Other Puzzle Categories

This page is a catch-all for puzzles that aren't easily classified elsewhere and yet I believe warrant their own categories, and for classes of puzzles on the perimeter of my focus. This page also contains sections devoted to some special topics, which may refer to various puzzles but shouldn't be considered to be the primary listing for those puzzles - for example, sections on Puzzles from the World's Fairs, Ancient Puzzles, the IPP Design Competition, and Compendiums.


These are puzzles that rely on magnets either to stay together or as part of their mechanism. (I am excluding hidden-mechanism types using a magnet to hold a pin in place.)

Stickman Chopstick Box (#13, Second Edition) by Robert Yarger
Purchased from Cubicdissection. Beautifully made from paduak and bloodwood, with maple inlays. Seven moves are required to release the two chopsticks, which are themselves beautifully inlaid.

Magnetic Bumper Cars - Popular Playthings / Huntar Co. Inc. 2006

Kayak Cove, from Popular Playthings.

The DigiDisc is a series of tori with mathematical symbols along their peripheries. Arrange them so that all equations are true. I wrote a computer program to solve DigiDisc.

The Magnetic Puzzle Ball from Executive Minds contains a central sphere - each piece has a stem ending in a magnet that attaches to the sphere.

The magnetic globe is a spherical jigsaw.

The MagnaCube is like a Soma (though not the same set of pieces), but each piece has a few magnets which constrain the solution.

The Tricky Triangle requires you to position some spheres containing magnets so that they will not mutually repel.

The pieces of the Blue Cube mate a certain way via magnets. Bits and Pieces also offers an aluminum version called "Iso-Crate" by R.D. Rose.

The object of Bumper Balls is to get the 3 balls separated


OctaCube - 8 sub-cubes attach to a central frame. Arrange the colors per rules. There is also a black non-magnetic version.
A series of wooden geometric puzzles, including some incorporating magnets, were offered by a company called Tensegrity Systems, located in Tivoli, NY, and founded in 1986 by Cary Kittner and Stuart Quimby. The company name was eventually changed to Design Science Toys Ltd.

You can see U.S. Patent 4731962 for their "Tensegritoy."

It looks like they went out of business in 2005 - see the Wayback Machine's archive of the entry for Quimby on www.buckminster.info and an old Yelp page for Design Science Toys in Tivoli, which says simply "Yelpers report this location has closed."

The website was www.dstoys.com - here is a product page from the Internet Archive (Wayback machine) showing the Quantum Knot and other products.

Many of the puzzles were designed by Dr. Marvin Solit and his company Rhombics. The products included:

  • Cube Octa (magnetic)
  • Magna (magnetic)
  • Quantum Knot (magnetic)
  • Turnabout (magnetic)
  • Vexa (magnetic)
  • Quad Rhom (magnetic)
  • Dodeca (non-magnetic assembly)
  • Rhoma (non-magnetic assembly)
  • Soma (non-magnetic assembly)
  • Pyrra (non-magnetic assembly)
  • Tetra (non-magnetic assembly)

Cube Octa (Design Science Toys Ltd., dated 1997)
I picked this up at
Books Inc. in Maine


Quantum Knot
Turnabout - a magnetic assembly puzzle from Tensegrity Systems Corp. (c) 1990

(I don't have Vexa.)

But I did find a Vexahedron:

Vexahedron - Tensegrity Systems (Design Science Toys)
a magnetic assembly puzzle

Quad Rhom issued 1991 by Tensegrity Systems.

Dodeca (Tensegrity Systems, 1991)

I have large and small versions.

(I don't have this.)


This is Tetra from Design Science Toys (defunct). A 4 piece pyramid.
If you like magnetic assembly puzzles like the Quantum Knot, you might like the works of Jane and John Kostick: jjkostick.com, www.kosticks.com.

Here is a fellow puzzler's blog entry about Kostick puzzles.

U.S. Patent 5411262 - Smith 1995

Classic Games Co.

Laker Cubes

(Mind Madness?) Cube-It
24 pieces - form a cube such that on the surface same colors don't touch
(Saw one for sale here.)

Mind Madness Ball
similar to the gray-toned ball above, but larger

Balance of Power
A dexterity puzzle or a game - the blocks have detents at various positions. Arrange the blocks in an attempt to place the magnetic marbles in the detents such that they remain stable. Score higher for using more closely spaced detents. The detent arrangement shown has maximal spacing.

Dipole Dilemma
by Chris Morgan
Pack the 28 magnetic spheres flat in the rectangle

Mattel Force Field

Geometrix The Hexagon - Reiss
Style 415 1980

See U.S. Design Patent D509263 awarded to Daniel R. Oakley in Sept. 2005.

Eight aluminum pieces with embedded magnets. Not difficult, but a child will be challenged. Based on the logo, this seems to be a promo item for the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters.

The Magic 16 ball by Idea Ocean, and the Tetrix Ball Twins from Mefferts.
This is the King Tut Magic Mummy
Get the Mummy to stay in the Sarcophagus (or hop out)
See U.S. Patent 2458970 - Wilson 1949
The first is an original plastic version, the second is a wooden version issued by Bits & Pieces.
This is the "One Piece Packing Puzzle" designed by Simon Nightingale. The cube and box contain hidden magnets and a mechanism that prevents the cube from seating in the container until it is properly oriented and deliberately inserted. I include this puzzle here rather than in the "Packing" category since the magnets are integral to its operation.
The first instance is a copy called "Pack It In" from B&P. The second is a really nice version made by Eric Fuller in 2008.

by KO Sticks LLC
Produced with support
from the Museum of Mathematics

I decided to purchase one of John Devost's HexTwist Five Intersecting Tetrahedrons puzzles - it is a geometric artwork, a real dexterity assembly challenge, and a great example of John's woodturning skills - each rod is lathe-turned to have a special twisting shape. The rods are made from exotic woods, including: Purpleheart, Bloodwood, Redheart, Bubinga, and Lacewood. They are held together by magnetic tips and chrome balls.
This puzzle has also been known as the "Poor Man's Merkaba" or PMM.

Escher-themed Magnetic Cylinder Puzzle

Balancing Act, designed and exchanged at IPP32 by Chris Morgan, made by Chris Morgan and Saul Bobroff

A Kosticks puzzle
a gift for IPP32 committee members.
Thanks, Chris!

Rules of Attraction - designed by Laszlo Molnar and made by Brian Menold
Assemble a stable 3x3x3 cube from the seven pieces, each of which contains hidden magnets which of course
frustrate all but the correct juxtapositions of pieces.
I had to buy one after hearing Brian's tale of how difficult these were to make in his workshop!

Logic Puzzles

Conundrums, Enigmas, Posers, Riddles, Quandaries, Rebuses, Catches, Brain-Teasers... - there are many puzzles in the wider world beyond mechanical puzzles. I have added this section on logic puzzles so that I can document several puzzles that, while only occasionally presented as mechanical puzzles with physical pieces, have nevertheless provided some entertainment to me and my friends.

Many books over the decades have compiled logic puzzles. Among the most noted puzzle chroniclers of the Nineteenth Century are the Brits Henry Ernest Dudeney (1857-1930) (Amusements in Mathematics, 1917), Professor Hoffmann (pen-name of the Reverend Angelo John Lewis, 1839-1919) (Puzzles Old and New, 1893), and Walter William Rouse Ball (1850-1925) (Mathematical Recreations and Essays 1892), and the American Sam Loyd (1841-1911) (Cyclopedia of 5000 Puzzles 1914).

Modern chroniclers include Martin Gardner, Raymond Smullyan, Ivan Moscovich, Serhiy Grabarchuk, Ed Pegg, and Jim Loy.

Modern audiences still have a taste for logic puzzles, as evidenced by the current popularity of SuDoKu.

Online resources include:

Gridworks - Thinkfun

Chocolate Fix - Thinkfun

The Mensa "Challenge Your IQ Pack" contains several logic challenges. (Red version)

The classic game of logical deduction Clue has been simplified and turned into a solitaire puzzle game called Clue Suspects. Given six rooms, a body, up to 11 suspects, and a challenge card providing a set of clues, deduce who must be in the room with the body, and therefore be the murderer.

Logic Links
By Mindware.
Use given clues to deduce where to place colored chips.

Chroma Cube - issued by Project Genius
Arrange the grid of colored blocks according to clues provided on a set of graduated challenge cards.

Marble Circuit - by MindWare
Invented by Sjaak Griffioen, prototype by Oskar van Deventer, challenges by Wei-Hwa Huang

Witchy Kitty - Brainwright
Thanks, Alison!

Murder in Greenrock Village Theatre - issued by Koninklijke Jumbo B.V., a Jumbo Diset company.
I was able to find an English version on a prime online shopping site.
The puzzle comes in a nice little case including 25 tiles - 5 each of victims, locations, weapons, suspects, and times -
and 50 scenario cards where you must deduce the proper matchups based on a set of clues.

