Summer holidays on the Polish seaside are a big, cold, rainy joke. Every year you fool yourself by imagining bike rides and spontaneous volleyball tournaments on the beach, and you wind up fighting your grumpy siblings for space in a cramped RV, driving through the wind and rain, which persist through the summer. Sometimes your parents will pack board games, presumably to occupy the kids (and keep us quiet), but that plan always backfires in a flurry of cries of “She cheated!” and “No fair!” When you’re already fed up with someone, handing them a tool to compete against each other does not foster relaxation.
Solitaire is a game for one person, and as such it provides one with much-needed privacy and a nourishing dose of solitude (as the name suggests). Everything about this game (starting with that cool-sounding name that you can pronounce with cool fake French accent) soothes the nerves, while challenging the mind. Unlike the American version of the game, which uses playing cards, in English solitaire you move pegs or marbles around on a board. (In England the one with the cards is called patience.) The pegs go into holes in the board, which are arranged in the shape of a cross, with the center hole left empty. The goal of the game is to end up with only one peg on the board, in that center hole. You eliminate the pegs by jumping over them with another peg, like in checkers/draughts. It sounds easy, but you often find yourself with a couple of lonely pegs placed too far to ever meet. As with many puzzles, there is a formula that, if you follow it exactly, guarantees success, but my pride (or utter inability to follow directions) won’t let me Google it, so the best I’ve ever done was finishing with three marbles left on the board (boooo!). I prefer marbles to pegs because marbles are just so shiny and colorful and beautiful, and absentmindedly spinning them in the groove on the edge of the board helps me concentrate between moves. Plus, when you get bored with solitaire, you can use the marbles for LOADS of old-school games meant to be played with others. And then when you’re sick of your companions and your rainy camping trip you can return to this solitary, contemplative game any time you want. It might prevent you from killing your siblings, which your parents will appreciate. —Emma D.
2012, Fireproof Studios Limited
I love playing games on my iPad, preferably ones that require me to think a bit, especially if they have a dark or paranormal subtext. The best one I have played yet is The Room, and apparently a lot of other people agree: Apple named it the best iPad game of 2012, and it’s considered something of a runaway success for independently made touchscreen platform games. The entire game takes place inside a small, mysterious safe on an octagonal table in a shadowy room. Atop the safe are a key and a note with the first riddle that must be solved in order to open a certain part of the safe; from there, you open new doors and secret hatches by unraveling a seemingly infinite series of puzzles that involve aligning tiles, refracting light, and sometimes using a secret night-vision spyglass. As the safe reveals itself to be more complicated and vast than you ever imagined, the game slowly unwinds its vaguely Illuminati-themed narrative: you’re following the path of a mad scientist who may have discovered of a fifth element and a whole other dimension. The HD graphics and creepy audio effects are so phenomenal that you almost feel transported into that dimension, which may or may not be the safe (it’s like you’re quantum-leaping into your own iPad, which is a wild feeling). And the functionality is awesome: games specifically created for touchscreens offer a way more interactive and fuller experience than older games retrofitted for the new screens. It’s also a pretty effective stumper—it took me the whole 2012 holiday season to finish (I confess to looking at cheats once or twice on the internet)—and just eerie enough to want to play with the light on. —Julianne
Mystery of Time and Space
2001, Jan Albartus
This is an online, Flash-based problem-solving game. You (the player, the protagonist, the mysterious creature) wake up in a mysterious locked room with no knowledge of how you got there or who you are. You are required to find a way out of the room using only whatever makeshift tools you can find (in the first room, for example, you have a screwdriver and a poster). Every level leads you to a new room, with a series of increasingly difficult steps required to escape. When my best friend’s family in middle school got the internet (a big deal in 2002), we used stay up till the wee hours of the morning trying to figure out how to MacGyver our way out of each one. As I started to write about this game for Rookie, I thought, Surely it hasn’t held up after all this time. Technology and online gaming have improved so much! Then I found it again online. Guys, it is still SO AMAZING. Maybe because it’s a game that’s based on logic and solving puzzles instead of flashy graphics, it’s still just as captivating as it was a decade ago. —Anna F.
I don’t know how I came across Unblock Me, but it’s the only iPhone game that has made me miss my subway stop at least once. You have a little pit with a bunch of wooden blocks and you have to move everything out of the way so you can slide a red block out of the frame. You can do it in “relax mode” which is fine, I’m sure, but when you do it in “challenge mode” it keeps track of how many moves it takes you to free the red block. During the process you’ll invariably start over and over again until suddenly something will click in your brain and you will figure it out. It’s the best when it all comes together, especially when you’ve been working on the same puzzle for a while, because you feel that you have exhausted all available options—there are only SO many places the blocks can move, right?—and then suddenly BOOM! Best feeling in the world. HIGHLY ADDICTIVE. You’ve been warned. —Laia
I keep a lot of random objects amongst my roster of handbags, and I recently found this little guy in the depths of a purse I had retired a few years ago. The 15 puzzle is a sliding puzzle that can fit in your pocket, and the one I have, by ThinkFun, red and white enamel pieces that look adorably from the ’50s, like something you would do to shoot the shit while hanging around the soda fountain. It’s a pretty addicting little game, and I enjoy carrying it around to help me kill time waiting at bus stops, as an alternative to staring at my phone. It’s just challenging enough to give you somewhere between 15 minutes and a few days to solve it each time, but it’s not so hard that it will spark uncontrollable anger deep inside you. —Dylan
1974, Seven Towns
Solving a Rubik’s Cube is a great way to let the world know you’re brilliant. There’s that one scene in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air where Will Smith gets into Princeton by casually solving one in front of a recruiter, and then there’s the one in The Pursuit of Happyness where Will Smith solves it in a taxi to impress a business guy. (Seriously, what is going on with Will Smith and Rubik’s Cubes? Of all the mysteries surrounding Willow’s dad, this is the most intriguing.) This 3D puzzle might seem impossible to solve at first, but there’s actually a pretty standard pattern that they follow. I guess you could figure it out on your own, but there are also step-by-step guides that walk you through the process: here’s one. —Anna F.
