Ball Pyramid puzzles—a farewell

The ball pyramid puzzles sold by Kadon since 1982 were invented by Len Gordon and produced in 1972 by Gordon Bros. in injection-molded polystyrene in various colors on black plastic bases. Len supplied us with all assembled and vacuum-packed sets in red, blue, green and crystal, and in three sizes: Perplexing (20-ball order-4 tetrahedron, 6 pieces), Big (30-ball square-base pyramid, 8 pieces), and Giant (35-ball order-5 tetrahedron, 9 pieces). The most difficult was the Giant. It was recommended for determined teens to adults.

Eventually we ran out of colors and really preferred the beautiful crystal version, so purchased only the crystal balls from Len and made our own bases when his ran out. The pyramids were among our top hottest sellers in the company's first 25 years.

For their 25th anniversary in 2009, we added silver trim to the bases. For the Maryland Renaissance Festival's 35th Anniversary in 2011, we made a special version of the Giant on a jade-and-silver inscribed base. You can read more about the Giant in the historical notes. For a full, technical analysis of spherical packing, see Len Gordon's notes on George Bell's great puzzle site.

In the mid-80s, Len sold his puzzle business and the molds for making pyramid pieces to Gerry Gonsalves, a furniture maker in Chico, CA, and retired to Arizona. Gerry kept us supplied with crystal parts for as long as they lasted and even had more made until the molds wore out. In 2016 Gerry also retired, the molds were scrapped, and the puzzle pieces ran out. As of March 2017, the Giant was no more. It was beautiful while it lasted and tantalized thousands of puzzlers. An enterprising soul solved it and made a diagram of the solution to post online.

By the end of 2017, we had only random spare parts left, not enough to make any of the standard models. What to do? How about concocting pyramids out of whatever pieces would work, a potluck mix. We were able to create a couple of Perplexing-size tetrahedra and just three Giant-size tetrahedra we called "Franken-5" constructions, each a different combo of odds and ends in mixed colors. We also managed to use up all the rest of the left-overs in making a dozen or so square-base pyramids, like the nice old extinct Big pyramid. They all had a mixture of different parts, hence the Potluck moniker. They were all guaranteed to have at least one solution! We don't know how many other ways there are to put any of them together. We leave the challenge of finding them to their puzzlers.

When we were done with these improvisations, exactly one unused piece remained: an L. How sweet that it's Len's initial. It has found a permanent home on our yuletide tree.

Many ball pyramid puzzles have come on the market since Len Gordon's heyday, especially since the 3D printing technique was developed. Whether our models will see a rebirth is an open question.

Postscript: As of March 15, 2019, the last two sets of a related puzzle, Warp-30, sold out. An elegant collector's item is now also history.

Warp-30 was proposed by Len Gordon. It was developed, made and named by Kate Jones. Its 8 all-different crystal-like pieces (30 balls) could be packed into four different spaces: 2 sizes of box, 2 shapes of pyramid. These presented four levels of difficulty. The square pyramid had over a thousand solutions. In fact, any one of the eight pieces could form its top, as we learned from our friend John Blasdale, who classified, without computer, 935 solutions by how certain pieces occupy the various levels. The rectangular pyramid is the most difficult—for years it was believed to have just two solutions, until June 2007, when Gordon Collins supplied three, computer-derived. David Kausch separately confirmed this result in September 2007. Each has the same piece on top. Gordon Collins also worked out the distinct solutions for the other three spaces: Square Pyramid—1120. Box 1—2370. Box 2—189. Warp-30 was painstakingly handcrafted with a handsome 8"x8" wood base, clear acrylic box compartments, and a brass-like plaque. Read the rest of the story...

1986 Historical Notes

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