A Puzzle from Our Past

Thinking back to my childhood, I remember having a “15 Puzzle” and loved to play it in my spare time. It was small, could be carried in a pocket or purse, and was addictive.

Recently, I was going through a stack of old catalogs to throw away and found a 15 Puzzle for sale, but expensive. In the old days, the puzzles were made of little wood pieces. The one in the catalog was a metal holder with plastic pieces.

The puzzle was “invented” by Noyes Palmer Chapman, a postmaster in Canastota, NY, who is said to have shown friends, as early as 1874, a precursor puzzle consisting of 16 numbered blocks that were to be put together in rows of four, each summing to 34. Copies of the improved Fifteen Puzzle made their way to Syracuse, NY by way of Noyes’ son, Frank, and from there, via sundry connections, to Watch Hill, RI, and finally to Hartford, CT, where students in the American School for the Deaf started manufacturing the puzzle and, by December 1879, selling them both locally and in Boston, Mass. Shown one of these, Matthias Rice, who ran a fancy woodworking business in Boston, started manufacturing the puzzle sometime in December 1879. The game became a craze in the U.S. in February 1880, Canada in March, Europe in April. Noyes Chapman applied for a patent on his “Block Solitaire Puzzle” on February 21, 1880.

Tonight I went to my favorite online store, Amazon.com and unbelievably I found they sell the metal-cased type and the full plastic type. I just could not resist the walk down memory lane so I ordered the cheaper model – the plastic one. I admit I love puzzles and go through Sudoku puzzle books as fast as the Family Dollar Store can put a new one on the shelf. I have gotten so experienced at it, I can get through the hardest (four star) ones in 10 minutes or less.

We can’t turn back the clock on aging, but we can sometimes find things from our childhood that remind us of the good ole’ times!

2 thoughts on “A Puzzle from Our Past”

  1. These are also available as apps on smart phones; as I recall, I had one on my iPhone, not a standalone one, but there was one that came with a game app. They are also available as games that makes a picture once one completes them correctly.

    There are other math puzzles such as Gail mentioned, using as big a square as one wants; one of the more interesting ones is to fill it with prime numbers, such that the sum of each row and column is the same. If you want to try one, cheat and use 1 (one) as the first prime number [usually, by definition, 1 (one) is not considered a prime number].

  2. I remember these puzzles very well. They were a common give away at all the street carnival games in my youth. Kind of a forerunner to the Rubik’s Cube. I also recall a computerized version making its appearance on early home computers. Like bent nails and all other manipulative puzzles, I wasn’t worth a crap at them.

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