Mechanical Puzzle Basics

Mechanical Puzzles are hand-held objects presented as a set of physically interlinked pieces. Solving them involves achieving a specific goal by manipulation of the parts. There are several categories of mechanical puzzles:

Assembly / Put-Together / Packing Puzzles

Assembly Puzzles are non-interlocking, which means the pieces do not trap each other in place. The goal is to produce a specific shape with the available components. 

Packing Puzzles are a type of Assembly puzzles where the goal is to fit the set of parts into a container.

Disassembly / Take-Apart Puzzles

Solving a Take-Apart puzzle involves taking it apart! 

This category includes Secret Boxes or Puzzle Boxes. These locked containers use mechanisms to make them difficult to open. There are many types of mechanisms, including concealed panels, inclination locks, magnetic devices, pins that need to move into a particular position, and much more.

Some Interlocking Puzzles where the intended challenge is to take them apart are considered Disassembly Puzzles.

Interlocking / Burr Puzzles

Contrary to Assembly Puzzles, Interlocking Puzzles do not easily come apart. An Interlocking Puzzle is one where multiple pieces are mutually self-sustaining. In other words, the pieces interlock to hold each other together. 

The goal is to completely disassemble and then reassemble the puzzle. Both assembly and disassembly can be tricky. The difficulty level is often expressed as the number of moves required to extract the first piece from the solved puzzle. Therefore a level 10.5 Interlocking Puzzle requires ten moves to release the first piece and five for the second.

Puzzle / Trick Locks

These locks have unusual or concealed mechanisms. Usually, the aim is to figure out the device and open the lock. Alternately, some locks are simple to open but difficult to restore to their closed position.

Maze / Sequential Movement Puzzles

Sequential Movement or Maze Puzzles require the solver to navigate a mechanism that follows a specific path enforced by the physical object's mechanical build. These can be very complicated and may include dead ends, looping traps, or any number of other tricks. 

Sequential Discovery Puzzles

Often referred to as "SD" this phrase is used as a descriptor for certain Take-Apart or Interlocking Puzzles. SD Puzzles take the solver on a journey through a set of sequential and generally non-repeating steps that involve the use of tools discovered along the way. These steps include finding hidden mechanisms or devices to reach the final goal.


Wooden mechanical puzzles can require special care and storage. For more information, please read Caring for Wood Puzzles.

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