Simon Tatham’s Portable Puzzle Collection – Games for the Brain

Simon Tatham’s Portable Puzzle Collection

I recently published an article identifying 13 fun open source puzzle games. Each game is worth downloading. As a reader pointed out, the article didn’t include an exquisite puzzle collection. That’s Simon Tatham’s Portable Puzzle Collection. Let’s call it the Puzzle Collection for brevity.

Every game in this Puzzle Collection is published under an open source license. And the collection is portable. What does that mean? Well, the games run on almost every modern operating system. Besides Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, you can play the games on anything that supports Java, or JavaScript. They can also be played on the web.

In fact the portability of the games are one of their chief virtues. You can be just about anywhere, on any combination of hardware and operating system, and indulge in a few minutes of puzzling. That’s the lead developer’s intention. These games aren’t intended to hog the whole afternoon. Instead, they are great to dip into when you need a brief diversion from whatever you are meant to be doing.

Many of the puzzles are not invented by Simon or any of project’s other contributors. A number of the puzzles were invented by Nikoli, a Japanese publisher that specializes in games and, particularly, logic puzzles. There are some classic puzzles included in the Puzzle Collection. Implementations of quintessential puzzle games like Master Mind, Sudoku, and Minesweeper are featured. And there are lots of small puzzles that most people will never have played elsewhere. The diversity of the collection makes it a treasure trove.

Here is a short video demonstrating Guess (Master Mind), Inertia, Tents, Mines (Minesweeper), and Solo (Sudoku).

Besides the 39 puzzles below, there are a few unfinished puzzles lurking in the project’s repository including implementations of Block Puzzle (another puzzle invented by Nikoli), the block-sliding puzzle ‘Klotski’, and the well-known Sokoban barrel pushing game. There’s also a puzzle called Group which is, in fact, complete. It’s a Latin-square puzzle, but played with groups’ Cayley tables. You are given a Cayley table of a group with most elements blank and a few clues, and you must fill it in so as to preserve the group axioms. It’s not included in the puzzle collection because Simon considers it too esoteric and hard. But it’s easy to compile at least.


Black BoxFind the hidden balls in the box by bouncing laser beams off them
BridgesConnect all the islands with a network of bridges
CubePick up all the blue squares by rolling the cube over them
DominosaTile the rectangle with a full set of dominoes
FifteenSlide the tiles around to arrange them into order
FillingMark every square with the area of its containing region
FlipFlip groups of squares to light them all up at once
FloodTurn the grid the same colour in as few flood fills as possible
GalaxiesDivide the grid into rotationally symmetric regions each centred on a dot
GuessClassic, deductive, code-breaking game, Master Mind
InertiaCollect all the gems without running into any of the mines
KeenComplete the latin square in accordance with the arithmetic clues
Light UpPlace bulbs to light up all the squares
LoopyDraw a single closed loop, given clues about number of adjacent edges
MagnetsPlace magnets to satisfy the clues and avoid like poles touching
MapColour the map so that adjacent regions are never the same colour
MinesFind all the mines without treading on any of them
NetRotate each tile to reassemble the network
NetslideSlide a row at a time to reassemble the network
PalisadeDivide the grid into equal-sized areas in accordance with the clues
PatternFill in the pattern in the grid, given only the lengths of runs of black squares
PearlDraw a single closed loop, given clues about corner and straight squares
PegsJump pegs over each other to remove all but one
RangePlace black squares to limit the visible distance from each numbered cell
RectanglesDivide the grid into rectangles with areas equal to the numbers
Same GameClear the grid by removing touching groups of the same colour squares
SignpostConnect the squares into a path following the arrows
SinglesBlack out the right set of duplicate numbers
SixteenSlide a row at a time to arrange the tiles into order
SlantDraw a maze of slanting lines that matches the clues
SoloFill in the grid so that each row, column and square block contains one of every digit
TentsPlace a tent next to each tree
TowersComplete the latin square of towers in accordance with the clues
TracksFill in the railway track according to the clues
TwiddleRotate the tiles around themselves to arrange them into order
UndeadPlace ghosts, vampires and zombies so that the right numbers of them can be seen in mirrors
UnequalComplete the latin square in accordance with the > signs
UnrulyFill in the black and white grid to avoid runs of three
UntangleReposition the points so that the lines do not cross

Below is a short tutorial showing you how to download and compile the latest source code for this game, and the other 38 games in the puzzle collection. The tutorial takes place in Linux, using the Ubuntu 17.10 distribution, but the procedure will be the same, or very similar, for other Linux distributions.

If you find the videos helpful, please give them each a like and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Besides the main 3 operating system, the puzzle collection has also been ported by contributors to Palm, Android, Symbian 60, iPhone, iPad, and the Windows Store.

Homepage: www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/puzzles/
Developer: Simon Tatham, Richard Boulton, James Harvey, Mike Pinna, Jonas Kölker, Dariusz Olszewski, Michael Schierl, Lambros Lambrou, Bernd Schmidt, Steffen Bauer, Lennard Sprong, and Rogier Goossens
License: MIT
Written in: C, Java, JavaScript

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  • airdrik says:

    Great writeup. I like that you threw in there some more of the background that I wasn’t as familiar with
    Thanks for throwing this in here.

    As I mentioned in the other blog post, each puzzle is procedurally generated, so there’s an unending supply of new puzzles to do.
    Some of the puzzle games have varying levels of difficulty (besides the size of the grid) which may range from trivial to mind-bending.
    There are also no high scores, no timers, no push to finish-as-fast-as-you can or to beat-your-previous-best, so they’re great to just leave up in the background somewhere for when you have a couple of minutes to kill or for when you want a challenging puzzle to work through or think about without the pressure of a timer ticking off the time you’ve spent.

    • Krowski says:

      I used to cycle through puzzle games installed on my phone to save storage and Simon Tatham’s stayed on the longest because of how much I enjoyed them. I had to upgrade my phone recently but couldn’t find the app I used to play these games in the app store until I read this article, so thank you. Signposts is my favorite.

  • Frann Leach says:

    This was helpful (though I’d have preferred a text list I could copy and paste), but although I have installed both autoconf and gtk3-dev, I’m getting this message when I go to ./configure

    configure: error: cannot build without GTK 2 or GTK 3

    Some of the games still seem to work (without make!), but pattern does not

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