Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Jungle Puzzles

I absolutely could not believe my eyes when this married couple, close friends of my wife and I brought over to my home last weekend three string puzzles (classification: disentanglement) that were fashioned out of raw bamboo and cheap comms cord.


Goal: Separate the "ring" from the rest of the stem

Goal: Move either the left or right ring so that both rings are on the same loop

Goal: Remove the ring
They had acquired these puzzles during a trekking holiday in the Endau Rompin National Park in Malaysia. These puzzles were bought for a total of about US$3/- from the indigenous tribal peoples of Peninsular Malaysia known as Orang Asli that reside within the forests of the park. The Orang Asli make these puzzles for sale to tourists and hikers to supplement their income.

While all three do not bear any of the quality and refinement hall marks of Eric Fuller, Brian Young or Pelikan (although hand-made no doubt), nonetheless these were just as challenging as any string puzzle can be. In fact even harder than a "modern" string puzzle because the comms cord would not keep still and kept twisting on its own all over the place. 

My friends and I spent part of the evening trying to solve the three. I am lousy at string puzzles, so I was happy to just fiddle a bit with them (but hardly got anywhere) My friend's wife figured out two out of the three. Kudos for a non-puzzler! The one in the middle photo was still not solved by the time they left my home. 

I did a Google image search of "string puzzles" and found only one puzzle made of exotic hardwood (although this puzzle is available under the guise of different names) that matched the puzzle in the middle photo. I couldn't seem to find similar puzzles for the first and third puzzles. Kevin, any thoughts? (For expert advice on string and entanglement puzzles, you may wish to contact fellow puzzle blogger Kevin Sadler). If anyone else knows of these two I am referring to, please feel free to leave me a comment.

One thing's for sure...a challenging puzzle experience can be had with a darn super cheap puzzle. And also since bamboo has a circular cross section, I wonder if the Orang Asli can fashion a puzzle similar to Stewart Coffin's Double Cross?

However something still puzzles me (no pun intended)...now, who came up first with these string puzzles? The Orang Asli? Did the modern puzzle makers follow the Orang Asli's designs or is it the other way round? Anyone knows?

Update 9 January 2014 : 

Puzzle collector Rob Stegmann has kindly sent me a very detailed and comprehensive comment to this post, which I will include in full text below regarding the three string puzzles above. Makes for very interesting reading and information. (Thank you very much Rob):-

Hi Jerry,

The puzzle with the horizontal bar and two loops of cord hanging from it is called "Solomon's Seal" or more commonly the "Ox Yoke" puzzle - a Google search for the latter will turn up many examples.
According to Professor David Singmaster, it was described by Pacioli in his "De Viribus" circa 1500.
Here are examples from Jerry Slocum's collection:


http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/images/item.htm?id=http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/lilly/slocum/LL-SLO-005104&scope=lilly/slocum


http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/images/item.htm?id=http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/lilly/slocum/LL-SLO-005073&scope=lilly/slocum

The puzzle where the cord goes in and out of a tube via some holes in the tube looks like an example of a "follow the cord" type tanglement. It is tough to tell from your photo since the precise topology of the left end of the cord is obscured in shadow. But if my assumption about it is correct, and the cord is a continuous loop, then you cannot remove the ring from the cord - you can only remove the cord and ring together from the tube. Just grab the loop end and pull it along the cord, in and out of the holes as the cord goes, until you can get it to the end with the ring - pass it around the ring then unwind it back on itself - you should then be able to remove the cord. This principle has been used in many topologically equivalent tanglement puzzles and is also described in Pacioli. Stewart Coffin used this principle in his "Super Sleeper Stopper" puzzle.

http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/images/item.htm?id=http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/lilly/slocum/LL-SLO-001950&scope=lilly/slocum


Another example called "Delivrez Mon Couer" from Slocum's collection:


http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/images/item.htm?id=http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/lilly/slocum/LL-SLO-009488&scope=lilly/slocum

The U-shaped puzzle looks like the U should flex a bit and put slack into the cross-string - does it? If so, this is topologically equivalent to the "Key on Envelope" puzzle patented in 1902 by J. Kellogg (# 695059) and even earlier in 1884 by S. Mount (#295665).

