It’s nice to find some other visual specimen to rest the eyes upon in the ant nest that is late 19th century newspaper text—an illustration of crustacean jelly molds and cake tins, a diagram of celestial bodies in spring skies, the thoraxes of some silhouetted country home pitchers; anything to give a respite from that headachy, inky and—now—digitized type.
That's why when I came across these images on page 26 of an 1896 Sunday edition of the Eagle I felt as though I had found some uninhabited moon world, as though the editor of the Eagle had decided to throw in a sort of rest stop for the eyes between columns on steam mechanics, trans-Atlantic timetables, and advertisements for wicker rockers. These shapes, of course, are nothing special in and of themselves: just one chair shape and one bunny-eared shape. But after 25 pages of the Eagle they looked like minimal dress patterns designed for some mustachioed and mutton-chopped Victorian E.T.
I wanted to thank someone for these clean planes of pure and silent space. However, these were no mere meditative polygons but rather objects more confounding than any common string of typeset English: these were puzzles. And judging by the headline, these were Loyd’s Puzzles. But now, who was Loyd?
Aside from being a remarkable mathematical genius and champion of the New York Chess Club, we learn that Master Loyd began honing his extraordinary talents at an early age in Philadelphia, where he was born on January 20, 1841. We learn that his precocity knew no bounds: from sleight of hand tricks to ventriloquism even extending into the realm of uncanny mimicry. We also learn that as of 1896 Loyd had been living in Brooklyn for 12 years in Bedford-Stuyvesant at 153 Halsey Street--a regular old Brooklynite. When he came to the Eagle in 1896 as the paper’s contributing puzzler (for the paper already retained a puzzle editor proper who specialized in children’s riddles and enigmas) he was quite well known in puzzledom, even if for a somewhat dubious achievement. Here the Eagle explains: Sam Loyd “owns up to the great sin of having invented the '15 block puzzle,' and to which he solemnly avows there is no answer."
At the time when it was playing havoc with the brains of the country it was freely stated that he made $1,000,000 out of it. He says nobody made a cent. One large dry goods firm in New York sold 100,000 puzzles at 3 cents apiece, and it cost more than that to make them. Millions of them were sold, however. Mr. Loyd says he served on a grand jury shortly after the "15 puzzle" became the rage, and it was necessary to visit the jails, almshouses and insane asylums, and on a day when he was at one of the latter institutions the doctor gravely told him, having previously been informed that he was the inventor, that there were 1,500 persons there who had become "violently and hopelessly insane through trying to solve that awful puzzle." A column called Questions Answered, from an 1884 issue of the Eagle attests to the distress this “15 block puzzle” caused one Brooklynite identified only as “An Old Reader.”
But Loyd was not just out to drive puzzlers mad, he was also responsible for a number of eminently solvable and hugely popular puzzles and games: the Get off The Earth puzzle, the pony puzzle, and Parcheesi, to name just a few. In addition to his puzzling, which he claims was only a diversion, he was also an inventor who had been granted a number of patents, including among them some for steam engines. As the Eagle sums it all up, “Mr. Loyd is a remarkable man, and puzzle concocting is only incidental to a mind possessed of a wonderful mechanical bent.”
And now I think I’ll leave you with the task of solving those two benign-looking puzzles that first drew me into Loyd’s world. But, unlike the Eagle of Loyd’s tenure, we here at the Brooklyn Collection will not be awarding a prize bicycle to the first correct respondent—only our admiration and untiring respect.
The rules are simple: these are two seperate puzzles, each of which must be cut into four pieces of equal shape and size. We eagerly await your reply.