December 11, 2010

Chain Gang

Chain Gang is another puzzle sent to me by Puzzle Master to review. This puzzle was originally designed by Dick Hess (name "Outrageous Rings") and was adapted for Puzzle Master by Allan Stein, one of the owners of Puzzle Master. Dick Hess is a very prolific designer of wire puzzles that can be quite difficult. One of them, The Yak, took me about a year to solve, you can read about that here: My Puzzle Nemesis Vanquished!

This one wasn't quite as difficult, but still had me stumped for quite a while. It is nicely crafted out of sturdy wire, with a big heavy ring on one end. The object is to get the oval ring off.

If you look closely at the picture, you can see that it is sort of like a chain that passes through itself. Starting at the big ring at the top, it loops down through the middle of itself, then at the bottom it turns to the left and passes through its end. It goes back up on the left and turns right at a ring (where it passed through itself near the beginning), and on the right hand side it swoops around back down to the ring at the bottom, where the chain terminates.

It is a bit tricky to see what is going on in the metal version, but Marcus Gotz created a version that was made out of rope named Double Edged Thought which was part of his IPP29 exchange Six Serpentile Strings. I found that it was quite a bit easier to see what was going on here.

Still, I was pretty stumped. I carried this puzzle around in my pocket for about two weeks, working on it here and there. I drew a diagram of it on a sticky note, hoping that I would arrive at some inspiration by staring at it. Unfortunately, none of this did the trick. Unlike some puzzles where it takes a little while to figure out that you're at a dead end, I was having trouble making any sort of progress beyond the starting point.

Finally, this Thursday night I had both some free time as well as a firm resolve to solve this damn puzzle so I could write about it. I worked on it for about a half hour and felt like I was starting to make a bit of progress, but again I was stuck. I was a bit discouraged so I set it aside for a bit, hoping to return to it later. When my fiancĂ©e, Kellian, arrived home, I told her about the trouble that I was having with it and explained  the different things I had tried.

Then she made an interesting observation about the construction of the puzzle that I hadn't noticed before! Indeed, it was an unusual feature that must have been placed there for a reason, and I figured out the reason. This focused my search for a solution somewhat. About 15 minutes later, I had solved it! I think in all I must have spent at least 3-4 hours on it. What a relief to have it done!

The solution is quite tricky: even after I had solved it, I wasn't exactly sure of the mechanics of what was happening. I re-solved it a number of additional times and now feel like I have a better handle on it. It is definitely not something that I could have come up with just by staring at a picture if it.

George Bell was kind enough to send me a photo of Outrageous Rings, shown here. It looks like the main difference is that Chain Gang has the addition of a smaller diameter ring before the final ring in the chain (the silver one, not the gold one). Also, the two straight pieces at the bottom of the Outrageous Rings photo are of equal length in Chain gang.

Overall, I'd say that Chain Gang is a great puzzle. It looks darn near impossible at first, but if you keep at it you'll discover a clever solution. Another great design by Dick Hess! I think I might have preferred Marcus's rope version, since it is a bit easier to tell what is going on. The metal version gets quite confusing with all of the rings rattling around, though I guess that's part of the point. It is a matter of personal preference, I suppose.

Thanks again to Puzzle Master for making this review possible!


  1. Ooooooo! this puzzle is currently driving me crazy. I have also had it for about two weeks, but haven't dedicated a large amount of time on it. I too have been carrying it around in my pocket. At one point I was convinced that mine was made incorrectly and compared it to photos on Puzzle Masters web site to confirm to my dismay that it is made correctly. You have given me hope and I will not quit working on the solution! One day I will beat this darn thing : ) Great puzzle, and great review Brian!

  2. Thanks Peter! I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one finding it challenging. Perhaps the observation I alluded to will help you as well :) Good luck!

  3. Woo Hoo! We have success! My ring is free! Your observation clue was all I needed! That's odd I didn't notice it earlier!!! Unbelievably cool puzzle! Now I just need to get the ring back to the start position!!!

  4. Awesome, Peter! Funny that the same nudge was all it took for both of us. Thank Kellian! And she didn't even know the solution...

  5. It was funny!, when you mentioned Kellian's observation I too handed it to Lesley to have a look. As she was checking it out I noticed the oddity and quickly asked for it back : ) I can now report that the ring is back home in it's start position. That's one tough puzzle, may I never meet your Arch Nemesis "The Yak"!

  6. I have Dick Hess's Outrageous Rings but have never been able to solve it. Boo hoo :-( Maybe I will try it again ...

  7. Congrats, Peter! You should give the Yak a try, but definitely try the Whale and the Brontosaurus first. They kind of build on each other and have similar principals in that they are based on the borromean rings.

    George, I actually was looking back to my entry about Yak and you commented on how Outrageous Rings had frustrated you. Maybe the nudge that helped Peter will help you too. Based on the photos, I think it will be a bit more subtle in the original version, but it is hard to say.

  8. I've solved this puzzle in less than three hours. My dad also eventually solved it in a few weeks time. I then gave it to my boss who needed about two days. All other people I've heard failed at it though.


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