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Brain Trainer
by William Armstrong
15 Feb 2011
What Makes a Good Puzzle? Phone: 661-272-9393
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What Makes a Good Puzzle?

  1. A puzzle must be solvable. There must be a way to figure out the answer. Ideally the solution should be clever and entertaining, but there absolutely must be an approach one can take to tackle the problem. Hereís an example of an unfair question that doesnít meet my definition of a puzzle: The word "committee" has three sets of double letters (mís, tís, and eís). What is another common word that has three sets of double letters in a row (with no intervening letters like the "i" in "committee")? There is no reasonable way to attack this problem except by searching the Internet for web sites that already know the answer. Just sitting down and trying to think up the answer is very unlikely to bear fruit. If you keep this question stashed in the back of your mind, you might someday stumble across bookkeeper and shout, "Eureka!" But if you consider questions like this to be puzzles, youíre likely to be frustrated and not get a good mental exercise.

  2. A puzzle should be fair. I use the term "tight" to refer to a puzzle that has a single answer that no one would debate. Some good, valid puzzles arenít 100% tight, but they should always be fair. The solver must have a fighting chance of success. I once read about a sequence "puzzle" that asked the solver to name the next number in a sequence. The sequence had a series of increasing numbers but no obvious pattern. The author said that the sequence represented street numbers of stations on a particular subway line in New York City. This question is unfair for about 99.999999% of the worldís population. Iíll try to avoid non-puzzles like this.

  3. A puzzle should be more work for the creator to create than it is for the solver to solve. Anybody can scramble the letters of a word and ask a solver to anagram it back into something that makes sense. If an author uses a computer or a formula to generate puzzles, he should at least throw out the ones that arenít fun to solve. I expect the designer to add wit and intelligence to his creation. A brilliantly crafted puzzle is thing of beauty, worthy of your mental gymnastics.

  4. The best puzzles have an "Aha!" moment. When your brain performs that seemingly miraculous feat of putting all the pieces together, you feel a rush. A moment before, you may have been confused. But all at once the light bulb comes on and you have the answer. I hope to give you some of those precious moments as we exercise our brains.

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