Comparing Keychain Puzzles
by William Waite

Some keychain puzzles that appear different actually use the same mechanism.

For example there is an elephant, giraffe, and scottie dog  which just have different heads on the same body:

eleph.jpg (2986 bytes)

giraffe.jpg (2182 bytes)

scottie.jpg (3750 bytes)


Some keychain puzzles that appear similar are actually different.  

Here are two elephants that appear to be the same puzzle:


elefcompare4.jpg (8454 bytes)


The elephant on the right was collected one piece at a time from bags of "Irma" brand coffee in Denmark in  the 1950's.  This was a good selling gimmick, since it was difficult to get all of the correct pieces (even the chain counted as a piece).  The elephant on the left is probably of more recent manufacture, especially since all of the pieces have hollow areas (toward the inside of the puzzle) to save on the amount of plastic used.  The pieces are also a bit more streamlined and fit together better on the left.

If we compare the pieces below (the corresponding pieces from each puzzle are set next to each other), many small differences can be seen.  The elephant on the left has an extra piece, as the head piece (piece 7) has been divided into two pieces-- probably for ease of manufacture since it doesn't particularly make the puzzle more difficult (although the white piece can be inserted into the head upside down).

elecompare3.jpg (24389 bytes)


The pieces are numbered to show the order in which they need to be put together.  In the puzzle on the right, the chain is part of the solving process and must be added at step 4, as piece 5 closes off the openings.  The chain can be added at any time to the puzzle on the left.

Piece 3 is clearly different in order to accommodate the difference in chains on the two puzzles.  The puzzle on the left has a looped chain while the puzzle on the right depends on the elephant to keep the keys on.  In order to add keys to this keychain, one need only remove the elephant head, then pull up on the chain which slides piece 3 up slightly until it stops.  Now one end of the chain can be removed (but not the other!), slip your keys on, replace the chain end, slide piece 3 back down, and reinsert the head.  This is a very cleverly designed part of the mechanism!   The puzzle on the left doesn't need to be taken apart to add keys, but it does retain the sliding movement of piece 3 (now redundant because of the looped chain).

Aside from minor streamlining of the pieces, there are only two other changes in volume of the pieces (seen circled in the picture above).  One difference is the volume in the neck that has been moved from piece 7 (circled on the right) to piece 3 (on the left).  This does not effect the function of the puzzle.

elefcompare6.jpg (5843 bytes)


The second difference is a small bit from piece 1 from the puzzle on the right (seen sticking out toward the right below)

eleclose.jpg (1766 bytes)

which is moved to piece 3 on the left puzzle (seen circled below).   It still seems a bit fragile and could easily have been connected to the yellow knob above it to make one solid appendage without effecting the puzzle.  Were they saving on plastic?

elefclose2.jpg (3434 bytes)

The difference can also be seen on the bottom of the elephants:

elefcompare7.jpg (4585 bytes)


This small change is the reason for this page, because it makes a major difference in the puzzle.  The puzzle on the left can be solved using only orthogonal movements (along x y and z axes) while the puzzle on the right needs a twist to solve it.  

For the puzzle on the left, piece 2 can be oriented correctly in space and slid directly onto piece 1, then piece 3 can be slid directly in next to piece 2.  Both moves are one simple motion.

For the puzzle on the right, adding the first two pieces is much more complicated because that extra small protuberance on piece 1 is blocking the way.   Piece 2 cannot be directly slid on.  Instead it must be turned sideways, slid on (past the protuberance) and twisted 90 degrees into place.  Piece 3 also cannot be slid directly on, but it can be slid in until blocked by the protuberance, moved up, slid some more (over the protuberance) and then finally slid down into place.  These tricky manuevers are at the very start of the solving process, making it considerably more difficult than the puzzle on the left.

Why was this small simplification made in the puzzle?

Perhaps because the "protuberance" broke off easily, or made it hard to assemble in the factory.
Perhaps it was easier to produce.
Perhaps it was purposefully made easier (for children?).

Who knows? 

Anyway it would be interesting to explore other differences and similarities between keychain puzzles.

If you have any ideas please let me know at:

Please also let me know if you know anything about manufacturers or manufacturing dates of various puzzles, or have any information at all about keychain puzzles.  Thanks!!



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