Word Puzzle, Once Owned by Olive C. Hazlett

This example of Word Puzzle 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 was made in Hong Kong, probably in the early 1950s. It is a solitaire game known as a sliding block puzzle and looks very much like the best known sliding block puzzle, the Fifteen Puzzle, which was first described in the late nineteenth century. The aim of Fifteen Puzzle is to slide the pieces from a given starting position to get the four rows to read 1 through 15 with the blank space at the bottom right corner. Unlike the Fifteen Puzzle there is more than one solution to this Word Puzzle since the aim is to move the letters around to form as many words as possible.
In the late 19th century mathematicians proved how to determine which starting positions of the Fifteen Puzzle would lead to a solution. In particular, if the starting position in the first three rows read 1 through 12 while the fourth reads 13, 15, 14, blank, the puzzle cannot be solved. This is known as the “14-15 Puzzle of Sam Loyd” even though the puzzle author Sam Loyd first mentioned it, and challenged players to solve it, well after it had been shown to be unsolvable.
This Word Puzzle has as one of its solutions RATE YOUR MIND PAL, and for some time there were sliding block word puzzles sold showing a starting position of RATE YOUR MIND PLA to mimic Sam Loyd’s 14-15 Puzzle. However, unlike the Fifteen Puzzle, whose fifteen squares have no repetitions, this puzzle has two A’s as well as two R’s. Since the mathematical analysis of the Fifteen Puzzle implies that if there is a repetition of at least one marking on a square, then the fifteen squares can be arranged in any order you choose, this Word Puzzle can be solved either as RATE YOUR MIND PAL or RATE YOUR MIND PLA.
Currently not on view
place made
Zhonghua: Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Physical Description
paper (tag material)
plastic (puzzle material)
puzzle: .4 cm x 6 cm x 6 cm; 5/32 in x 2 3/8 in x 2 3/8 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Hermitage of St. Joseph
Mathematical Recreations
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Mathematical Association of America Objects
Women Mathematicians
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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