Puzzles in Education: The Power of Play

Puzzles in Education: 


Beginning 5,000 years ago; reading and writing have been the base for formalized education.

In more recent times, computers have been used increasingly assisting with access to information, communication, and type of processes. Toys and games are associated with PLAY – almost everyone likes to play, right? And such desire continues throughout an individual’s life. Psychologists inform us that play is not just a means of filling a void and avoiding boredom, or even just a leisure activity but an important learning experience.

Puzzles are like brain food – they teach creativity, logical thinking and dexterity skills. Toys and games play a large part in the early development of children amongst many developed nations. Adopted for example by the Montessori school, puzzles present an innovative, child-centered approach to education. 

This by no means a new phenomenon, toys have been used in education for upwards of 4000 years – many of the toys are still being used in some form of other.

Thinking back to your childhood years I bet there were puzzles that you found fun and which also made significant contributions to your learning. Games are a form of play - however, they also provide an environment in which game players can learn about themselves. Puzzles provide an environment in which one can interact with other people and develop social skills.

For example: From the beginning of your life, you probably played with your fingers and toes – and then an adult joins in with this play, the play then evolves into numerary game – and then into rhyme – one, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive.

Play is seen as a way of working off aggression – and learning the basics of survival, particularly in the animal kingdom; it’s also seen as a means of learning social behaviors – like co-operative games, as well as a commonly accepted means of relaxation.

In the modern age of computers; it has been argued that children learn rapidly how to operate the computer through exposure to games since they are motivated to do so. If this argument is accepted then we have a concrete concept of learning through play.

Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everybody – not just computer scientists. Reading, writing and arithmetic: games provide a fruitful environment to explore the ideas of computational thinking. A puzzle is a variety of game where one is attempting to solve a particularly mentally challenging conundrum - the fun is in meeting the challenge of the puzzle.

Although exposure to computers is reserved for the most part to developed nations – children from other countries can still be exposed to science and technology through toys and games. For many it will be the only experience they get of technology and science through their primary school education.

As teachers, you need to develop this idea – that learning can be fun. Since you pupils have likely been conditioned to school being a place of hard work and no play. The games-in education discipline received increased legitimacy in October of 2003 when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or as its better known – MIT. Announced an initiative to study educational roles of computer games. Many colleges and universities now offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs in computer games.

The fun is meeting the challenge of the puzzle – making some or a lot of progress in completing the puzzle. Some of the benefits of puzzles are obvious – crossword puzzles draw upon one’s general knowledge, recall, and spelling ability. Doing a crossword is much like doing a certain type of brain exercise. From an educational stance solving crosswords helps us maintain and improve one’s vocabulary, spelling skills, and knowledge of miscellaneous tidbits.
July 22, 2016 by Sean Allan

Human V Machine: Deep Mind & Alpha Go Explained

Google successfully managed to make history earlier this month – in what some would argue is a landmark moment in the future of artificial intelligence. What Google have achieved is removing of one of the last vestiges of human exclusivity over the machine when AlphaGo defeated champion Go player, Lee Sedol.

March 29, 2016 by Sean Allan

STEM Toys: Shaping the Minds of Tomorrow

Wooden puzzles & games have been a helping to develop specific skills in children and adults for generations, assisting in everything from logical thinking, spatial awareness, motor movement and dexterity. This is not some nouveaux, space age, life improvement hocus pocus but an educational system backed up with by progressive studies and heavy academic literature.

March 17, 2016 by Sean Allan

Happy Pi Day!

Pi Day – the annual celebration of the mathematical constant – conveniently timed to match the birthday of one, Albert Einstein no less.

Today is an extra auspicious moment since it is the once in a century Rounded Up Pi Day; when the month, day and year are Pi – correct to four decimal places.

Rounded up to four it is 3.1416. And today is 3/14/16. Woop Woop! For the extra clever there is also “Pi Approximation Day” later on the year – which is observed on July 22nd or 22/7 – you get it? :).

