After the sparse developments of 1983, by 1984 we were settling in comfortably to being a small game company, with one permanent helper, and a widening line-up of shows, including participation in the Maryland Renaissance Festival for the first time that year.
George Orwell was never far from our awareness1984 was, after all, his year. The spectre of his totalitarian society seemed safely far away, though by a decade later the spread of the Internet and its interwoven data stream made his vision prophetic. Twenty-five years later linked-up computers with mikes and webcams make watching you technologically a reality.
Back in tranquil 1984, however, we were coming across some things old and some things new, and our print catalog swelled by a few pages. A website was not even a futuristic dream. Below we list the new acquisitions and additions of gamepuzzles that hopped on board that year, and they are with us still.
We could afford only black and white printing, and our typesetting was far from the versatility of today's spiffy word-processing programs. All the texts of our catalogs and rulebooks, in fact, Kate created on an IBM Selectric typewriter ("strike-on composition"metal hitting inked ribbon and leaving an impression on paper). Illustrations were drafted in the same antediluvian way, with pen and ink and ruler on paper. Headings were laboriously pasted in one letter at a time from adhesive Formatt sheets, a technique that was state-of-the-art then but has joined the dodo in extinction.
Nostalgia is priceless.
We met a puzzle designer/genius/entrepreneur, Leonard Gordon, at a puzzle party and became fascinated by what he had done with "spherical close packing" three sizes of Pyramid puzzles had strangely clumped balls that fit only one way (more or less) to form a pyramid. Ever the alert salesman, Len made us see the wisdom of adding his long-established (1971 or so) "Gordon Bros." puzzles to our product line. Over the years the pyramid puzzles as a group (left to right: Giant, Perplexing, Big, on molded plastic bases) became one of our bestsellers, and we started giving them deluxe wood bases and, later, stylish layered acrylic bases, with crystal-clear pieces instead of Len's original bright colors. (Photo swiped from Bob Stegmann's Puzzle Page.) The 25th anniversary models in 2009 sported bases with silver trim.
A few years later Len discontinued making the middle size, the square-based "Big" pyramid, but for now we had a happy trio. Len confessed that the Big pyramid was his dumping ground for extra pieces and that about 8 different versions were loose in the world. That explained why his customers would write to us for solutions to those!
To fix the problem of having extra pieces, Len abruptly changed the mold that made the parts for the three puzzles and wiped out the Big pyramid altogether, with no remorse. And when Len, still later, sold his entire puzzle business, including the tooling, there was no appeal against finality. If you're one of the lucky puzzlers who have a Big pyramid in their collection, enjoy knowing that you own a rarity, a vanished species.
In 1988 Len had the brainstorm of making another eight-piece ball pyramid puzzle that made four different shapes, including one like the extinct Big pyramid. That's a story for 1988, when we introduced Warp-30 and proudly made it until 2018, when its parts ran out.
By 2017 we ran out of all pyramid parts and bid farewell to the entire line of Gordon Bros. ball pyramids. It was the end of an era.
When Dwayne Mears read about us in Games magazine, it occurred to him that maybe he could interest us in a game he had created in his student days as a college assignment in design. And he did, and we added a second game and a series of solitaires, including one that Dwayne invented. Colormaze was published 10 years after Dwayne first handed it in as homework. It was an instant hit with both families and teachers.
Now this was before we discovered laser-cut acrylic, so this early edition had wood squares, laboriously handpainted in six colors and laser-cut by our friends at LAI. The scorched edges took a lot of cleaning and retouching, but the visual effect was that of colors hovering above the black game mat. Cool!
After this first edition sold out, we were able to substitute laser-cut acrylic colors, gleaming and smooth, slick and modern. Do we miss the rustic look of streaky paint and the dogged labor? Not much.
Seven years later we incorporated an entire anthology of new games by Stephen Sniderman, to play with the same equipment, and added its name, Flying Colors. But that's a story for another year.
For its 25th anniversary (2009) we introduced the deluxe handcrafted and laser-engraved wood model that we still make, with handpainted trim, in velvet satchel and including the Flying Colors companion. A limited number were made that year with silver trim.
In the spring of 1983, Kate was at an art show in Richmond, VA, and a distinguished gentleman, William Walton, purchased a Quintillions set for his son, Dale. Also in 1983, Omni magazine had published a controversial piece called "The World's Hardest IQ Test." For just $8, you could send in your answers and get your scores. Scoring considerations aside, one of the questions on the test was so clever and beautiful that Kate decided it would have to be the basis of a game someday. The question had a diagram of 16 circles with 4 arcs each in different connectivities, and it asked: "The missing pattern is ___ ." After finding the answer and doodling some ideas on a scrap of graph paper, Kate filed it in her "future ideas" folder and went on with life.
A month or two later, a young man phoned for an appointment to show Kate a game idea and introduced himself as William Walton's son. He duly showed up with a paper model of 18 cut-out octagons with arcs connecting their sides and an interesting set of rules. They were essentially the 16 circle arcs from the Omni puzzle! The extra two tiles were mirror opposites of the "missing pattern": the a-symmetrical one.
It was the beginning of a beautiful entrepreneurship, as Dale Walton was also an architectural draftsman and produced the artwork for the board, logo and tiles. He called his game "Octiles" and even helped finance the start-up. And although it took us a few years to pay him back, Kadon has nurtured Octiles ever since. It was a tribute to the excellent first design that we have seen no reason to change anything about it in all this time.
