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A puzzle is a game, problem, or toy that tests a person's ingenuity or knowledge. In a puzzle, the solver is expected to put pieces together (or take them apart) in a logical way, in order to find the solution of the puzzle. There are different genres of puzzles, such as crossword puzzles, word-search puzzles, number puzzles, relational puzzles, and logic puzzles. The academic study of puzzles is called enigmatology.


Puzzles are often created to be a form of entertainment but they can also arise from serious mathematical or logical problems. In such cases, their solution may be a significant contribution to mathematical research. [1]


The Oxford English Dictionary dates the word puzzle (as a verb) to the end of the 16th century. Its earliest use documented in the OED was in a book titled The Voyage of Robert Dudley...to the West Indies, 1594–95, narrated by Capt. Wyatt, by himself, and by Abram Kendall, master (published circa 1595). The word later came to be used as a noun, first as an abstract noun meaning 'the state or condition of being puzzled', and later developing the meaning of 'a perplexing problem'. The OED's earliest clear citation in the sense of 'a toy that tests the player's ingenuity' is from Sir Walter Scott's 1814 novel Waverley , referring to a toy known as a "reel in a bottle". [2]

The etymology of the verb puzzle is described by OED as "unknown"; unproven hypotheses regarding its origin include an Old English verb puslian meaning 'pick out', and a derivation of the verb pose. [3]


Various puzzles Set of various puzzles.jpg
Various puzzles
Simple puzzle made of three pieces Raetselkreuz.jpg
Simple puzzle made of three pieces

Puzzles can be categorized as:

Puzzle solving

Solutions of puzzles often require the recognition of patterns and the adherence to a particular kind of order. People with a high level of inductive reasoning aptitude may be better at solving such puzzles compared to others. But puzzles based upon inquiry and discovery may be solved more easily by those with good deduction skills. Deductive reasoning improves with practice. Mathematical puzzles often involve BODMAS. BODMAS is an acronym which stands for Bracket, Of, Division, Multiplication, Addition and Subtraction. In certain regions, PEMDAS (Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition and Subtraction) is the synonym of BODMAS. It explains the order of operations to solve an expression. Some mathematical puzzles require Top to Bottom convention to avoid the ambiguity in the order of operations. It is an elegantly simple idea that relies, as sudoku does, on the requirement that numbers appear only once starting from top to bottom as coming along. [4]

Puzzle makers

Puzzle makers are people who make puzzles. In general terms of occupation, a puzzler is someone who composes and/or solves puzzles.

Some notable creators of puzzles are:

History of jigsaw and other puzzles

Jigsaw puzzles are perhaps the most popular form of puzzle. Jigsaw puzzles were invented around 1760, when John Spilsbury, a British engraver and cartographer, mounted a map on a sheet of wood, which he then sawed around the outline of each individual country on the map. He then used the resulting pieces as an aid for the teaching of geography. [5]

After becoming popular among the public, this kind of teaching aid remained the primary use of jigsaw puzzles until about 1820. [6]

The largest puzzle (40,320 pieces) is made by a German game company Ravensburger. [7] The smallest puzzle ever made was created at LaserZentrum Hannover. It is only five square millimeters, the size of a sand grain.

The puzzles that were first documented are riddles. In Europe, Greek mythology produced riddles like the riddle of the Sphinx. Many riddles were produced during the Middle Ages, as well. [8]

By the early 20th century, magazines and newspapers found that they could increase their readership by publishing puzzle contests, beginning with crosswords and in modern days sudoku.

