Japanese puzzle boxes were originally designed to be like combination safety deposit boxes, where workers could keep their tools, carry the box around, and not have them stolen. Even if the box were stolen, only somebody with knowledge of which drawers to pull out or how to hold the box, would be successful in opening a puzzle box. When these puzzle boxes began to grow in sophistication, the combination of moves grew from merely three or four, to more than sixty. As a consequence, these puzzle boxes (called himitsu-bako) became increasingly impractical and time-consuming for workers to use merely to keep their tools. However, the practice of making puzzles, of solving puzzles, had a compelling quality all its own.
Today, we can enjoy the same novelty of pure mental exercise in the Rubric’s Cube, the world’s best-selling puzzle game, and top-selling toy.
In 1760, John Spilsbury popularized the jigsaw puzzle. Planks of wood would be sawn into interlocking shapes by a jigsaw, often with an image painted on it beforehand. The analysis of patterns, of how the different pieces can possibly fit together, made it very rewarding for a puzzle-solver to have completed this puzzle and reconstructed the original image. Today, most jigsaw puzzles are cut from cardboard, foam or rubber.
Sliding puzzles also usually feature pieces of an image that would be put together upon solving the puzzle. Brain School’s Plastic Puzzle provides several silhouetted shapes that can be cast by the same set of four geometric shapes. There have even been three-dimensional puzzle pieces, usually made out of plastic, and the finished puzzle would be a figure of a doll or item.
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