Who Owns the Octopus? - Copyright 1972 by A. Freed Novelty Inc. New York NY
A great vintage logic puzzle, with 25 cardboard pieces provided to help you think about the solution.
I hadn't before seen a logic puzzle of this type produced as a physical puzzle.

The 25 pieces comprise five each of:
  • People (Englishman, Frenchman, Mexican, Russian, Spaniard)
  • Pets (Dog, Monkey, Octopus, Owl, Zebra)
  • Houses (red, white, blue, yellow, green)
  • Beverages (Cider, Coffee, Milk, Orange Juice, Tea)
  • Cigarette Brands (Camel, Kent, Kool, Old Gold, Salem) - vintage indeed!

One must determine five groupings of house/person/pet/beverage/cigarette brand based on fourteen clues given inside the box cover, and answer the two questions, "Who owns the octopus?" and "Who drinks the Cider?" Here are the clues, so you can try this vintage puzzle for yourself:

  1. The Englishman lives in the red house.
  2. The Spaniard owns a dog.
  3. Coffee is drunk in the green house.
  4. The Russian drinks tea.
  5. The green house is immediately to the right of the white house.
  6. The Old Gold smoker owns an owl.
  7. Kools are smoked in the yellow house.
  8. Milk is drunk in the middle house.
  9. The Mexican lives in the first house on the right.
  10. The man who smokes Kents lives in the house next to the man who has the monkey.
  11. Kools are smoked in the house next to where the zebra is kept.
  12. The Salem smoker drinks orange juice.
  13. The Frenchman smokes Camels.
  14. The Mexican lives next to the blue house.

Einstein's House Riddle issued by Professor Puzzle.
It is an updated and more politically correct version of the Octopus puzzle,
with wooden pieces and only a single scenario to solve.
Overall I found it simpler than the Octopus puzzle.

The Monty Hall Problem

An old game show called "Let's Make A Deal" was hosted by Monty Hall. A contestant was allowed to choose one of three curtains. Behind one of the curtains was a valuable prize, while behind the other two lurked booby prizes. After the contestant made a first choice, the host would reveal a booby prize behind one of the unchosen curtains, and then give the contestant a chance to stick with their first choice, or switch to the other curtain not yet revealed, "where Carol Merrill is now standing." Either way, the contestant's final choice was then revealed, to either applause or laughter.

The puzzle asks, "Which is the better strategy for the contestant: always stick with one's first choice, or always switch?" This question caused quite a stir in the press when it was answered by Marilyn vos Savant, a noted columnist. Educated people wrote in to vehemently disagree with her answer, though it was correct.

I believe the correct strategy is easy to deduce - look at the two tables below. In each table, I show the outcome of one of the two strategies, based on all the combinations of where the prize is versus the contestant's first choice. Remember, it is always possible for the host to show a booby prize behind one of the unchosen curtains.

Your 1st Choice
1 2 3
1 Shows: 2 or 3
You stick with 1
Shows: 3
You stick with 2
Shows: 2
You stick with 3
Probability of WIN = 3/9 = 1/3.

You stubbornly stick with your first choice no matter what the host reveals, so you win only when you picked the correct curtain on your first choice. Obviously your chances are 1 in 3.

Your 1st Choice
1 2 3
1 Shows: 2 or 3
You Switch from 1
Shows: 3
You Switch 2 to 1
Shows: 2
You Switch 3 to 1
2 Shows: 3
LOSE Shows: 1
3 Shows: 2
Shows: 1
Probability of WIN = 6/9 = 2/3.

This is the better strategy. You lose only when you picked the correct curtain on your first choice. The host kindly eliminates one of the booby prizes for you, and by switching you end up winning 2 out of 3 times. This is counter-intuitive enough to make people want to argue about its validity.

You can pretend to be a contestant online here. The website tracks win/lose statistics, and they correlate well with the expectations noted above. Jim Loy also discusses the Monty Hall problem.

The Two Fuses

A friend told me this logic puzzle question was posed during a job interview. You are given two 60-second fuses, and a lighter. Using only this equipment, time 45 seconds exactly. You cannot assume that the fuses burn at a steady rate throughout their lengths, only that they will each be completely consumed in exactly 60 seconds. You cannot cut the fuses - it would do you no good anyway, since by the previous statement there is no dependable correlation between any partial length and time.

Mouseover the box below to see the answer:

The Parking Puzzle

Here is Dickinson's Witch Hazel Parking Puzzle, a vintage advertising card posing a logic problem. Five different cars must be arranged in a five-space garage, from left to right according to a given set of constraints.

Here is a logical method of solving the Dickinson's Witch Hazel Parking Puzzle:

There are 120 ways to arrange the cars in the garage - you could put any of the five cars on the left, then any of the remaining four to its right, any of the remaining three to the right of that, etc - this gives 5x4x3x2x1 = 5! = 120 possible arrangements. However, the given conditions will preclude all but one of those arrangements. Can we deduce the proper arrangement without checking all 120 possibilities?

Each of the five cars must have something to both its left and its right - either a wall (if it is on an end), or one of the other four cars. Symbolize the Ford, Chevy, Plymouth, Packard, and Buick using the letters FCLAB, respectively, and an end using E.

Let's also state some assumptions about what is meant by LEFT and RIGHT, since the card doesn't explicitly define the terms - we'll park the cars facing INTO the garage, and we'll look at the puzzle from the view shown on the card - INTO the bays. So the LEFT side of the card corresponds to the LEFT side of a car, and the RIGHT side of the card corresponds to the RIGHT side of a car.

Construct the following chart:

Car	on its LEFT	on its RIGHT
At the outset, we don't know what is to the left or right of each car. However, right away we can eliminate from each car's left and right lists that car itself (unlike people, cars cannot be "beside themselves" :-)

Car	on its LEFT	on its RIGHT
Now consider the first constraint, which gives us two facts
1. B and F cannot be neighbors, and
2. B and C cannot be neighbors.
Eliminate the appropriate entries from the chart, replacing them with the numbers 1 and 2:
Car	on its LEFT	on its RIGHT
B	E12LA.		E12LA.
Next, consider the second constraint, which again gives us two facts
3. L and C cannot be neighbors, and
4. L and A cannot be neighbors.
Car	on its LEFT	on its RIGHT
C	EF.3A2		EF.3A2
L	EF3.4B		EF3.4B
B	E12LA.		E12LA.
The third constraint tells us
5. A and F cannot be neighbors
6. A and C cannot be neighbors
Car	on its LEFT	on its RIGHT
F	E.CL51		E.CL51
C	EF.362		EF.362
L	EF3.4B		EF3.4B
A	E564.B		E564.B
B	E12LA.		E12LA.
Apply the last constraint, 7 - eliminate L from the LEFT list of F:
Car	on its LEFT	on its RIGHT
F	E.C751		E.CL51
C	EF.362		EF.362
L	EF3.4B		EF3.4B
A	E564.B		E564.B
B	E12LA.		E12LA.
We'll use this final chart to solve the puzzle...

Now we have to put the remaining possibilities together.
Consider the Chevy - row C. On its left must be an end or the Ford, AND on its right must be an end or the Ford. So, it HAS to be on an end, and the Ford must be next to it. Therefore the arrangement looks like either: CFxxx OR xxxFC.

Put this together with the info we have for the Ford - row F. On its LEFT can be an end or the Chevy. CFxxx satisfies this, but xxxFC does not, so we can discard xxxFC.

Now we can drive to a solution pretty quickly...

What can be to the RIGHT of the Ford? Its list says E.CL51 - an end (impossible), the Chevy (impossible), leaving us with the Plymouth, giving CFLxx.

What can be to the RIGHT of L? EF3.4B tells us it must be the Buick, giving CFLBx, and the Packard must be on the right end (which is consistent with what the A row tells us - it has an end on one side and the Buick on the other).

Our final arrangement is CFLBA.

Vanish Puzzles and Geometric Paradoxes

A Vanish Puzzle is a cleverly concocted illustration or geometric arrangement, showing a number of objects or a specific area and comprising pieces that, when rearranged, result in a seeming change in the number of objects or size of area depicted.

According to G. Frederickson in Dissections: Plane & Fancy, the first example of vanishing area puzzles was reported in the book Libro d'Architettura Primo by Sebastiano Serlio (1475-1554). (Google books link)
The first description and mathematical explanation of the vanish paradox was found in a math puzzle book titled Rational Recreations: In which the Principles of Numbers and Natural Philosophy are Clearly and Copiously Elucidated, by a Series of Easy, Entertaining, Interesting Experiments. Among which are All Those Commonly Performed with the Cards, by William Hooper 1774. (Google books link) According to Professor Douglas Rogers, Hooper may have copied the puzzle from the book Nouvelles récréations physiques et mathématiques (Google books link) by the French author Edmé Gilles Guyot (1770).

Martin Gardner discusses vanish puzzles in his 1958 book Mathematics, Magic and Mystery in chapters 7 and 8, and also in Wheels, Life, and Other Mathematical Amusements in chapter 12 "Advertising Premiums." Martin Gardner calls it "the principle of concealed distribution." There is an informative article by Mel Stover in the November 1980 issue of Games magazine.

