With only her hands and a few tiny plastic spheres connected together in the frame, 29-year-old Arlene Resendiz films herself on her 225,000-follower TikTok account as “the Kanoodle queen,” racing against the clock to finish the puzzle. Manipulating a dozen pieces so that they all fit snugly inside its box, Resendiz switches and slides the connected plastic beads while thousands of viewers cheer her on or give her tips in the comments. Some she completes with ease, while others have her losing to the buzzer, pulling in millions of views and building up hype, and TikTok Shop purchases.
Kanoodle has been a breakout smash on TikTok, capturing the fidgety hands and puzzle-addled minds of the app’s overall demographic, with simplistic but addictive gameplay. There are hundreds of videos of people solving puzzles and the hashtag has been used over 560 million times on the app. The game’s developer Educational Insights was even one of the first companies to be invited into the TikTok shop Beta in April, allowing the company to sell its plastic sets alongside these viral videos.
In 2020, Resendiz started posting to TikTok as a math teacher who noticed a lack of educational STEM content on the platform. She shared live streams of her playing Kanoodle and found that people were interested in communal puzzle solving, calling herself a “pioneer” of the genre. Within a year of her start, Educational Insights reached out and the pair started collaborating on seasonal branded content. Now she goes live on her TikTok account every Monday and tours around at events, spreading the gospel of Kanoodle and working as a brand ambassador.
Earlier this month, I met the Kanoodle queen as she was solving Kanoodles in the real world at New York City’s Toy Fair, showing off the oversized version of Kanoodle in front of its toy developer Educational Insights. Since 1962, they’ve been making everything from kinetic sand to a toddler’s first microscope, and they brought Resendiz out to show the magic of their game.
Though the premise is incredibly simple, all you do is rearrange a set of oddly shaped plastic sticks in a pattern so that they can all fit in a box. It can be charmingly addictive. Resendiz, who also runs the 1.8 million follower account SilentMath dared me to complete the one-piece challenge. After placing one oversized Kanoodle piece on the board, I was tasked with fitting every piece in without any missing holes. Soon, I was completely enraptured in the plastic puzzle, constantly taking pieces out, replacing them, and figuring out what exactly the solution might be. 30 minutes flew by, and I almost missed my next appointment.
Today, fans chime in in the comments with their own takes and tips, building a community of puzzle game solvers that play along at home. Sometimes Resendiz doesn’t solve the puzzle within the time limit, leading to even more engagement in the comments.
“People like to feel that they can solve something that’s a little difficult,” Resendiz told Passionfruit. “Every day I get better, I encourage my audience to give me something crazy so I don’t get bored.”
TikTok Shop has helped Resendiz pivot to being a full-time creator, splitting her time between her channels and working at a tutoring center. She’s noticed an uptick in views and revenue on videos that have a TikTok Shop affiliate link, though she wouldn’t share how much she’s made from the program.
But the shop metrics are a bit of a double-edged sword. Resendiz says the math content she’s tried on her other page @silentmath hasn’t gotten pushed out in the same way as her Kanoodle videos. Though she’s still accumulated over 1.2 million followers on her math page, she says the algorithm can still kill a video for seemingly no reason, leading to a bit of frustration on her part.
TikTok is doing a bit better giving praise and attention to educational content, adding a tab for STEM content earlier this year. But ultimately, TikTok is still a number’s game and the more trendy videos you post, the better your chances are that one will stick.
“Sometimes it can be a bit frustrating because it’s not necessarily that your content is bad, it’s just that TikTok isn’t pushing it out,” Resendiz said. “You just keep it up and eventually, people will start watching and you realize this is what you worked hard for.”
To that end, Resendiz says she wants her content to teach others how to learn and grow, focusing more on the fun side of education rather than the algorithmic slog.
“I hope my content continues to help others, whether it is math or Kanoodle, that they can come to me and they feel safe in my channel to ask whatever they need help with,” Resendiz said.
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