Famous Puzzle Nerds

Another day, another article question. I have a need to find famous puzzle makers and famous puzzle aficionados. Naturally, I’ll be doing research here on my own, but ya’ll are so damn smart and plugged in, I can’t resist asking for your help.

Can anyone think of some seriously brainy puzzle makers? They tend not to fall into the videogame world, aside from the guy who did Fool’s Errand and 3 in Three http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cliff_Johnson_(game_designer). Who are the heavy hitters in puzzle design?

Alternately, can anyone think of famous folk who are ridiculously addicted to puzzles, be they word, logic, numeric or otherwise?

All of these should preferably be analog puzzle nerds, not digital puzzle nerds, so Tim Schafer may not quite fit the bill here. Some digital puzzles would translate to the written page, but the whole adventure game genre tends to not. Can’t really translate the old “molasses plus cat hair equals fake mustache,” routine.

Incidentally, if anyone here has not yet played 3 in Three… wow, absolutely amazing, mind-bending, crazy good game.

Martin Gardner and Will Shortz come to mind.

Stefan Fatsis wrote a great book called Word Freak about professional scrabble playing.

Will Shortz is the guy when it comes to puzzles, be they on NPR or the NY Times.

And Martin Gardner is the king of puzzles. He’s the mathemagician.

What about Erno Rubik?

I’m a huge puzzle nerd, with a collection of about 60 puzzle / mathematics books by the aforementioned Gardner and others, as well as every back issue of GAMES Magazine dating back 25 years (to when Will Shortz was EIC). Unfortunately, I’m not famous, so I can’t help you there. :)

If you want to go back farther, look into Sam Loyd and Henry Dudeney, who created all sorts of classic puzzles which we still see variants on today. There are several collections of puzzles by both available in book form (including one written on Loyd written by Gardner).

Paul Hoffman wrote a number of interesting mathematical-related books under both his own name and the psuedonym Dr. Crypton. Issac Asimov, who was a huge puzzle buff, wrote the forward to one of his collections.

There’s an entire thread to be written about physical and mechanical puzzles, from the Rubik’s stuff all the way back to “impossible” items (see: Harry Eng).

While GAMES Magazine has fallen on somewhat hard times in recent years, Mike Selinker has been writing an outstanding “Puzzlecraft” series, where he deconstructs a different type of puzzle every month and walks you through the process of creating it.

Otherwise, most of the interesting stuff in puzzles these days seems to be in the videogame medium, which tends to be a collaborative medium with few “stars” to be found. One game I fell in love with last year was Professor Layton and the Curious Village, which is basically an encyclopedia of classic puzzles, with the DS and touch screen being a great way to present them to young’uns. They can’t release the two sequels (already out in Japan) soon enough for me.

Off the top of my head, in addition to those mentioned earlier:

Modern times: Mike Selinker, Henry Hook, Trip Payne, Wayne Schmittberger, Emily Cox & Henry Rathvon, Robert Leighton, Dave Barry (yes, the humour columnist – he co-writes the annual Miami Herald Puzzlehunt)… actually, any Games magazine has tons of examples.

Historical: Lewis Carroll, Sam Loyd, Henry Dudeney, Torquemada, Ximines

Presumably you’ve read the Wikipedia article on Puzzles. For famous fans of puzzles (eg. Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart) check out the movie Wordplay.

Add Eric Harshbarger to the Modern list.

The french writer Georges Perec was a big puzzle nerd. He created crosswords, was a fan of go, etc.

As a member of Oulipo he used puzzle logic to write his books. His book A Void (La Disparition) is a lipogram (no “e” for like 300 pages), and his best novel, Life: A User’s Manual(La Vie mode d’emploi) is built upon very strict constraints… As the wikipedia article describes one of these rules :

A Knight’s Tour as a means of generating a novel was a long-standing idea of the Oulipo group. Perec devises the elevation of the building as a 10×10 grid: 10 storeys, including basements and attics and 10 rooms across, including 2 for the stairwell. Each room is assigned to a chapter, and the order of the chapters is given by the knight’s moves on the grid.

If you’re interested, there is a great pieceby Paul Auster about the novel, on the NYT.

I don’t know if his works translate well, but he’s one of my favourites writers.

I just remembered I’m signed up for the annual MIT Mystery Hunt this year. You want some puzzle nerds, just go there.