L'Echiquier Fantastique is a French version of the geometric vanish Gardner called Hooper's Paradox.
The area of the figure seems to vary depending on how the pieces are arranged - as a square, the area is 8x8=64, but as a rectangle the area is 5x13=65.
The pieces can also be put together so that the apparent area is only 63.
The wooden pieces are actually very useful in showing the fallacy involved.

The Jerry Slocum collection at the Lilly Library contains a few examples of vanish puzzles.

Sam Loyd, the premier American Puzzlist of the 19th century, created a series of vanish puzzles, now classics, including Get Off the Earth. In one position, there are 13 Chinamen. Move the knob to rotate the inner disk, and one vanishes - now there are twelve! Patented and Copyrighted 1896 by Sam Loyd (US563778A). My copy was published as an art supplement to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday July 12th 1898. Gardner informs us that more than 10 million copies were sold during Loyd's lifetime.

Click the image to make a Chinaman vanish!

Shown next is a 100th anniversary commemorative edition of Get Off the Earth. Sam Loyd re-used this puzzle device in "The Lost Jap" and "Teddy and the Lions" (neither of which I have). These are discussed in Slocum and Botermans' "Puzzles Old & New" on page 144.

You can buy copies of Sam Loyd's vanish puzzles, and try them online here and here.

A modern version of Sam Loyd's classic Get Off the Earth vanish puzzle.

The magician Theodore L. DeLand, Jr. (1873-1931) copyrighted a version of the vanish puzzle in 1907. It was printed in various forms, including "La Mysterieuse" (which I do not have). Gardner calls this the DeLand Paradox.

The Vanishing Leprechaun is another classic. It was designed by Ms. Pat (Patterson) Lyons circa 1968 and is related to the DeLand Paradox. Cut the card into three pieces - a long strip on the bottom, and the top into two sections. If you exchange the positions of the two top sections, there are 15 instead of 14 leprechauns. There is an explanation of the Vanishing Leprechaun at this site.


This is The Magic Egg Puzzle, copyright 1880 by Wemple & Company, New York. The card should be cut into four pieces along specific lines. The pieces can be rearranged in a rectangle so that 8, 9, or 10 eggs appear. The directions, however, also suggest that it is possible to arrange the pieces so that 6, 7, 11, or 12 eggs are shown.

Try the Magic Egg Puzzle on-line (requires Shockwave plug-in).

That site also has an explanation of how these puzzles work. It also mentions a criminal use of the vanish: "The principle is very old and probably originated as a early method for counterfeiting money. William Hooper in his book Rational Recreations, published in 1774, described the paradox as 'Geometric Money.' It is possible to cut 9 bills into eighteen parts and then to rearrange them to make ten bills. To foil this method, the two numbers on all U.S. currency are placed on opposite ends, one high and one low. In this way, counterfeit bills using this method are easy to detect since their numbers will not match correctly. In fact, in 1968, a man in London was sentenced to eight years in prison for using this scheme on British five-pound notes."

I think it is interesting how Pat Lyons came out with the Leprechauns in 1968! Coincidence?

Here is a modern variant of the vanish, called Who Turned to Doggie Doo? by Robin Debreuil. You can see it on John Rausch's site here, and at Debreuil's site where you can download a free printable version. (Note: on Debreuil's blog, he put this in the public domain.)



Geometricks is a beautiful small folio of five different and multi-faceted dissection puzzles, copyright 1939 by M. Grumette, and published by Edu-K-Toy Institute, New York. It's in great shape for its age. Each page describing one of the puzzles is an envelope and encloses a card containing the corresponding puzzle pieces. The puzzle pieces are on good stock punch-out cardboard - all of the pieces are present and intact, including the frames. I've tried to show a glimpse of each page/puzzle below.

Copyright 1939!

  1. Join the 4 red tiles to form a square.
  2. Join the 4 red tiles and the black tile to form a square.
  3. Join the 4 red tiles and the shaded tile to form a rectangle.
  4. Join the 4 red tiles to form a lozenge.

'Teen Squares
The four pieces can be arranged to apparently show a total of 15, 16, or 17 black squares. A classic geometric vanish.

Biform Square
  • Form a square using the 3 red tiles, 3 black tiles, and the tile marked 6.
  • Form a square using the 3 red tiles, 3 black tiles, and the tile marked 7.

The Tormenter
  • Combine the 4 red tiles and 4 black tiles to form a square.
  • Use 3 of the red tiles, the shaded tile, and the 4 black tiles to form a square.

Form various silhouettes from the seven tiles.

Here are some examples of 3-D Geometric Vanish Puzzles, which are related to Packing Puzzles.

Improved Melting Block Proto - Rausch - Lensch
Improved Melting Block Proto - Rausch - Lensch Improved Melting Block Proto - Rausch - Lensch
Improved Melting Block (prototype) - John Rausch, made by Tom Lensch
Based on an idea by Thomas O'Beirne - the original Melting Block puzzle uses
nine pieces (including a duplicate of the smallest)
and is described in Creative Puzzles of the World on page 81.
John's version uses eight pieces - there are two copies of the smallest block,
which measures 35 x 23 x 15mm.
The box can apparently be filled either with only one, or both of them.
John's improved design has only two solutions each for the 7- and 8-piece fillings.

Note that at the 2016 NYPP, Bill Cutler gave a presentation on
a new Melting Block design that uses 11 and 12 pieces.

The Trickpack puzzle from HABA is an implementation of the original O'Beirne design.
In O'Beirne's design, eight pieces are constructed by taking a block and making
a horizontal cut 1/3 down from the top, a vertical cut across 1/3 in from the front,
and a vertical cut depthwise 1/3 from the side.
These eight pieces when arranged as shown apparently fill the box.
Unfortunately the Trickpack's box is overly large and will actually allow
a third small block to be packed in

HABA Trickpack

Another example of this style of "geometric paradox" 3D packing puzzle
is the "3D Geometrex" puzzle designed by Gianni Sarcone.
You can read about the 3D Geometrex puzzle (aka the Paradoxopiped puzzle)
at the Archimedes' Laboratory website
This one uses 9 and 10 pieces.

Missing Tile - designed by Goh Pit Khiam and made by Tom Lensch
The two shorter edges of the tray have inside bevels, with three of the pieces having matching bevels along one of their edges. First, fit all of the pieces except the smallest block into the tray, filling the opening. Then, re-arrange the tiles to fit in the smallest piece, too. This challenge works differently than the traditional "Melting Block" design, and you'll have to exploit those beveled edges...

HABA Trickpack
See my solution below.

Packing Puzzle
A gift from Brett. Eq. to HABA Trick-Pack.

3D Geometrex
Rex Games Inc. San Francisco, copyright 2000 Sarcone & Waeber
Gianni Sarcone described this puzzle in issue 52 June 2000 of the CFF newsletter, where he called it the Paradoxopiped. Start with nine pieces packed in the frame, then add the tenth. Gianni says "more than three solutions can be found."

Geometrex Set - Ormazd, Nabucho, and Quirinus
In each case the pieces can be rearranged within the tray to fit in an extra square.

Think Square - Pressman
There are 4 small right triangles, 4 large right triangles, 4 stair-case shaped pieces, and 5 small squares. The pieces can be fit snugly into the tray with and without one of the five small squares.

Here is my solution to the HABA Trick-pack puzzle:

You can find many other examples of vanish puzzles on the web:

Paper and Card Picture Puzzles

Puzzles based on a picture can be printed on paper or card stock. Some are to be cut up and arranged in a particular way. Some call for you to find various figures in the pictures.

This is a French puzzle called Un Sage Dans Les Nuages - "A Sage in the Clouds." Four rectangular cards depict various cloudscapes. Arrange them so that the face of a wise old sage appears. I don't think the face is very well-formed. Shown in Slocum and Botermans' "New Book of Puzzles" (1992) on page 23.

Another French puzzle, called Les Quatre Vagabonds - The Four Vagabonds. Arrange the four cards to form one complete figure. Appears in Hoffmann as Chapter III No. XLI - The Man of Many Parts. Hoffmann says it is of German origin.

L'Astronome - arrange the three pieces to form a five-pointed star, with an image of the astronomer.

Quelques Tours dans une Boite - In addition to the loose versions of the above puzzles, I obtained this boxed set which includes the four paper puzzles Les Quatre Vagabonds, Un Sage dans les Nuages, L'Astronome, and L'Incroyable (a paper version of the geometric fallacy L'Echiquier Fantastique).

You can find an on-line version of this set here, with links to cards you can print and cut out.

Mystery Picture
Something New and Novel


Look steadily at small diamond shaped speck on nose try not to blink and count to 50 slow, then look up at the sky day or night or on a light wall and photograph will appear greatly enlarged. Keep looking at one spot for 10 seconds. Result - The actual photograph will appear and disappear several times. New! Startling! Amazing!