All my science textbooks in primary school had a logo in which simple geometric shapes were arranged to form the silhouette of a human figure running. If we finished our exercises quickly, our math teacher would pull out these puzzle called tangrams—each of which consisted of seven flat wooden shapes (squares, triangles, and a parallelogram) set into a square—and let us play with it until class was over. The teacher could justify this use of our time because the tangram allowed us to experience in a tangible way mathematical formulas like the Pythagorean theorem, but for us kids it was just fun. We quickly discovered that with tangram pieces (called tans) you could make not only the running man from our textbook cover, but also pretty much any animal, object, or symbol. I had never enjoyed math class before, but tangrams made it feel more like art class, which was my jam. At the time I thought math and art were were polar opposites, but now of course, as a working artist, I know how much they have in common. Tangrams were invented centuries ago in China, and since then have inspired not only seven-year-olds in math classes but also people who design furniture, typography, and packaging. I use tangrams in my graphic design work as well—it reminds me to keep my ideas clear and uncomplicated. After all, from just seven simple shapes, you can make anything. —Emma D.
1970, Invicta Plastics/Hasbro
I always loved playing detective when I was young, so I was obviously excited about this game when my mom brought it home. The whole point is to figure out the secret color combination that your opponent has created with pegs and hidden behind a special shield (plastic divider). You have 12 guesses (some people play it with 10 or 8) to figure out which of the game’s six colors they’ve chosen, and what order they’ve lined them up in. Your tools: your brain, and also pegs that the codemaker gives you after each guess: a black one for “right color, right place” or a white one for “right color, wrong place.” It can get very stressful, especially if you are nearing the end of your available guesses, or if your opponent sneakily put more than one peg of the same color in the code. But once you figure it out, oh man! You feel like the giantest genius that ever geniused. My mom and I would play a million rounds while eating banana splits or drinking milkshakes, which is really the best kind of detective life you could ever want. —Laia
I have an English degree from a liberal arts college, so answering random trivia is the one thing I am qualified to do in life. A board game based on answering random trivia across a variety of categories is basically my raison d’être. And so I love it when a board-games-obsessed friend invites me over for Games Night. She collects Trivial Pursuit games, of which there are so many: Trivial Pursuit Genius Edition, Trivial Pursuit TV Edition, Trivial Pursuit 25th Anniversary Edition. Games Night means everyone gets their own deck of trivia cards, and we just take turns trying to stump one another. We don’t even bother with the actual board-game part. Sure, playing the traditional way is fun too, but the frustration of jamming one of those little plastic wedges into your wheel the wrong way cannot compete with the pure glory of proving to your friends that yes, you know that the main mogwai in Gremlins is called Gizmo. —Anna F.
I love the daily New York Times crossword puzzle, but if you don’t subscribe to the newspaper it’s pricey: $40 a year for an online subscription. And that puzzle is designed for old people: lots of the pop culture references are from the 1930s and ’40s! But there are loads of other puzzle venues with free/cheap puzzles that are more likely to include current references and slang. A few great ones to check out (free unless otherwise noted) are:
• Brendan Emmett Quigley’s twice-weekly puzzles
• The American Values Club crossword (formerly the Onion AV Club puzzle): $15 a year for weekly puzzles
• Glutton for Pun by college student Erik Agard
• Grad student Neville Fogarty’s weekly puzzle
• Ben Tausig’s Ink Well, available via a Google Groups
• Jonesin’ Crosswords by Matt Jones, available weekly via Google Groups
—Amy Reynaldo, editor, Daily Celebrity Crossword
I have always wanted to be good at the New York Times crossword puzzle. It seems like the ultimate challenge for word lovers like me, but try as I might, I can never do them by myself. But one day while I was getting frustrated trying to figure out some clue, I glanced down the page and discovered a different puzzle in the same paper that turned out to be a way more satisfying challenge: the acrostic! At first glace, it looks like a regular rectangular crossword puzzle, but all the squares have a little letter in the corner as well as a number, and the clues have blanks beneath them, one for each letter of the correct word. You put the letters from the clues into the corresponding boxes in the crossword and it spells out a quote. Which is pretty fun. But also! With a lot of these, as in the NYT version, the first letter of each clue spells out the name of the quote’s writer and the title of the work it came from. It’s a THREE-IN-ONE PUZZLE! You can approach it from multiple angles: sometimes you might not get the answer to a clue until you figure out a word in the quote and are able to fill in some letters in the clue. Unlike crosswords, acrostics allow me to feel like word whiz and a sleuth, so even though I still can’t always solve them, they’re definitely my favorite puzzle. —Stephanie
I used to see these in the newspaper every morning on the puzzles page, next to the regular crossword, facing the comics. They seemed impossible to solve, some Illuminati-like series of riddles, each more fiendish than the last. I mean, here’s one of the more straightforward clues from this week’s Globe and Mail: “Got up to change the reins.” In the past I would’ve been racking my brain for some verb that pertained specifically to rein-changing. Then I learned that each clue in a cryptic crossword actually functions as a mini word puzzle in and of itself. You have to break each clue down into parts and look at them literally. When something like “Change the reins” comes up, that means the letters in the word ‘reins’ have to be changed around, or scrambled. This gives you the anagram “risen,” aka “got up.” Truth: knowing all this, I’ve still never actually solved an entire cryptic crossword on my own, but I’m not giving up. —Anna F. ♦