Dr Mark Wood’s hands-on puzzles have been the biggest sellers in a couple of Australia’s leading department store toy sections for the past five years and have won numerous awards here, in the US and the UK.
However, they are more than just a stimulating way to spend a Sunday afternoon; they’re helping create new research opportunities.
Dr Wood, who has a background in psychology and education, creates the puzzles with his research partner Frank Dyksterhuis, a mathematician and physicist.
As well as entertaining people, they can also open children’s and adults’ minds to logical and deductive thinking, enhance problem-solving strategies and encourage creativity.
“Our puzzles are one of the last bastions against the encroachment of technology,” said Dr Wood, a visitor to the School of Psychology. “I try to create fast brains rather than fast forefingers.”
Dr Wood sees a huge research potential in his puzzles. “They can be used for intelligence testing and they can be used to understand different approaches to problem-solving,” he says.
Dr Wood said that some UWA research students had used his puzzles in studying the abilities of children, under the supervision of Professor Mike Anderson in the School of Psychology.
“I’m an amateur magician and I often play with puzzles and it was while I was working in Queensland that I was fiddling with a puzzle, while waiting for a client, that I stumbled into a worm hole in the polyomino universe,” he said.
That was 20 years ago. His first popular puzzle was Kaleidoscope Classic, an 18-piece puzzle that creates a chequerboard and more than 100 other patterns. Frank Dyksterhuis estimates it may have 48 billion solutions.
“That’s the beauty of our puzzles. There are so many ways to solve them. And you can do it on your own or with others,” Dr Wood said.
His inventions loKulus and aKumulate won Best Vacation Children’s Puzzle and Game awards in the US this year.
And last year, Kogworks and Heist won Game and Puzzle of the Year from the Australian Games Association, the first time the same company has won both categories.
The puzzles were presented at a workshop at the biennial meeting of the Australian Association of Mathematicians in Perth in July.
Teachers have already used them in courses for gifted and talented students, saying they are a great tool for developing children’s cognitive functioning and promoting self-esteem.
Dr Wood is keen to hear from academics who are interested in using his puzzles in their research.
Article Courtesy of UWA News.
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