All too often puzzles can seem like some kind of cruel test to be beaten or passed. In truth, they really want nothing more than for us to drop what we are doing and play. In that way, they can actually enhance consciousness, for we are perhaps never more conscious than when grappling with an object that refuses to satisfy our expectations. The Shape of Difficulty is an ode to and exploration of these “unruly objects”—Rubik's cubes, geometric dissections, secret-opening boxes, string disentanglements, and so many more—that bring interpretive failure out of the shadows and allow it to take center stage in physical ways. While many puzzles may offer perceptible expressions of mathematical concepts, logical propositions, and logistical problems, this book urges readers to dwell for a while with objects that, built specifically to be misunderstood, demand that we reconsider our approaches to understanding—and, in the bargain, how we conceive of the interpretive self.
Bret L. Rothstein, The Shape of Difficulty: A Fan Letter to Unruly Objects. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2019.