Please acknowledge the designer!

IMG_0003.PNGThe point of copyright and intellectual property for puzzle designs already came up in passing in my posts about to Rush Hour and Lunar Lockout. However, today an even more obvious problem arose in the app store: Blockade (link redirects to iTunes). This gives me the possibility to very clearly and forcefully explain to all developers out there:  

  • Puzzle-designs are intellectual property of the designer.
  • Even if they are available online, please ask the designer when you want to use the puzzle.
  • Don’t be afraid: most will be thrilled and extremely cooperative.
  • And most importantly: mention the name of the designer clearly alongside each individual puzzle!

Why you ask? Well, making good puzzles is hard! The main problem in making good puzzles is in the balance of the design. A good puzzle should not be too easy, but also not too complex. It is extremely easy to make complex puzzles by simply making them larger, or making the state-diagram bigger, but that does not make it an good puzzle. Human puzzlers are not computers. Puzzles should be difficult, but solvable.

IMG_0001.PNGAn extremely good puzzle design has yet another characteristic: it has an ‘aha’ effect. There is a special twist, and unexpected move, a concealed pathway, or something else unexpected. Such ‘aha’ effects are not visible from the outside of a puzzle. Normally, you can only feel the effect after having attempted to solve a puzzle for minutes (or hours, or days!), while all the time missing the way out. You might even have reached the feeling that the puzzle is impossible. Then it mostly turns out that the designer has deliberately lured you into missing the way out. What a master of design!

Another special kind of designs is to max out difficulty with the least amount of material. How difficult can you make a sliding block puzzle with 4 pieces? Picnic by James Stephens (shown at the top of this post) needs 76 moves! Only 9 subway cars and 10 stations, but still there are 589 moves necessary to reach the goal? That’s Subway Shuffle from Bob Hearn. Six pieces to be assembled into a cross-like design (“burr”), known to max out at 12 necessary moves since Bill Cutler’s research? Still, Extreme Torture by Frans de Vreugs (distributed physically under the name Gordian Knot by ThinkFun) takes 70 moves before all pieces are separated! Many of such puzzles are not intended to be solved by humans, but to show the ingenuity of the designer and of the possibilities of the puzzle approach.

All such good designs are the result of long hours of searching for an even better balance between difficulty and solvability, or even higher levels of complexity. For most designers, to make good and innovative puzzles is a challenge to which they devote a lot of their spare time. 99% of them are hobbyists that enjoy the challenge, they don’t do it for a living. In such a situation, the most important aspect is to acknowledge their work, their ingenuity, their design. And what is easier then to mention their names, contact them when you want to use their designs, and if you really earn a lot of money from using any such designs, then just send the designers their well-deserved share of the cake.

This brings me back to Blockade (shown at the top of this post). This sliding block puzzle just became available in the app store. It is a well-made implementation of sliding block, with a large selection of designs, something that I had earlier asked to be made for the iPhone. So, did I feel good today when I saw the new announcement? Not at all! It is very clear from the included puzzle designs that the developer of this app just had a good look at Nick Baxter’s Sliding block page on the PuzzleWorld site. Nick very conscientiously mentions the original designer with all puzzles (as far as they are known). However, no mentioning of Nick Baxter, nor of Puzzleworld, and neither of any of the original designers to be found anywhere in Blockade! This is unacceptable!

The designer has been contacted, so I hope this situation can be solved quickly. It’s not that hard a nut!

[Update 7 January 2009] Version 1.0.1 of Blockade just became available in the app store, and the developer has added many names of the designers to the puzzles. She forgot to mention Nob though with the Rush Hour variants (called “Gridlock” in Blockade). Unfortunately, not mentioning Nob Yoshigahara seems to be the norm

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