With many large and small products already published during our first decade, this was our year to forge forward into some really big sets plus groups of related concepts. We have not exceeded their sizes since. Here are their start-ups:
With our focus on polyform puzzles and combinatorial geometry, having on hand plenty of the three basic tile shapessquares, triangles and hexagonswas a research necessity. Even schools used "pattern blocks" to teach about tessellations and symmetries, where each shape had its own color. We figured out what would be a good number of each kind of tile for really big projects, and the idea was born that a "kit" would need 512 pieces, each of four shapes in all four colors, to maximize its versatility for both families and classrooms.
A wooden crate with 16 compartments plus a long slot for the three major grids turned out to be the optimum embodiment. We invested rather heavily in the huge supply of painted wood tiles, all size-compatible, made for us by H. A. Stiles in Maine; the unfinished wooden cases built for us by Padgett Mfg. in Virginia; the large vinyl mats hotstamped by B. C. Lucas in Baltimore; and the three hefty rulebooks printed from our artwork by Chuck's Printing in Glen Burnie, MD. We even include a small lasercut template of the 4 shapes so kids can draw designs on paper.
In the 25 years since its creation, we have not yet run out of parts, though the crates are almost out. The size of a small suitcase, they get the masterful wood finishing by Dick Jones, who also installs their hinges and clasp and the rope handle. The 3 mats include a square grid with a center portion subdivided into right isosceles triangles; a hex grid with an inner section for equilateral triangles; and a combo grid with the classic donut pattern of overlapping dodecagons formed with all three tileshexagons, squares, triangles.
We developed a very large number of activities and explorations for all three grids and all four types of tiles. A young friend, Bill Scherer III, spent the summer of 1988 traveling with Kate to shows in the Midwest and having tremendous fun with the prototype, creating designs on the campground picnic table by lantern light. (Bill eventually got his Ph.D. in computer science, a somewhat larger genre of puzzles.)
And so Combinatorix became the lab and the foundation for all the major polyform puzzles Kadon has developed through the years, and the three handbooks serve as a veritable motherlode of information on combinations and permutations, including solo and group activities (17 games for up to 27 players!). Its price tag is well worth it for the years of mental and artistic stimulation it provides for young and old.
In 2006 we introduced a smaller, more practical size for individual use: Combinatorix Jr., with a mosaic of all the shapes in a rounded triangular tray that one happy player declared to be our best idea yet; but that's a story for another year.
Hexmozaix had become one of our bestsellers, and people often remarked that it was so beautiful that they would like to be able to hang it on the wall. So Kate designed a unique wall-mount frame and clear face plate to keep the pieces in, held on by a decorative brass acorn bolt through the center. One gallery set graces the wall at Kadon's headquartersthe first thing a visitor sees upon entering. Later we gave the same treatment to the companion set, Hexmozaix II, but that's another story.
Multimatch® I in acrylic
Wade Philpott's cardboard set of Multimatch ("MacMahon's Three-Color Squares") that we acquired from him in 1982 had got us on the road to edgematching sets. Working with acrylic convinced us that this material is the nicest way to make sets that are beautiful, indestructible, easy to clean, and pleasurably weighted for handling. So we leaped at the chance to build edgematching sets with inlaid colors on top of a white base, in a framed tray. For its Silver Anniversary, we'll add a bit of a silvery look.
By now we were exploring other colormatching ideas, and both corner-colored squares and edge-colored triangles were suggested to us by Wade, who had spent decades working out solutions for them. We were delighted to produce the trio and gave them all the Multimatch label as a family name. Hence Multimatch I, Multimatch II, and Multimatch III. A year later they were joined by Multimatch IV, but that is a story for another year.
A more complex formulation of colormatching tiles was the set of squares with four corners filled with every combination of 3 colors. Now two sections per side had to match, considerably raising the level of difficulty. Initially each tile was divided into four squares by a simple cross cut. The earliest versions looked like this (right), with several color schemes. Kate was especially pleased to come up with the game "Slot Machine" to play with this set, for any number of players.
In 2006 Kate decided to liven up the look with circles, morphing squares into quarter rounds, and that's the look we've kept to this day. For its 25th anniversary we added a touch of silver.
Drawing again on MacMahon's discoveries from 1923, of triangles edge-colored in every combination of 4 colors, Wade Philpott presented us with his own extensive body of work, going where MacMahon had never dreamed. Wade had researched every symmetrical shape that could be formed with the 24 triangles where all edges match and the outer perimeter of any figure is a single color. We added our own original research of all the different sizes and shapes any one color can form, plus games, and this beautiful set with its long pedigree became reality. For its 25th anniversary we added a silver touch.
