Spatial puzzle

Spatial puzzles are puzzles that rely on the solvers' spatial reasoning ability, often playing with 3D visualization or manipulation of 2D spaces (with the rare puzzle dipping into 4D geometry). These types of puzzles are commercially quite common, with their most common forms outside of puzzle hunts being in toy stores rather than book stores. Even beyond that, traditional jigsaw puzzles are often used as a generic symbol for puzzling, even if they're much less common within puzzlehunts when compared to word puzzles or logic puzzles.

Core Characteristics[edit | edit source]

Spatial puzzles don't have many core characteristics beyond the requirement that they involve navigation or manipulating things in two or more dimensions, something that often requires solvers be able to visualize that particular space (particularly if an object is conspicuously missing from the puzzle). Despite this, there are very few types of puzzles that fit the description very well, but those that do are likely to be considered exemplars of the genre.

A common gimmick across many spatial puzzles is the addition of extra dimensions, as the most common versions of them tend to be two-dimensional. Expanding into a third dimension or the dreaded fourth dimension will almost certainly add more difficulty to a puzzle, but doing so isn't always advisable as it makes the authors job significantly more difficult as well.

Sometimes, puzzles may dabble in three-or-four-dimensional structures as a gimmick within an otherwise word- or logic-oriented puzzles. These puzzles may then be considered spatial puzzles, but the genre that the dimensional gimmick is being applied to does not then become valid as a spatial puzzle.

History of Use[edit | edit source]

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Spatial puzzles today are likely the most prominently sellable puzzle type, particularly jigsaw puzzles, which saw a surge in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic beginning in 2020. This is due to many such puzzles being physical objects, which have benefit as both a tactile distraction (something that most word/logic puzzles lack), and more potential for aesthetic-forward construction. While a crossword puzzle is not likely to be used as a conversation piece in one's living room, jigsaws and puzzle boxes continue to fill many a wall and mantlepiece.

Subtypes[edit | edit source]

Spatial puzzles often blend together due to having very little commonality besides navigating or manipulating something in a set space. Therefore, the best way to group them is by whether they tend to be primarily set in a physical space, or primarily set in a virtual space.

Physical Space Puzzles[edit | edit source]

Physical spatial puzzles are most common, due to the aforementioned potential for aesthetic presentation. However, they also allow solvers who are good at working with their hands (or just prefer being able to work on physical puzzles) something to do.

  • Disentanglement Puzzle - Puzzles where the goal is to get a piece unstuck from an odd structure, or otherwise untangle something. Also called topological puzzles.
  • Folding Puzzles - Puzzles in which a piece of paper must be cut and/or folded into a particular shape either via written instructions or visual indications of cutting/folding (like solid or dotted lines).
  • Jigsaw Puzzles - An image, physical object, or other source broken into pieces, meant to be put back together to rediscover what they originally were.
  • Puzzle Box - Containers that can only be opened in specific (but unknown) ways, like spinning them, moving specific parts, or activating hidden mechanisms.
  • Rubik's Cube - A multicolored cube that begins with solid-colored faces, but can be shuffled to mix up the colors by twisting the outer thirds in various directions.
  • Sliding Puzzles - Puzzles involving moving objects (tiles, blocks, etc.) around into a limited amount of available space, usually trying to get them into a particular orientation, or get a designated piece out of an enclosed space.

Virtual Space Puzzles[edit | edit source]

  • Databending - Puzzles where digital files must be manipulated (often by changing the type of file they are) in order to uncover hidden messages.
  • Mazes - Puzzles involving getting from Point A to Point B (or to many other points in between) through a series of winding passages.