Mechanical puzzles made of wood are popular toys, and one common type of is the entrapped object, in which the goal is to free the object. The difficulty of such puzzles varies from simple enough for a child to solve to extraordinarily difficult — or even impossible. When the trapped object is a ball, no amount of manipulation will change its orientation, and the solution will require a creative or unconventional approach.
Examine the puzzle and check for moving parts. Determine whether the cube is made of a single, solid piece of wood or if it has joints or seams. Look especially for hidden or concealed seams.
Manipulate any moving parts to get a feel for how they are designed to move. For many puzzles of this type, such as a 12-piece caged ball puzzle, the solution will require moving the parts around using the trial-and-error method. Use a systematic approach to make sure you don’t miss possible combinations of moves.
Check joints and seams in the wood for trick parts such as concealed doors, hidden magnetic latches, or spring-loaded sides. For example, the secret to the metal Alcatraz puzzle is a trick bar, secured by a magnet, that can be removed; a wooden puzzle may have a similar solution, especially if it has no obvious moving parts.
Consider whether the wood itself has any properties that might be the key to the solution. For example, a classic solution to certain wooden puzzles, published at least as far back as 1931 in the magazine "Popular Science," requires soaking the wood in hot water to make it expand and become more flexible. A previously entrapped object or section can then be removed.
Remember that some “puzzles” of this type may actually be tricks or novelties that have no solution. For example, a skilled woodworker can carve out a ball trapped in a cube-shaped cage from a single block of wood, with no way to remove the ball without cutting the cage.
Many wooden puzzles are sold along with printed instructions containing the puzzle solution. If you cannot solve your puzzle and it does not include the printed solution, try contacting the puzzle creator or manufacturer.
Puzzles are intended to encourage creative thinking, so no article can cover all possible solutions. Use “lateral thinking” strategies to brainstorm new approaches to a wooden puzzle that is stumping you.