What is a Keychain Puzzle?
by William Waite

The definition of the term "keychain puzzle" is under hot debate in the puzzle world.  Most of us think of small 1" to 2" (1 to 2 inch) plastic puzzles with several pieces and a keychain attached.  But there are many puzzles on keychains that don't fit that definition, and a gray area of puzzles that some people would include and others wouldn't. 

To begin the debate, first compare the two cars below:

j2.jpg (5965 bytes)

These two jalopies are a bit different in size, the first is about 2" and the second about 2".  They are clearly based on the same mechanism, but the second has an extra back seat which gives it a total of 11 pieces compared to 10 pieces for the smaller car.  Minor differences can be seen between the pieces-- for example, the size of the opening in Piece 4, straight vs. diagonal edges in Piece 6, or the size and shapes of the holes in Piece 8.  The most important difference for this article, though, is the difference between Piece 11 in each car, not so much because there is an extra hole in black Piece 11 to allow for the extra seat, but because of the extra little loop on yellow Piece 11 meant to allow a keychain to be attached.  Since there is no place to allow for a keychain on the larger car, does that mean that it is not a "keychain puzzle" even though it is so clearly similar to the smaller car (which definitely is a "keychain puzzle") both in materials, size, and mechanism?

j7.jpg (28170 bytes)

Before answering that question let us consider another example:

bugs.jpg (4431 bytes)

Here are two bugs similar in size (just under 2") and, despite the difference in heads, identical in mechanism or solution.  Are they the same puzzle?   The one on the left lacks a loop for a keychain.  Is the puzzle on the right therefore a "keychain puzzle" while the one on the left is not?  In fact, the one on the right was sold without a keychain, so since neither came with a keychain, perhaps neither puzzle should be considered a "keychain puzzle" at all?

Of course I think most everyone would consider both of these bugs as "keychain puzzles" without problem, despite the fact that the one on the left is not a keychain at all !!!!  To a certain extent we must accept, in my opinion, the fact that people are collecting miniature plastic put-together type puzzles, not keychains.

But if we allow the bug on the left to be included as a "keychain puzzle," then can we allow any plastic put-together puzzle of this size (about 2") to be included?  This is where the problem comes in.  Returning to the question about the two cars above, I would maintain that the larger car, contrary to the bug example, is not a "keychain puzzle."  Already at only 2" I feel it is too big to fit in with the rest of the collection, despite its obvious relation to the typical keychain puzzle jalopy mechanism.  I think there are definitely people that would disagree with me on this point.

Another gray area is the problem of mechanism.  Is a simple straight-forward clip-together type mechanism enough of a puzzle to call it a "keychain puzzle"?  The plow puzzle (one of at least 6 in a series) shown below is included in many prominent keychain puzzle collections:

plow.jpg (3646 bytes)

Some of the collectors think it should be included in a "keychain puzzle" collection and some don't.  It is clearly meant as a keychain, and it is made to be taken apart into five pieces and put together again, so it can be considered a puzzle.  But is it meant as a puzzling puzzle?  If so, only for younger children because it is certainly not very difficult.  On the other hand, neither are the bugs shown above very difficult puzzles.  But I think the bugs do have a sense of needing to put the pieces together in a particular order that gives a definite sense of puzzling out a solution, as compared to the plow which is a simple snap-together mechanism.  I personally don't consider the plow and its comrades to be true "keychain puzzles" because I don't really consider them to be serious puzzles.  But I still include this series in my collection because they are attractive little vehicles and I like the slightly transparent plastic they are made of.

And then there are other completely different types of keychain puzzles, including rubik's, sliding block, dexterity, metal disentanglements, etc. which should be collected and displayed in their various categories, in my opinion.

If you have any thoughts about what should or should not be considered a "keychain puzzle" 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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