Solving, portably and electronically

I love puzzles.  Specifically, I love paper logic puzzles; even more specifically, I love the sort of paper logic puzzles that are commonly referred to as “Japanese,” which is pretty much exactly as dumb as the whole “Eurogame” nomenclature for board games.  As the most obvious example: sudoku, the ur-Japanese logic puzzle, the one basically everyone who’s been near a newspaper or computer in the last ten years knows about… was invented by an American and appeared in Dell Magazines‘ publications for years before it became a Thing.

Anyhow, I digress.  I love puzzles so much that I regularly place orders for books and magazines with, because the market for the genre is so much more robust there.  It’s not that the American Amazon site doesn’t have tons of puzzle books; on the contrary, it actually probably has more.  But most of them are computer generated, dumped out from open source programs with a cruddy cover slapped on and sold via CreateSpace.  Ugh.

So: let’s talk about computer generated puzzles.  As much as I love my Japanese magazines, it’s kind of a pain to bring them, along with the requisite pencil/eraser/clipboard combo, everywhere I go.  It turns out that, yes, computers don’t make puzzles quite as good as people–at least not yet–but given that we live in a future where everyone reading this blog likely has a supercomputer slowly overheating in their pocket, using those supercomputers to solve puzzles is a nice solution to the… ah, I can’t do it… problem.  Here are two apps worth installing on your phone or tablet; I also link to the original desktop versions of both, which are honestly superior but also, definitionally, less portable.

The first application, Simon Tatham’s Portable Puzzle Collection (Google Play Store | Apple App Store | Desktop), is actually the source of a whole bunch of those toss-off puzzle books on Amazon.  It’s because the desktop version has a mode where it’ll spit out Postscript versions of the puzzles and their solutions, from which it’s a ten-minute process to make an eBook and throw it online.  Don’t hold that against STPPC, though.  The actual application is a wealth of different puzzle types, almost all of which are highly configurable.  You can do sudoku, sure (it’s called Solo here), or my personal favorite Slitherlink (Loopy), but a whole bunch of other puzzle types sit alongside those.  It’s also totally free and open source… which means there are a lot of cruddy plus-ads versions on the various app stores.  Use the links above for the real deal version.

The second application potentially costs real money (gasp!) but I want to plug it anyway: Everett Kaser’s Sherlock. (Google Play Store |Apple App Store | Desktop) The first two links take you to the free version for handhelds, which only have a few puzzles; depending on how much you spend, you can get the game with many tens of thousands of additional puzzles.  Sherlock is an implementation of the sort of classic logic puzzles you may have seen in old Dell puzzle magazines, of the “Judy won’t sit next to the girl in the red dress, who isn’t drinking Rivella” sort; more specifically, it’s an implementation of a particular type sometimes referred to as Einstein’s Puzzle or the Zebra Puzzle.  The desktop version of Sherlock has many more puzzle sizes and, in its earliest incarnation, dates back to the DOS days; I have friends who remember playing it back in the Stone Ages of shareware.  But having it on a phone is nice, and depending on the size of puzzle you choose it can be a five-minute affair or quite the involved experience.  Everett’s done a bunch of iterations on the concept over the years, some of which I prefer over Sherlock, but there’s something appealing about the classic minimalism of the first game in the series, and it’s where I’d start anyone who is interested in checking out his oeuvre.

At some point I think I’m going to do reviews of all of Everett’s games; they’re some of the only Windows applications I still keep WINE around for despite my Linux Master Race tendencies, and I’ve been helping to beta-test them for over fifteen years now.  But if you’re looking for ways to occupy yourself on your phone that are healthier than the latest free-to-play gacha game, STPPC and Sherlock are excellent places to start.

(Added bonus content: The moment I started thinking about the old DOS version of Sherlock, I thought: I bet the Internet Archive has it available.  And, sure enough, here you go.  It’s perfectly playable on the Web, if nowhere near as nice or full-featured as the modern versions.  I am totes in love with the rainbow “generating puzzle” animations, though.)

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