The History:

Today represents the 28th official World Pi Day – started way back in 1988 by San Franciscan and physicist, Larry Shaw: It was actually originally celebrated by – marching around in circles (hilarious) then consuming fruit pies (delicious)! You can learn more about their party here: http://www.exploratorium.edu/pi/

By 2009 the US House of representatives had officially passed a non-binding resolution for it to be officially established as noted day. As such, MIT often mail their application decision letters on this day and starting in 2012 post the decision online at exactly 6:28PM – which they have termed “Tau time” to honor both Tau and Pai in equal measure. And Princeton (where Einstein was alumni) also host a very special party to celebrate both him and the special mathematical day: http://www.pidayprinceton.com/

What is Pi?

Archimedes is credited with doing the first calculation of Pi, while British mathematician William Jones developed the Greek letter for the symbol in around 1706 – and was popularized by Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler around 1736.

Pi has been calculated out to over 1 trillion digits – as an irrational and transcendental number. It will continue infinitely without repetition or pattern.

But How Can I Celebrate?

Well you can celebrated Pi Day in pretty much anyway aslong as it involved cakes or cookies.

By cakes we mean cake baking, eating and throwing…

We also like puns so trying to fit in as many puns based on the word Pi as you can in one day.

Ryan Muir, a teacher in Shanghai, at Concordia International School Shanghai uses this day to educate his students about the wonderful world of Pi, and show them that students can have fun with Math. They write songs about pi, write piems (see what happened there – I am getting in the mood), see who can get closest to pi by measuring the ratio of circumference to diameter in cookies and pizzas, compete against each other in the JPL Nasa Pi Day challenge, and of course eat lots of Pie!


Eat Pi foods – Eating Pi foods may be the easiest and most fun way to celebrate Pi. If you’re in school, everyone can bring in a pi-themed food or pi pot luck. Eat any types of pie. You can expect to see some offers for $3.14 slices.

Put the symbol on some cookies and bake your own.

Embrace the puns – Eating Pineapple, pizzas and pine nuts while drinking Pina coladas.

Remember you aren’t limited to desserts. Chicken and Shepherd’s pie are equally delicious.

Mental Floss Have a Great Article on Pis here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/74554/10-pies-enjoy-pi-day

Convert everything into Pi.

This step is absolutely necessary for two reasons: first, to utterly confuse people who have no idea what you're talking about, and secondly, to have fun seeing how many things can be referenced with pi. This will help you reach an even higher appreciation for the amazing number that is pi.

Use pi to tell the time. Convert naturally circular things into radians, like the hours on the clock. Instead of it being 3 o'clock, now it's 1/2 pi o'clock. Or, instead of it being 3 o'clock, convert the inclination of the sun into radians and describe that as the time.

Simply use 3.14 as a unit of measure. Instead of being 31 years old, you are 9pi years old. With this same approach, you can find out your next pi birthday (don't forget to celebrate it when it comes!).

March 14, 2016 by Sean Allan

Star Puzzle Solution

A true SiamMandalay favorite. Handmade from premium grade monkeypod wood.

March 14, 2016 by Sean Allan

Chronological History of Puzzles: A Timeline

You’re going to love this, below we have a chronological timeline of puzzles – a transcending flow through the ages: from around 2300 – all the way through to modern times.

If there are any we have missed, any ultra popular puzzles you would like added - please let us know we would like to include them and keep an ever growing comprehensive list:

2300 BC: Before modern incarnations of the the varieties of puzzles we sell – labyrinth drawings were popular around the world, particularly in Ancient Greece and Egypt. These kinds of images hold religious and spiritual significance in ancient cultures.

One of the most famous labyrinths was the Ancient Cretan Labyrinth, supposedly built by King Minos of Greece for his Minotaur (A Half Man Half Bull). The labyrinth did actually exist, but the tale of the Minotaur if of course only a popular legend.

2250BC: The first tactile puzzle came some 500 years after the first labyrinth drawings, dating back to a whopping 2550-2250 BC. Appearing initially in the Indus Valley and Mohenjo-Daro, one of the first known human civilizations -  there appeared dexterity puzzle of sorts, similar to the famous Pigs in Clover, puzzle. This seems the first physical manifestation of the labyrinths popular in Ancient Greece and Egypt.

1,000BC: Bottom-Fill Vessel: Chinese Puzzles, a fantastic puzzle website, does an excellent video on this variety. These bottom fill puzzles were first found in Cyprus around 1,000BC with decorative versions found in China around 900AD.