One classic, popularized by Sam Loyd, is seat the riders on (or saddle) the horses (or mules). See U.S. Patent 2082943 - Dutcher 1937. Cut out the three pieces and figure out how to arrange them to depict two complete horses each bearing a rider facing the correct way.

This puzzle was used as an advertising premium for Dickinson's Witch Hazel - seat the witches on the cats:

One Dr. E. C. Abbey of Buffalo, NY, used a series of Toll Gate puzzle cards to advertise a book called "The Sexual System and Its Derangements" - "a moral book, for both sexes, clothed in plain and proper language." I have Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4:

Find: a Queen, Lady, Traveller, Hostler, Clown, Boy, Baby, Gorilla, Monkey, 2 Donkeys, 2 Horses, Elephant, Bear, Deer, 2 Rabbits, 2 Squirrels, 3 Frogs, 5 Dogs, Otter, 2 Turtles, 10 Faces, 29 Letters, Bird, Rat, 2 Fish, Owl, &c (That's what the card says, "&c" - I guess they got tired of listing the items!)

Find: a Bear, Buffalo, Camel, Giraffe, Seal, Swan, Squirrel, Cat, Fox, Pig, Rabbit, Parrot, 2 Alligators, 4 Birds, 2 Beavers, 2 Babies, 2 Boys, 5 Cows, 2 Chickens, 2 Deer, 12 Dogs, 3 Elephants, 3 Frogs, 3 Fish, 7 Faces, 2 Goats, 7 Horses, 10 Letters, 2 Mice, 4 Men, 2 Monkeys, 2 Owls, 3 Rats, 3 Sheep, 2 Turtles, 2 Ladies.

Find: an Elk (not Miss Anne Elk :-), Peacock, Shark, Butterfly, Lion, Tiger, Rabbit, Book, Coat, Boot, Hare, Rake, Barrel, Caterpillar, Pigeon, Yard Stick, Snail, Match, Turtle, Owl, Rhino, Antelope, Watch, Skull, Cat, Cow, Giraffe, Priest, Mummy, Humpty Dumpty, Squirrel, 5 Fishes, 2 Indians, 12 Faces, 3 Mice, 11 Dogs, 3 Eagles, 5 Letters, 5 Ducks, 2 Camels, 3 Elephants, 7 Men, 2 Monkeys, 2 Cymbals, 4 Birds, 4 Bears, 4 Goats, 8 Frogs, 2 Seals, 3 Beavers, 9 Sheep, 3 Ladies, 5 Horses, 5 Pigs, 2 Chickens, 4 Alligators, 2 Boys, 2 Babies, and 2 Combs. Whew!

The Truant Boys, a follow-up to the Toll Gate series, by the same Dr. Abbey:

Currier & Ives issued a set of three puzzle-pictures - the Old Swiss Mill, the Puzzled Fox, and the Bewildered Hunter. Thanks to Gianni Sarcone for making me aware of these.


An advertising card for Brown's Bitters:

Why Don't He Sink? Heat the card to find the answer... 

If you have Slocum and Botermans' "New Book of Puzzles" (1992) you can find several paper-based puzzles...

Folding Puzzles


Here are the "cube snakes" - unit cubes linked together so that they pivot in only certain ways, and fold up into a cube shape, usually 3x3x3 but some 4x4x4. In this group are:

Highly Strung

I have all 5:
Purple, Orange, Red, Blue, Green


The Anaconda Cube

Magic Cube Snake
aka Kibble Cube

Charles Phillips' "Brain Box" comes with a small wooden cube snake and a booklet of brainteasers.

Folding Plate Puzzles

Another type of folding puzzle is the "plate" puzzle exemplified by Rubik's Magic. A group of independent 2-sided grooved tiles, with embedded picture cards, are connected by a loop of strong fishing line. The stringing pattern is complex, and permits the tiles to be folded around and onto each other in various ways. The objective is to achieve a particular picture pattern and/or shape.

Take a look at Pantazis' site - he has created many original folding plate puzzle designs!

Rubik's Magic - the original 8-tile, black verison.
Newer versions are red. Read about Rubik's Magic at Jurgen Koeller's site.

Rubik's Magic Master
12 tiles

Rubik's Magic Create the Cube

Simpsons novelty Rubik's Magic

Another novelty version picturing a scantily-clad woman.

Betcha Can't is a fairly rare version with hexagonal plates.

Magic Smile - Purchased at IPP28 in Prague, from Pantazis Houlis
also Mr. Twisty, designed, made, and exchanged at IPP32 by Pantazis

I got this custom 4-tile magic from Juozas Granskas at IPP26.

Custom 8-tile Magic - Prague
Purchased at IPP28 in Prague, from Juozas Granskas

A custom 3-tile Magic, designed by Juozas Granskas. There are three nicely-drawn whimsical characters, each divided across two tile surfaces. The objective is to match the heads to the bodies so that all three characters are whole, simultaneously! I really like this puzzle, and not just because I can solve it. A gift from Jouzas at IPP 29 in SF - thanks!

Folding - Paper/Card

This is the "Pick the Pickaninnies" postcard puzzle, patented June 4, 1907 ( U.S. Patent 856196 - Lehman 1907 - CCL/273/155) and copyright 1907 by the Ullman Manufacturing Co. of New York.

This puzzle is representative of a time in the history of the United States during which what are today unconscionable racist sentiments were part of everyday life.

I have a copy sporting a canceled one cent Ben Franklin stamp, postmarked Feb. 4 1908 out of Philadelphia. The puzzle consists of a single card with six flaps that will fold over a central rectangle. One side of the central rectangle is the face of the postcard. On its interior face is an advertisement for Harry H. Kurtz furniture of Philadelphia. One flap depicts a black woman who is saying, "Show me all dem eleben pickaninnies at one time. I don't want to see no white trash." This flap also has eight holes and three black children's faces on it. The other flaps have various patterns of holes and faces of black children and white children. The objective as stated on the card is to "Arrange the flaps, by placing one over another, in such a manner as to show only the eleven pickaninnies."

This style of puzzle has appeared in less offensive versions, for instance the face of Danny Kaye was used to advertise his film "The Inspector General" and a can of peas. In that version only seven faces must appear. Below is a version I made for you to cut out and try. Make windows wherever it says "cut out" and remember to separate the side flaps.

Power Puzzles is a set of ten colorful folding puzzles made of heavy plasticized stock.
The designs are copyright by the Ivan-Concept Corporation (Ivan Moscovich),
and the set was distributed by Discovery Toys Inc.
Each puzzle is to be folded to achieve some specific pattern.

This is Fold A Decathlon of Mindbending Folding Puzzles,
by Ivan Moscovich, issued by the Fatbrain Toy Co.
It is a re-issue of the Power Puzzles set put out by Discovery Toys.

Fold the sheet to find the fifth pig... 

Proper folding of the sheet produces a drawing of Hitler.

This style of puzzle has been used more recently to challenge you to "Find the Fifth Dinosaur" - Saddam Hussein.

Fold a camel. The star-shaped sheet is printed on both sides and has a slit to the center cut along one radius. See U.S. Patent 2327876 - Edborg 1943.

In this puzzle, you fold one way for a cow, another for a horse: U.S. Patent 2327875 - Edborg 1943.


Other Folding Puzzles/Toys

Rubik's Snake is not so much a puzzle as a plaything. Twist it into different shapes.

Here is a folding metal "puzzle" (more of a toy) known as "Heaven's Orb." This design actually dates back at least to the Smith patent # 2031231 of Feb. 1936.

also sold as "Crazee Diamond"

Linked blocks in the shape of a can.
See U.S. Patent 6637138 - Prost 2003

Yoshi's Cube
A flexible array of shapes connected by tough plastic sheets. Can be folded into a cube and other shapes.

Shinsei Twin Comets or Shinsei Mystery
Two units - either can be folded to make the first stellation of the rhombic dodecahedron, or a cube.
Each shape is hollow - the stellation will fit inside the cube.
This is a copy of a version called the Yoshimoto Cube that was first issued in Silver and Gold colors.
Invented by Naoki Yoshimoto in 1971.

Inca - small and large

Rubik's Maze

This is Hex, issued back when Thinkfun was Binary Arts. Fold the chain loop into a hexagon so that all arrows face the same direction. A gift from Tom Jolly - I had an instruction sheet but no puzzle - thanks, Tom!
I've seen other versions of this on Iwase's site.

A plastic folding-plate "puzzle" - make different shapes.

I found another instance of Hex - a vintage puzzle from Binary Arts - in its original package.

Happy Cubes by Adult Games.

Identical to Happy Cubes by Adult Games - just blue.

Snoop Cube
Fold the eight linked blocks into various shapes, culminating in a cube. Purchased from Torito.

Mag-Nif Curious Cubes 1982

The Starbix folding puzzle/toy, by Alan H. Schoen and issued by Bandai 1987.

