What is a Slide Puzzle? Types and Slider Puzzle Solutions

Almost half of Americans report that they love puzzles, but this statistic isn't all-inclusive. It only documents jigsaw puzzles, which are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to puzzle-solving.

Think about the number of people who like Sudoku, Kakuro, slide puzzle phone games, and interesting puzzle-related Smartphone applications that require you to solve a tangible problem. We all do little puzzles on a daily basis without even realizing it!

One of the coolest types of puzzles is a slider puzzle. This old and simple game is still one of the most fun and challenging options available today. Read on to learn the basics of sliding puzzles, what types are available, and how you can find solutions the right way.

Table of contents


What Is a Slide Puzzle?

Sliding puzzles, also called sliding block puzzles, are a type of simple combination puzzle. The person trying to complete the challenge must move pieces to establish a certain end pattern. This pattern can be an image, a combination of numbers, words, or patterns.

Most sliding puzzles are 2-dimensional. The pieces are generally flat and move across a board. Even 3D sliding puzzles (like Rubik's Cubes) are 2D in nature because you are trying to achieve a flat output on each surface.

Sliding puzzles rely on the rearrangement of tiles, but the tiles are fixed in place. The user cannot remove them from the puzzle backing. The solution must be found by sliding the pieces into different configurations.

Understanding the "Fifteen Puzzle"

To better understand how sliding puzzles work, it's important to consider the very first sliding puzzle: the Fifteen Puzzle. Once you understand the Fifteen Puzzle, you should have a pretty good idea of how sliding puzzles function.

This game was invented in 1880 by Noyes Chapman, which got people excited about puzzles during this time.

Its simple 4x4 board has 16 spaces. 15 of them are tiles filled with the numbers 1-15.

As with all sliding puzzles, the final slot is empty. This open position is critical because it gives the others room to move. Without it, the player would not be able to initiate the game.

The objective of the Fifteen Puzzle is extremely simple: arrange the numbers in numeric order.

You can do this by moving the open position horizontally and vertically to manipulate the numbers into their correct position. After the blocks are in numerical order with the open position at the bottom right corner, the puzzle is solved.

The Fifteen Puzzle isn't just the oldest type of sliding puzzle; it's the most basic. Every other slide puzzle that you may solve today is a variation of this classic model.

Math and Slide Puzzle Solutions

Like all slider puzzles, the Fifteen Puzzle relies on modeling algorithms. In some cases where users are considering these algorithms, Fifteen Puzzles are called an n puzzle.

The n puzzle is a classical problem that uses heuristics to model algorithms. Heuristics are techniques that help players solve puzzles and problems as quickly as possible. They are ideal when classic trial-and-error methods are too slow and only result in estimations or approximations.

Heuristic methods will get you a precise and accurate solution as quickly as possible. For the Fifteen Puzzle (and other slide puzzle variants), the most common heuristic begins with counting the number of misplaced tiles.

You then find the sum of the taxicab distances between misplaced tiles and the location where you want them to be. That is the minimum number of moves left for you to find a solution.

Most people who play slider puzzles aren't going to sit down and map out their moves ahead of time with pre-set algorithms. After all, there would be far less fun in doing that. Still, it's interesting to note how the n puzzle works on a technical level.

Types of Sliding Puzzles

There are hundreds of variants on the classic Fifteen Puzzle model. They have taken on a plethora of different shapes and sizes.

This is ideal for serious puzzlers that want to try new things after completing old challenges. Plus, since you can swap and exchange puzzles with other enthusiasts, the possibilities are limitless!

While the Fifteen Puzzle takes place on a 4x4 grid, others are now set on smaller and larger boards. The Eight Puzzle is a variant of the Fifteen Puzzle but takes place on a 3x3 board (8 tiles and an empty spot). The 24 Puzzle is a variant on a 5x5 grid (24 tiles and an empty spot).

All of these are somewhat different from each other, but they also are all variations of the same thing. There are more sliding puzzle options out there for those who want to spice up their problem-solving game.

More Sizes and Layouts

While 5x5 boards are generally the largest slide puzzles go, there can be larger ones. In fact, the possibilities are limitless when it comes to slide puzzles. You can always blow up an image larger or add more numbers to make the board larger and add pieces.

Additionally, note that not all slide puzzles come in square configurations. Some may be horizontal while others may be vertical. You can solve these puzzles just as you can solve those on square grids, but you will need to keep the uneven configuration in mind.

Klotski (Dad's Puzzle)

In some cases, the pieces of the slide puzzle won't be in the same shapes and configurations as other pieces. This is the case in Klotski, one of the most interesting and unique sliding puzzle games available. It originated in the early 20th century and gained popularity as a fresh spin on the Fifteen Puzzle.

