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North East South West Puzzle

Just a quick puzzle post today to share the north east south west puzzle with you because it’s already past my bedtime! This has been a crazy week because I’ve been spending almost all of my spare time prepping for a 2.5 hour workshop I’m giving this Saturday on interactive notebooks.

north east south west puzzle with photograph of compass on top of maps

The participants will actually be designing their own notebook pages during the workshop, so I’ve had to put a lot of time and thought into how to make our time productive and make sure people leave with an INB that they are proud of.

Today, though, I want to share about this week’s puzzle table happenings. It’s a short, 4-day week due to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And, I was so frazzled on Tuesday that I never got around to putting out this week’s puzzle.

So, yesterday was the first day for this puzzle on the puzzle table. With only two days of student attention so far, it has been attempted by several and solved by one pair of students I don’t even have in class this year. Two girls stopped by to discuss something related to student council.

The website I needed to access to answer their question was having technical issues, so they were forced to wait. They naturally gravitated toward the puzzle table and solved the puzzle. It was awesome to listen to their reasoning.

north east south west puzzle by donald knuth

Instead of just jumping in the puzzle and placing letters in random places, they really reasoned through which letters were used the most and which letters were used the least.

Then, they used this information to decide where to put these key and not so key letters in the puzzle. Once they did this, they had the correct solution in what seemed like no time at all. My other students have not been so lucky yet.

This week’s puzzle, which I have named “North East South West” comes from Puzzle Box, Volume 1 from Dover Publications. This is the first book in a series of three puzzle books that are edited by the Peter and Serhiy Grabarchuk. This specific puzzle is by Donald Knuth.

Each volume has 300 puzzles, and I have found over a hundred puzzles between the three volumes that I would like to adapt to use in my classroom some day. If you love puzzles or if you are looking for resources to teach your students to reason logically, Puzzle Box, Volumes 1-3 are the books for you!

This week, I decided to give my students a chance to try a word-based puzzle instead of my normal shape-based or number-based puzzles that I tend to gravitate towards. Hello, I’m a math teacher!

north east south west puzzle by donald knuth

Puzzlers must take the 10 letter cards and arrange them in such a way that NORTH, EAST, SOUTH, and WEST can be traced out by moving one square at a time, horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.

Donald Knuth’s original wording of the question mentioned moving as a chess piece. I figured that would confused my students, so I chose to reword it.

north east south west puzzle by donald knuth

The puzzle board is designed to print on 11 x 17 cardstock. The puzzle pieces are designed to print on letter sized paper.

You can print it on letter sized paper by changing the scale percentage. I had to scale it to 65% to make it fit. Be sure you remember what percent you chose because you will need to scale the puzzle pieces to the SAME percent so that the puzzle pieces fit on the puzzle board properly.

puzzle printing instructions.

I’m off to bed. Hope you and your students have fun with this puzzle! If you haven’t already, I definitely recommend that you check out the Puzzle Box books. You can get a great taste of what types of puzzles they have to offer you and your students by looking at the free Amazon Preview of Puzzle Box, Volume 1!

Just click the “Look Inside” button for each book. If you’re logged into Amazon, you can click “Surprise Me!” on the left side of the page. This will let you see quite a few of the puzzles inside the book for free.

I typed up my first Puzzle Box puzzle from the free preview. Then, I did some more looking around and knew I had to order it!

Look Inside Puzzle Box Volume 1.

Full Disclosure: I purchased Puzzle Box, Volume 1 with my own money. I was sent a free copy of Puzzle Box, Volume 2 and Puzzle Box, Volume 3 by the Grabarchuk Family.

Digital Version of North East South West Puzzle

Kathy Henderson has created a Desmos Activity Builder version of this North East South West Puzzle.

Another blog reader, Jeremy Knight, made a Google Slides version of the North East South West Puzzle.

Puzzle Solutions

I intentionally do not make answers to the printable math puzzles I share on my blog available online because I strive to provide learning experiences for my students that are non-google-able. I would like other teachers to be able to use these puzzles in their classrooms as well without the solutions being easily found on the Internet.

However, I do recognize that us teachers are busy people and sometimes need to quickly reference an answer key to see if a student has solved a puzzle correctly or to see if they have interpreted the instructions properly.

If you are a teacher who is using these puzzles in your classroom, please send me an email at with information about what you teach and where you teach. I will be happy to forward an answer key to you.


Monday 14th of May 2018

So, I've been reading your blog posts from the most recent (as of May 1, 2018) until I hit this post. I bought the puzzle books since reading your posts about how awesome they are. I had my husband and my 5-year old daughter do some with me and they are pretty awesome! But I was wondering how you print them? Do you remake them or do you photocopy them? I just wanted to understand what your process was.

Thanks! I love your blog! You have so many wonderful ideas! I teach 8th graders Algebra and Pre-Algebra and I have used so many of your ideas!

Ally Amenta

Friday 19th of January 2018

Hi Sarah! I just wanted to share how much I LOVE and appreciate all of your teaching magic!!! I come to your site for every lesson (and in-betweens)- my students absolutely adore your materials! You are a Godsend and inspire my teaching in so many ways- thank you! Have a wonderful day :) Ally

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