HipBone Puzzles

Charles Cameron

About HipBone Puzzles:

The format of each of my puzzles is a small board with between two and five "positions" into which linked ideas, concepts, images etc can be placed. The positions are typically circles, and the lines joining the circles indicate linkages between ideas.

Each puzzle can be given an interesting graphic background -- which could stay the same, or vary each month -- so long as the lines and circles are clearly visible, and the circles can be read or written into. Here are a couple of examples:

Straight Line Board

Quintessence Board

Some puzzles would have fixed "right" and "wrong" answers, while some would take the form of contests in which the magazine's subscribers would be invited to mail or e-mail their suggested "answers" to the zine, which would reward the most interesting or amusing responses with a prize...

Let me give you some examples of possible puzzles using these boards.

Fill In the Word

A puzzle using a "Straight Line" board would invite readers to fill in the middle position (2) between "spring" to the left (1) and "fall" to the right.

Straight Line Board

Acceptable answers for one point might include "season" and "summer", while "snow" or "break" would score two points. Someone who typed in "winter" would be told "Caution: you appear to be living backwards compared to the rest of us." And five points would be awarded for the response "water", since people tend to think of spring and fall in seasonal terms first, and six for "slinkie" because it's a "spring" that characteristically "falls" down stairs....

Note that this puzzle does not lend itself to visual supplementation of the two "fixed" positions, as the whole thing depends on the open-endedness of interpretation of the words "spring" and "fall" -- unlike "Delta Blues" and "Delta of Venus" in the example below. Note also that one can program responses to the most obvious and intriguing responses to a puzzle of this class, but must also include an all-purpose response for those who can't spell, or come up with off-the-wall ideas.

A puzzle for the "Inverted Triangle" board might have the words "Delta Blues" already inserted in the left position (1), "Delta of Venus" in the right position (2), and the lower middle position (3) might be blank.

Inverted Triangle Board

This particular puzzle was designed for a friend who was doing a CD-ROM magazine half-way between *Sports Illustrated* and *Playboy*, but as with the "Spring Fall" puzzle above, different items could be placed in the board positions each month.

The player could click on any one of the three positions.

Clicking on (1) would bring up a brief hypertext relating to the Mississippi Delta Blues, clicking on (2) would bring up hypertext about Anais Nin's volume of erotic short stories by that title, and the way in which she wrote them (almost by committee, with the help of Henry Miller among others, in Paris, for a "collector" of erotica who paid her a dollar a page -- and was infuriated by the "literary" qualities she insisted on bringing to her work...) More advanced versions of this puzzle could include a clip of say Mississippi John Hurt singing blues for those who click on (1), or an actor reading a juicy paragraph from the book for those who click on (2).

Clicking on (3) would bring up a text space into which the reader could type.

A reader who typed in the word "delta" or "triangle" would receive a commendatory message giving her/him a point -- and a suggestion that they try again, as the highest score for an answer in this puzzle is five points. A reader who typed in "menage a trois" would receive two points, and similar encouragement to try again. One who typed in "Venus Blues" would get "Nice try, but what the heck is Venus Blues?" One who typed in just about anything else you can think of would get "Either your answer is so far ahead of us that we hadn't thought of it -- or it's so lame or misspelled that we wouldn't want to." And someone who typed in "love triangle" would receive five points and a short fanfare of trumpets.

That's a puzzle with a fixed "best answer", some moderate interactivity, and no prize.

Demonstration of Links

A puzzle based on the "Diamond Cross Board" could be used to demonstrate the nature of links to those who were playing puzzles in this section of the magazine, by showing "Abe Lincoln" in position (1), left, "Ford Theater" in position (2) upper middle, "Gerald Ford" in position (3) lower middle, and "Ford Lincoln" in position (4), right.

Diamond Cross Board

Accompanying text could explain that 7 "links" could be claimed from this particular arrangement:

1-2 Lincoln was assassinated in the Ford Theater
1-3 Both Lincoln and Ford were Republican Presidents
1-4 Both car and President bear the same name, Lincoln
2-3 Both Theater and President bear the same name, Ford
2-4 Both Theater and car bear the same name, Ford
2-4 One President was killed in this Theater, another in this car
3-4 Both car and President bear the same name, Ford

Note in general, where more than one link can be shown between the items represented in two connecting positions on the puzzle boards, more than one point can be scored by that link. In the case of the Ford Theater (2) and Ford Lincoln (4), for instance, two separate links can be claimed between them.

Puzzle Contest

A contest puzzle might start by showing this board and explaining these links. When the links were understood, the player would click to "play" and the items in the four positions would vanish, with the name Richard Nixon appearing in position 1.

The contest would offer a prize for the best "fill ins" and "connections claimed" posted to the magazine...

Chain Puzzles

A group of players could similarly play a chain puzzle, starting with, say, the "Quintessence Board" with George Washington in the center (1), "Dollar Bill" top left at (2), "Federal Reserve" top right at (3), "Alan Greenspan" bottom right at (4), and "Greenback" bottom left at (5).

Quintessence Board

Again, the original "setup" here contains links which can be used to give players the idea, but this time players gradually replace the pre-existing moves by replacing them with moves of their own.

