October 21st, 2014
Here’s a Halloween treat! Amazon’s dropping the price for the Charlie Brown Halloween app for both Kindle Fire and Android devices. It’s a special surprise that just might bring back some fond memories of “hallowed evenings” past. And I feel a little smile every time I see tbe title: “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”
Last year I passed out our trick-or-treat candy while entertaining myself with this app. It recreates the classic TV special perfectly, with the original voices and a nearly identical artwork — except now the story is interactive! Linus is still spending Halloween night in a pumpkin patch, but you can actually poke your fingers into the drawings to make all the Peanuts characters jiggle around. And it’s narrated by Peter Robbins, who provided the voice for Charlie Brown in the original 1966 TV special!
Because it’s an Android app, you can play it on any of your color Kindle tablets or on any Android device! And I was impressed by the smooth interface, which includes an old vinyl record on the game’s menu page to represent the narration. (Which you can turn on and off…) But best of all, it’s got all the sequences you remember from the TV special, with some of the artwork even laid out like a newspaper comic strip. It was a real thrill to see Charlie Brown’s big pile of autumn leaves again — and then to see Linus trying to jump into it while holding a wet lollipop!
If you don’t have a Kindle Fire, there’s still some other Halloween games available at Amazon for the black-and-white Kindles. I love “Futoshiki Halloween Edition, and there’s also a Halloween version of the game Blossom. There’s even a Halloween version of Mahjong Solitaire, and if you’re looking for something scarier, there’s also a text adventure “Choice of the Zombies”.
But I have fond childhood memories of watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”. So if you’ve always wanted a free app that revives this Halloween tradition…there’s a special treat waiting for you tonight in Amazon’s appstore.
Remember, for a shortcut, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/CharlieHalloween
May 23rd, 2014
I spotted a surprise in Amazon’s app store today. They’re giving away a free $10 credit! Of course, they’re paying you in “Amazon money,” but it’s still a $10 value!
There’s five free apps at that URL — but for each one that you download, Amazon will add a $2 credit to your account. (The credit comes in the form of “Amazon Coins”, the virtual currency Amazon issues for in-app purchases, which can also be redeemed when buying an app). One “Amazon Coin” equals one penny, and if you download all five of these apps, Amazon will give you 1,000 of ‘em. But ignore that extra layer of “abstraction” and just focus on the bottom line. If you download the apps, you get a $10 credit.
One of the five free apps is actually from the Food Network. It offers thousands of recipes, and lets you search based on a specific ingredient you want to use — or even for your favorite chef! And I was really intrigued by the second free app — which is called iHeartRadio. It lets you listen to radio stations live on your Kindle Fire or Android smartphone!
But why are they issuing these credits in Amazon coins? The strategy is to make it seem less like you’re spending real money and more like it’s just fun play pretend money. Forcing people to do this conversion in their head — from Amazon money to real money — makes it harder for people to remember their budget! But if you just download these five free apps, you’re already starting out ahead.
And you’ll end up with $10 worth of free credits to spend in Amazon’s Android app store!
January 3rd, 2013
Guess what? I just released a new word game for the Kindle!
It’s called “Throw in the Vowel 2″, and it’s available on all of Amazon’s e-ink Kindles. (Even the Kindle 2 and the Kindle DX as well as the Kindle Touch, the Kindle Paperwhite, the new Kindle and the Kindle 3…) It’s a big moment, and as corny as it sounds, I really want to share the excitement. And you can be one of the very first people to play “Throw in the Vowel 2″ if you download the game this week from Amazon’s Kindle Store!
Or, as it we put it in the game’s product description at Amazon, “Return to the land where words can be created by combining the correct sets of letters.” (I still get a thrill every time I see that magical three-dimensional fantasy-land that our graphic designer created for the game’s background.) And I really love the way those mists almost seem glow for real whenever you pull the game up on a Kindle Paperwhite. With the newer Kindles, you can create words just by touching the “clue boxes” on the screen!
But no matter which Kindle you’re using, there’s never any typing involved, and you don’t even need to re-arrange any of the letters, since they’re all already in the order that they’ll appear in the final word. You just need to “throw in the vowel” in your head — figure out which box of vowels will match with a box of consonants to form a commonly-used English word. (For example, the box with OIOU matches with the box BVS, since the letters can combine to form the word OBVIOUS.)
My girlfriend complained that in the first version of our game, some of the words were too hard to find — so this time we started the game off with a couple of easier puzzles. But there’s still 750 “devilishly clever” words, as my friend Len Edgerly once described it. (“It’s a very simple game in concept,” he announced on his Kindle Chronicles podcast this weekend, “but devilishly hard to work through, so it’s satisfying when you have some success with it!”)
I was delighted that he noticed the game’s built-in hints, and called its other navigation features “quite elegantly done.” And he seemed to have a message for Kindle owners who are looking for a fun alternative to ebooks. “If you like word games, you should try it out. And if you bought the original version of the game, I’m sure you’re going to be glad to see there’s a whole new set of another 750 words….”
But the person’s who’s most excited about this new game is probably my business partner, Dr. Jeffrey Prince, who came up with the idea for these games several years ago. We first met at a start-up biotechnology company more than 20 years ago, and even back then he told me he’d always wanted to write a new brain-teaser game. Now Jeffrey’s in his sixties, but in 2005 he’d suggested that we finally make this dream come true. So I’d mocked up a prototype of the game, and for the next few years, we kept trying to improve it…
Actually, we spent a lot of the next five years cheerfully trying to stump each other with new variations on our puzzles, but now it all seems worthwhile. We’ve now not only released Throw in the Vowel on the Kindle, but also a second wonderful game in the same series. And when Throw in the Vowel 2 finally launched in Amazon’s Kindle Store, I asked Jeffrey how he was feeling — and promised that I’d let him have the last word when we first announced our game. And it turns out he was just as excited as I was, and said “We’ve been thrilled by the overwhelming positive reaction to our game.
