- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2001

The puzzle comes in all shapes and styles and has been around as long as man. From Rubik's Cube to classic jigsaws to computer-based Tetris, the variety of brain teasers put forth to perplex humanity over the decades never ends.

A husband-and-wife team has been perfecting the art of boggling the mind for 16 years through hand-held and board challenges. They have taken their expertise to the World Wide Web for the past six years to not only tout their company's lineup of award-winning products, but also to stimulate the noggins of surfers with online fun.


Site address: www.puzzles.com


Binary Arts, an Alexandria-based company owned by Bill Ritchie and Andrea Barthello, is the largest independent developer and producer of puzzles and thinking games in the world.

Creator quotable

"My initial vision was to have three Web sites working in concert: binary-arts.com, to be a corporate site with basic information for our customers; puzzles.com, which was to be a non-commercial educational-oriented site; and webgames.com, which was to be a commercial site that would offer an interactive play experience and products for sale directly from the site, says Mr. Ritchie, president of Binary Arts.

"It turned out to be hard to accomplish this (both technically and logistically), so we scaled back and focused on developing puzzles.com as a quality site to stimulate interest in puzzling and intellectual recreationalism."

Word from the Webwise

This part puzzle portal, part brainteaser warehouse offers visitors a nice selection of online and off-line activities guaranteed to stimulate the synapses.

Through a colorful and tightly designed front page, the site's four primary sections — "Puzzle Up," "Deep Thought," "Puzzle Playground" and "Puzzle Club" — take inquisitive types into a world of numerical conundrums, geometric impossibilities and seemingly magical illusions.

I began my quest for a king-size headache with "Puzzle Up," which features links to puzzles from around the Web. Mr. Ritchie has organized this collection by "Beginner," "Advanced" and "Expert" levels, and even presents a "Best of the Week" for repeat gamers.

One of his "Best," called "Rush Hour" (which just happens to be based on a board game from Binary Arts) displays the challenge of trying to help one car escape a gridlock by correctly moving trucks and autos out of its way. Computer programmer William Shubert created an online version of the game which resides on his Web site (https://igoweb.org/~wms/rushHour).

Continuing, "Puzzle Playground" lists 109, mostly off-line activities which are broken up into the categories "Puzzles," "Illusions" "Tricks" and "Toys." Using items such as match sticks, coins, pencils and playing cards, I attempted everything from dissecting polygons to the classic trick of fitting a human body through a piece of paper.

Luckily, solutions are available to all puzzles with printable versions and occasional explanations given for those still scratching their heads.

The philosopher in the family will appreciate "Deep Thought," which contains various essays on the science of problem solving and recommended readings. One article worth a look comes from Martin Gardner and explores the enjoyment of creative thinking.

Finally, "Puzzle Club" features coverage of puzzle tournaments and societies around the world like the 21st International Puzzle Party in Tokyo, as well as 12 of Puzzle.com's favorite exercises in futility.

Ease of use

The site's simple design works well even with the slower modem connections. An efficient navigation system posted on all sides of the page allows visitors to spend more time solving puzzles and less trying to figure out how to get around Puzzle.com. Macintosh users may find some of the online games don't work perfectly, but PC users will pleased with the creations.

Don't miss

One of the site's favorite twisters, English 16, found under the "Puzzle Club" kept me plenty aggravated. Based on the classic solitaire challenge from Victorian Europe, players must transpose the positions of eight gold and eight silver pegs on a 17-hole, double diamond board in the fewest number of moves.

Family activity

The site explains the ole' "Matchbox Slide" trick under the "Puzzle Playground." Amateur magicians in the family will astound their parents when they can get a matchbox to stop at any place mom and dad choose on a string.

Cybersitter synopsis

The site links out to many places on the Internet, which means mom and dad need to pay attention to junior's cyber-roaming. However, the sheer diversity of stimulating puzzles makes it a good place for students who want to keep their brains in tiptop shape.

Overall grade: B+

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message(jszadkowski@twtmail.com).

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