The Puzzling Place, Keswick

After my visit to Keswick’s pencil museum I walked into the town centre to find The Puzzling Place, somewhere else which was featured in my ‘111 Places’ book. Described as ‘an indoor extravaganza of puzzles and optical illusions’, this was the place where you can shake your own hand, see water flowing backwards, slide uphill and stick yourself to the ceiling – it sounded quirky and fun, and hopefully more interesting than the pencil museum.
Having paid my £4.50 entrance fee the first thing I came to was the magic mirror so I stuck my hand through the centre to see what happened and there it was, my own hand and arm coming back at me. The Impossible Chess Set was a photo of a physical model made by Bruno Ernst based on a design by Swedish artist Oscar Reutersvard, while the praxinoscope was invented in France in 1877 by Charles-Emile Reynaud. This one was quite a pretty little thing and spinning the cylider made the static horses inside come to life.
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Illusion or reality – which do you see? This works equally well on a computer screen but it confused the camera – I actually photographed ‘reality’ but the camera lens saw ‘illusion’. The secret is in where you view it from – close up produces one word, viewed from a distance gives you the other. It doesn’t matter which way round you put the two wooden blocks in the circular frame, one always looks bigger than the other but they are actually both exactly the same size – and sometimes I wish I really was as tall and slim as I appear in the mirror, although I’m not sure about the stick-thin legs.
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Somewhere in this attractive beach scene you can find Napoleon – this figure/ground illusion apparently appeared shortly after his death in 1821. Once he’s been found he becomes incredibly obvious and can never be ‘lost’ again as once seen he can’t be ‘unseen’. The following illusion was devised by French artist Isia Leviant – stare at the centre yellow circle for long enough and the blue and green outer circles will appear to be moving, sometimes clockwise, sometimes anti-clockwise. Stare a bit longer and the yellow circle will appear to be getting larger.
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‘Melancholy Tunes on a Flemish Winter’s Day’ is by Flemish artist Jos De Mey and is an example of how the human brain creates something which looks three-dimensional out of a two-dimensional drawing. The suspended window frame was constantly turning and though it appeared to be solid it also looked as if the stick was passing through the centre of it.
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Although there were many more puzzles and illusions, including the Hologram Gallery, the best three were yet to come. Looking through the ‘window’ set in one wall of the Ames Forced Perspective Room it looked like any normal rectangular room though it was anything but. In the words of the caterpillar in Alice In Wonderland, referring to the mushroom he’d been sitting on – “One side will make you grow taller, the other side will make you grow shorter” and I only had to walk from one side of the room to the other to make myself grow or shrink. The inspiration for this room came from a place in New Zealand and it’s the only room of this kind in the UK.
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In the Anti-Gravity Room water flows at an unnatural angle, you can slide uphill, and you can stand at a slant and lean at a crazy angle without falling over, though being on my own there was no-one to take a photo of me doing it. The room also comes with a warning but even so I was quite unprepared for the effect it had on me. Two steps in and I was staggering against the wall as if I’d just drunk a barrel full of beer, I couldn’t walk straight at all, and when I went over to the far wall I was immediately sent hurtling back across the room; there are grab rails in several places and they really are needed. And yes, when I came out of there I did feel slightly nauseous although it passed within a couple of minutes and I was fine.
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The next room was one where I could have had a lot of fun if I hadn’t been on my own, especially when it came to taking photos, but fortunately there was cctv and a monitor screen on one wall so wherever I was in the room I could take shots of myself – and no, I’m not explaining how it all works.
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The Puzzling Place makes no secret of how everything works; the theory behind every illusion is explained underneath each one and there’s a perfectly logical explanation for every visual effect. It was a very interesting and quirky place to look round, much better than the Pencil Museum, and now having looked back at my photos I’ve had a few ideas for some better shots so that’s a place I may very well return to another time.

18 thoughts on “The Puzzling Place, Keswick

  1. That definitely is a fun place, children must love it although I’m not sure about the anti-gravity room. I could see Napoleon straight away and as you say once seen you can’t unsee him. I used to have a book of optical illusions similar to that one. Your final photos are pretty cool, you can come down off the ceiling now 🙂

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  2. This was a much more interesting place than the pencil museum, I spent twice as long in here as I did in there. I had it pretty much all to myself too but then it was a weekday and kids were still at school, I guess it could get busy at weekends and during school holidays. I wouldn’t go back to the pencil museum but I’ll certainly go back here as I really enjoyed it 🙂

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  3. You’ve made it sound so interesting and I am not surprised you want to go back. Sadly I don’t think I would do too well if I came with you – I get sick & nauseous in a rocking chair so I reckon I’d feel quite ‘ick’ if I spent too long in that place 😝

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  4. If you kept out of the anti-gravity room I think you’d be fine. That really was an odd room, it’s a shame there was no way of taking photos of myself as I could have got some really crazy ones – and I managed to get ‘drunk’ for free, people pay a fortune in pubs to get the same effect! 🙂 🙂

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    1. Wow! This place looks great. I’ve often thought of visiting but for some reason I just never got around to it. It’s on my list now. Although I might need to give the anti-gravity room a miss. X

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  5. There are many more things in there than I’ve included here but I couldn’t photograph them all. I think a certain small person would like most of them and she’s probably now old enough to understand the theory and explanations behind them. She would probably like the perspective room where she could make herself grow and you shrink – just remember to take a camera 🙂

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  6. Oh fab, I just recommended this place to my sis and family who were stopping at my caravan. They loved it. Wil and I went quite a few years ago now, it’s a great little place!

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  7. WOW, that’s crazy!! I have never heard or seen anything like that. I think it would be great to see, but I wouldn’t do too good in the gravity room 🙂 Have a nice weekend! xx

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  8. I’ve never heard of any other place like that in this country although there may very well be one somewhere. It was a very quirky place to look round and I’ve since had a few ideas for some really crazy photos so I may very well make a return visit in the not-too-distant future.

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  9. It’s a very quirky and fun place to look round, there’s so much more than I’ve put on here and it was far more interesting than the pencil museum which I went to first.

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  10. It took a second or two to find Napoleon but now I can’t lose him! I think my OH would love this – I’d find the anti gravity room too much: I fall over just standing up!! If we go up to the Lakes when we’re up north, we’ll definitely go there!

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  11. That’s the thing with Napoleon, once you’ve found him you’ll never lose him again 🙂 It’s a very quirky and fun place and certainly worth a visit.

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