It is a Puzzlement
January 27, 2012 4:54 AM   Subscribe

The Jerry Slocum Mechanical Puzzle Collection, given to Indiana University in 2006, is now online, with images and descriptions of some 24,000 puzzles, from an 18th century Japanese puzzle to nearly 300 kinds of Rubik's Cubes. posted by Horace Rumpole (11 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
We have such sights to show you.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:04 AM on January 27, 2012

This is amazing. I've never even heard of this guy or his collection and I love mechanical puzzles. I may have to plan this summer's vacation around visiting the exhibit.

I hope the physical place is a little more informative than the website, though. There's almost no info here. For instance, what is puzzling about the miser's cup? Or is the "secret" of this one that you just slide them apart? Hard to tell with a single ill-placed photograph.
posted by DU at 5:22 AM on January 27, 2012

DU: I'm guessing they spent the whole budget for this project on taking 24399 pictures of puzzles and getting them up on the web and did not have a lot of time left over to write descriptions.

A more romantic take: the miser's cup is so puzzling they have not yet figured it out.
posted by bdc34 at 7:50 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first step is catalog. They've had 5 years.. but say 3 since it took time to get funding, hire help, set up web-servers etc.. so 25000 pictures, webpages and metadata created in 3 years .. there are about 250 working days a year so that's exactly 100 a day, which is easily a full time job for two or three people .. this looks like it a non-trivial project just to get the pictures online. Now to actually add descriptions and history etc.. another three years maybe.
posted by stbalbach at 8:04 AM on January 27, 2012

Don't forget housing, shelving, and labeling for tens of thousands of pieces of realia of irregular shapes and sizes. I'm a curator myself, and the size of the task makes my head spin.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:17 AM on January 27, 2012

And I would have thought, from my ignorant standpoint, that all those cataloguing and web archive logistics are compounded by the random & irregular shaping of each item. At least with prints and books you are simply dealing with a 2-D structure. 25K items? That's insane.
posted by peacay at 9:08 AM on January 27, 2012

DU: For instance, what is puzzling about the miser's cup?

Not sure if this is the same idea, but "The Miser's Cup" is a name for the cup-and-ball/coin magician's trick... which would technically not be a puzzle at all, but still might be in the collection.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:19 AM on January 27, 2012

I visited the Lilly Library at IU in 2008. They had a number of the puzzles on display then, and a few out that visitors could try for themselves. The Log Stacker took me a good 30 minutes to solve.

They have a bunch of other neat stuff there too: a Gutenberg Bible (and unlike the one at the Library of Congress, they'll let you take a picture of theirs), an Ian Fleming collection (including some of his marked-up typescripts for James Bond novels), and one of John Ford's Oscars.

Anyone interested in mechanical puzzles should not miss Rob's Puzzle Page. While not nearly as extensive as the Slocum collection, it's more descriptive of the puzzles that are shown. Particularly of interest there is the mapping between five different mechanical puzzle classifications.

I have a particular passion for disentanglement puzzles and have a smallish (maybe about 40) collection of those.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:08 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Outstanding! Thanks for posting this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:07 PM on January 27, 2012

Yeah, thanks for this. The main link doesn't really elaborate Slocum's Mechanical Puzzle Classification and Taxonomy, but Slocum, because of his enormous collection, has been in a unique position to do such a thing, and I really like it.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:20 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a really cool collection.

And quite honestly, digitization is less than half the battle; description (and generating some metadata) could take plenty longer.
posted by carter at 6:34 PM on January 27, 2012

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