“And we’ve worked hard to make the sequel just as much fun to play!”
Check it out at
December 20th, 2012
Amazon has now released 18 different free games, and last year they released two that were designed especially for the holiday season! “We were going to wait to start talking about the holidays, but this new free game for Kindle is getting us in the spirit a little early,” read one announcement on the Kindle’s page on Facebook. “Check it out for yourself, but don’t blame us if you suddenly get the urge to start stringing lights and singing carols!”
That new game was “Picture Perfect Holiday Puzzles,” and within four hours of the announcement, it had already earned 208 “Like” votes and drawn 35 enthusiastic comments. (Like the woman in Minnesota who posted “OMG! OMG! OMG! This is my all time FAVORITE Kindle game, I’ve been waiting for a Part 2 forever!! YESSSS!!!!!!!”) It was a “sequel” to a free game Amazon released called simply “Picture Perfect Puzzles”. In both those games, users try to form a picture by darkening all the correct squares in a grid, making logical deductions from clues showing the number of squares that need darkening in each row and column. But for the second “holiday” version, Amazon created 35 more puzzles, each one with a fun holiday theme. (The puzzles were grouped into six categories: Winter Begins, Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Continues, Kwanzaa, and New Years.)
And would you like to write to Santa Claus? There’s an app for that — at least, if you own a Kindle Fire tablet (or an iPad). Last Christmas, Amazon announced a free Santa app to create holidays wish lists, “for children and their parents…to share with friends, family and Mr. Claus.” They’ve identified more than half a million popular “kid-friendly” items available on Amazon, and according to the director of Amazon Mobile, the apps makes it “fun, easy and intuitive for kids to find exactly what they want.” Just point your browser to amazon.com/santa_app
There’s books, of course, but also toys, games, video games, music, and even movies and TV shows — and you can browse the individual categories or search for specific items. By secretly tracking which gifts have been purchased, it can helip different relatives avoid buying the same gift, and Amazon says the app offers “a great way for parents to spend some quality time with their kids…”
And, “to help make certain there’s a smile Christmas morning.”
October 31st, 2012
Here’s a Halloween surprise! Amazon’s giving away a free app today for both Kindle Fire and Android devices. And it’s a special Halloween app that’s sure to bring back some fond memories of hallowed evenings past. The name of the free app they’re giving away?
“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”
You can download the free app today in Amazon’s app store. (For a shortcut, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/CharlieHalloween .) It’s an interactive version of the famous TV special that finds Linus spending Halloween night in a pumpkin patch. You can actually poke your fingers into the drawings, to make all the Peanuts characters jiggle around. And it’s narrated by Peter Robbins, who provided the voice for Charlie Brown in the original 1966 TV special!
Because it’s an Android app, you can play it on your Kindle Fire or any Android phone. And I was impressed by the smooth interface, which includes an old vinyl record on the game’s menu page to represent the narration (which you can turn on and off). It’s got all the sequences you remember from the TV special, with some of the artwork laid out like a newspaper comic strip. It was a real thrill to see Charlie Brown’s pile of autumn leaves again — and then to see Linus trying to jump into it while holding a wet lollipop!
If you don’t have a Kindle Fire, there’s still some other Halloween games available at Amazon. Yesterday I wrote about “Futoshiki Halloween Edition, and there’s also a Halloween version of the game Blossom. There’s even a Halloween version of Mahjong Solitaire, and if you’re looking for something scarier, there’s also a text adventure “Choice of the Zombies”.
But I have fond childhood memories of watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”. So if you’ve always wanted a free app that revives this Halloween tradition…there’s a special treat waiting for you tonight in Amazon’s appstore.
Remember, for a shortcut, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/CharlieHalloween
October 30th, 2012
I have a special holiday tradition. Each year around Halloween, I creep up on the Kindle Store, and take a peek at just how many ebooks have zombies in their title. And lately, zombies have started turning up in Kindle games! Last year I even asked in this blog, Are zombies taking over the Kindle? (“If you haven’t been paying attention, you may not have noticed the rising zombie invasion…”)
Amazingly, in September of 2011, there were 1,992 Kindle ebooks with the word “zombie” in their title. But by that Halloween, there were 277 more. And this year? The number of zombie titles has doubled again in less than a year. There are now 4,874 different ebooks in the Kindle Store with zombies in their title.
And there’s also several “Halloween” versions of some popular Kindle games. (As the author of a Kindle word game, it’s really fun for me to see game developers taking their established Kindle titles, and then updating them with special holiday editions.) For example, the makers of Slingo have come up with “Poker of the Dead” — which combines the challenges of the classic “Texas Hold ‘Em” card game with…zombies! It’s a seven-day tournament (with 10 hands per day), with a dramatic backstory adding the complication of an onslaught by the living dead. But fortunately, according to the game’s description, your zombie opponents “have no brains, never fold, and will always call your bet.” The phrase “winner takes all” gets a whole new meaning, but if you defeat all these poker-playing zombies, you’ll live to fight another day.