Flex the U so you can pull the cross-string down through the ring and over one of the end blocks, then back through - the cord should now be free of the U and cross-string. Here is an example from Slocum's collection:


http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/images/item.htm?id=http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/lilly/slocum/LL-SLO-019242&scope=lilly/slocum

All of the designs were well-known in the western world as far back as the late 19th and early 20th centuries or even earlier, though their ultimate origins are lost. However, I think it more probable that the Orang Asli learned about them relatively recently from outside and decided they would make good tourist trinkets, rather than that western explorers somehow discovered and brought the designs back from the Orang Asli prior to the 1500s while failing to mention their "primitive" origins. 

Note that it was very common for puzzle vendors to ascribe fanciful/ancient/exotic origins to puzzles, so had the designs really originated with the Orang Asli I have no doubt that the explorers who found them and the merchants who subsequently popularized them would have capitalized on the story of their origin.

I hope these comments make sense and are helpful - tanglement solutions are tough to describe in words alone! For future reference, you might wish to check out my tanglments page:



http://robspuzzlepage.com/tanglement.htm


1 comment:

  1. Hi Jerry,

    The puzzle with the horizontal bar and two loops of cord hanging from it is called "Solomon's Seal" or more commonly the "Ox Yoke" puzzle - a Google search for the latter will turn up many examples.
    According to Professor David Singmaster, it was described by Pacioli in his "De Viribus" circa 1500.
    Here are examples from Jerry Slocum's collection:
    http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/images/item.htm?id=http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/lilly/slocum/LL-SLO-005104&scope=lilly/slocum
    http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/images/item.htm?id=http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/lilly/slocum/LL-SLO-005073&scope=lilly/slocum

    The puzzle where the cord goes in and out of a tube via some holes in the tube looks like an example of a "follow the cord" type tanglement. It is tough to tell from your photo since the precise topology of the left end of the cord is obscured in shadow. But if my assumption about it is correct, and the cord is a continuous loop, then you cannot remove the ring from the cord - you can only remove the cord and ring together from the tube. Just grab the loop end and pull it along the cord, in and out of the holes as the cord goes, until you can get it to the end with the ring - pass it around the ring then unwind it back on itself - you should then be able to remove the cord.
    This principle has been used in many topologically equivalent tanglement puzzles and is also described in Pacioli.
    Stewart Coffin used this principle in his "Super Sleeper Stopper" puzzle.
    http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/images/item.htm?id=http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/lilly/slocum/LL-SLO-001950&scope=lilly/slocum
    Another example called "Delivrez Mon Couer" from Slocum's collection:
    http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/images/item.htm?id=http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/lilly/slocum/LL-SLO-009488&scope=lilly/slocum

    The U-shaped puzzle looks like the U should flex a bit and put slack into the cross-string - does it? If so, this is topologically equivalent to the "Key on Envelope" puzzle patented in 1902 by J. Kellogg (# 695059) and even earlier in 1884 by S. Mount (#295665).
    Flex the U so you can pull the cross-string down through the ring and over one of the end blocks, then back through - the cord should now be free of the U and cross-string.
    Here is an example from Slocum's collection:
    http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/images/item.htm?id=http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/lilly/slocum/LL-SLO-019242&scope=lilly/slocum

    All of the designs were well-known in the western world as far back as the late 19th and early 20th centuries or even earlier, though their ultimate origins are lost.
    However, I think it more probable that the Orang Asli learned about them relatively recently from outside and decided they would make good tourist trinkets, rather than that western explorers somehow discovered and brought the designs back from the Orang Asli prior to the 1500s while failing to mention their "primitive" origins. Note that it was very common for puzzle vendors to ascribe fanciful/ancient/exotic origins to puzzles, so had the designs really originated with the Orang Asli I have no doubt that the explorers who found them and the merchants who subsequently popularized them would have capitalized on the story of their origin.

    I hope these comments make sense and are helpful - tanglement solutions are tough to describe in words alone! For future reference, you might wish to check out my tanglments page:
    http://robspuzzlepage.com/tanglement.htm

    ReplyDelete

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