Daedalus, The Original Master of Mazes

[Image courtesy of Lofty Dreams 101.]

Writing about The Maze of Games Kickstarter last week got me thinking about labyrinths and mazes, so naturally, my thoughts turned to the ultimate maze builder: Daedalus.

Stories about Daedalus are inconsistent — his workshop was variously attributed to Crete, Sicily, or Athens, and even when he lived is up for debate — but his reputation as the premiere craftsman of his day is unparalleled.

His most famous creation was the Cretan Labyrinth, an enormous baffling maze with a roof, so there could be no assistance or solving from above. The Minotaur, a hulking creature with the body of a man and the head of a bull, was imprisoned inside it by King Minos.

[Image courtesy of Medium.com.]

It would fall to the Athenian hero Theseus to navigate the Labyrinth and slay the Minotaur in order to stop periodic sacrifices of young men and women from Athens to the monster. Theseus did so thanks to a magic ball of wool given to him by the daughter of King Minos, Ariadne. By tying one end of the wool string to the entrance of the Labyrinth — and following instructions given to him by Ariadne — he would be able to find his way back.

(As it turns out, this technique would also prove useful for solving a riddle later in Daedalus’s life, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.)

Theseus bested the Minotaur in a fierce battle, saving the potential sacrificees and ending Minos’s reign of terror over the Athenian people.

But who gave Ariadne the wool and the instructions on how to navigate the Labyrinth? Daedalus, of course.

For his betrayal, Minos imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in the Labyrinth.

[Image courtesy of Fine Art America.]

We all know this part of the story. Daedalus fashions wings for himself and Icarus, and they fly off to escape. Unfortunately, Icarus ventures too close to the sun, melting the wax holding his wings together, and he plummets into the sea.

Daedalus, heartbroken, continues his flight, eventually finding himself in Camicus, Sicily, a land ruled by King Cocalus. Cocalus welcomed Daedalus and promised him protection from the vengeful King Minos.

During his time serving King Cocalus, Daedalus was credited with creating other, less famous wonders, like a perfect honeycomb made of gold, and self-moving “living” statues, and a fortified citadel for Cocalus that was so well designed, three or four men could hold off an invading army.

Naturally, King Minos was still hunting the fugitive inventor, and he devised a puzzly scheme to expose Daedalus wherever he was hiding.

[Image courtesy of Baburek.]

As he traveled around pursuing Daedalus, Minos would bring a large spiral seashell with him, challenging any clever people he encountered to thread a string through its many interconnected chambers. If they could do so, he would pay them a hefty reward.

Hmmm… threading a string though a convoluted maze of chambers. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Minos’s travels brought him to Sicily, and King Cocalus wanted that reward money, so he brought the seashell to Daedalus in secret.

Daedalus drilled a small hole at the top of the shell, and placed a drop of honey at the mouth of the shell. He then glued a thread to an ant and placed it in the hole. As the ant explored the interior of the seashell, hunting for that tempting drop of honey at the end of the maze — like cheese to a lab rat — it towed the string through the shell. Eventually, the little ant completed the task, and Cocalus returned the solved puzzle to Minos.

Naturally, Minos demanded that Cocalus turn over Daedalus — the only person who could’ve possibly solved the seashell puzzle — and Cocalus agreed.

Of course, Cocalus instead had his daughters murder Minos in a hot spring instead. As you do, when you’ve been denied the puzzly prize money you were promised.

So, if you’re ever confronted with a maze — of corn, of wood, or lurking inside a book — make sure you’ve got a ball of yarn or wool with you. And possibly an ant as well.

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PuzzleNation Product Review: Puzzometry

In the past, I’ve reviewed a few products — Robot Turtles and The Maze of Games, for example — that were crowdfunded before reaching the open market, but today’s product is the first where I’ve completely observed the process from campaign launch to holding the product in my hands.

Today’s product review is Puzzometry, a jigsaw-style piece-placement puzzle with a serious challenge factor.

You’ve got 14 puzzle pieces to place into the frame pictured below, and there’s only one way to place every piece and complete the puzzle. Can you find it?

Created by Jim Fox, Puzzometry had a bit of a rocky road to realization. The initial Kickstarter campaign failed to meet its lofty goals, but Fox, who had remained totally honest and forthright with his backers from day one, reached out to his supporters and presented two possible options: either relaunch on Kickstarter with a lower funding goal or immediately shift all of his efforts to an e-commerce site.

In a close vote, the backers opted for another Kickstarter campaign, which was funded within an hour of launching! In fact, the second campaign was ten times more successful than the original campaign!

Puzzometry comes in three flavors:

  • Puzzometry, which has 14 pieces to fit into the frame
  • Puzzometry Jr., which is smaller and has only 7 pieces to fit into a smaller frame
  • Puzzometry Squares, which also has 14 pieces, but eschews the octagonal shape of many Puzzometry pieces for right angles and more Tetris-like shapes to fit into the frame

[A sampling of Puzzometry’s signature puzzle pieces.]

There’s only one solution that allows you to place every piece in the frame, and the difficulty is a credit to the game’s impressive design. The pieces are all interesting, interlocking in unexpected ways and challenging even savvy jigsaw solvers.

At this point, I’ve only solved Puzzometry Jr. and Puzzometry (I haven’t picked up a copy of Squares yet), and found them both to be great fun. Puzzometry Jr. will be an easy task for older solvers, but it’s a perfect fit for younger puzzlers to introduce them to puzzles beyond the jigsaw format.

Plus, Fox includes instructions for a two-player game called Puzzometry Keepout, which is similar to Blokus. Each player chooses pieces, as if they’re drafting players for a dodgeball team. Then, once all the pieces are allocated, the players take turns placing pieces in the frame. You take turns until someone can’t fit one of their remaining pieces into the frame.

All three versions of Puzzometry are now available on the Puzzometry website, so check them out. They’d make a fine addition to any puzzler’s library.

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