Archive for the ‘News’ Category:

Pentominous ebook and another update

Dear solvers,

We just added the Plenty o’ Pentominous 2 ebook from Grant Fikes and Murat Can Tonta to our web store. These two fantastic authors have constructed 53 more creative Pentominous puzzles including some new highly original themes. So if you enjoyed their first Pentominous collection (or even, on the other extreme, if you’ve never solved a Pentominous before) you may want to check out this new book.

While I don’t have another update on when GMPuzzles will begin posting web puzzles again, that is in part because of a different, non-puzzle update from me. After almost five years at Verily Life Sciences (formerly Google), most recently as the Head of Computational Biology, I just left that job. I will be returning to Adaptive Biotechnologies as VP/science lead for their immunosequencing diagnostics program in early March. I’ll be splitting time in Seattle and San Francisco for this new role, and it will be the main focus of my time for the next several years. (I’m still hopeful that if I can successfully hand off most GMPuzzles responsibilities to others in the coming months, this should not have too large an effect on this site going forward; thanks again for your patience as I work through this life transition.)

Update on GMPuzzles

I’m sharing here a message I sent to subscribers by email this weekend, which contains a lot of the emerging vision I have for 2020 and beyond. We’ll be back soon (but with no fixed date in 2020 for this return yet), but I’m excited for what is coming.

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TL;DR: I’m writing to share an update with what should be good news as we will be back sometime in 2020, but with some immediate changes including the end to all subscriptions in their current form.

Dear subscribers,

As mentioned a few months ago, my full-time work in science and my goals for bigger things for GMPuzzles made it unsustainable to continue to do regular web puzzle posting, e-book publication, as well as routine subscriber reward fulfillment. It was not an easy decision to “pause” the site, but the words of encouragement from you — our loyal fans — have helped over November in clarifying our best approach to 2020 and beyond.

A couple common themes that you shared with me were that:

  • Many of you subscribed in part to just give back to a site that you loved (that you’d donate if you could and that I shouldn’t bother to send a refund*).
    • *I am still going to send you a refund for any 2020+ prepayments by end of year, as that is what any business should do in this situation.
  • The solving videos really helped you better understand the puzzles, author motivations, and tips to solve them. They were one of your favorite rewards.

Across these themes and others was a pretty clear signal that we have the right content (elegant hand-crafted puzzles from our group of authors) but the wrong approach at the moment for this content, particularly the wrong early monetization. The Patreon/subscriber reward type model was a first experiment but one that it is time to end. It makes it harder to do our job each week. A lot of the interactions because of the small scale have not been automated, like adding/subtracting names from the email list. Rewards that need me to reach out 2 or 3 times for a book choice (and I still am bothered when 15% have an unclaimed reward even after many messages). So when subscriptions after a couple years do not bring in too much revenue (and I don’t need the revenue at the moment to keep the site running for many years), I should return to focusing on the core strengths. One of my biggest regrets in going to the subscription model is that it greatly reduced the commenting on the GMPuzzles blog. We never had a technical solution to let you comment early when receiving the puzzles early, so the discussion from those who would print a puzzle out after 9 AM to do that day died away. I think it is important to have “events” to build a community like first releases to everyone at the same time, as well as other time-scale releases (products/books) that aren’t meant to be absorbed in the same way.

Building the puzzle community is the most important thing we should be doing right now. Our solving videos on Youtube are another important channel we’ve not tried to make the main channel. That is where I want to start an active web channel for me and other puzzlemasters who solve our GMPuzzles posts (and possibly outside puzzles like Puzzle Grand Prix puzzles) to discuss the beauty of puzzles as a means to *grow* a community, including a competitive puzzle community. Putting all the videos *behind* the paywall is a mistake I need to undo. I am going to unhide the whole channel very soon. I’ve already shared the full backlog of videos with you a couple weeks ago. I’m sharing it with the world, and going forward it is not a “reward” to learn how to solve a puzzle. It is a route into our community for people of any skill level.

