online puzzles

9 Online Puzzles That Will Give Your Brain a Workout

Have you been looking for ways to keep your mind sharp during quarantine? Give these games a try.
November 27, 2020
8 mins read

There are so many streaming services providing unlimited content these days, and it’s easy to find yourself wasting your weeks away in front of a TV screen. If you’re looking for a more constructive way to spend those long quarantine hours, check out the following online puzzles. These fun activities will exercise your brain instead of turning it into Netflix-flavored Jell-O.

1. Jigsaw Puzzles

Everyone loves a good old-fashioned jigsaw puzzle. Jigsawplanet.com has thousands upon thousands in its database, and if you aren’t satisfied with the already available options, you can sign up for a free account and create your own.

The website gives you extensive customizability, allowing you to choose the image, title, number of pieces and piece shape for your puzzle. These online puzzles are much more convenient to solve competitively with friends than their physical counterparts, and the “click” sound effect that plays when you connect two pieces is surprisingly satisfying.

2. Sudoku

Sudoku’s simple concept — place numbers in a grid so that no row, column or box contains a repeating digit — makes it easily transferable to an online format.

Sudoku.com is my personal favorite website, but many other sudoku platforms exist, such as websudoku.com, nytimes.com/puzzles/sudoku and sudoku.game. All of the websites allow you to change the difficulty, making the puzzles accessible to pros and novices alike.

3. KenKen

If you’re looking for a Sudoku upgrade, try KenKen, a fun spin-off that adds mental math to the basic sudoku structure. Kenkenpuzzle.com has a daily puzzle available with options for grids sized three-by-three to nine-by-nine.

The cool thing about KenKen is that it doesn’t require the side-length of the grid to be a square number like a proper Sudoku grid, most of which are nine-by-nine.

4. Deductive Logic puzzles

Solving deductive logic puzzles is almost like solving mysteries. You must match certain attributes with each other using clues that follow a storyline. Generally, people use the process of elimination to rule out possible pairings, keeping track of their work on an “elimination grid.”

These puzzles can be more engaging than Sudoku or KenKen because of the variety of clue types and the entertaining background stories that accompany each of them. Logic.puzzlebaron.com has grid sizes ranging from three-by-four to four-by-seven, with “easy,” “moderate” and “difficult” levels available. Small grids can be simple once you get the hang of it, but be warned: I’ve spent hours on certain four-by-seven grids and still failed to solve them.

5. Slide Puzzles

Slide puzzles can be difficult to wrap your head around at first, but once you develop a strategy for solving them, they become addictive. Helpfulgames.com has some preset slide puzzles available, but proprofsgames.com will allow you to create custom slide puzzles with a free account.

If you find yourself falling in love with this type of puzzle, I would also recommend downloading a slide puzzle mobile app. I personally have Slide Puzzle — Number Game on my iPhone, but many other apps exist as well.

6. Nonograms

Nonograms require you to fill in certain squares in a grid, based on number patterns. Sometimes the end result will be a random assortment of shaded squares, but often, the completed solution will form a pattern or picture.

Puzzle-nonograms.com has millions of nonograms available in sizes ranging from five-by-five to 25-by-25, as well as special daily, weekly and monthly nonograms. Additionally, this nonogram puzzle builder will let you create your own patterns to test out on friends.

7. Cryptograms

Cryptograms, also known as substitution ciphers, are my go-to puzzle when creating scavenger hunts or other mental competitions. The premise is simple. You have to figure out which letter corresponds to which number, symbol or other letter to decode a message. This is a great exercise in recognizing patterns and applying linguistic knowledge that you didn’t even know you had.

Cryptograms.puzzlebaron.com has cryptograms of famous quotes, but oftentimes, I find it more fun to create my own and exchange it with a friend.

8. Online Escape Rooms

Once the pandemic is over, I would highly recommend trying an in-person escape room if you haven’t already. While we’re all trapped at home, however, 365escape.com offers a worthy — and free — substitute.

These online mysteries require you to explore and click around, searching for clues and solving puzzles to reach an ultimate goal. Many of the rooms on this site include some of the puzzles listed above as steps. One of the best things about 365escape is the wide variety of games available. You can only really play each game once, but luckily, there are a seemingly limitless number of options.

9. The New York Times Mini Crossword

Everyone knows about the famous New York Times Daily Crossword, but have you tried the much-less-intimidating five-by-five version? Every Monday through Friday at 10:00 p.m. ET, and Saturday and Sunday at 6:00 p.m. ET, the New York Times releases a new mini crossword puzzle.

These daily crosswords are free, but if you have a New York Times subscription, you can also go back and revisit any mini crossword from August 2014 to the present in the crossword archives. If you’re feeling brave and want to try the normal-seized crossword, you can always get help from nytcrosswordanswers.org. The New York Times has several other online puzzle games as well, including Spelling Bee, Tiles, Letter Boxed and Vertex, so make sure to check those out.

Of course, if you’re craving puzzles with a little more originality, don’t be afraid to create your own or combine some of the games listed above into a homemade puzzle hunt. Over quarantine, my friends and I have had a blast making virtual hunts for each other and competing to solve them as quickly as possible. Online puzzles can be a calming solitary activity, but they can make for entertaining social events as well.

Callie Rosenzweig, University of Chicago

Writer Profile

Callie Rosenzweig

University of Chicago

I’m Callie, a prospective psychology major originally from Palo Alto, CA. In my spare time I enjoy singing, watching sitcoms, hanging out with my stuffed animals and writing in my journal (aka my best friend).

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