One of the most distinguished features of the Chen Clan Academy is the 11 pottery
ridge crests on the nine great halls of the academy. Each ridge crest has a theme taken
from a famous traditional drama. Some of the figures are exaggerated and comical. The
pottery ridge crest on the roof of the Gathering Hall is the largest and most delicate.
This ridge crest spans 27 meter, 2.9 meter in height, 4.26 meter high including the
plaster base, and contains a total of 224 figures. The scenes in this ridge crest include
"Celebrating the birth of gods", "Qilin giving people offspring", "The bearded man and
Li Jing" and others. Along with the figures are Yutang birds and peonys, representing
wealth and glamour, and shapes of melons and fruits, which represent an abundance of
offspring. On the tip of the ridge crests appear flying cods, half-dragon half-fish
creatures. These flying cod figures have tentacles reaching out from the roof to the
sky, making the profile of the building more elegant.
Incredibly amazing and intricate Mammoth
ivory Puzzle Ball. It has 15 separate and
freely moving layers, each within the other.
A fascinating and incredible piece of
artistry and workmanship.
A lot of work goes into these detailed
It comes on it's own teak display stand .

This Ball is made of 100% genuine
Mammoth Ivory Tusk. The extinct woolly
Mammoth roamed the earth before
10,000-40,000 years ago. Today we can
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Quiz #303 Results
Answers to Quiz #303
May 1, 2011
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1. It is composed of 15 individual ivory balls inside of each other.
2.  Chen Family Temple, Guandong, China
3.  National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
1.  What is unusual about this ball?
2.  Where can it be found?
3.  Where could you find a ball with similar features?

Please do not use Tineye.  I don't know if this image will show up in the Tineye
search engine or not as I cannot bring Tineye up at the moment.
here for a hint.
Submitted by Quizmaster Emeritus Dr. Stanley Read.

1. It is composed of 15 individual ivory balls inside of each other.
2.  Chen Temple
3.  National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Lozzaro Museum of Lapidary in Chicago,
and other places. Cheap ones can be found on eBay.
In 1894, in the late Qing Dynasty, Chen Ruinan and Chen Zhaonan, Chinese-Americans
who returned to Guangzhou, purposed the idea to raise money from all the Chen clans
to build a temple for the worship of their ancestors and a place for their clansman to
study for the examination. Therefore, the Chen Clan Academy was finished in 1894
with the money donated by Chen families in 72 counties of Guangdong Province as
well as some overseas family members. When the imperial examination system was
abolished in 1905, the Chen Clan Academy was changed into the practical school of the
Chens. Later in 1957, the Guangzhou City People's Committee approved the Chen
Clan's Academy as a Guangzhou City preserve. Then in 1959 the government
introduced a folk arts and crafts gallery into the temple. Now it serves as the
Guangdong Folk Art Museum.

Located at Zhongshan 7th Road, the Chen Clan Academy is a 13,200-square-meters
symmetric complex consisting of 19 buildings with nine halls and six courtyards.
Facing south, the complex forms around a north-south axis. A large collection of
southern China art pieces, for example, wood carvings and pottery, can be found in the
structure. The Chen Clan Academy complex exemplifies traditional Chinese architecture
and decoration style, and has influenced cultural and architectural developments
worldwide. It was added in the list of "Cultural Relics of National Importance under the
Protection of the State" in 1988.

The windows, door frames, and pavilions of the complex are lavishly decorated with
intricate carvings and sculptures. It is now the largest and best preserved and decorated
ancient architecture existing in Guangdong province. The decoration combines wood
carving, brick carving, stone carving, clay sculpture, ash sculpture, brass and iron
foundry, grotto, new year painting, and other art forms. The special historical, artistic,
and scientific aspects of the temple have made it an important attraction in Guangzhou.

The complex was built with donations of members of the Chen family who lived in the
72 counties of the Guangdong province. After its completion, the temple was used to
provide lodgings for Chen family candidates who came from all over Guangdong to in
order to prepare for the national examinations to be held in Guangzhou. Hence it was
also called the Chen Clan Academy.
Ivory and Art
Mammoth ivory tusk in the arctic regions like Siberia in Russia. Mammoth ivory
Figurines are absolutely legal worldwide.

Ball Diameter: 7.5 cm
Stand Height 6 cm, Width -6 cm

Price:  $2,200
The Chen Family Temple
Guandong, China
Comments from Our Readers
There are lots of puzzle balls out there. I was surprised when I searched, to see a fair
number for sale online, especially on ebay.  I remember seeing them for sale in shops in
San Francisco's Chinatown years ago.  

One one of the websites where I found a picture of this ball I read some of the
comments made below the photo.  Someone asked why it was called a puzzle ball.  The
answer given by another viewer was that the idea was to insert a long pin (also, often
ivory) all the way through the ball.  I tried to verify that answer elsewhere but wasn't
able to.

This quiz made me remember something I found in a catalog when I was shopping
for Christmas presents.  I tried to get it for a friend who collects elephants and no one
had one in stock.  I am including a link so you can see a cute but very simplistic
carving which made me think of these complex puzzle balls.

                                                                                         Milene Rawlinson
Reminds me of those Russian nesting dolls that I had as a child!              
Nicole Blank

I can't imagine the patience and skill required of the person who worked on this
beautiful puzzle ball.                                                                          
Venita Wilson

As for where could I find balls similar to this, my answer has to be “All over the
place!”  I live in San Francisco.  I’ve seen quite a few balls similar to this in
Chinatown.  Perhaps they weren’t as elegant, but they were just as intriguing.  Your
last question was too easy, so I’m suspecting that you really had a different answer in
Carol Farrant

I've never used Tineye - sounds interesting - and will go look at it now
(maybe it will help with my Concierge Where Are You? monthly contest).  Found
this by starting my search with submarine tentacles spheres and don't know
how I ever found it!                                                                          
Dorothy Nagle

N.B.  'Submarine tentacles spheres' - that's a new one on me.  You win this week's
prize for the most creative search terms.  - Q. Gen.