Organizations and events

There are organizations and events that cater to puzzle enthusiasts, such as:

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pentomino</span> Geometric shape formed from five squares

Derived from the Greek word for '5', and "domino", a pentomino is a polyomino of order 5; that is, a polygon in the plane made of 5 equal-sized squares connected edge to edge. When rotations and reflections are not considered to be distinct shapes, there are 12 different free pentominoes. When reflections are considered distinct, there are 18 one-sided pentominoes. When rotations are also considered distinct, there are 63 fixed pentominoes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rubik's Cube</span> 3D twisty combination puzzle

The Rubik's Cube is a 3D combination puzzle invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture Ernő Rubik. Originally called the Magic Cube, the puzzle was licensed by Rubik to be sold by Pentangle Puzzles in the UK in 1978, and then by Ideal Toy Corp in 1980 via businessman Tibor Laczi and Seven Towns founder Tom Kremer. The cube was released internationally in 1980 and became one of the most recognized icons in popular culture. It won the 1980 German Game of the Year special award for Best Puzzle. As of January 2024, around 500 million cubes had been sold worldwide, making it the world's bestselling puzzle game and bestselling toy. The Rubik's Cube was inducted into the US National Toy Hall of Fame in 2014.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mechanical puzzle</span> Mechanically-interlinked pieces to be manipulated

A mechanical puzzle is a puzzle presented as a set of mechanically interlinked pieces in which the solution is to manipulate the whole object or parts of it. While puzzles of this type have been in use by humanity as early as the 3rd century BC, one of the most well-known mechanical puzzles of modern day is the Rubik's Cube, invented by the Hungarian architect Ernő Rubik in 1974. The puzzles are typically designed for a single player, where the goal is for the player to discover the principle of the object, rather than accidentally coming up with the right solution through trial and error. With this in mind, they are often used as an intelligence test or in problem solving training.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ernő Rubik</span> Hungarian inventor (born 1944)

Ernő Rubik is a Hungarian inventor, widely known for creating the Rubik's Cube (1974), Rubik's Magic, Rubik's Magic: Master Edition, and Rubik's Snake.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rubik's Magic</span> Mechanical puzzle created by Erno Rubik

Rubik's Magic, like the Rubik's Cube, is a mechanical puzzle invented by Ernő Rubik and first manufactured by Matchbox in the mid-1980s.

Mathematical puzzles make up an integral part of recreational mathematics. They have specific rules, but they do not usually involve competition between two or more players. Instead, to solve such a puzzle, the solver must find a solution that satisfies the given conditions. Mathematical puzzles require mathematics to solve them. Logic puzzles are a common type of mathematical puzzle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">15 puzzle</span> Sliding puzzle with fifteen pieces and one space

The 15 puzzle is a sliding puzzle. It has 15 square tiles numbered 1 to 15 in a frame that is 4 tile positions high and 4 tile positions wide, with one unoccupied position. Tiles in the same row or column of the open position can be moved by sliding them horizontally or vertically, respectively. The goal of the puzzle is to place the tiles in numerical order.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kakuro</span> Type of logic puzzle

Kakuro or Kakkuro or Kakoro is a kind of logic puzzle that is often referred to as a mathematical transliteration of the crossword. Kakuro puzzles are regular features in many math-and-logic puzzle publications across the world. In 1966, Canadian Jacob E. Funk, an employee of Dell Magazines, came up with the original English name Cross Sums and other names such as Cross Addition have also been used, but the Japanese name Kakuro, abbreviation of Japanese kasan kurosu, seems to have gained general acceptance and the puzzles appear to be titled this way now in most publications. The popularity of Kakuro in Japan is immense, second only to Sudoku among Nikoli's famed logic-puzzle offerings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pyraminx</span> Variant of Rubiks Cube

The Pyraminx is a regular tetrahedron puzzle in the style of Rubik's Cube. It was made and patented by Uwe Mèffert after the original 3 layered Rubik's Cube by Ernő Rubik, and introduced by Tomy Toys of Japan in 1981.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sudoku</span> Logic-based number-placement puzzle

Sudoku is a logic-based, combinatorial number-placement puzzle. In classic Sudoku, the objective is to fill a 9 × 9 grid with digits so that each column, each row, and each of the nine 3 × 3 subgrids that compose the grid contains all of the digits from 1 to 9. The puzzle setter provides a partially completed grid, which for a well-posed puzzle has a single solution.

