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Wooden Puzzle Boxes



One of my favourite wooden brain teasers is the puzzle box and although it can come in other materials such as plastic and metal I have mostly come across it when it is made from wood and have most enjoyed it when it is made from this material. It is both a challenge to be solved and also a storage device or even safe for an item or items that are able to fit inside it. They can go by many different names depending on the sort of challenge it sets with such names as 'the escape room box', 'the secret chest', 'the safe box', 'the mystery puzzle box', 'the trick box', 'the lock box' or the more general name for it being the 'puzzle box' and can be referred to as a 'crate', 'chest' or 'cube' instead of the term 'box'. There are some that don't look like a puzzle at all and will have the appearance of just being a wooden box that you would store something in whilst there are some with which it will be very evident that they are a puzzle either by the physical structure of it or what is printed/painted or engraved on it. The puzzle box challenge can simply be to get into a locked or sealed box or the challenge can be to locate and get access to a hidden compartment that is within it. This challenge is usually about gaining access to inside the box rather than about obtaining what is actually inside it as it is often the case with this puzzle that there is actually nothing inside it when I get inside it unless I put something in it. Whether the insides of the box are visible from the outside varies with each one and the insides can be partially or totally visible through holes or gaps that some have and this may or may not help me to solve the puzzle tas the gaps or holes could simply be there for aesthetic purposes. The puzzle box mainly comes in a cube or rectangular form but that doesn't mean the edges are always square as they can also be rounded off or shaped in other ways. Some box puzzles have more room inside them to fit an item or times in than others as they vary in size quite significantly with some being similar in size to a matchbox while others can be the size of a small cupboard.


A wooden puzzle box doesn't always look like a wooden box and can be designed to look like something it is not to disguise what it truly is such as a set of books that could be placed on a bookshelf and wouldn't look out of place unless somebody tried to open it. This puzzle can sometimes have an ornamental look to it and therefore could be used as a decorative ornament as it can have decorative patterns or images on it, it can be colourful and the shape of the box can also have been carved or shaped into an interesting and beautiful design. On the other hand, it can sometimes have a very basic look to it in terms of design and just look like a wooden box that doesn't even look like a puzzle until perhaps an attempt is made to open it and it is discovered there is a special or trick way of opening it. The mechanisms and the mechanics of the puzzle bit of the puzzle box can sometimes be seen on the exterior of it or there are gaps/holes that allow them to be seen even when it is closed that make it obvious it is not an ordinary box but a puzzle challenge. Patterns either printed, stuck on, painted or engraved on the exterior and sometimes even interior of a puzzle box are a common feature and the same pattern can sometimes be on each side or multiple sides of them or it can be the patterns differ which may be a clue to solving the puzzle as the patterns can be purely decorative or there to aid in solving the challenge. Plenty of puzzle boxes have themes incorporated into them both in terms of their look and also the challenge(s) they offer and these themes can vary a lot from horror to a Christmas theme or even a romantic or comedic theme. This means those with the same challenge but different themes can give two quite different experiences from a visual and emotional standpoint even though they are operated physically the same. When they do have a theme it can make them ideal for a certain occasion, for example, a horror theme would be ideal for Halloween and a comedic theme could be ideal for a Birthday or Christmas party. Puzzle boxes can have a flavour of or indicate where they have been made and originate from in the world as I have seen them from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas and where this puzzle is from can show itself in the design and the type of challenge it presents. The quality of puzzle boxes can vary in terms of how durable they are, how well they function and their appearance and this is not necessarily related to how much one costs. The feel of those made from wood particularly the exterior of it is another interesting aspect and potential appeal of this puzzle as the wood used for it can vary as can how it is shaped, carved or finished which can give the exact same puzzle box challenge a different experience purely based on the fact they feel different to touch either because different wood is used or the wood is shaped or finished differently.


For a quite lot of people, it is a hobby to build themselves their own wooden puzzle boxes that they may sometimes sell or just post a video or pictures of what they have made online and this means there is a wide variety of them out there in terms of size, shape, design, the material used and the challenge(s) they offer. They can be quite basic in their design which can make them somewhat easy to make for a beginner and as that beginner's woodwork skills progress they can move on to more creative designs and try in an ideal scenario to come up with a challenge and design that doesn't exist. The most impressive ones I have encountered due to their uniqueness and quality of challenge and design have been the ones that a person has made themselves most likely because they have a passion for this type of puzzle but also they have had plenty of experience of them and know what makes a good puzzle box challenge.


