Popular handheld puzzles have been available since the 19th century. Slocum feels there is an affinity between Dexterity Puzzles and Bilboquet Games (Jerry Slocum & Jack Botermans, Puzzles Old and New, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1992, page 142.) The intent in all of these puzzles is to use manual dexterity to solve the puzzle. Each puzzle is usually composed of a small box (rectangular, square, or round), a number of target holes in a picture or drawing at the bottom of the box, and includes one or more marbles or steel ball bearings, or some other object to be moved.
One of the most famous of these puzzles is legend in American political history. This is the handheld maze in the picture on the left. The Museum has an original 19th century edition of this puzzle in the collection along with archival information about the puzzle's political involvement. Click on the photograph to find out more about this puzzle.
Another type of dexterity puzzle may have printed targets on a picture and flat cardboard discs (instead of balls) that are to be moved into a certain configuration on the picture. There may also be maze-like baffles set perpendicular to the picture. The box often is covered with glass or plastic. Click on the photograph to find out more about this puzzle.
A third type may be a self-enclosed box or sphere which the user moves around to rearrange the contents into a specific organizational pattern.The Museum has a number of these types of puzzle in the collection. Click on the photograph to find out more about this puzzle.
NOTE: This page was originally created and posted on the Web on October 6, 1997. Subsequently it has been modified and periodically updated. Last update April 7, 2010