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Monday, August 15, 2022

Mumbai man creates ‘touch-me-not’ puzzle, inspired by the plant’s shyness

Looking for a new gaming rabbit hole to fall into? Mechanical puzzles like 'Mimosa' might be your new favourite

Written by Nayanika Mukherjee | New Delhi |
Updated: August 8, 2022 5:23:31 pm
mimosa mechanical puzzle for adults'Mimosa' is the brainchild of Abhishek Ruikar, one of India's rare full-time puzzle designers

This story is part of our upcoming section, Puzzles & Games. For updates, sign up on indianexpress.com or follow our Instagram (@iepuzzles).

At first glance, you’d think Abhishek Ruikar named his own game wrong. A researcher from Mumbai, Ruikar is the creator of Mimosa: a tactile puzzle box that has left solvers worldwide delighted and intrigued.

Is it ironic to name a hands-on game after a hands-off plant? Maybe, but as Ruikar reveals — and players soon come to realise — there is more to this christening than meets the eye.

mimosa mechanical puzzle for adults ‘Mimosa’, a mechanical puzzle made of laser-cut wood and acrylic. The goal is to free a sealed disc from the top. Source: Abhishek Ruikar

The touch-me-not plant (Mimosa pudica) is one of nature’s passive curiosities. At some point, we’ve all aimlessly brushed it to get a reaction. Ruikar’s Mimosa, on the other hand, reminds players of the complex system governing the original plant, paying respectful tribute to its sensitivity.

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There is no goading this Mimosa to react; instead, a solver must discover an exact sequence of light movements and touches — which may or may not involve hidden tools — to be able to unlock the puzzle’s solution. In the world of brain games, this is known as a sequential discovery puzzle:

Puzzles as a hobby: how’s India doing?

As a crafts researcher, Ruikar’s interest in puzzle design was a natural extension. But his first creation wasn’t as complex as Mimosa, nor was it for sale. Instead, it was a birthday gift for a friend — a game called ‘five holes and a key’, inspired by his hobby of solving puzzles for leisure.

It’s a pastime with a sizable following in the US and Europe. But for India, it’s still a small dot on the game charts. And for good reason: there aren’t enough local retailers here selling enjoyable, high-quality puzzles for adults. Beyond jigsaws, there is low public awareness. And puzzles shipped from abroad have a markup like collector’s items, burning a hole in one’s pocket.

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Thus, puzzling as a long-term hobby has been restricted to the upper crust of Indian society — much like the mechanical keyboard community.

Ruikar also mentions a psychological barrier: many people don’t like mixing leisure with critical thinking. “People are very intimidated by puzzles, particularly ones that need deeper thought and understanding,” he says. This is a complaint echoed by online puzzle makers, who found Indian players were quick to give up on games that needed lateral thinking, which is the solving of problems using creative, patient and unusual approaches.

The only way to get past this fear, feels Ruikar, is to create awareness about the fun and diversity in puzzles right from school, marking a clear boundary between brain games and the drudgery of exams. “I believe having puzzle-solving pop-ups or workshops might help encourage the youth,” says the designer, an idea he is willing to help build across schools, colleges and design institutes using his diverse creations:

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

The road ahead: exciting, but with many missing pieces

With global appreciation for Mimosa, Ruikar has now dived into puzzle designing full-time, relying on international customers 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 newest creations. This is a niche but emerging market, one that holds great promise for buyers and creators if subsidised pricing and distribution can be worked out in India.

To build on the desi connect, Ruikar thinks collaborating with Indian craftsmen is the next best step. Our handicraft communities hold centuries of traditional knowledge about working with sustainable materials. When combined with a modern-day designer’s sensibilities, this could produce an entirely new breed of mechanical puzzles — a domain that is yet to move away from heavy plastic use.

mimosa mechanical puzzle for adults Could ‘Mimosa’ could also benefit from an Indian handicrafts update? Source: Abhishek Ruikar

As one of the country’s few puzzle designers, the sky’s the limit right now for Ruikar and his contemporaries. If you were in his place, what kind of puzzles would you make for Indian players?

Abhishek Ruikar is a puzzle designer and Senior Research Assistant at the DICRC, CEPT University in Ahmedabad. All of his puzzles are available at a discount in India with direct orders to abhishek.puzzles@gmail.com.

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First published on: 06-08-2022 at 03:38:05 pm

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