The human mind looks for patterns and meaning in the world. We make patterns of the stars, planets, seasons, and weather to give us a sense of security and reason. It is something innate to who we are, the roots of which probably go back to times when humans were trying to figure out how to shelter, survive, and find our next meal. However, as civilization advanced, and just surviving consumed less time, our minds still sought challenge and growth. Games and puzzles evolved to meet the need to develop problem-solving skills.
Early in human history, the first puzzles were riddles. Riddles were plentiful in all ancient cultures and even woven into cultural myth and legend. It is apparent that some of these were Dad jokes. These led to visual and physical puzzles in the form of mazes and labyrinths—the earliest dating back more than 4,000 years. One of the earliest was the labyrinth of Cretan King Minos. It was challenging, and solving it would definitely take a Minotaur two (sorry about that.) Paper and physical mazes became handheld dexterity games. These would challenge the player to maneuver balls through a maze to the central box, much like Pigs in Clover games.
Human ingenuity continued to develop differing puzzle challenges in the form of wire and wooden puzzles. The Japanese took the creation of puzzle boxes to an art. Some puzzle boxes possessed secret chambers with hidden rewards. Archimedes developed the Stomachion around 395 A.D., which is similar to a tangram. His puzzle was composed of 14 various size and shaped geometric pieces that form a square. The Stomachion has over 500 solutions to make a square and many other shapes that the tiles can form. Versions of this puzzle are still popular today.
Puzzle shapes, sizes, and materials have continued to evolve over the centuries, and the love of being challenged still remains popular. In the late 1700s, John Spilsbury mounted a map of European countries on a board and cut out the various nations along their borders as an educational tool. The idea was a hit, and soon he produced versions of other countries and continents around the globe. Based on the method of cutting out the pieces, these were named jigsaw puzzles. Due to the cost and labor to create them, these puzzles were initially
only available to the wealthy. Over time the materials and methods of producing jigsaw puzzles evolved, and they became more accessible to the masses. Jigsaw puzzles were extremely popular during the Great Depression, bringing faraway places, art, and even advertising into people’s homes. Though their popularity has fluctuated over the years, during the 2020 pandemic, puzzles rose to unprecedented popularity, and Psychologists have touted the emotional and intellectual benefits of puzzles.
Puzzle types continue to evolve. The Rubik’s Cube was introduced in the 1970s and is perhaps the most popular puzzle of all time. New generations are finding the joy of puzzles in video and phone app games; they are a part of human nature across countries and cultures. We enjoy the challenges and the great satisfaction of conquering them. It is not surprising that the 19th National Puzzle Day is set apart as 29 January 2021, a great way to start the year. We at Dowdle are going further and declaring 29 January – 31 January National Puzzle Weekend. Join us in a Puzzle or two this month.