An Ancient Andean Jigsaw Puzzle?

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

One of the best things about writing this blog is getting to talk about all of the amazing ways that people with puzzly skills have contributed to society. We’ve talked about codebreakers who saved Christmas and hunted Nazis, puzzlers who decoded ancient messages, and solvers who unraveled some of the mysteries of lost civilizations, all with the clever and insightful application of puzzle skills.

I’m surprised we haven’t talked about archaeologists more frequently, because they’re basically detectives of history who try to reassemble the past jigsaw-style.

Recently, researchers from UC Berkeley put their puzzly skills to the test to solve a 1,500-year-old mystery: what the pre-Incan Tiwanaku temple known as Pumapunku actually looked like.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

You see, the temple has been raided, pillaged, and ransacked over the centuries, leaving archaeologists with very little information on what the temple actually looked like, or how the many giant blocks that originally composed the temple were assembled.

But, with a combination of computer modeling, 3-D printed pieces, and their own puzzly knowhow and dedication, they have cobbled together a rudimentary idea of what the Pumapunku temple looked like.

From an article on the project:

The team created miniature 3D-printed models, at 4 percent actual size, of the temple’s 140 known pieces, which were based on measurements compiled by archaeologists over the past 150 years and Vranich’s own on-site observations of the ruins. The researchers used comparative analyses and interpolation to reconstruct broken pieces… Yes, the researchers could have performed this work exclusively in the virtual realm, but they had better luck with tangible, physical pieces they could freely move around.

Yes, not only were they using the pieces they knew about, but they were reassembling decayed or broken pieces as well in order to assemble the temple.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

And the project continues!

Vranich’s team gave a copy of the 3D-printed blocks to the Pumapunku ruins site director and taught the staff how to record the stones and model them. Vranich hopes that more blocks will be uncovered at the site, and further reconstructions of the temple complex will continue.

“The blocks will also be made available online,” said Vranich. “My hope is that other people will print them out and through the wisdom of crowds, we can find additional matches and continue to reconstruct the form of [another Tiwanaku] building known as ‘the temple of the Andes.’”

With these techniques and the lessons learned by the Pumapunku build, the team is hoping to not only recreate this ancient Andean temple, but other destroyed historical sites as well, including those in the Middle East destroyed by ISIS.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

It’s an amazing investigative and deductive feat, made possible with puzzly skills.


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The World of Wooden Puzzles!

dragon1

Puzzles come in all shapes and sizes, adopting numerous forms that challenge the mind in seemingly endless ways.

While I spend a lot of time on PuzzleNation Blog talking about pen-and-paper puzzles (and their electronic siblings), today I’d like to focus on a brand of physical puzzles: ones made of wood!

As you’d expect, there are hundreds of different puzzles to choose from when discussing wooden puzzles, but I’ve tried to narrow the field down to a manageable size. Enough chatter, let’s get to it!


Sliding Tile Puzzles

[Available from FineWoodenToys.com.]

One of the oldest varieties of physical puzzles, sliding tile puzzles can be found in plastic, electronic, and wooden forms. And whether you’re shifting pieces in order to create a picture or pushing tiles around in order to put numbers in a specific order, the chain-solving technique is the same.


Tangrams

[Available from BrilliantPuzzles.com.]

A tactile and intuitive brand of puzzling, tangrams are a staple of the wooden puzzle market, utilizing simple geometric shapes in order to match designs or fit the pieces into a given space, as in the image above.


Brain Teasers

[Available from Mango Trees.]

These beautiful and elegant puzzles involve a level of craftsmanship and attention to detail that goes far beyond the usual mechanical puzzle experience.

Sometimes, you’re figuring out how to disassemble a shape into its component pieces (six examples of this sort of puzzle-solving appear above), while in others, you have to remove a given piece from a more complex arrangement, often involving ropes and other obstacles that interact with the wooden puzzle itself.


Puzzle Boxes

[Image found on FineWoodworking.com.]

A practical sibling of the brain teasers above, a puzzle box offers an additional incentive to the solving experience, since puzzle boxes can make terrific delivery mechanisms for cash or other gifts. (Sometimes solving them involves only one step, other times it can involve a dozen or more!)

My younger sister has a habit of employing puzzle boxes like the one pictured below to make my oldest nephews work a little harder for their birthday money. (One particularly diabolical design involved concealed magnets holding the trick access point shut.)

[Available from Pandora’s Puzzle Boxes.]


Labyrinths

Everyone knows the goal of a maze or labyrinth: to get through it with as few wrong turns as possible. But when you have to navigate a steel ball through the labyrinth without falling into one of many pits, that becomes an even greater challenge.

Whether you’re using handles to manipulate the maze and allow gravity to shift the ball from point to point or turning the labyrinth this way and that in order to move the ball toward the finish line, your dexterity and patience are sure to be pushed to the limit.


Jigsaw Puzzles

I would be remiss if I ignored the most common variety of wooden puzzle: the jigsaw puzzle!

Whether we’re talking about the more traditional shapes in a Ravensburger puzzle or a jigsaw incorporating unique and interesting pieces like those produced by Wentworth or our friend Rachel Happen of Baffledazzle (like the ones pictured below), jigsaw puzzles are among the first puzzles to which a young child is exposed.


3-D Jigsaw Puzzles

Of course, despite the many tough jigsaw puzzles available these days, you might be looking for a jigsaw with an additional dimension of difficulty. Thankfully, there are 3-D puzzles to give your spatial reasoning a run for its money!

Both the dragon at the top of the page and the camel pictured above are 3-D puzzles that were sent to me by the lovely Sara Kingsland, owner of Completely Puzzled in Port Townsend, Oregon.

And let me tell you, these puppies put my jigsaw skills to the test. Let’s look at the camel disassembled:

Is it immediately clear to you how to proceed? It certainly wasn’t to me! Now let’s look at the dragon disassembled:

dragon2

Believe it or not, I solved the dragon before the camel!

dragon3

This is because the puzzles involve different approaches. The dragon was designed to be assembled from tail to head, and rarely required me to hold more than two pieces at a time to continue solving it.

The camel, on the other hand, has to be solved legs first, which means holding numerous pieces in place while manipulating others in order for everything to come together.


With the advent of laser printing, the sky is truly the limit when it comes to imagining new and challenging wooden puzzles. I can’t wait to see what these wickedly brilliant puzzlers come up with next.

Are there any types of wooden puzzle I missed, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let me know! (Other than Scrabble, that is. I left that one off the list intentionally.) And while you’re at it, tell me what your favorite kind of wooden puzzle is!

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