Cubigami 7 from George Miller. Designed by George Miller and Donald Knuth. This is one of the few puzzles that stays on my desk - I find myself frequently picking it up and playing with it. A clever arrangement of hinged squares in a flat sheet, can be folded into each of the 3D tetra-cube shapes except for the 1x2x2 block.

Blue Cubigami from George Miller.
This version has four magnetic blocks and a plastic wrapping with embedded metal plates. Arrange the four blocks into one of the tetracube shapes then find a way to wrap them. This version allows the 1x2x2 shape to be wrapped since leaves of the wrapping can overlap. A gift from George - thanks!

Der Umstulpbare Wurfel
(the Invertible Cube) by Paul Schatz of Switzerland.

This is called "Block Chain" but it is a copy of QRIN X by Takeyuki Endo

Two vintage folding puzzles from Binary Arts: GeoLoop and GeoMorph12

Mind Jewel, designed by Alexander Polonsky - from RecentToys

Betty's Baffling Bracelet - designed by Stuart Gee
Made by Brian Young
Exchanged at IPP27 by Marti Reis
Six octahedral pieces strung on an elastic band - fold them to create a self-supporting rhombic dodecahedron.

Tony's Hinge

Unhinged by Thinkfun

The Not So Strait of Dover by Scott Elliott
Kind of folding, kind of tangling - braid the strands using a classic "trick."

This is Ivan's Hinge, another design by Ivan Moscovich, also issued by the Fatbrain Toy Co.

Hopson Kinetic Prismatoy
Brainwright has issued several intriguing new puzzles.
I picked up the FlexiCube,
designed by George Miller.

Manifold - issued by Brainwright
A pad of 9cm2 sheets, printed with various
patterns of light and dark areas.
Fold every sheet so one side is all light and
the other all dark. Gets quite tricky!
Manifold was developed by Jérôme Morin-Drouin at The Incredible Company.
You can download a PDF with five sample challenges at their website.

Mini Line Cube - from Metal Art
A metal folding puzzle - make a cube.
I got a blue and a red. Identical other than color.

Curve Ball - designed by Eric Harshbarger - issued by Brainwright.
Curve Ball is a simple puzzle/toy - the hemispheres of the nodes can be rotated to constrained positions and one must make given shapes from the chain, including a 2x2x2 cubic arrangement.
Thanks, Alison!

Tough Measures - Constantin - Recent Toys

Diamond Snake - designed and exchanged at IPP38 by Andreas Röver
A novel take on the traditional "cube snake" puzzle, using linked spheres and with an octahedral target shape.


Here one has to make a careful distinction between games and puzzles. I believe all of these qualify as puzzles...

My first and still my favorite electronic puzzle was a gift from Darcy, the XL-25. In principle it is very close to the later Lights Out - but IMHO it has the best sound effect and the best coordination of that sound effect with the push of the buttons.
Shifty - Tiger 1989
(Read more at the Handheld Games Museum.)

Tiger has marketed several versions of Lights Out.
You can also get a version for your Palm PDA.

rather than button pushes it requires tilting

Nemesis Factor


Milton Bradley 1980

Milton Bradley

Lite 3 - Tiger

Rubik's Revolution

The Cubed Electronic Puzzle, from ThinkGeek.


The Rubik's Touch Cube
(debuted at $150, purchased for $50 at Best Buy. I think it eventually fell to $19.99!)

Rubik's Slide

See a short video review of the Rubik's Slide.

Cool Circuits

1-Bit Puzzle by Zach Radding
An enigmatic 1" square circuit board with a red LED in the center and a membrane button on each of the four top edges - marked 1, 10, 100, 1000. Insert the coin cell battery and the LED starts blinking. What does it all mean?
Voted one of the best puzzle finds of 2012.
Thanks, Zach!

Laser Maze - produced by Thinkfun and
designed with the help of Luke Hooper
(the inventor of the laser chess game Khet).

Lightbox3 - designed by Eric Clough
Lightbox3 Kickstarter campaign (over)
Circuit Maze - Thinkfun
Circuit Maze - produced by Thinkfun
created by David Yakos, with Wei-Hwa Huang and Tyler Somer.

Ambiguous and Other Curious Objects

This is a classic - the Chinese Finger Trap. Insert an index finger into each end, then try to extract them! The woven tube grips more the harder one pulls.

This is known as a Rattleback or a Celt. Due to its peculiar cross-section, no matter whether it is initially spun clockwise or counterclockwise it always ends up spinning in one direction.

This "Magic Ring" trick consists of a fairly long loop of chain and a metal ring. Hold the chain in one hand and pass the chain through the ring. Now drop the ring, and if you know the technique, the ring will "magically" knot itself onto the chain!

Whatsit - a "guess what this is" object given to me by R. Hess. Thanks, Dick!
(I cheated and simply visited the website embossed on the object :-)

From James Dalgety - the Rabbiduck. Is this a Rabbit or a Duck? Don't answer until you click on the image...
The Rabbit/Duck ambiguous image was published by Joseph Jastrow in 1899 in Popular Science Monthly - he discovered it in an 1892 Harper's Weekly, which had reprinted it from the German magazine Die Fliegende Blatter. You can read an article on the Jastrow Illusion, Joseph Jastrow and His Duck -- Or Is It a Rabbit?, by John F. Kihlstrom, online.

Bottom-filling Teapot and Fairness Cup set
Purchased at the 2011 New York Puzzle Party hosted by Tom Cutrofello, in Manhattan at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA). MOCA was housing the exhibition "Chinese Puzzles: Games for the Hands and Mind" curated by Wei Zhang and Peter Rasmussen.
These are examples of Puzzle Vessels. In the case of the teapot, it is filled through a hole in the middle of the bottom, yet when it is righted it does not leak, and pours tea upright as normally. The Fairness Cup, also known as a Greedy Cup, or Cup of Pythagoras, can be filled and used as normal, but if it is overfilled past a certain level, all the liquid will drain out through a hole in the bottom.
The puzzle is, how do they work?
This a modern example of a Chinese Magic Mirror.
When sunlight reflects off of its polished brass face (opposite to that shown) properly, one can see an image of the IPP Burr puzzle logo. The unique production technique was invented some 2000 years ago in China and entails more than ten complicated procedures. The reflective surface has extremely subtle warps. The second photo captures the image projected by my copy.

Vintage promotional puzzle Which is Larger?

Fritz and Paul
A version of the "Which is Larger" optical puzzle
made in Germany
"New! Great! Amazing! The droll Piccolos or the enigmatic twins Wins every bet very amusing!"
D.R.G.M. Reg. i. a. K. - Staat
Franz Wieland, Berlin S. 59, Camphausenstr. 25.

A while back I received from Scott Elliott (Thanks, Scott!), a copy of his Screwy Screw - an "impossible object" type puzzle where the objective is to figure out "how did he do that?" In this case, the two nuts spin on or off the bolt in opposite directions! I.e., one spins clockwise to go on and the other spins counterclockwise to go on. Scott discusses this puzzle on his blog, here, here, here, and here.

A beautiful hand-turned Offset-Spinning-Top, made by Stephen Chin
The puzzle is, how was this lathed? And, when it spins, it displays the intriguing effect of appearing to have independent disks hovering in air.
Thanks, Chinny!

Promotional puzzle from IBM
What solid shape will fit through each hole,
completely filling the outline?
Appears in Wyatt's 1928 "Puzzles in Wood" as "The Wedge Plug Puzzle." Also issued by Journet as "The Geometrical Puzzle."

Lenz's Law Demonstration

A moving magnetic field induces an electric current in a nearby conductor - this is called an eddy current. In turn, the induced current will create its own magnetic field that opposes the original magnetic field that created it. One can demonstrate this using a simple copper tube and a strong magnet that will drop through the tube. The copper tube conducts but is non-magnetic. The magnet will drop through the tube, but much more slowly than a non-magnetic equivalent mass. It's not "sticking" to the tube - rather, Lenz's Law - the opposing magnetic fields - slows it down.
A gift from Brett - thanks!
This is an Illusionist Locket, made by Jim Anderson (Illusion Lockets LLC of Idaho). Jim figured out a way to realize the trick locket that appeared in the movie The Illusionist. (See various videos on YouTube...)

According to Jim: "This locket transformed from an oval into a heart shape and opened to mysteriously reveal a picture. There was no apparent way the locket could function in this way without tearing the picture in half."

The puzzle here is "How does it work?"

You might be able to find one on eBay. (There are several makers, I think Jim's is of the highest quality.)

Impossible Objects

A bank containing a suspended cube. Where does the money go?

A bank within a bank.

An impossible nail in a donut.
An impossible Penny in a Bottle

Card-Folding Wizardry by Louis Coolen - a gift from Allard Walker. Thanks! It was great meeting Allard and several other puzzlers at IPP32 for the first time in person. I wish I had had more time to socialize.

Here are some patents to early impossible object puzzles:

Puzzles from the World's Fairs

There have been many World's Fairs held since 1756. I have included only a small number of the better-known Fairs in the table below. Some puzzles are among the memorabilia available from the various Fairs. Some of these items are shown on other pages, but I thought it would be interesting to assemble them here, too.

