P. T. Barnum’s Trick Mules
Can you rearrange the pieces of this puzzle
so the riders are riding the mules?
The underlying idea for this deceptively simple-looking trick mule or trick donkey puzzle has been around for a long time. It was popularized in Western culture by Sam Loyd, a chess whiz and puzzle maker who, let us say kindly, took credit for many things. Sam Loyd’s Trick Mules Puzzle was developed in 1870 and sold to others to be used as advertising giveaways. Loyd said he sold it to P. T. Barnum (of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus fame) for $10,000.
I’ve included lots of variations of the puzzle, but all the solutions are the same.
A forerunner to the mule puzzle, with a similar solution, was this dead dog puzzle. This particular version is from a tiny illustration in The Magician’s Own Book or the Whole Art of Conjuring, from 1857.
The Dead Dog Puzzle
The original text said: "These dogs are, by placing two lines upon them, to be suddenly aroused to life and made to run. Query, How and where should these lines be placed, and what should be the forms of them?"
Sam Loyd’s Trick Mules
This is the basic version of the puzzle used by Sam Loyd,
minus any writing or advertising.
The Famous Trick DonkeysI like the ingenious way this one reveals the solution – you hold some of the text up to a mirror.
Vector Image Donkeys
Here’s a simplified black and white version of the
riders and donkeys, from Wikipedia.
This version from 1939 was included as a prize in boxes of
Cracker Jacks (the popcorn, peanuts and molasses snack
which once upon a time included interesting prizes.)
For more, see The Cracker Jack Archives>>
Can you mount the jockeys?
If you stayed in the Hotel Wellington in Albany, New York
in the 1950s, you might have received this card.
The Trick Mule Puzzle Instructions
First, click to enlarge any of the pictures, then resize the image and print. Cut out the riders along the two straight lines and rearrange the three pieces – the riders and the two horses – so that the riders are riding the horses correctly. (Sorry, but no trick riding underneath the horses.)
– The Dead Dog Puzzle is from The Magician’s Own Book or the Whole Art of Conjuring. Being a Complete Hand-book of Parlor Magic, and containing over one thousand optical, chemical, mechanical, magnetical, and magical experiments, amusing transmutations, astonishing sleights and subtleties, celebrated card deceptions, ingenious tricks with numbers, curious and entertaining puzzles, together with all the most noted tricks of modern performers. The whole illustrated with over 500 wood cuts, and intended as a source of amusement for one thousand and one evenings. By George Arnold and Frank Cahill. cf. Cushing, Anonymous. Publisher: New York, Dick & Fitzgerald. 1857, page 275. The Internet Archive>>
– History of The Three Rabbits and Similar Puzzles by David Singmaster>>
– An online version: Sam Loyd’s "P. T. Barnum’s Trick Mules" Puzzle, with solution, by Professor David Richeson of Dickinson College>>