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Geometric Puzzle Design

A K Peters
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Stewart Coffin is the world's leading authority in the rather specialized subject of the design and fabrication of two- and three-dimensional geometric puzzles. His new book, Geometric Puzzle Design, is an exhaustive resource for people interested in creating and building their own puzzles, or who are just interested in the theory behind them. It's written for people with some devotion to the project, however, and those looking for step-by-step instructions to make particular puzzles will be disappointed. Mr. Coffin prefers to present information and techniques in the abstract, leaving the individual creator to, as he puts it, have the joy of rediscovering the solutions to many of these puzzles. The mathematics behind the different types of puzzles, as well as their history, is included along with descriptions of how to create them.

Most of Geometric Puzzle Design is devoted to three-dimensional puzzles. However, one chapter is devoted to two-dimensional puzzles, including the well-known tangram and pentaminoes types. This is followed by a discussion of, among other things, cubic block puzzles, burrs (puzzles consisting of interlocking assemblies of notched sticks), rhombic dodecahedrons, polyhedral puzzles, intersecting prisms, and coordinate motion puzzles (those which require simultaneous manipulation of several pieces). All chapters are provided with ample illustrations which should allow the dedicated puzzler to recreate the designs presented here.

Coffin likes to present puzzles in terms of their basic elements. However, at times he also provides specific instructions about fabricating different types of puzzles in a home workshop. This includes directions about how to use a circular saw to create the basic elements, suggestions about what kind of wood and glue to use, and how to create jigs for sawing and gluing the pieces. Since many of the designs require use of a power saw, at least some steps in the process of creating these puzzles will require adult supervision.

Stewart Coffin is a well-known designer and fabricator of geometric puzzles. He has written several previous books, including Puzzle Craft, The Puzzling World of Polyhedral Dissections, and AP-ART, the Structural Art that Comes Apart, and has created more than 200 individual designs. Mr. Coffin worked as an electrical engineer and designer and manufacturer of fiberglass canoes and kayaks before getting into the puzzle business.

Sarah Boslaugh ( is a Performance Review Analyst for BJC HealthCare and an Adjunct Instructor in the Washington University School of Medicine, both in St. Louis, MO. Her books include An Intermediate Guide to SPSS Programming: Using Syntax for Data Management (Sage, 2004), Secondary Data Sources for Public Health: A Practical Guide (Cambridge, 2007), Statistics in a Nutshell (O'Reilly, forthcoming), and she is Editor-in-Chief of The Encyclopedia of Epidemiology (Sage, forthcoming).

Date Received: 
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
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Stewart Coffin
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Sarah Boslaugh
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Sunday, December 7, 2008