The puzzle box challenge always involves trying to gain access to either inside it or a compartment within it but what the obstacle is and that is preventing the user from doing this can vary a lot. It can be that a lock and key is the obstacle in which both or one is hidden and this challenge will be even harder when it is both and the person trying to open the box does not know that there is a key and lock to be found but does know that it is a puzzle that must be opened somehow. It can sometimes simply be to open or undo a lock that is not hidden at all and which might not necessarily always require a key rather a series of manoeuvres to open it or to remove what is preventing it from opening. This lock can take many forms such as a padlock, a keyhole, a latch or it could be a dial and therefore what is required to open these different types of locks can require different manoeuvres from the user. A puzzle box can essentially be a safe in which the combination to it must be figured out and the way this combination is entered is just like the way one is entered on a normal safe as in either by a pad with buttons that are pressed or a dial(s) that is turned but the pad or dial(s) on a puzzle box can look different or unusual in form compared to what they look like on a regular safe. They can sometimes essentially be an assembly/disassembly challenge in which there could be a number of pieces to try and take apart and separate in order to gain access to inside the box or compartment within it. If it is an assembly/disassembly challenge then the box also needs to be put back together again and then it becomes a memory challenge as well as it will involve retracing the steps taken that separated the pieces of the puzzle in the first place. They can be on the other hand a disentangle task in which the parts are not to be completely separated but rather untangled from each other so that access can be gained to inside it or the compartment within it that the entangled parts had been preventing access to. Just as with an assembly/disassembly challenge a disentangle challenge needs to be put back together again to its original starting form and this means re-entangling the pieces of the box in order to close and lock it. When the task is to find and gain access to a hidden compartment within the puzzle box then this may require first gaining access to inside it which would be the first part of the puzzle and then after this finding inside and opening the hidden compartment as the second or final part. The compartment within a puzzle box that needs accessing may not always be hidden but if it is hidden then sometimes it is obvious where it is because there should be more space in the box than there is. A reward or object can sometimes be found inside a puzzle box or inside a compartment of it so that the user knows they have successfully solved it and a reward could even be put in one when there is none such as money or sweets for when the next person has a go at it to enhance the experience for them or to get them to try it. A puzzle box that is an escape room challenge can have specific instructions that must be followed and challenges that are physically separate from the box itself that need to be solved in order to successfully gain access to the box and that must be done before an attempt can be made to open it. With an escape room type challenge even though getting inside it can be the main part of the challenge or the one that will take up most of the time there could be a further challenge inside the box or compartment once access has been gained to it to complete the escape room so opening this type of puzzle box would not be in that case the ultimate goal. A puzzle box can have more than one challenge to solve in order to open it or gain access to a part of it and there could be a series of challenges to get through that differ greatly from each other in terms of what they demand from the physical manoeuvres aspect but also mental as well. To give an idea of just how much the puzzles can vary and what challenges can be incorporated well into puzzle boxes I can say I have seen challenges that involve ropes, mazes, jigsaws and magnets. They can even sometimes have to be assembled at the start a lot like assembling a 3D jigsaw or construction puzzle before actually being able to try to get into the puzzle box itself or a compartment within it.


The difficulty level really can vary greatly for a puzzle box from posing a very simple problem suitable for absolute beginners to an extremely complex challenge that can demand much thought, time, manoeuvres and experience of physical brain teasers in general, not just puzzle boxes. Experience of either assembly/disassembly brain teasers or disentangle challenges, in particular, is going to help massively with this puzzle but some are so unique in the challenge they put forth that they can't be practised or experienced with another type of puzzle. The fact that a puzzle box can have several challenges to get through to complete it can mean the difficulty level changes from one challenge to the next and it may be the level of difficulty increases as each challenge is solved or that it goes up and down. A simple/beginner level puzzle box means pretty much anybody can have a go at it as the solution for the challenge will be obvious or will take little time or messing around with for it to become apparent how it is solved and it will also require little skill or thought to complete. The intermediate level difficulty, on the other hand, can require some if not a lot of contemplation and skill to complete in which it may not be immediately obvious what is expected or how it is even solved but an intermediate level challenge can often still be successfully completed by beginners although maybe not the ideal or the best starting point/level for them. The higher/expert level is definitely not for beginners but rather for those who have a lot of experience with puzzle boxes and other physical puzzles and who like to be really challenged and who would therefore be prepared to spend a lot of time on them as they can take a significant amount of time to solve. As a puzzle box can have a lot of different challenges to it this may mean it is difficult to know or confusing which one to start with and this can be important as often they have to be done in a very specific order for it to be solved correctly and access gained. What can also make it difficult to know how to begin is when the starting point is hidden somewhere within it or is camouflaged so basically the user is confronted with a challenge which has no obvious clues as to how to begin it. The features of a puzzle box or parts of it can even look like they are part of the challenge or solution to it but are just in fact decoys to fool and mislead in order to make the challenge more difficult and confusing. When an item that is essential to solving the puzzle box is hidden such as a key it can be difficult to locate due it being small in size as the smaller in size it is the more places it can fit and be hidden for example inside the walls of the box. Also if it is not obvious that there is an item hidden that helps to open/solve the box then this can make the challenge difficult to comprehend and figure out, especially for somebody who does not have experience with this type of puzzle. The key that opens a puzzle box when that is part of its challenge may not look much like a key at all so could be difficult to identify and locate and it may not work quite the same way as a regular key does either in terms of how it is inserted and the move needed by it to open the lock. What is true of a lot of different puzzles but certainly of a puzzle box is that how the challenge looks in terms of difficulty level doesn't always correlate with how difficult it actually is in practice as some of the most difficult ones look quite easy and simple at first glance. What can differentiate a puzzle box challenge from being difficult or easy is the number of moves required to solve it with the more moves required the more difficult it can be to resolve. This is because having a lot of moves to complete can seem more overwhelming particularly at the beginning and it can be more difficult to ascertain in which order to do them the more there are of them and can also be more difficult to remember the order they need to be done in as the moves may have to be done in a strict order. The moves needed to solve and open a puzzle box or part of one can be extremely technical for the hands which require a lot of ability and/or experience of that type of move and the types of move demanded can vary a lot. A puzzle box can demand parts of it are slid into place, pushed, screwed together, pulled, held in place, intertwined, untwined, tied, untied or aligned that can demand very different hand actions and either a delicate or forceful touch which can make them more or less easier to perform. The size, weight and shape of the box itself are all going to be essential factors in how easy these moves that are being demanded will be to perform as the box may need to be lifted or turned around in order to best carry out these moves which will be difficult if it is heavy or very big in size and shape.


