This time I am venturing on an often neglected type of brainteasers - maze puzzles. These are sometimes viewed as a puzzle more geared towards the casual fan, but you'd be surprised by the sheer variety of mazes available right now, and they are the delight of both aficionados and casual puzzlers alike. Read on to find out more about the different types of maze puzzles and some of their history.
Mazes have intrigued and fascinated us since the dawn of civilization. In fact, the Egyptians are thought to be the first ones to come up with this incredible concept over four millennia ago (around the time of the first ancient pyramids). Mazes have come a long way since the era of the Pharaohs. They have evolved in countless different ways and have many different uses, but the approach is the same: to baffle and perplex anyone that witnesses this incredible feat of human inventiveness and ingenuity.
Many people use the terms Maze and Labyrinth interchangeably, and that's probably correct in most cases. However, personally, I prefer to use the word Maze when referring to puzzles. Why? Because a maze always has dead ends and other red herrings, commonly used in puzzles, and a labyrinth is not always used as puzzle, which implies a solving process with a beginning and an end.
Today you can see mazes everywhere in your daily life, but I want to focus particularly on the mechanical maze puzzles, the ones that you can touch and play with, the ones that make me glad I'm a puzzle enthusiast, collector, solver...and writer... There's an array of different types of mazes that can please even the most uninterested of puzzle fans. They can go from simple ball-bearing puzzles, like the popular money puzzles, for the casual puzzler, to more complex structures, like the Perplexus puzzles. Whichever type of puzzle you choose, a maze always has the ability to entertain and satisfy our needs for a good mental challenge.
With so many types of mazes available, how do you choose the best ones? It all depends on what you like most about maze puzzles. One popular type of maze, usually used as an original gift, is the money mazes. This type of puzzles have a wide range of shapes and sizes. The goal is to navigate a ball bearing through a maze and unlock the mechanism that opens the puzzle so you can retrieve what's inside. You can put inside the puzzle anything not thicker than a few sheets of paper, which can be money, gift certificates, event tickets, etc.
Hidden Mazes have also been quite popular these last several years, mostly thanks to the Revomaze, although they weren't the first ones to appear, and there are certainly many other interesting designs. The hidden mazes, as the name suggests, have some part or the entirety of its mechanism hidden from view, forcing you to rely on other sensory skills, like touch or hearing. These puzzles are exceptionally harder than the more traditional maze puzzles, but they're quite a treat for the experienced puzzlers who are looking for a serious challenge.
If you're a more adventurous type and sometimes feel like a kid on a toy fair, the Perplexus puzzles are a perfect way to immerse yourself with a really cool and fascinating 3D maze. These original and unique puzzles let you explore and navigate with a ball bearing within a large sphere full of contraptions and winding pathways, reminiscent of a roller coaster.
If none of these are your thing, why not try a 3D maze with a classic feel but with a new and completely different approach in design. These examples below, from Jean Claude Constantin (right) and Jez Goode (left and center), show what 3D mazes have achieved in recent years and how good they can be with a gorgeous but functional design. They are also quite challenging.
Mazes that require a good dose of dexterity on your part are also a fun alternative to the previous, more demanding, examples. In these puzzles, perfect hand-eye coordination will dictate your success or your failure as you try to guide a metal sphere with the help of your steady hands and...Gravity.
Double mazes (and so on) are also fascinating in the sense that you have to keep in mind your progress on both of them simultaneously. There are many good examples, and Jean Claude Constantin is a craftsman that knows very well how to make a good maze puzzle, especially when two, or more, mazes are involved. His puzzles have a great complexity, and are mostly appreciated among expert puzzle enthusiasts for their unique designs and mechanisms.
There are still more types of mazes and unique puzzles to discover, but these are the most important ones within the realm of mechanical puzzles. There may be some missing ones here and there, but I believe I compiled enough for you to have a general idea of the subject and to encourage you to research further if some puzzles interest you more.
Mazes have evolved so much over
the centuries that it's unfathomable to even think of how they will continue to
baffle us in the coming decades. Judging by what history taught us time and
time again with new inventions, it's safe to say that mazes are here to stay
for as long as civilization exists. It's part of who we are, part of our
curious minds, and it's essential to our development as an intellectual
species. I sincerely hope that, after reading this, you'll be more inclined to
try a maze puzzle - any maze - and see for yourself how fascinating these
puzzles can really be.
To view all maze puzzles offers.
