What comes to mind when you think of a mechanical brain teaser? Do you think of a puzzle box or linked metal shapes? Do you think of wooden pieces that need to be fitted together to form a particular shape, or the twists and turns of a Rubik’s Cube or sword puzzle?
I would wager that rope isn’t the first puzzle piece that you think of. Which is surprising, because rope is part of plenty of different brain teasers. And they date back further than you’d think.
Check out this tricky tangled knot. This mix of rope and clay guarded the tomb of King Tut for centuries. Experts in rope and knot-tying have identified many of the knots involved, and claim that there’s no way to remove the rope and open the doors without breaking the clay seal depicting Anubis, the jackal-headed god entrusted with the protection of the dead.
Although it’s rare to find rope puzzles like this guarding tombs these days, they still guard other treasures. Like this wine bottle for instance.
This brain teaser serves as a fun (or annoying) way to add a little flavor to a traditional housewarming or holiday gift.
It’s just one example of a wide array of mechanical brain teasers known as disentanglement puzzles.
These puzzles rely on careful manipulation to make seemingly impossible actions — like passing a rope with a wooden ball attached through a hole too small for the ball — quite simple with clever maneuvering.
And whereas other tangle puzzles that are all metal or all wood are great and offering different challenges, the addition of a rope or two can add a TON of variability and new options to a puzzle. Pieces slide along it, and the rope can be twisted, rolled, or threaded between pieces. This one element triples the possibilities.
As you might expect, rope puzzling has also made the leap to mobile apps.
Games like Tangle Master stick to the disentanglement theme, demanding you untie a number of ropes in a certain number of moves. Later complications include locked ropes you can’t move until other ropes are eliminated, and even bombs that countdown to force certain moves.
Cut the Rope offered a different challenge, requiring solvers to deliver a candy to the waiting mouth of a hungry pet by cutting the rope. Along the way, you’d try to collect stars. The game was a mix of strategy and timing, and I can remember more than a few friends obsessed with this app a long while back.
Where could rope puzzles go from here? Anywhere, really, as long as puzzly minds are out there to try out new ideas.
There are videos online of creative geocaches/letterboxes involving string or rope. I’ve seen them employed in escape room puzzles — once to decode a message, another time to trace a connect-the-dots pattern on a board of nails, and elsewhere to connect two distant objects and hold them in place — and I’m sure that’s not the last I’ve seen of ropes there.
Do any of your favorite puzzles or puzzle apps involve ropes, fellow PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.
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