The One-Handed Knot Puzzle





Introduction: The One-Handed Knot Puzzle

About: I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been hooked on making stuff ever since. My name is Sam and I'm a community manager here at Instructables.

This is a great little challenge puzzle that's perfect for all ages.

It consists of a small wooden ball on the end of a thin, pliable rope. The challenge is to successfully tie a knot in the rope with one hand, in one second or less.

Read on to see how to make this little puzzle, and for some tips on how to successfully perform the challenge.

Step 1: Not As Easy As It Looks, Trust Me!

The GIF above demonstrates the challenge being performed.

Here's the video from which I created the GIF, in case you're curious. I've practiced this a lot, and have to admit that it's not as easy as it looks!

Step 2: Make One

The top photo shows the finished rope and ball.

There are only a few things you need to make this:

  • thin and pliable rope*
  • a 1-inch wooden craft ball
  • paint if desired
  • glue

*I tried a variety of ropes and cordages to make this, and nothing seemed to work as desired except for 3/16" synthetic clothesline which I found at a local superstore. (Paracord did not work--even with inner strands removed--and neither did some plasticky poly-braid and nylon stuff I tried.)

Step 3: Prepare the Line

Cut a 28" to 30" section of the clothesline and pull out the inner core. This will slide right out and can be discarded.

Tie a simple knot on one end of the line to keep it from fraying. This knot also gives you something to grip when trying to do the puzzle.

The non-knotted end will be glued into the wooden ball. To make this a little easier you may wish to fuse this end of the line, but it is not absolutely necessary.

To fuse the end, heat it up with a lighter for about 5 seconds until the frayed edge gets melty. Then quickly lick your thumb and finger and roll the melty end together into a point.

A fire-free option would be to simply roll a small bit of masking tape tightly around the non-knotted end. Trim as needed so any taped part will be hidden within the hole of the wooden ball.

Step 4: Paint and Glue

To paint the ball, I put it on a dowel and shot it with some spray paint. Any paint will work, though, or no paint at all. You could even just color it with a marker.

The non-knotted end of the line was glued into the hole in the craft ball with a little squirt of hot glue. Many kinds of glue would work; hot glue is just quicker.

The rope and ball is completed!

Now try to tie a knot in the rope with only one hand, in one second or less.

Go on, give it a try!

Step 5: Warning: Spoiler Alert!

The next step shows some specific tips on how to tie the knot.

If you'd rather not see the tips at this point, DO NOT READ THE LAST STEP.

I recommend making one and trying to figure it out on your own, which is much more fun than just being told how to do it.

Read on . . . if you must ;)

Step 6: Tips

So you're going to just read the tips, without even making one? Well now, where's the fun in that!?

You've been warned, so here it goes anyway . . .

The truth is, there's actually more than one way to cast a knot into the line.

My father-in-law swings the ball upward (the same motion as used for those old cup-and-ball toys), and then sort of throws a loop-lasso at it, through which the ball drops resulting in a knot. I can't seem to do it that way with any kind of repeated success.

The way I tie the knot is by gently tugging the line straight upward, and then whipping my hand downward turning my wrist over quickly to create a loop in the line. This loop is cast forcefully into the lower section of line, right above the ball. The loop swings under and around the ball, creating a knot.

This is all done in one quick motion. See the photos and notes for additional details.

If you make one, I'd love to hear about your experience in the comments. Have you seen this puzzle before, or do you know of another way to tie a one-handed knot?

As always, thoughts and feedback are encouraged.

Thank you for taking a look!



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    26 Discussions


    2 years ago

    That is super cool. I did it on my first try. Still not exactly sure how but it is a similar knot/trick to one I learned tying a knot on your wrist without letting go of the string on either end or letting your hands get within 12 inches of each other. The hard part was making the monkey's fist so that I would have a ball on the end. Well, the hard part was mastering it... I took more than several tries to get is consistently. In the immortal words of Mr. Miyagi, "Beginner's Luck."

    3 replies

    Thanks! Nice to hear you made one and it worked!

    Now the fun is demonstrating it to someone, and handing it to them to try. They'll try and try and try . . . and maybe eventually figure it out :)

    I had one of my students trying it a couple of minutes ago and I am sure all my scouts will want to master it!!! A great activity on a campout where there is no reception and all batteries are dead (I can't wait.)


    Little puzzles like this are perfect for scout campouts, family reunions, and similar settings. Great comments, thank you!

    OMGosh!! It's looks so easy yet so hard at the same time.

    I had a Chief in the Navy that could tie a bowline one handed. We spent many an hour trying to figure it out but never did :~(

    My rock climbing teacher in high school (mid 1970's) said we should be able to tie a bowline with one hand, while blindfolded, in a cold shower.

    I have no idea how to do this at all ?

    That's some sweet ninja move... Will try it out. Looks very impressive.

    cant wate to make one for work thank you


    2 years ago

    how about one wrap around wrist, grab tail, pull?

    Used to see this on Gunsmoke, Chester would stand around and do this waiten for Mr. Dillon

    1 reply

    Very cool! I first saw this puzzle from my father-in-law many years ago. Not sure where he picked it up. Probably from Gunsmoke! :)

    I do it every year with Christmas lights when I put them in the box they come out tied up in a knot


    2 years ago

    Looks fun!

    Actually, I can tie a Bowline around my waist with one hand; not in a second, but pretty quickly. Maybe I should I'ble it...

    2 replies

    Great idea! I think you should create an Instructable on the bowline, its the knot that can save your life...

    Yes indeed, you should make an instructable on that! :)