Penguins on Ice

The story behind the creation of Penguins on Ice

Raf Peeters, January 2011

Penguins on ice is a single player game I invented for SmartGames that you really need to see in action. What makes this puzzle different you can only experience when you hold it in your hands.

“Penguins on ice” is a puzzle that I developed in a different order than most other Smart Games. Normally I start with a theme or an image that inspires me. The concept and game rules follow later. For this logic game I started with the mechanical puzzle concept instead of the theme.


It always interests me to look into things that are fascinating for other people, although I don’t necessarily share the same fascination. Pentominoes are such a thing. Already for more than 10 years Odette De Meulenmeester, a math teacher in a Belgian school works around pentominoes in her class room. In case you don’t know, a pentomino is a shape that is formed by putting 5 equal squares together edge to edge. 

Like in most of my other puzzles, I always try to keep the number of puzzle pieces to a minimum. So in order to have also enough possibilities with a small set of pieces, I needed something different. The solution was to make each puzzle piece in such a way that it can be shape-shifted. This way each puzzle piece can have 3 or 4 possible shapes, but of course you don’t know which shape you need for the solution. Although you only have 5 puzzle pieces in Penguins on Ice, you can create 13 different pentomino shapes with them (of 18 one-sided pentomino shapes that exist). Some shapes can be formed by different puzzle pieces. Initially, Odette helped me finding the right set of pentomino -shapes that had enough possible combinations. After that, Saskia wrote a computer program to look for challenges with unique solutions. So who said again that my games are more for boys/men?

After I found a technical solution, I started looking for a theme. I always want the theme to form a coherent story with the game concept and that it is not only used to make the puzzle just “look” interesting. But what in real life is based on squares and can transform? Ice floating on the sea is sliding and gliding all the time. And so do the penguins who live on it. And by dividing these ice floes into squares, they look like ice cubes, which is a perfect base for pentominoes.


The object of the game is to pack the ice so that every puzzle tile can fit on the game board AND to make sure that all the penguins are in the right spot. At STARTER level you are given the form and the position of one or more puzzle pieces to show you how the game works. The more difficult challenges indicate only the position of the penguins. When the challenge shows fewer then 5 penguins, you can choose where to put the other ones. The game looks complex at first sight, but once you get to know the different possibilities, it’s not that difficult.


The final product is truly a pentomino game (“penta” means “5” in Ancient Greek): It not only uses pentomino shapes (made of 5 squares), but also uses 5 of them on a 5x5 grid. And of course there are 5 penguins on them. Only minor default, it doesn’t include 5 challenges, but 60. From all SmartGames I designed so far this is definitely the best looking one. I also like the artwork that my colleagues made for the box and booklet. And although I personally prefer to play other SmartGames like Titanic, Metroville or Temple Trap, this will be a favorite of many people, based on feedback we received so far. 

You can play a few challenges for free on the website of SmartGames. It gives you an idea of what kind of challenges you can expect. But the puzzle pieces in real life are so much easier to handle than its digital counterpart, that the version on the website doesn’t really do right to the physical product. So if you are interested, the only way to test it is to try one out with friends or to play it in a store where they have a demonstration version.


The updated 2016 version (new line look) now includes 80 instead of 60 challenges!


This year we will update Penguins on Ice again, with a “celebration edition”. It will have a much nicer packaging than the 2016 edition with an illustration made by my colleague Jeanne (see image below). It also features an extra 20 easy challenge. So in total there are now a hundred challenges! Some of the existing challenges were improved and we play tested everything again to improve the order of the challenges. Some customers apparently found the 2016 version too difficult. In the new version the difficulty goes up more gradually. And there are now 5 levels, which make it now nearly perfect from a pentomino point of view.

example of a puzzle piece that can be shape-shifted

example of a challenge (left) and solution (right) with 5 visible penguins


1) Choose a challenge and make sure you pay attention to the location of each penguin – you might have one or more penguins to position! At STARTER/JUNIOR level you are given the form and the position of one or more puzzle pieces to get you off to a flying start, and to show you how the game works.

2) Arrange the 5 puzzle pieces on the game board, one next to the other so they all fit, and at the same time, make sure all the penguins are positioned as indicated in the challenge:

• To succeed you must change the shape of the pieces of ice by sliding the two parts of each puzzle tile up and down to find a shape that fits.

• When the challenge shows fewer then 5 penguins, you can choose where to put the other penguins.

• The direction the penguins face is not important. When you look at your challenge, you only need to pay attention to which position each penguin is in, not the direction.

3. There is only one correct solution. You can find all the solutions at the back of the challenge booklet.

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Products and images: © Smart