Hedgehog in the Cage

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Hedgehog in the Cage, one of the many variants.
Two Hedgehogs in an exhibition.

Hedgehog in the Cage (in Czech: Ježek v kleci) is a mechanical puzzle popular in the Czech Republic which features prominently in the "Dobrodružství v temných uličkách" (Adventures in the Dark Alleys) trilogy of adventure stories by Jaroslav Foglar. The puzzle consists of a small sphere with protruding spikes of various lengths contained within a cylinder perforated with holes of different sizes. The challenge posed by the puzzle is how to release the sphere (the hedgehog) from the cylinder (the cage).


The first known model of the puzzle, patented by Clarence A. Worrall.

Although known mainly through the children's stories written by the Czech Jaroslav Foglar in the 1940s, Hedgehog in the Cage has its origins in the United States. The first known model of the puzzle was patented by the American inventor Clarence A. Worrall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 7 April, 1896.[1][2] It has been suggested that Worrall's invention was inspired by a Japanese puzzle called the Snake and Star, which appeared in the catalogue of the games manufacturer Selchow & Righter on 25 May, 1895.[1] The principle of both inventions is similar: solving the puzzle involves finding the correct position and angle that allows the object ("the hedgehog" or "the star") to be removed from its entrapment in the cage or the snake.

The Hedgehog puzzle seems to have arrived in Czechoslovakia around 1935. It was produced at a toy factory in Roudnice nad Labem.[3] It was not until 1940 that it achieved its remarkable level of popularity, when Jaroslav Foglar published "Záhada hlavolamu" (Mystery of the Conundrum), the first part of his sequence of stories about the Rychlé šípy (Rapid Arrows[4]) boys' club.[note 1] Rychlé šípy comics series began to appear in the magazine Mladý hlasatel (Young Herald) in December 1938, and gradually became the most popular series in the history of the Czech comics.[5] However, their adventures involving the Hedgehog in the Cage are written in the standard novel form.

Mystery of the Conundrum[edit]

The Hedgehog in the Cage plays a key role in the story and its sequels in the trilogy, "Stínadla se bouří" (The Shades are Revolting) and "Tajemství velkého Vonta" (Secret of the Supreme Vont). The novel tells the story of a young apprentice locksmith Jan Tleskač, who invents a flying bicycle. Tleskač also owns a copy of the puzzle, which he refers to as the "Hedgehog in the Cage". He succeeds in removing the hedgehog from its cage, splits the sphere in two parts and hides the plans of his invention inside it before reuniting the two hemispheres and replacing the Hedgehog inside its Cage. Shortly after, Tleskač meets his death in mysterious circumstances (falling from the tower of St Jacob's church).

The masked "Supreme Vont" alias "Široko" (Scirocco) , holding the Hedgehog in the Cage in his left hand. A screenshot from the TV series Záhada hlavolamu (1969).

Later the boys from the Rychlé šípy club appear on the scene. They have decided to publish a magazine, Tam-Tam, and in search of interesting stories to include in it they stray into Stínadla (The Shades), the neighbourhood where Tleskač used to live. They discover an old sexton at St Jacob's, who remembers Jan Tleskač and tells them about the Hedgehog. They manage to infiltrate the Vontové (Vonts), a secret society set up by another group of boys from Stínadla. Following Tleskač's death, his Hedgehog had become the society's symbol of leadership. The Rychlé šípy find Tleskač's diary and discover the secret of what is hidden inside the puzzle, including the instruction of how to remove the Hedgehog from the Cage.

They make friends with Ota Losna, a candidate for leadership of Vonts and the title of "Supreme Vont". Losna promises that if he wins the election, he will let the Rychlé šípy borrow the Hedgehog. He does win, but the Hedgehog falls into the hands of the father of Mažňák, Losna's opponent in the election. Mažňák Sr. was Tleskač's teacher in the locksmith's workshop, and he may have been responsible for Tleskač's death, as he was driven by the desire to gain possession of Tleskač's invention. During the dramatic climax of the story, Mažňák Sr. accidentally falls into a drain and loses the Hedgehog. Shortly after that he dies, poisoned by effluent he has ingested. The Hedgehog in the Cage, along with the secret of the invention of the flying bicycle, is lost underground in the drain.[6]

Cultural references[edit]

From the 1940s onwards, the puzzle was manufactured in Czechoslovakia in a variety of forms and sizes. It became particularly popular in 1969 when Czechoslovak Television broadcast a TV series based on the novel.[7]

The Removing the Hedgehog from the Cage World Championship has been held annually in the Czech Republic since 2000.[8]

In 2010, an exhibition was held in the Galerie jedné věci gallery in Prague to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the novel's publication. 70 variants of the puzzle were displayed in the exhibition. Among them was a golden Hedgehog in the Cage and Tleskač's bicycle.[9][10][11][12]


  1. ^ The first edition of the novel was published in sequels in a popular magazine Mladý hlasatel (Young Herald) from 1940.


  1. ^ a b "Americko-japonský hlavolam je českým fenoménem" (in Czech). novinky.cz. 2011-04-07. Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  2. ^ "Patent number: 558009". Google Patents. Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  3. ^ "Ježek v kleci" (in Czech). Hospodářské noviny. 4 June 2010. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  4. ^ Štenclová, Berta (5 January 2009). "Immortal Rychlé šípy (Rapid Arrows)". Portal of Prague. Archived from the original on 25 May 2011. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  5. ^ Leschtina, Jiří (17 December 2008). "Rychlé šípy stále žijí. Legenda ze dvou stran" (in Czech). Hospodářské noviny. Retrieved 10 October 2011.  ("...psát o autorech a okolnostech vzniku nejslavnějšího českého komiksu je nošením dříví do lesa...")
  6. ^ based on the plot of the book: Foglar, Jaroslav (2003). Záhada hlavolamu. Prague: Olympia. ISBN 80-7033-779-6. 
  7. ^ "Záhada hlavolamu (TV seriál)" (in Slovak). CSFD.cz. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  8. ^ "V Praze se koná mistrovství světa ve vyjímání ježka v kleci" (in Czech). Czech Radio. 28 November 2009. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  9. ^ "Záhadu hlavolamu připomíná po 70 letech 70 ježků v kleci" (in Czech). Czech Television. 1 September 2010. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  10. ^ ""Nebýt to Rychlé šípy, asi bych to nedělal," říká Marko Čermák" (in Czech). Czech Television. 19 September 2010. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  11. ^ "Výstava Rychlých šípů: Sedmdesát ježků v kleci a Tleskačovo létající kolo" (in Czech). Hospodářské noviny. 2 September 2010. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  12. ^ Zatorsky, Jan (30 August 2010). "Legendární Rychlé šípy si přinesou sedmdesát ježků v kleci" (in Czech). Týden. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 

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