance, the following shapes, which could be interpreted as the letters J and G, can all be unfolded from figure 1, if we interpret the edges a bit differently:
Figure 4. Other ways to unfold figure 1.
"Has a right answer" distinguishes puzzles from games and other play activities. Another game designer Kevin Maroney includes puzzles as a subspecies of games. I prefer a finer-grained definition that I first heard from Chris Crawford, veteran game designer and founder of the Game Developers Conference.
Figure 5. Four types of play, each built on the previous
For instance, in the realm of computer entertainment software,
This hierarchy leads me to a useful rule of thumb for puzzle designers: to design a good puzzle, first build a good toy. The player should have fun just manipulating the puzzle, even before reaching a solution. For instance, players can enjoy rotating and manipulating blocks in the action puzzle game Tetris even if they dont understand the goal.
Here are a few more definitions of "puzzle," and what I learn from them.
|Answer to the letter puzzle
Just to make things more exciting, the answer to the quiz above is the only letter that does not appear in this sentence.