A bottom-filling pot has no lid and is filled through a hole in the bottom. When the puzzle is turned, surprisingly,  there is no leak. Another version of this is the fairness cup which will hold a moderate amount of liquid, but when filled to the top everything will leak out.


220BC: Not really a puzzle, but certainly a trick: The resonance bowl can be traced back to the Ancient Tao tradition in China during the Han Dynasty (220BC – AD 9).

It is referred to by many names such as the “Bronze Dancing Water Basin” and the “Chinese Spouting Bowl” – Classically made from cast bronze in a foundry, these were made in early Tao Temples for the purpose of meditation and were also utilized as a toy by the upper class. It is said to stimulate your mind, maximize your muscles and offer much happiness to those who use it.

200 BC: Rome – Secret compartment rings: lick lockets, but for rings, often with secret compartments that can be maneuvered with a lever or clasp.

395 AD: Stomachion is a 14 piece dissection puzzle: Similar in style to a Tangram Puzzle.The puzzle is referenced as the “Loculus of Archimedes”. Or the “Syntemachion” in Latin texts. In November 2003 Bill Cutler found these to posses 536 possible distinct arrangement of the pieces to make a square.

The Roman Trick Lock, is carbon dated at around 100-400AD – it opens like a locket with secret pull lever. It appears as if trick locks of various styles were popular around around Ancient Rome, with a combination lock being excavated from a Roman period tomb in Athens. Attached to the excavated puzzles was a small box, which featured several dials instead of keyholes - which would have been very sophisticated for the era.

Muslim engineer Al-Jazari first documented a combination lock in his book “The Book of Knowledge and Mechanical devices” – dated from around 1206.

1400: Puzzle Vessels or Puzzle jugs, are thought of as one of the oldest mechanical puzzles. The trick involved drinking from the jug AND not spilling its contents.

These puzzles have a series of holes that leak if you drink normally. The trick is to find the tube which runs into the jug, cover the holes running across it and suck the contents out like a straw.

1500: Cardan’s Chinese rings, made by Geronimo Cardan. Although this is meant to be the earliest known disentanglement puzzle – other references date back to a puzzle in the Chinese Sung Dynasty – where the original was made by Hung Ming, a famous Chinese Hero.

Commonly referred to as the Baguenaudier is a disentanglement puzzle featuring a loop which must be disentangled from sequence of rings on interlinked pillars. 

1636: Germany, Solomon’s Seal Puzzle is another disentanglement puzzle. Fred Gunfeld’s, Games of the World, calls it the ‘African puzzle’ – however there is no evidence of the puzzles being from Africa, it was featured in early modern Europ in 1636 Germany, 1725 France and 1747 Italy.

1698– Burr Puzzles:  One of the world's most popular puzzle games. The origin of a Burr Puzzles is unknown, but it appears on record in as early as 1698, when it was illustrated on the title page of Chambers’ Cyclopaedia.

The Large Devil’s Hoof is the earliest known example of this puzzle. Consisting of 24 wood pieces, we have a similar puzzle here, termed the double lock- a- ball.

The popular 6 piece burr puzzles, also called the devils hoof was also recorded around this time, but it was first patented in the US in 1915.

1699 – Spanish Puzzle Knife – The first half of the seventeenth century saw the rise in popularity of folding knives. Puzzle knives were a variation of a popular product of the time, each puzzle had its own individual opening mechanism, which was usually based around rivets.

Some were made with combination locks, such as numbered dials – as seen above. These knife puzzles are often extravagantly decorated and engraved. 

1743 – Wisdom Plates are an early version of the classic Tangram puzzle found in Japan under the name: Sei Shona-gon Chie No-Ita – the puzzle conquered the world in the early 19th century after being given as a gift to Captain M. Donaldson during a visit to Canton.

The puzzle was originally popularized by the “Eighth Book of Tan” – which claimed the puzzle was originally crafted an Ancient Chinese god - an unlikely but fun story indeed.

1790 – Sliding Puzzles/Dissection Puzzles; found a renaissance in the late 18th century. Like the Game of Jags and Hooks and similar pentomino style puzzles.

1760: Jigsaw Puzzle – Dating back to 1760, when European map makers pasted maps and cut them into small pieces, the have been a household favourite ever since and in fact, Jigsaw puzzles are still used in the American school system to tech children about geography to this day.