The block pieces are all different sizes and shapes. Some are long subway-tile-style rectangles while others are small and square. There also is a large block at the top that is integral to the gameplay.

Your aim is to move the large square block to the bottom middle location of the board. It must be slid over the border at the bottom of the board (which removes it from the board at the end of the game). However, none of the other blocks can be removed from the board during the game's duration.

This is an especially interesting 4x5 puzzle game because of the interestingly-shaped tiles. Some rectangles lay vertically while others lay horizontally, and since you can't pick up tiles, you have to keep them in that configuration. This makes the game challenging and exciting even to seasoned masters of sliding puzzles.

Klotski is also known as "Dad's puzzle" because it is reminiscent of a father sliding furniture around a crowded room.

Numeric Sliding Puzzles

The Fifteen Puzzle and its variants are all numeric sliding puzzles. Your goal is to create a certain configuration of numbers. Usually, you will need to keep them in numerical order.

In some cases, though, you will want to get them into other configurations as well. Some puzzles have you sort the numbers into evens and odds. Others have you frame the board in numerical order rather than having them go in order across it.

In any of these situations, the puzzle remains the same. It's important to remember that when you begin working on a slide puzzle. They all have the same methods and the same solutions (assuming that they have the same piece shapes and board layouts).

Verbal Sliding Puzzles

In addition to sliding block puzzles with numbers on each block, you can also get those that have letters on them. Your aim will likely be to form a specific word in these instances. Rather than being a cluster of numbers, your outcome will reveal a message or phrase.

Like all slide puzzles, you can make this more challenging by setting rules and guidelines for yourself.

For example, seasoned puzzle veterans may restrict themselves to a certain number of moves. This limitation means that they will need to figure out how to find a solution more quickly. They may even use algorithms to solve the n puzzle if that's a challenge that captures their interest.

Many people also set restrictions on the movements that they can make. For example, some may choose to only move some blocks horizontally and others vertically. This is more difficult than limiting yourself to a set number of moves, but when you're experienced enough to know what's solvable vs unsolvable, it is possible.

Sliding Puzzles With Images

Those who like jigsaw puzzles may be drawn to image-based slide puzzles. These games require you to slide blocks into a certain configuration to create an image. They're great for those who love logic but also have an eye for art and color.

They also can be extremely nostalgic. After all, lots of kids won variations of these puzzles at arcades or received them as childhood party favors. Those little square-inch puzzles were an easy early childhood variant of image-based slide puzzles, but the principle is the same.

Sliding puzzles with images may seem different than ones with numbers or letters, but they really are not. You can't get too hung up on what the end image should look like. Instead, determine which piece goes where in the configuration and try to slide them into position.

This is how you'll ultimately solve these puzzles. It isn't like a jigsaw puzzle where you can put little parts of an image together and then move them around later to connect them.

Sokoban & Daughter in the Box

Japan is known for its love for puzzles. It's to be expected from the birthplace of Sudoku and Kakuro. Slide puzzles are no exception to this cross-cultural love for solving problems.

Sokoban, which literally translates to "warehouse manager," is a common Japanese board game. It's essentially a sliding puzzle where you maneuver a man around a "warehouse" space to push boxes into the appropriate areas. The "warehouse" is the board and the boxes are the puzzle pieces.

The best twist that this game provides is that the warehouse worker cannot pull boxes. He can only push them forward. So, if a block hits a corner, that's a dead end... and you'll need to start over.

This complex and fun sliding puzzle twist isn't the only unique variant that Japan has to offer. Daughter in a Box is a Klotski-like game where the player has to free a girl (the largest block) from a prison of various shapes. It's essentially a more difficult version of Dad's puzzle because it incorporates a wider range of block shapes and sizes.

3D Sliding Puzzles

Rubik's Cubes are the most classic example of a 3D slide puzzle. They generally come in 3x3 grids with 9 total squares, though some variants come with 2x2 or 4x4 grids on each face.

Consider the fact that you cannot remove the colors from the face of the cube. Instead, you must use horizontal and vertical sliding motions to ensure that each side of the cube is a single color. This is similar to a sliding puzzle because of the movements and the functions of the grid.

However, it's actually 6 sliding puzzles in one... and they all are joined together. This makes a Rubik's Cube even more challenging than a simple flat sliding puzzle on a board. It's great for anyone looking for a new challenge.

A Minus Cube is another 3D variant of sliding puzzles. Instead of being one revolving square, the box contains 7 independent cubes. You can shuffle the box by tilting it so that cubes fall into the empty space.

Your goal is similar to a Rubik's cube in that you want each face to have one consistent color. However, there are tons of ways that you can do this since you aren't limited to having all the blocks on a specific side of the box.

