How hard is this puzzle? One of our most frequently asked questions about mechanical puzzles is also one of the most nuanced to answer. The human brain is a mess of chaos and subjectivity, and what’s difficult for some might seem like a breeze for others. Nevertheless, we persist, and Kubiya does have a ranking system for most mechanical puzzles. This week, we’d like to explain the system and give some insight on where the rankings come from. Keep in mind, though, that nobody solves puzzles in exactly the same way. In fact, some puzzles may be tricky to solve the first time …. then easy to memorize the solution and repeat. Some of the most difficult puzzles out there are the ones that are difficult to solve AND to memorize or repeat. Repetition is crucial, though; problems in life and in science are not solved unless the solution is able to be explained and replicated. For that reason, most expert puzzlers would agree that solving a puzzle by accident or by some sort of “fluke” doesn’t really count – even though we love when it happens! Take a look at the rankings below, from easy to extreme, and see what you think. Here at Kubiya, the difficulty of a given puzzle is usually relative to the person solving it. We rate our puzzles on a scale of 1 (easiest) to 5 (hardest) based on our own experience solving them and our observations of how others solve them. The rating implies how long it takes most people to solve the puzzle the first time and how hard it is to memorize and recall the solution in the future. Here we go!
Level 1 – Easy
Some of the most fun can be had with the easiest of puzzles, and we think lovingly right away of the Two Piece Pyramid Brain Teaser. The simplicity of the puzzle actually makes it slightly tricky if you do not see the answer right away. I myself struggled for several minutes before fitting the pieces together. Afterwards, I had a blast showing other people the trick and I loved repeating the moves over and over again. That’s part of the beauty of a lower difficulty level; nobody ever said that hobbies need to be intense head-scratchers all the time. “Easy” puzzles give a nice sense of accomplishment and serve the same type of purpose as a classic, beloved riddle. Level 1 is a great choice for children, beginners, or people who are more interested in the fidget and/or aesthetic aspect of the puzzle.
Level 2 – Medium
Not a giveaway like the easiest puzzles, but still not tricky enough to fall in the middle of our scale, we find ourselves at Level 2. Stand-outs from this level include the 7-Step Japanese Puzzle Box. 7 moves, all of which must be done in the right order, in order to slide the box open. Not the easiest of puzzles, but not the hardest either once you get the hang of it. It makes sense to call this a medium puzzle because the solution is fairly easy to replicate once solved. Other popular examples of Medium puzzles include the Heart Tangram Set or the Elephant Puzzle. These puzzles are usually more straightforward and will not take as much time to solve. We recommend Level 2 – Medium for beginners as well, but perhaps a beginner who wants a bit more of a challenge right off the bat.
Level 3 – Hard
Level 3 falls right smack in the middle of the scale, and ends up having some of the most universally appealing, interesting puzzles. These “hard” puzzles feel realistically solvable while still testing your patience and critical thinking. These are the types of puzzles that truly will stump you, but not in an impossible way. You’ll get there, and then once you’ve solved the puzzle you will most likely be able to repeat the solution after working it out a few more times. The Snake Cube puzzles are a fine example of a Level 3 challenge. It’s not as easy as it looks to wind the wooden cubes back into one larger, checkered cube, but after some finagling and a reasonable amount of effort we are confident that you will get there. Other great selections from the Level 3 lists are the Sliding Lock Puzzle and the Soma Cube Puzzle Set.
Level 4 – Very Hard
From “hard” to “very hard”, it seems like an arbitrary transition, but here we are at Level 4. I like to think of the Level 4 puzzles as the collection of puzzles that are incredibly tricky, but there is some quality about them that stops them from getting the extreme stamp of a #5. Some of these puzzles may be just as difficult as a Level 5, but perhaps they don’t take as long, or do not require as much knowledge of formulas and patterns used in other puzzles. Many of our German designed, escape room style puzzles fall into this category, such as the Viking Puzzle Box or the Void Lock Puzzle. I think what separates these puzzles from the top-most level is the sequential nature of the solution; once you find the right pattern it can be reused, making the second lap of the puzzle slightly less challenging but equally as fun.
Level 5 – Extreme
Here they are, the baddest of the bad, crème de la crème of puzzles that will leave you scratching your head wondering if there really is any hope of success. We’re joking of course, all of these puzzles are entirely solvable, but Level 5 is reserved for those puzzles that feel “impossible” and might take hours or days to solve. The puzzles where you might have to set the pieces down for a day and come back. These are the puzzles where no matter how smart you think you are, you might still be waiting for that “aha!” moment that we frequently mention in these posts. The toughest puzzles are often the devices that require strong mechanical and spatial reasoning skills, mixed with that extra dash of creative thinking that requires the user to stretch their brain, think outside of the box, and view the puzzle from a new perspective. A prime example of a popular Level 5 puzzle is the Japanese Interlocking Ladder Puzzle. It’s made out of 51, non-identical but interlocking bar-shaped pieces that must fit together to form a crystalline shape at the end. This high-level puzzle, along with other Level 5’s, are perfect for serious puzzlers with a lot of extra time on their hands - perfect for building focus, patience, and spatial reasoning! Among others, also check out the Generation Puzzle Lock from the Constantin Puzzles collection – 341,718,750 moves to open the lock, you probably can’t even complete it in one lifetime! We have no choice but to call that extreme.
Finally, it would be a shame to end this article without another important tip: never let a difficulty rating stop you from trying out a puzzle, whether it seems “too hard” or “too easy”. As you can tell from the diversity of puzzles out there, terms like “easy” and “hard” are arbitrary in most contexts. Even the most helpful guidelines are meant to be broken sometimes! As with many things in life, use whatever information you find useful about our rankings, and the rest doesn’t matter! We hope this will help you find the type of puzzles you’re looking for, and maybe some of you might be inspired to try a more difficult puzzle outside of your comfort zone.
Cheers, thank you, and happy puzzling!