What Are Puzzles?

The simplest definition of a puzzle is that it is fun to try to solve and it does have an answer that can be determined, no matter how difficult. There are other definitions, or attempts to describe puzzles, that are intended to separate a puzzle from a real-life problem.

Those who dive into a puzzle are expected to follow certain steps or a definite logical trail to reach the result. Puzzles are intended to be mysterious and even bewildering. Some are so bewildering that many people just cannot solve them. Puzzles can be simple in construction and simple to solve, or very complex, to the point of baffling even those who pride themselves on being able to solve puzzles.
For most, a puzzle is not work, but a game that is challenging to the intellect.

If we decide to follow these guidelines, a puzzle should be enjoyable. Solving it through logic or figuring out a mechanical/physical puzzle should be a joy, as opposed to the problems that arise in everyday life. This latter type is a task, a family issue, or a job.

Some consider puzzles to be much like toys, in that they are a type of play. With toys and true puzzles we can escape from the tasks of everyday life and immerse ourselves in something that is both enjoyable and challenging. Whether we solve the puzzle or not shouldn’t have a major effect or long-term effect on the rest of life.

Of course, if a puzzle or twist of logic that is puzzling are too difficult, they can cease to be fun and, consequently, can cease to be true puzzles. But a puzzle shouldn’t be too easy to solve either. For puzzle enthusiasts, something that is too easy falls from the list of puzzles and becomes a waste of time.

Some puzzles involve words and language, which are solved through logic and understanding the connections between words and the similarities of their meanings. Others are physical or mechanical puzzles, such as the famous Rubik’s cube or other tests of skill and logic. Some puzzles are visual, in that they challenge the viewer to figure out why a picture or graphic seems to be one thing and is another. Crossword puzzles qualify because they are fun and they do have a final “answer” for the person who takes the time to complete them.

Even the dictionary definition includes the word “toy” and adds that the puzzle is intended to amuse. But with this definition, the dictionary and encyclopedia also separate a toy and amusement from a puzzle by emphasizing that there is challenge and difficulty involved. A child’s toy is not generally thought of as difficult.

For some, a puzzle is supposed to require patience, so the easiest path to the answer is not always a characteristic of a good puzzle. Others consider a good puzzle any enjoyable pastime that is somewhat mysterious, no matter how quickly it is solved. These aficionados believe that something unexpected or ironic makes for a good puzzle as well.

Written by Lucas Beaumont

Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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