POTM? Well... it's... “Puzzle Of The Month”!
The idea here is that once a month I will add a puzzle from my collection, photograph it, and write about it in depth. The puzzles featured will possibly be some of my personal favourites, presents from friends, something rare or unusual, or just something that I think will interest visitors here.
I dedicate this page to long-time Puzzle Of The Month fan Frank Potts, seen here struggling to get to grips with a ‘Maize Maze’ in Massachusetts, designed by our friend and world-renowned maze designer, Adrian Fisher. More pictures from that maze here. Read more about the Puzzle Of The Month concept below.
What is a Good Puzzle?
I have looked at what makes a puzzle worth displaying here, in effect ‘What makes a good puzzle?’ In no particular order, my immediate thoughts are that a good puzzle should be:
Clearly, a puzzle which isn’t challenging isn’t a good puzzle, and it might rightly be said that it isn’t even a puzzle.
Aesthetic, or of nice appearance
You might call this ‘pick me up’ appeal. You see it, it looks interesting, even if you haven’t yet identified it as a puzzle. It should look nice, whether made of polished, well-cut wood, nicely finished metal, tastefully-shaped plastic etc
Tactile or nice to handle
Following on from its appearance, its feel is very important. Obviously it shouldn’t have rough edges or dangerous parts, but it should be nice to handle, again, irrespective of its material. Wood, steel, or any of the newer forms of plastic and foam can be very pleasing to the hand.
Not quite impossible
This is very hard to define, and will be the subject of arguments amongst puzzlers for as long as we design puzzles. I can only solve the later stages of Rubik’s Cube by resorting to one of the step-by-step guides, but nobody can deny that it is one of the greatest puzzles ever. Very few of all the cubes ever sold will have been solved, and to most people it is nearly impossible, but we can all see that it is possible. It far exceeds the level of difficulty required by most people but its attractive design and nice feel contributed to making it such a classic.
Having wide appeal
This can mean having appeal to differing age groups, or having different levels of challenge. One of my own all-time favourites, pentominoes, meets this requirement. Children as young as 3 years can enjoy fitting 12 brightly-coloured plastic pieces into a tray, until they come to what Alice’s niece calls ‘the spare pieces’! Any adult will also enjoy the sense of achievement in forming the pieces into a defined 2- or 3-dimensional space.
Original and imaginative
We all need new challenges and most people have seen the ‘old favourites’ and we constantly seek new entertainment. A puzzle is more likely to be picked up if it is a new one, or a clever new twist on an old design. Look at the interminable succession of rotating twisting polyhedra puzzles, post Rubik’s Cube. People snapped them up, but there popularity has did out except amongst Rubik die-hards. The Cube was possibly the last great stand of mechanical puzzles before the still uninterrupted onslaught of computer games.
Two or three times a week I visit my local pub with a bag of puzzles, purely for my own entertainment, but I have come to expect that certain ones are more likely to attract attention from other people. They are the ones which are likely to succeed commercially.
Rewarding when solved
I have puzzles in my collection which I may never solve, but there is very little as rewarding as solving such a puzzle. Returning to it over the months and years, occasionally getting a new insight, (or a lucky break) one day you get that flash of inspiration that leads to another puzzle biting the dust.
Possibly having a tale or story attached to it
A picture, it is said, paints a thousand words, and an interesting historical tale surrounding a puzzle can embroider an extra layer of pleasure. (I said that.) The story of a wise man asking for as many ears of corn as it would take for the 64th square of a chess board, after doubling up all the way from a single ear on square one is much more interesting than the cold ‘two to the sixty-fourth power’. Erno Rubik designing a joint to show his engineering students is another example.
Constantly fresh, even if previously solved
I have a personal slight dislike of puzzles that, once solved, lose their puzzling appeal. Secret opening boxes and puzzle vessels fall into this class, unless one has many such puzzles and a failing memory.
Simple in concept
Ideally a puzzle should be self-explanatory, (although this does often lose the amusement found in reading instructions badly translated into one’s native tongue.)
Ideally teaching, or encouraging, logical thought
Puzzles are great teaching aids, for puzzlers of all ages. My puzzle collection can educate people of all ages from 3 upwards.
Sneaky and/or frustrating
They should never be too easy. I have some puzzles that I have never solved (yet), some that I doubt I ever will, and, shamefully, but like many puzzlers, some that I have never taken apart.
…and they should be fun!!!
Watching someone, or even better, two people assembling a Space Cube is one of the greatest entertainments ever designed. I enjoy watching friends trying to solve different puzzles. They like the challenge. They like striving for success. I like watching the enactment of thought processes.
I am not yet any closer to deciding what the next few Puzzles of the Month should be. I feel as though I should exclude the more well-known items, but that seems a shame, so I have started a Top Ten Page where I list the Top Ten puzzles, in my opinion, in various categories. Follow the link on the Puzzles page. It includes ten puzzles with which to be stranded on a desert island!!