Back in 1994, some folks decided it would be a cool idea to give a special 80th birthday present to Martin Gardner, long-time author of the very popular and significant Mathematical Games column in Scientific American magazine, as well as many books of mathematical puzzles and articles.
What better way to mark the occasion, they thought, than to bring together a lot of people who had enjoyed, and been influenced by, Martin's work? So they invited a bunch of people from the fields nearest to Martin's heart, from mathematics, puzzling, and stage magic, to come to Atlanta for the "Gathering for Gardner": several days of talks, performances, and exhibitions in celebration of Martin's 80th birthday. That first Gathering was such a huge success that the organizers decided to keep doing it and, every two years since then, there's been a Gathering.
I've known about the Gathering for some time now, through contacts at the International Puzzle Party, but I was pleased to be invited for the first time this year, for "Gathering for Gardner 8", or "G4G8". Similar to the Puzzle Exchange every year at IPP, the organizers of the Gathering ask that everyone provide a gift of some sort for all of the other participants. Many people fulfill this obligation by giving a talk and writing up a short article for the conference proceedings book, but many others bring puzzles, magic tricks, or other entertaining objects.
You know, of course, what I did, right?
Every Gathering for Gardner has a theme; I think you may be able to guess what all of the previous themes were when I tell you that this year's was "8, or the crazy lazy 8 (infinity)". I wanted to bring a new puzzle design that would strongly incorporate the theme, of course, but I also wanted to continue down the path I'd forged with my Ooo Tray puzzle last year. I wanted to design another multi-stage puzzle, with each solving stage revealing clues to the next stage, culminating in a "final answer" that was somehow satisfying.
I'd been idly thinking about three-dimensional edge-matching puzzles for a while (What? Don't try to tell me you don't think about such things, too.), and I'd wondered if it would work to make a polyhedron where the sides fit together with tabs and slots. With a theme like "8", this was a perfect (some might say Platonic) opportunity!
A little software work and many design iterations later, Octamaze was born. There are at least four stages in solving this puzzle, providing a good hour or two of "play time". If you buy a copy of Octamaze and get stuck, I've created a sequence of web pages giving a progression of hints for solving it. (Don't worry: clicking on that link won't immediately reveal any spoilers. If you keep clicking on the links at the bottom of each page, though, you'll eventually see all of Octamaze's secrets, so be careful.)