From as far back as psychologists Robert Sternberg, and Janet Davidson argued that solving puzzles entails the ability to compare hidden information in a puzzle with information already in memory, and, more importantly, the ability to combine the information to form novel information and ideas1. The thinking involved in solving puzzles can be characterized as a blend of imaginative association and memory. It is this combination that possibly leads us to find the pattern or twist within a puzzle, leave to that "Aha" moment when you get to the solution.

While there have been research to suggests that culture is a factor in how puzzles affect brain functioning. Ambiguous empirical data aside, even though people speak different languages, puzzles seem to rise above culture-specific modes of understanding the world.

Puzzles seem to tap into a universal part of brain functioning, even though they may appear in different cultural forms. The river crossing puzzle is a classic example of this. The puzzle can be found across the world in various formats from cannibals to jealous spouses, the details may change, but the underling structure structure remains the same. This can be interpreted to suggest that the puzzle is culture independent, as it's a common part of human imagination. The author and mathematician Henry E. Dudeney mentioned:

The curious propensity for propounding puzzles is not peculiar to any race or any period of history. It is simply innate, though it is always showing itself in different forms; whether the individual be a Sphinx of Egypt, a Samson of Hebrew lore, an Indian fakir, a Chinese philosopher, a mahatma of Tibet, or a European mathematician makes little difference 2

There have been many many academic types involved in not just mathematics, but also psychology that have been involved in popular puzzles for entertainment and reasearch.

A notable one in recent years is Akira Tago, Professor Emeritus of Chiba University, and his team are credited for creating the puzzles found in the Professor Layton series of games.

Professor Tago himself is a researcher in the field of psychology, and author of the Head Gymnasium series of puzzle books.

I'm curious of that kind is involved psychologically in the process of creating puzzles, in contrast to solving puzzles. Particularly what aspects of brain function and psychology have been researched and suggested by academic and professional sources to involved when creating puzzles?

1 Sternberg, Robert J., and Janet E. Davidson. "The mind of the puzzler." Psychology Today 16.6 (1982): 37-44.

2 H.E. Dudeney, The Canterbury Puzzles and Other Curious Problems, (1958): 12

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    $\begingroup$ That is a psychology question, post it on their site. $\endgroup$ Jan 19, 2015 at 15:39

1 Answer 1


A very brief history of some random points in puzzle history

Thinking games and puzzles have along history with some so long that their origins are shrouded by the mists of time.


The river crossing puzzle dates back to at least the 9th century, when the benefit of mental exercise to sharpen the mind was understood.


Prior to modern psychology, puzzles were much more in the realm of the mathematician, the educator and the student.



In the 20th century puzzles became one of the cornerstones of the growing trend for "intelligence testing" which gave gave rise to the IQ test, which today purports to assess a range of cognitive abilities.


Throughout the 20th century increased interest in recreational mind games has made puzzles a permanent fixture in many newspapers and magazine. Most news agents will stock a least one publication dedicated to puzzles.




Today many classic puzzles hold much fascination and as new puzzles are devised, new technology offers opportunity to involve random factors and interaction in challenges that have their roots in more traditional logic based reasoning.


  • $\begingroup$ Note that the example you chose for 'new puzzles are devised' is in fact a very-slightly-modified clone of a different title: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Threes $\endgroup$ Apr 13, 2015 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ Yes it's remarkable how quickly new variations on a simple theme emerge. 2048 has even been described as a clone of a clone citing as its influence and intermediary called 1024. Having not played either of its predecessors I can't comment on exactly how they differ, but there are some interesting videos relating to the mathematics involved in 2048 : youtube.com/watch?v=OO4tA5i7X9g $\endgroup$
    – Bob
    Apr 13, 2015 at 19:26

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