By Mary Giorgio

We all love a good puzzle. It’s incredibly satisfying to get those last pieces into place. Right here in the Hoosier state, there’s a place where you can explore unique puzzles from around the world.

Indiana University’s Lilly Library houses a vast collection of rare books and manuscripts. Their collection of rare books numbers over 400,000. Lilly Library also contains over 130,000 pieces of sheet music and over 7 million manuscripts.

This amazing library is also home to the world’s largest collection of mechanical puzzles. Some of the puzzles date as far back as the 18th century. They were collected by Jerry Slocum, an avid collector who donated the bulk of his treasures to IU in 2006.

Slocum developed an interest in puzzles while working as an engineer with Hughes Aircraft. In 1978, he founded the International Puzzle Party. Each year, the group gathers to discuss, trade, and display mechanical puzzles. In the early years, the group met in Slocum’s living room. Today, they meet worldwide, gathering across America, Asia, and Europe.

When Slocum retired, he devoted his time to studying and collecting mechanical puzzles. In 1986, he published his first book, titled Puzzles Old and New. Slocum went on to write dozens more books and articles on puzzles and their history. In 1993, he founded the Slocum Puzzle Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to educating the public about puzzles.

The Slocum puzzle collection at IU contains over 30,000 puzzles and 4,000 books about puzzles. The library currently has about 400 of the puzzles on display for the public to view.

Most of the puzzles in the collection are mechanical, meaning that they are 3-dimensional objects that must be moved or manipulated to solve. The Rubik’s cube is an example of a mechanical puzzle.

Slocum has identified 10 categories of mechanical puzzles that have existed over the centuries. Of those, three types predominately make up the collection. Those include put-together puzzles, take-apart puzzles, and interlocking puzzles.

What makes the collection so magnificent is that many of these puzzles are works of art, crafted by skilled artisans with the utmost attention to detail. Puzzles from China are hand carved from ivory. Tangram puzzles from France feature colorful artistry. Japanese trick-boxes are carved with elaborate wooden inlays.

Visitors to the Slocum collection get the chance to test their skills on replica puzzles. Puzzles from the collection can also be examined in Lilly Library’s reading room. The puzzle exhibit and additional items from the collection are available to visitors during the library’s daily hours.

In addition to the collection available at Lilly Library, an online database includes a compilation of data on all 30,000 puzzles. It is a valuable resource utilized by professors, students, and members of the public.

For puzzle enthusiasts, old and young, the Slocum collection at Lilly Library is a fascinating opportunity to study exquisite examples of mechanical puzzles.  A trip to Bloomington, Indiana, will inspire visitors worldwide to test their skills at solving the most unique brain teasers.