The eighteenth century inventors of jigsaw puzzles would be amazed to see the transformations of the last 230 years. Children’s puzzles have moved from lessons to entertainment. By around 1910, there was more demand for adults jigsaw puzzles, which progressed into a full blown craze. Initially the puzzles were only for the “uppercrust" of European society and nobility – a far fetch from what we know today.

1760; Netherlands: Secret compartments in everything! Classically made from pieces of household furniture, they were designed to help protect your house from thieves, every dresser had a secret compartment. 

1800s: Puzzle Boxes, Japan – In a bit of history, the Japanese Puzzle Box or Himitsu-Bako originated from the Odawara district of Kanagawa, Japan. The exact date isn’t known, but they started to appear in the late Edo period. This stunning range of puzzles were beautifully crafted by Japanese artisans for 3 generations in the region. The allure of Japanese Boxes is not just in their entertaining nature but it is also a treasured as a traditional Japanese art form. The hypnotic color patterns are created by using a combination of natural colored woods.

1883: Tower of Hanoi: Designed by a French mathematician specializing in the theory of numbers. The puzzle has 3 pegs and a number of disks increasing in size – the problem is you cannot place a smaller disc under a larger one. This puzzles was popularized on screen with Planet of the Apes and Star Wars and Doctor Who all featuring it.

1865: Pyramid Puzzle: originally crafted on the pastoral frontier countryside, by pioneer fathers as toys for their children. Pyramid puzzle represent an important piece of American history, an untainted, simple aesthetic, cut by axe from tree stubs and arbitrary branches.

1894: Klotski Puzzle: First patented by Henry Walton, is a popular form of sliding puzzle. Traditionally you are trying to move the largest block from the top to the bottom: we have several version – Setting Sun, Soccer Game x 2 and Baseball. The Huarong Dao is the Chinese version of the game which has interesting fable attached to it – you can read more about that here.

1930: Kumiki puzzles have their roots in Japanese minimalism, first used in Japanese antiquity. Japanese Kumiki Puzzles are based on a style of wooden house building craft that allows houses to stay stable in extreme weather and earthquakes. The puzzles were taken on by Japanese woodworkers. Tsunetaro Yamanaka, was the first craftsman to apply this philosophy in the design of puzzles – they became famed for their clever interpretation of objects, animal and cars before branching out to abstract shapes.

1933 – The Soma Cube is a solid dissection puzzle invented by Piet Hein in 1933 during a lecture on quantum mechanics. There are 7 pieces made out of unit cubes can be assembled into a 3 x 3 x 3 cube. The pieces can be used to also make other shapes.

1974: The Rubik’s cube is a 3-d combination puzzles invented in 1974 by Erno Rubik. It is widely considered not only the bestselling puzzle of all time, but also the bestselling toy – with around 400 million sales worldwide. Such was its influence on popular culture that a culture of “cubers” has arisen who test themselves against the clock.

1981: Pyraminx - Although first conceived by Uwe Meffert in 1970 it was not put in production until 1981. Meffert frequently mentions that the pyramminx would have never have been made if it had not been for the Rubik cube which is of a similar rotating style.

And there we have it – a back to front timeline of all things puzzles. If we are missing any let us know.

March 07, 2016 by Sean Allan

Thank You from SiamMandalay

Thank You from SiamMandalay
Thank you from SiamMandalay – for all your support over the Christmas period, your assistance has directly influenced the lives of 30 rural Thai children for the better.

As many of you are aware we were working in collaboration with a small Thai orphanage called Baan Dek Dee – helping them to build a new facility – you can read more about the project in the preceding links:




February 24, 2016 by Sean Allan

Wooden Puzzles in Movies

A collection of your favorite puzzles in some of the most iconic and popular movies of all time.

Below we have a shortlist of puzzles in movies inspired by the website RubiksCubeinMovies.com - we just loved the idea!

Some of the puzzles below play critical parts in the movie, some of the others are merely in passing – you may have blinked and missed them on first viewing. We have Tangrams, Towers of Hanoi, Rubik's Cubes and more...


Rise of the Planet of Apes – Towers of Hanoi (Lucas’ Tower)

Probably the most recent and most involved on the list. The Towers of Hanoi feature pretty prominently in The Rise of the Planet of the Apes - the  famous puzzle is used to test, Bright Eyes, the mother of the main character “Cesar”.