There’s also a spooky version of the Sudoku-like logic puzzle, Futoshiki. “Futoshiki Halloween Edition takes an eerie twist as witches and zombies take over in a graveyard game board,” warned the game’s page in the Kindle store. There’s a dangerous-looking tree in the background of the game board, and the top of the screen even includes the silhouette of a witch. But somehow, the stark contrast on the Kindle’s black-and-white screen seems to fit the holiday perfectly.
There’s also a zombie-themed text adventure called “Choice of the Zombies”, plus a Halloween version of the game Blossom. This has always been one of my personal favorite Kindle games, and it’s fun to see it getting a holiday makeover. In the original version, you’d rotate squares in a grid to connect a network of pipes to make some flowers blossom. But in the Halloween edition, those restful flowers have been replaced by jack-o-lanterns — and instead of a watering can, they’re connecting to a black witch’s cauldron!
And believe it or not, there’s now even a Halloween version of Mahjong Solitaire. “This game is so fun it’s scary!” reads its description in the Kindle Store, which promises to complement its 13 different layouts with two special Halloween tile sets. Their pictures include pumpkins, tombstones, and even something that looks like a smirking ghost. It usually costs $3.99, but today it’s on sale for just 99 cents. If you like Mahjong Solitaire, this looks like a fun novelty.
But zombies still keep stalking their into the Kindle Store, and it’s been a very strange journey. Last year one of the top 100 free ebooks in the Kindle Store was something called Super Zombie Juice Mega Bomb. But the real message may be that each Halloween, there’s more and more self-published authors who are writing zombie fiction. Even the Library of Congress only has 601 books with the word “zombie” in their title (up from 523 in 2011). Oh my god, run everybody — Amazon’s Kindle store now has eight times as many zombies!!!
They’re not real zombies, but it does suggest the Kindle store’s amateur authors are especially attracted to the zombie genre. Or are they? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the amateurs from the pros. Take a peek at the new titles, and you’ll be startled at just how many zombie ebooks there are. Don’t look now, but the living dead could be shambling up to your Kindle!
Here’s some of the stranger ebooks.
To be fair, “Texas Biker Zombies From Outer Space” is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, “intentionally designed to give the reader an interactive experience using the advantages over print that E-Books allow.” And Zombie Spaceship Wasteland was written by actor/comedian Patton Oswalt, using the horror movie monsters as a metaphor in a collection of essays “vividly evoking his zombie-like co-worker,” according to Booklist‘s review. Even 71-year-old literary author Joyce Carol Oates — twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize — named her 2009 novel Zombie (P.S.) It’s about a serial killer — named Zombie — who keeps a diary as he pursues his victims.
But yeah, most of the titles in the Kindle Store aren’t as ambitious.
I can understand why some of these books aren’t in the Library of Congress. (It’s probably more surprising that there’s any zombie books in the Library of Congress.) But to explore the popularity of stories about the shambling undead, I asked my friend Thomas Roche, a professional writer for more than 15 years, who’s just published his first novel about zombies. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a quote back.
I think zombies may have actually eaten his brains.
Or maybe he’s just busy reading all the ebooks he’s competing with…
That last book is actually the newest book in R. L. Stine’s popular “Goosebumps” series of scary stories for younger readers (which have sold more than 350 million copies. I used its colorful cover at the top of this blog post. It’s easy to laugh at the titles, but they may have tapped into a storyline with some primal universal appeal. Some authors have enjoyed wild success by re-creating our darkest nightmares, and maybe that’s the ultimate irony.
It’s not that the zombies are attracted to our brains. It’s that our brains are attracted to zombies!
There’s even zombie Christmas books, believe it or not, including A Zombie Christmas Carol and A Christmas Carol of the Living Dead: a zombie holiday tale. (Plus A Zombie Christmas and “A Christmas Wish: A Zombie Tale for the Holidays.”) If you think that’s confusing, try reading The Christmas Zombie: The story of why zombies celebrate Christmas. And if you’re just looking for holiday cheer, there’s It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies (Christmas carols “composed specifically for…the decomposing).”
Some authors have also tried their hand at creating zombie books for other holidays. (Like Dangerous Hunts: A Zombie Father’s Day Tale.”) And A Very Zombie Holiday even follows a zombie father as he attempts to celebrate every holiday with his living family. If you’re after a classic bedtime story, there’s Snow White and the Seven Dead Dwarves: A Zombie Fairy Tale.” And for educational purposes, there’s also something called Zombie Ed Counts To Twenty, and its sequel, Zombie Ed Loves Halloween. (“Text-to-speech enabled… Finally! A zombie book for children! “)
And — uh-oh. Here comes another wave of more strange zombie ebooks…
I’m not sure what to make of an ebook called James Joyce and the Zombie Priest, though it’s attracted at least one positive review on its web page at Amazon. (“If there is a better zombie version of Araby by James Joyce, it would be news to me!”) This trend probably all started when real-world bookstores started seeing big sales of a 2009 parody novel called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (crediting Jane Austen as a co-author). It rose to #3 on the New York Times best-seller list, according to Wikipedia, apparently spawning a new generation of even stranger zombie novels — and zombie ebooks. There’s even a Garrison Keillor parody called The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten that’s attributed to an author named Harrison Geillor. (“The humor in this parody lies in the simple truth that even a zombie bear with a hatchet in its head won’t faze a Minnesotan,” writes Publisher’s Weekly.)
