47

Nostalgia

A Quarter-Century
Retrospective
by Kate Jones

 

This rendition is just the tip of a mountain range peeking through the clouds of memory of the years 1980-2005. Thanks to all who contributed anecdotes and reminders, and we reserve the option of supplementing this chronicle as further gems surface. A few stories were too long but too good and may be appended archivally. Links will open in new window.

1.   How we learned we needed a product line
In 1980, with one product to peddle—Quintillions—and assuming that all goods sell in stores, we made the rounds of shops in the Washington DC/Maryland area. The general grounds for rejection were that it was unknown, it would have to be explained, which the store personnel could not be bothered to do; it was too expensive (after their mark-up); and it was only a single item. "Now, if you had a product line..." Our only sale was to an FAO Schwartz store whose manager had seen the great write-up of Quintillions in Games magazine and was eager to have them in the shop. We never heard from them after that first order.

2.   How we learned we could sell at art shows
Kate was teaching social dancing for the YWCA that year and was invited, at $5 for the weekend, to display any handicrafts at the Y's annual bazaar on the historic streets of Annapolis. One table, one table cover, one satchel of games, one chair was the entire set-up. Fortunately it didn't rain. Sales happened. Other exhibitors talked of other shows and where to find them. Kate's future as a travelinag artist was born. No more refusals, no more tradeshows, no more "terms" — just direct to the customer, cash in hand. The pipe dream of having our product in every store across the land dispersed like fog in the sun. We were in business.

3.   We discover recreational math
Having seen us reviewed in Games Magazine in 1980, Wade Philpott from Ohio contacted us to offer, at a bargain price, his remaining stock of a die-cut cardboard puzzle he called Multimatch, that he had produced many years earlier. The puzzle consisted of 24 square tiles with colors based on MacMahon's Three-Color Squares. Each piece was different, and they could go together thousands of ways, just like our Quintillions.
     "That's recreational mathematics," Wade explained.
     "You mean like what I've seen in Scientific American Magazine that Martin Gardner wrote about?"
     "Exactly."
Kate's aesthetic and philosophical yearnings had found their medium. It was like coming home. And yes, we bought all of Wade's die-cut sets, and we still have some. Considering they are 35 years old, they're in really great shape.

4.   The booth keeps growing
As we created and made more products, table space had to grow along. From the one 4-foot table it grew to two. Dick built them to nest, with legs removed, to fit across the back seat of the VW Rabbit. Sawed-off bar stools became a must. Eventually three pairs of nested tables nestled in the VW, piled with stools and stock boxes. Most events were indoors, at malls or arenas, so a tent was not needed. Eventually a modular 8x10' wood booth with canopy became necessary, upgraded in 1989 to a slick, easy to hook together 12x14' maple structure that traveled for 18 years, until it became a little too wobbly and was replaced in 2008 by a similar but vastly improved modern new structure with professional tent. A permanent building, 16x16', served at the Maryland Renaissance Festival from 1985 to 1998 and was replaced by a magnificent 24x20' pavilion used only 9 weekends of the year.

5.   Richard comes on board
Richard Grainger got hooked on Quintillions while Kate was exhibiting at a Star Trek convention in 1983. Months later he came across our display at a mall show, explained he was looking for a job at the mall and had no transportation. Kate offered him a lift home and had the inspiration to ask if he'd help out part-time during the busy holiday season, just to tide him and Kadon over. He agreed, and never left. We had our first helper. His unusual skills and talents made him ideal in the workshop and at shows.

6.   We discover the Renaissance Festival
Richard's enjoyment of costumes and role playing was a key factor in plunging us into participating in the 1984 Maryland Renaissance Festival, a six-weekend gig. Dick built the required rustic-looking wood booth, with 4x4" uprights that had to be bolted together, sloping roof and fringed canopy. Having this weather protection, and Richard's strong hands, encouraged us to enter other outdoor shows. A roof rack now graced the VW. The following year, 1985, the RenFest moved to permanent acreage, and all participants had to build solid structures. We were among the first to sign up. The Festival is only 16 miles from our house!

