Tie Yourself in Knots With Rope Puzzles!

rope puzzle rings

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.

the seal on king tut's tomb

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.

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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.

rope 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.

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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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The Mind-blowing Variety of Puzzles

[A sampling of puzzles of many sorts: crosswords, puzzle boxes,
mechanical brain teasers, tile puzzles, riddles, and more!]

It really is incredible how many forms puzzles can take.

Think about it. Whether you’re talking Rubik’s Cubes, cryptograms, jigsaws, Sudoku, brain teasers, riddles, crosswords, escape rooms, tangrams, word seeks, sliding tiles, deduction problems, coded messages, or anagrams, they all fall under the umbrella of puzzles.

A puzzle can be as simple as pencil and paper or as complex as a multi-stage puzzle hunt or escape room, replete with codes, keys, hidden buttons, mechanical devices to assemble or utilize, and more. The folks at ThinkFun, for instance, have employed everything from ropes and magnets to lasers and mirrors in their puzzles.

That’s some extreme variety.

And the field of possibilities only widens when we add video game puzzles to the mix. We’ve previously talked about games like Tetris and Portal, where you must think in 2D and 3D respectively. We’ve seen games where you change the rules of the world to proceed or even interfere with the coding of the game itself to solve problems.

In the last few years, indie game designers and big studios alike have produced puzzle games that continue to push the boundaries of puzzly minds.

For instance, in Iris Fall you solve puzzles and maneuver around obstacles by playing with light and shadow. By moving light sources and interacting with the environment, both the light and the shadows it creates allow your character to play with perspective and illusion in order to accomplish tasks. It’s very cool!

In a similar vein, the game Superliminal challenges you to solve puzzles and move from room to room by shifting perspective. For instance, if you pick up a small item and then pull it close to you so that it looks bigger, it BECOMES bigger.

Check out this playthrough to see this mindbending puzzler in action:

The game Maquette works off of a similar concept, but requires you to think in both big and small terms. In Maquette, you have a city to explore, and in order to do so, you also need to manipulate a miniature version of the city that affects the world outside.

For instance, there’s a bridge with the center path missing. How can you reach the other side with only a key in your hands?

Easy. You take the key, place it over the same bridge gap in the miniature, and then walk back to the real bridge, where a giant version of that key is now spanning the gap.

And now there’s Viewfinder, a game where you use a Polaroid-style camera to take pictures that you can then place into a three-dimensional world and turn them into structures you can interact with and solve problems!

These sorts of puzzle games help reinforce one of the fundamental rules of puzzle-solving: always be willing to change your perspective and come at the puzzle from another angle. It works with wordplay, it works with brain teasers, and it works in three-dimensional perspective puzzles in video games.

What’s your favorite flavor of puzzles, fellow PuzzleNationers? Have you learned something from one kind of puzzle that you’ve been able to apply in another style of puzzling? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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A Delicious New Twist on Rubik’s Famous Cube?

Rubik’s Cube solving has come a long way since Erno Rubik built his prototype out of wood in 1974.

Top solvers are so fast that they need specially designed cubes that spin fast enough to match their fingers. We’ve seen them solved blindfolded, underwater, while being juggled, and during a skydive.

We’ve chronicled dozens of variations on the classic model, covering everything from larger cubes (4×4, 5×5, even 17×17!) to different shapes like spheres, pyramids, and dodecahedrons.

Heck, with the 3-D printing revolution, people are designing and making their own Rubik’s Cube-style twisty puzzles from the comfort of home!

Still, every once in a while, the thought crosses my mind that I’ve probably seen everything that people can do with Rubik’s Cubes, short of one being solved during a spacewalk or on the moon.

And then someone goes and invents a Rubik’s Cube that looks like Maruchan instant noodles.

megahouse rubik

Yes, say hello to the Midori no Tanuki twisty puzzle.

What appears to be a traditional package of Maruchan Midori no Tanuki instant soba noodles is instead one of the fiendish Rubik’s-style puzzles ever devised.

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It works like a standard Rubik’s Cube — a 3×3 twistable cube — but five of the six sides are based on a 3D scan of noodles. Only the top is distinguished by a tempura disk “atop” the noodles.

You would think this would make solving it easier. After all, who cares what the five virtually identical sides look like as long as you can arrange the pieces of the tempura disk on top?

midori-no-tanuki-rubiks-cube-instant-noodles-japan-soba-puzzle-1

But apparently, that’s not the case at all. There is only one arrangement of this six-sided cube that allows for the tempura disk to be properly formed. So you don’t have five sides you can disregard. Instead, you’re essentially solving five sides blindfolded while focusing on the top one.