And there’s zombie parodies of other books — like Zombies of Oz (and The Terrible Zombie of Oz). There’s also The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim and Wuthering Heights and a Werewolf…and a Zombie Too.” Someone’s even written zombie versions of two Sherlock Holmes stories, a book of zombie fairy tales, and a zombie version of The War of the Worlds (“plus Blood, Guts, and Zombies”). And if you liked Great Expectations, you might try Pip and the Zombies, by Charles Dickens and Louis Skipper.
In the two years since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the concept has apparently festered its way into a full-fledged literary movement. I was surprised to see a book titled simply Zombies for Zombies — until I realized it was a parody of the “For Dummies” book (receiving thirteen 5-star reviews). There’s also The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zombies, which strangely is not a parody, but an official title in the “Idiot’s Guide” series, which traces the origin of zombie stories with chapters about books, movies, and comic books. But just when it couldn’t get any creepier, I discovered that there’s even some zombie books that are actually about personal investing.
Zombie Economics: A Guide to Personal Finance
How to Prosper During the Coming Zombie Apocalypse
Workplace Of The Living Dead: What Zombies Can Teach Leaders About Engaging Employees
Zombie Project Management
And there’s also some zombie history books. (Which, honestly, throws some doubt over their historical accuracy.)
A Zombie’s History of the United States
A Tale of Zombies in Czarist Russia
A Tale of Zombies in the Old West
Everything My Grandmother Taught Me about Killing Zombies
The Eagle has Re-Animated
Pappy’s Old Time Zombie Radio Show
Zombies Take Manhattan
There’s something strangely inspiring about the sheer number of books that have ultimately been inspired about zombies. It’s nice to see this massive outpouring of new creativity, as people all around the globe start wondering what’s going to happen in their imaginary zombie scenario. In fact, zombies are turning up in a surprising variety of different kinds of books. Though some authors even seem to think that maybe the lonely zombies just need a friend…
Maybe they were also inspired by the success of the Twilight series of books about a vampire’s teenaged romance. (One ebook author has even written Vampire Among the Zombies.) But I had to laugh when I saw an ebook titled “Where are the Zombies?”
Dude, you’re not paying attention. They’re everywhere!
October 19th, 2012
The Kindle Paperwhite has only been available since early October, but there’s already a new game available for it — mine! Wednesday Amazon added our Kindle word game, “Throw in the Vowel,” to their list of games which are now also approved for the Kindle Paperwhite. I released the game with my business partner back in February, and it’s nice to see that our updates have finally paid off. There’s only 110 different games available now for the Kindle Paperwhite, but ours is one of them!
In two days, “Throw in the Vowel” has already become one of the Kindle Paperwhite’s top 30 best-selling games. (And of course, it’s also available for the Kindle Touch, the new Kindle, the older Kindle 2 and 3 “Kindle Keyboards, and even the Kindle DX.) But I’m excited for another reason. Some things really do look better on the Kindle Paperwhite’s glowing screen.
I’ve always said that one of my favorite things about our game was the way that it looked. Its background images show a magical mystery world where mists are shining, and there’s tantalizing words hovering just out of reach. There’s a glowing moon in the three-dimensional background, and a white light shining behind the name of the game. But now it’s a real glow — the light from the Kindle Paperwhite!
We’d had to re-calculate the sizes of the letters too, so we ended up revealing even more of those pretty background images. I tell my friends that it’s almost a dream come true — literally! — since we’d imagined what that world was supposed to look like, and then made it shine out from the screen of the Kindle Paperwhite. Plus, the pixel count is higher on the Kindle Paperwhite, so you can see this little fantasy world in much greater detail. Now there’s even greater clarity for that light that’s shining on the columns, and the shimmering clouds in the sky.
When we released the game last February, we had no idea that Amazon would be releasing even more versions of the Kindle, but I feel like the Kindle Paperwhite is a perfect fit for “Throw in the Vowel”. To be fair, other games also look nicer on the Paperwhite’s glowing screen — and of course, they’re all much easier to play with a touchscreen interface. Our game is available on six different Kindles now — but I honestly feel that this is the best version yet.
It may just be a happy coincidence, but on the Kindle Paperwhite, “Throw in the Vowel” looks fantastic!
September 15th, 2012
It’s just 99 cents now to purchase the new Kindle word game, “Throw in the Vowel.” (I know, because I’m the game’s co-creator!) :) Take a look at this URL…
But I was really excited to see new five-star reviews piling up for the game. It’s gotten 16 of them so far, from all around the country — from Alabama, Florida, California, Kentucky, Oregon… Those five-star reviews have helped to make it one of Amazon’s top-rated Kindle games — we’re actually two ranks above Yahtzee — and it’s always a thrill for me to read what other people are saying.
“I find myself unable to put it down…” wrote the reviewer in Louisville.
“This game is one of the neatest and most different I have ever done… Definitely a great word game if you are not into crosswords and get tired of word search.
Here’s a screenshot showing how the game actually looks. (I almost cried when I saw how beautiful the background image was, thanks to our very talented graphic designer…)
I spent over a year creating this game with my business partner, Dr. Jeffrey Prince, so it was really rewarding to finally see actually people playing with what we’d built – and enjoying it! “If you love word games, you’ll love this!” wrote a reviewer in Pennsylvania, who said it became “one of my favorite Kindle games.” And Len Edgerly, the podcaster behind the popular “Kindle Chronicles” online broadcasts, described it as “Invigorating fun with words.”
“Throw in the Vowel is made to order for taking a break that refreshes and entertains. Highly recommended!”
