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The Mystery of the Puzzle Box

The Mystery of the Puzzle Box

When I think of puzzle boxes, my first thoughts drift to Greek Myth of Pandora’s Box, the story of Pandora who was given a box by Zeus and told never to open it.  Human nature being what it is, of course she opened it and let out all the horrors onto the world such as plaques, pestilence and wars.  I assumed this was the first story about puzzle boxes, but there is no mention of it being any harder to open than with a key.  So, it seems that puzzle box origins, like many other puzzle origins, is a mystery in itself.

A puzzle box is designed with secret latches, which need to be moved into a certain position before eventually being able to open.  It may require as little as 2 movements or as many as 32.  So how where did this amazing puzzle come from? 

A quick search of the internet documents that puzzle boxes, were first seen in Japan in the Hakone region in the early 1800’s.  Three artisans named Mr. Takajiro Ohkawa, Mr. Tatsunosuke Okiyama, and Mr. Kikukawa were named as the original creators (source https://heartwood.com/blogs/history/history-of-puzzle-boxes) Originally thought to be designed for workers to keep their tools safe from theft. 

Further investigations lead back to the Roman Empire 200BC, where it was said that puzzle boxes, rings and intricate locks were used to store a persons riches or treasures away from theft.   Jerry Slocum one of the greatest collectors of Puzzles (around 40,000 Puzzles) tracked down some early examples of puzzle locks from ancient Rome but due to the time spent underground most of them no longer worked as they should.  (source: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/fashion-mystery-roman-puzzle-locks-rings-jewelry-money) The popularity of puzzle locks and rings apparently died out in the 3rd Century. 

He also discovered that some of these early locks seemed to have Celtic cultural influences and that the Romans adapted these and made them far more complicated.  The Celtic adaption of puzzles in locks and jewellery, still appears today in the various puzzle engagement and wedding rings available.  Puzzle boxes or rings have since appeared in Italian history circa 1510, England in the 19th Century and China, Pakistan, Madeira and Sri Lanka at various times thereafter.

In today’s times the puzzle box was made famous by the Clive Barker Hellraiser series, which is based on the LeMarchand, a fictional puzzle box created by Philip LeMarchand an 18th century artisan and designer.  The initial boxes were designed as musical boxes, however it is said that he became obsession with the occult and his first puzzle box The Box of Sorrows was said to open an interdimensional portal summoning the Cenobites, beings that serve the master of Hell.  (source: https://hellraiser.fandom.com/wiki/Puzzle_Box )

Most recently, puzzle boxes appear in the movie Escape Room as the vessel sent to the participants that held the invitation and first clue for the adventure.  Puzzle boxes are fun, challenging and a great way to store your most treasured items and your deepest secrets.