Archimedes: The Father of Puzzles

Archimedes a pioneering mind, a master of mathematics, engineering and astronomy. Widely regarded as one of the leading scientist of ancient times and one of the finest mathematicians of all time. Among his countless merits, Archimedes is father of the modern puzzle, in fact he is the father of all puzzles: creating the predecessor to the Ancient Chinese Tangram, the Ostomachion.

The Ostomachion puzzle is a seminal piece, a work of real importance, not only due to its status as the original puzzle, but because it harbors both logical and creative problems, in tandem. The logical side tries to manipulate the pieces back into a square; the creative side tries to make alternative designs. It has been suggested that it was exercised to develop memory skills in young people; it’s a thought provoking consider that this puzzle was created almost 2000 years ago, you begin to see the forethought involved here.

This idea may seem standard for today – I am sure you have come across these types of test in Psychological examination and IQ tests; or possibly if you are educated by the “whole brain approach”- in school.

Ostomachion translates to “bone-fight”, as it was initially crafted from bone and requires a mental wrestle to complete. The puzzle itself is made from 14 polygons, 13 of which are different and two are the same. Those 14 polygons; 11 triangles, 1 pentagon and 2 quadrangles, can be assembled in to a square, as is shown in the image above.

It was initially designed to be played at social occasions, but is equally perplexing to take on by yourself. In fact it can be solved into 536 entirely unique squares and 17,152 rotations; the Ostomachion can be constructed into a variety of rhombuses, parallelograms, decagons among others.

Its flexibility in practicing both logic based, and creativity based solutions is why it is so important, and why it provides stimulation to both left and right side of one’s brain.

Many people love the mental stimulation that comes from solving a good puzzle. Many people don’t realize that mental stimulation is just as important to the body as physical exercise. A few hours away from the idiot box; on the treadmill or deciphering a puzzle can do the world of good. These improvements can help offset dementia, improve rotary movements, and short term memory.

The Ostomachion is the ideal puzzle for mental stimuli, it provides virtually infinite creative solutions – which is ideal for children, who can make elephants, birds and towers; or adults who can try and decipher the 536 unique squares or the various other shapes that the Ostomachion provides.

Regular mental workouts with the Ostomachion or similar puzzles, has been show to improve memory, puzzles strengthen the connections between brain cells – they also create new connections for improved thinking speed.

Good puzzles, require that participants think outside the box, they require experimentation and the applications of scientific method. There is a coherent strategy in every puzzle. For children this necessitates the development of patience, logic and creativity for completion. By forming hypotheses, testing them and people develop the kind if creativity that lends itself to invention and discovery.

Puzzles like Ostomachion facilitate “a whole brain approach”. They require both logic and creativity; two isolated brain region, it has been shown by pioneering experts in child development that this learning style is effective for deep learning.

The questions posed by minds of this sort require thought, logic and patience – they are still prominent, and exceptionally important in our society today. Many of Archimedes’ ideas are more prevalent than the creation of the Ostomachion, but its significance as the seminal puzzle and its importance as an active learning tool will last forever.

(Originally posted on PassionforPuzzles)
March 10, 2015 by Sean Allan
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