Trick Puzzle Locks
Over the last few months I've been writing about the most beautiful puzzles out there, made by talented craftsmen - like Jean Claude Constantin or Vinco - and respectful companies, like Hanayama or Meffert's. There are so many more to talk about, but in order to keep writing about varied topics I must change the subject to other interesting themes.
So, this time I want to focus this article on Trick Locks, a much beloved type of puzzles with very dedicated aficionados, some of them committed only to collect these puzzles and nothing more. Now, I'm no big authority on the subject of Trick Locks, but I'm a curious and informed enthusiast with many impressive designs in my collection, and I hope I can get you interested in the subject if you're not already a fan or a connoisseur.
The specific origin of Trick Locks (also called Puzzle Locks) is not exactly known, but they date back several centuries. The first ones may have been manufactured in China and Japan, which has a long history of producing furniture and other objects with secret compartments and other locking devices. India has also been a major producer of Trick Locks for a long time now and, in the process, it's also a country brimming with talented designers and avid collectors.
One of the most well-known Trick Lock collectors is Dr. Hiren Shah, a native from Ahmedabad, India, who turned his house into a museum (a Houseum) with a few thousand Trick Locks from around the world, spanning centuries of cultures and other influences. It's one of the most impressive Trick Lock collections in the world. To know more about Dr. Hiren Shah, a simple Google search will yield several interesting articles.
Trick Locks were invented more as a mean to lock other people's possessions, and not as much as a traditional puzzle. With Trick Locks it's much more difficulty to tamper with their mechanism, since many of these locks don't even need a key to be opened. To discover their solution one must find hidden clues around the lock, like a sliding part that reveals a hidden keyhole, or a well-disguised button you need to push, a hidden mechanism you need to uncover...Anything out of the ordinary could just be a red herring or yet another clue to unlock the puzzle.
Other mechanisms simply work by using the force of gravity, as you need to tilt the puzzle in different directions to unlock certain elements. Everything about Trick Locks is made so the solution is always a mystery to the casual observer, as if it were impossible to open them without resorting to brute force.
Today, Trick Locks have a very dedicated following, and since their traditional use is no longer needed, or less used, curious people find them fascinating and become eager to unravel their secret, but only the most cunning and observant will succeed. Trick Locks are a type of puzzle that intrigues people, and even the non-enthusiastic about puzzles will find these objects quite interesting and will try their luck by attempting to open them.
There are so many types of designs for Trick Locks that a single article would not be enough to describe all of them. Instead I will only scratch the surface by pointing out a few of the most interesting and important mechanisms, and at the end providing you with enough information to help you make your own research.
One of main issues about many Trick Locks, if we include the most sought and the higher quality ones is their high price tag. Many of these puzzles can easily reach hundreds of dollars, due to their high quality materials and the fact that many of them are hand-made, one at a time. These are the ones serious collectors go after - The most prestigious designs. If money is no object to you, I highly recommend taking a look at a few ones.
In the high-end spectrum of Trick Locks, one of the most respected designers is Rainer Popp, from Germany. His Popplock series is extremely popular among enthusiasts and collectors all over the world and, of course, the price matches the expected high quality of his creations, as each one is painstakingly turned and milled by the designer himself.
You should also consider a couple of Trick Locks from a not so well-known Dutch designer, Splinter Spierenburgh, but just as talented as any other.
If you prefer a more affordable option, there's always some good choices from a different number of manufacturers. Over the years I tried many of these and, despite some disappointments, I have encountered some nice designs that I can easily recommend to any fan, like the Houdini Lock Series, a good introduction to Trick Locks. I have recently tried the IQ Locker Series, which is a collection of Trick Locks made from wood, also quite affordable.
In the mid-range of Trick Locks you can find a whole different selection, and with completely unique mechanism that require dozens of moves to be opened. I'm talking about the n-ary puzzles, and in the Trick Lock (or Puzzle Lock) category there are some really impressive designs by Jean Claude Constantin. The trick to open them is also a bit different, as it has more to do with finding the correct sequence of moves rather than finding out how the hidden mechanism works. One of such puzzles is the Generation Lock with a whopping 340 million + moves. If you find that a bit excessive, you can settle for a more modest choice, the Schloss 250+ (with...you guessed it...250+ moves).
Another type of Trick Locks and probably the most appreciated and sought after by collectors are the antique and vintage locks. These locks have the most unique and fascinating mechanisms, and were often decorated with whimsical designs. Many of these locks were clearly designed to impress rather than being practical or to keep your secrets locked, even though their mechanisms were usually quite tricky to figure out. In the end, their purpose was spot-on, because there are many enthusiasts around the world who appreciate the qualities and nature of these fascinating objects.