7.   We discover acrylic
Quintillions were lasercut. All our other products were handmade in wood, with a few oddball die-cuts on the side. A solicitation arrived from Stockdale Technologies in Florida for lasercut puzzles. The sample they sent was clearly not lasercut, and we told them so. Surprised that anyone would know the difference (this was back in 1983), they sent the real thing, and it was acrylic. What an eye-opener. We asked if they could cut our Roundominoes, and they could, and did, and 10 years of glorious expansion of the product line ensued. Shipping all that way was a bit of a drag, though.

8.   We discover Florida
Florida is mild in winter, with plenty of outdoor art shows. Kate tried the waters with a two-week stint, then three, then four, initially staying with friends and then in her own little efficiency apartment. The winter "retreat" gives her creative time plus shows most weekends. Some years helpers went along, but lodging and feeding them made that impractical. The risk of Florida street fairs is the weather. Hurricane-force winds can come up in moments, and torrents of water can gush down and then stop, or not. The Kadon booth boasts great survival strength, but even so the ropes can break. One great boon: hauling Stockdale's output home saved shipping.

9.   Strange lodgings
Being on the road builds resourcefulness. In the VW days, we'd haul a tent. Nowadays a futon and sleeping bag in the vehicle is luxury. Moments to remember: a storm at night creating a riverbed under the tent; a ferocious wind ripping the tent out of our hands until we tied it to a picnic table shelter; sleeping on top of picnic tables; going to stay with a friend only to find the upstairs bathroom had drained into his apartment, and a young lady came home with him unexpectedly (Kate slept in the van, of course); finding rest areas along interstates not closed due to renovation; stopping at a motel just as they were fishing a drowned body out of the pool; camping on Stockdale's warehouse floor with palmetto bugs on the floor and rats running across the overhead pipes; under a Kadon display table at a convention; in a bridal suite with mirrors on ceiling but no heat, so running the hot shower for a few hours nicely warmed up the room and fogged up the mirrors till it rained indoors; in dorms with no A/C; on a boat in Amsterdam harbor; on the floor of an office in downtown Chicago; in Denny's or Wal-Mart's 24/7 parking lots, etc., etc.

10.   Packing it in
It is amazing to consider that in 25 years only 3 vehicles have hauled the load: from 1980-1987, a yellow VW Rabbit with roofrack (175,000 miles); from 1987-2005, a navy blue Toyota cargo van (378,640 miles—believe it!); and currently a white Chevy Astro cargo van. The VW was a comedy routine, like those 23 circus clowns that climb out of a Beetle. We have a slide sequence to document it. Packing the vans so the load doesn't shift, things come out in the right order, and a flat surface remains as a bunk, has become a work of art itself. It's Kate's workout and weight-lift routine. One other vehicle was once pressed into service and broke down six times during a summer tour: a Winnebago LeSharo mini-RV whose repair costs could have bought a fleet of vans. What price a portable bathroom?

11.   We create jargon
Every business evolves its lingo, techno-babble, shop talk. Aside from that, certain expressions unique to that corporate culture have currency that only the in-group understands. Here are some Kadon terms:

  • "Put the big ones in first." When solving a puzzle, use the largest pieces first, fill in as you go.

  • "Parallel to the corners." When chaos rules, find comfort in keeping things neat and orderly — line up stacks of papers parallel to the edge of the desk.

  • "Move the pennies." Originally:  if solving a puzzle figure as outlined with a row of pennies doesn't work, change the shape by moving the pennies. Currently:  with any situation not working, change the parameters. Redefine.

  • "The package will arrive." Used in times of frenzy: chill out, things will work out.

  • "It's always farther than it is." Time and distance always stretch in the opposite direction of your hurry.

  • Murphy's Law redefined:  "If anything can go wrong, it will turn out for the better later." Has worked for us for 25 years.

