May 24, 2010

Alcatraz Revisited

ALCATRAZ The Metal PuzzleAs I was heading out of my apartment on Sunday to go to a picnic, I happened to glance at a package by the front door of the building. I wasn't expecting anything, but you never know! And much to my surprise, it was addressed to me. I opened it up, and discovered a copy of Alcatraz! It turns out, Brett Kuehner read my blog entry about failing to solve it at the Museum of Science, and sent be a copy as a birthday present! Thanks Brett!

When I got to the subway stop, I opened up the package and tried to solve it again. I felt like I was on the right track before, so I tried a few of the things I had tried before. However, since it was mine, I tried using a bit more force than before, and that ended up working! (Note: By force, I don't mean just pushing the ball through the bars, that would surely damage the puzzle.)

I brought it to the picnic and stumped a few folks with it. One knew the solution already, but he knew not to give it away. Another figured it out after a little while with some hints. I found that often people tried the right action, but they just didn't do it quite right.

You can read more about this puzzle and how it was invented on the designer's website: It was designed by Brian McDermott, a magician, as part of his act. After he magically removed the ball from the cage, he would pass it around to the audience to inspect. It proved so popular that he decided to sell it as a puzzle. According to his website, over 700,000 copies have been sold! At $13 each that's not too shabby!

It has a nice solid construction with black molded plastic cage, solid brass bars, and a solid steel ball. The steel ball gives it a nice weight. It has a simple appearance but also looks impossible to the untrained eye, which I think may be part of the reason for its success.

My one complaint about this puzzle would be the amount of force required. However, if it was modified to require less force it would be quite a bit easier, which probably isn't desirable. I'll bet the reason this one is so popular is because it has the ability to stump folks for a very long time!

Overall, a neat puzzle, but not something I would subject my non-puzzling friends to again, since it is quite difficult. Puzzlers, on the other hand, have probably seen this mechanism in other applications if they enjoy this type of puzzle. Check out Oli's review of Alcatraz here.

Thanks again to Brett for the puzzle!


  1. Thanks for not revealing the secret. I have yet to try this puzzle. Escape from Alcatraz is not supposed to be easy!

  2. Thanks George, I was hoping I didn't give too much away!


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