Trick Locks have been around for several centuries, and judging by how much they're appreciated by collectors and aficionados alike, I bet they'll be around for many more centuries to come. This is a type of puzzle that can capture the attention of any curious-minded person and can be a great way to entertain a group of friends and family. Find all the Puzzle and Trick lock puzzles, that available at Brilliant Puzzles.
Siebenstein-Spiele Puzzle Maker
Another article, another contender for the coveted title. This time I return to the theme of wooden puzzles by the hand of one of German's leading manufacturers, Siebenstein-Spiele. The company started out as a board game developer and manufacturer over 20 years ago, and in the recent years branched out to the design and crafting of quality wooden mechanical puzzles that are both interesting items of exquisite craftsmanship as well as beautiful decorating objects.
The company founder, Jürgen Reiche, is a jack of all trades, designing, manufacturing and distributing his work all around the world, at the same time competing in an ever-growing market full of great choices. To do that, he needs a constant stream of new ideas and fresh concepts in order to attract new customers, puzzlers that are always hungry for unique and fascinating new challenges.
Siebenstein-Spiele's puzzles are easily recognizable by their laser-cut wooden pieces and natural colors. Their designs often combine various types of wood with acrylic and metal parts, giving different contrasts and textures to an otherwise bland and banal puzzle. Reiche cares a lot about presentation and that is clearly witnessed in all his creations, no matter how simple or complex a design is.
I usually say that Jürgen's designs have some resemblance with Jean Claude Constantin's, but I don't mean it in a derogatory or mean way. Quite the contrary. Jean Claude Constantin is my favorite puzzle designer, and despite the similarities between the two craftsmen's work, I always welcome Constantin-like puzzles. The two designers are German and have been working with puzzles for many years, so it's quite possibly they've known each other for a long time and took inspiration from each other's work. Whatever the reason, puzzle fans all over the world are the ones who benefit from both craftsmen's creativity and ingenuity.
Even though Siebenstein's puzzles have this high quality, their price is anything but expensive. Yes, you may find some of their puzzles with a high price tag, but the majority of them have rather reasonable prices, considering what they offer in terms of challenge, appearance, and of course, a rewarding and satisfying experience. That's quite an impressive feat when you compare their puzzles with other, more expensive brands.
Like any good puzzle manufacturer, Siebenstein-Spiele has a wide variety of designs and puzzle types that are certain to fascinate any puzzle enthusiast. If you're a true puzzle fan, chances are you're going to find something to like from Siebenstein-Spiele, whether it's sliding puzzles, packing puzzles, entanglement puzzles, or even the most uncommon and unique designs you can think of.
Packing puzzles are my favorite type of puzzles, and Siebenstein-Spiele has some very nice examples with superb designs. Take the Bermuda puzzle, or the Mephisto puzzle, for example. So different from one another, and yet both are equally remarkable, each with its own unique characteristics that make them fascinating:
As you can see, even within the same puzzle type, the designer managed to create two completely distinct puzzles made with different materials.
Other than packing puzzles, sliding puzzles are among my favorites, and here Jürgen Reiche almost reinvented the genre by creating very unique and unorthodox designs unlike anything you've seen before. Below are two examples of this unique approach to the sliding puzzle category, such as the Colour Match and the Up & Down:
Fortunately for any puzzle lover, though, Siebenstein-Spiele is not just packing or sliding puzzles. The designer creates a wide variety of puzzles, many of which are sometimes hard to even put in a single category. He also ventured into other popular puzzle categories such as n-ary puzzles (sequential movement), like the Auf dem Holzweg, seen below.
If Jean Claude Constantin is my favorite puzzle designer, Jürgen Reiche is probably a close second, for sharing the same philosophies of puzzle design and craftsmanship. His new creations always amaze me, for his unending ability to come up with something new and bold. As a puzzle enthusiast and collector, I can only look forward with high expectations for Siebenstein-Spiele's upcoming ideas.
See all Siebenstein-Spiele's great puzzles here.
Meffert’s Twisty Puzzles
Which company/craftsman makes the most beautiful puzzles?
...The eternal question...
So far, I've been focusing on companies that make wooden and metal puzzles - my favorite - but there are other companies out there that make beautiful puzzles with other materials, for example, Plastic - such a simple and common material, used in pretty much everything you see around you, and that includes puzzles, Twisty Puzzles, to be more specific.