So in 2020 (but not in January), we’re going to return to a predictable web posting schedule. We will add solutions in PDF form to each puzzle after a few days so that we can cut down on the only comments we still routinely get on the site that need moderation — people doubting we have a valid or unique puzzle solution (and we’ve never made an error *yet*). And we’ll probably completely remove the puzzle submission tracker but not the rating/fave system as it takes us extra work to define submissions, add arrows to our otherwise automatically generated art, and triple check we don’t have typos there (where again we have many checks on the puzzles but not the submissions). Keeping the good pieces and making them easier to get to you, with a focus on growing the audience, is the core theme for 2020. And I have a very good candidate (you may be able to guess who) for our Managing Editor position who will come on in January to ensure we have this predictability in all things GMPuzzles when we “unpause”.

As a business, we will still try to generate some revenue, by publishing and selling e-books. Once we get a routine schedule for these books to be published, including regular series we are launching like Grandmaster Puzzles Quarterly, we may turn on subscriptions again to let you receive some of our books at a discount. But we will have a far better technical solution for how to get you that content so that it can actually scale.

For seven years since launching the site, I’ve considered myself the main patron of GMPuzzles. I have put both time and money into seeing the puzzles I like to solve come about more. I’ve appreciated having other patrons take off some of this burden (financially), but the burden in time was actually larger than expected in doing so. So I’m improving the patronage goal by simplifying too. We will add a tip jar to the site. And we will let you choose whether you want to donate to GMPuzzles, to a puzzle author, or to both at some ratio. GMPuzzles is stronger than just me, and you should have a way as we grow the community of puzzle authors alongside the community of puzzle solvers to encourage their art.

While this is a long message, I want to close the mail with a simple message of thanks. For as much as you’ve thanked me for our puzzles, I am as appreciative of the thoughtful comments, patience, and dedication you’ve shown me and the site over the years. I would not find the energy to continue to try to make GMPuzzles a larger thing if not for all of you!

Cheers,
Thomas

Yajilin ebook and another update

Dear solvers,

We just added a Yajilin ebook from Murat Can Tonta and Prasanna Seshadri to our web store. This is a really great collection of 50 loop puzzles that we shared with subscribers this Spring but had not posted to the store yet. For those looking for more GMPuzzles challenges during our web hiatus, check out this book and our other collections in the store.

Besides posting this book, I have not been doing any puzzle solving or editing over the last month due to a lot of science work (another of the many projects my team plays a role in was just announced publicly). So it might be too optimistic to think that web-posting will restart in early 2020. But I am moving forward with the planning of responsibilities for a first hire for the company, and have some interesting new project ideas coming together that could form new outlets for our puzzles.

A new plan for me and GMPuzzles

Dear fans and subscribers: I’m just back from a fun trip to the World Puzzle Championship in Kirchheim, Germany. It was a successful trip in many respects (the US team was victorious for the first time since 2013, the last year before I took a three-year break off the team, and I was the 7th place individual). And it was good to see many friends in puzzles including regular subscribers and contributors to GMPuzzles.

This WPC followed an incredibly busy three month stretch for me in science (and I’m already right back into it as I write this morning). And without much time on weekends, I have been doing just enough to keep the web-side of this site going but have fallen pretty far behind on book editing and other tasks. This recent stretch has forced me to rethink how I should be spending my time in life, including what are the most critical pieces to make Grandmaster Puzzles into a successful company. So I have a five point update for you. While #1 may be tough to accept, I hope the promise of #2-5 keep you all as fans and subscribers as we move forward on a new plan for our publishing.

1. For at least the next 3 months, and possibly longer, we will not have any more free web weeks of puzzles on the site and we will be pausing subscription rewards in their current forms.

2. We will continue to release new books of puzzles; I will take advantage of some of the extra time from not having to do web posting to catch up on old titles like The Art of Sudoku 2 that are still unfinished, and also launch a new Grandmaster Puzzles Quarterly series that will be released every 3 months.

3. The most important and new change is tied to me rethinking how I focus my time and money with GMPuzzles. I am going to seriously invest my money in GMPuzzles over the next couple years, with an immediate plan within 3 months to hire a Managing Editor and then eventually part-time or full-time help in graphic design, web design, and software engineering to advance the work we can do.

4. This new team — particularly me and the Managing Editor — will define an updated business plan for GMPuzzles. This will likely include making the website much easier for new customers to find and get into our puzzles (an early concept, far from a finished design, to introduce an unfamiliar person to Tapa is here — we will do much better, but even this demo is 1000% better than the experience of landing on gmpuzzles.com/blog today). This business plan will almost certainly also include a digital plan to distribute our puzzles for a new generation of puzzle solvers via an enhanced web or app experience. Our audience is small but all of you are passionate, loyal, and dedicated fans of our puzzles. We need at least 10x if not 100x this audience to be a successful business, and we will try to crack more into the mainstream while not losing any of the quality and originality of our puzzle design that has grabbed your interest.