We just launched the game this spring, but we didn’t release the Kindle Touch version until just this June! And right now our game is still one of Amazon’s top-50 best-selling Kindle games! (In fact, it’s now the #5,097 best-selling item in the entire Kindle Store!) I’m actually not sure how many days this special 99-cent offer is going to last, so this is your best opportunity to see what everyone’s getting so excited about it. As we ask on the game’s web page at Amazon…
Can you “Throw in the Vowel”? :D
Check out the game and its five-star reviews at
August 17th, 2012
Last year I co-authored a game for Amazon’s Kindle. So imagine my surprise when I learned that Amazon had written a new game of their own. Plus, this game was about books — a chance to enter into the world of all your favorite storybook characters. But what’s even more interesting is that Amazon has just launched their own fancy game-creating studio!
“We’re so happy to finally be able to reveal the social game we’ve been hard at work on,” Amazon posted at Games.Amazon.com. It’s called “Living Classics,” and it’s a lavish production, with soaring classical music playing in the background, along with full-color pictures illustrating scenes from the books. It’s a “social game,” which means it’s currently available through Facebook at apps.facebook.com/LivingClassics, and Amazon’s encouraging you to play it with your friends. “We know that many Amazon customers enjoy playing games – including free-to-play social games,” they write, “and thanks to Amazon’s know-how, we believe we can deliver a great, accessible gaming experience that gamers and our customers can play any time.”
It seems possible that Amazon might eventually release a version for their Kindle Fire tablets. This spring they announced an upgrade to the features they were making available to Kindle Fire developers. It included the ability to make purchases from inside a Kindle Fire app — which is also something you can do in this new Facebook game, Living Classics. For $1.00, Amazon will sell you $5 of “virtual” cash that you can spend inside their game!
The web page explains that Amazon Game Studios “is exactly what it sounds like: a new team at Amazon that’s focused on creating innovative, fun and well-crafted games.” And I can’t wait to see what they come up with in future releases, and I’m really impressed by the quality of Living Classics…
So how does the game work? Amazon’s game presents you with a picture of a scene from a famous storybook. (For example, the first scene shows Alice in Wonderland receiving advice from that giant caterpillar…) They’re detailed scenes, but if you look closely, you’ll see that some of the characters are actually moving! The object of the game is to click on every one of the moving items — and to do it as quickly as possible!
Each time you succeed, you’re rewarded with a cartoon fox. (Your ultimate goal is to re-unite all the foxes who’ve gone missing from their family, and one fox returns for each picture that you successfully complete.) They’ve wandered into all kinds of different storybooks, including The Wizard of Oz, King Arthur, and even some Wild West Tales. “The foxes I drew with my magic ink have come to life,” explains an introductory letter on the game’s first page, “and gotten lost in their favorite books.
“Only someone with a good heart can find my foxes again, someone like you.”
June 21st, 2012
If you own a Kindle Touch, here’s two very important announcements.
First, Amazon’s Kindle Store finally got a Kindle Touch version of a new word game this week. It’s called “Throw in the Vowel” — I’m the game’s co-author — and it was released in February for all the other Kindle models. But this Kindle Touch version is even easier to play, since you just tap your finger to make choices on the screen. And unlike some games, you don’t even have to type in the letters in the words to submit your guesses!
You can find a copy at tinyURL.com/ThrowInTheVowel , and the game represents a real milestone. For the last four months, we’ve been fine-tuning this touchscreen version, so it was a real thrill to finally see all the letters jumping happily around the screen in response to my fingertip! And while we were preparing this game, we also learned a lot about the Kindle Touch. For example, we’ve already adapted our game for the next generation of Amazon’s Kindle Touch software!
That software is already “available” for Kindle Touch owners, but right now you have to install it yourself. Eight weeks ago, Amazon’s created a special web page where you can download the new software, along with some easy instructions for how to perform that upgrade. (Just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/KindleTouchUpgrade ). I imagine that Amazon will eventually send this software out automatically over the wireless connection, and they’ll start including it with the Kindle Touches that they’re selling in stores. But after working with it for a few weeks, I learned that this new software includes some really cool features!
For example, it allows you to translate any word in any book into another language, just by pressing your fingertip onto the word (and then selecting “Translation” from the menu that pops up.) You can even customize the Kindle itself, so all of its menus appear in one of six foreign languages. (Besides English, there’s German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Brazilian Portuguese.) And you can also read ebooks in “landscape mode” as well as portrait (a feature which wasn’t available on earlier versions of the device.) Best of all, whenever you’re searching for something, the new software tries to guess what you’re typing! That way, you can just select from one of its on-screen choices rather than having to finish typing out all of the words yourself!
Anyways, these two announcements have a common theme: there’s now new ways to enjoy your Kindle Touch! And I hope you’ll try out “Throw in the Vowel.” We spent over a year identifying 750 challenging words for our game, and polishing up the game’s “look and feel” just for the Kindle.
Now that it’s finally available for the Kindle Touch, it’s your chance to join in the fun!
February 20th, 2012
It’s a real surprise. You launch the game on your Kindle — and see two funny hamsters looking back at you! (They look great on the large screen of my Kindle DX.) And then on the game’s main menu screen, the “selection indicators” are two little hamster icons! The game was released in January, and within a week became one of the top 3 best-selling items in the entire Kindle Store.
In “Hamster Habitat,” there’s a few small squares that represent hamster cages, and every time you nudge your Kindle’s five-way controller, a new tube appears on the screen. You’re trying to connect the hamster cages — and to reach all the hamster treats that are scattered across the screen — but it’s trickier than it looks! Soon you’ll run out of straight tubes (or curvy tubes), so your path has to swerve in another direction!