Great Exhibition
London, England
The "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations" (or just "The Great Exhibition" for short) was based on an idea of Prince Albert's, was held in 1851 in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, and was the first international exhibition of manufactured products. The Crystal Palace is the icon of this fair.

I believe this vintage jigsaw puzzle is a souvenir. It is 6" x 6" x 1/4" thick, and the lid is marked:

"The New Puzzle. Registered Industrial Exhibition - Registered According to Act of Parliament"

There is a label inside the lid, probably from a store:

"Rich d. S. Williams - No. 9 Back of Park Street - Bristol"

Centennial Exposition
Philadelphia, PA
(Take a tour!)
Or, read a book about the expo.

A set of jigsaws (I don't have this).
Exposition Universelle
Paris, France
This fair featured the Eiffel Tower, but I haven't run across any puzzles.
The World's Columbian Exposition
Chicago, IL
The 1893 Columbian Exposition, by all accounts, was a fantastic event. The buildings were clad in white plaster and the grounds were known as the "White City." Peter Nepstad has created a text adventure game that puts you at the Fair. Read some reviews. Download a demo. Also see The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.

There were a series of "White City" trick-opening still banks put out by Nicol & Co. of Chicago. See U.S. patent 528018 - Nicol 1894. (I don't have any except as noted.)

No. 1 Barrel
(I have this one.)

No. 2 Pail
(I have this one.)

No. 3 Large Barrel

No. 10

No. 12

No. 326

No. 357


On the 3, 10, 12, and 326 banks, the wingnut "key" was stored in a receptacle molded into the bottom and initially covered by a label. The label warns salesmen not to reveal the secret of opening the safe until after the sale is made.

There were several other puzzles sold in conjunction with the fair:

The Columbus' Egg Puzzle
See my Dexterity page.

The Ferris Wheel made its debut at the Fair. There are at least two versions of this dexterity puzzle - one called the Ferris Wheel, and the other called the "Firth Wheel." The Firth Wheel background says "California Midwinter International Exposition."
(I don't have either.)
See U.S. Patent # 519989 Cassard, May 1894.

Magnetic Eggs
See my Dexterity page.

These lettered blocks might comprise a sliding-block type puzzle.

Columbian Exposition Picture Puzzles
An interlocking border with push-fit interior pieces.

Picture Blocks
Pan-American Exposition
Buffalo, NY

The Stars and Crescent puzzle was stamped to commemorate the 1901 Pan American Expo in Buffalo NY. I have this puzzle, but it's not stamped.
The Louisiana Purchase Exposition
St. Louis, Missouri

I have the Key, the Up-To-You, and the sliding piece puzzle. I don't have the Jug or the furniture jigsaw.

Robert Hendershott (b.1898 d.2005) actually attended the 1904 fair and compiled a seminal catalog listing scads of memorabilia from the fair. I borrowed a copy from my library, but sadly it did not mention the Key, nor any other puzzle beyond the Up-To-You glass dexterity puzzle.

Here is another interesting puzzle from the Expo - it's a pair of coins with slots in them. I obtained a set including the strap! I found a U.S. patent describing the puzzle and the method of [un]linking them with the strap: 748245 - Willey & Barton 1903

Panama-Pacific International Exposition
San Francisco, CA
Century of Progress
Chicago, IL
There were several puzzles associated with this fair.

The Scrambled Eggs puzzles came in different colors and levels of difficulty, as well as a smaller version called "Bantam Eggs." I've found several.

There were several other 3D jigsaws, including a "Broken Heart" and a Sphere.

There was a Chinese-style building called the "Temple of Jihol" and a corresponding assembly puzzle. I don't have this.

Boxed dexterity puzzles included the Skyride and the Havoline Thermometer, by James R. Irvin & Co. I don't have these.

A series of "Tom Saw" jigsaw puzzles including Fort Dearborn, and the "Enchanted Island." I don't have these.

There was also a very interesting pinball game which constructed a jigsaw as the player progressed. One was offered at auction a while ago with a $3500 asking price but it did not sell. I don't have this, but Jerry Slocum has one.

Another jigsaw. I don't have this.

An interesting 3D jigsaw puzzle fort. I don't have this.
New York World's Fair

The Trylon Perisphere is the icon for this fair. A small interlocking puzzle of the Trylon Perisphere was issued and became the forerunner of the keychain puzzle. There was also a version in metal - I have the plastic version.

I have the Pageant of the States puzzle; I don't have the Furniture Jigsaw or Jig-O-Pin.

Century 21 Exposition
Seattle, WA

I don't have this.
New York World's Fair
(NOTE: Not sanctioned by the BIE.)

I don't have this.
Expo '67
Montreal, Canada

Ancient Puzzles and Modern Puzzle Crazes

Here is a brief history of ancient puzzles, and of modern puzzle crazes.

What is the oldest mechanical puzzle? We shall probably never really know - after all, the object itself or a record of it would have to have been preserved, found, and accurately dated. Only objects made of robust material, such as ceramics, are likely to have survived their trip down through the ages. And even if an object were found, without some written or pictographic record of its intended use, we can only surmise that it served the purpose of a mechanical puzzle. That said, below are some candidates (all dates are, of course, approximate). I have included some mathematical, logical, and word puzzles, too. (Jerry Slocum made several helpful comments in private correspondance.) David Singmaster has undertaken a far more detailed Chronology of Recreational Mathematics.

See a timeline of games and puzzles here.

Meffert hosts a timeline of puzzles written by Prof. David Joyner here.

See Puzzlehistory.com (focused on jigsaws).

Read a history of mathematical games and recreations here.

Check the Usenet rec.puzzles archive.

See a large collection of images of word games here.

See the MSN Encarta entry on Puzzles here.

The Modern Puzzle Crazes

Dictionary.com defines "craze" as "a popular or widespread fad, fashion, etc." and as a verb, "to cause to become mentally deranged or obsessed." As can be seen from the history of ancient puzzles above, people through recorded history - even workmen building the pyramids - have enjoyed puzzles. Many puzzles have made it into the historic record - often recorded by and for an intellectual minority - those who could read and write. However, few puzzles seem to have created the kind of fervor that causes masses of people to lose sleep and ignore their obligations, thereby instigating a full-fledged craze.

I believe it is not surprising that crazes seem to be a relatively modern phenomenon - it is only recently that there exists a mass population with sufficient leisure time to devote to "frivolous" pursuits, manufacturing capability sufficient to produce enough copies of a puzzle, transportation speedy enough to spread the puzzle widely within a relatively short period of time, and communications media sophisticated enough to report on the craze while it is occurring, often intensifying the craze by exposing more people to the puzzle. Records must survive that document such widespread popularity and, hopefully, chronicle the craze.

Here are some puzzles for which records do exist - the exceptional manias are highlighted, and some lesser crazes are included, too:

The IPP Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition

Since 2001, the IPP has held a design competition, now known as the Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition. You can see the entries and results at John Rausch's site.

Throughout my website, you'll find many other puzzles that have appeared in the Design Competition in recent years - below, I've gone through the entry lists and noted the puzzles I've acquired:

