5 Addicting Puzzle Games

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Games are supposed to relax us. Take our mind off our troubles, perhaps, and provide us some entertainment as we melt into a friendly competition with others, or even against ourselves.

Not these games.

The games you'll read about here are puzzle games -- and not the cute little jigsaws you do with your niece. Some of the games are simply ones you cannot quit playing because each victory high is followed by a challenge you're positive will bring even higher euphoria. Some are truly challenging, requiring actual skill that will make you unable to leave a game unfinished. And yet others have some magical blend of both. As we attempt to plan, configure and rearrange, we lose our minds on something we so casually refer to as a game.

Let's explore the world of puzzle games that will leave you wild-eyed and foaming at the mouth for more. Remember: you can stop at anytime. You just don't want to.

Rubik's Cube
Many a player has tried to best this colorful puzzle cube.
Many a player has tried to best this colorful puzzle cube.
Jupiterimages/@Getty Images/Thinkstock

Yup, it's old-school. It's low-tech. It's a toy almost everyone had (and kind of hated for its inability to transform into a robot or shoot lasers). But the Rubik's Cube persists as the epitome of the unsophisticated, maddening puzzle that doubles as an innocent toy for children.

The Rubik's Cube was invented by a Hungarian by the name of -- you guessed it -- Rubik. Although Mr. Rubik originally titled the toy, the "Magic Cube," when it began exporting out of Hungary it was renamed for the inventor. (Thus, don't forget that apostrophe in the name!) The cube itself is a three-dimensional square; each of the six sides has a 3 by 3 grid, with each square one of six colors. You can pivot the rows and columns, and the goal is to get each face of the Rubik's Cube to consist of all same-colored squares.

And while there are loads of ways to solve a Rubik's Cube, that doesn't mean most of us can do it without some serious curses and gnashing of teeth. Lucky for us, after hours are spent hopelessly turning and swearing, you can easily go online and find out ways to make the puzzle bend to your will. (Don't be discouraged that children who haven't yet graduated elementary school write many of the solutions.) You can also practice your Rubik's Cube skills by playing online games of the toy, but be warned: you don't get that satisfying feeling of throwing the cube against the wall after hours of fruitless twisting.

Dreamed up by a math whiz, KENKEN will challenge your BRAINBRAIN.
Dreamed up by a math whiz, KENKEN will challenge your BRAINBRAIN.
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks.com

While it sounds like a mother's pet name for her little Kenneth, KENKEN isn't a game of cutesy characters. Developed in 2004, it is the brainchild of Tetsuya Miyamoto, a Japanese mathematician. Miyamoto was looking for a puzzle that might allow students to better grasp some fairly simple logic and math principles. After becoming a hit in Japan, it was introduced to the United States in 2008, and soon the puzzles were being run in the New York Times and other publications.

Much like Sudoku, KENKEN is a grid-based puzzle game. (Grids might be anywhere from 3 by 3 to 9 by 9; the larger the grid, the harder it is.) The grid has a few numbers filled in on it: Your job is to complete the grid with digits so no digit is repeated in any row or column. Easy, right? Well, there are also outlined boxes within the grid, and you have to make sure all the squares in that box combine to make the number listed in the corner.

Sound easy? Well, some are. And some of the puzzles are so maddeningly challenging that you will swear the evil genius who wrote them is using numbers not of this world. As we said, you can find it as a daily feature in quite a few papers, there are loads of KENKEN puzzle books and you can even find online games to play. (Just remember to take breaks to eat.)

This game is both addicting and adorable.
This game is both addicting and adorable.
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks.com

Chuzzles may just be some of the darned cutest substances to ever cause someone a somewhat debilitating addiction. Chuzzle is a computer game that can be played on multiple platforms -- computer, Web or app. Also like Tetris, it involves moving matching game pieces into groups.

Chuzzles are adorable little furballs with big eyes that look very expectantly at you to make a good move. The chuzzles -- all different colors -- are lined up on a grid. You can move rows left and right, columns up and down. You're attempting to group three like-colored Chuzzles in a row. When you do, they pop off the screen. After getting a certain number, you move on to harder levels.

As with most puzzle games, it's not entirely easy to pinpoint why the game is so fun and addictive. One point for Chuzzle? Its relentless soundtrack, which manages to be both pulsing and hypnotic. If you don't find the game addicting, you still might find yourself bouncing along to the song, long after Chuzzle has ended.

People swear by Sudoku -- and spend hours and hours and hours playing it.
People swear by Sudoku -- and spend hours and hours and hours playing it.

If you haven't played Sudoku, you probably have at least one friend who has earnestly tried to convince you that it's one of the best ways to waste your time. And if you just have a second, they'd be happy to show you right now exactly how it works. Sudoku converts are a rabid bunch.

But there's a reason for it. Sudoku is pretty easy to set up: You have a 9x9 grid, and within the grid are nine 3x3 squares. The grid is sparsely populated with a few numbers. Your goal is to make each column and row contain the numbers 1 through 9 -- no repeats. Beyond that, you must make sure each 3 by 3 box contains the numbers 1 through 9.

A Sudoku rookie might be surprised, then, to learn there's actually no math involved at all -- which means that even children can become obsessive about filling little squares with numbers. And for those kiddos who cannot abide by the pencil-and-paper version available in many books or daily newspapers (or perhaps don't recognize a hard copy of a newspaper), there are tons of online versions to play.

Remember waiting and waiting for an "I" piece so you could clear a bunch of lines at once and get a "tetris"?
Remember waiting and waiting for an "I" piece so you could clear a bunch of lines at once and get a "tetris"?

Tetris basically defines "addictive" for an entire generation. Initially developed by a Russian and based on an ancient Roman game, Tetris was introduced to a wide audience through a software version developed for IBM. From there, it spread to the Nintendo gaming console, Gameboys, other home computers. Soon, pretty much everyone knew how to play Tetris, and had--at one time or another--become a bleary-eyed Tetris zealot.

The game is simple enough. Tetrominoes are shapes made up of little squares. The pieces all have different shapes and colors. The pieces fall down a kind of well, and you can rotate the shapes as they fall. The object is to get an entire horizontal row of squares (without any holes). When a row is completed, it disappears. But the tetrominoes fall fast and hard, and if you don't clear your squares before they're stacked to the top, you're out of luck.

The game is so addictive, in fact, that players may start seeing possible Tetris configurations in their daily life -- unevenly stacked books, a brick side of a building, or even dreams. It's so well-known, in fact, that it's given a name -- the "Tetris Effect."


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  • Goldsmith, Jeffrey. "This is your brain on Tetris." Wired.com. May 1994. (June 14, 2012) http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.05/tetris.html
  • ITSR's NES Archive "The Tetris Saga." 2000. (June 14, 2012) http://www.atarihq.com/tsr/index.html
  • Nextoy, LLC. "Starter Strategies." 2012. (June 14, 2012) http://www.kenken.com/howto/simple
  • Pegg, Ed Jr. "Sudoku variations." Mathematical Association of America. Sept. 6, 2005. (June 14, 2012) http://www.maa.org/editorial/mathgames/mathgames_09_05_05.html
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