Packing Puzzles

Packing Puzzle

According to Pieter van Delft & Jack Botermans (Creative Puzzles of the World, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1978) those of us who travel have all played with packing puzzles - that is the challenge involved in packing a suitcase!

Packing Puzzles are thought to have originated in the Orient with elaborately carved square ivory boxes filled with a large number of odd shaped pieces which completely fill the box. If the pieces were not arranged in the box in a specific order, they would not fit, and the box could not be closed. Subsequently, others developed similar puzzles of this type.

This example, from the Museum's collection is a modern plastic version called Something Fishy. The external box is in the shape of a typical sardine can 8.3cm wide x 11cm long x 2.1cm high. There is a cardboard cover 11cm long x 8cm wide. In the box sit 20 plastic "sardines" approximately 7.5cm long x 2.4cm wide x 4cm thick. Nevertheless, each "sardine" is somewhat different in shape. Scales are imprinted on each, and each has a hole for an eye and one for a mouth. Once taken from the can and mixed up, there is only one way that they can all be "packed" into the can again.

Each "sardine" is marked with a letter related to the solution - which is provided on a sheet of paper enclosed in the bottom of the can!

Using The Puzzle

  1. Hold the can so that the 2 corner openings are at the top.

  2. Insert the metal key into the bigger opening and push it through all the way until the end of the key comes out of the small opening.

  3. Twist the key and the cover will snap off.

  4. Dump out the 20 plastic fish.

  5. Replace the fish in the can so that they fit perfectly. The key can be used to move the pieces around in the can.


Each fish has a letter embossed on it. The fish fit into the can when placed inside in the following order:

The 3 complete rows may be interchanged but each row can only fit in itís own proper sequence as listed above.

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 11, 2010