Disentanglement Puzzles: A Fascinating History.


One of the most interesting elements of SiamMandalay’s puzzles & games is their link to a history, notable due to their abundant myths, legends and folklores.

Our collection of handmade disentanglement puzzles are no different with a rich history in Asian and European tradition. In Asian culture classic disentanglement puzzles are said to date back to the Chinese antiquity and their second century hero, Hung Ming. Hung Ming is said to have invented the Chinese Rings disentanglement puzzle a puzzle to test ones wisdom and increase intelligence. References to this style of puzzle date back to 16th century and a Chinese scholar name Dan Qian Zong Lu.

The European tale of disentanglement puzzle is just as extraordinary. In the age of empires, legend has it that Alexander the Great, was attempting to untie an impossibly intricate knot, that tied an oxcart to a shaft, after an oracle had prophesied that whomever could untie the knot would become the king of Asia.

When he could not fathom a solution he drew his sword and slice the knot in half with a stern swipe – and voila the disentanglement puzzle was born.

While the oracles prophecy was fulfilled and Alexander did go on to conquer Asia – you shouldn't slice and dice any of our disentanglement puzzles to solve them, no matter how tempting it may be. The Age of Empires is over – in the modern age, quick wit aid your conquest over the might disentanglement puzzle, and the mental capacities developed in solving these fascinating puzzles will produce the richest rewards!  
 
No matter the historical background of disentanglement puzzles we do know that by the 17th century word had traveled west to frontier America and to the merchants and cowboys who worked the land.

Contemporary wood and string puzzles were first whittled on the ranches crafted for travelling salesmen, who used them as clever advertising tools for their pitch. The allure of disentanglement puzzles was the same then as it is now – they appear impossible – but appearances can be deceiving.

Disentanglement Puzzles encompass a fairly large category of puzzles: They consist of everything from wire rings, ring and string, wood and string and bent nail puzzles. Their designs on the high end can be cast by blacksmith from steel or hand whittled by master craftsmen – on the low end they can be flimsy and short-lived.

The goal of most disentanglement puzzles is to release an object (termed a traveler) from rigid rings, shuttles or loops. In more complex disentanglement variations there are, strings, ropes and chains which can serve as an obstacle, a red herring, or indeed the key to release for a creative mind.

Disentanglement puzzles are quite different from other forms of puzzles. They require a considerably different view point and style of thinking compared to Burr Puzzles and other mechanical varieties. Most mechanical puzzles can be solved using a variety of tools and software, however disentanglement puzzles are difficult to model in an algorithmic form.

Initially all disentanglement puzzles were made of fine wire metal and were called 'Patience Puzzles', they came in a variation of classic designs including Cordon's ring, the devils needle and the Baguenaudier – which is often cited as the best puzzle ever made.

Wood and string puzzles became a staple for educational testing in the 21st century often combining wood, string and beads to make complex puzzles that require creativity to solve. SiamMandalay has a host of these brainteasers here. Robert Boomhower filed the first US patent, which was granted in 1968 – “The Boomhower” paved the way for a wave of disentanglement puzzles of various classifications and specifications – the most prominent one being “wit’s end”. Almost all wooden disentanglement puzzles in circulation are in some way related to these two designs. 

Disentanglement puzzles are unusual as they develop “spatial awareness” and logical processing. Children who practice these types of puzzles tend to develop proficient skills in mathematics, physics and other stem studies. High spatial awareness is important for success in a variety of fields including mathematics, engineering and architecture. For an example an Engineer will typically need to understand how moving parts work – this is the use of spatial awareness.

Despite the evident importance of spatial awareness it is not actively developed in most formalized educational establishments. In fact, the first time many of us come across tests for spatial awareness and is when we are applying for jobs – spatial awareness is a prerequisite, like IQ for many high end jobs.

July 08, 2015 by Sean Allan
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