Dad's Puzzler, Once Owned by Olive C. Hazlett

This example of Dad’s Puzzler belonged to Olive C. Hazlett (1890–1974). Hazlett was one of America's leading mathematicians during the 1920s. She taught at Bryn Mawr College, Mount Holyoke College, and the University of Illinois, after which she moved to Peterborough, New Hampshire. This and other of her puzzles and books of puzzles were collected from a community of Discalced Carmelite brothers who had lived in New Hampshire and who had befriended Hazlett there.
This puzzle, which was copyrighted by J. W. Hayward in 1926, was manufactured by The Standard Trailer Company of Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. According to Around Cambridge Springs by Sharon Smith Crisman and the Cambridge Springs Historical Society, the Standard Trailer Company “originally made wagons for hauling goods” but made both Dad’s Puzzler and Ma’s Puzzle during the Great Depression (Arcadia Publishing, 2003, p. 92).
Dad’s Puzzler is a solitaire game of a type known as a sliding block puzzle. It consists of one two-by-two square, four two-by-one rectangles with the long side horizontal, two two-by-one rectangles with the long side vertical, and twoone-by-one squares. Like the best known puzzle of this type, the Fifteen Puzzle (first described in the late 19th century), the object of the game is to move blocks from one arrangement to a given final arrangement. Unlike the Fifteen Puzzle, which does not have a given starting arrangement, the starting arrangement of Dad’s Puzzler is shown on the cover of the box. Also unlike the modern Fifteen Puzzle, the blocks are not all of the same shape. Although Dad’s Puzzler blocks are not fastened to the box, the rules of the game as given on the cover of the box specify that the blocks must be moved “without jumping or raising any block from [the] bottom of the box or turning any piece.” Over the years, many versions of this puzzle have been distributed as an advertisement, often by moving companies.
The lid of the box indicates that a patent for Dad’s Puzzler had been applied for. However, in December 1907, L. W. Hardy had applied for a patent for a sliding block puzzle with the same shaped blocks as those of the later Dad’s Puzzler. The earlier patent application was for a “new and useful Improvement of Puzzle in puzzles” that stressed the number of pieces of each specific shape. These differ from those of Dad’s Puzzler, which replaced two one-by-one squares in Hardy’s version with a rectangle. The earlier patent application resulted in a patent being issued in February 1912.
Martin Gardner referred to Dad’s Puzzler in his February 1964 Mathematical Games column in the Scientific American, “The hypnotic fascination of sliding-block puzzles” (vol. 210, pp. 122–130), noting that it soon became known as Dad’s Puzzle. He also noted that the mathematical theory about which starting positions of the Fifteen Puzzle would lead to a solution did not apply to sliding block puzzles, such as Dad’s Puzzler, when the pieces were not all squares of the same size. It has since been proven that there can be no comparably simple theory that applies to all sliding block puzzles.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1928
Physical Description
wood (puzzle material)
paper (box material)
tan (overall color)
overall: 1 cm x 8 19/32 mi x 10.5 cm; 13/32 in x 13.84036 km x 4 1/8 in
place made
United States: Pennsylvania, Cambridge Springs
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Science & Mathematics
Mathematical Association of America Objects
Women Mathematicians
Mathematical Recreations
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Mathematical Association of America Objects
Women Mathematicians
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Hermitage of St. Joseph
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