From Ostomachion to Escape Game: A History of the Puzzle

Escape games may be a pretty new phenomenon (the first one opened in 2007 in Japan), but coming up with puzzles to solve purely for the fun of it is an ancient human pastime. While it’s hard to know for certain what the very first puzzles were, there are some really old ones entered into the history books.

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The world’s first mechanical game

This game from 2550–2250 BCE looks oddly familiar. Many a Christmas cracker and kid’s birthday goody-bag comes stuffed with one of these puzzles, which requires you to lead the ball from one end of the labyrinth to the other. This clay one looks just as hard as the plastic versions we have today.

The world’s first riddle

One of humankind’s oldest riddles unsurprisingly comes from Classical literature. In Sophocles’s play Oedipus Rex from 429 BCE, when Oedipus encounters the wily Sphinx, it asks him this riddle: “What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening?”

Oedipus answers correctly: “Man,” and is spared becoming the Sphinx’s dinner by his own quick thinking.

The world’s first puzzle

The famous mathematician Archimedes is behind this most ancient of puzzles: the Ostomachion Puzzle. Invented in 287–212 BCE, this puzzle has 14 geometric pieces that the player is required to arrange correctly in order to fit into a perfect square.

The world’s first crossword

The crossword is the new kid on the block, for sure. It was invented in 1913 by a journalist named Arthur Wayne, which makes it just over a century old. Crosswords are so commonplace now, it’s hard to imagine they were once an innovative pastime, just like escape rooms!

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