# Categories of puzzles (and problem solving)

24 views

### Mike Rozak

Jan 18, 2006, 7:40:10 PM1/18/06
to
I was just trying to think of the categories of puzzles for a writeup I want
to do. I believe (maybe incorrectly) that I saw a list somewhere on the
internet. Does anyone know where? Or, does anyone have any categories to add
to my list?

Categories of puzzles that I've come up with so far (in no particular
order):

- Lateral thinking - As in Aesop's fable where a crow wants to drink water
from an urn, but can't reach into the urn far enough. It gathers pebbles,
dropping them into the urn until the water level rises.

- Find the pixel - Not a very good puzzle.

- Find the key, carry it around with you until you find the door - Again,
not too good.

- Maze - Room mazes are cliche, but I think I've seen other mazes
(conceptual, mechanical) used. Something like Rubics Cube could be
considered a maze because our brains can't "grasp" the possiblity space.

- Easy to figure out the process, just need to follow the process through to
conclusions and try different combinations

- Careful reading/spotting of clues gives the solution

- Keep trying different item combinations until something works - Again, not
good

- Social - Involving other players. MUDs/MMORPGs use this one, where the
solution to the problem is to convince other players to help you. Example:
Two buttons in different rooms must be pressed simultaneously for the door
to open.

- Experiment with a device to understand what each knob does, then use the
understanding to adjust the knobs so the desired results are produced - A
classic Myst puzzle.

- Push a button that has an indeterminate effect elsewhere - Again, not too
good.

- Push a button right next to the door in order to open the door - Not even
a puzzle, but a fairly common.

- Riddle - Or are riddles merely verbal versions of some of the above
puzzles?

Anyone have any more?
--

Mike Rozak
http://www.mxac.com.au

### Mike Rozak

Jan 18, 2006, 10:28:34 PM1/18/06
to

http://www.ifwiki.org/index.php/Past_raif_topics:_Game_Mechanics:_part_1#Puzzles

--

Mike Rozak
http://www.mxac.com.au
"Mike Rozak" <Mike...@bigpond.com> wrote in message
news:KdBzf.220341\$V7.1...@news-server.bigpond.net.au...

### Victor Gijsbers

Jan 19, 2006, 7:44:51 AM1/19/06
to
Mike Rozak wrote:

> I was just trying to think of the categories of puzzles for a writeup I want
> to do. I believe (maybe incorrectly) that I saw a list somewhere on the
> internet. Does anyone know where? Or, does anyone have any categories to add
> to my list?

I created a small typology of puzzels here:
http://www.ministryofpeace.com/if-review/reviews/20050916.html

Regards,
Victor

### Jess Knoch

Jan 19, 2006, 11:44:29 AM1/19/06
to
Mike Rozak wrote:
> I was just trying to think of the categories of puzzles for a writeup
> I want to do. I believe (maybe incorrectly) that I saw a list
> somewhere on the internet. Does anyone know where? Or, does anyone
> have any categories to add to my list?

There was kind of a long discussion in March 1997 called "Types of Puzzles,"
which is probably worth Googling.

I also recommend a quick play-through or two of "The Erudition Chamber," if
you haven't played that yet.

--
Jess K., ignoring usenet sigs since 2002.

### Rubes

Jan 19, 2006, 4:21:38 PM1/19/06
to

I must say, that ifwiki is pretty darn impressive.

### Mark Thern

Jan 19, 2006, 8:15:33 PM1/19/06
to
Some types of puzzles that you don't see too often in I-F:

The strategic puzzle: The player has a limited number of options and
must select the best one for the moment at hand. The game state
changes, and the player must make another choice from the same set of
options.

This sort of gameplay is common in other types of games but is rarely
seen in I-F, probably because the choices are normally hidden. The only
I-F examples of strategic puzzles that I can think of would be Adam
Cadre's Lock and Key and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the time
management in Papillon's One Week.

The npc influence puzzle: The player wants the npc to do something. In
order to achieve this goal, there are a number of decisions the player
can make that will steer the npc into taking the desired action. If the
player does a certain number of these actions, the npc will do what he
wants.