That sounds like a challenge worthy of modern Rubik’s Cube solvers. Hopefully we start seeing reports of folks tackling this daunting brain teaser, and we can begin to get a sense of how long it takes to solve and how difficult the average puzzler would find it.

midori-no-tanuki-rubiks-cube-instant-noodles-japan-soba-puzzle-5

All we know for now is that we’re not supposed to pour water on it, no matter how delicious it looks.

What do you think, fellow puzzlers? Would you accept the challenge of the Midori no Tanuki puzzle? Is it really as difficult as reported, or do you think it’s just a lot of hype to sell a puzzle? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Sword in Stone, Cathedral Door, and Grecian Computer

Puzzles come in many forms, all shapes and sizes, but there’s probably no puzzle genre that offers more variety and range in difficulty than mechanical brain teasers.

The physical element adds so much to the solving experience that cannot be replicated in other puzzle styles. Whether you’re assembling pieces into a given shape, manipulating two pieces to separate them (or put them together), or twisting and turning a puzzle until it becomes the desired shape, mechanical brain teasers offer a world of possibility.

And in today’s product review, we’ve got three different varieties of brain teaser to test out, all courtesy of the creative minds at Project Genius. All three are part of their True Genius line of wooden brain teasers, rated for ages 14 and up, and each has its own ranking on a scale of 1 to 5 in difficulty.

Without further ado, let’s get solving!

Our trilogy of puzzle styles begins with a 3-out-of-5-star difficulty brain teaser. To conquer Sword in Stone, you must live out the legend of an ancient knight who plunged his sword into a stone and must remove it from its new home.

The sword can move up or down depending on how you twist the hilt back and forth, hoping to outmaneuver a maze of different paths you cannot see. It’s a marvelous little puzzle where you have to build a model of its interior in your mind by process of elimination, turning the sword this way and that, lifting and lowering it in stages until it’s free.

[Yes, I’m posting this to prove I solved it.
But I’ve hidden the key’s details to prevent spoilers.]

You really do feel like a champion once you’ve made the final twist and the sword slips from its forever tomb. There’s a playful give-and-take between you and the brain teaser that encapsulates the patience, determination, and deductive skill necessary to be a strong puzzler.

But then, once you’re completed the Herculean task, you have to put it back into place. And despite the fact that you’ve literally just performed the last few steps, doing them in reverse and returning the blade to the stone is even harder.

I thoroughly enjoyed tackling his mechanical puzzle. It hit the sweet spot of challenge and satisfaction without taking up too much solving time. It won’t take you 900 years to crack this one, but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile.

For a more traditional jigsaw-style solving experience, you can try Cathedral Door, a 4-out-of-5-star difficulty brain teaser. Again, the challenge laid before you sounds simple: reassemble this beautiful door by placing all of the pieces of wooden adornment into the stained glass pattern.

Yes, this one even helps you place the wooden pieces by offering a color pattern to follow, with various shapes leaving outlines for you to complete with the many wooden jigsaw-style pieces.

Of course, these pieces are unique in shape and design, some of them squat and complex, others long, thin, and rangy. It’s amazing how many ways you can place these puzzle pieces that seem to fit the pattern to a tee. With seemingly infinite permutations, how will you ever put them all back?

And yet, when you place a piece properly, it immediately feels right. It’s a very curious solving sensation — knowing for sure that a piece FITS somewhere, even if the other pieces around it haven’t been placed yet — but it’s one that makes solving Cathedral Door a very engaging challenge. I didn’t find it all that much harder than Sword in Stone, so I’m not sure a full star in difficulty difference is warranted, but this remains an eye-catching and challenging puzzle.

We round out our trifecta of brain teasers by maxing out the difficulty scale with this 5-out-of-5-star-ranked mathematical puzzle, Grecian Computer, created as a spiritual successor of the Antikythera Mechanism. And undoubtedly, this puzzle might leave people just as baffled as the piece that inspired it.

You must spin and twist this wooden “computer” until the numbers in all twelve columns add up to 42 at the same time. That’s daunting in and of itself. But it’s more than just spinning various dials.

There are cut-outs in some wheels where the numbers below can be shown, flaps that block other numbers, and joined pieces that spin together. Each of the four wheels — plus the base — have numbers at all 12 clock positions, and even a small rotation can vastly change the arrangement of numbers in front of you.

It genuinely feels like the mathematical equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube, each twist bringing one column to completion while leaving others further than ever from a unified solution. There are a lot of variables at play here, and it can be a little frustrating.