Digital Sliding Puzzles

As with everything in the digital era, you can also access all types of slide puzzles on your Smartphone or tablet!

The Number Puzzle app is the most classic digital variant of the Fifteen Puzzle. In fact, it's exactly the same thing in an electronic format. You can get 3x3 and 4x4 slide puzzles within this app and try new things.

The Move the Block Slide Puzzle app is essentially the Smartphone version of Klotski. It's pretty simple and effective, which most classic puzzle enthusiasts enjoy. Like the Number Puzzle, it basically just takes the physical game and converts it into an easily-accessible virtual format.

However, the digitization of sliding puzzles has opened up tons of new and unique sliding puzzle opportunities as well! Roll the Ball asks you to create a block configuration with tunnels that line up so you can drop a digital ball from one end to another. There also are variants where you unlock the ball and free it from a block prison.

Some digital slide puzzles are cool in that they're themed. Whether you want to slide jewels or even cats around, there's something in the app store that you're sure to love.

Is Solving Slide Puzzles Good for Your Brain?

Puzzles are educational in many different ways. Slide puzzles are no exception. Some core reasons for this include:

  • Increasing confidence in your ability to complete tasks
  • Boosting your ability to detect patterns
  • Improving planning skills
  • Helping you consider all possibilities for different outcomes
  • Helping you learn goal-setting strategies
  • Keeping you mentally flexible when it comes to paths toward outcomes
  • Learning from your mistakes

However, puzzles are actually good for your brain's makeup and chemistry. They shape it via exercise and practice on multiple levels. Ultimately, those who complete a lot of puzzles aren't just more confident - they also are more ready to take what life throws at them.

They Provide Balanced Mental Exercise

There are two hemispheres of your brain that perform different functions. The left side of your brain is more analytical and logical. The right size is creative and whimsical.

Most exercises only work one side of your brain, but puzzles are unique in that they work both. You engage on multiple levels to give your brain an all-around workout.

This is a great way to improve critical thinking and bolster creativity all at once. You learn to use both sides of your brain in conjunction with one another. Therefore, you will train it to complete future tasks by using analytical and creative lenses simultaneously.

They Improve Spatial Reasoning

When you look at a sliding puzzle and try to find solutions, you're looking at how to fit blocks into certain spaces. It's a visual task that forces you to use spatial reasoning to find a solution.

This is awesome because it can bolster your sense of direction and make you more aware of the world around you. You'll be able to better visualize maps of towns or buildings. You also will be able to make your way around new spaces with heightened spatial awareness.

Better visual reasoning can also make you better in real-life scenarios like driving. You can more safely merge into different lanes and figure out where you're going. You'll also be great at organizing your house, putting things into boxes, and packing up your car for trips.

They Reinforce Memory

Because puzzles exercise many different cognitive abilities, studies show that they can protect your brain against memory loss. This is true in both the short term and the long term.

We use our short-term memory when we're completing a puzzle. We remember the different pieces and where they fit into place. In games like Klotski and some digital apps, you also will need to remember different shapes, sizes, and possibly colors.

This is great exercise for the areas of your brain that control short-term memory.

However, studies also show that puzzles like the Fifteen Puzzle form new connections within our brains. These connections persist with age, especially for those that continue solving puzzles throughout their lives. It may help to reduce brain damage in patients with Alzheimer's and dementia.

They Make You Smarter

Finally, puzzles are simply awesome because they can make you smarter. Puzzles improve reasoning skills and memory, but they also boost our concentration and attention span. This ultimately leads to an overall increase in the solver's IQ.

University of Michigan studies show the impacts of doing puzzles regularly. Those that did puzzles for at least 25 minutes daily were able to boost their overall IQ by 4 points. Those in the control group maintained a consistent IQ and did not see this increase.

So, if you're someone who's looking to get smarter or become more secure in your intelligence... solving slide puzzles just might be the way to go.

Can a Slide Puzzle Be Unsolvable?

While most slide puzzles have a solution, there are some instances when one is completely unsolvable. It's important that you know when this is true so that you don't set yourself to an impossible task.

Of course, a slide puzzle will be unsolvable if there is no open space. This is the most obvious sign that you shouldn't waste your time. You won't even be able to start since there won't be a place to shift the block.

However, odd-sized boards are another type of unsolvable puzzle that looks completely legitimate at first brush.

If a board has an odd number of inversions, the goal board still will have an even number of inversions. This makes it unsolvable. However, if a board has an even number of inversions, it is always solvable since the goal board also has an even number of inversions.

Tips for Solving Slide Puzzles the Right Way

Knowing the power of sliding puzzles is great, but you likely are wondering how to solve them. Luckily, there is a simple way to consistently solve a standard square board (3x3, 4x4, 5x5, etc). Basically, you need to start at the top left corner and work your way down, but there's a little bit more to it than that.