5. A big milemarker for us will be the 2021 World Puzzle Championship. I have co-organized a bid to host this tournament in Toronto and, if accepted, we will dedicate part of our Grandmaster Puzzles work both before and around the championship to bringing more attention to logic puzzles and competitive puzzling.

GMPuzzles in a Humble Bundle

While waiting for our next week of web puzzles (planned for August 11th), we did want to tell you about an exciting project running right now. Alongside my co-author Mike Selinker and Lone Shark Games, Grandmaster Puzzles is part of a Humble Book Bundle. Benefitting Maker Ed and Khan Academy, you can donate to charity while getting a large number of puzzle books including Puzzlecraft by Mike and me, Intro to GMPuzzles by Serkan Yürekli, and Logic Puzzles 101 by Grant Fikes. Check it out!

Humble Book Bundle with GMPuzzles books

This Week (and Year) on GMPuzzles

This week we’re going to feature our “Best of 2017” with the top puzzles as selected by you through the FAVE button. From Monday through Saturday we’ll be highlighting roughly three puzzles per category (region division, number placement, loop, …). We’ll also be releasing details on new subscription options for our fans, replacing the patronage model we’ve used in the past.

While this is a time for a lot of annual retrospectives, this past month also marked the 5 year anniversary of GMPuzzles. My initial business plan went out on 12/12/12 at 12:12:12 and our first post here was at the end of 2012 before New Year’s Eve. For those that have been solving from the start, and for those who joined later, thanks for supporting our puzzlemakers and our community by being a patron of the site, purchasing our books, or referring friends and family to our puzzles.

I’m incredibly proud that we’ve published about 2500 puzzles in these five years, including some phenomenal classics and cool variations, and have had 0 broken puzzles (with anything other than exactly 1 solution) despite being a hand-crafted puzzle company. I stopped keeping track of how often solvers have doubted us, but I think we are at least 100-0 when someone posts that one of our puzzles has a mistake. (We have had a couple typos in our blog posts and I’ll take the blame on the rare times when the answer entry was wrong but our puzzles have never been.)

Thinking back over five years, I judge that we have been very successful in highlighting great logic puzzle design and encouraging new designers to get into puzzle construction. However, we still have more to do to build a larger audience of solvers that appreciates hand-crafted logic puzzles. Some of our efforts this year will be to have more introductory titles/weeks. In our first year, we often had focus on single classic puzzle types in posted weeks and we will get back to that a little more during this year as well as trying to have more “easy” puzzles more regularly. A longer-term project is to reorganize our website. While we have a large backlog of puzzles in each style, it is hard for a person just discovering our blog to know where/how to start. We’re thinking through some user experience improvements for new solvers reaching the site and welcome any ideas you have.

In 2018, we are also going to work on scaling our publishing. I spent a lot of 2017 turning semi-automated processes into fully automated processes, including how we generate our puzzle art and our web posts. We just finished submission guidelines for all of our puzzles and contributors will receive these soon. I’m also very happy to announce that Serkan Yürekli will be joining me as an editor for our books and other puzzles which will add to our throughput.

We have several new books in mind for 2018, including the launch of a recurring sudoku publication with a mix of Classics and Variations which will be a great title for fans of sudoku, and several more e-books highlighting genres that haven’t been in books yet like Pentominous, Nanro, and Statue Park.

On a different note, we’re going to launch a “Puzzlemasters’ Workshop” title to highlight entirely new puzzles and variations. We get a lot of unusual variations submitted here, and they are hard to post on the web as one-offs. The goal of this title is to give authors enough space to develop an idea across several puzzles. The first edition, expected around midyear, will have a new style from each of our puzzlemasters and a few guests, with 6-10 puzzles in each new style. If this works, we’ll continue this series and open it up for other submissions as a way to continue to cultivate new puzzle design even while our web puzzles start to have a greater focus on “classics”.

Thanks for solving with GMPuzzles, and here’s to a great 2018,
Thomas

Changes with our use of Patreon

TL;DR – We’re leaving Patreon, but will set up subscription options soon on the site for those who still want to get all of our content, including bonus puzzles and e-books.

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