Wednesday 8 June 2011

Alcatraz Puzzle

Alcatraz - The Puzzle
After a small amount of surfing the internet for puzzles of interest, most of you will come across the Alcatraz puzzle. Much extolled as a very fine and very difficult puzzle to solve. I got this one from Puzzle Master but you could get it direct from the designer.

It is a pretty attractive thing made of black plastic, brass pins and a lovely large chromed ball bearing. It is 4.5x4.5x3cm and a good weight due to the steel bearing. Puzzle Master rate it as a difficulty of 9 out of 10 (gruelling) which I would agree with. Obviously the aim is remove the ball from the cage of pins.

When I first got this, I loved the look and feel of it and couldn't resist it. There are no clues at all to look at it and shaking it about doesn't provide any auditory clues either. Initial tries were not too successful as absolutely nothing moved at all! Over several days I kept going back to it and having a few minutes play but because absolutely nothing works you quickly get despondent.

The solution doesn't come with the puzzle - if you want it then it is available from here or from the developer's own site. I try not to use solutions as much as possible, but I did go surfing for other bloggers' reviews and did find one from Oli and another from Brian Pletcher. The conclusion they came to was that it required some considerable force to solve it (they were somewhat critical of it for that reason). Emboldened by this I tried using "more force" - I tried wildly shaking it, spinning it very fast, twisting it in all directions in my hands until either the puzzle or my knuckles popped!! I tried tapping it gently and then ever harder in various directions. Despite all of these exhortations, nothing would open the damn thing!!! After about 10 days of on and off trying I thought I was going to have to give up and download the instructions.

I had put it down in our bathroom at bedtime before going about my ablutions. I turned away when one of my cats pawed it and knocked it off the surface onto the tiled floor and out rolled the bearing!!! At this point I could see how it had come out but couldn't work out what exactly had happened (why had this impact worked when others had failed?)

Open at last!
Without putting the ball back I started fiddling with it and locked it closed. Could I reopen it? Hell no!!! I resorted to hammering it onto a surface to try and recreate the fall. Finally I have worked out what happens and it is truly very clever BUT it requires far far too much force. It is not reasonable to expect people to solve it by literally pounding it onto a surface (oh yes! Don't do it on wood or you will make dents!!). It does seem to get easier once it has been opened 10 or 20 times. I can open it on my palm now with only a small amount of pain!

Overall I think this is very clever but unless you are wanting a real masochistic challenge or are a true puzzle collector then I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it. My first negative review :-(


  1. Congratulations on getting the Alcatraz open, and for a great review. My first negative review was not an easy one to write and I kept feeling that perhaps I was being to harsh. I think it may have helped in being objective, but also in being true to my own values, and integrity. After all what is the point in writing a review if you love everything! Great review. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the reinforcement Neil! I thought long and hard before posting an honest review but, who knows, someone may use my site for purchase advice! Better to say what I think rather than disappoint someone in the future.

  3. The puzzle was solved by a cat!! That is funny! ;-) Must be easy!