12.   Quality counts
A dear friend once remarked, "You can do it fast, or good, or cheap. Choose any two; you can't have all three." Each time we tried to make something less expensive, the quality suffered, and no one loved it. Keeping quality high means higher prices and much higher satisfaction. We're sticking with quality. OK, we do still have a few cheap versions; maybe someone will want them. And we've kept prices as low as survival allows. Someone wanted to dicker over price. Kate told them, "Why do you want me to bribe you to buy this?"

13.   Our saddest, dearest story
Kate first met Michael Waitsman at the 1982 World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, after corresponding with him for a year. Memories:  collaborating on his prototypes of Proteus and Void; producing these sets within two months; driving to Chicago two years later as guests at his and Liane Sebastian's wedding; camping on his office floor during the Chicago art show; hearing with shock in 1993 that he had developed a brain tumor; the heartache of losing him within two years. A brilliant talent, pioneer in graphic arts and electronic multimedia, a radiant spirit and unforgettable friend.

14.   Seth and the spider
Kate first met Seth Bonder at the 1982 World Sci-Fi Convention, where he acquired the Quintillions and Super Quintillions sets and soon joined an inner circle of life-long friends and booth helpers. In Scottish garb, Seth does a mean brogue when helping at the Renaissance. One year, visiting Kadon's suburban headquarters, Seth opened the front door to step outside and froze: the entire doorway was covered by a huge, exquisitely perfect spiderweb. All the resident photographers immediately set up equipment to capture the unique scene, while Seth quivered in terror. Finally persuaded to view the spider in the center from a safe distance through a telephoto lens, Seth cautiously peeked, just as the spider's front legs lunged. A distance of 1/4 inch looked like a yard, and Seth jumped out of his skin, dropping the camera lens and beating a retreat. For two days we used the back door instead, until the spider rolled up her web and left. Seth's city-boy nerves were never the same.

15.   We succumb to computers
Kate had always composed Kadon's rule books on a Selectric typewriter, though rumor had it that computers and desktop publishing were the new way to go. When the typewriter burned out from overuse in 1996, Kate girded herself for the change, retrained, and never looked back. A now-antique graphic program, GemDraw, let her churn out hundreds of diagrams and drawings. Sure beat the old pen and ruler! Every few years Dick would upgrade with the latest-model laptop. The 2007 companion grafted to Kate's fingers is a Compaq Presario X1000, Pentium IV with the biggest screen they had; it's on its second hard drive.

16.   We need more room
Until the early 1990s, Kate still conducted some dance classes in the large basement, with mirrors leaning against the wall and a concrete floor. The Kadon inventory competed for floor space more and more, and in 1990 the grand plan took form: add a ballroom in back, let the warehouse have the basement. And it was done over many weeks, including removing the back wall entirely while the inhabitants scurried for cover. The end result was magnificent and still serves well. Richard documented the process with hundreds of photos.

17.   We need our own laser
For 10 years Stockdale in Florida supplied our lasercut acrylic parts. By 1993 our demands exceeded their laser time. The solution: buy our own. Chuck Coates came onboard to run it, in his basement at first. Later we moved it into an industrial building in downtown Baltimore, where it has hummed ever since, joined by a second one a few years later. At last, full control, and the designs just kept coming. So did operators. When Chuck left, Chris Palmer stepped in. When Chris's life moved elsewhere, Thomas Atkinson miraculously appeared and does wonders. We want to keep him forever.

18.   We're a dot com!
Our product line was outgrowing the pages of our printed catalog, while printing and postage costs kept rising. The Internet was a window on the world, and people were acquiring home computers at wildfire speeds. In 1997, Kate started building a website from scratch and learning by trial and error. The grandest thing was not having to fit "pages" on fixed-size paper. Slow, slow speeds and a laptop with 600x400 screen were the first tools. The first version of gamepuzzles.com went live in January 1998. And it hasn't stopped growing. A full-color gallery and interactive fun, a veritable puzzle playground without limits... thank you, HTML.

