From Archimedes to Apple

Mark Stephens

Later this month Monkeybin will release two brand new puzzle games, Hyspherical and Crossed, which are sure to have you gamers all in a spin. Both are dynamic games available initially on the App Store, but they also draw on a long history of puzzles, which have captivated funsters of all ages throughout time. We take a look at that rich history...


The Ancient Greek, Archimedes, who climbed into a bath in the third century BC, and cried ‘Eureka’ as he discovered the ‘theory of displacement’ may also have been the inventor of the puzzle game.

Called the Loculus of Archimedes (‘Loculus’ means ‘little box’), his puzzle was a 14-piece dissection of a square into polygonal shapes, which needed to be reassembled. This was a puzzle format that was to achieve great popularity later on.

Though the origins of Chinese ring puzzles are unknown some estimates date them to as early as the second century AD – so not long after Archimedes

The Chinese Tangrams were formed from the original Loculus idea, with the objective to form shapes using a set of seven pieces (five triangles, one square, and one parallelogram) that come from slicing up a square. The shapes had to contain all the pieces, with no overlap.

With sailors bringing them back from Hong Kong in the mid-19th century they started to become popular in England and Europe at that time, though they have been traced to Japan in the early 1700s and may be older.

During the 1800s ring puzzles became popular in Europe; the Icosian puzzle, a number puzzle called 15 and Tower of Hanoi were other puzzles that also became popular by Victorian times.

During World War I troops would often play puzzles in booklets like Richter’s Anchor Stone Puzzles. Around the same time glass-topped puzzles became popular with players attempting to knock balls into small holes in a picture.

Mechanical and paper puzzles

Before the days of video games or mobile phones, puzzles usually revolved around logic, word, or number puzzles outlined on paper, or were mechanical in nature.

Most mechanical puzzles would involve a number of objects or a single object made of moving parts. The idea was usually to re-assemble or construct, dis-assemble (often by secret unlocking or sequential movement), dis-entangle (usually strings or wire which also required sequential movement) or to position something (as in Solitaire or mazes).


The popular jigsaw puzzle, invented in 1870, is a good example of a re-assemble type puzzle that remains popular today, as are burr puzzles. The Rubik’s Cube is another great example of a hugely popular mechanical puzzle, where the idea is essentially to ‘re-assemble’ the cube with its six coloured faces in order. The Rubik’s Cube was invented in the mid-1970’s by a Professor at the University of Budapest. During the 1980s almost 100 million cubes were sold and they are still popular today.

However these types of mechanical puzzles are now the exception to the rule. The advent first of electronic games and then social gaming has allowed most people to take their puzzle addictions on to mobile devices.

Electronic puzzles

Many of the puzzles that were popular on paper – such as word searches, number puzzles like Sudoku, and so on – have easily made the crossover into the world of electronic games. You can find countless examples as apps for your iPad or iPhone.

Traditional-style puzzles like Merlin’s Magic Square, The Orbix, and the Masterball have all been invented in recent years, but electronic has largely taken over.

Many puzzles available now as mobile games are variations on a number of themes, including logic, pattern recognition, sequence solving, and word completion.

However, electronic gaming has also developed popular new genres of puzzles such as ‘tile matching games’ and ‘action’ puzzles; reveal-the-picture puzzles; and missing object puzzles.

Tetris is a great example of a tile matching game. These are very common and many started life as arcade games (like Bejeweled) before making the crossover to PC and mobile gaming. The most popular game in the world, Candy Crush Saga, is one of these too.


The new Monkeybin game, Crossed, takes its place proudly alongside these other tile-matching games. Hyspehrical, though very different, also involves positioning, pattern recognition and dexterity, and is based around creating rotating spheres that must be positioned in such a way that they don’t crash –it too is an action puzzle of a kind.

Why is it that good puzzle games have always flourished? What makes them such a lasting feature of the gaming world?

The blend of co-ordination, dexterity, and/or brainpower in puzzle games is clearly a great mix. The element of challenge is very important too – both in an individual sense in trying to ‘solve’ the puzzle itself and in trying to beat other players’ performances. Simplicity of play and the fact that all age groups can often join in also helps to make puzzle games successful – in whatever format you play them.

Look out for Hyspherical and Crossed from the middle of October….