I like puzzles…always have. Not the jigsaw puzzles where you have a bunch of tiny pieces that, once assembled, reveal an image of some sort. No…I like wire puzzles and cast puzzles…3D puzzles, usually made from metal that challenge you to figure out how to take them apart, and then put them back together again…kind of like Humpty Dumpty, except without the mess. There is something about working with those puzzles that just make me happy…they help me think spatially, boost my creativity and challenge me to think outside the box. Finding puzzles that really challenge me, however, seems to be more of a challenge than the puzzles themselves. Most level 6 puzzles (the most difficult) usually take me less than 15 minutes to disassemble and re-assemble again. Here are a few of the cast puzzles I played with over the Holidays (these are from Hanayama).
After solving the puzzles above, I was reading the accompanying literature when the following sentence caught my attention:
“At the end of the 19th century, Britain experienced a huge puzzle craze. I managed to pick up a number of the puzzles famous during that period in flea markets, despite their rarity.”
Now, I don’t know what that sentence says to your brain, but to mine it said, “Public Domain” loud and clear! And so I was off and running to research old puzzles. Seeing how they were crafted metal objects, my first thought was to look for patents. After all, designs of physical objects would be covered by patent rather than copyright. While it took me a while to find what I was looking for (you would think “puzzle” would be a good keyword to start with…it wasn’t), I did eventually begin to uncover the goodies. A few examples are included below.
One of the cool advantages, of course, to finding these puzzle patents is that they describe how to solve the puzzle! Not that I would cheat…takes all the fun out of solving them…but good to know, nonetheless. Also, because most patents before 1995 are now in the Public Domain (the average patent term is 14 years and cannot be renewed as-is), you can use the information in them to create your own versions of the puzzles, if you chose to do so. That’s why you see so many variants of the Rubik’s Cube now…the original patent has expired, providing the opportunity for others to create something similar or better! Gotta love free enterprise!
Essentially, that’s what Hanayama did after finding the old British puzzles…he recreated them with a touch of his own creativity to re-introduce the puzzles to a new generation of puzzle lovers. And, after all…isn’t THAT what the Public Domain is all about?! You BET!