19.   Small world
You just never now how things and people connect. Here are a few of our strangest.

  • Anatole Holt invented MeM. Kate got a copy of MeM from Wade Philpott's estate and hoped to bring back this great out-of-print game. How to find Anatole—our friend Michael Keller's father's girlfriend knew Anatole's ex-wife, or some such route, and got us a lead. We didn't get to make the game, as Anatole hoped for a "big" game company. Years passed. Das Spiel, a big company in Hamburg, Germany, out of the blue asked us whether we knew the inventor of MeM, to get permission so they could reproduce the game. Kate put the two of them together, and Imago was born. Sadly, it, too, is mostly out of print now. Kadon still has copies.

  • Martin Samuel sent this: "Something remarkable I can remember about my acquaintance or association with Kadon is receiving a $165,000.00 bill from a woman in Texas who, as a result of her son finding a really bad photo of me on the Kadon website, and with no proof whatsoever, is convinced I am responsible for child support."

  • Michelle James contributed this: "I was blown away by the puzzles I saw on the table at my first Project Renaissance conference in 1997. From the moment I saw them, I knew I had to meet their creator. This was someone's mind I wanted to get to know. Even though I only see Kate one weekend a year at the conference, I feel as if we are old friends. I am honored that one of her brilliant ideas emerged in a session I was leading and resulted in a popular children's puzzle [Bear Hugs] she developed."

  • Warren Fahy writes: "I came across Kate, one of my dearest friends, through the Kadon website. In reading her biography I took a chance that she might be interested in my website. Little did I know she would become the administrator of my website and I traded some thoughts about hers, and she's read all of my writings, and I even helped man the Kadon booth at a show where my novels and her wonderful games were displayed together. Kadon has my best wishes for continued success." We're honored to feature Warren's children's stories.

  • Violet Carberry Glaze (now LeVoit) applied fresh out of school for an artist's job with Kadon, circa 1999, because she loved games and the spirit of our products. Such talent and energy could not be confined to a cottage industry like ours, so she came onboard just for the holiday season, until a better opportunity arose. Sooner than expected, a job came her way from Maryland Public Television. Our loss was their gain, and we remained friends. In 2002, Violet called that she'd like to produce a video about Kadon's artistic puzzles for the Artworks this Week program, and it won her an Emmy in 2003. A Karmic connection endures. View the video. They still replay it every year.

  • Manuel Garcia, inventor of two of Kadon's products, writes that in 1988, shortly after we released his Triangoes game, he was visiting a Wal-Mart store in Houston with his then 6-year-old son. Manny always carried a Kadon brochure to hand out to likely prospects. In the men's room, a man in the next stall greeted him pleasantly. Later, Manny found out the man was Sam Walton, the founder of the world's biggest retail chain. Just a regular guy, simply dressed, eating with the employees. Quick-witted Manny sent his son over to hand Mr. Walton a Kadon brochure! He accepted it graciously and smiled. Here's another Manny story.

20.   The people — sharing the passion
We've been incredibly lucky to have wonderful people find us and join us. Some of their stories:

  • Seth Bonder met us and our products in 1982, at the World Science Fiction convention in Chicago, while he was still a student. Not much later he found himself on the road, helping out at our booth. He recalls: "One of my fondest memories is finding out how much stuff a four-door VW Rabbit can hold. The 87% usable interior space listed as part of its specs didn't convey how tightly packed that car could get. And at the same time, the ride was still comfortable all the way from Maryland to Pennsylvania. Think that was the first show I did with you, in 1984. (That long ago?!? Wow.)" Many years later, now a full-fledged computer instructor, he's a frequent presence instructing visitors about our games at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.