Solve the Top Row First

If you're solving a numeric puzzle, you can simply get to work. You already know what order they belong in. However, if you have an image-based slide puzzle, grab a piece of scrap paper and determine which piece should be in what position.

Assign them numbers based on their position. For example, the part of the image in the top left corner would be labeled "1." Write the number that they correspond to on the scrap paper grid.

At this point, your only goal should be to move Tile #1 into your top left corner. You should do this by any means necessary. Once it's in place, you don't want to move it ever again.

After that, you're going to arrange the rest of the top row besides the final 2 pieces on the right. If you're solving a 4x4 puzzle, this means positioning block #2. For a 5x5 puzzle, you'll need to get both #2 and #3 into position.

Make sure that there is an open position at the end of the top row. Then, move the tile next to it (the penultimate one in the top row) into the corner. After that, move that tile into the spot directly below the top right corner.

You can then move the final 2 top-row tiles into their positions in order. Move the tiles around until the open space is in the top right corner of the board. Bring the #3 tile into its space and then move the #4 tile into the top right corner.

This completes the first row of the sliding puzzle. You do not ever need to touch it again.

Move Onto the Left Column

You can skip this section if you are working on a 3x3 puzzle.

Once you're done focusing on the top, it's time to turn your attention to another edge of the puzzle: the left hand side. Note that your open space should currently be in the 2nd highest place on the right of the board. On a standard 4x4 puzzle, this is the "8" space.

You're basically going to do the same thing that you did in the top row. The difference is that you're working on a Y axis rather than an X axis. You could easily turn the puzzle around and solve it in exactly the same way that you did the top row... without touching the "1" block, of course.

But many people find that confusing and odd, which is okay!

Put all but the bottom 2 tiles in place on the left column. If you're working with a 4x4 grid, you don't need to do this step. Your puzzle will already look like this.

Take the last tile out of the left column and slide it over to the side. You can't have it there until the last 2 tiles are ready to be set together.

Then, move the penultimate tile into the bottom left corner. This will eventually move up to the space immediately above it. Then, move the final tile (that you intend to be in the bottom left corner) into the space directly right of its final position.

This is essentially what you did in the top row.

Then, move the last 2 tiles into their positions together. This completes the column. You never should touch it again for the remainder of the puzzle, just as you shouldn't bother with the top row again.

Treat the Rest as a Smaller Puzzle

Keep repeating the above steps until you have nothing but a 3x2 grid remaining. There will only be 5 tiles left to arrange.

At this point, the puzzle becomes slightly more challenging. Take the top left tile (of the 3x2 grid) and get it into the bottom left space. Properly positioning the leftmost column is always a great way to start.

You then can move the bottom-left tile to the space to its right. Then, move the leftmost remaining tiles into place. You're going to end this step with only a 2x2 puzzle in the bottom right hand corner.

From there, it's pretty straightforward! Slide the 4 pieces around until they're in position.

Congratulations! You did it!

Take Breaks Whenever Necessary

As with all puzzles, sliding puzzles can become slightly frustrating after a while. This won't usually be an issue with smaller puzzles, but when you have a large one to solve, you may get irritated if you try to do it in a single sitting. This is natural, but puzzles should be fun!

If you feel yourself begin to get annoyed, take a short break. Walk around and get some fresh air. Put on some music.

You'll feel ready to go back to the puzzle in no time. Your experience will greatly improve if you choose to do this.

What About Non-Square Slide Puzzles?

Up until this point, we've looked exclusively at how to solve square slider puzzles. But what if you have an uneven rectangular one? What if the grid is 4x5 or 5x6?

You can solve the puzzle in the same way. You just need to treat it like a differently-sized game.

Solve the top row and the leftmost column and continue working inward. Eventually, you'll be left with a 2x2 grid as you had at the end of the square puzzle.

Other variations of sliding puzzle games will have their own solving methods. If they're 3D or have unevenly-sized tiles, you will need to figure out unique ways to find solutions.

Find Slider Puzzle Solutions Today

Slide puzzles are an extremely popular puzzle model, which makes sense considering that they're a lot of fun. They take a classic board and clear objectives, spin them into tons of interesting variants, and give puzzlers the chance to ensure that all pieces align.

Now that you know what a slide puzzle is and how it works, it's time to get more information about different types of puzzles. PuzzleSeek is enthusiastic about educating interested parties about the many perplexing puzzles that they can enjoy solving. We have the best tips on everything from slide puzzles to jigsaw puzzles to Sudoku.

Check out our blog to learn more about what games you can purchase online. Then, contact us with any remaining questions that you have about finding the perfect slider puzzle for a rainy day.

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