For its 25th Anniversary, we did depart from the classic white leather-like upholstery vinyl mat and introduced a deluxe wood board with laser-engraved lines and touches of silver trim, in a velvet satchel instead of box. That should work for the next quarter century...
By a strange coincidence, around this time (2008-2009) government watchdogs banned upholstery vinyl from use in games and toys because it may contain too high a percentage of phthalates (assuming the kiddies chewed on it). Of course, our intended users are older than the age limits the ban seeks to protect, and we have heard of no case where our gameboards became gastronomical items, so we will continue to use the vinyl boards that have stood us in good stead for a number of our games. We may just have to add a warning: "Do not let anyone eat this game."
Quint-Gram Nos. 6 and 7
Even being very busy with several new products, we managed to publish two more issues of Quint-Gram, with lots of new ideas and challenges for our flagship, Quintillions. All that material was eventually collected into the current issue of the 80-page Quintillions rulebook.
A sweet little lady who saw our exhibit at a craft show in 1984 asked if we could make something special for her: a 4" round piece of wood with the word TUIT on it to give to procrastinators (get a "round to it"). We got the joke and agreed to make it for her, out of a nice chunk of oak with an engraved brass plate centered on one side. She was very pleased, and we got the notion that if one customer liked this puzzling joke, maybe others would, too.
Over the years we made lots of them as paperweights, rolling toys, doorstops, decision-makers, or any other use people's imagination would dream up. We even printed a nice green card to mount them on, with detailed instructions on the back.
Years later, when we had lots of spare laser-cut black acrylic disks, we brought them out again, first with brass plates affixed and then with funky painted designs. We occasionally offer them in deluxe designer editions, some by guest artists. And Kate gets a kick out of painting each a different way, when she gets a round TUIT...
A Salute to Quantum
Though we've been the exclusive purveyors of Quantum only since 1987, it was originally published in 1984 and is enjoying its own 25-year celebration this year. We congratulate its inventor, Peter Aleff, on both the ingenious game play and the superb rule book that goes with it, with a history of the games of mankind from the dawn of history to the present. For a limited time only, you can order Quantum at a quarter-century special price of only $25, and only on this special page: What You Can Buy for $25. Click on the number 12.
In a Martin Gardner book we came across the idea that if 5 squares make 12 pentomino shapes (our Quintillions set), then how many shapes do you get with 6 squares? And what can you do with them? Kate set about identifying, exploring and naming the 35 unique "hexomino" shapes which famously cannot tile a rectangle or regular figure because of a parity problem: if the pieces were checkerboarded, the difference between black and white squares would be 2. That is, 11 pieces divide as 4/2. That difference of 2 makes a rectangle impossibleone square will stick outside of the border. Test it for yourself. A checkerboard has 32 each black and white squares. If they were 31/33, where would that extra black square go?
Adding a 36th piece, a logically chosen duplicate from the group of 11, allowed solutions to come out right. The now gang-of-12 have their own color and are non-adjacent in the 15x15 solution with center window. A warning to all: these bad boys must be used in pairs to preserve parity. It's especially challenging to find nice shapes to build with just the 35 distinct pieces.
For the limited-edition 25th Anniversary model, Sextillions sported a silver frame and center, and Kate designed a special "25" puzzle to solve with the whole set (shown below). Cute, eh? Send us your solution and win a small prize if it's new and different from ours.
We came across a very old 4-piece puzzle known as the T puzzle. Modifying its dissection pattern allowed the four pieces to form dozens of other shapes, including several pentominoes. Kate then pondered how many of the 12 pentominoes could themselves be dissected with just two parallel lines to form usable puzzle pieces.
The most promising one was the U, and between the T and the U one could form six of the twelve pentominoes. Dissecting the tetrominoes square gave four pieces that could model 3 of the 5 tetrominoes, plus dozens of other neat symmetrical shapes. Thus the T, U and Square became the happy trio of Tiny Tans (named for their kinship to Tangrams).
The first editions were crafted in wood by Dick Jones and mounted on green cards with all their silhouettes on the back. Later we switched to colorful laser-cut acrylic on gray mounting cards. For the 25th Anniversary edition, we went with Lucite transparent colors and a custom-order silver display panel to hold all three. Kudos to Tom Gooch, who first suggested, back in 1985, combining the three sets to build larger figures and prevailed upon us to work out a collection of challenges for him.
This year we discovered that ideas once let loose will keep growing, and that good ideas have a power rather like gravity in drawing more to themselves, both old and new. We became selective and aimed for both beauty and logic, the "joy of thinking." And this realization and this principle became our third rule.
A Quarter-Century Retrospective (1980-2005)
1982-2007: The first wave of growth
1983-2008: The lesson of quality
You are here:
1984-2009: Some things old, some things new
1985-2010: Guests and clones
1986-2011: Thinking big... and bigger
1987-2012: Growing three ways
1988-2013: Compounding complexity
1989-2014: Grand visions
1990-2015: Herculean heights
1991-2016: Happy marriages
1992-2017: Diamonds forever
1993-2018: Opulence in acrylic and wood
1994-2019: Angles, gold and gala
1995-2020: Tilting towards tilings