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Square Dance

Take a 2x2 square, and join it to another 2x2 square, but only by half an edge. There's only one way to do that (ignoring reflections and rotations), shown below:

Now join on a third 2x2 square, again by only half an edge. This time, there are just four possibilities, all seen in the photograph below.

Back in 2002, my good friend Derrick Schneider noticed this nice little set of slightly strange shapes and wondered whether or not they'd make a good puzzle. He whipped up a little program to try packing the pieces into an 8x8 tray. To his delight (and later ours), there was just one way to fit in all four pieces! Many designers would have stopped there, but for some reason Derrick also tried running the program on a 7x9 rectangle: once again, incredibly, there was a unique solution!

Imagine the fun: he comes up with a simple way to define a set of pieces, the resulting set is nice and small, and that set fills both of the two most obvious tray shapes in unique ways. Believe me, such a mathematically elegant puzzle design doesn't come about every day! Add to that, the resulting puzzle falls into a real sweet spot of difficulty: harder than you might guess (those pieces are just plain tricky to get your brain around, especially the curled-up one), but easy enough to yield to a little patience.

Perhaps that explains why, when Derrick presented his puzzle at the 22nd annual International Puzzle Party, the jury for the Puzzle Design Competition awarded it an Honorable Mention, one of just three puzzles so honored.

Now, for the first time in many years, I'm happy to make Derrick's wonderful little puzzle available for sale again. Initially, I'll be selling off the remainder of Derrick's original manufacturing run; the last time I visited, I got him to dig around in the basement and pull out all of his old inventory for me. After that limited supply sells out (he could only find about 15 of them), I'll start making my own copies for you. This is simply too good a puzzle to remain unavailable for so long.

Update: Square Dance is now also available in this economical CD jewel-case edition! (Note: your tray and piece colors are likely to differ from what's shown in this photo. We use a wide variety of colors and every puzzle is made from a different pleasing assortment.)

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