Ahmedabad man creates ‘touch-me-not’ puzzle based on plant shyness

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At first glance, one might think that Abhishek Ruikar misnamed his own game. Researcher from Ahmedabad, Ruikar is the creator of Mimosa: a tactile puzzle box that has left solvers everywhere delighted and intrigued.

Is it ironic to name a hands-on game after a hands-off factory? Maybe, but as Ruikar reveals – and players quickly realize – there’s more to this baptism than meets the eye.

‘Mimosa’, a mechanical puzzle in laser-cut wood and acrylic. The goal is to release a sealed disk from the top. Source: Abhishek Ruikar

The plant does not touch me (mimosa pudica) is one of nature’s passive curiosities. At some point, we all brushed it aimlessly to get a reaction. Ruikar’s Mimosaon the other hand, reminds players of the complex system governing the original plant, paying respectful homage to its sensibility.

There is no incentive for this Mimosa react; instead, a solver must discover an exact sequence of light movements and touches – which may or may not involve hidden tools – in order to unlock the puzzle’s solution. In the world of puzzle games, this is called a sequential discovery puzzle:

Puzzles as a hobby: how is India?

As a craft researcher, Ruikar’s interest in puzzle design was a natural extension. But his first creation was not as complex as Mimosa, it was also not for sale. Instead, it was a birthday present for a friend – a game called “five holes and a key”, inspired by his hobby of solving puzzles for recreation.

It is a popular pastime in the United States and Europe. But for India, it’s still a small point in the rankings. And for good reason: there aren’t enough local retailers selling fun, high-quality puzzles for adults here. Beyond the puzzles, there is low public awareness. And puzzles shipped from overseas have markup like collectibles, burning a hole in the pocket.

Thus, puzzle as a long-term hobby has been restricted to the upper stratum of Indian society – much like the mechanical keyboard community.

Ruikar also mentions a psychological barrier: many people don’t like to mix leisure with critical thinking. “People are very intimidated by puzzles, especially those that require deeper thought and understanding,” he says. It’s a complaint echoed by online puzzle makers, who have found that Indian gamers are quickly dropping games that require lateral thinking, i.e. problem solving using creative, patient and unusual.

The only way to overcome this fear, Ruikar believes, is to raise awareness of the fun and diversity of puzzles right from school, marking a clear line between brain games and the drudgery of exams. “I think having pop-ups or puzzle-solving workshops could help encourage young people,” says the designer, an idea he is ready to help develop in schools, colleges and design institutes using its various creations:

mechanical puzzle 'clouds' for adults ‘Clouds’, a packing puzzle where solvers must fit nine pieces into a given frame. Source: Abhishek Ruikar
Mechanical maze puzzle 'A:MAZE' for adults ‘A:MAZE’, where you must guide a 3mm ball through maze layers and sudden drops, to the finish line. Source: Abhishek Ruikar
b:maze mechanical puzzle maze for adults ‘B:MAZE’, another multi-level ball maze, with a honeycomb pattern. Source: Abhishek Ruikar

The road ahead: exciting, but with many missing pieces

With worldwide appreciation for Mimosa, Ruikar has now immersed himself in puzzle design full-time, relying on international interest and websites like JP Games, Etsy, Puzzle Paradise and Puzzle Master Inc. for sales and personal motivation. ‘Clouds’ and ‘B:MAZE’ are some of his latest creations. This is a niche but emerging market, which holds great promise for buyers and creators if subsidized pricing and distribution can be worked out in India.

To build on desi connect, Ruikar thinks collaborating with Indian artisans is the next best step. Our artisan communities hold centuries of traditional knowledge about working with sustainable materials. Combined with a modern designer’s sensibility, this could produce a whole new breed of mechanical puzzles – a field that has yet to abandon the heavy use of plastic.

mimosa mechanical puzzle for adults Could the “Mimosa” also benefit from an update in Indian craftsmanship? Source: Abhishek Ruikar

As one of the few puzzle designers in the country, the sky is currently the limit for Ruikar and all of his contemporaries. If you were him, what kind of puzzles would you do for Indian players?

Abhishek Ruikar is a puzzle designer and senior research assistant at DICRC, CEPT University in Ahmedabad. All of his puzzles are available at a discount in India with direct orders to [email protected]

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