# Varying lengths in crossed stick puzzles

April 9th, 2016 by munizao

So far, the crossed stick puzzles that I’ve looked at all have pieces of the same length, with slots in congruent positions. The puzzle aspect comes from the need to match slots by depth and direction. However, there is another possibility: can we come up with a puzzle where the lengths and positions of the slots are what vary? If the puzzle configuration is on a grid, we can use pieces with lengths and slot positions at unit multiples. The three slot pieces up to length seven with these properties have slot positions as shown:

If we take the focus of the puzzle away from slot types, it would be nice if slots always match. The simplest way to do this is to have slots that all point the same direction. As we’ve seen previously, this forces us into a bipartite puzzle configuration, where half of the pieces have slots pointing up, and the other half have slots pointing down. Conveniently, we have two twelve-piece bipartite puzzle configurations in the triangular grid:

Are there solutions? Joe DeVincentis found that there are no solutions to the first and exactly one solution (!) to the second:

As cool as it is to have a puzzle with a unique solution, with a set of this size, it would be rather difficult to find it manually. I’m still looking for a good set for manual solving. I tried using two copies of the pieces up to length 5. I eventually found this solution manually:

I don’t know if there are others, but it’s a little disappointing to have the identical pieces next to each other and parallel like this; finding the solution feels like cheating.

I have been mostly disregarding crossed stick configurations on the square grid to this point, because the possibilities are pretty boring when all of the pieces have the same length. But if we move away from pieces of the same length, new configurations become possible. One easy, almost trivial puzzle, would be to assemble a figure with two copies of the three shortest pieces. There are three ways to do so:

On the other hand, if you ask the solver to find all three, with no hints about what the assembled puzzle should look like, maybe it wouldn’t be completely trivial.

Finally, I hadn’t previously even considered the idea of two-slot puzzles, but with varied lengths, the notion might not be completely ridiculous. Suppose we allow length √2 pieces in addition to length 1 pieces, and allow slots to be either wide, to accommodate 45°/135° angles, or narrow, to accommodate 90° angles. There are then three different pieces possible of each length. With two copies of this set of six pieces, we may attempt to make a closed loop. Here is a solution with alternating pieces from each copy of the set:

Note that even though I had the square grid in mind when I was considering these pieces, it would be entirely possible to jump off the grid, by using short pieces as diagonals or long pieces in horizontal or vertical positions.