Now, if you're an aficionado of Twisty Puzzles, chances are you've probably heard about Uwe Mèffert (or his company, Meffert's), and if not, well, you can't call yourself a true aficionado. Over the last 34 years - 1981 was the year his first-ever puzzle, the Pyraminx, was produced - Meffert's has done more for the Twisty Puzzle community than any other company, and dare I say it, it's today's most popular Twisty Puzzle brand, even more than Rubik's.
The reason why Meffert's puzzles are so popular is mostly due to his close relationship with the community's top designers and how well they all work together. He not only invents and makes his puzzles, but he also mass-produces other designer's puzzles. In turn, these top designers have themselves a close relationship with all the puzzle community, they participate in the forums, they take and give advice on puzzle making and designing, they get feedback and, ultimately, they inspire a new breed of designers that, in the long run, will be the future of the Twisty Puzzle industry. In short, there isn't any other company with such a practical and efficient business model as successful as Meffert's.
As mentioned above, Meffert's first puzzle was the Pyraminx, which is also his most popular puzzle, having sold millions of copies - only the original Rubik's Cube has sold more. Since then, Meffert's has produced more than a hundred different Twisty Puzzles - many of which essential to any starting collection - some variations, and other types of puzzles as well.
One of Meffert's most recognizable features in his puzzles is the fluorescent sticker colors. Its puzzles have a color scheme of green, blue, pale orange, bright orange, yellow and pink. Such bright colors make Meffert's puzzles stand out among other more bland-colored puzzles. It's like your Meffert's puzzles are the stars of your collection.
Fluorescent colors are nice, but Meffert's puzzles would be too generic if they'd make all their puzzles look the same. Variety is the key word for the success of Meffert's - A lot of variety. Another popular material used in Meffert's puzzles is tiles. These colorful plastic tiles are glued on the surface of the puzzles and are a nice alternative to the stickers, since they can't be peeled off. Not that their stickers peel off that easily, though.
I have some old puzzles from Meffert's that still have their stickers in very good condition. But the tiles give the puzzles a totally different look. Some prefer stickers, others prefer tiles. Some of Meffert's recent puzzles don't have neither stickers nor tiles. They're just made using colored plastic parts. I used to prefer puzzles with tiles, but now I'm not so selective and I think it depends greatly on the puzzle it's for.
In the subject of colored parts instead of stickers or tiles, Meffert's has gone even further and some of its puzzles now use metallized parts. These puzzles have a striking beauty, as they're coated with chromatic colors - the puzzles aren't made of actual metal though - and are actually some of my favorite Twisty Puzzles. They're quite reflective and have a shiny and smooth surface, just like a mirror.
Another rather popular type of puzzle that Meffert's brought to us, in collaboration with prolific designer Oskar van Deventer, was the gear puzzle. Ever since the introduction of the Gear Cube in 2010, dozens of other impressive designs and variations were developed by Oskar himself and other talented designers, inspired by his original creation.
The gear puzzles offer a completely different challenge, because when you rotate one face, it affects the movement of all the other parts in the puzzle. The first Gear Cube was relatively easy to solve, but the movement of other more complex puzzles can be extremely difficult to understand and solve. I only recommend gear puzzles for experienced cubers.
Contributing for its ever more popular brand, Meffert's created in 2010 the Jade Club - An exclusive membership that includes two very special puzzles, not available anywhere else, and discounts on recently released puzzles. These two puzzles are called Jade Pyraminx and Jade Cube, and they look absolutely gorgeous.
No stickers have been applied. The surface of the puzzles have this soy-milky color (it's difficult to describe) and on each of their faces you can see a different type of symbol, raised and painted in pale colors. Meffert's later released another "Jade Puzzle", in 2012, called Chopsticks. It's not as good-looking as the previous two, but the design is still quite impressive and creative.
Some of Meffert's puzzles acquire over time some rarity and can even reach prices in the hundreds of dollars in auctions. This is sometimes due to the limited production numbers, and when they're all gone you can't get them the regular way, hence the crazy high prices. It can also be a smart investment. If you buy several copies at the time they're released and let them gain rarity over time, you can get a nice hefty profit.