In the movie Bright Eyes is tested using a 4 disc Towers of Hanoi which she begins to complete at frantic pace. In the film it is called “Lucas’ Tower” – after the puzzles inventor Edouard Lucas – and in real life is actually used as a logic and reasoning test.


CSI NY – Fifteen Puzzle

This was featured in CSI NY, where it was in made in large, on the apartment of an inventors floor. In the episode the puzzle is already solved and transpires to be a trap.

This super famous sliding puzzle, you have probably seen before or received it in miniature form, probably in a Christmas cracker.

The rules are simple slide the numbered squares around, one spot it always open, and no pieces can be removed - get the slides 1-15 into chronological order.


Donnie Darko – Rubik’s Cube

The psychological cult classic: Donnie Darko (Jake Gylenhaal) spends many scenes in thoughtful trance, wandering through time: one such episodes involves Donnie playing with a custom made Rubik cube while lying on his bed.

The Rubik’s cube in the movies is interesting as its actually black and white with M.C Escher painting on each side of the cube, instead of the regular white, blue, red, green, orange and yellow ones.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

For this one, we are cheating a bit – but it’s too good not to mention. We like brave new world and we like Soma Cubes, so we really can't avoid it.

For those of you who haven't read Aldous Huxley's  dystopian classic, Brave New World is in essence an adult version of Hunger Games mixed with 1984 and actually inspired by H.G Wells’; Men Like Gods & A Modern Utopia.

In Brave New World, the population are under the influence of Soma, a drug which Huxley named after the Soma Cube, due to his love for the puzzle.

Dr. Who – Towers of Hanoi

In the Doctor Who serial “The Celestial Toymaker” - I know right, an awesome name - the doctor is challenged to solve a 10-disc version of the Towers of Hanoi, referenced in the episode as the 'Trilogic Game'.

While getting towards the end of the puzzle the Doctor in all of his wisdom realizes that the Toymaker’s world will vanish once he makes the final move, so he does his final move from inside the Tardis and makes and escape..

In the real word a 10 disc Towers of Hanoi will take over 1000 moves to complete, an 11 disc over 2000 and a 13 disc over 4000.

The Pursuit of Happiness – Rubik’s Cube

Chris Gardner, played by Will Smith, is trying to become a stockbroker at Dean Witter Reynolds.

In the scene he jumps into an executive’s car and pleads for a job. Unfortunately the executive is only interested in one thing – his Rubik’s cube. Luckily for Will Smith’s character, however he is a math whizz who is able to explain the puzzles solution, win his admiration and a job to boot.

The Rubik Cube is apt in this movie as it is set in 1981 – the height of Rubik cube mania.

Wall – E – Rubik’s Cube

A CGI love affair produced by Pixar Animation Studios. The Rubik’s cube feature in various scenes throughout the film. Wall-e is the last of his kind, a robot who was designed to clear up all the garbage left on planet earth.

He has developed a habit for collecting interesting pieces that he finds on his travels – Including a solitary Rubik's Cube. Sadly, for Wall-e, he is actually is unable to the solve the puzzle - however his movie romance, Eve, is a speed cuber for sure.

February 19, 2016 by Aod Prommetchit

Tangram Paradox Explained

Tangrams, one of SiamMandalay's favorite puzzles and all time classic, if you haven’t heard of them you can catch more information about them here. Basically Tangram's are a 7 piece puzzle that originated from China, they are similar to a western version of the jigsaw puzzle. Ever green in popularity, they have been in the Western world for over 200 years.

One of the oddities and perhaps the most intriguing part of the Tangram is the phenomenon of Paradoxes. We have actually touched a little bit on vanishing puzzles here., and paradoxes are pretty similar in design.
February 05, 2016 by Sean Allan

22 Ways to Go Green & Save Green

22 Ways To Green And Save
At SiamMandalay we take green living very seriously. We try to keep everything as organic as possible – and believe me, we know it’s hard. We also know it’s inconvenient and expensive – at least that’s the common parlance. But Ho! You don’t need solar panels and organic food, at least not the expensive kind.

You can be both green AND budget savvy. We’re here to show you how.