And yet, you never despair. You never feel like giving up. Each small victory, each alignment that makes sense in your head, inches you closer, and before long, you’re spinning and twisting like a dervish, eliminating false paths and unhelpful combinations en route to victory.

This brain teaser most definitely deserves the 5-out-of-5 difficulty rating, and it’s also beautifully engineered. The bottom wheel spins at the barest touch, and while others have more resistance, you can’t help but marvel at this well-made and devious machine.


Sword in Stone, Cathedral Door, and Grecian Computer are all available through Project Genius as well as certain online retailers.

Whether you’re looking for a deduction puzzle, an assembly puzzle, or a twisty puzzle, one of these impressive brain teasers from Project Genius is sure to hit the spot. And all three are part of this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, coming soon, so be sure to check it out!

[Note: I received a free copy of each brain teaser in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]


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Mechanical Tables: Puzzle Furniture for the Ages

We previously did a post discussing puzzly furniture where we explored origami cardboard chairs, furniture that can be arranged in different ways like puzzle pieces, sofas with hidden footrests and tables, storage and couches made of soft Tetris pieces, and the buildable puzzly furniture of Praktrik.

And yet, we only scratched the surface of what clever designers and skilled craftspeople can do when they combine puzzly elements and beautiful furnishings.

Today, we return to the topic and up the stakes, as we delve into mechanical tables and other furnishings with delightfully challenging puzzle-inspired secrets.

desk

Let us begin with the works of Jean-François Oeben.

You simply cannot discuss the topic of puzzle furniture or mechanical tables without mentioning this 18-century woodworker, furniture builder, and artisan. Oeben’s work is on display in museums all over the world: the Louvre, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Museu Calouste Gulbekian, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and many more.

And the mechanisms that make his creations so unique are still working flawlessly more than 200 years later.

A maker of cabinets, commodes, desks, and more, Oeben was as celebrated for his ingenious mechanical devices as he was for his dazzling work in marquetry. Marquetry is the art of cutting thin sheets of wood, metal, mother-of-pearl, and other materials into intricate patterns and affixing them to the flat surfaces of furniture.

For example, he designed and built this table for Madame de Pompadour:

It’s not only gorgeous — featuring inventive elaborate legwork and numerous surfaces adorned with favorite designs of his patron — but it contains one of Oeben’s most impressive mechanical devices. The mechanism allows the top to slide back at the same time as the larger drawer moves forward, doubling the surface area in an instant. This also reveals a writing slope which revolves to offer two different surfaces, as well as hidden storage compartments. All of this is unlocked with a single turn of a key.

It simultaneously celebrates a desire for privacy and a need for ostentatious flourish. It is brilliantly space-efficient, yet thoroughly eye-catching. It is extravagant and reserved all at once, perfectly encapsulating the spirit of French consumerism at the time, combining luxury, efficiency, elegance, and functionality.

Oeben worked extensively for Madame de Pompadour; in the inventory drawn up after his death there were ten items awaiting delivery to her.

commode

That single-lock design was also present in one of his famous commode designs, as one lock controlled the entire piece. Unless the center drawer was pulled out (ever-so-slightly), the side drawers could not be opened. There was a metal rod in the back of the drawer preventing them from opening unless the center drawer was in the correct position.

As you can see, the handles for each drawer are cleverly concealed, using circular pulls that look more like ornamental flourishes than utilitarian parts of the furniture. Again, privacy is combined with style, adding an individualistic touch to a beautiful piece.

(Although the mechanism sounds simple, you can explore how difficult Oeben mechanisms are to recreate by visiting this blog.)

His masterpiece is widely considered to be the bureau de roi, a desk he was building for the French king Louis XV at the time of his death. (The piece was finished by a younger associate, Jean-Henri Riesener, who also married Oeben’s widow. Talk about picking up where Oeben left off…)

However, I find this mechanical desk to be a much more impressive piece of cabinetry.

Now part of the Louvre’s expansive catalog of museum pieces, this Table a la Bourgogne is a transforming marvel. It conceals not only a removable laptop desk, but a prie-dieu (or kneeling surface) for private prayer. It also conceals a writing slope and a secret bookcase that rises from within the desk.

It is a mind-boggling piece that contains numerous important home elements all in one, and positively exudes luxury and elegance.


molitor desk

There is another name that deserves recognition, one that often exists in Oeben’s shadow: Bernard Molitor.

Molitor first rose to prominence after creating mahogany wood floor paneling for Marie Antoinette’s boudoir in Fontainebleau. This order led to other requests from the queen and members of the aristocracy.