When I discovered this was a carving made from ivory I, like many, was very
disappointed because of the current threat of poachers depleting the elephant population
mainly to get their tusks. I did read that many carvings similar to this and sold to
tourists in the orient, are now made from a synthetic ivory. If true I feel a little better
about what appears to be a very clever and skilled art form.

They can have as many as 18 layers. It is referred to as a “puzzle ball” - the idea being
that you delicately insert a toothpick or quill=like object through an outer hole and try to
get through other holes to the other side of the sphere. ( kind of like we used to kid
about digging in the earth long enough to get to China) This particular carving is at the
Chen Family Temple in Guangzhou, China. Searches indicate these things really are a
dime (well not quite a dime) a dozen and you can find them at various web sites such
as “The Feng Shui Store”, The Puzzle Museum and “”. One Flickr photo
indicated the picture of a similar ball on a pedestal was taken at the Freer Art
Gallery - Museum in Washington. Another fine specimen was located at the Elliot
Stevens Ltd. Store in the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. I say “fine”
because the price tag is $45,000.00.                                                      
Don Draper

Carved ivory ball brought up chinese puzzle balls. Adding dragon gave the Chen Family
Temple. Along the way learned how the "ivory" was made and how the ball was cut.
Very interesting.                                                                             
Arthur Hartwell
How Collier Solved the Puzzle
I recognized that it was a set of 'carved ivory nested balls' so I
googled that phrase, and the first item was your photo That page gave
enough info to chase down the answers to your questions.

Collier Smith
More from Milene
When I submitted my answer I neglected to answer the part about what is unusual
about the ball.  It is several layers of balls carved from the inside out.  Each one is
unattached to the others so they rotate freely.  I could not find out how many layers in
this one.  I can count at least four.

When I was looking this evening (trying to find how many layers in this one) I found a
puzzle ball for sale on  It was made from Hong Kong ivory not elephant
ivory.  That set me wondering where in/on Hong Kong does ivory grow.

I quote from several websites, 'Sometimes called 'Synthetic Ivory' or 'Mandarin Ivory'
it does not come from elephants, and therefore is perfectly legal to own and sell. It also
does not harm any animals or endangered species.

Ox bone is the most used substance, ground into a fine powder and mixed in with
synthetic resins specially formulated to give the look, feel and weight of real ivory.

I am not sure how using ox bone does not harm any animal, I am having difficulty
picturing a boneless ox.  It certainly would have problems getting around.  I guess,
since Hong Kong is a crowded city, boneless oxen would not wander around
bothering people so maybe they are preferable.

Milene Rawlinson
The Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art
Chicago, IL
Carved Ivory Ball-in-ball
China, 19th century
Mammoth ivory
14" H. - 71.8291

This intricately carved puzzle ball, or
ball-in-ball, has 42 concentric layers. The
exterior carving is of flowers which
represent the four seasons. The base is
carved in the shape of
a dragon.
Further Images of the Chen Family Temple
Interior Arch
Decorative Roof
Brick carvings in the Chen Clan Academy
lie on the inner walls of each great halls.
The one on the east wall features the old
story "Liu Qing taming 'the Wolf'", with
more than 40 figures in the picture,
describing the lively scene of the man Liu
Qing taming the wild horse from the west
named "the wolf" in the time of Northern
Song. Each figure has a distinguished
facial expression and pose.
Temple Interior Showing Ridge
Sculptures in the Temple
Flying Cod Sculpture over Entrance
Pottery on the Ridge
Brick Carvings
Busacca Gallery
2010 Hyde St.
San Francisco, CA

Intricately hand
carved ivory puzzle

Description: Intricately
hand carved ivory
puzzle ball Incredibly
beautiful and intricate
Chinese Puzzle Ball. It has a number of freely moving layers, each
within the other. A fascinating and incredible piece of artistry and
workmanship. A lot of work goes into these detailed designs. It
comes on it's own ivory display stand. Beautiful intricately carved
antique ivory on display. The carved nested balls are particularly neat.
this is a old ivory ball within a ball within a ball. Chinese carved ivory
puzzle ball sculpture. We can count five balls, but there may be more.
The inner balls are pierce carved with tiny stars. The outside ball
measures 2 inches in diameter, and is pierce carved with tiny objects.
The ivory sculpture is Beautiful.
Price: $695
Item Number: 1240
Signature: Unsigned
everything but the

Carved ivory
puzzle ball
pendant and

Antique Chinese
Elephant Ivory Carving
Dragon Puzzle Ball
Nine Levels on Puzzle
Ball Plinth
China. Circa: Early
20th Century
Plint: H 6.75
in.(17cm), W 2.75
in.(7cm), D 2.75
Ball: 3 in.diameter.
Height: 9.75 in.(25cm)
Condition: Excellent!
Carving Balls within Balls

To create latticed balls within balls, the craftsman first carves a
perfectly spherical ball and draws a pattern on its surface. He then
bores conical holes in it at suitable locations to match the surface
pattern. The cones meet at the centre of the sphere.

He then marks the inside of each hole to indicate the number of balls
to be cut out. Starting with the innermost, he cuts out each ball using
a curved blade. The rest of the balls are then cut out working from
the inside out. This has to be judged by feel as the carver cannot see
what he is carving.

The record to date is 42 balls carved out of a block of ivory 15cm
across by Weng Rong Liao in 1977.