Puzzles and parallels

The history of lampworking is fascinating. Like many trades, glass working has been affected by social conditions and politics through time. In addition, and for a number of reasons, the skills, techniques and recipes have often been closely guarded secrets, passed down through families and protected from outside view. While glass techniques have become more widely known and discussed recently, we still feel the remnants of this today. I have seen glassworkers abroad who stopped their torches and went about other things till I went away, because I made the mistake of looking too closely at what they were doing. Talking to some of them, they have explained that their business would be passed on to their children. (Interestingly, in at least one case, the children themselves were less than keen on the career path hoped for by their parent – illustrating the generation gap in a changing world). American lampworking families did the same thing over the past century or so, passing knowledge down the generations, rarely letting outsiders in on any ‘glass secrets’.

Having decided to make a puzzle this month, I bought a couple of books on puzzle-making and was surprised to find the same feeling of secrecy and closed knowledge leaping from the pages. Puzzle-devising in the 20th Century appears to have been quite a closely-guarded affair, and solutions were almost equally elusive and hidden. Reproducing a puzzle or design is clearly seen as very bad form.

Having said that, I have gone for two designs that are based on original puzzles. Both are twists on the first version, but they aren’t completely new in concept. That would be asking a lot, for a first try!

My first puzzle is based on Sam Loyd’s Magic Holetite Pencil. The original was elegantly simple – a pencil with a hole in the end and a looped cord, shorter than the pencil, tied through the hole. The pencil was used as an advertising puzzle for the New York Life Insurance Co, and is the origin of the phrase, “to buttonhole someone”.

My version is a sort-of Snow Queen’s sceptre, to be passed through Kay’s buttonhole and through the loop. Can Kay remove the sceptre, without breaking the loop? Difficult, when the sceptre is longer than the loop itself… but not impossible…



My second is based on another puzzle, to do with topology and entanglement. Take a set of beads with letters on them, spelling ETERNITY. Arrange the beads with all letters right way up. They mustn’t initally spell ETERNITY, but must be in a completely different order. This order is up to you. Take a thread and pass it through the letters such that, when you pull the thread, the letters will rearrange themselves to spell the word correctly. Kay needed to spell Eternity to escape the Snow Queen, but without a degree in topology (or possibly Gerda’s love and tenacity), he’d have been there for a very long time indeed.



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One Response to Puzzles and parallels

  1. Kevin says:

    Gobsmacked, the sceptre is brilliant, the threads inside seem to be moving as you look at it, love the beads but not a clue on how to do the puzzle. Both very clever!