  • Puzzlers Award: One Piece Packing Puzzle (Bits and Pieces repro "Pack It In") - Simon Nightingale
  • First Prize: Arrow Case ( Bits and Pieces "Packing Arrows") - Dai Nagata
  • Honorable Mention: Sunflower ( available from George Miller) - Oskar van Deventer
  • Honorable Mention: Apple - John Berkeley
  • Honorable Mention: Walk of Ladybug - Tatuo Miyamoto
  • Burr in Cube #1 - Jurg von Kaenel
  • Hinomaru - Pavel Curtis
  • Molecule Puzzle - Joe Miller
  • Outline Burr - Karin von Kaenel
  • Pencil Case (Binary Arts) - Dai Nagata
  • Three Piece NOT - Frans de Vreugd
  • Trinity (Bits and Pieces "Triple Decker") - Lynn D. Yarbrough
  • Wun-Wa-Sure - Rocky Chiaro
  • Grand Prize: Polo Shirt Case - Edi Nagata
  • First Prize: Corner Cube - Lee Krasnow
  • Honorable Mention: Gold-Silver-Bronze (aka "Chain" - Hanayama) - Oskar van Deventer
  • Key Ring (Hanayama) - Oskar van Deventer
  • Kinato (Ravensburger) - Lawrence Lau
  • Literal Lateral Slide - William Waite
  • Strip Tease - Maarten Vermaak
  • Tetralott - Markus Goetz
  • First Prize: Binary Burr - Bill Cutler
  • First Prize: Six Key Mine (Bits and Pieces repro "Einstein") - R.D. Rose
  • Honorable Mention: Camera Conundrum - William Waite
  • Cat Case - Edi Nagata
  • Devil's Half Doven (Puzzlecraft) - Pavel Curtis
  • Dodecahedron - Robert Rose
  • Double Semi-Maze - Robert Rose
  • Hexagon Kinato - Lawrence Lau
  • Keyhole Puzzle - Rick Eason
  • Lili (Davans) - Jose W. Diaz
  • LiveCube - Min S. Shih
  • Loris (Bits and Pieces repro "Corian Box" ??) - Dave Rossetti, Frank Chambers, Ken Stevens
  • Pack 6 - Eric Fuller
  • Salt and Pepper Shakers - Norman Sandfield, Robert Sandfield, Perry McDaniel
  • Sandwich - Vaclav Obsivac
  • St Mungo's Fish - James Dalgety
  • Trapped Man - Tom Jolly
  • Trickbox - Vaclav Obsivac
  • Grand Prize and Puzzlers' Award: Dodecahedron Box - Kagen Schaefer
  • Honorable Mention: Box with Key (Bits and Pieces repro "Secret Key Box") - Akio Kamei
  • Honorable Mention: Red Spots - Ichiro Sengoku
  • Amaze - Eldon Vaughn
  • Button Trap - Vaclav Obsivac
  • Cup Case - Edi Nagata
  • Double Monad (Bits and Pieces) - Doug Engel
  • Houses and Factories - Dick Hess
  • Insoma - Brian Young
  • Lucky Clover (Bits and Pieces) - Oskar van Deventer
  • QRIN X - Takeyuki Endo
  • Rightangular Jam - Hirokazu Iwasawa
  • Space Rings (produced as Equa by Hanayama) - Oskar van Deventer
  • Star Cluster - Karin von Kaenel
  • Stickman No. 3 Puzzle Box - Robert Yarger
  • Swissmad - Olivier Pahud
  • Triangular Jam - Hirokazu Iwasawa
  • Twisted's Sister (Mr. Puzzle Australia) - Brian Young
  • Grand Prize: Radix (Hanayama) - Akio Yamamoto
  • Honorable Mention: Edge Corner Cube II - Markus Götz
  • Honorable Mention: Rectangular Jam - Hirokazu Iwasawa
  • Dipole Dilemma - Chris Morgan
  • Cubigami - George Miller and Donald Knuth
  • Hide the Animal! (produced by Thinkfun as Cover Your Tracks) - Lixy Yamada
  • Ying-Yang - Josef Pelikan and Ivan Mrkvica
  • Sleazier - Pavel Curtis
  • Stickman No. 5 Puzzle Box - Robert Yarger
  • Puzzle of the Year (Puzzler's Award and Grand Prize): The Maze Burr - Kagen Schaeffer
  • First Prize: Floppy Cube - Katsuhiko Okamoto
  • Honorable Mention: Cover It Up - Robert Reid
  • Honorable Mention: Sequential Star - Lee Krasnow
  • Bump Cube (now Rubik's Mirror Blocks) by Hidetoshi Takeji
  • Love Secret - Kirill Grebnev
  • Snowflake - Robert Yarger
  • Swiss and U.S. Cubes - Jurg von Kanel
  • The Hill - Stewart Coffin
  • Three Trapped Sages - Ramos and Abad
  • Puzzlers' Award and Jury First Prize: Cast Loop - Vesa Timonen
  • Jury Grand Prize: The Void Cube by Katsuhiko Okamoto
  • Honorable Mention: Switched Maze by Kirill Grebnev
  • Honorable Mention: Tornado Burr by Junichi Yananose
  • The L-Bert Hall - designed by Ronald Kint-Bruynseels and made by Eric Fuller
  • Baby Duck Case - Edi Nagata
  • Digits in a Box - Eric Harshbarger
  • Duodeciburr - Vaclav Obsivac
  • Four Fit - Stewart Coffin
  • Triangle Trio by William Waite
  • Puzzler's Award and Jury Grand Prize, Puzzle of the Year: The ODD Puzzle by Hirokazu Iwasawa
  • First Prize (3-way tie): The Irmo Box by Eric Fuller
  • First Prize (3-way tie): Secret Base (Box) by Hiroshi Iwahara (was a Karakuri Club Christmas gift in 2007)
  • First Prize (3-way tie): Tangerine by Vesa Timonen - mass-produced by Hanayama as the Globe Ball
  • Asura by Akio Yamamoto - a metal version called Vortex is now offered by Hanayama as part of their CAST series.
  • Crossroad by Goh Pit Khiam, made by Walter Hoppe
  • Cube Puzzle - 3D printed by George Hart (I have prototype no. 1!)
  • Cubedron - by Pantazis Houlis
  • Easy Eight / Hard Eight - by Bob Hearn
  • Elemental : Neon by David Litwin
  • Gold Coast Parking Meter by Brian Young
  • Handcuffs Puzzle - Teddy Sakamoto
  • La Cerradura Doble - by Robrecht Louage
  • Magic Smile by Pantazis Houlis
  • Spade & Heart by Mineyuki Uyematsu
  • Straight Forward by Brian Young
  • Tease by Sam Cornwell
  • V-Cube 7 by Panagiotis Verdes
  • Zoo Panic by Tsugumitsu Noji
  • Honorable Mention: Confetto Box by Hiroshi Iwahara
  • 5-Minute Puzzle That Might Take A Little Longer - designed by Andy Turner
  • Barb's Cube by John Devost and Jose Diaz - I got a 3D printed version
  • Bolaris - designed by Hannu Hjerppe
  • Devil's Gate - designed by Ferdinand Lammertink and made by George Miller
  • Dodek Duo - designed by Jerry Langin-Hooper
  • Funny Cubes - designed by Tom Lensch
  • Nine Bed Nightmare - designed by George Bell
  • Tubular Burr - Derek Bosch
  • First Prize: Four Direction Drawer - Hiroshi Iwahara
  • Honorable Mention: Cast Rattle - Bram Cohen - issued by Hanayama
  • Ambidextrous Hexduos - designed by Matt Dawson, made by Robert Yarger
  • Black or White - designed by Tomas Linden and Vesa Timonen
  • Cannibal Monsters - designed by Raf Peeters
  • Latch Cube - designed by Katsuhiko Okamoto
  • One Four All & All Four One - designed by Pantazis Houlis, Arcady Dyskin, Alexei Kanel-Belov, Elena Pasternak, Juri Estrin
  • Qubami - designed by Kelvin Stott
  • Titanic - designed by Raf Peeters
  • Jury First Prize: MT5T - Mineyuki Uyematsu
  • Jury First Prize: Superstrings - Richard Gain
  • Jury Honorable Mention: House with Trees - Hiroshi Iwahara
  • Jury Honorable Mention: T+3 - Hiroshi Yamamoto
  • Ambigram Burr - Gregory Benedetti
  • Ampelmann - Roman Götter
  • Bishop Cubes - Forrest Bishop
  • Curly Cube - Vladimir Krasnoukhov (I have the metal version.)
  • Dino Cylinder - Li Chung Man (SmaZ)
  • Dog Head - Diniar Namdarian
  • Equal 7 - Vladimir Krasnoukhov
  • Jury First Prize: Houdini's Torture Chamber - Brian Young
  • 13 Triangles - Ed Pegg, Jr.
  • BurrBlock - Jerry McFarland
  • Gear Pyraminx - Oskar van Deventer (Meffert)
  • Genie in the Bottle - Erhan Cubukcuoglu
  • Little Window (Open Window) - Tom Jolly
  • Multidodecahedron - Tom van der Zanden
  • One Circle - Two Circles - Diniar Namdarian
  • Perplexing Palace Puzzle - James Dalgety
  • Puzzle in a Puzzle Box - Thomas Beutner
  • Six Cushion Shot - Wayne Daniel
  • TriTalon - Iwahiro
  • Washington Skyline - William Waite
  • Jury Grand Prize: Helical Burr - Derek Bosch
  • Jury Honorable Mention: Galaxy - Bram Cohen (now mass-produced by Hanayama as Galaxy)
  • Ball in Cylinder No. 1 - Jerry Loo
  • Bucolic Cube - Yasuhiro Hashimoto
  • A Plugged Well - Brian Young
  • Rhombic Maze Burr - Derek Bosch
  • Symmetrick - Vesa Timonen
  • Washington Monument - Brian Young
  • Jury Grand Prize: U & U - Kyoo Wong (mass-produced by Hanayama)
  • Jury Honorable Mention: Copy Device - Hiroshi Yamamoto
  • Cassette - JinHoo Ahn - mass-produced by Hanayama as the Cast Padlock
  • Claws of Satan - Mineyuki Uyematsu - mass-produced by Hanayama as the Cast Hexagon
  • Conjuring Conundrum - Louis Coolen, Allard Walker
  • Coronation Cube - Richard Gain
  • 7-4-2 - Lucie Pauwels
  • Thor's Hammer - Stephan Baumegger
  • 3 Pentagons - Koshi Arai
  • Jury Grand Prize: Big Ben - John Moores, Junichi Yananose, Brian Young
  • Artefacts - Frederic Boucher
  • Binary Pin Burr - Jerry McFarland
  • Cubane - Masumi Ohno
  • Double Slideways Burr - Raymond Stanton
  • Top Ten Vote Getters: Edelweiss Puzzle Box - Robert Yarger, William Waite
  • 4 Ducks & a Duckling - Jerry Loo
  • Icosaix - Oskar van Deventer
  • Liberal Cube - Markku Vesala
  • Jury Honorable Mention: Number Blocks - Goh Pit Khiam
  • Jury Honorable Mention: Road Blocks - Goh Pit Khiam
  • AC/DC - Laszlo Molnar
  • Jury Honorable Mention: Chain Store - Goh Pit Khiam
  • CheckerBored Too - William Waite
  • Little Kenny - Ken Irvine
  • Nutty Bolt No. 1 - Stephen Miller
  • Octaplex 6 - Bob Hearn
  • Top Ten Vote Getters: Stumbling Blocks - Goh Pit Khiam
  • Think Twice - Vladimir Krasnoukhov
  • Puzzlers' Award: Identical Twins - Osanori Yamamoto
  • Jury Honorable Mention: BurrNova - Jerry McFarland
  • Jury Honorable Mention: Free Me 5 - Joe Turner
  • Top Ten Vote Getters: Galette - Osanori Yamamoto
  • Adam & Eve (tanglement) - Alan Rolfs, Tom Sun, George Miller
  • Clover (tanglement) - Aaron Wang
  • Colonel's Bouquet (3D symmetric shape) - George Sicherman
  • Cubemaker - Volker Latussek
  • Fang Duet (bent nails tanglement) - Noboru Hayashi
  • Sliding Tetris - Diniar Namdarian
  • Tripla - Andrei Ivanov
  • Puzzle of the Year: Casino (sequential packing) - Volker Latussek
  • Jury First Prize: Trinity (now a Hanayama tanglement) - Kyoo Wong
  • Jury Honorable Mention: Jigsaw Puzzle 29 (jigsaw) - Yuu Asaka
  • Top Ten Vote Getter: Pack 012 (restricted opening seq. packing) - Osanori Yamamoto
  • Top Ten Vote Getter: Three Cubes (asm) - Ichiro Kohno
  • Top Ten Vote Getter: Wavelinks (tng) - Rod Bogart
  • Box With Two Balls - Christoph Lohe
  • Free Me 6 - Joe Turner
  • Lucida (caged burr) - Osanori Yamamoto
  • Mini Lock (int, Pelikan) - Christoph Lohe
  • Pushbutton Burr - Ken Irvine
  • Roller Coaster (restricted opening packing) - Laszlo Molnar
  • Unicum (symm shape) - Norbert Galla
  • X-Cage - Frederic Boucher
  • Jury First Prize: Hokey Cokey Lock - Ali Morris
  • Jury Honorable Mention: Rotor (now a Hanayama tng) - Kyoo Wong
  • Top Ten Vote Getters: Hat Trick (restricted opening packing) - Laszlo Molnar
  • Top Ten Vote Getters: Slider (now a Hanayama tng) - Vesa Timonen
  • Top Ten Vote Getters: Wave 5 (tray packing) - Yuu Asaka
  • Brass Monkey Two - Steve Nicholls and Ali Morris
  • Cover Up - George Sicherman
  • FantasTIC - Andrew Crowell
  • Ice 9 - Yuu Asaka
  • Logical Progression - Rick Eason
  • PedanTIC - Andrew Crowell
  • Rules of Attraction (magnetic cube) - Laszlo Molnar
  • Somaa Cube - Haym Hirsh


