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Paper Puzzles by Sam Loyd

Puzzles…made out of paper!

You may have heard of mechanical puzzles - but did you know that there exist paper puzzles as well? These simple paper constructions, beautifully illustrated and with accompanying instructions, can be surprisingly baffling to solve. In this article, we look at the famous paper puzzles by Sam Loyd (1841-1911) a brilliant puzzle inventor who created thousands of Mathematics, word-play, and cut-out shape puzzles during his lifetime.

Sam Loyd - puzzle extraordinaire

Taken from puzzlefry

Sam Loyd was born in Philadelphia but moved to New York City at the age of four. After some years spent playing chess professionally and publishing chess problems, he found a new passion for creating puzzles and published his first puzzle card in 1868, the Pony Puzzle. This marked the beginning of his illustrious career as a puzzle creator. Sam came up with puzzle columns for many popular newspapers and magazines of the day and steadily grew in fame over the next few decades, all the way till his death in 1911.

Notable paper puzzles

One of the most famous paper puzzles by Sam Loyd is the “Famous Trick Donkeys” created in 1858. In this puzzle, the goal is to arrange the three pieces of paper (the player cuts them out first) such that each donkey has a rider on it. This classic puzzle requires a keen eye and a shift in one’s perspective to be able to solve it.

Taken from wikipedia

P.T. Barnum, the travelling circus showman featured in the movie The Greatest Showman (2017), actually bought the rights to distribute this puzzle and successfully sold thousands of them. Funny enough, he often forgot the solution to the “Trick Donkeys” and occasionally had to visit Sam to recall the answer.

As mentioned earlier, the Pony Puzzle was Sam Loyd’s first puzzle card. In this puzzle, the player needs to arrange the legs of the pony to complete its entire body correctly. Don’t let its simplistic design fool you; this puzzle card has been rated a difficulty level of 6/10, similar to the Trick Donkeys puzzle above!

Taken from puzzlemaster

Sometimes, the paper puzzle takes the form of riddles. In “Questions of the Sphinx”, the player has to work through a series of questions written on the card. Another famous puzzle by Sam Loyd is the “Get Off the Earth” puzzle, a tricky one that creates the illusion of a disappearing person. The puzzle card has a rotating circular disc built into it to achieve this effect. You can try out a free version of the puzzle online here (count the number of men in the image, turn the globe using the red slider and count them again - one of the men has vanished!)

Taken from puzzlemaster

You can find a list of other famous card puzzles from Sam Loyd at puzzlemaster. Sam Loyd also came up with postcard puzzles, some of which are similar in design to the card puzzles, but there are others that are new, such as “Puzzled Neighbours” and “Alice in Wonderland”. You can find these postcards at the official Sam Loyd website here.

Project Enigma currently has all these puzzles (the postcard puzzles, the “Trick Donkeys”, the “Pony Puzzle”, “Questions of the Sphinx” and “Get off the Earth”) in our collection, so feel free to contact us if you wish to try these out for yourself!

Sam Loyd’s Cyclopedia of Puzzles and Mathematical Puzzles

If you’re craving for more puzzles by Sam Loyd, fret not. Paper Puzzles were just a small part of his life’s work. After his death, Loyd’s son compiled thousands of his father’s other puzzles and published it in a single, comprehensive volume. This Cyclopedia of Puzzles contains a whole range of puzzles such as riddles, word games and mathematical problems of all levels of difficulty. Often told through story form and with illustrations on the side, it will certainly appeal to puzzle enthusiasts of all ages and experience.

As written in the preface of the Cyclopedia: “A lover of puzzles browsing through the pages, whether he be the veteran solver or the youngster who is just beginning to agitate his grey matter with riddles and word puzzles, will find abundance to feed upon”.

Taken from Abebooks

Martin Gardner (1914-2010), a famous American mathematician, also selected several of Loyd’s mathematical puzzles and published two volumes of them separately in 1959 (you can find them on Amazon: Volume 1 and Volume 2.) These books proved very popular then, and were used to teach school children basic problem-solving skills and algebraic manipulation.

These additional publications, on top of the numerous puzzle cards/postcards he came up with, are truly a testament to the extraordinary creativity and ingenuity of Sam Loyd, whose work lives on even till today.

If reading this article has piqued your curiosity about our work, check out our Sparkbox Plans! In addition, P. Enigma has two books by Sam Loyd that you can borrow as well (Tom Tinker's Puzzles and The Book of Tangrams) so do reach out to us if you are interested.

Finally, be sure to watch our video on Sam Loyd’s Paper Puzzles on Instagram too and follow us for more updates. See you in our next article!


“About Sam Loyd.” Sam

*This is an excellent resource for all things on Sam Loyd.

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