With the current business model that Meffert's has, it will be a long while before we see the number of new puzzles dwindling. Always at the forefront of new ideas and concepts, at the same time keeping close to the people that know a thing or two about Twisty Puzzles, Meffert's has a bright future ahead, and I'll be sure to keep an eye out for what's to come. See all Meffert's Puzzles
Vaclav Obsivac (Vinco) - Puzzle Maker
Over the last few months, I've been trying to answer this question and every time I attempt to do so, I come up with several more candidates for that prestigious title. And you know what? No answer is wrong. Each one of us have our own preferences. There are many talented puzzle designers out there that fulfill our requirements of what truly makes a beautiful puzzle. My job is just to focus on one of them at a time and hope I make them justice by showcasing their fantastic work and, who knows, maybe helping you to discover a new artist you didn't know about.
My previous articles have highlighted the creations of the highly popular Hanayama's Cast Series, the magnificent Japanese Puzzle Boxes and the prolific Jean Claude Constantin. This time, I will focus on another incredibly talented puzzle designer and maker, Václav Obšivac.
Born in 1962 in the Czech Republic, Václav Obšivac - better known in the puzzle community simply as Vinco - is an avid fan of skiing and biking, but what gets him the most recognition is his exceptional craftsmanship working with local wood. His puzzle-making adventure started in 2001, and since then, he has created countless designs, many with several versions featuring different types of timber.
Vinco mainly makes two types of puzzles, each one quite impressively made: packing puzzles (2D and 3D) and coordinate-motion puzzles. He has also ventured into other types of puzzles, but I will focus more on the two mentioned above, since they're the ones that have been fascinating more puzzle enthusiasts all over the world. First, let's start with the coordinate-motion puzzles. The term invokes something that seems difficult to achieve, as if you needed to be extremely dexterous to solve it. Well, in fact, it's not far from reality, because you do need some dexterity skills to solve these puzzles, especially when you're reassembling them.
So what exactly are coordinate-motion puzzles? As the term might've suggested already, you need to coordinate all your moves simultaneously in order to take apart or put together all the pieces of each specific puzzle. Each move will affect all pieces in the puzzle at the same time, and any other type of moves will result in no progress whatsoever. The best example to explain this is a figure, seen below, where all three pieces have to be pushed in at the same time, thus locking the puzzle until an opposite move can take them apart again. (Figure courtesy of John Rausch from johnrausch.com)
From this simple example you can then move on to much more complex structures and interesting shapes, naturally with more pieces. This is exactly what Vinco excels at better than anyone, and to prove it you can see below a few extraordinary examples of some of the most impressive geometrical shapes he makes.
Not only do Vinco's designs impress visually, but the texture of each puzzle is also remarkable. To get a perfect finish on his puzzles, Vinco polishes and waxes each one so the pieces slide easily on and off the puzzle and have an extra smooth surface, but also to protect the wood itself against dust and other elements. Vinco's coordinate-motion puzzles are strikingly beautiful. What contributes most for this is the high contrast between the various types of wood used in his puzzles. Vinco does this very effectively, from two up to several different colors, depending on the design and shape of the puzzle he's working on. The contrast always helps in the solving process, as the lines that separate the colors are usually the edges of pieces that move. You just have to discover in which direction they slide away from each other.
Another popular type of puzzle Vinco excels at is packing puzzles...extremely difficult packing puzzles. Just like its coordinate-motion brethren, this type of puzzles have a very distinct way of being made. Vinco takes small oddly-shaped pieces and glues them together at different angles, resulting in even odder and bigger pieces. As expected, these puzzles are very challenging, perhaps harder than his coordinate-motion range.
Vinco's packing puzzles may not be as visually attractive to some as the coordinate-motion ones, but in my opinion they're as impressive as any of his other types of puzzles. Packing puzzles come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and Vinco's are no different. Whether it's a 2D or a 3D puzzle, the design always gains from Vinco's great sense of style, with his contrasting wood colors and odd shapes. No two pieces are the same, which means that the patterns created are some of the most remarkable currently seen in the market.
There's another puzzle type by Vinco that I find quite fascinating, which is the interlocking spheres. Currently, I don't own any of these, but judging from the eye-candy designs and shapes, I can only imagine they're as extraordinary and beautiful as any other I've tried from this talented craftsman.
Vinco is among the best puzzle makers around, and when it comes to wood puzzles it's almost impossible to find any faults or imperfections in his work. He's very passionate about what he does, and that's clearly visible in his incredible works of art, worthy of every penny they cost. If you have yet to discover the works by Vinco, please do yourself a favor and buy one, or two, or three...as many puzzles as you can and enrich your collection. You'll certainly not be disappointed.
See Vaclav Obsivac (Vinco) Puzzles.
*All photos used in the collages are courtesy of Václav Obšivac at vinco.cz