Sunday, April 15, 2012

Jerry Slocum: The Tao of Tangram

A few years ago a heard a speech about a concept called functional fixation.  Sometimes when we as humans are solving a problem, we get focused on an incorrect method to solving that problem.  In essences, functional fixation is the inability to reach the correct solution because of our extreme focus on the wrong solution method.  I’m not an expert in this topic.  Although, I am an expert at being confused :)  So I wanted to experiment with the idea of functional fixation.  I thought a good method would be through a puzzle and I ended up getting a puzzle and book set.  The puzzle was Tangram and the book was called The Tao of Tangram by Jerry Slocum.  At the time, I didn’t know who he was.
This really isn’t going to be a review about the book or the puzzle but I did want to say a few thing about this great puzzle set and then say a few things about the author.  The puzzle set includes seven wooden pieces and the objective of this puzzle is to arrange all the pieces in the same manner that is presented by a picture.  For example, if the illustration shows a picture of a bird then you need to arrange the pieces to make a bird.  It sounds simple and straightforward but some illustrations can be challenging.  If you would like to know more about Tangram and how to make your own paper Tangram then follow this video link.  The guy gives a good explanation.  There were a few things that I noticed while solving this puzzle.  When I was heavily focused on the puzzle I would get stuck in a mental pattern which lead to poor results (functional fixation).  However, when I would open my mind to what I rationally thought was improbable then I would solve the puzzle a lot quicker.  The puzzle has left quite an impression on how I go about problem solving.  Some hobbies come and go but I know that I’ll be playing with my Tangram set for many years to come.  The book includes a history of Tangram but the majority of the book contains problem illustrations.  In my opinion, the history section alone is worth the price and is a real treat because of the curious bits of information.
Recently I did a little research on Jerry mostly because a fellow puzzler recommended his works.  It was interesting to find out about his passion to promote mechanical puzzles.  He also happens to be a puzzle collector.  The man possessed one of the largest mechanic puzzle collections in the world with over 40,000 pieces!!!  He donated most of his collection to the Lilly Library.  The Library is located on the campus of Indiana University Bloomington.  You can view the collection online as well as download a booklet about the collection.  I think it was very cool of him to donate his collection to the library for people to enjoy.  He also organized the first International Puzzle Party in 1978 which is also called IPP for short.  The party is still held every year and is a place where puzzle enthusiasts can come together and have a bunch of puzzling fun.  For more information on Jerry Slocum, Tangram and other puzzling stuff see the links below.  I have to say that the mechanical puzzle community would not be where it is at today without the help of pioneers like Jerry Slocum.  The Tao of Tangram puzzle set by Jerry Slocum is still available through websites like amazon but you may end up paying a bit more for a new copy because I think the set is no longer being manufactured.   
Jerry Slocum’s Puzzle Collection at the Lilly Library

A World of Puzzles
A booklet about Jerry Slocum’s Puzzle Collection at Lilly Library that you can view and download!!!

The Puzzle Museum
A puzzle museum with over 5500 puzzles!!!  Allard, Oli, and Kevin go to their puzzle parties ever now and then and yes I'm jealous :(


  1. Jerry's collection is more than 5,000 puzzles, he once had over 40,000 mechanical puzzles! [Source: Wikipedia]. I am not sure how many puzzles he has now, after he gave many of them away to the Lily Library.

    Jerry is a great guy and he has written many puzzle books. He has written books on the Tangram puzzle, the 15 puzzle, and Rubik's Cube. Plus many more books you will find on Amazon.

  2. You are right George. That is amazing that he has so many puzzles. I updated the post. Thanks for the info.



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