Puzzles for the Mind
Puzzle History

The Origins of Dexterity Puzzles

The Origins of Dexterity Puzzles

This story takes us back to circa 2250BC to the Indus Valley, one of the first know human civilisations, located in what we now know as north-western regions of south Asia, the Harappan Civilisation.  The cities in this region were known for its great urban planning, backed brick houses, extensive water supply and drainage systems.  The people worked and crafted with bronze, lead, clay and carnelian materials and developed unique and new techniques.

Archaeologists uncovered many sculptures, religious icons, pottery and jewellery across the dig and discovered that they not only crafted practical and religious icons, but they also created puzzle games and toys.  One of the earliest examples of puzzles is a dexterity puzzle found at this site. 

The dexterity puzzles were circular and rectangular in shape and feature grooves in a maze style pattern, which enabled a small circular shaped ball to navigate through the maze as the piece is angled from side to side. 

In 1889, Charles Crandell a well known toy and game maker, commercialised this puzzle type with a piece called The Pig’s Clover and from there dexterity puzzles have remained a popular puzzle for children across the globe.  Another early version featured in the puzzle museum is the Horse and Oats circa 1889.  These fun handheld puzzles, build your hand/eye coordination, are maddening addictive and can help build patience, strategy and of course dexterity. 

Dexterity puzzles reached the height of popularity before the radio took over as a major source of entertainment for families.  They were often left in waiting rooms to help pass the time before magazines and of course today the mobile phone.  There was even a dexterity puzzle made to celebrate the world trade fair in 1893 in Chicago. 

There are early examples in the USA in 1920’s such as Bingo, and in the 1940’s these puzzles also included mercury balls and, in the UK, we have Simple Simon (pies) and the Queen’s coronation all of which can be seen at the puzzle museum. 

Traditionally, these puzzles were timber and glass and were themed towards everyday life activities.  In the 1950’s/60’s the dexterity puzzle took on a whole new look, were made of plastic with small ball bearings and were themed around our favourite TV shows such as Popeye, Lone Ranger and Mickey Mouse.  They were also made featuring supermarket products, golf and baseball themed, and were used to celebrate historical event such as explorers reaching the North Pole.

If you are interested in finding out more about this fascinating history, you may wish to visit the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop in Hamden, Connecticut.  There is also a market for those who collect buy and sell these puzzles. 

So, the next time you are looking for a different type of gift for your special one, give them a tried and true dexterity puzzle to challenge and develop their skills.