How do I design puzzles?

I have been asked a couple of times how I come up with designs. It is a difficult question to answer, sometimes it can be inspiration from another puzzle, sometimes it is thinking of a specific challenge and then designing to achieve it, and occasionally it is just playing around with burrtools to see what come out.

I am not the most prolific designer, and some of the ideas I have in my notebook are so complex that I doubt they will ever see the light of day. But I thought I would share a few of my designs and a bit of background to them.

Minotaur Burr

I had been thinking about how to arrange my collection, and some of the puzzle classifications did not seem to fit all of the puzzles in my collection. Was it an assembly, disassembly, route finding or sequential movement. So I started thinking about how many categories a puzzle could possibly fall into? I have since seen a rubic cube puzzle box, now is that a sequential movement, or a secret opening, or a take apart puzzle !?

Photo courtesy of Mr Puzzle -

Photo courtesy of Mr Puzzle -

So I started thinking about combining puzzles types into a single puzzle. And a route finding burr puzzle seemed to be a good place to start. Inspired by some of Oskar’s designs (in particular Oskar’s cube), and also Culax by Markus Goetz, What is you could take the maze and make it part of the piece you are trying to remove ? I got out burr tools and started playing around with different mazes on each piece.

Originally I was trying for 3 interlinked mazes, but that proved a bit too much, so I ended up with 2 mazes and a rod. Happy with the design I sent it to a couple of craftsmen I know, and Brian Young agreed to make it as a limited edition. I was very happy with the design and the way Brian made it combining metal, wood and acrylic works very well. So from a thought about how to categorize puzzles came a route finding, take apart puzzle.

3EE puzzle

I had decided to enter the IPP puzzle exchange, and needed a puzzle. So I went to my software tool of choice - burrtools. However, part way through designing a 3 piece burr (yes I like 3 piece burrs !) , I suddenly realized that it would be very easy for anyone to solve the puzzle, by simply entering it into burrtools, and what is the point of that.

So I got out some live cubes I had laying around from a previous project, and having decided that a rotation (Sorry John) was the best way to prevent burr tools from solving the puzzle, I went to work. It proved to be a more challenging and more interesting project to use the cubes and play with the puzzle, adding a cube here and there to a simple base shape. Every once in a while I would enter the pieces into burrtools to see if it could find a solution. Once I had found a shape I liked I sent it to be lazer cut by a puzzle maker and designer I know.

This is where I learnt a very valuable lesson for anyone designing puzzles. Get someone else to try it!! I thought it was a fairly simple puzzle, with a moderate level of challenge. It proved to be much more difficult fhan I thought, and so it became 3EE made by Eric Fuller and used as my exchange puzzle.

Imp-Possible Nail

This one was inspired by Saul Bobroff’s Tooth and Nail. But I wanted to see if I could get it into a ring, rather than the shape that Saul used. This uses a different ‘trick’.

So sometimes the inspiration can come from another puzzler, and as long as it does not copy their idea or at least references it if appropriate, then I don’t think this should cause any problems.

So all three of these puzzles had different inspiration, but each one has it’s basic root in taking the challenge I wanted to achieve and designing to fit that idea. Anyway, off to revisit some of the designs I have made to see if they can be brought to life.



Posted on January 26, 2019 .