His business was briefly shuttered during the French Revolution — many of his clients were killed or had fled — but he was later able to reopen his business and resume his lucrative practice. Dressers, tables, desks, cupboards, cabinets, and writing and dining tables flowed from his workshop, thanks to Molitor and a large array of artisans he employed.

Behold a staggeringly impressive work of Molitor’s: King Louis Bonaparte’s desk, commissioned by Emperor Napoleon as a gift for his brother, the appointed King of Holland.

Now residing at the Lightner Museum, this desk is adorned with false drawers at the front to mislead potential tampering. Instead, the desk not only contains its own chair, but more than 200 drawers, all organized with labels and concealed within, away from prying eyes.

As the roll-top desk’s cover slides back, the desk itself slides out for use, revealing several drawers. These drawers contain hidden locking mechanisms that reveal additional storage, workspaces, and further secrets.

It’s a gorgeous piece of furniture and a diabolical multilayered puzzle all in one.


What about furniture makers in the 21st century, you may ask? Who is carrying on this grand tradition of puzzly craftsmanship?

Well, if you’re looking for master puzzle furniture design these days, Craig Thibodeau should be on your radar.

We featured his magnificent Wisteria Puzzle Cabinet in a previous blog post, but it’s far from his only complex, stunning, and immensely intricate piece of puzzly furnishings.

The Automaton Table, featured above, is a wonderful simple-looking piece that contains multitudes. It has a rising spring-release center column, magnetic secret drawers, and additional hidden compartments that use a variety of concealed mechanisms.

And for a piece of puzzly mechanical furniture that will leave you reeling, check out this Spinning Puzzle Cabinet. Rotating it opens certain drawers, while others can only be opened through multi-step actions and a specific chain of button-pushes and actions.

It’s like a 4-dimensional game of Simon where everything must happen in order as you move around the piece constantly. It’s wonderful and maddening all at once.

It may lack the over-the-top ornamentation of Oeben and Molitor’s works, but it’s just as complex, just as engaging, and equally beautiful. Across centuries and different design styles, these pieces are amazing, sending puzzly minds whirling with sheer possibility.

Would you like to see more examples (both modern and historical) of puzzly furniture and mechanical tables, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!


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A Puzzle Design Competition Hosted by a Secretive Puzzly Society?

yoshi0

[Image courtesy of Activist Post.]

What if I told you that there’s a secret cabal of puzzle enthusiasts lurking in the shadows of the global puzzle community? A group that meets once a year in different locations, rotating between the United States, Europe, and Japan. An invite-only assortment of puzzle collectors and innovators who bring mechanical puzzles to challenge and delight their fellow attendees.

Yes, we’re talking about a clandestine event where puzzle collectors discuss, show off, and trade mechanical puzzles and brain teasers they’ve designed or crafted themselves.

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[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

No commercially available puzzles can be brought as gifts, since you might duplicate a puzzle that’s already in someone’s collection.

But swapping and selling puzzles isn’t all that happens at one of these International Puzzle Party events. No, they’re also home to the Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition, an annual award centered around mechanical puzzles. More specifically, the winners of the competition are announced at the IPP.

yoshi1

[One of Yoshigahara’s most famous puzzles. Image courtesy of Mr. Puzzle.]

Named after the prolific and innovative puzzle designer Nob Yoshigahara, the competition was founded in 2001, and named after Yoshigahara in 2005.

The entries for this year’s competition have until June 15th, 2020, to submit their puzzle for consideration. (This year’s competition was announced back in November of last year.)

Usually, only 5-7 puzzles out of all those submitted will be selected by one of that year’s judges for consideration. Each puzzle is graded on how innovative the concept is, how well the puzzle is physically designed (both aesthetically and mechanically), and how enjoyable the solving experience is.

[The 2017 competition winner, Kakoi.]

Anyone may submit his or her own mechanical puzzle design, independent of Puzzle Party affiliation.

There is a Puzzlers’ Award for the top design as well as Jury Prizes for other submissions (a grand prize, 1st prize, and honorable mention).

You can check out a listing of the 2018 competition submissions here to see the incredible variety and creativity represented in a single year’s pool of submissions. (Including links for purchase if any of them catch your eye!)

Personally, I’m a sucker for secret societies, invite-only activities, and so on, so I love the concept of a puzzle competition created for and judged by fellow puzzlers.

Oh, wait. Before I go. You may be asking yourself why all the secrecy? Well, apparently, there were several attempts by companies to infiltrate the event and bootleg puzzle ideas for market. It’s simultaneously insane and totally believable for spycraft like this to be taking place at a puzzle event.

In any case, I wish the best of luck to everyone submitting their puzzles to this year’s competition!


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