Where I have found expert advice in further classifying particular categories of puzzle, I have highlighted the experts like this.
Recent years have seen a surge in the popularity and visibility (via e.g. social media, videos, Discord) of mechanical puzzles and the number of people who enjoy, collect, create, make, promote, and sell them. New puzzle types and subtypes have come to the fore (e.g. Graduated Challenge, "N-ary," Turning Interlocking Cubes, Sequential Discovery, Restricted Opening Sequential Packing with Rotations, and on) that while perhaps in general encompassed by the existing schemes, are poorly distinguished within them. So it seems as if our taxonomies are destined to evolve if they are to remain relevant. Yet every puzzlist or taxonomist must strike a balance between useful specificity and cumbersome complexity.
Note that a different and perhaps more productive approach to classifying puzzles would be tag based. For example, a puzzle might have attributes of both assembly as well as pattern. Its assignment to one traditional category or the other would be based on a weighting of all of its attributes as determined by an expert authority or by mass consensus.
Anyway, below you will see how the traditional classification schemes for mechanical puzzles compare with my own. I hope you find this entertaining and useful.
10 Main Classes
14 Main Classes
|Rob's Puzzle Page
||Supposedly the jigsaw was invented in 1760 by John Spilsbury of London, but dissected maps were being used as teaching aids in the mid 1700s. Jigsaws for amusement appeared as early as 1785 and were available in America by the early 1800s. Hoffmann's section III includes the Chinese Zig Zag, a 3D jigsaw, but no other jigsaw puzzles. Most jigsaw puzzles made in the 19th century had juvenile pictures, fewer than 75 pieces, and were too simple to hold an adult's attention. The first jigsaw craze in the U.S. did not occur until 1908. For these reasons it is not surprising that Hoffmann omits the category. (Some of the above factoids I learned from Anne Williams' excellent book.)||
Bob Armstrong - see
Bob's section about jigsaw cutting styles
|III. Assembly (non-interlocking)
||1. Geometrical Problems 1a. "Moving Piece Puzzles" - Tangram 1b. Dissection Puzzles - cut up one shape and make another; includes Letter Dissections and "Disappearance Puzzles" 1c. Polyforms - Hexiamonds, Pentominoes, Solid Pentominoes, Soma||III. Dissected or Combination - includes: Anchor/Tangram, Octogon, Latin Cross, Greek Cross, Checkerboard, Spots (dissected Die), Endless Chain (La Chaine sans Fin), classic 6-piece burr, Diabolical Cube, Les Quatres Vagabonds In chapter X, Hoffmann describes #48 The Packer's Secret (Le Secret d'un Emballeur).||Tangrams and Richter's Anchor Stone Puzzles|
||2. Matchstick 3. Domino Puzzles 5. Magic Squares||VII. Puzzles with Lucifer Matches The Englishman John Walker invented and sold the first friction matches in 1827. In 1830, Samuel Jones begain making and selling them using the name "lucifers." By 1880 match manufacturing was a huge business. Hoffmann indicates that even in his day there were many matchstick puzzles. He includes only "a brief selection" of 19. As for other types of pattern puzzle, he covers the 8 Queens puzzle in his chapter VI, #24. Chapter X, #18 Treasure at Medinet is an 8-Queens variant like Jeu des Manifestants. He includes several magic squares in chapter IV. The Thurston edge matching puzzle used by Calumet, and the MacMahon/Journet Mayblox were both first patented in 1892. Hoffmann might not yet have seen them - the only edge-matching type puzzles he mentions are "The Royal Aquarium Thirteen Puzzle" (equivalent to the French Le Nombre Treize) #72 in chapter IV, and "The Endless Chain" (equivalent to the French La Chaine sans Fin) #18 in chapter III. The Instant Insanity family wasn't invented until 1900.||Pattern
||II. Mechanical Puzzles Dependent on Some Trick or Secret Chapter II is where Hoffmann really shines for a mechanical puzzle collector. He lumps some tanglements in as well, and it makes a kind of sense since one has to take them apart, but today we would classify them separately.||Disassembly|
3. Interlocking Solid
