Eric Berlin – The Social Distancing Puzzles [Hivemind Review]

The Social Distancing Puzzles is a print-and-play word puzzle game played collaboratively with a partner, created by Eric Berlin.

A puzzle grid of interconnected hexagons each made up from 6 triangles.

Format

Style of Play: print-and-play word puzzle game played collaboratively with a partner

Required Equipment: computer with internet connection, printer, pen and paper

The documents are meant to be printed and split between two players.

Recommended Team Size: designed to by played by 2 players

Play Time: anywhere from 3-10 hours

Price: a donation to Feeding America

Booking: Make a donation to Feeding America. Take a screenshot of your receipt. Upload your receipt, then enter your e-mail address. You’ll soon receive an e-mail with links to the puzzles.

Description

This is a series of ten independent word puzzles with an eleventh metapuzzle that relies on the answers of the previous ten. The puzzle collection is designed for two players (or two teams.) Each player receives the same instructions per puzzle but a different set of information. You must communicate with your partner to share the necessary information.

If English is not your native language, these puzzles will be incredibly challenging, and at times tedious, especially when phonetics and pronunciation are relevant.

A puzzle grid of hexagons, many of them numbered.

Hivemind Review Scale

REA's hivemind review scale - 3 is recommended anytime, 2 recommended in quarantine, 1 is not recommended.

Read more about our new Hivemind Review format.

Andrew Reynolds’ Reaction

Rating: 3 out of 3.

If you like word puzzles and you’re not familiar with the work of Eric Berlin, you’re missing out. Berlin’s newest offering is the simply titled The Social Distancing Puzzles. The name not only captures the current zeitgeist, but it tells you about how the game is played: it’s designed for two players who do not have to be near each other. Both players get a document with incomplete information: ten word puzzles that are almost the same but require communication to solve completely. Those solutions feed into the final metapuzzle, which I found to be the most difficult puzzle overall, and the one that could use some additional instructions or cluing on the front end. Overall, this is a great series of puzzles with a higher level of difficulty than Berlin’s last major publication, Puzzle Snacks. You can only get The Social Distancing Puzzles by donating to Feeding America, an organization of US food banks. So not only do you get to solve some very creative puzzles, you can feel good knowing that you’re helping people in need.

Sarah Mendez’s Reaction

Rating: 2 out of 3.

If you like crossword clues combined with anagrams combined with language-based deduction combined with interpersonal communication, you will revel in the intricacies of these 11 word puzzles. I was mightily impressed by the complexity of this collection (with the caveat that I’m new to the realm of narrative-free puzzling).

Most of the puzzles tell you exactly what to do, so the challenge lies in your ability to repeatedly execute the relevant skills, including effectively sharing information with your partner. The sheer volume of tasks in each puzzle enables you to develop a unique strategy for that puzzle. This was a rewarding process for the puzzles that I personally enjoyed, but it felt like intense grunt work for the puzzles that didn’t resonate with me as much. The added element of sharing information between yourself and a partner often fell on the “grunt work” side of this spectrum. I’m usually a fan of this construction, but in this case, it felt more like reading to each other than discovering how to collaborate.

Ultimately, I concluded that this style of puzzling isn’t for me, but I think this collection was the perfect way to try it out. These were well-designed examples of a variety of word puzzles, so I feel like I got a solid, representative experience. Given that the proceeds go to a worthy cause, this is a reasonable pandemic activity to explore.

Joel Smileypeacefun Reaction

Rating: 2 out of 3.

As I went into those word puzzles I became worried. My native language isn’t English; it’s (Swiss) German. Play on words often trips me up in escape rooms. Therefore I allowed myself some light googling and translating.

At their best, the puzzles encouraged creative ways of communication between players. The multi-layered and unique mechanics paired with social distancing themed clues were the most fun. I appreciated the hint section next to the solutions.

At their worst, puzzles felt like one player tasks (clues were simply split into two documents). Besides that, the layout of the documents may be a bit plain.

In total, the puzzles are challenging, but easy to get into and they support a great cause.

Theresa Piazza’s Reaction

Rating: 3 out of 3.

Eric Berlin’s The Social Distancing Puzzles were a joy to experience. These 11 different word puzzles are wonderfully crafted, varied in type, and a delight to solve with a partner. At no point did I feel like we were slogging through a repetitious puzzle, or sharing large swaths of information just as a cruel trick to make the puzzles take longer. Some of these puzzles worked on so many layers, I found myself doing mental gymnastics just to try and imagine what it would take to have the forethought to create a puzzle this deep. Some puzzles were kinds I’ve never seen before, but there were some new, refreshing takes on classic puzzles, like the Rows Garden and Word Ladder styles. The meta flavor text could use a little refinement, but accessing the separate clue / solution guides helped us to move along quickly. If you’re into word puzzles, I strongly recommend donating to Feeding America, finding a partner, and solving The Social Distancing Puzzles.

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