Several manufacturers around the world, from the late 1700's onwards to the present day, have issued collections of puzzles in boxed sets.

Perhaps the most sought-after are collections of puzzles made from ivory, arranged inside lacquered boxes, exported from China in the 1800's. One such set is shown here - sadly I do not own it - it sold for over $4000! The Hordern-Dalgety Puzzle Museum site has an article on Chinese Puzzle Sets. There is also an article on the British firm John Jacques & Son, who made boxed sets of puzzles, indoor and outdoor games, and other items. Jacques of London was founded in 1795 and is still around today!

Other boxed sets of puzzles have come from French manufacturers, such as the "Jeux Nouveaux" set shown above (I do not own).
See more about vintage French puzzles and sets at the website of the avid French collector Alain Koli.
In the U.S. the venerable toy store F.A.O. Schwartz issued boxed puzzle sets (I have one shown below).

Great Minds Set of 5 Puzzle Compendium
A gift from Claire and Steve - thanks!

This boxed set contains a Soma cube, a Star, and a Cube Snake.

The "Aha Brainteaser Classics" set from Thinkfun contains a nice introductory survey of simple mechanical puzzles, with hint cards. Here is a nice history of some of the puzzles included in this set.

This compendium is called "Mixed Up."

This compendium was made by Sherms of Bridgeport CT (the included instruction sheet clearly indicates so, as do the several appearances of the leering devil), but branded on the box lid by Kellogg's of Springfield MA (probably a department store). Although the lid says "Wire Puzzles," the set contains the Perigal 4-piece square, the classic T dissection, Loyd's buttonhole pencil, the 8-point puzzle, a sitting Doggie puzzle, several metal tanglements, and a 14-piece checkerboard dissection called the "Checker Board Problem" made from thick cardboard in blue and red (Haubrich 14.14.3-5, pieces on page 165, listing on page 168 #11). The instruction sheet says "This book of puzzles explains others besides those in your set." It's not at all clear whether the current contents are the original contents.

The instructions sheet lists:
  • Cover the Spot
  • Doggie Puzzle
  • Heart Puzzle
  • The T Puzzle
  • Triangle Puzzle
  • Ring & Coil
  • Horse Shoe
  • Boo-Boogy Man Puzzle
  • Nail Puzzle
  • Pretzel Puzzle
  • Knotted Rings Puzzle
  • Two Twist Puzzle
  • The Question Puzzle
  • Spider Web Puzzle
  • Pencil and Loop

This is the "Party Puzzle Box Supreme," a compendium of several puzzles, from George E. Schweig & Son of Philadelphia PA. The box is in poor shape, but it contains several interesting puzzles. The box contains three trays / levels. The first tray contains four sliding block puzzles in good shape: Schweig's Trans-Atlantic Puzzle, The Flying Puzzle, The Traffic Jam Puzzle, and Ma's Puzzle. (I bought this to obtain the Trans-Atlantic puzzle.) The next tray contains eight hard wire tangles, some of which are incomplete, and a dexterity puzzle called "Who Catches Us?" The last layer contains the classic T dissection (missing one small part), "The Wonder Puzzle" (a tangram variant, missing a block or two and a booklet), a "Spoophem" type puzzle, six more tangles including Patience, and a six-piece burr, the same "Puzzle of Puzzles" as in the "Tricks and Puzzles" compendium. There is also an instruction sheet.

This set is called "Tricks and Puzzles for Young and Old" and I cannot find additional provenance info even on the instruction sheet. One of the included tricks, however, called "Mystifying Mind Reading," is labeled No. 1 N 136 Copyright 1928 N. S. Co. Chicago. Also, many of the individual item packages say "Made in Japan." The set includes: the aforementioned Mystifying Mind Reading trick, which contains six cards having pictures of 15 presidents; a traditional six-piece burr puzzle called "The Puzzle of Puzzles" made in Japan (pieces 1, 154, 256x2, 1024x2), four copies of the ring and clip hard wire tangle, two copies of a hard wire tangle similar to offset keys, plate metal horseshoes, two copies of "No. X 2234 Coin or Disc Thru Hole," "The Magic Sex Indicator" (a plumb bob), an "X-Ray" tube, a card trick (incomplete), and a sheet of instructions.

The instructions describe:
  • Horse-Shoe Puzzle
  • Nail Puzzle
  • Chinese Puzzle
  • X-Ray
  • Collegiate Matches
  • Card Trick
  • (two twists)
  • (two clips)
  • (twists with straight handles)
  • Three RIngs Puzzle
  • (offset keys var.)
  • Key Puzzle
  • (two Gs)
  • (ring and clip)
  • Mind Reading Card Trick

De Luxe Puzzle Set - issued by D. Robbins & Co. N.Y.C
Copyrighted 1953
A nice set of four classic brainteasers.
I picked up spares because the first 3 of these are popular items in my "puzzle go bag."

This vintage "De Luxe Puzzle Chest" No. 3006 from F.A.O. Schwartz includes representatives from several categories.

Screwy Balls
Get 3 black balls on one end and 3 red on the other. A secret trick is involved.

Puzzle Ring

a version of "Upsy Downsy" - get the ball up the ramp to the pinnacle


Magic H

I'm not sure what might be missing, but the following items were also included:

Makes me think about what I would put in my "Puzzle Compendium Box." It seems like the items should all be both inexpensive and fairly compact, but do you go for the classic, the unusual, the historically important? A survey across all the categories? Will the selection be intended to win over neophytes, or stump connoisseurs?

What would you put in yours?

Open my Virtual Mechanical Puzzle Compendium Box to try various online simulations of mechanical puzzles.