The Origin of Puzzometry Puzzles
I've been asked many times how I came up with Puzzometry Puzzles. I figured, it's finally time to share that story in a blog post!
Puzzometry Puzzles were 'officially' launched on Kickstarter way back in the fall of 2014, but the true original of Puzzometry Puzzles started a few years earlier during the summer of 2012. Here's the story!
I've always been a tinkerer, a creator, a builder and all-around gear-head. A friend of mine is also cursed with those traits. He and I would always find ourselves tinkering around in the shop designing, cutting, welding, building (not to mention: burning, exploding and breaking) things in the evening. I don't remember exactly how we stumbled upon it, but somehow we discovered that there was a lady who lived just a few miles north of us who had this really cool, expensive and new (to us) tool called a laser cutter! I'm not sure that I had heard of a laser cutter prior to that summer. But if there's a chance that I can see (and possibly even USE) a big, bright powerful beam of light to zap and burn through something: SIGN. ME. UP!!! We quickly called the lady and scheduled a time to come and visit her shop.
That afternoon we drove to her home and I was somewhat surprised that she had this cool, amazing tool in her garage right next to her pool and her home in a regular, suburban neighborhood! Neat! She had bought the laser cutter and started a home-based business of making creative items for her customers (signs, decorations, crafts, etc.). She quickly showed us some of the cool things that she could make. She had various customer projects laying around the shop...some finished, some yet-to-be finished. It was in that moment that my mind starting wandering with the following question: What can I make with this amazing, new tool?
During the following several days my mind was exploding with all sorts of ideas that I previously had no way to make (or at least not EASILY make). One of the ideas that bubbled to the top of my idea-queue was that it might be cool to laser-cut a map of the United States! We've all seen those cheap-ish cardboard map puzzles that kids all over the country use to learn geography, right? I had the idea that maybe one of these could me made out of a more durable, water-proof material. Could I make one out of stainless steel? aluminum? plastic?
I quickly learned that the commercially available laser-cutters (like the one we saw in that garage) couldn't cut through stainless steel or aluminum (darn it!!), but it could cut through plastic! We learned that it could cut through 0.25" thick acrylic, but couldn't cut anything much thicker than that. "Ok", I thought, "I can make this cool map-puzzle out of acrylic!" Next, I started to learn about what type of software was needed to make the files needed by the laser-cutter. I quickly learned that the CAD software that I had access to at the time would make it a rather long process to manually draw a map of the United States. As a result, I started to think about other ideas for puzzles. I started playing around with different shapes and geometries. Along the way, I learned a new word: tessellation. A few days of exploring various options in CAD and I came up with my very first puzzle! I had no idea at the time that this design would morph and evolve and grow into what we now know as Puzzometry, but I suspect you can see some similarities, right?
This puzzle was designed by tessellating groups of circles (with the weird-shaped pointy things in between adjacent circles) together with the end result being a cool-looking, interlocking maze of interesting shapes. As soon as I finished the CAD for this puzzle, I couldn't wait to actually get the the file on to the laser cutter! Before you know it, I had the following puzzle in my hand!
This first puzzle was about 10.5" x 7.5", had 14 pieces and took perhaps 20 minutes or so to cut out. I couldn't wait to get home that evening and actually play-test it! I quickly learned a couple of things about this particular puzzle. 1) even though it had "only" 14 pieces, it was INSANELY difficult! Way too many pieces and tons and tons of possibilities, with only 1 of them being the correct solution, and 2) those weird-shaped pointy things between the circles have REALLY sharp points on them! They were so sharp in fact, that they were nearly dangerous. They could really draw blood on your fingers!
I decided to try to tackle the first problem first. How can I make it slightly less "INSANELY difficult" while maintaining a reasonable challenge? Well, my first attempt at that was to literally just tape a few of the pieces together (the tape is actually still visible in the picture above). This resulted in fewer total pieces and that actually helped. The puzzle was at least solvable within a reasonable amount of time. "Ok! Progress!", I thought!
Now, on to problem two: those pesky sharp points. How do I make those corners less dangerous! Well, unfortunately, I couldn't come up with a way to tessellate circles without having those "weird-shaped pointy things". I tried tons and tons of different ideas and I just couldn't find a way to eliminate the pointy corners while also keeping in the spirt of tessellation. Ultimately, I decided to move away from circles.
With just a bit of trial and error, I finally settled on tessellating octagons! Those pointy shapes could then be replaced with small squares and be much safer. I scaled the size of the puzzle down to about 7.5" x 5.5" and rounded the corners of the frame and the very first Puzzometry (Original) prototype was in my hands!
I further refined the design over the next couple of years and added Puzzometry Jr and Puzzometry Squares to the Puzzometry Family. In late 2014, my work schedule opened up a bit and I launched the project on Kickstarter, raised over $20,000, shipped to 21 countries and Puzzometry was born! Coincidentally, I ultimately decided to keep the number of pieces to 14. Yup, Puzzometry (Original) is STILL insanely difficult...just like the prototype!
In the years following the initial Kickstarter Project, I designed 4 additional Puzzometry puzzles and launched them during two additional Kickstarter Projects: Puzzometry Hex, Puzzometry Steps, Puzzometry Six, Puzzometry Jr2.
Puzzometry has turned in to a very fun side gig over the past several years. I've learned tons and had lots of fun. I've received immeasurable satisfaction with bringing an idea from concept, to early prototype, to iterations of prototypes, to finished product and finally to a brand new 7-member family of products that are on the market and available for sale all the while getting some patents and trademarks! Cool, huh?
(side note: Nearly a decade later, my mind STILL wanders to the idea of making a US Map puzzle. I suspect I'll end up making one of those....eventually!)