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What makes a good puzzle

We regularly receive submissions of new puzzle types from aspiring puzzle authors. One of the most common problems is that the puzzle is either too derivative, and is effectively just an existing puzzle presented differently, OR the rules are too convoluted.

So what makes a good puzzle? One of the most important things is that it must be able to explain the rules quickly and easily.

Virtually all popular mass market puzzles meet this: just take a look at the most popular puzzles crosswords, wordsearch and sudoku: write the answer to the clues in the grid (crosswords), find the words listed beside the puzzle in the grid: words can be hidden horizontally, vertically or diagonally and either forwards or backwards (wordsearch) and place the numbers 1 - 9 once in each row, column and box (sudoku).

They all have really simple to understand rules, and they can be stated briefly. One of the biggest problems with new puzzles is that people create too many rules and conditions; many people will not persevere with learning more than about four rules for a puzzle, even if the puzzle is brilliant once they have learnt those rules. This is where puzzles differ from strategy or board games such as chess where rules can be so much more complicated.

Secondly, try not to be too derivative: coming up with a new puzzle may be difficult, but it can be the best way to achieve success. For instance, simply creating yet another sudoku variant with one minor change to the existing rules is unlikely to make great waves these days, and may already have been developed by someone else as there are literally hundreds of sudoku variants out there.

Also choose a type of puzzle genre that you love, and are familiar with, as this will often help you to create a good new puzzle type and get the rules right: if you like loop puzzles you could try to create a new loop puzzle for instance, and this space is still relatively unexplored.

Good luck with your puzzle making... if you'd like to share any thoughts on what makes a good puzzle, then please do share them below.

Date written: 04 Jun 2013

Category: puzzles | Keywords: creating | puzzles

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