The puzzles all have funny names, like “Big Nose” or “Treats up Top”. And the hamsters actually move! While you’re staring at the screen, the little hamster icon (in its cage) will occasionally decide to sit up, or to lie back down. It reminds me of a famous web site called “the hamster dance.” In 1998, a Canadian woman inserted 392 tiny images of dancing hamsters onto her web page, accompanied by a speeded-up sound clip of the twangy voice of singer Roger Miller. (“Dee dee dee, doo doo, doo doo, doo…”) I once interviewed the woman who created it, who told me at one point her hamsters were receiving nearly a thousand fan letters each day!
Millions of hamsters later, that meme has now somehow resurfaced in a game for Amazon’s Kindle. It’s similar to “Blossom,” a Kindle game from Braintonik where you’re connecting lots of flowers to a central watering can. The hamsters give this new game a funny twist. Even when you select which level to play. each level is represented by a plate with some cheese on it!
This makes the 16th free game that Amazon has released, and there’s 66 different levels to choose from. At first I had trouble recognizing which of the thin lines represented the “opening” of the hamsters’ cages — it’s even thinner than the other lines — but it was easier when I moved the hamsters onto the giant screen of my Kindle DX. Despite the simple hamsters, it’s a real challenge to solve the puzzles, and at one point I realized I was just guessing. (I’d just nudge the five-way contorller to see what happened, since every time I pressed it, a new tube appeared on the screen, lengthening that hamster’s tunnel and moving it closer to the treats!)
I think games must free some extra creativity in the people who build them. What happens in the Land of Play? It’s only limit is your imagination. A friend of mine once created a game that was called “Roshambo Run” with the strangest instructions I’ve ever seen. (“You’re a minature angry nun who loves coffee. Shut up. You just are. Due to your alarmingly small size, you must go around any muffins in your way…”) If you successfully completed a level, you were even rewarded with a quote from the lead singer of Twisted Sister. (You can still see it at Archive.org. Just point your computer’s web browser to tinyurl.com/RoshamboRun )
Maybe games don’t just free up creativity in the game designers, but also in the people who play the games. After all, once you’ve navigated a game board as a minature angry nun, it’s just one small step to connecting hamster cages on your Kindle!
February 17th, 2012
I wrote a game for the Kindle! We’ve actually fussed over this game’s big concept, on and off, for over six years, so this really feels like a dream that’s finally come true. After more than a year (of preparing it for the Kindle), we’ve finally released “Throw in the Vowel,” our original new word game, in Amazon’s Kindle Store!
I almost wept the day our graphic designer showed us the beautiful background illustration they’d created for the game, showing shining tall columns, draped with vines, surrounding a detailed tiled floor. We’ve created a beautiful, magical place, where mist glows around virtual columns, and letters hover — hiding in “clue boxes”, highlighted by you, as you nudge your Kindle’s controller. It’s a gentle game of hide-and-seek with words — or as my girlfriend put it, “a love letter to the English language.”
I created this game with an old friend who’s actually had this dream even longer than I have! I first met Jeffrey Prince in 1991, working together at a start-up in Northern California — and even back then, I remember him telling me that he’d always wanted to create a new challenging game to share with the world. Now Jeffrey’s in his sixties, but in 2005 he’d suggested that we finally make this dream come true. I’d mocked up a prototype of the game he’d described, but then we’d kept on fiddling with it. And we spent the next five years cheerfully trying to stump each other with new variations on our puzzles, until eventually we’d created several hundred of them.
But in 2010, Jeffrey resurrected his original 2005 idea, and we realized that this concept was really special. We’ve searched for exotic patterns of vowels — like four O’s in a row, or three U’s — and provided the consonants which will turn them all into words. (But where that match won’t immediately be obvious!) There’s always 10 choices, but can you find the right match among the nine other clue boxes? (Can you “Throw in the Vowel?”) It offers the thrill of creating meaning itself — turning arbitrary patterns into words. In one puzzle, the “clue box” even has five S’s!
For the last year I’ve been telling Jeffrey that he may have invented the world’s next, great word game. “The excitement increases” (as we explain on the game’s page on Amazon) as “a tower of words grows higher.” Each puzzle gets easier as you go along, and there’s an extra-special puzzle at the very end. When we added it, I smiled to myself, wondering if anyone else will love these words just as much as I do…
For each list of 10 words in “Throw in the Vowel”, Jeffrey or I spent nearly an hour considering hundreds of possibilities. And each set required nearly 30 million automated checks against a dictionary, to make sure it was perfectly unique — that there was always only one correct match for every set of letters in each one of our puzzles. It was an intense “labor of love,” and now I feel like I’ve somehow touched the inside of the Kindle Store. And maybe even the Kindle itself, traveling across invisible connections to the screens of hundreds of different Kindles…
Levels are played, scores are kept, highlights move up and down, and players get cheered on with 54 different encouraging comments from Jeffrey and me. (“You rock!” “You’re on fire!” “You found it!” “Keep going…”) I’m excited, and a little proud — and hopeful. (And happy…) But I’m also just amazed, that somehow we’ve crashed through the gate into game-land. We’ve found the secret place where all the words are hiding.
And we’ve joined that family of invisible game-makers who are always out there, somewhere, trying to bring some fun into the world.
Come and play!
