Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A Puzzle Party in the Big Apple - NYPP 2020

NYPP Particpants

You can never have too much PP.  Every year I look forward to IPP, RPP, and NYPP and whenever I get the opportunity, I like to do a little MPP as well.  When it’s February, I know that it’s NYPP time.  I know this because every Valentine’s day weekend, I tell my wife that I’m going away to play with puzzles.  ABSOLUTELY UNFORGETABLE!

On 15 February 2020, puzzlers converged on New York City to catch up with puzzling friends and the latest puzzle designs and information at the yearly New York Puzzle Party (NYPP).  One of my goals for this NYPP was to foist my unsolved Licorice +-x puzzle (How I Learned to Hate Myself - Licorice +-x) on unsuspecting people in the hopes that someone would solve it.  Meanwhile, I would be attentively listening to the planned talks.  There were 8 talks in total as follows:
    Best Puzzle Apps - Tom Cutrofello
  • Best Puzzle Apps - Tom Cutrofello: Every year, our NYPP host and host of The Best iPhone, iPad Puzzle Apps and Mechanical Puzzles blog, Tom Cutrofello, gives us a summary of his Puzzle Apps Games of the Year (PAGY).   Tom’s overall summary was that it was not a good year for puzzle apps and the next year doesn’t look much better.  Specific puzzle apps that Tom liked and demonstrated included ReMaze, CMYK, Embergram, Sandwich Sodoku (super expensive puzzle app at $5), Loop Loop Puzzle, and One Line Weekly.
    MagnaCube - Ron Dubren
  • MagnaCube - Ron Dubren: Tickle Me Elmo creator Ron Dubren described his new puzzle, MagnaCube, and is based on the Soma cube.  The Soma cube has 240 solutions and the faces of the 7 Soma pieces may be external or internal to cube depending on which of the 240 solutions you are looking at.  Ron’s idea was to add markings on the sides of the pieces and provide challenges specifying which markings should be visible or not.  One variation, called Potion Master, uses images for the markings, which are ingredients for a particular spell to make.  Another is called Numerology, which uses numbers and may consist of more difficult challenges such as having the exposed numbers add up to a specified sum instead of identifying the individual numbers.  The prototype was built using a Magic Cube that allows the pieces to magnetically attach to each other.  Freely rotating internal magnets avoid polarity issues.
    Designing the Logical Progression Puzzle - Rick Eason
  • Designing the Logical Progression Puzzle - Rick Eason:  Rick Eason started his talk with a tale about a prior IPP exchange, where he provided his puzzle to another exchanger, who responded with “ Uh, another combinatorial puzzle.”  He then provided a detailed journey on creating his latest design Logical Progression and guaranteeing that there was a logical progression to solving it.  The solved state is a completely filled 4x4x4 cube and is an extension of Rick’s prior 3x3x3 puzzle, Double Hole Pin Cube.  A side effect of Rick’s presentation was that it made my Licorice +-x puzzle, which I brought along, look highly unattractive since I haven’t found a logical progression for solving it.  After Rick’s talk, anytime I tried to get someone to play with it, all I got was “Uh, that looks like another combinatorial puzzle.”  Sigh!
    Home Field Advantage - Peter Winkler
  • Home Field Advantage - Peter Winkler: Peter Winkler is the author of Mathematical Puzzles: A connoisseur's Collection and Mathematical Mind-Benders.  For his talk, Peter presented 2 new mathematical word puzzles, one involving sports and the advantage (or not) of winning on the home field and the other based on the accumulated results of two betting styles on coin tosses using a coin with a non-even heads/tails probability.  Since I thought the answer was obvious, I’m assuming that I didn’t fully understand the problem and won’t embarrass myself by incorrectly trying to reproduce either here.
    Puzzles - A.J. Jacobs
