The History of Dexterity & Maze Puzzles

History of Maze Puzzles

Dexterity puzzles are a classic form of brain teaser game – originally known as palm puzzles they are a variety of puzzle that requires careful hand-eye coordination, and the diligent maneuvering, usually of a ball around a maze to complete.

Typically labyrinth puzzles were designed to be small as to fit in the hands of children, they were in essence pocket puzzles. By the mid-20th century their design had changed, there were now whole table tops dedicated to an array of versions of labyrinth puzzles. Some versions of the game included suspended maze surfaces that rotate on two axes, each of which is controlled by a knob.

Maze and labyrinth puzzles are an iconic design that appeals to all ages across  every spectrum of puzzle skill levels. Virtually everyone has had or played with some version of a dexterity puzzle at some point - you probably got one in a Christmas cracker. Maze puzzles have been a staple game design throughout human history due to their ease of manufacture, endless fun and enchanting labyrinths. 

Defined by their confusing intricate network of winding pathways, dexterity puzzles defines puzzles which have maze and labyrinth designs. Termed due to their emphasis on steady hands; dexterity puzzles are unique as they rely on perseverance and patience as opposed to critical thought and logical moves which are typical in puzzles. This is a bonus too as there is no trick to the puzzle, once the puzzle has been solved it can used again and again.

Dexterity puzzles, have an intrinsic link to human nature - dating back millennia people have carved labyrinths and mazes into temples and town halls. Nearly 4000 years ago the ancient Egyptians were creating and designing labyrinths and mazes, using them as traps to protect their Pharaohs from assassination; or tomb robbing bandits. 

Fast forward 5000 years to medieval Europe and mazes and labyrinths were still popular, especially large activity mazes formed in country gardens and public parks. The style of walk through mazes were common in Belgium and by the 16th century had crossed the English. To this day most popular maze hedge in the world located at Hampton Court still receives 1000s of visitors every single month.

Although mazes and labyrinths in construction date back to an ancient past, their mechanical puzzle descendants are also rather ancient:

Maze puzzles are thought of as the world’s oldest mechanical puzzles - dating back over 2500 years. James Dalgety, a  puzzle aficionado, believed that the “Pick Me Up” dexterity puzzle design is from an artifact found in the Indus Valley of Mohenjo-Daro, one of the world’s first civilized communities. There have been numerous other relics found though history that seem to represent, primitive forms of dexterity puzzles. 

From a commercial stand point the very first dexterity puzzle was 'The Pig’s Clover' which was first produced in 1889 by Charles Martin Crandall, a famous toy maker and inventor. When the Pig's Clover first went to market there was a frenzy among buyers - a fad which had a renaissance in the 1930'. Although susceptible to fads, dexterity puzzles have been pretty much evergreen since their conception. SiamMandalay have their very own version of the 'Pig's Clover'

Dexterity puzzle mazes tend to involve the proper positioning, manipulation or/and segregation of small balls, avoiding holes and obstacles to an exit from the puzzle or towards the body or pen. Although the balls and other materials have evolved from clay, to lead to steel and even mercury; the technique and style remains consistent.

Dexterity puzzles come in a variety of styles both elaborate and simple, primitive early creations and were made on everything from printed cardstock to embossed tin. Some rare and vintage dexterity puzzles have become highly collectible in recent years, with antique versions selling for hundreds of dollars.

July 01, 2015 by Sean Allan
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