As President Bush worried about Iraq at Camp David in December, he was also struggling in vain to untangle a wrought-iron puzzle called the "Dirty Dog."

Finally, he sat down and wrote the Long Island makers: "OK. I admit defeat on Dirty Dog - so there! Please hasten the answer. Enough damage to pride and morale has been done already."He even enclosed a self-addressed, stamped envelope, and the makers of the devilish tangle were happy to oblige him with illustrated instructions on getting the thing apart.

A White House spokesman confirmed Thursday that Bush had cried uncle. But the president can take heart. He's not the first to get stuck trying to figure out the iron toys called "Tavern Puzzles."

Don Frislid, who runs Tucker-Jones House Inc., in East Setauket, N.Y. , said his company crafts 12 of the puzzles, replicas of those fashioned by blacksmiths in the old days to amuse their friends, and peddle them around the country.

With pieces 6 to 8 inches long, the puzzles consist of metal rings and angles all strung together. The player must untangle them and get the "object piece" - "without force or trickery."

The dozen puzzles are graduated from "simple and entertaining," to "complexity on an intermediate level," to "very difficult."

Included with each puzzle is a life-ring for the lost: admit defeat and write for help.

The one that stumped Bush looks like a series of horse bits with a ring attached. It is in the "real challenge" class.

"Dirty Dog is difficult, but it's not the most difficult," Frislid said Thursday.

He said he had no idea how Bush got the puzzle.