The only time I've seen this in a work of I-F would be the romantic
elements in Robert Goodwin's The P.K. Girl. There are 8 different girls
in this game, and the player can 'score points' with a given girl by
doing things that impress her or that demonstrates the player's
affection for her. At the end of the game, the player will pair off
with the girl he impressed the most; I think you had to have at least
50 out of 75 possible points, and some girls were easier to win than
others.

You could apply the principles of the npc influence puzzle in other
situations, such as convincing the detective npc that he's arrested the
wrong guy by presenting pieces of evidence that implicate someone else.

The big decision puzzle: The player is faced with a single decision
that has x choices, where each choice looks as likely as the others.
The decision that the player makes will affect the game in a big way.

You rarely see this puzzle in games except near the beginning or the
end. Games like Diablo 2 or Baldur's Gate present a big decision puzzle
at the start of the game by forcing the player to pick a character
class; the player's initial choice will drastically affect how he plays
the game and may influence what content he will be able to see. Quintin
Stone's Scavenger does something similar in I-F. I-F games with
multiple endings usually place the big decision at the end of the game;
the decision the player makes will determine the ending.

I think the reason why you don't see big decision puzzles in the middle
of I-F games is that most authors don't want to deal with the problem
of having to create content for branching paths.

### Mark Thern

Jan 19, 2006, 8:27:43 PM1/19/06
to
Some other examples of the npc influence puzzle that I forgot to
mention:

Emily Short's Best of 3 definitely fits the bill, as might Galatea.

Chrysoula Tzavelas's Shadows on the Mirror might do this as well.

### Andrew Plotkin

Jan 19, 2006, 8:47:06 PM1/19/06
to
Here, Mark Thern <mth...@juno.com> wrote:
> Some types of puzzles that you don't see too often in I-F:

As an aside, I think you're describing game structures here, not types
of puzzles.

> The strategic puzzle: The player has a limited number of options and
> must select the best one for the moment at hand. The game state
> changes, and the player must make another choice from the same set of
> options.
>
> This sort of gameplay is common in other types of games but is rarely
> seen in I-F, probably because the choices are normally hidden.

It used to be pretty popular -- see the one-use spell scrolls in the
Enchanter trilogy, or the elemental resources in _Journey_.

I suspect it's fallen out of favor because, if the player makes bad
choices, he thinks he's doing great (solving puzzles) until the last
few scenes of the game, and then -- bam -- he doesn't have any options
left that fit the next problem. Sorry, dude, start from scratch. This
kind of game still exists, but it's a minority position now.

> The big decision puzzle: The player is faced with a single decision
> that has x choices, where each choice looks as likely as the others.
> The decision that the player makes will affect the game in a big way.

Again, you're not describing a kind of puzzle, but a structure -- the
way a puzzle outcome affects the rest of the game. (Or the outcome of
any game action -- it doesn't have to be a puzzle at all, except in
the sense that any choice you think about is a puzzle.)

> I think the reason why you don't see big decision puzzles in the middle
> of I-F games is that most authors don't want to deal with the problem
> of having to create content for branching paths.

Sure. A game with multiple (very different) outcomes is a lot of work.

(Then there are the strategies authors use to put in multiple outcomes
while still keeping the *body* of the game mostly the same.)

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
9/11 did change everything. Since 9/12, the biggest threat to American
society has been the American president. I'd call that a change.

### Mark Thern

Jan 19, 2006, 9:50:12 PM1/19/06
to
> The strategic puzzle: The player has a limited number of options and
> must select the best one for the moment at hand. The game state
> changes, and the player must make another choice from the same set of
> options.

>It used to be pretty popular -- see the one-use spell scrolls in the

>Enchanter trilogy, or the elemental resources in _Journey_.
>I suspect it's fallen out of favor because, if the player makes bad
>choices, he thinks he's doing great (solving puzzles) until the last
>few scenes of the game, and then -- bam -- he doesn't have any options
>left that fit the next problem. Sorry, dude, start from scratch. This
>kind of game still exists, but it's a minority position now.

