Meet the Puzzle Makers of New York Times Games – The New York Times

Where do you live?

Brooklyn, N.Y.

My first Vertex puzzle was published on Feb. 18, 2020, and it was a diamond.

I thought way too long about this one, in part because my memory is terrible, but also because I couldnt decide if figuring out that the crescent peg goes in the crescent hole counts as a puzzle when youre 2 years old.

Theres a chance that this is not my earliest memory of playing a game, but Im going to go for it: I think I was about 4, and my parents had taken me along with them to their friends house. They had a kid about my age, and this kid had a Nintendo Entertainment System. I sat on the floor in their living room, with my neck craned upward as I made Mario jump across the glowing CRT. It was incredible and was the first time I remember playing a video game.

This summer I went through an old, neglected box that my mom kept. Inside was a board game I made when I was around 6 years old that I had totally forgotten about. Im not sure how to describe that feeling. It was a look into the past, with the wisdom of being in the present and attributing new significance to certain things from ages ago. Its a special and distinct kind of feeling. Looking back in that particular way, its tempting to think maybe that was the start. Maybe it was, and that desire was in a sort of stasis, because I had no conception that Id be able to make games professionally.

A more deliberate start for me was in 2015. I was working as a designer in a small architecture firm in TriBeCa, but I started spending the nights and weekends working on a digital game as a way of teaching myself how to code. I loved it so much. I grappled significantly with the idea of leaving architecture to pursue a career in games. It was gut wrenching, but ultimately I decided that I needed to make that leap.

About a year later, one of my games was nominated for an award, and got written about in Kill Screen. This felt like an important moment to me. I dont think you need external validation to be professional, but this did help me to feel like I was making games that could be valued by people who didnt necessarily share from my own creative interests.

This is such a hard question! Ill stick to puzzle games. If I have to pick one, Baba Is You is definitely up there with my favorites. Its a type of puzzle game where you push blocks around a grid, which is kind of an established genre of puzzle games, but the incredible part about Baba Is You is that some of those blocks are words. Those words can form logical statements that then become the truth and rules for a level.

The title of the game is one of these statements and each word is its own block that can be rearranged. Baba is a fluffy white creature and Baba is you, so you control Baba. In some of the games levels, you might swap out the text Baba for Water and then suddenly youre controlling every piece of water in the level simultaneously. Its so creative and the things the designer of the game, Arvi Teikari, is able to express with the mechanics is beautiful to me.

There are so many others, but Id like to also mention Portal, Stephens Sausage Roll and Infinifactory as being truly outstanding puzzle games.

The first time I heard about Vertex was at N.Y.U. Game Centers Playtest Thursday. Its a weekly gathering where designers can test their games to get feedback. Sam Von Ehren, one of the game designers at The New York Times, was testing his newest game there.

I think designing Vertex puzzles lets me engage in a lot of personal interests. There are precise drafting, visual art and puzzle design happening all at the same time. I was also excited by how Vertex puzzles slowly reveal themselves to the player, and how the meaning of the hint in relation to the image suddenly pops into focus. Its such a cool moment when that happens.

When designing a puzzle, placing each vertex has so many considerations. Youre thinking about its proximity to other points, how it will allow you to create form or color, what needs to be abstracted or defined, and how the vertex affects the experience of solving it.

Similarly, being limited to nine colors often leads you to think strategically about what youre choosing. Each puzzle is a unique challenge when it comes to figuring out a color scheme that conveys a sense of light or harmony and defining all the forms well. I love grappling with all of that simultaneously.

I mostly use Adobe Illustrator. Sometimes Ill use Rhinoceros for drafting tasks that are less efficient or convenient in Illustrator, but Rhino is kind of comically overkill. If a design needs some sketching out before I start, Ill use either a sketchbook or Procreate on my iPad.

Illustrator is pretty frustrating in many ways, but what I do like about it for making Vertex puzzles is how easily I can make small adjustments as Im refining. I can move vertices around, but also I can pretty easily make color adjustments. Its good at refining and visualizing the puzzle as I work, which is crucial.

Everywhere! Im thinking about it all the time. It could be something I see on a walk, some scientific idea, food or elements of popular culture. I also have gotten so many suggestions from people in my life, and I have a long document of ideas that I keep adding to. Ive noticed that I have a tendency to depict a lot of seemingly mundane objects. I think I like showing the beauty in those things.

Its very hard for me to choose a favorite anything, but Ill venture to say that my favorite Vertex puzzle that Ive done so far hasnt been published yet.

Of the published puzzles, I think maybe the drafting compass is my favorite. Im drawn to the designs that play a bit with the format or have something a little humorous about it. I liked representing a tool that exists solely to make perfect circles in a form that is so fundamentally about straight lines.

This is a tough question. Theres lots of stuff I wouldnt depict. I wouldnt depict things that I think are immoral or maybe would fall too far outside some implicit style boundaries that I perceive from other work published by The New York Times.

But thats kind of a different question than if there are topics I wouldnt cover. Topics generally dont strike me as having inherent morality, because you can cover a topic any way you want and impart value judgments in some way at that stage of representing it. Its an interesting question that I reflected on for a long time. Ultimately I dont know if I answered it or if I even know the answer.

I play! Do I solve? Occasionally! I played the crossword for a short time in high school but wasnt really good at it. I began playing again about when I started making Vertex puzzles, but Im still not really good at it. Ive only solved up to a Wednesday level. Shameful, I know. Ive definitely been improving though.

Id like to thank you for the great questions and for the opportunity to share some of these things!

Ive been working on a puzzle game of my own called No Place for the last 3.867 years. I hope to finish it before the apocalypse. You can see it on my website.

You can also find me on Twitter @burgess.

2020 hasnt had an abundance of good news. Actually, making Vertex puzzles has been one of the better things. Players reach out from time to time to say they appreciate the work and sometimes even that it has helped them get through some of the rough spots of this year. Hearing that kind of stuff is so heartwarming. Thank you, everyone, for playing!

Join us here to solve Crosswords, The Mini, and other games by The New York Times.

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Meet the Puzzle Makers of New York Times Games - The New York Times

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