"This way lies madness," it is said. The 369 all-different shapes made of joined squares were the next step up from Heptominoes (introduced in 1986). Someone must have challenged us, so we girded ourselves to persuade Blake Guiles, our laser supplier at the time, to program this monster and cut it. He had to do it in several separate chunks as the full set would not fit on his laser table.
Dick Jones built a beautiful wooden case with special scratch-resistant window to hold all the pieces as a 51x58 rectangle. That solution was found by Michael Keller.
A few years later we switched to the current elegant pattern of the long, slender rectangle solution by David Bird, made as three congruent smaller rectangles with symmetrically placed holes. That fits nicely on our laser table, and we can even make its matching acrylic tray, 4 feet long. It needs its own room! Or you can turn it into a coffee table.
It bears mentioning that these grand solutions were found by hand, not by computer, in the years before solving programs became ubiquitous. And the whole series of polyominoes, from Poly-5 to Sextillions to Heptominoes to Octominoes, is size-compatible for those who, like Karl Wilk, want to build the really big stuff.
Super Deluxe Quintillions
We started in 1980 with Quintillions, in both a regular cardboard box and then a deluxe wood case. We added Super Quintillions two years later. A dear customer a few years later suggested that we ought to make one big wooden case to hold the double set. We listened and went for it, eventually buying lumber that let us make all 30 pieces out of a single board.
Indisputably, the Quintillions "Super Deluxe Combo" is the finest product we make. It is the quintessential gift for weddings, anniversaries, executive awards, graduations, any festive occasion for a worthy thinker.
Until about 2008, the wooden cases were custom-made for us by our excellent supplier, Padgett Manufacturing in Virginia, who also made our Combinatorix crates (above) and the fine maple boards from which we make the Quintillions pieces. Our combo boxes were finished with Padgett's famous "house dressing" of dark walnut stain and lacquer... superb. We line the box with green felt, and occasionally Dick installs the submerged hinges. We love the contoured look and feel of the lid and appreciate the beautiful wood grain showing through the finish.
There's even a story about how we fit the double set into the box. The 12 Quintillions blocks have exactly one way to be divided into two groups of 6 pieces so that both can make a rectangle (right). An easy way to remember them is that one is called "TWIZLY". These two form a double layer at one end of the box. The 18 Superquints make two smaller blocks to fill in the rest of the space, with one piece turned on its side to show the lasercut edge. If you try, you can find a solution that will have only the grain showing, with all lasercut edges vertical and invisible inside.
The Super Deluxe Quintillions set has no equal in all the world. About that we can allow ourselves to feel proud, and grateful for our customer's suggestion.
Update, 2018: Padgett, sadly, went out of business around 2014, and in 2016 we were lucky to find that H. Arnold Wood Turning, in Tarrytown, NY, our source for custom turned-wood dowels, could also make us gorgeous walnut cases. Our latest maple boards for Quintillions have been supplied by OE Custom in Arbutus, MD. After 39 years of crafting our products, we can only hope that the longevity of our suppliers matches our own.
Tiny Tans, acrylic
We started out making these four-piece mini-puzzles just as stocking stuffers, in three styles that, strangely enough, were dissections of some of the pentominoes (Quintillions shapes). We introduced them in 1984 painstakingly hand-made out of wood. Way too much work for such a small item. But then the laser gave us both speed and cheerful colors, and a quarter century later, with our own laser, we can have them both ways: in wood and in acrylic. The wood versions are especially popular at the Renaissance Festival. See what we did for their silver anniversary in 2009. For the acrylic versions' silver anniversary, we're treating them to a special Trio-in-a-Tray display, including their three individual challenge cards plus a few triple-gorgeous combo constructions. This one's for you, Tom Gooch, for suggesting combining the sets. Color mix may vary.
The year 1989 was also the tenth anniversary of the founding of Kadon. We felt pretty well established by now. Awards continued to come in, our wonderful helpers in our little cottage industry kept us going, and the positive reactions on our show circuit continued to grow. We were optimistic that someday we might even break even instead of just constantly digging ourselves out of a hole. Maybe that's the problem. Instead of digging, which just makes the hole deeper, we should be looking to fill it up. Remembering that such a hole yawns under any small business when it grows too fast and goes recklessly into debt, we kept our growth organic. Never spending more than you have was our eighth rule.
A Quarter-Century Retrospective (1980-2005)
1982-2007: The first wave of growth
1983-2008: The lesson of quality
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
You are here:
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
1996-2021: Gorgeous geometrics
1997-2022: Big and little
1998-2023: Boards and beauties
1999-2024: Finding kindred spirits