The Art of Metal Brain Teasers

[Disentanglement puzzles, courtesy of Mr. Puzzle Australia.]

When we talk about people creating puzzles, certain standard materials come to mind.

Pen and paper. A computer program like Crossword Compiler. For brain teasers and puzzle boxes, wood is common. Recently, 3-D printers have made it possible to create plastic puzzles the likes of which no one has seen before.

But we rarely talk about metal.

When it comes to disentanglement puzzles, metal is where it’s at. Wood and plastic pieces can flex under pressure, making them more susceptible to a forced solution where one wasn’t intended. But with metal puzzles, you’ve pretty much only got one option: solve it as intended.

Metal brain teasers like those pictured above started out simply, made from twisted nails and used as puzzles in pubs for bar bets. (Some brain teasers made today still mimic the appearance of nails in honor of this rustic style of puzzling.)

They can be basic or complex, depending on how many pieces are involved, but the goal is usually to separate each puzzle into its component pieces.

Of course, these puzzles might look slight when compared to the heavy-duty ones produced by companies like our friends at Tucker-Jones House, whose Tavern Puzzles line combine complexity with artful craftsmanship to create some impressive and daunting puzzles.

Instead of completely dismantling the puzzle, Tavern Puzzles usually have a single element — a ring, a heart shape, a triangle — that you must free from the rest of the metal pieces.

[They have Valentine’s Day-themed puzzles too!]

But when it comes to metal puzzles, it’s hard to top this recent masterpiece by metalsmith Seth Gould.

This is Coffer.

Yes, it looks like a simple chest and key, but as you’ve no doubt figured out, there’s far more to Coffer than meets the eye.

This puzzle took over two years to design and create, and it’s made from iron, steel, and brass.

Every piece was crafted by Gould himself, inspired by designs from between the 17th and 19th centuries, and the puzzle mechanism itself is his own design:

I received a BFA in Jewelry and Metalsmithing Design, and during the end of my time in school I became interested in forging. In fine metals I found that I worked well with the precision needed to create quality work, and in forging I was drawn to the malleability of the material and the scale in which I could work.

It was not until I visited Musée Le Secq Des Tournelles in Rouen, France shortly after graduation that I realized how those two interests could intersect. The locks and utilitarian objects I saw there were unlike anything I had ever seen, and still influence me today.

Now that is the ultimate in DIY puzzling.

Filmmaker Jesse Beecher chronicled the construction process and has posted a wonderful video on Vimeo that shows how much love and labor went into this marvelous metal puzzle:

Constructors and puzzle designers are continuing to push the envelope when it comes to mind-blowing, beautiful brain-teasing creations, and whether we’re talking paper, wood, metal, or 3D printing, there seems to be no limit to what puzzly minds can bring to life.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Houdini

Whether made of wood, metal, plastic, or rope, mechanical brain teasers can be some of the most challenging and well-crafted puzzles a solver will ever encounter.

Engaging both the solver’s deductive skills and patience, these puzzles often involve removing one key piece from an elaborate interconnected grouping, be it a ball from a seemingly solid maze of wooden posts or a heart from a web of unyielding metal linkages.

The cunning and clever brains at ThinkFun have put their own unique spin on the mechanical brain teaser with their latest product, Houdini, putting you in the legendary escape artist’s shoes and pitting you against numerous scenarios, all intended to keep the magician’s plastic namesake firmly trapped.

Although Houdini’s body and arms are one solid piece — representing his wrists being shackled together — his legs are felt, allowing you to bend and twist them in ways that replicate Houdini’s legendary flexibility. As the ropes are wound around and through both Houdini’s limbs and various obstacles designed to prevent his movement, it’s up to the solver to find the hidden loophole that will allow Houdini to escape scot-free.

With only a lock, a barrel, a solid ring, the three-looped base, and a few easy-clip ropes, ThinkFun has conjured 40 layouts of increasing difficulty, and I admit, some of these seriously taxed my puzzly skills.

The later puzzles involve multiple steps to free Houdini, utilizing tricks you’ve learned solving the earlier puzzles. It’s a brilliant slow-build solving experience, one that ThinkFun has employed with similar success with Laser Maze, Gravity Maze, and other products.

Houdini is not only a wonderful tribute to an entertainment legend, it’s a terrific puzzle toy that introduces a new world of brain teasers to younger solvers.

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Pints and Puzzles

If you’re a habitual crossword solver or a puzzle enthusiast in general, odds are you’ve got a good head for trivia.

Many of the puzzlers I know are vast storehouses of information, cobbled together in an incomprehensible mishmash of disorganized, dusty filing cabinets, containing endless wonder and factoids galore. They might not be the tidiest minds, but they’re invariably the most interesting.

And whether you exercise your voluminous knowledge with games like Trivial Pursuit, puzzles like crosswords, or online trivia associations like Learned League, you should know of yet another avenue to explore to satisfy your thirst for random facts and obscurities: the pub quiz.

Pub quizzes and trivia nights have been around for a long time now. While I was on vacation in Alaska, I participated in two nights of pub trivia shenanigans courtesy of Geeks Who Drink, wherein I performed admirably and represented PuzzleNation with honor, dignity, and no small amount of self-congratulatory cheering.

But did you know that puzzles are also quickly becoming prime entertainment options at bars and pubs worldwide?

Oh yes! The folks behind Puzzled Pint are the best known purveyors of pub puzzles these days, offering first a location-based puzzle for solvers to unravel (in order to discover where the next puzzle event will occur), then more puzzles to enjoy when solvers arrive!

Now, puzzles and pubs are hardly strangers to one another. Local blacksmiths often tasked their apprentices with creating mechanical puzzles like the one above (known as disentanglement puzzles) because forging the intricate pieces was excellent practice of various blacksmithing skills. These puzzles often found their way into nearby taverns, becoming popular pub activities and challenges.

As it turns out, you can find puzzles anywhere these days. And there’s nothing trivial about that. =)

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!