November 14th, 2011
I’m always amazed at how many new games keep coming to the Kindle Store. Now there’s another free game from Amazon designed especially for the upcoming holiday season. “We were going to wait to start talking about the holidays, but this new free game for Kindle is getting us in the spirit a little early,” read an announcement on the Kindle’s page on Facebook. “Check it out for yourself, but don’t blame us if you suddenly get the urge to start stringing lights and singing carols.”
The new game is “Picture Perfect Holiday Puzzles,” and within four hours of the announcement, it had already earned 208 “Like” votes and drawn 35 enthusiastic comments. (Like the woman in Minnesota who posted “OMG! OMG! OMG! This is my all time FAVORITE Kindle game, I’ve been waiting for a Part 2 forever!! YESSSS!!!!!!!”) This makes the 14th free game that Amazon has released, and it’s a “sequel” to a free game Amazon released in July called simply “Picture Perfect Puzzles”. In both those games, users try to form a picture by darkening all the correct squares in a grid, making logical deductions from clues showing the number of squares that need darkening in each row and column.
The July version had 50 different picture grids — but now Amazon’s created 35 more puzzles, and each picture has a fun holiday theme. (The puzzles are grouped into six categories: Winter Begins, Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Continues, Kwanzaa, and New Years.) “This is just as addictive as the original Pixel Perfect,” reads one review of the game at Amazon.com. “I decided to pace myself so I could stretch the fun over a few days. That lasted 3 days. Oh well.”
“With reset, the pictures are erased and I can work through the puzzles again. Maybe, I can stretch the fun to last for a week!”
But several more new games have also been released for the Kindle in just the last month. In October Electronic Arts unveiled a Kindle version of the popular “Trivial Pursuit” game. (When the board game version was first released in the early 1980s, it sold over 20 million copies in just one year, according to Wikipedia.) The new $4.99 Kindle version — called “Trivial Pursuit: Master Edition” — still has the same familiar board design (a six-spoked wheel), and your score is still tracked using the wedges of a pie. Some Amazon reviewers are complaining that there’s too many “Entertainment” questions that have slipped into other categories — but the game’s description on Amazon promises there’s 1,500 new questions — and you can play the game by yourself, or with others using the “pass and play” mode.
Of course, there’s competing trivia games already available on the Kindle, including Triviac (a quiz game released in Oct 18) and It’s All About Sports — a brand new game that was just released on November 8. And offering a new twist, there’s also trivia game that seems to alternate trick questions with easier questions — called Moron-o-meter. “A clever blend of serious, not-at-all serious and downright tricky questions will be asked,” warns the game’s description at Amazon.com, “in an attempt to bamboozle you into thinking you might be a moron.”
And besides games, there’s also been a couple useful new applications that have been released for the Kindle — including two spreadsheet programs. Anywhere Spreadsheet was released on Oct 4, and less than a month later, another company released EFRAC spreadsheet. And there’s also a new Day Planner and Calendar app that was released for the Kindle in September, along with a similar app that’s called “Task List professional.” September saw the release of an Address Book app, plus another one called Contacts. And if you’d like to look up nutritional information, there’s even a new app called “MyFood.”
I’m guessing there must be close to 200 games now available on the Kindle — and it seems like more and more are released every month. If you’d like to check for any new games that you might’ve missed, Amazon’s created a special web page where they’re announcing all the new games as they’re released. (Just point your computer’s web browser to tinyurl.com/TopKindleGames )
I’ve always thought of the holidays as the perfect time to take some time off and play. And now it’s finally possible to do some of that playing on a Kindle!
October 23rd, 2011
Yes, it’s finally happened. That whimsical (or annoying) little yellow sponge has officially arrived on the Kindle. Thursday Mobigloo games — the makers of Jewels and Reversi Deluxe — released “SpongeBob’s Treasure Quest,” a new game for the Kindle using characters from Nickelodeon’s popular children’s cartoon.
The yellow sponge is now black and white — but he’s also wearing a pirate’s hat and an eyepatch over one eye. There’s no animation — the storyline is advanced with four-panel comic strips — but you can almost hear the characters’ goofy voices as you’re reading the dialogue.
Hey Patrick, look at this old map.
Wow SpongeBob, that’s not just any old map. That’s a treasure map!
Wow. Whaddya say we go on a little adventure?
Okay. Where do you want to go?
The game’s web page at Amazon.com explains that “It’s up to you, with a little help from Patrick and Sandy, to guide SpongeBob through the deep to uncover the treasures for the Krusty Krab.” The restaurant where SpongeBob works competes with “The Chum Bucket,” and their arch-rivals try to stop him from collecting the treasure icons scattered throughout 50 grids. “It is slightly like Pixel Perfect,” explains a review on Amazon, “in that you have a grid with numbers on the side with information.” Within 48 hours, it had already become one of the top 10 best-selling Kindle games — and it currently ranks as the #239 best-selling item in the entire Kindle Store!
As strange as it seems, I feel like the SpongeBob gives the Kindle some more legitimacy as a platform for game developers. It’s the first “brand-name character” to appear in a Kindle game — someone who’s already very well-known from a major mainstream cartoon. Is it possible that someday we’ll see Kindle games with Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, or Shrek? Even if you’re not a fan of SpongeBob SquarePants, this still feels like a milestone.
Technically SpongeBob made some earlier appearance on the Kindle — in audibooks. In 2003, Audible began releasing audiobook versions of the “chapter book” stories for young readers describing new adventures for the show’s characters. They were read by Mr. Lawrence — one of the voice actors for the show — though unfortunately, he’s not the original voice of the talking sponge, and young listeners may notice the difference. Then again, the show’s creator had originally wanted to call the character “SpongeBoy.” His network insisted he change it when they discovered that name was already taken — by the marketers of a mop accessory!
