Sam Loyd, Puzzle King: Exhibition and Talk by Will Shortz

Indiana University Libraries 2015Did you miss the talk by Puzzlemaster Will Shortz at the Lilly Library on November 5th? Don’t worry! Here’s your chance to be a virtual guest in our beautiful library. You can view and listen to the full presentation by Mr. Shortz here.

This fall in the Main Gallery we are proud to present an exhibition on the nineteenth-century puzzle designer Sam Loyd. This is our first puzzle exhibition in the Main Gallery and was made possible with the gracious help of co-curator Will Shortz, who, in addition to being the editor of the New York Times Crossword, is also a collector of and expert on Sam Loyd and his puzzles. A number of the items on display were loaned by Mr. Shortz for this exhibition.

The nineteenth century was a fertile time for the development of puzzles, as can be seen from the puzzles featured in our Slocum Room exhibition. By the end of the century, there had been two major international puzzle crazes, and in the last years of the century there were a few notable puzzle designers. The most prolific of these designers was the American puzzle designer Sam Loyd.

Sam Loyd began his career as a puzzle designer at sixteen when he became the chess problem editor for Chess Monthly after having designed his first puzzle at the age of fourteen. Soon he was expanding his designs into other types of puzzles. The first puzzle he designed in this new direction was The Trick Donkeys produced around 1868. This puzzle came on a card that was divided into three pieces, two with donkeys and one with two jockeys. The goal was to place the pieces so that it looks like the jockeys are riding the donkeys. It seems simple to figure out but rarely does anyone find the answer without seeing the solution. This puzzle was followed up by many other puzzles, including The Pony Puzzle, The Puzzled Neighbors, and The Wonderful 31 Game just to name a few. These puzzles were featured on an early form of advertising called trade cards, which were cards placed on store counters to advertise products. Many of these were printed by Loyd himself from his own print shop in his hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey.

As the popularity of newspapers and magazines began to grow, Loyd started contributing to many publications. His puzzles appeared in puzzle columns for newspapers such as The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, The New York Journal, The Boston Herald, and The Chicago Record-Herald. One of his most well-known puzzle publications was his monthly column in Woman’s Home Companion which he published from 1904 to his death in 1911. The puzzles in these publications were gathered and published in 1914 in the collection titled Cyclopedia of 5,000 Puzzles, Tricks and Conundrums.

Come see the exhibition Sam Loyd: Puzzle King in the Main Gallery of the Lilly Library, which will be on display through December 20th. You can also pick up a free copy of The Trick Donkeys to test out your puzzle solving skills!

Andrew Rhoda

Curator of Puzzles

Jerry Slocum, donor of the Slocum Puzzle Collection (left); Will Shortz, New York Times Crossword Puzzle Editor (center); and Andrew Rhoda ,Lilly Library Curator of Puzzles (left)
Jerry Slocum, donor of the Slocum Puzzle Collection (left); Will Shortz, New York Times Crossword Puzzle Editor (center); and Andrew Rhoda ,Lilly Library Curator of Puzzles (left)

Author- Anne Haines

Web Content Specialist in the Discovery & User Experience Department, IU Libraries. I've spoken at events including edUi, Confab Central, Confab Higher Ed, IOLUG, ILF, the IU Libraries' Digital Library Brown Bag series, and the Libraries' In-House Institute. You can find me hanging out at the intersection of content strategy and librarianship, singing a doo-wop song under the streetlight. Follow me on Twitter: @annehaines