November 15, 2011

Four Color Map Puzzle

Maya Gupta of Artifact Puzzles was kind enough to send me this interesting variation on the classic jigsaw puzzle to review. Thanks!

Normally I'm not particularly interested in jigsaw puzzles, but Four Color Map Puzzle by Tara Flannery is very unique! Rather than assembling a picture, this puzzle illustrate's the Four Color Theorem:
The four color map theorem states that, given any separation of a plane into contiguous regions, producing a figure called a map, no more than four colors are required to color the regions of the map so that no two adjacent regions have the same color. Two regions are called adjacent only if they share a common boundary of non-zero length. (Wikipedia)
In other words, if you draw a bunch of dots, and non-overlapping lines connecting those dots, you will be able to color the various shapes such that no two adjacent shapes (sharing an edge) are the same color by using only four colors. Pretty neat, eh?

In addition to this neat mathematical reference, the cut-pattern of the puzzle is very unusual. It is inspired by the work of John Stokes III, a master jigsaw puzzle-artist. The pieces are such that you can't really even narrow down the number of possible orientations, since they are so irregular. Your standard jigsaw pieces can only go in one of four possible orientations. Furthermore, the edge is irregular as well, which further complicates things since you don't know when you're on the edge.

I had a good time solving this one, it is a good size (68 pieces) so I didn't get frustrated searching through the pieces. It was fun looking through all the unique shapes and trying to find pieces that matched up. The fact that no two pieces of the same color are adjacent ends up being quite helpful in narrowing down the possible set of pieces.

The beginning was a bit tricky as I had to go through a lot of pieces before finding one that would fit, but it gradually became easier as I got things in place. The complexity of the pieces frequently makes it difficult to visually tell if a piece will fit, so I often resorted to physically holding each piece in the spot I was trying to fill and rotating it, since I would often miss a correct fit otherwise. I think it took me a good 1-2 hours to solve, though I took a few breaks.

The end product is quite nice to look at, with the swirling shapes preventing your eye from resting anywhere. Quite a nice work of art! The colors are quite vivid as well. The puzzle itself is constructed out of laser-cut plywood, which gives it a very high-quality feel.

Overall, this was a fun puzzle that I was glad to get the chance to try. At first glance, the rest of Artifact Puzzles's puzzles look more like your standard jigsaw puzzles, but upon closer inspection, you'll see that they all have unusual and tricky cut-patterns. Some have special 'whimsy pieces' that echo the theme of the artwork, which I thought was cute. Definitely worth checking out if this type of puzzle is up your alley!