I was thinking more about the type of strategic puzzle that takes the
form of a set of tactical options that can be used again and again
rather than the sort where you have a limited resource that must be
properly managed. As a teen-ager, I vastly enjoyed the Way of Tiger
series of gamebooks, which featured a ninja as its hero. During the
fight scenes in those books, you picked from a set of martial arts
techniques to use against your opponent . There were 9 techniques in
all-- 3 types of punches, 3 types of kicks, and 3 throws. Most fights
gave you a choice of 3 techniques to chose from, while fights against
major opponents usually offered more choices. What really made the
fights interesting was that at times, choosing a particular technique
could result in an easy victory or a major setback. For example, trying
to throw a really massive opponent was almost always a bad idea.

You don't see these kinds of situations in I-F much because they're
more difficult to program than the good old "kill dragon with the
dragonslayer sword" type of puzzle.

### Andrew Plotkin

Jan 19, 2006, 10:21:19 PM1/19/06
to
Here, Mark Thern <mth...@juno.com> wrote:
> > > The strategic puzzle: The player has a limited number of options and
> > > must select the best one for the moment at hand. The game state
> > > changes, and the player must make another choice from the same set of
> > > options.
>
> >It used to be pretty popular -- see the one-use spell scrolls in the
> >Enchanter trilogy, or the elemental resources in _Journey_.
>
> I was thinking more about the type of strategic puzzle that takes the
> form of a set of tactical options that can be used again and again
> rather than the sort where you have a limited resource that must be
> properly managed.

Ah, yes. I somehow misread you as saying that the set of options
decreased every time you used one up.

> You don't see these kinds of situations in I-F much because they're
> more difficult to program than the good old "kill dragon with the
> dragonslayer sword" type of puzzle.

Well, I don't know. I think the problem is that it's hard to invent a
large set of options that are actually *different*, but still all
applicable to the same situation. (As opposed to "stab power 1, stab
power 2, stab power 3, slice power 1, ...") The actual programming is
just ("just") follow-through on the design.

You cite:

> As a teen-ager, I vastly enjoyed the Way of Tiger
> series of gamebooks, which featured a ninja as its hero. During the
> fight scenes in those books, you picked from a set of martial arts
> techniques to use against your opponent . There were 9 techniques in
> all-- 3 types of punches, 3 types of kicks, and 3 throws. Most fights
> gave you a choice of 3 techniques to chose from, while fights against
> major opponents usually offered more choices. What really made the
> fights interesting was that at times, choosing a particular technique
> could result in an easy victory or a major setback. For example, trying
> to throw a really massive opponent was almost always a bad idea.

To some extent this is just a paper substitute for a random-number
that way. Never finished it, so I can't demonstrate anything useful.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*

If the Bush administration hasn't subjected you to searches without a warrant,
it's for one reason: they don't feel like it. Not because you're an American.

### Mike Rozak

Jan 19, 2006, 11:13:44 PM1/19/06
to
Strategic puzzle - Inventory (where PCs can only carry so much) also acts as
a resource allocation puzzle.

NPC influence - I agree with Andrew Plotkin that this is the
form/appearance, not the actual category... I'll explain a bit below...

Basically, it seems like categories can be futher categorized into...

- Puzzles that hide the fact that they exist... aka - Find the pixel, or
talking to an NPC and having to ask the right thing. You don't know there's
a puzzle to solve unless you stumble upon it.

- Puzzles where the solution isn't obvious, and the player must figure out
the solution

- Puzzles where applying the solution is non-trivial - Such as timed
puzzles, or mazes.

- Resource allocation - I'm not sure where resource management (strategy)
would go, since it's more of a "try to guess what will happen in the future"
problem.

Of course, combinations of the above.

I'm trying to figure out where all this fits together with respect to Raph
Koster's "A theory of fun", as well as some of my own observations about
CRPG and aventure-game quests: http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/TheGameLoop.htm. I
think I have a unified theory, but I'm going to mull it over for a few more
days.

### Fish

Jan 20, 2006, 3:11:59 AM1/20/06
to
I would add to your list the category of Logic Puzzles, whereby you must
eliminate impossible combinations, ruling them off your grid, and
applying the rules as you learn them: if X must pair with Y, then Z
means either A or B, but if Z means B then Y and A are equivalent, etc.

FISH

### Samwyse

Jan 20, 2006, 7:50:45 AM1/20/06
to

So, what would be the IF version of Sudoku?

