Chinese puzzles: Kong Ming Suo

Outside her school, Yamin bought several little puzzles from a street vendor. Among them was one that you may have seen before, in Chinese, 孔明锁 (kong ming suo), maybe meaning “Kong Ming Lock”.

The completed puzzle:

And disassembled:

These puzzles are actually very famous in China. It seems that everyone knows that they were invented some time around the beginning of the 3rd C. by Zhuge Liang, a high official during China’s Three Kingdoms period, and the Chinese all know his character in the Chinese classic novel, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. He has the reputation of being very smart and well-educated, and that he invented this puzzle is evidence of that.

After Yamin brought this home, I solved it within the first 5 minutes. However, that turned out to be beginner’s luck, because later, I was not only unable to solve it a second time, but I actually proved that it couldn’t be done. Ahem.

So, I finally decided to solve the problem by writing a python program to try every single combination of the blocks. It took me a couple of hours to write, but only 3 seconds to run, and the computer actually found two unique solutions! Very gratifying.

Yamin thinks I cheated by writing the computer program. However, I don’t think so. Because I wrote the program, it means I have demonstrated that I know a method to find both solutions. Whether the actual work to find the solution, using this method, was performed by me or by the computer doesn’t really matter. My example to her was, if you use an electric drill to make a hole, do you say that you made the hole, or do you say the drill made the hole? The code defines a simple, dumb procedure to methodically try every combination of each piece in each position, nothing magic, the computer isn’t doing any intelligent thinking for me. Perhaps I shouldn’t get any more credit than I should get for the first time I solved the puzzle, when I blindly stumbled on a solution. However, I definitely give myself credit!

6 Responses to “Chinese puzzles: Kong Ming Suo”

  1. Yammy Says:

    Jeez, I heard 三国 is translated into “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” before. But, still, I mean, Jeez.

  2. Catherine Says:

    You is wikkid smaht!! I agree with you. Writing the program shows you know how to figure out how to solve the puzzle. Sorry, Yammy.

  3. Ma Says:

    Heck yeah, you get credit for solving the puzzle in several ways. I’ve seen this puzzle before but can’t even imagine solving it, no way.

    Love and admiration goes out to you.

  4. Yammy Says:

    Man, you certainly got some 粉丝(fans). :D

  5. Ma Says:

    “Man, you certainly got some 粉丝(fans).”

    Heck yeah!

  6. Peter Says:

    Well, this puzzle wasn’t really invented by Zhuge Liang (also known as Kong Ming), but it is attributed to him because he is known for his intelligence. It is also attributed to Lu Ban, the patron saint of Chinese carpentry, even though there’s no evidence that Lu Ban invented or even knew of the puzzle. For more information, see

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