Types of Puzzle


Generally speaking, a puzzle is any task that satisfies two properties:

  • It is designed to entertain the solver.
  • There is a well-defined solution.

This may be done in a variety of ways. Here are some examples of puzzles that I’ve encountered in my job.

If you’d like to try any of my own puzzles, please see my most recent book for kids or another of my books, both of which are available on Amazon and other big bookstores! I can also provide puzzle design consultation on occasion; interested parties can contact me through the email address at the bottom of this website. (Toby Fox, give me a call.)

Cryptic puzzles

These are the most frequent kinds of puzzles encountered in high-quality puzzle hunts and escape rooms, and puzzle aficionados refer to them as “puzzles.” Such puzzles may also be referred to as “designer” puzzles, since they are only intended to be solved once by a single individual, as part of the problem is the epiphany needed to see an extraction method. Note that “cryptic crosswords” (often referred to as “cryptics”) are a kind of word puzzle that doesn’t quite match this description (though the overlap between cryptic puzzles and cryptic crossword enthusiasts isn’t insignificant!).

The final goal/answer in a cryptic puzzle should usually be well-defined (i.e. enter a certain word or phrase into an online form that is accepted; find a clue to a location where a previously designated token can be found). The mechanics of extracting this answer, on the other hand, are left partly or entirely ambiguous, leaving the solver to guess at several interpretations of what the problem might imply until one fits. Often, hints about this extraction may be found in the problem’s title or flavor text: “you’d be blind not to know how to solve this” might be a (not-so) subtle hint to search for a method to locate Braille letters in the puzzle.

It takes a lot of experience, as well as an understanding of your target audience, to create such riddles. Different players will have varying degrees of “genre savvy,” and different communities will anticipate varying levels of difficulty. These are by far my favorite kind of problem to create and solve, but it may be difficult to determine if a puzzle is a high-quality, tough, cryptic puzzle or just poorly written at first look.

Logic Puzzles

Examples include SudokunonogramcalcudokuMasyu, and logic grid puzzles.

A grid is characteristic of a logic problem, which must be solved by following certain well-defined rules. Typically, such problems have a one-of-a-kind solution (a property that itself helps the solver fill up the grid). These problems are often made simpler by partly filling them out with the solution. Picross puzzles (also known as nonograms) are one of my favorites since the answer depicts an image (i.e. gives the solver new information unrelated to the properties of the puzzle itself).

Math Puzzles

Arguably, these come in two varieties.


Given xy=6xy=6xz=10xz=10, and yz=15yz=15, find the value of xyzxyz.

The difference between these and math problems is that a math puzzle is intended to be fun or even competitive. These problems don’t usually lend themselves to algorithmic solutions, at least, not to the kinds of algorithms that are normally taught in schools. AMC contests, Putnam puzzles, and other classic math competitions are also available.

By the way, the key in the example is to attempt to solve for x^2y^2z^2 first, rather than xyz… The first time you hear it, it’s a fun problem, but the best participants in these contests remember hundreds of tricks exactly like that. While these puzzles are usually intended to test students’ mathematical skills, the best approach to solving them is to remember a huge backlog of tricks and gimmicks, then figure out what minor change is needed for the problem at hand.