### Boluc Papuccuoglu

Jan 20, 2006, 10:54:02 AM1/20/06
to
On Thu, 19 Jan 2006 00:40:10 GMT, "Mike Rozak" <Mike...@bigpond.com>
wrote:

>I was just trying to think of the categories of puzzles for a writeup I want
>to do. I believe (maybe incorrectly) that I saw a list somewhere on the
>internet. Does anyone know where? Or, does anyone have any categories to add
>to my list?
>
>Categories of puzzles that I've come up with so far (in no particular
>order):
>
>- Lateral thinking - As in Aesop's fable where a crow wants to drink water
>from an urn, but can't reach into the urn far enough. It gathers pebbles,
>dropping them into the urn until the water level rises.

This was actually implemented in Zork Zero.

<snip>

Also, there is the assembly puzzle. For example, using the cue, the
needle, and the thread for a fishpole in Guild of Thieves. The
electronic gadgetry in Spider and Web is a good example of this sort
as well, IMHO.

### Krister Fundin

Jan 20, 2006, 3:27:03 PM1/20/06
to

"Mike Rozak" <Mike...@bigpond.com> skrev i meddelandet
news:KdBzf.220341\$V7.1...@news-server.bigpond.net.au...

>I was just trying to think of the categories of puzzles for a writeup I
>want to do. I believe (maybe incorrectly) that I saw a list somewhere on
>the internet. Does anyone know where? Or, does anyone have any categories

I've seen a couple of lists like that. As someone else said in an old
they tend to mix a lot of apples and oranges. I'd say that a more viable
approach than the "grand master list" would be to come up with a number
of points that can be used to compare puzzles, each one having a fixed
set of mutually exclusive alternatives or categories. A puzzle can then only
belong to one of these categories, but can be compared on any number of
different points.

Simple example: you have "positive" and "negative" puzzles. The former
is about making a special thing happen in the game, the latter about
making a special thing NOT happen. Can be one but not both.

Mark Thern mentioned strategic puzzles. There's another point. A puzzle
could either have a single optimal solution (or several), or there could be
only sub-optimal solutions. My WIP has a puzzle which can't really be
solved -- you just have to get around it.

Anyway, it seems that there are many ways of classifying puzzles, so
which one you want to use depends on the purpose of the classification.
I have been writing a rather long article about the theory of puzzles,
which looks at several such purposes: building puzzle-charts, judging
the difficulty of the game, or the cheatability, etc. I only have it in
Swedish, so it's probably of little use to anyone, but I'd be glad to
discuss these things further.

-- Krister Fundin

### Rikard Peterson

Jan 20, 2006, 3:48:40 PM1/20/06
to

"Krister Fundin" wrote in
news:rIbAf.154338\$dP1.5...@newsc.telia.net:

> I have been writing a rather long article about the theory
> of puzzles, which looks at several such purposes: building
> puzzle-charts, judging the difficulty of the game, or the
> cheatability, etc. I only have it in Swedish, so it's
> probably of little use to anyone, but I'd be glad to
> discuss these things further.
>
> -- Krister Fundin

Could be interesting to those of us who do know Swedish. Do you have it
somewhere on the web?

Rikard

### Krister Fundin

Jan 20, 2006, 4:53:04 PM1/20/06
to

"Rikard Peterson" <trumg...@bigfoot.com> skrev i meddelandet
news:Xns9751DE313BA30tr...@127.0.0.1...

Nope. I guess I could send the working draft through e-mail,
but it's rather messy at this point.

-- Krister Fundin

### ems...@mindspring.com

Jan 20, 2006, 8:50:05 PM1/20/06
to
> "Mike Rozak" <Mike...@bigpond.com> wrote in message
> news:KdBzf.220341\$V7.1...@news-server.bigpond.net.au...
> >I was just trying to think of the categories of puzzles for a writeup I
> >want to do. I believe (maybe incorrectly) that I saw a list somewhere on
> >the internet. Does anyone know where? Or, does anyone have any categories
> >to add to my list?

