They call it Houdini, ThinkFun does, explaining that it’s the “World’s First 40-Challenge Escape Puzzle.” It consists of what one can only call a “most unusual” collection of Houdini-like accoutrements. There’s a big plastic piece that depicts what is clearly the worlds first legless person to have a huge hole in his middle, with arms and hands are tied together most securely with many locks and chains, to have two, snap-on, fabric legs. Then there’s an unopenable plastic lock, a large red “trap cage” upon which are embedded three ominous trapping rings, two ropes – each ending in openable rings, two rings (one a hollow plastic barrel, the other impervious metal), and a deck of 20, double-sided puzzle cards, rung together with a handy explanatory card that instructs you, in general terms, how one might tie Houdini up (to begin a puzzle) and recommendations for how to go about attempting to free the poor, shackled, gutless, plastic lad. And, of course, a mesh, drawstring travel bag (which turns out to be not only handy but essential insofar as you’ll need to almost destroy the box to get at all the components).

It turns out that much of Houdini’s magic is based on what mathematicians like to call topological puzzles – puzzles of such lasting folk-worthiness that they’ve been handed down through the ages, as this recent stamp from Greenland, honoring such, so clearly demonstrates.

greenland puzzle stamp
The instruction card also indicates the precise URL of the page on the Internet from whence you can find clearly depicted videos of how to tie the dude up, and how to release him.

The first puzzle, I’m glad to say, the one marked “Beginner 1,” is fairly easy to assemble. Even I was able to figure out how to tie Houdini to the trap cage using only a rope and the metal ring. And, subsequently, completely flummoxed by my attempts to figure out how to release Houdini from the illustrated entrapment. Completely.

After some deliberation, I decided to evaluate, shall we say, the clarity of the solution videos. And, upon clicking my way over to the appropriate link, beheld an amazing feat of graphic clarity which I could almost follow, but which immediately led me to exclaim something like “What?” and then “Who Knew?” and then, upon third viewing, to achieve the necessary clarity to make the attempt. And, behold, after only two more viewings, it proved to be child’s play.


puzzlesWhat we have here is Major Fun of historic proportions. Truly challenging puzzles that tie your puzzle-solving centers into conceptual knots. Puzzles whose solutions are often so surprising that they make you laugh most entirely. And the ingenious use of the computer to support both the making and unmaking of the puzzles makes the whole thing so much more fun – just knowing that real, carefully illustrated help is only a click or two away is almost all you need to keep you happily engaged.

Designed by Nicholas Cravotta and Rebecca Bleau, Houdini is recommended for people who are mature enough to understand the joy of deep challenge.


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