The starting links in this case would be:

1-2 That's GW's head on the dollar bill 1-3 The Fed is located in Washington, DC 1-4 none claimed 1-5 none claimed 2-3 The dollar is backed by the Fed, isn't that it? 2-5 The dollar bill is a greenback 3-4 Greenspan is the guiding spirit of the Federal Reserve 4-5 Green and green

The first player clicks twice on one of these, say "Alan Greenspan" at (4) -- clicking only once would bring a short bio of Greenspan -- and the space clears. He types in "wooden teeth" because Geo Washington had wooden teeth which gave him trouble, hits "save" or "print" to make himself a copy, then hits "send" to e-mail it to a friend, who gets a graphic with pitch for the magazine, then the puzzle board with "wooden teeth" at (4) and a list of links claimed by the first player.

The second player places "wooden nickel" at 5, makes his own list of links and posts to yet another friend... and so it goes, criss crossing the net with an ad for the magazine in tow.

Note that this whole thing needs to be small and simple enough to be sent by e-mail (only the pitch, the picture of the board and the accompanying text may be transmissible). Once again, the best versions with the most, the most intriguing or the most humorous links e-mailed to the magazine could be eligible for prizes.

One Arm Bandit Software

More sophisticated puzzles can make use of the basic software already designed for electronic "one arm bandit" slot machines.

Here a puzzle using any of the boards would have a fixed number of "items" that are randomly selected when a button is pushed / lever pressed, and pre-arranged "links" between them give a score ranging from zero to whatever.

Note that with the "Quintessence Board", five spaces would be in play, as against the three that slots use.

The examples given here were prepared for some friends who are putting together a web-zine featuring Florida and its many tourist attractions: hotels, restaurants, beaches, theme parks etc:

Many items would have "easy" links, eg: many items could be towns or cities, theme parks, names of restaurants, beaches, and would automatically score whenever two of the same category of item appeared in linked positions: but a few would be chosen because they have more interesting links, eg: two hotels built by the same architect, two rides in the same theme park, etc. These would score higher points.

It is also possible to make the player able to "keep" certain items while continuing to "spin" for others, and this allows for players to make repeated spins in the hopes of putting together a formidable score.

Furthermore if, as in the above examples, all items were Florida related, the items in a given "spin" could be clicked on, leading by hypertext connection to an advertisement, article or brief "pitch" for the beach, hotel, theme park, ride, etc. Advertisers could be solicited to pay for having their sites featured in puzzles of this type, which might constitute the equivalent of a "small" ad -- but one which, since it's on the game page, is likely to attract extra attention.

A vertical board with three square positions directly below one another could contain the three parts of a map of Florida, with different cities, hotels, beaches, etc pinpointed in each case (ie: twenty "top" maps, twenty "middle" maps, twenty "bottom" maps, with one particul;ar spot or attraction highlighted in each). Here, winning would be a matter of coming up with the top of the map in the top position, middle in the middle, bottom in the bottom -- and players could then click on the point highlighted on the map in any one of the sections, and would go from there to a small map of the city, an ad, "postcard" graphic or whatever.

Putting together the code for this kind of puzzle would be a little more complex, but code which does the job for three-window slots already exists, and could be converted.

Other Considerations


If we could for convenience refer to a given puzzle board (eg: the "Quintessence Board") as having a distinctive "footprint", and to different categories of play (eg: filling in one space with a "correct" answer, offering a prize for the best or most links) as "procedures", we could have a set of maybe six or seven "footprints" that were used regularly in conjunction with maybe two or three regular "procedures", and simply vary the specifics (and the accompanying "eye-candy" graphics) from month to month and issue to issue...


Once we were under way, it might be possible to tie in the "contents" of the puzzles to the contents of the individual zine issues in which they appeared. However, puzzles which do not focus on the zine's topic could also be syndicated, bringing in additional revenue: maybe a mix of both types of puzzle would be appropriate.


David Siegel's splendid book, *Creating Killer Websites*, uses the metaphor of a restaurant to describe what makes a web site compulsively revisitable. He writes:

As people wander by your site, hold out a basket of goodies to tempt them... This is what I call "fish food".

Games and puzzles, of course, are fish food: contests are even better, since they offer prizes which can in most cases come from advertisers.


I think that if a zine site (a) provides some intriguing eye candy by way of graphics behind the boards, (b) holds a contest and offer some prizes, (c) includes the puzzles in promotional materials, and (d) has success in attracting visitors to the initial site, there's quite a possibility that other zine sites might like to take the puzzles in syndication.

Book, Disk and CD-ROM Options

There is also the possibility for a zine which runs these puzzles regularly to put together a book, disk or CD-ROM containing a series of such puzzles. It really makes a lot of sense to take a feature like this and run with it, in my view, taking it in as many directions as possible.


"Empty" Boards

Empty "Straight Line" and "Quintessence Boards have been included in the body of the text above. Here for your convenience is an empty "Inverted Triangle" Board:

and a "Diamond Cross" Board:

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All ideas, boards, puzzles and concepts herein are the intellectual property of Charles Cameron, and form part of the HipBone family of games and puzzles. HipBone Games rules, boards, sample games and other materials are copyright (c) Charles Cameron 1995, 96. See Concerning Copyright for full copyright details.