Brass Lantern
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Making Better Puzzles

by Stephen Granade

Table of Contents

All's Not Fair

Making fair puzzles is something of a black art. What's fair for one person is by no means fair for another. Even if I restrict my definition of "fair" to me, that definition will change from day to day. What mood I'm in plays a large role in how forgiving I am of puzzles which may straddle the line between fair and not.

Nevertheless, I think there are some general rules-of-thumb which I unconsciously use to determine whether or not a puzzle is fair. Unsurprisingly, most of them have to do with what kind of knowledge the puzzle expects me to have access to. I believe that a puzzle is fair if it:

Are there other criteria? Sure, but these are the most general ones I could come up with. Are these hard-and-fast rules? Of course not. You can find examples of good puzzles which violate one or more of the above. Like I said at the beginning, these are just rules of thumb. But if a puzzle is going to violate any of these rules, I'd suggest that the designer be sure that they have a good reason for doing so.

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This article copyright © 1999, 2008, Stephen Granade

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