I just read a fascinating article in the Atlantic, The Most Dangerous Gamer. It details the efforts, life, and thoughts of an independent game maker, Jonathon Blow.
At one point Blow provides the following quote:
The games I like are ones that have shown me something I wouldn’t otherwise have seen, and Marc’s creating an experience that would not have been possible to have, had he not made it. And that’s pretty interesting.
This is an important aspect to think about with regard to puzzles. Puzzles distill the world down, forcing you to pay attention to one aspect of the world (or the imagination) when you interact with them. They make it possible to discover patterns and strategies that exist in the world without all the other noise that makes it more difficult to discover those patterns without the puzzle. They essentially provide a limited perspective of the world so that important discoveries can be made and understood. Then those discoveries can be taken back out to the real world more effectively.
This is why I think puzzles are so essential to education. The purpose of education is to help us understand and interact with the world in more nuanced, powerful, and creative ways. Puzzles allow us to educate through the process of discovery, which leads to greater ownership and a more nuanced understanding of the information.
In any case I’d recommend reading the article. I’m going to check out the game he’s developing as soon as it has launched.