Magic Puzzles

Magic Puzzles


Full Screen

Demo of Magic Puzzles


Magic Puzzles logo

Art and software development by Leah Tynan

Music by Michael Chung, Todd Marston, Stephanie Newton (a member of Second Line Brass Band), Alexandra Rinn, and Leah Tynan

Concept & Process

Magic Puzzles (launched July 2020) is a digital puzzle experience that blends illustration, animation, music, and game design.

These puzzles play notes of a song as pieces are placed. When the puzzle is complete, the entire song plays continuously and the picture animates.

This work was created with the Unity game engine. Its C# code is open source on GitHub.

I came up with this concept in fall 2019. It likely came into my head after many discussions at work about sound design, as we had a lot of success and fun working with sound on exhibit software in the months leading up to it. Many weeks later, I realized that I was possibly subconsciously influenced by the Legend of Zelda games, where the player plays notes of a song on an instrument — one-by-one — and when the song is played correctly it plays continuously and triggers an event (traveling in time, summoning a storm, etc.)

After coming up with only a handful of animation ideas (which I was mostly uninspired by), and feeling daunted by the idea of composing several songs in addition to drawing and animating, it was clear to me that a more collaborative and systems-oriented approach to generate content was the answer.

I reached out to several musician friends, asking if they would be interested in writing a short, 12-note tune with no other restrictions other than the number of notes. The rhythm could be however they’d like — for example, notes could be played evenly and quickly (resulting in a shorter song) or notes could be held longer or drawn out with a pedal (resulting in a longer song). I also asked for their favorite color and animal, to determine what would be depicted in their puzzle.

This process was exciting beyond words. It was magical to see their song, animal, and color come together. Additionally, it required some practice reading music, as I sometimes received sheet music which I would then play and send back to make sure I was playing it correctly. I'm extremely grateful to these friends for sharing their talent and enthusiasm and playing along, not knowing exactly what we were creating together.

The user interface and interaction felt solid from the start, but the aesthetic morphed quite significantly over time. I started monochrome (e.g. blue ferret on light blue background), working from my original strategy of using the musician’s favorite color. This worked great, up until the last puzzle arrived and the color was yellow; a yellow whale against light yellow background was very difficult to see. I experimented placing the yellow whale against a rich blue background and it had so much more life in it than the previous monochromatic works — it felt electric! This called me to rework all puzzle art to be dual tone with super bright colors. The colors were inspired by street art such as graffiti and skateboard art. While working on the yellow whale puzzle that pivoted things for me, I was also shopping for my first skateboard deck and loved looking at all the brightly colored designs (eventually, I settled for a bright yellow board with hot pink wheels, which spoke to the kind of vibrancy Magic Puzzles was waiting for).


December 10, 2020: I shared the creative process, software architecture, and lessons learned from Magic Puzzles at Women Who Code Boston's December Tech Talks. Video coming soon!

September 22, 2020: I presented a webinar Cracking the Code to Developing Creative Software Products using Magic Puzzles as a case study.