  • Julie Stevens' favorite memory of Kadon is how she went from being a customer of Kadon's to having Kadon as her client:  "I had been a customer of Kadon's since about 1986. In 1992 I lost my job. I was at the Maryland Ren Fest and playing with the Kadon puzzles, when Kate asked me what puzzle I was going to buy this year. I told her I was no longer employed so could not afford to purchase anything that year. She asked me what I did [programming], and the next thing I know, I have agreed to start a new business with Kadon as my first client!!!" Only after the deal was done did Kate think of asking, "By the way, where do you live?" "Virginia." And that's when we overcame the geographical distance by having Julie sleep over on her working weekends for the next 10 years of data entry and number crunching.

  • Thomas Atkinson was buying Kadon puzzles for years before asking for a temporary job just to work at RenFest, which soon became permanent and peripatetic. He's a treasure.

  • Anna Stephan had been cleaning Kadon's headquarters for a few years before it occurred to us, during a timing crunch, to recruit her to help with some production. Later she offered to do even more at home, so she could have some sit-down work after the strenuous hours of cleaning her many clients' houses. This turned out to be one of our luckiest developments, as Anna does beautiful work and even contributes artistic color combinations. She still cleans the place, too, or Kate would go crazy. We're her only client now; she became a full-time nanny in 2009.

  • Michael Keller, a walking encyclopedia of game lore and a Kadon customer of 20 years' standing, thought of himself as a temp worker, checking in for occasional programming chores to supplement other income. Little by little he got to be Kadon's all-around data czar, some-time house guest, tenant, and even occasional associate editor of this Journal. By the time he left in 2009, a sophisticated computer program had brought us into the 21st century of data management.

Helpers who have worked the Kadon booth over the years are a special breed and we remember them fondly. Some return from time to time. In alphabetical order: — Elijah Allen, Daniel Austin, Seth Bonder, Tom Burnham, Dan Chorba, Rolinda Collinson, Gina DeLauney, Sean Doherty, Fabian, Armin Feller, Manuel Garcia, Violet Glaze, Richard Grainger (retired in 2013 after 30 years), Ward Hollins, Ken Isbell, Kimberly Kiddoo, Tijl Koenderink, Gordon Lugauer, Chris Palmer, Bill Scherer, Kami Sedaghatkish, Robert Simmons, Cassandra Stevens, Julie Stevens, Anne Theune, Anneke Treep, and Bjarne Viken. Our permanent crew includes Thomas Atkinson, Eric Bare (since 2009), Art Blumberg, Dick Jones, Eileen Shaivitz, and Steven Joel Zeve.

21.   The customers — spreading the passion
One of Kadon's signature traits is blurring the boundaries between customers-helpers-friends. Often customers become collectors, friends and helpers. We cherish their support as they cherish our creations, and we'll go to all lengths to provide personalized service. Here are just a few of their stories:

  • Martin Watson, who lives in England and for whom, during a trip to a Puzzle Party in London, we handcarried a large order C.O.D. to save him postage, reports: "I often get a lot of laughs when your name crops up in conversation when I describe you as the lady to whom I once gave a lot of money in a hotel bedroom. ... I then gallantly add that Dick was in the room at the time."

  • James Dalgety, who owns and curates The Hordern-Dalgety Collection, one of the world's largest puzzle museums, comments:  "I think I have only known you since 1981. What can I say? You have filled my house up with beautiful laser-cut puzzles for 24 years. There is now no room left for me, so you had better send me a shed to live in! Best wishes and good luck for the next 25 years."

  • Andy Liu, a mathematics professor in Canada, recalls: "Our first meeting was at the Richard Guy seventieth birthday party in Calgary [1987], and Colormaze was my introduction to your gamepuzzles. I had visited you once, when other business brought me to Washington. I had heard of the Pasadena in southern California, but not the one in Maryland, and wondered how big it was. You shocked me when you said you would come over to pick me up, since you had to come to Washington to buy a hair-brush anyway. I started imagining a really desolate one-horse town, until you clarified after our rendezvous that what you needed to buy was an air-brush! You also visited me once, when you came and gave a talk at the Grant MacEwen College. To many locals, it was like a whirlwind Royal Tour. Many thanks for twenty years of intellectual stimulation and friendship. Happy silver anniversary."