A categorization somewhat like yours is here:

http://www.scottkim.com/thinkinggames/GDC00/bates.html

and then there is Graham Nelson's puzzle categorization in "Craft of
Adventure", which divides them up in an entirely different way:

### Samwyse

Jan 20, 2006, 9:59:00 PM1/20/06
to
Krister Fundin wrote:
> "Rikard Peterson" <trumg...@bigfoot.com> skrev i meddelandet
> news:Xns9751DE313BA30tr...@127.0.0.1...
>
>>"Krister Fundin" wrote in
>>news:rIbAf.154338\$dP1.5...@newsc.telia.net:
>>
>>
>>>I have been writing a rather long article about the theory
>>>of puzzles, which looks at several such purposes: building
>>>puzzle-charts, judging the difficulty of the game, or the
>>>cheatability, etc. I only have it in Swedish, so it's
>>>probably of little use to anyone, but I'd be glad to
>>>discuss these things further.
>>
>>Could be interesting to those of us who do know Swedish. Do you have it
>>somewhere on the web?
>
> Nope. I guess I could send the working draft through e-mail,
> but it's rather messy at this point.

On the web, it would also be interesting to anyone who knows how to use
an on-line translator.

### Ken

Jan 24, 2006, 2:13:38 PM1/24/06
to
I liked the puzzles in the Fallout games. The ones where you had to
explore the various towns and talk to the NPCs, listen to their
problems and figure out how you could bring them together to help each
other solve each other's problems by trading their various talents or
skills.

--Ken

### Mike Rozak

Jan 26, 2006, 5:08:47 AM1/26/06
to

### rgrassi

Jan 26, 2006, 7:01:33 AM1/26/06
to
Very interesting Mike.
May I take it and translate for one of the next issues of Terra d'IF?
Rob

### Mike Rozak

Jan 26, 2006, 4:03:53 PM1/26/06
to
Sure, although you might want to hear what some of the more experienced IF
players/authors have to say about it.

--

Mike Rozak
http://www.mxac.com.au
"rgrassi" <rgras...@gmail.com> wrote in message

### Dan Shiovitz

Jan 27, 2006, 1:49:48 AM1/27/06
to
In article <Pc1Cf.227570\$V7.8...@news-server.bigpond.net.au>,

Hmm, this isn't a bad list. Like you say at the end, I think the
categories aren't not quite orthogonal enough, or possibly it's just a
matter of phrasing. I'd suggest instead maybe some division like
"puzzles where the challenge is working out the objective of the
puzzle" (which also includes puzzles where you have to realize that
there's a puzzle to be solved), "puzzles where you have to work out
the rules/allowed actions/effects that can be produced", "puzzles
where you have to work out the sequence to do the actions in", and
"puzzles where performing an action is a skill in itself".

Obviously, many puzzles will contain elements of each of these -- it's
very common to have a Mysterious Machine where you first have to work
out what actions the machine can do, and then have to work out what
you want to do with it, and finally work out how to manipulate the
machine to do that thing. In fact, puzzles that only contain the
fourth element probably wouldn't be considered puzzles by most IF
players -- if the puzzle is just "get the timing right to jump onto
the platform", that's not really a puzzle. On the other hand, if it's
"work out that you can bounce off the wall to get an extra-high jump
and use that to get onto the platform", then you've got something.

I think I'd also suggest rearranging your puzzle list into the puzzles
themselves (codes, key and lock puzzles) and techniques for solving
them (doing research outside the game, observing NPCs interact with
the puzzle).

I dunno, this categorization stuff is pretty interesting. I'd be
curious if anyone actually uses it to design puzzles, though -- do
people really say "well, I guess I need some puzzle here, maybe I'll
stick a -- let's see -- maze in"? I can only think of a few cases
where I've done that myself. More often it's "ok, I have this
situation/goal, how can I make it harder for the player?" (or,
depending on the situation, "how can I make it *possible* for the
player?") which obviously leads to puzzles that are more organically
integrated, but I wonder if the mechanics are suffering by designing
them that way.

>Mike Rozak
--
Dan Shiovitz :: d...@cs.wisc.edu :: http://www.drizzle.com/~dans
"He settled down to dictate a letter to the Consolidated Nailfile and
Eyebrow Tweezer Corporation of Scranton, Pa., which would make them
realize that life is stern and earnest and Nailfile and Eyebrow Tweezer
Corporations are not put in this world for pleasure alone." -PGW