1. Natural household cleaners – no chemicals – no heavy fragrance – check out Kimberly Button and her book “The Everything Guide to a Healthy Home:” or check out wellness mama she uses cheap,  natural products like vinegar and baking soda. Easy, peasy.

2. If you want organic, grow your own – luckily us (we got the sun!), we grow our own bananas, papayas and mulberries the pests are pesky – but it’s worth the devotion! Plus, the food simply tastes that little bit better when grown from scratch. If you can't be as exotic as SiamMandalay, no fear - strawberries anyone?

3. Food waste is a big nono! America wastes up to 40% of its food! Which is insane. If you are going to a restaurant bring Styrofoam boxes – easy. No waste. That’s almost half of the $3000 yearly average going straight in the bin – cook less or power your home!

 4. If you can’t afford to buy the new hybrid car/electric car – then there is simple way to save a few bucks. When running errands park your car at a central location and walk to where you need to go, keeping your fitness high and your wasted income low.

Also unload excess weight from your boot – more weight directly influences gas usage. Interestingly FuelEconomy found that buying keeping your tire inflated can you can increase fuel economy by almost 5%.

5. Unplug your electronic goods after use, experts call this “phantom load’ where energy is used, just to keep electronic appliances on standby. Simply unplugging your electronic appliances can lower the average household’s annual bill to around $200.

6.Install a programmable thermostat, to control the temperature of your house. These can be picked up for less than $40. Set it to gauge the temperature in your house – and power on and off on command!

7. BYOB: bring your own bag to the Grocery store. With the UK charging 5p for a bag in the UK – it will cost you a pretty penny over a year. Purchasing some long lasting durable bags will allow you to save the planet and your bank balance.

8. Swap out your hand soap for DIY non-toxic hand sanitizer. You can make your own mix without alcohol and other abrasive ingredients and voila: check it out the recipe here: http://www.prevention.com/health/healthy-living/natural-homemade-sanitizer

9. Charge up your gadgets with solar: we like this one – you can purchase solar chargers on Amazon: they can power all your boys’ toys: MP3s, Cell Phones and even laptops – easy.

10. Buy products made from recycled goods! These are hip, trendy, cost effective and eco-friendly. Everything from pencils to handbags are made from green materials - even SiamMandalay products :).

11. Turn off your computer at work. Especially on a Friday. I, for one, am a smidge guilty of this one. You’re going away from the office. Switch if off.

12. Plant a tree in your in the backyard. It seems simple, but just one tree can offset a ton of carbon emission over its lifetime. If planted appropriately, it also will provide shade on a sunny day, perhaps reducing the use of energy for air-conditioning in buildings and homes.

13. Wash clothes in cold water and line dry. An oldy but goody - Using cold water rather than hot in the washer saves electricity and works just as well as hot with most clothes. Line drying not only is more environmentally friendly, but it also will keep clothes from shrinking and fading.

14. Look into carpooling – you will be astounded how much money this saves you. If you need convincing look at this balance sheet for green commuting.

15. Sorry paperboys! Cancel your newspaper subscription and read the news online instead. (We'll bet you're already doing this one!)

16. Napkin cloths instead of paper napkins at dinner – in fact anything rewashable over free.

17. Still in the kitchen: Invest in a roasting pan instead of using disposable ones (you'll save money in the long run and it's a lot easier to pull a full ham or turkey out of the oven in a sturdy pan than an aluminum one).

18. In the Kitchen still! Meatless Monday – If every American skipped meat and cheese one day a week, it would have the same environmental impact as the country driving 91 billion fewer miles a year. 

19. Cold water for laundry: No need for the super hot water to clean your clothing. Cold water works just fine in the washing machine.

20. Learn to preserve! Throwing out over ripe fruits and veggies is wasteful. Preserving, pickling and jam making are all easy to do and a great way to reduce waste. A great tip is to freeze over ripe bananas and turn them into a banana cake.

21. Use your own coffee tumbler or thermos. Rather than getting a cardboard coffee cup every day, buy your own reusable mug to take back and forth from home to work. It’s a good way to stand out from the crowd and will keep co-workers from swooping up your coffee.

22. Sign up for e-bills. Receiving your bills via emails reduces the cutting down of tress, paper use and in some instances will save you money on paper bill fees!

January 28, 2016 by Sean Allan