Puzzles in the Classroom


by Mark Kielpinski, Summer 2002

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Kumiki Puzzle

Kumiki Puzzles
Source: http://www.cleverwood.com/
Kumiki is a Japanese word that means "to join wood together." In Japan, the word kumiki refers to several different varieties of wood craft. For our purposes, a kumiki is "a 3-dimensional wooden interlocking solid puzzle made in a familiar shape."

Wooden interlocking figural puzzles made in Germany are mentioned in the classic book, Professor Hoffmann's Puzzles Old and New of 1893. Although Japanese artists may not have been the first to make this puzzle craft form, they have fully developed the interlocking figural puzzles now known as kumiki to the highest degree.

Traditional Japanese craftsmen did not use nails in building construction because nailed wooden joints were easily compromised during earthquakes. They developed ingenious methods of interlocking wood joinery that would stand up to earthquakes. Even today, books are available on the unique, traditional wood joinery of Japanese craftsman. Kumiki puzzles utilize the concept of notched joinery to make interesting looking and working puzzles.

Tsunetaro Yamanaka (1874-1954) was the first craftsman to develop the figural wooden interlocking puzzles known as kumiki. He designed and constructed puzzles that resembled buildings and vehicles, not just abstract shapes like spheres and cubes. His descendants continued to carry on the tradition, still creating new puzzles including animal shapes. Today, Tadaaki Yamanaka, great grandson of Tsunetaro, continues his great grandfather's work. The "Robot" kumiki is an example of one of his newer designs (1993).

There are four different kumiki design techniques: oshi, mawashi, kendon and sayubiki. The first means push, these puzzles have a key piece which has to be pushed out. Puzzles based on the mawashi principle have a piece which has to be twisted in order to solve the puzzle. In kendon puzzles you have to remove a piece by moving up and down or from left to right. With sayubiki two key pieces have to be removed simultaneously. The key piece is always skillfully hidden.

Most kumiki puzzles are made from Japanese ho wood and are unfinished, but we have quite a few deluxe kumiki which are extra large and dyed. Ho wood is also known as Boku or Japanese Magnolia - "Magnolia Hypoleuca."

To learn more about interlocking solid puzzles read the books of Jerry Slocum, Puzzle Collector and noted author of books about Mechanical Puzzles.

Because they are so inexpensive, kumiki puzzles are perfectly suited for beginning puzzle collectors - especially children.

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