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Sam Loyd - The Prince of Puzzle Makers

A Brief Biography

By Tony Fatseas (Edited by Dave Fisher)

Weight of a Brick

Weight of a Brick Puzzle

When it comes to puzzles there has to be one undisputed 'Prince of Puzzle Makers' and that is the world famous Samuel Loyd, who is said to have created well over 10,000 puzzles, many of which are as relevant and enjoyable today as they were when they first appeared over a century ago.

The great man was born on January 30th, 1841. Loyd's father was a real estate operator and his mother was a cousin of the most successful portrait painter of that era, John Singer Sargent, whose work included portraits of two US presidents: Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

Ventriloquist at the age of six

Some of the skills Loyd developed as a youngster and enjoyed throughout his life were magic, drawing, wood carving, and one that would become his foremost passion, chess. Loyd could mimic many sounds, from musical instruments to the cry of an animal. A story that Loyd confessed to many years later, is told of his mischief-making using ventriloquism at the age of six. One of the servants gave notice because she was so unnerved from hearing "voices" in the chimney every day when she went to clean the parlor.

Chess master ranked 15th in the world

Loyd began civil engineering studies but these were soon abandoned for the great game of chess, in which he excelled. He was successful against some of the best players in the country and, at one time, was ranked 15th in the world. His first chess problem was published by the New York Saturday Courier when he was only fourteen and during the next five years his chess puzzles made him well known throughout the chess world. By 1857, at the age of sixteen, he was the problem editor of Chess Monthly and was hailed as the leading American writer of chess problems, writing a weekly page for Scientific American Supplement.

Donkey puzzle earns him thousands of dollars

After accomplishing so much in the world of chess, Loyd, began to take a greater interest in mathematical puzzles and advertising give-aways. He saw this as a natural progression from chess puzzles and, to this day, his creativity and originality are unsurpassed. At the age of seventeen, he devised the 'Trick Donkeys' puzzle which earned him ten thousand dollars and became his first widely known creation. Deceptively simple-looking, its solution requires some deep thinking and clever maneuvering. To solve the 'Trick Donkeys' puzzle, the solver cuts out the three pieces and arranges them, without folding, so that the jockeys are riding the donkeys.

Over a billion copies distributed?

The puzzle was used as an advertising piece by the American showman P. T. Barnum, creator of Barnum's Circus. He bought great quantities each month to distribute before his show. He also paid Loyd to have the puzzles he distributed renamed 'Barnum’s Trick Mules'. It is believed, that in one form or another, over one billion copies of this puzzle have been distributed since its conception over a hundred years ago.

Deceptively simple...

Excited by his first puzzle success, Loyd now concentrated on producing similar puzzles that would not only have wide appeal but also provide him with an income. This set the precedent of what Loyd enjoyed most: devising puzzles that appeared so simple that people were compelled to attempt solving them only to spend hours, if not days, weeks or months, trying to figure them out. 'The Pony Puzzle' was another very successful puzzle and millions were produced. This puzzle requires the solver to cut out the pieces and arrange them in the form of a pony.

$1,000.00 prize was never won!

Loyd was also credited with the world famous, '15-14 Block Puzzle', which consists of 15 blocks with the 14th and 15th blocks reversed. The object is to put the blocks in numerical order by moving them around one at a time. This puzzle, according to Loyd, "drove the entire world crazy" and he offered a prize of $1,000.00 for the first correct solution which, incidentally, he never had to pay.

Next page: the greatest mechanical puzzle ever invented?

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