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The Calibron 12-Block Puzzle

In March of 1931, a man named Theodore Edison, younger son of the famous inventor Thomas Alva Edison, filed articles of incorporation for a company named Calibron Products in West Orange, New Jersey. The company's first product was a special kind of graph paper, designed to make it easier to create perspective drawings.

But in December of the next year, the company filed for a copyright on "The Calibron 12-Block Puzzle". An advertisement for the puzzle appeared a few years later, in the January 1935 issue of Popular Science magazine.

The instructions for the puzzle read, in part, "The problem is to arrange the twelve blocks to form a single large rectangle. Any rectangle will do, provided that all twelve blocks are used... We guarantee that there is a straightforward, accurate solution of this puzzle in a single plane, and without recourse to any kind of trick... However, in spite of the enormous number of possibilities, there appears to be only one basic arrangement which satisfies the above conditions... We once offered $25 for the first solution of this problem and distributed hundreds of puzzles at that time, but received almost no correct arrangements! We should like to hear from you if you succeed in making the rectangle unaided."

Not very many people have copies of the original Calibron 12-Block Puzzle, and that bothered a good customer of mine, who wrote me earlier this year asking for advice on how to get a few copies of the puzzle made. I decided to make the copies for him myself, and once the first prototype came off the laser cutter, I decided that it was quite an intriguing design, and that I'd like to make it more widely available again.

The twelve rectangles making up the puzzle have very promising dimensions, with lots of obvious interrelationships that lead you to think that won't have too much trouble getting them to fit together in nice ways, and that's true, as far as it goes. However, "as far as it goes" isn't likely to be as far as actually solving the puzzle unless you put in some time and concentration. This is one of those very attractive puzzles that just won't yield without a bit of a fight.

With modern computers, it was straightforward to verify the original marketing claim: there is, indeed, a unique solution to the puzzle. I think you'll enjoy torturing your friends as they try to find it.

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