  • Marti Reis, a tax consultant, has been collecting beautiful handcrafted wood puzzles for decades, and Kadon's colorful puzzles for over 20 years. She is one of our most appreciative customers and friends. She finally had a roomful of wooden cabinets built, complete with lighting, to house her finest pieces. Our puzzles occupy a long stretch of the footage and the top tier. Marti has great taste in the artistic mix of colors and we're happy to make her custom colors, too. Few collectors have as magnificent a setting for their collection as Marti.

  • David DiGioia, a long-time fan and collector in Pittsburgh, also decorates his showcase with Kadon puzzles and visits our booth yearly at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

  • Another great Kadon fan and frequent visitor at our Renaissance Festival pavilion, Will, has a wall of games topped by some of our beautiful game boards and with our other games tucked in here and there. His dining room serves for gaming parties more often than for dinners.

  • Norton Starr, a math professor at Amherst College, recalls: "I made my first purchase from Kadon decades ago, and the kids enjoyed it. Quintillions, I believe. After that I was at most a sporadic customer, until nephews and nieces began appearing in our family. Then I was happy to get some elegant puzzles (including your multiple bears on a giant board) for them. When I recently wanted to purchase a tromino puzzle I figured that if anyone sold it, Kadon was the outfit." Well, not even we had it, but we soon remedied that by introducing Vee-21, including Dr. Starr's chapter on deficient checkerboards.

  • Najma Beresford attended a creativity conference hosted at our house in 2004. She writes: "I remember sitting on the floor of your office one night; there was a group, Cora and Angus... and you introduced me to your classic wooden game, Quintillions. You were so easy and relaxed in how you simplified the game, ‘setting’ me up with little exercises. I still remember the glow I had each time I found a ‘solution’. Such a pick up, such a buzz! ... of course after that I had to buy one, and you made sure I got to choose. Several boxes were brought from downstairs, and I must have taken 45 minutes deliberating: which one was for me? They were all so beautiful, each was different. I really delighted in knowing I was making a long-term artistic investment, this was something for future generations!"

  • Doug Shaw, now a professor, is a frequent presence at math conferences where we exhibit. He recalls: "I met Kate Jones at the Kadon booth in a Syracuse art festival. I fell in love with the Quintillions and hoped to own a set someday. I quit my engineering job shortly thereafter to go to graduate school, and thought I would buy one nice thing for myself to anticipate my upcoming six years of poverty. I bought the Quintillions. I had two weeks between ending my career and starting graduate school in Ann Arbor, and I Quintillioned obsessively. Two weeks solid. Then I put them away and went to Ann Arbor, ready to be a real student with no distractions. — There was an arcade next to my new apartment, and I walked inside, but wasn't too afraid of getting re-addicted to video games, because I had long ago lost interest. There was a new type of machine right by the entrance, one I'd never seen before. — It was called "TETRIS." — Incidentally, Tetris uses the tetromino shapes, also part of our Poly-5 set.

  • Jean-Paul Carlucci works in downtown Pittsburgh, and his office complex hosts an annual arts festival. Our 11 days there are pure joy for him as he spends his lunch hours at our booth, feasting on food for thought. Having him visit brightens our day, too. He adds: "Two things will always stick out for me with Kadon. First, the sheer novelty of what you do, designing and selling what I would call 'Intelligent puzzle games.' The joy I got in finding three different shapes for which the Ten-Yen pieces could be stacked upon each other, for example, just sat with me for weeks. Second, not just to try new puzzles out, but also it's my one opportunity to talk to you in person, and get to know the mind behind all this fun stuff." Jean-Paul watches the calendar for our next arrival.

22.   The show must go on
Here are some locales that lived up to the nightmares Kate sometimes has about things going wrong:

  • Thurmont, MD, 1986 — Staff: Kate and Richard. Setting: a beautiful private zoo, park-like and picturesque. Weather: torrential rains, ankle-deep water, could not even use table covers as they'd drag in the flood. Sales: one puzzle to the organizer's daughter.