Nikoli Co., Ltd. is a Japanese publisher that specializes in games and, especially, logic puzzles. Nikoli is also the nickname of a quarterly magazine issued by the company in Tokyo. Nikoli was established in 1980, and became prominent worldwide with the popularity of Sudoku.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sliding puzzle</span> Puzzle game involving sliding pieces to achieve certain configurations

A sliding puzzle, sliding block puzzle, or sliding tile puzzle is a combination puzzle that challenges a player to slide pieces along certain routes to establish a certain end-configuration. The pieces to be moved may consist of simple shapes, or they may be imprinted with colours, patterns, sections of a larger picture, numbers, or letters.

God's algorithm is a notion originating in discussions of ways to solve the Rubik's Cube puzzle, but which can also be applied to other combinatorial puzzles and mathematical games. It refers to any algorithm which produces a solution having the fewest possible moves. The allusion to the deity is based on the notion that an omniscient being would know an optimal step from any given configuration.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to games and gaming:

Puzzle Series is a series of puzzle video games by Hudson Soft.

<i>Rubiks Games</i> 1999 video game

Rubik's Games is a, five games in one, PC game created for Windows 95/98 developed in part by Ernő Rubik with Androsoft and was published by Hasbro Interactive. It was part of Hasbro's classical games collection of PC related games, translating their most famous board games into best possible quality video games. A history of the Rubik's Cube and its inventor, written out in a webpage type file, with pictures is available from the Menu.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Combination puzzle</span> Puzzles solved by mechanical manipulation

A combination puzzle, also known as a sequential move puzzle, is a puzzle which consists of a set of pieces which can be manipulated into different combinations by a group of operations. Many such puzzles are mechanical puzzles of polyhedral shape, consisting of multiple layers of pieces along each axis which can rotate independently of each other. Collectively known as twisty puzzles, the archetype of this kind of puzzle is the Rubik's Cube. Each rotating side is usually marked with different colours, intended to be scrambled, then solved by a sequence of moves that sort the facets by colour. Generally, combination puzzles also include mathematically defined examples that have not been, or are impossible to, physically construct.

Derrick Corson Niederman is an author, mathematician, game designer, and national squash champion. His most recent game, 36 Cube, has been described by Reuters as "a wolf in sheep's clothing" because its simple design belies the sophisticated mathematical intuition required for the solution. He received a B.A. in mathematics from Yale and a Ph.D. in mathematics from MIT. Dr. Niederman is a math professor at the College of Charleston.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nine-Colour Cube</span>

The Nine-Colour Cube is a cubic twisty puzzle. It was invented in 2005 by Milan Vodicka and mass-produced by Meffert's seven years later. Mechanically, the puzzle is identical to the Rubik's Cube; however, unlike the 3×3×3 Rubik's Cube, which only has 6 different colours, the Nine-Colour Cube has 9 colours, with the individual pieces having one colour each.


  1. Kendall G.; Parkes A.; and Spoerer K. (2008) A Survey of NP-Complete Puzzles, International Computer Games Association Journal, 31(1), pp 13–34.
  2. "puzzle, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2019. Web. 21 January 2020.
  3. "puzzle, v." OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2019. Web. 21 January 2020.
  4. Wilson, R. "Sudoka Number Game". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 21 June 2022.
  5. "History of Puzzles | PuzzleWarehouse.com". www.puzzlewarehouse.com. Retrieved 2019-11-20.
  6. History of Jigsaw Puzzles Archived 2014-02-11 at the Wayback Machine The American Jigsaw Puzzle Society
  7. "The worlds biggest Puzzle | Ravensburger". www.ravensburger.us. Retrieved 2018-06-23.
  8. "A Brief History of Puzzles". Puzzle Museum. 6 April 2017. Archived from the original on 14 April 2020.

Further reading