Sam Loyd’s “Donkey Rider” puzzle is over 150 years old. Three pieces, cut from a postcard, need to be arrange such that the riders are sitting properly on the donkeys. Deceptively simple!

Beyond cutting out the pieces from the sheet, you may not tear, fold, or cut the pieces to solve the puzzle.

I’m not going to give away the solution until you get a fair chance to give it a try for yourself. That would be like exposing a magic trick without you even getting the chance to enjoy a performance.

Download a printable puzzle and give it a try!


Barnum's Trick Mules

One version licensed to P.T. Barnum and distributed by the millions!

Hints To Help

I don’t want to prematurely give it away, so I’ve written some hints in “invisible ink”. Use your cursor to highlight and reveal the words.

Highlight for Hint #1: Stop bucking your responsiblity and take a good run at it.

Highlight for Hint #2: The donkeys will stand back to back.

Highlight for Hint #3: Flip for heads and tails. Head from one, tail from the other.

If you got it figured out, congratulations! If not, here’s the solution, courtesty of Wikipedia. (who clearly has no sense of mystery!)

I got stumped by Mel Stover

I was familar with the Donkey Rider puzzle. One day I stumbled upon this variation by Mel Stover, featuring clowns and zebras, and thought little of it. I printed it off and set it aside for months. It wasn’t until the day I cut it out and tried it, I realized… I have no idea how this puzzle works!

It’s subtly different. The zebras are mirror images of each other, whereas the original donkeys are simply rotated. As a result, the original solution to the puzzle does not work.

Mel Stover is a magician and even more famous as a puzzle creator. I know he’s clever enough to create a good puzzle, but part of me also wonders if he’s just pulling my leg!

Is this a fake puzzle? Is it meant to trip me up, being “that old donkey puzzle” until I look like fool,unable to put it together.

If anybody can figure out how to do Mel Stover’s puzzle, please let me know. Give me a hint! Tell me it is possible!

UPDATE: It can be done! See note below.

Mel Inspired a Magic Trick

Whether his con was intentional or not, it got me thinking about a puzzle which looks the same, but cannot be solved. What if you could switch one for another?

Show a person how to solve the puzzle, then slide the pieces towards them… and they are unable to do it. Like the cut/no-cut scissors, it’s a solve/no-solve puzzle.

With some graphic design wizardy I turned this into a full magic trick I call “Stubborn Donkey” and made the routine, and special printable pieces, available for Magician In Progress members.


Thanks to a hot tip from reader Bernie Amler, I was directed to a Max Maven article, “Just For The Mel Of It” published in Genii (Sept 1999). In it Max confirms my suspicion about Mel’s tricksy ways and speaks directly to this zebra creation;

Mel was especially fond of devious variants on old puzzles. The scenario would usually run something like this:

MEL: “Say, y’ever seen this one?”

VICTIM: “Um, yeah, I used to know that, years ago. Let me see, I think I sort of vaguely remember… “

And that was it. You were screwed. Because whatever you vaguely remembered, what Mel had given you was different. Oh, it looked the same — at least, you thought it did — but it wasn’t.

It’s nice to know, even many years after his passing, people (like me) are still falling into his mischevious traps.

So, yes, there is a solution to Mel’s puzzle… but I’ll make you do the leg work to find the answer.

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