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Novel Puzzle Rings

Novel Puzzle Rings

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Published by Bram Cohen
Any explanation of the theory behind puzzle rings, and several of Bram's new designs.
Any explanation of the theory behind puzzle rings, and several of Bram's new designs.

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Published by: Bram Cohen on Sep 13, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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This article appeared in Cubism For Fun, issue 88, 2012 (possibly with minor editing) 
Novel Puzzle Rings
By Bram Cohen and M. Oskar vanDeventer
Puzzle rings [1] are a classical puzzle concept in which a ring which can be worn will,once removed, easily scramble and become hard to get back into its wearable state.Nearly all puzzle rings made for the last several hundred years have followed theexact same design; see Figure 1. We will throughout this article describe puzzle ringswith diagrams showing how the bands are braided on the front, with the assumptionthat all bands go straight around the rest of the ring. The quality of the traditionaldesign indicates that considerable experimentation must have occurred before thatdesign was settled on as 'best', but then the experimentation was forgotten and onlythat one design was passed along between generations. So far no one who isinterested in puzzle rings as puzzles has gone over histori-cal examples to trace back the history of the design; hope-fully someone will do that in the future.In the later 20th century Jose Grant [2] did some experimen-tation with puzzle ring designs, mostly variants on the tradi-tional design consisting of either splitting existing bands inhalf or adding a fifth band. Several years ago Bram Cohenbegun experimenting with puzzle ring designs, and this arti-cle will explain his way of thinking about them and give sev-eral example designs. The methodology of building thesehas been that Bram designs them using pen and paper,then sends them to Oskar van Deventer inASCII art (see Figure 2), who then builds themusing a CAD system and prints them on a 3dprinter, usually Shapeways [3].It turns out that puzzle ring designs are fairlyforgiving, with lots of small braid variations gen-erally still producing enjoyable puzzles, albeitusually inferior ones. The trick is to find themost interesting and difficult designs involvingthe fewest number of bands.
The first part of the analysis of a puzzle is whichbands are linked to which other ones. This canbe done by just looking at each pair of bandswithout including the others; see Figure 3. If aband is only linked to one other, that generallymakes the puzzle very easy. To maximizedifficulty each band should be linked to two
Figure 1. Classicfour band designFigure 2.
Sixth Sense 
in ASCIIartFigure 3. Linked rings(left) and unlinked (right)
This article appeared in Cubism For Fun, issue 88, 2012 (possibly with minor editing) 
others, and bands shouldn't be linked to the ones which lie next to them in the solvedstate. It may be that for puzzles with large numbers of bands difficulty is increased ifeach band is linked to three others, but that hasn't been experimented with much,and it becomes difficult to make the puzzle scramble-able if the criterion that bandsshould not be linked to the ones next to them is kept.The other main part of puzzle difficultyis whether for each band the two bandslinked to it would hang in the orientationthey need to be in the solution if youhold the first band up and let everythingelse fall by gravity; see Figure 4.Puzzles are most difficult when allbands make the two they're linked to gothe wrong way.Ideally a puzzle ring should be so easyto scramble that simply dropping it froman inch in the air will scramble it. Oneway that bands can come apart very easily is if the outermost bands have the patternof first going over some bands, then under others, and finally over. That allows themto hinge outwards. In the Sixth Sense design, the outer bands both hinge out, andonce those come apart the next ones hinge out, making the puzzle want to scramblevery badly; see Figure 5. Another way in which bands can scramble very easily is if aband first goes over a bunch of bands and then under several more, which allows into swivel in place even if it's an interior band. In the Weave Six design (Figure 11) theouter bands swivel out, and then the next in bands can swivel out, resulting in thepuzzle scrambling by a single big corkscrew motion.
Given the abovecriteria we cananalyse the tradi-tional four-band-ed puzzle ringdesign. Eachband is linked toexactly two oth-ers, with the two middle bands not linked to each other.Every single band tries to make the two it’s linked to go tothe opposite orientation relative to each other that theyneed to be in the solution. One might wonder if the twoedge bands could be made to not link to the ones next tothem and have the two middle bands be linked to eachother instead. There is a simple design which has thatproperty and also the orientations property, but it doesn'tscramble; see Figure 6. In terms of scrambling, both ofthe outer bands swivel out and the two remaining aren'teven linked to each other, so it scrambles very easily. It
Figure 4. Directly linked (left) andmisleadingly linked rings (right)Figure 5.
Sixth Sense 
design scrambles very easilyFigure 6. Impossible toScramble
This article appeared in Cubism For Fun, issue 88, 2012 (possibly with minor editing) 
also has a subtle asymmetry, which Oskar likes. The traditional puzzle ring is proba-bly the absolute best design for four-banded puzzle ring.The
Holistic Ring 
(see Figure 7) is another four-banded design. In it, unfortunately,each band is connected to the ones next to it, but they are each linked to two others,and the orientations property holds for all bands. What's unique is that none of thebands individually hinge or swivel, but the puzzle as a whole can scramble in one bigholistic move for a very subtle reason, hence the name.When you get tomore than fourbands there's anadditional designrequirement tolook out for. If youdesign thingswrong, the bandscan get stuck around a linkage be-tween two other bands; see Figure 8.There is a tendency for the bands tobe able to pass through each otherand get out of this state, but that has atendency to feel like it was accidentalor cheating, and isn't very aesthetic.Ideally the bands passing througheach other should be either clearly al-lowed or disallowed. If you make thebands thick enough the passing through can be clearly disallowed, but that has atendency to make the puzzle's motion feel very restricted. If the puzzle were madesufficiently elliptical as a bracelet instead of a ring then it would be very easy to passbands through each other and one could go the opposite direction of designing apuzzle where that phenomenon was forced to happen as much as possible, but thathas not yet been explored.The
Weave Five 
design (Figure 9) has the property that each band is linked toexactly two others, no band is linked to either of the ones next to it, and theorientations property holds for all but the middle band. Because there are an oddnumber of bands, it was impossible to achieve the orientations property for all ofthem. It has a subtle asymmetry. The outer two bands hinge out, and the rest of thepuzzle then scrambles easily. It also has none of the bands passing through eachother phenomenon. It is much harder to solve than the traditional design.The
Sixth Sense 
 (Figure 5) is a gener-alization of the tradi-tional design. In ret-rospect it is surpris-ing that no onefound it before, al-though it was discov-
Figure 7.
Holistic Ring 
 Figure 8. Bands passing through eachother; middle band stuck (left), bottomband stuck (right)Figure 9.
Weave Five 

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