How to play Blackbox, the infuriating iPhone puzzle game that just won Apple’s Design Award

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Blackbox

Some smartphone games require little more than opposable thumbs and a pulse.

Others, like Blackbox, require so much wit and creativity that you’ll either end up feeling frustrated or incredibly proud of yourself.

Blackbox is a puzzle game for iPhone that was just awarded one of Apple’s prestigious Design Awards, which honor the best new apps, the ones Apple thinks are especially useful or beautiful.

Blackbox was among this year’s 12 winners, which Apple announced at its annual developer conference this week.

Blackbox presents you with small challenges that you have to complete by doing everything except touch the screen. Each challenge ends when you “turn on the lights,” meaning the small, brightly-colored squares (called lights) change from empty to filled. To do this, you have to use your phone’s other sensors, features and functions to trigger the puzzle.

If that sounds confusing, it is. Blackbox is hard – I mean really hard – but equally rewarding. Here’s how it works.


When you download Blackbox, you’ll be greeted with a short (and sassy) walkthrough of the components of the app.

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Blackbox

But those directions are mysterious, only providing the basics before launching you into your first puzzle.

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Blackbox

In this puzzle, there are six lights to turn on. The game doesn’t give you any directions on how to do that, simply urging you to “Think outside the box,” which isn’t particularly helpful – unless you notice that the words are reversed, which means you need to flip your phone around until you hit all six lights.


The main thing to know about Blackbox is that most of the puzzles can’t be solved with simple taps or swipes on the screen. Instead, the game uses actions you can complete using the sensors and features within your phone — like changing the volume buttons, altering the screen brightness, plugging into the headphone jack — to solve the puzzles.

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Blackbox

After you complete your first puzzle, you’ll be taken to your home screen, or grid. Here you can see all the puzzles you’ve solved and all those that are still unsolved or new.

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Blackbox

Here’s what your grid looks like after you’ve solved a few puzzles.

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Blackbox

Each puzzle is a different color, so it’s easy to see which ones you’ve completed (I solved the red, orange, yellow, and purple puzzles). It’s incredibly satisfying to watch each light or set of lights fill up with color.

The lights that are crossed off with gray stripes aren’t available for you to play. They’re either puzzles you need to pay for or new challenges that haven’t been unlocked yet.


Right off the bat, you’ll be offered hint credits. Take them — you’re definitely going to need them.

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Blackbox

To try your hand at your next puzzle, just click on a light and it’ll take you to this screen.

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Blackbox

Some of the puzzles are animated. Here’s what that looks like in action.

The only clue in this puzzle is that the dots float around and get bigger or smaller, depending on the amount of noise around you (don’t worry, Blackbox asks to use your microphone first).


But if you need a hint, tap one of the lights.


Blackbox gives you six free hints to get you started, which you can reveal by swiping on those blacked-out squares. The hints are subtle, but can sometimes point you in the right direction. Each hint applies to only one square, not the entire puzzle.

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Blackbox

Once you run out of hints, there are two ways to get more: paying for them, or getting friends to download the game.

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Blackbox

The best part about Blackbox is that you don’t need to solve all the pieces of a puzzle all at once. You could turn on all the lights, a few, or none, then go back to your grid and try another. The more puzzles you solve, the more will be added to your grid.

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Blackbox

I won’t spoil how to solve any the puzzles (that’s the most fun and frustrating part, after all) but when in doubt, try everything. Fiddle with your camera or turn off the wifi, charge your phone, or make lots of noise. Eventually, something that never even occurred to you will solve a puzzle.

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Blackbox

Blackbox is meant to be a brain-teaser, so don’t worry if you get fed up. Since there’s no timer or penalty for wrong attempts, you can take a break and return to it later to try something new.

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Blackbox

Blackbox is free to download on the App Store.