["Beyond Tetris" is a column from Tony "Tablesaw" Delgado about puzzle games that transcend mere abstract action and instead plunge deep into the heart of problem-solving. This installment looks at a collection of eye-bending mindbenders: Heaven and Earth.]

Convex Concave, by Scott Kim, from Heaven and EarthIn 1992, the newly reestablished Games Magazine published a puzzle by Scott Kim called Convex Concave. There were several 2-D images of 3-D blocks to be punched out and arranged to form other 2-D images of 3-D blocks. But while the component images were simple, the goal images were complex Escherian monstrosities. But by laying the flat pictures on top of each other in ways that their 3-D representations could never allow, the impossible was created.

The Games puzzle was a promotion for the upcoming game Heaven and Earth, developed (though ironically not published) by Publishing International. The game had three parts: a pendulum toy; a solitaire card game; and The Illusions. The Illusions were designed by Scott Kim and comprised twelve puzzle games, each with forty-eight puzzles in four variations. In keeping with the Buddhist trappings of the game, the puzzles were all meant to challenge the mind by challenging the eye. The Convex Concave puzzle (which was, of course, one of the Illusions) was only the beginning.

Into the Labyrinth

Gaining Losing, by Scott Kim, from Heaven and EarthOne-third of the Illusions are mazes of different sorts. The most basic is the Antimaze; instead of following a path between lines, you have to send your cursor across the lines. In the Identity Maze, you maneuver multiple cursors simultaneously through the maze. Sometimes the cursors all move in the same directions, sometimes their movements are rotated or flipped; and in order for one cursor to move in a given direction, all of the cursors must be free to move appropriately. Both of these mazes are essentially no different from basic, single-state labyrinths. But in keeping with the theme of illusion, these puzzles recast simple mazes in an unfamiliar presentation. And in some of the more complex wrap-around Identity Maze puzzles, a "simplified" representation of the maze would be much larger than the original puzzle.

The other mazes, Changing Bodies and Gaining Losing, are more complicated. In these you control a fleet of active cursors that move in sync across a field filled with "frozen" cursors. The frozen cursors lie dormant until touched by an active cursor. In Gaining Losing, touching a frozen cursor activates it. By adding cursors in this way (and by skillfully removing cursors using "pits" on the field), you have to make sure that you fleet makes it to the goal in the correct formation. In Changing Bodies, if an active cursor hits one of these frozen squares, its "consciousness" leaps into the new cursor. The frozen cursor becomes an active cursor, and the active cursor becomes an impassable wall. These two puzzles are more than mere illusions; they are far, far more difficult than the other mazes.

Block Parties

A piece in motion in Figure Ground, by Scott Kim, from Heaven and EarthThe next third of the games involve moving shapes around the screen into the correct positions. The most basic is Sliding Graphics, where Kim has drawn upon the long history of sliding-block puzzles. The new addition for the game is sliding-block puzzles where unconnected blocks must be moved as a unit. Fit Fall has some twists on polyominoes, including infinite blocks and "blocks" made of unconnected cubes. While these variations aren't particularly illusory, they do allow for puzzles impossible for their non-computerized predecessors.

Figure Ground and Regrouping are the more complicated puzzles. Instead of staying discrete, the "blocks" that are moved around in these puzzles tend to merge into each other and become new shapes. In Figure Ground, when a group of similar-colored squares is moved, they uncover squares of a different color. And when two shapes of the same color are put next to each other, they become a single shape. In Regrouping, you manipulate groups of lines on a grid, but the lines you can move depend on the conditions of the round. Sometimes it's squares of a certain size, sometimes it's L shapes. In both of these games, it can be impossible to know how far you are from reaching your goal; the simplest mistake can make success impossible, and it's easy to convince yourself that the correct path won't work.

More than Meets the Eye Ai Ai!

Flip Turn, by Scott Kim, from Heaven and EarthThe last four games are unique and extremely hard to explain. One game, Cursor Warping, relies too much on skillful mouse manipulation to fall within the scope of this column, and I've already touched on Concave Convex (which is expanded in the Heaven and Earth). But it would take separate articles to explain both the mechanics and the subtleties of Flip Turn and Multiple Cursors. And those articles will never exist because those games, like most of the other puzzle types from Heaven and Earth haven't been duplicated. They have to be played to be understood. Luckily, both Scott Kim and Ian Gilman (one of the main programmers of the game) encourage you to play the original game.

I've been playing this game, off and on, since it was first released nearly fifteen years ago, and I still haven't finished it. There are puzzles (like some of the more complex Gaining Losing scenarios) that I've never come close to solving, and there are puzzles (like Convex Concave) that I've enjoyed solving over and over and over again. Even if the screenshots in this article don't seem appealing, I suggest you play the game yourself. As you might suspect, looks will be deceiving.