Introduction: Buttonhole Puzzle

Picture of Buttonhole Puzzle

If you follow me, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been on a puzzle kick lately. After dropping many puzzles on my co-worker’s desk, he finally challenged me with a trick from his childhood days. His puzzle was extremely simple - a popsicle stick with a loop of twine attached on one end. He looped the puzzle to a buttonhole on my jacket. It looked SO simple to me; but after 5 minutes I was ready to grab a pair of scissors. I eventually figured out how to get the thing off my jacket. Needless to say, I felt pretty dumb for taking so long.

I built a few of my own and have tried them on multiple people (my hapless family.) The solution is not intuitive and my solution time wasn’t as bad as I thought…I AM trying to make myself feel better. Anyway, the puzzle can be made more challenging by placement. The most aggravating place is the top button on a dress shirt. This requires an awkward position while trying to solve it. For the pranksters, making one from metal cable or something that can’t be cut with scissors is especially devious.

Step 1: Tools/Materials


  • Drill
  • Drill Bit
  • Scissors


  • Rod (Pencil, K'nex, Dowel, almost anything)
  • String

Step 2: Rod

Picture of Rod

I built two versions. The first version was from a pencil. The second one was from a piece from a K'nex set. Drill a hole about 1" from the end. I used a 1/8" diameter drill bit.

Step 3: String

Picture of String

Feed the string through the hole and make a loop. When pulled tight, the loop should be about 1" from the other end. Somehow in life I missed the awesome knot tying boat. My basic knot slipped apart after I tied it; so I looked up this cool knot, also known as the Double Sheet Bend Knot. Follow the pictures to build your own. Note that I used rope for the demo. Anyway, use this knot (or something better) to tie the string together.

Step 4: Puzzle Is Finished

Picture of Puzzle Is Finished

Oh look, such a simple little thing to secretly slip onto an unsuspecting person's sweater/jacket/shirt.

Step 5: Installed

Picture of Installed

From the picture, can you figure out how to remove it? The obvious choice is slide the rod through the loop. With that, you will soon find out that there isn't enough slack in the loop to get the string around. Don't read any farther if you want to try to mentally solve it. For others, move ahead.

Step 6: Installation Tips

Picture of Installation Tips

You should practice on your own shirt so you can master the installation. As mentioned earlier, the best place to add the trick is on the upper buttons of a dress or polo shirt.

The trick is given away during the installation so the victim will need to turn their head or close their eyes for about 30 seconds. Again, practice so it only takes a short amount of time...people won't like you spending 5 minutes while you try to remember how to install it.

Step 7: Install - Step 1

Picture of Install - Step 1

The key to the trick is having fabric or something you can slide the string around. It won't work on a fixed hole such as a metal ring.

Pull the fabric as shown. This allows you to extend the length of the loop.

Step 8: Install - Step 2

Picture of Install - Step 2

Now that you have enough room, push rod into buttonhole.

Step 9: Install - Step 3

Picture of Install - Step 3

Push rod through the hole.

Step 10: Install - Step 4

Picture of Install - Step 4

Pull on the rod to remove the slack.

Step 11: Install - Step 5

Picture of Install - Step 5

Adjust the string to make it look nice. Now sit back and tell them that it's ONLY two pieces and the solution is SO simple. BTW, I found that people love that type of encouragement! At this point, make sure to block access to knives, scissors, machetes, etc.

Step 12: Removal

Picture of Removal

Reverse the process to remove the rod. The video at the end is probably the best way to see how it works.

Step 13: Video

In case it wasn't clear from the pictures, here is a video of the installation/removal process. Enjoy!


Wirelessgeo14 (author)2017-04-04


mrsmerwin (author)2017-04-01

I had one of these made from a pencil. Someone wrecked it by sharpening the pencil. I think I will use the metal rod idea.

mtairymd (author)mrsmerwin2017-04-02

Yeah, breaking the pencil or cutting the string are two ways to remove it :).

random_builder (author)2017-03-31

This is another one of your great puzzles! I was meaning to ask you, on the ball and string puzzle, is the ball a knex ball? I don't want to make it, I am just curious.

mtairymd (author)random_builder2017-04-01

Thanks. That plastic ball was in my kids old toy box. The box did contain K'nex and Legos but I don't think it was part of either. BTW, any block will work. I like the guy that drilled a hole through a golf ball :).

tomatoskins (author)2017-03-31

Hahaha I love it! I grew up with this puzzle though we always made it out of a metal bar.

mtairymd (author)tomatoskins2017-03-31

Thanks. I had never seen this puzzle until last week. It really irked me that it took so long to figure out the solution. I thought about making a metal version (rod and cable) and attach it to a co-worker before they enter a meeting :).

About This Instructable




Bio: I like to design and build random things.
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