The replayability can be very high for puzzle boxes as some have many steps to them in order to be able to open/solve them and these steps can be complex, extremely varied and difficult to master or do well so can be easy to forget the solution or rather quickly lose the ability to do them well if not practised often. However, some are very quick and easy to solve and perform that only offer one challenge and only a few steps to solve them so these are not going to be puzzles that somebody will return to over and over again but are suitable for beginners and as an entry point to this type of puzzle. There are some that can break quite easily and are fragile which can lessen their replayability and consequently there can be a high risk of wear and tear and for them to break if played with a lot and this is something to bear in mind when considering whether to get one or not. Rather like a speed cube doing puzzle boxes quickly in the fastest time possible without mistakes can be the best way to make them have long-lasting replayability, especially true of the handheld ones that are difficult and require technical moves involving the hands. The challenge may sometimes not be replayable but the box itself can definitely have repeated use beyond the challenge itself as most can be used to store an item or items depending on the size of it and are often ornamental so will look nice. A puzzle box can take up a lot of space though and be the size of a cabinet or small closet which means they can store a lot in them or even on top of them but also means a place will need to be found to put the puzzle which is something else to definitely think about before getting one. The size can also determine whether it is suitable to travel with for example on holiday because if it is small enough and if it is also durable enough then could be brought with and included in a suitcase or rucksack as an activity to do when bored or during downtime on vacation.


There are puzzle boxes that are designed and intended to be a place of storage and also a place to ensure certain objects are secure and protected as well as being brain teasers such as those that are piggy banks which can store either coins or notes or sometimes both inside them and can have a slot just like a regular piggy bank for inserting money. However, the difference between a piggy bank and a puzzle box is the latter is more than a place to store and hopefully keep money safe but crucially a brain teaser as well that needs to be solved in order to get the money out. Puzzle boxes could be used to store or hide other shaped valuables as some are literally quite large vaults but the fact they are made of wood means they are not the most secure of options for keeping items or valuables safe as wood boxes can be broken into relatively easily compared to metal. However, them being made of wood can give a certain advantage that could make them a good option for keeping items within them secure and hidden as they can be designed and disguised in a way such as to not give away they are hiding anything in them or at least precious in them such as when they are designed as a regular plain wooden box or something that doesn't look like a box that would have anything in it. There are obvious measures that can be taken to ensure that whatever is in the wooden puzzle box is not found and taken such as not telling anybody about it and what it is in it. Hiding it away out of sight and somewhere it is not easily discoverable would also be common-sense measures when there is anything of value in it for two main reasons one a wooden puzzle box can potentially be smashed into no matter the type of wood it is made of or how well built and also it is a puzzle at the end of the day that will be solvable no matter how difficult so therefore whatever is in it would be accessible if solved. Hidden compartments can make a puzzle box that has them a good place to store items and keep the items somewhat safe but there is the risk that the hidden compartments could be accidentally be discovered if the puzzle itself is not hidden and that it can be easily opened. With some puzzle boxes, the core of them can be seen from the outside when they are closed or locked up which means whatever is inside might not be hidden from view and therefore it isn't a very secure place for it to be and if the gaps in the box are wide enough it may even be possible to be pulled out without opening the box. With some their design can draw maybe unwanted attention to themselves and indicate that they are more than just a wooden box and could in fact have something of value inside them when they, for example, have a slot for money or some sort of lock or can sometimes have a question mark printed on them that gives it away that is a puzzle and with these sort of puzzle boxes, it would be smart to keep them out of view when there is something of value in them.


In summary, wooden puzzle boxes are a favourite puzzle of mine for a number of reasons with the main reasons being they can be so varied in terms of the look and challenge they offer and they also can be used to store items so are multifunctional and it has struck me that often when I think I have seen every possible look and challenge that this type of puzzle can present I will then come across a new one.

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