Saturday, 19 November 2011

Houdini's Torture Cell

Today I am going to review one of my favourite puzzles so far and I will start by saying that it is EASY!
"What!" I can hear you shout. "If it's easy then surely you won't like it much!"
Well that is where you would be wrong!
(It is odd that I hear voices, I know, but I'm used to it!)
Let me tell you all about it...

Houdini's Torture Cell
At the beginning of October, freshly back from his recent trip to the Berlin International Puzzle Party, Wil Strijbos sent out an email saying he had a few toys to sell. After the usual amount of salivating over more stuff that I can't really afford (if you look back over this blog - you will see that I have spent some serious cash this year!!!) I decided to add the Houdini's Torture Cell to the my existing order. This is made by Brian Young (aka Mr Puzzle) in Australia and is also available from his site. This is apparently one small part inside the utterly amazing and drool-worthy Opening Bat puzzle which I am thinking about (I am even considering starving for a month so I can pay for it!)

This puzzle was designed specifically for IPP31 in Berlin, it celebrates Harry Houdini’s first public performance of The Torture Cell at the Circus Busch in Berlin in 1912.  In fact the presentation card has a copy of the original poster from that show. The object of the puzzle is to free Houdini from the Torture Cell - he is hanging upside down within the puzzle, just like in his real trick. To do that you need to discover the tools and work out how to use them - hence this is a unique type of puzzle, a sequential discovery puzzle. I just love these! There are lots of magnets in the puzzle but no violent behaviour is necessary to solve it.

It consists of a wooden podium (which can spin) 47mm square and 25mm high. On top sits a perspex "chamber" (like Houdini's tank) in which there is a steel ball bearing rolling around freely and a wooden Houdini inverted into it. The perspex chamber is 72mm high. Apart from the spinning of the plinth and the rolling ball bearing there seems to be no other moving parts. Brian claims:

"The puzzle has been presented in such a way that most elements of the puzzle are visible to you.  The puzzle is to then work out how to use them to solve it. You can literally sit and think about the solution without even touching the puzzle."
Whilst this may be true - I think you would need to be a genius to solve this in your head. The beauty of it is that there are quite a few 'Aha' moments during your exploration and several flashes of inspiration are required to solve it.

Each time you discover something it takes you a little closer - but these discoveries don't just give you a solution, you have to work out how what the tools do. After just 2 discoveries you will have worked out what you need to do to rescue Houdini but this is a fair way off from actually managing to do it. It is very easy to jump to the wrong conclusion and spend quite a while trying the wrong approach. Eventually you give up on being silly when it won't work and try again in another mental direction. The big hint for this is that it requires mental dexterity NOT physical dexterity. After several of these discoveries the penny drops and out he comes - I repeat "it is EASY" but absolutely wonderful!

Released from the cell!
I actually solved it in less than 5 minutes (despite being "not very bright") and just stared in wonderment at it - so beautifully made and such a clever idea. I have done it many many times since and never cease to love the mechanism. I have carried this with me for quite a while and handed it to friends and colleagues to play with. After the initial pitying "not another one" looks they all quickly get hooked and the vast majority of people have solved this within 30 minutes. Absolutely everyone is delighted with the sequence of little Aha moments and I have even had small crowds of people trying to solve it as a group.

If you are not enough of a puzzle maniac or can't afford a big expensive sequential discovery puzzle like the opening bat then take my advice - buy this little one now. You will love it!

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