Of course under the ocean, sponges aren’t yellow and perfectly square, but the show’s creator had made the switch as a kind of private jokes for marine biologists. (Before his career as an animator he’d earned a degree in natural-resource planning at Humboldt State University, according to Wikipedia, and his emphasis was on ocean resources.) His cartoon has since become not only Nickelodeon’s highest-rated show, but also its longest running. It’s been on the air since 1999.
The game developers who produced this game also created the Kindle utilities Easy Calculator and Sticky Notes (as well as Mahjong Solitaire and the new “Mahjong Solitaire Halloween Edition”). And the bottom line is that it’s yet another new way to have fun on your Kindle. My friend Len Edgerly interviewed me for his podcast this week (“The Kindle Chronicles”), and I tried to explain why I’m so excited about the variety of new games available on the Kindle.
Now you’ve reached a point where you’ve got hundreds and hundreds of developers, and it’s going to get wacky, like all the apps you can find on your iPhone now, where any high school kid or college kid or crazy inventor someplace out there in the world who has a wild idea for some kind of game or some kind of app, some kind of instantaneous local celebration of the holiday — can boom! Make it available in the Kindle Store for your Kindle.
I think this is an interesting hint about the future that’s going to come, where we start seeing new things to do on your Kindle that were dreamed up by some guy someplace with a wild idea. And it’s going to open the doors for all kinds of creativity and all kinds of fun, and new things that we haven’t seen before on our Kindles…
More fun things we can do than we ever dreamed possible.
October 16th, 2011
It’s two weeks until Halloween, but the holiday is already having a strange effect on the game section of the Kindle Store. There’s several new “Halloween” versions of some popular Kindle games. And Amazon has also released yet another free mystery game of their own!
It’s fun to see game developers taking their established Kindle titles, and updating them with special Halloween editions. The best-selling game in the Kindle Store right now is the “Ultimate Halloween Quiz” — and it’s one of the top-40 best-selling items in the entire Kindle store! HandyX has already created seven other “interactive quiz” games, but this one promises questions about monsters, magic, and other October-appropriate topics. “Do you know Mary Shelley from Marilyn Manson, or Freddy from Jason…?” asks the game’s description at Amazon.com “Questions topics include horror movies, Halloween facts, scary novels, gruesome history, magical creatures, myths and legends. Halloween will never be the same!”
And there’s also a spooky new version of the Sudoku-like logic puzzle, Futoshiki. “Futoshiki Halloween Edition takes an eerie twist as witches and zombies take over in a graveyard game board,” warns the game’s page in the Kindle store. There’s a dangerous-looking tree in the background of the game board, and the top of the screen even includes the silhouette of a witch. But somehow, the stark contrast on the Kindle’s black-and-white screen seems to fit the holiday perfectly.
Both those games were released just last Wednesday — and there’s also a new Halloween version of the game Blossom. This has always been one of my personal favorite Kindle games, and it’s fun to see it getting a holiday makeover. In the original version, you’d rotate squares in a grid to connect a network of pipes to make some flowers blossom. But in the Halloween edition, those restful flowers have been replaced by jack-o-lanterns — and instead of a watering can, they’re connecting to a black witch’s cauldron!
And believe it or not, there’s now even a Halloween version of Mahjong Solitaire. “This game is so fun it’s scary!” reads its description in the Kindle Store, which promises to complement its 13 different layouts with two special Halloween tile sets. Their pictures include pumpkins, tombstones, and even something that looks like a smirking ghost. At $3.99, it’s one of the more expensive Kindle games — but if you like Mahjong Solitaire, this looks like a fun novelty.
And there’s one more new game in the Kindle Store with a special connection to Halloween. The makers of Slingo have just come up with “Poker of the Dead” — which combines the challenges of the classic “Texas Hold ‘Em” card game with…zombies! It’s a seven-day tournament (with 10 hands per day), with a dramatic backstory adding the complication of an onslaught by the living dead. But fortunately, according to the game’s description, your zombie opponents “have no brains, never fold, and will always call your bet.” The phrase “winner takes all” gets a whole new meaning, but if you defeat all these poker-playing zombies, you’ll live to fight another day.
Amazon’s newest free game isn’t quite as creepy — but they’ve taken a classic logic puzzle and given it a nice Kindle adaptation. “Grid Detective” recreates those story problems you may remember from puzzle magazines — where, for example, there’s four people receiving four kittens that are four different colors. So who got which kitten? The game offers a series of cryptic clues — but you can “crack the case” if you carefully track them all, and also make the right inferences. In the paper-and-pencil version, you’d have to draw your own grid to keep track of all your deductions, but Amazon’s made this game much simpler to play by creating their own detailed interface. It may not be the most mysterious game ever, but the whole “intrigue” theme seem appropriate for Halloween.
Are we seeing a trend of things to come? Next month will we see special Thanksgiving editions of games for the Kindle — and even more versions for other holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Days? My crystal ball remains hazy, but I do think this is more significant than it seems. Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets will include lots of homegrown apps from outside developers, so there’ll eventually be hundreds of extra brains trying to dream up new ways to entertain us. Maybe this is our first taste of what that future will be like.
But whatever happens, I’m glad to see that there’s already independent Kindle developers out there who are dreaming up their own fun new ways to use a Kindle to celebrate Halloween!