Puppy Puzzling!

Most of the time when I write about puzzles, I write about humans solving them, because we are, by a long shot, the biggest consumers of puzzles and games in the world.

But, from time to time, I learn about other species that also have a knack for solving puzzles, and I welcome them to the puzzle-solving community. In the past, we’ve talked about crows, cockatoos, and octopuses solving various mechanical puzzles.

And then a friend of the blog brought another puzzle-solving species to my attention: dogs!

I shouldn’t have been surprised by this. After all, one of my dogs has a knack for getting his tennis ball stuck in the strangest corners and beneath furniture that shouldn’t allow a tennis ball at all!

So I did a little research, and it turns out, there’s an entire puzzle-solving industry devoted entirely to dogs. They’re almost exclusively mechanical puzzles with food rewards, just like the puzzles we’ve seen birds and octopuses solve, but they involve the same sort of step-by-step chain puzzle-solving. And some of it gets pretty complicated!

There are one-step devices, like the Trixie Dog Activity Poker Box, which involves four boxes that open in different ways.

There are two-step devices, like the Jigsaw Glider, which requires the dog to open pieces on either side and then shift the center piece back and forth in order to nab every treat inside.

In a similar vein, there’s the Doggy Brain Train 2-in-1, a food-centric version of a sliding tile puzzle, where the dog must deduce that there’s food beneath each disk, and slide the disks aside to acquire the treats beneath.

And the puzzles only grow more complex from there. In the Dog Activity Gambling Tower, the dog has to pull away three floor pieces in order to make the treats drop, like a snacky version of Ker-Plunk.

Various companies produce each of these products. But the queen of puppy puzzles is clearly Nina Ottosson, who has a fleet of food-puzzle products to put your puppy to the test.

Check out this one, the MixMax Puzzle B:

It’s the second difficulty level in a series of toys, where the dog has to rotate the center piece, push out one of the cones (with treats inside), rotate the piece again, and finally free the cone and the treats. That is a LOT of work for a few treats.

She also has ones where the dog has to remove one element to unlock a little drawer containing a treat. In this video, a dog named Amos solves the Dog Casino, a Nina Ottosson food-puzzle toy that uses this puzzle style:

We can officially add dogs to the elite puzzle-solving ranks of crows, cockatoos, octopuses, and humans, though I must admit, it’s a little embarrassing to realize that those other four species are all smart enough to do their own puzzle-solving for treats. No one ever gives me a treat for solving a puzzle.

Hmmm. Maybe they’re even smarter than we thought.

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Birdbrain, indeed!

[Here, a crow reaches food by adding stones to containers
in order to raise the water level. Pretty crafty.]

Without a doubt, one of my favorite aspects of human society is our love of puzzles. We have this marvelous desire to challenge each other with all sorts of mechanical puzzles, logic games, pen-and-paper puzzles, apps, and riddles, and arguably the only thing better than creating such diabolical obstacles is overcoming them.

But humans aren’t the only puzzle solvers on the planet. In previous blog posts, we’ve explored the puzzly skills of octopuses and cockatoos, two immensely clever species that’ve each tackled their fair share of mechanical puzzles.

Sure, they’re not solving Sudoku grids or unraveling centuries-old mysteries like Nicolas Cage in National Treasure, but they are putting memory, dexterity, and problem solving to the test with remarkable success.

And today, we welcome a third non-human species to the pantheon of Earthly puzzle solvers: crows.

Check out this video, a segment from a BBC documentary, featuring a crow solving a multi-stage mechanical puzzle in order to feed itself:

[Not quite a feast for crows, is it?]

While this video is amazing, I can’t say I’m surprised. Crows are immensely clever creatures. I remember reading a news story from Japan a few years ago about crows outwitting numerous anti-crow efforts by the Japanese to control the sometimes-dangerous birds. (In Tokyo, crows have caused power outages, downed Internet lines, and even injured citizens.)

When anti-crow traps and sweeps began thinning their numbers, the crows responded by building multiple fake nests to mislead and flummox employees tasked with controlling the bird problem.

And with puzzly skills like those shown in the video on their side, those crows could prove to be an even bigger challenge than they expect.

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Puzzles are for the birds.

The vast majority of topics covered by this blog involve puzzles created, solved, and enjoyed by humans, but every once in a while, I stumble across a story that reminds me puzzle-solving is hardly restricted to bipedal opposable-thumb-toting mammals like ourselves.

Yes, much like the intrepid and wily octopus who graced the pages of this blog a few months ago, we proudly welcome another species into the puzzle-fiend world:

The cockatoo.

Scientists recently tested the Goffin’s Cockatoo’s ability to manipulate various locks and deadbolts to see both how the birds negotiated the locks (which often operated in sequence, requiring several different actions in a certain order) and then whether the birds would apply previously-learned patterns to new variations they encountered.

It turns out the birds weren’t flummoxed at all by the variations, moving through them with the same deftness, tenacity, and creativity it took to achieve their tasty prizes in the first place. (Click here for greater detail on the experiments themselves.)

Yes, some of the birds figured it out by observing others, or by encountering each of the locks individually at first, but at least one of the birds solved it without any assistance whatsoever. Truly, this cockatoo is the door-opening snake of the bird kingdom, meant to be feared and respected in equal measure. (Video link for those interested in door-opening snake evidence.)

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to add another species to the list of puzzle-solving creatures. After all, we’ve got anagramming dogs and word-weaving spiders here at PuzzleNation, so there’s plenty of precedents.

In any case, please welcome the Goffin’s cockatoo to our puzzle-loving family, and enjoy this video of the cockatoo locksmiths (lockatoos?) at work:


Fellow puzzlers, I must apologize. Over the last few months, I’ve attempted to cover as wide a swathe of the puzzling community as possible in my blog posts, but I failed.

Make no mistake, I’ve done a pretty decent job of it, exploring everything from puzzle tattoos and Halloween costumes to brainteasers both new and old, from puzzle references in movies and TV to writing clues and book reviews.

But I’ve managed to neglect an entire sector of the puzzle-loving community: non-human puzzlers.

Oh yes, I’ve been unintentionally speciesist, and that stops today. Let’s take a look at Earth’s other great puzzle-solving creature: the octopus.

Think I’m kidding? Hardly.

Scientists have repeatedly found that octopuses can solve mazes, remember solutions, and apply past experience to new puzzles. They are infinitely curious and adaptable puzzle solvers in their own right.

In fact, some researchers have taken to offering what are known as “prey puzzles” to octopuses in captivity in order to study how they learn, as well as their dexterity, both mental and physical.

From locked boxes to screw-top jars and bottles, prey puzzles have all been solved with relative ease by octopuses. (In fact, Lucy the Puzzle-Solving Octopus — which should really be a children’s book or a kids’ TV series — has been the subject of several articles.)

True, they’re not exactly solving Rubik’s Cubes or decoding cryptograms, but they do impressive mechanical puzzle-solving for a species lacking thumbs, don’t you think?

So, it is with deep regret that I apologize to the octopus community for ignoring your puzzle-solving skills for so long. It shan’t happen again, I assure you.

And now, as a final act of contrition, I give you the following video, featuring a poorly-filmed octopus solving a fairly simple prey puzzle in under two minutes. Enjoy!