Slocum Mechanical Puzzle Collection – Bloomington, Indiana - Atlas Obscura

Slocum Mechanical Puzzle Collection

The world's largest collection of mechanical puzzles is a cornucopia of analog bafflers. 


Jerry Slocum’s lifelong fascination with the history of puzzles led to a conundrum of its own, namely, where do you keep tens of thousands of antique mind-benders? The answer lay in the creation of the Slocum Mechanical Puzzle Collection located at Indiana University’s Lilly Library.

“Mechanical puzzles” are those brain-teasers that must be physically manipulated to achieve a specific outcome, so they are more often complex contraptions than simple jigsaws, or pen-and-paper mind games. Slocum had been collecting mechanical puzzles his whole life, eventually becoming the unofficial authority on physical puzzles with the publication of his 1986 book, Puzzles Old and New. By 2006 he had accumulated over 40,000 mechanical puzzles, thanks in part to the International Puzzles Parties, an annual private get together for mechanical puzzle enthusiasts and traders, which Slocum inaugurated in 1978.

Thus he donated over 30,000 of the puzzles to create the Slocum Mechanical Puzzle Collection in Indiana. In addition to the staggering amount of puzzles, Slocum also donated thousands of books about puzzles. Among the pieces on display (only a few hundred out of the thousands committed) are an archaic Rubik’s Cube with differing sizes of nails on each side, called a “texture cube”; a trick cup that seems normal until its drinker fills it too full and it drains away into the base; and more whimsical roadside amusements like a coke bottle with a wooden arrow through it. There are also countless intricate wooden geometrical curiosities that must be twisted and shifted together and apart.

Today, visitors to the library can actually try out a number of the puzzles and see countless others sitting in displays, just waiting to be solved.

Know Before You Go

Next to the puzzle collection, there is also a display of the Library's collection of miniature books.

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