A Python script calculates the solution to the Chinese Rings puzzle

Time Waster – Solve the Chinese Ring Puzzle

Article from Issue 213/2018

Mike Schilli takes on the almost 2,000-year-old Chinese Rings puzzle. Instead of just jingling rings, he tries to find a solution with logical operators.

I am not a fan of puzzles due to my lack of patience. However, when I recently read in an excerpt from Martin Gardner's venerable 1972 Scientific American column [1] in an online antiquarian bookstore that the Chinese Rings puzzle could be solved with Gray codes [2] from the field of information theory, I was gripped by game fever. I ordered the ring set online for little money.

A second-century Chinese general named Zhuge Liang is said to have invented the game, which was nicknamed "Baguenaudier" [3] (time waster) many centuries later. Allegedly, his intention was to keep his wife busy during his absence. The metal contraption arrived in a cardboard box with printed Chinese characters. Exhibiting great foresight, I immediately clamped the rail with the silver rings in my vise for electronic crafts to prepare for some time-consuming tinkering.

The nine inconspicuous rings initially all sit on two metal rails connected in the front, and they are also tied to one another through small metal rods (Figure 1). This restrictive suspension initially gives the impression that nothing can be changed at all in the entire construction, but the enclosed operating instructions indicate that there are indeed a limited number of possible moves.


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