  • Future Fair, Howard County Fairgrounds, MD, 1987 — Staff: Kate and Richard. Setting: arts and crafts mingled with futuristic technology, light shows, balloons, aircraft tethered to huge stakes in the ground. Weather: tremendous, non-stop bursts of winds that lifted and flipped our old booth onto its slanted roof. That slanted canopy made a great sail. We righted it, it flipped again a few minutes later. The little planes tore at their tethers till the owners packed them up and left. We dragged the booth to the stakes they left behind and tied 'er down for good. The weather kept most people away.

  • Akron, OH, 2004 — Staff: Kate and Bjarne. Setting: a grassy field in a pretty park, usually a sweetheart of a show, with signs of recent repairs for flooding. Weather: perfect Saturday, on Sunday torrential downpours for hours, turning the field into a lake, in places over 2 feet deep. Those who could made a run for it. We couldn't, just moved inventory above the flood plain and spent the night in the van on a knoll. The booth was an island. Spent 6 hours the next morning wiping, cleaning and drying.

  • Jupiter, FL, 1994 — Staff: Kate and Ward. Setting: Along highway A1A at Juno Beach. Weather: Sunday afternoon 75-mile winds hit, driving sheets of water, whipping some booths to land on trees and lightposts. We managed to stash soggy inventory in the van and hole up in it ourselves while we watched the booth fight for its life. One piece of hardware tore out which we repaired later; the ropes held. At least the canopy got a good cleaning.

  • Stuart, FL, 1991 — Staff: Kate. Setting: on downtown street; first show of the season, and Kate realized with horror during Friday set-up that the arches that lift the roof so water can drain out were still in Maryland. If only it doesn't rain, no problem; UPS will bring them next week. At 2AM, a fierce downpour starts. Kate drives to booth to find the roof filled like twin bathtubs, too heavy to push up to drain. Drag large city trashcan over, climb up, empty water with coffee mug. About 200 cupfulls before the weight can be pushed from beneath. The other side can't be bailed, no room for the can. Careful loosening of some ropes releases a waterfall, soaks boxes stored under tables. Lesson: no boxes on ground, set on elevated boards and get waterproof plastic bins, not cardboard.

  • Grand Haven, MI, 2001 — Staff: Kate. Setting: on downtown street near small park. Arrive morning after set-up to find neighbor has shoved our booth over a foot, jammed against Greek food vendor, where griddle spatters grease for two days onto puzzle table, stools and people.

  • Sarasota, FL, 1994 — Staff: Kate and Ward. Setting: downtown street. Weather: tail end of Hurricane Andrew, impossible to set up on Saturday. Sit in van all day, in shelter of building, exploring designs and tilings. This is where Triangule-8 was born. Set up Sunday, not a total loss.

  • Sarasota, FL, 2007 — Staff: Kate. Setting: on corner of sidewalk around a little downtown park. Weather: Saturday night a mini-tornado runs down Main Street, demolishing about 50 booths. The Kadon booth two blocks away gets roughed up, one broken post, hardware pulled out, even a broken rope. Discover damage Sunday morning, make-shift repairs with more rope. Inventory unscathed, great sales both days. Repairs later with liquid wood and glue and lots of duct tape. Maybe it's time for a new booth...

  • Pittsburgh, PA, always — Staff: Kate and any sorry draftee. Setting: downtown park among 4 highrises, a windtunnel just waiting to catch the streaming air above the three rivers a stone's throw away. Weather: management has a system of instant alerts as wind and rain can arrive suddenly. Depending on location, booths get blown away, knocked down, or spared. In 22 years of doing this show, we've seen it all, held on through it all. This show taught us all the defenses, all the ropes. Still our No. 1 best show of the year. Postscript: In 2015 Pittsburgh gave us a new world record—13 hours to take down in rain, the fourth river.