  • Puzzles - A.J. Jacobs: A.J. Jacobs has written several books such as It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree, Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to become the Smartest Person in the World, My Life as an Experiment: One Man’s Humble Quest to Improve Himself, and Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection.  He even brought some copies of Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey to share with the audience.  In addition to writing books, A.J. is an accomplished speaker and entertained us with several humorous tales.  A.J. was at NYPP to meet with the puzzle community and to announce that his next book will be Puzzles.  Or at least that is the temporary working title.  If his other books are any indication, that title will morph into something a bit more complex.  When I showed him my Licorice +-x puzzle and indicated that it has yet to be solved, he took the challenge to solve it before I did so that he could shame me in his new book.  I’m going to have to get busy on that puzzle to avoid going down in history as the hapless puzzler who couldn’t solve his own puzzles.
    CoverUp - Col. George Sicherman
  • CoverUp - Col. George Sicherman: The topic of George Sicherman’s talk this year was his puzzle Cover Up that was entered in last year’s Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition.  He indicated that it was similar to his design competition entry 2 years ago, Hide the Gold, but had a key difference.  Although Cover Up has fewer pieces, one of the pieces is the table that the other pieces are resting on.  Cover Up has been provided by Wood Wonders and Mr. Puzzle but neither has seen fit to include the table piece.  George also mentioned a new puzzle that he designed, named Fraternal Twins, consisting of 2 identical octomino pieces that can be put together to form a mirror symmetrical shape.  He had a sample with him and they will be available in the near future at Wood Wonders.  One audience member questioned the use of fraternal in the name since the pieces were identical but it sailed right by most of us.
    MultiTarget - Glen Iba
  • MultiTarget - Glen Iba: Glen Iba, the developer of the Patchmania (the subject of a prior NYPP talk) and Monorail game apps, continued last year’s introduction to his MultiTarget game app with an update on changes that have been made as well as further details on its implementation using Android Studio on the Mac.  Demonstrations of the tutorial levels and some of the higher game levels was provide as well as a peek at some of the code.  Glen also provided a demonstration of how the levels were generated, tested, and graded.
    Exploiting Game Shows - Mike Cahill
  • Exploiting Game Shows - Mike Cahill: Mike Cahill always provides an entertaining presentation at NYPP and this year’s talk did not disappoint.  The talk centered on the difficulty of generating an optimal set of rules for a game show and how flaws can be exploited by the contestants.  Several game show flaws were explained including the evolution of the rules for the show Big Brother over its first 6 seasons as contestants exploited the game rules and the producers struggled to fix the flaws.  Other game shows used as examples included Jeopardy, Awake, Crossword, America Says, 25 Words or Less, The Price is Right, and Pay the Rent.  Mike concluded with a personal story of how people didn’t believe his discovery of a game show flaw and how he got the last laugh by going on the show and winning by exploiting that flaw.
The most important thing that I learned is why I don't like the Licorice +-x puzzle.  This dislike now has a name: Combinatorial Puzzle!  The type of puzzle that provides no grip for your mind to grab on to and generate a solution, forcing you to employ a brute force attack by trying all combination.  This is fine for puzzles with only a few pieces, but the 9 pieces of Licorice +-x are too daunting.  However, I'm still optimistic that I'll find my own logical progression that will transform this shunned dog into a brilliant masterpiece.

NYPP Lunch Break


  1. Thanks for sharing that, Ken! I always love reading about others' puzzle parties! :-)

    1. No one deserves to be able to read about other puzzle parties more than you! Thank you.

  2. Very cool! First photo I have seen of the elusive George Sicherman!

    1. And he's even nicer in person. I really enjoyed speaking with him during the party.

  3. Okay, now I have to attend next year's NYPP! The guest list is way cool. More distractions, please -- now I just have to convince my wife that this is a good thing. -Tyler.

    1. You should go Tyler. We'd like to see you there. Maybe NYPP needs to add a SOAP event to solve your problem.

  4. Great summary Ken! So many good puzzles and puzzlers.

    1. Thank you Tom. And thank you for making it all happen!