Inside the World's Only Public Collection of Mechanical Puzzles

Jennifer Jameson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (cropped)
Jennifer Jameson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (cropped)

Calling all problem-solvers and puzzle masters: A library in Bloomington, Indiana, is home to the world's only public display of mechanical puzzles. The Jerry Slocum Mechanical Puzzle Collection can be found at Indiana University’s Lilly Library, which also houses rare books and manuscripts, including Queen Elizabeth I's Great Seal and an early printed copy of "The Star Spangled Banner."

The collection is named after Jerry Slocum, a Chicago-area native who started donating his personal collection of puzzles to the library in 2006. The library now has over 34,000 mechanical puzzles, which, unlike jigsaw and crossword puzzles, tend to feature interconnected pieces that must be physically manipulated in order to solve the problem. There are exceptions, though. One subset of mechanical puzzle called an “impossible puzzle” requires no movement at all; instead, the player must figure out how the puzzle was built.

An online database of the collection lets users search by the puzzle’s date of creation, designer, maker, or classification. The oldest item is a 15th-century Khmer iron lock from Cambodia that contains trick locks and keys. But according to Indiana State Library, puzzles weren’t always created for their entertainment value. In the second century BCE, for example, Romano-Celtic puzzle padlocks were used strictly for security purposes. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the puzzle emerged as a fun pastime.

In a YouTube video uploaded by the Indiana Daily Student, the collection’s curator, Andrew Rhoda, tries his hand at the “Gear Cube Extreme,” which looks like a Rubik’s Cube on steroids. “The puzzle is complicated by the addition of gears that move at half-turns while the rest of the puzzle moves at quarter-turns,” Rhoda says in the video.

Unless a particular piece is being conserved, visitors are encouraged to grab a puzzle and start playing inside the library’s reading room. “Mechanical puzzles are really hard to understand if you see them behind glass,” Rhoda told the student news outlet in 2017. “You can sort of understand what is going on with a mechanical puzzle if you look at it behind glass and read an exhibit label. But to really understand the idea behind a puzzle, you have to handle it. You have to play with it. You have to try to solve it.”

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You Can Now Buy Your Own Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak 

Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001).
Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001).
Warner Bros.

Harry Potter fans, prepare to go nuts. Toy group Wow! Stuff has officially come out with an invisibility cloak and pre-orders begin on July 1.

According to CNET, the cloak works like a green screen and uses an app to show the wearer disappearing in photos and videos. The user can then save the photos and videos to their phone and show everyone their vanishing skills. The toy company felt compelled to warn users that they won't actually disappear, which is hilarious but worth clarifying in case someone thought they now had access to invisibility cloaks and real magic.

The creators actually examined the original cloak used on Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, now housed at Leavesden Studio, to make sure it was as close to the real one as possible.

The cloak, which is not transparent to the wearer, comes in two different versions: The standard cloak costs $70 and includes a stand to situate one’s phone for pictures. The deluxe version, which costs $80, has a serpent-themed border and a tabletop tripod so you can really go wild with photos.

The cloaks are set for an August 1 release, and have already made an impression on toy lovers, winning Innovative Toy of the Year at Sweden’s Toy Awards.

[h/t CNET]

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