||Hoffmann didn't spike out Interlocking puzzles - he included a 6-piece burr in his "Combination" chapter III, #36. Slocum has traced the 6-piece burr back to Germany in 1698. Figural/representational Kumiki puzzles were invented in Japan in the 1890s by Tsunetaro Yamanaka, but the world had to await the invention of many of the best geometric interlocking puzzle designs by Stewart Coffin in the 1970s. The keychain puzzle originated at the 1939 New York World's Fair.||Interlocking
String-Ball - including Crown, Patience, Chinese Ladder, Ox Yoke, Victoria, Imperial Scale 9. Wire Puzzles
|VIII. Wire Puzzles||Tanglement
(Dr. Richard Hess)
5. Sequential Movement
||8. Mazes and Labyrinths||Hoffmann includes a ball-in-maze puzzle in chapter X, #3 "Hide and Seek." Also in chapter X are the ring-in-plate mazes #42 The Conjurer's Medal and #43 The Maze Medal.||Route-Finding/Maze|
|VIII. Sequential Movement
||11. Positioning Puzzles 11a. Crossing the Water 11b. Peg Solitaire (and Tower of Brahma/Hanoi) 11c. Shunting Problems 11d. Puzzles with Checkers 11e. Sliding Block Puzzles - e.g. The Flying Puzzle, Ma's Puzzle, George Washington||VI. Puzzles with Counters e.g. #13 8-Point, #14 Okto, #17 Right and Left (Hop-Over), #19 Four and Four, #24 No Two in a Row (8 Queens) X. Miscellaneous Hoffmann includes in chapter X the classic Gray-code puzzles #4 The Brahmin's Puzzle (i.e. Towers of Hanoi) and #5 Cardan's Rings (Chinese Patience). #11 is peg solitaire.||Sequential Movement|
|Sliding Piece (Hordern)|
||I. Puzzles Dependent on Dexterity and Perseverance In chapter X, Hoffmann describes #38 La Question de la Marmite, #39 Le Pont du Diable, and #40 The Two Corks, which I would categorize as "Tricky Arrangement" dexterity puzzles.||Dexterity|
|7. Puzzle Vessels||XI. Jugs and Vessels
||Trick Vessels According to Slocum and Botermans (1994), this class contains the oldest surviving mechanical puzzles - a puzzle jug made in the south of France circa 1400 is in the Exeter Museum. However, Dalgety believes the oldest puzzle may be a dexterity puzzle found in the Indus Valley dating to circa 2500 B.C. Another contender for the title of Oldest Mechanical Puzzle is Archimedes' Stomachion, dating back about 2200 years. (Read about the Stomachion palimpsest.) Regardless of its antiquity, this is an interesting but potentially messy (and vaguely cruel) category. While I do own one trick cup, I have not focused here.|
|9. Folding Puzzles||IX. Folding and Hinged
|8. Vanish Puzzles 10. Impossible Puzzles||XIII. Ambiguous Pictures and Puzzling Objects
||In chapter X, Hoffmann describes #32 The Two Dogs puzzle, which is a variant of the "seat the riders" puzzle popularized by Sam Loyd.||Impossible Objects Vanish Puzzles Paper and Card Picture Puzzles Find It/Crowded Field - e.g. I Spy, Where's Waldo, Animalia (usually in books, some in transparent canisters)|
|XII. Other Types
||7. String Puzzles - rope tricks 10. Number and Logic Puzzles||IV. Arithmetical - by far the largest chapter with 112 puzzles V. Word and Letter IX. Quibble or Catch||Logic|
|XIV. Related Ephemera (EPH)
The classification scheme used by the U.S. Patent Office
devotes a class and several subclasses to puzzles.
For mechanical puzzles, you'll probably want Class 273.
Go to the Advanced Search Page
to enter a query, select the year range to include in your search, and execute your search.
(The count column shows a range from what the count used to be years ago when I created this table, versus the count on 3/20/21 and gives an idea of which categories have grown.)
|Puzzles||153R||626 - 686|
|Pyramid building||153P||23 - 25|
|Shifting movement||153S||548 - 592|
|Jumping movement||153J||57 - 59|
|Folding and relatively
movable strips and disks
|155||327 - 339|
|156||347 - 383|
|Transparent overlay||157A||65 - 69|
pictures, and maps
|157R||989 - 1061|
|Bent Wire||158||114 - 117|
|Flexible cord or strip||159||91 - 95|
|Mortised blocks||160||222 - 228|
The European Patent Office describes their classification scheme and offers a way to browse their classification scheme. The relevant top-level class is A63 - Human Necessities/Sports;Games;Amusements, with A63F9 containing many subclasses of interest.