  • Chicago, IL, any year — Staff: Kate, occasionally a helper. Setting: downtown in the windy city, an open plaza by the river, elegant and treacherous. The Kadon booth holds its own, though winds will sometimes push it along the pavement like a shuffleboard puck. The worst year was around 1997, when a storm hit during take-down and caught us partly dismantled but inventory not yet secured. Anneke, Falco, Fabian and Kate battled wind and water for an hour. Lesson: load stock boxes into van before untying ropes. Why all those people? Because Fabian was driving the booth back to Maryland in the van while the others continued cross-country in the RV.

  • Allentown, PA, 1996 — Staff: Kate and Richard. Setting: 4-day craft fair in park with hilly terrain. Happening: on second morning, leaving dorms where we lodged, found note from booth neighbor Laura that her truck had hit our booth, maybe broke a board. Examine damage, 9 out of 13 boards are torn out; only ropes and stools under counter held it together. It was totalled. "That's it, let's go home," Kate sighed and started loading. Laura even offered her own booth, but its layout wouldn't work. A savior arrived: Leslie Sweetnam, woodworker extraordinaire, offered to repair it all. By 1PM, sacrificing 3 hours of his own selling time, and with help of all neighboring craftspeople, the booth was up, better than new. Sales weren't great, but the camaraderie and help in need were awesome.

  • Manassas, VA, 1997 — Staff: Kate. Setting: on grassy field of fairgrounds, across from 200-foot circus tent with over 60 exhibits inside. Long years before, Kate had set up in the tent, too, and gotten totally drenched through the leaky roof. Weather: Saturday midnight, while Kate sipped wine with other artists in the neighboring yort, a storm arose, a mini-tornado hit and mowed down one aisle of booths. The yort and the Kadon booth were untouched and propped other booths from rolling away. The circus tent went down as floods of rain battered the exposed work. What wasn't smashed was drowned. Emergency workers with floodlights arrived, a scene like a war zone. This is what met unsuspecting artists arriving in the morning. Sunday the show went on with the survivors.

  • Addendum: Wayzata, MN, 2013 — Read this story in verse.

23.   The solution wizards
Puzzles need solvers, and the clever ones write computer programs to do the drudge work. They can not only tell whether something has a solution, but how many solutions exist. While all the figures in the Kadon books have been solved "by hand", we love these guys for the stats:   Aad van Wetering for polyominoes, Jacques Haubrich for edgematching, Toby Gottfried for anything, Bill Cutler for burrs and tilings (especially the Stomachion or Archimedes' Square), Bill Kolb for permutations, Eric Postpischil for polyiamonds, George Sicherman for polyforms and solution counts.

24.   We hear you
Sometimes people need something special or different, and if we can, we'll make it for them. Custom orders are part of our service. And now and then, what they ask is something we should be making, anyhow. These products wouldn't be in our line-up if you hadn't asked:

25.   For better or for best
One lesson above all we've learned: Things go wrong, mistakes happen. Don't assign blame—learn from them and move on. If something annoys—fix it, repair it, make it better. Kadon has a quaint bonus system for suggestions that improve how we do things, to reduce cost and effort, to improve quality and customer satisfaction. One way is to use the by-product of one product as components of another. Here are some symbiotic pairs:

On two occasions, clients asked us to design them a special puzzle for promotional purposes, and then backed out. The research we'd done was not to be wasted; we developed them further and made them products of our own. Mini-Iamond Ring and Pocket Vees were both rescued this way.

If we hadn't made some parts the wrong size, there would not now be the very popular Deka-Star, Pocket Star, and the cool and tough Rhominoes-25. Lemonade, indeed!

Do you have a story to add? Email us.

The saga continues:
1982:  The first wave of growth
1983:  The lesson of quality
1984:  Some things old, some things new
1985:  Guests and clones
1986:  Thinking big... and bigger
1987:  Growing three ways
1988:  Compounding complexity
1989:  Grand visions
1990:  Herculean heights
1991:  Happy marriages
1992:  Diamonds forever


The Life of Games
No. 4 (April 2007)
©2007-2017 Kadon Enterprises, Inc.