Early kid’s games of chance lead to barbaric carnival games
  • 1968 inlay puzzle of a black child drawn as his natural self
  • Can you find the key to open this puzzle bank?
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    Auction Finds

    Vintage puzzle games that make you wanna holler

    I tried my hardest to roll the BB-sized silver balls into the round grooves on the face of the card. There were six tiny balls, and they were stubbornly rolling around in all directions or huddling in the left corner.

    I was trying to maneuver them on the small card of one of those games from the past, a seemingly simple game that is second cousin to the electronic games kids play today. This game was hand-held, in a rectangular box with a clear cover and colorful board.

    I found two flat boxes of the puzzles – about a dozen of them – on a table at auction recently. I was tussling with “PondSnag” where I tried to get all of the ducks (represented by the silver balls) out of the ponds and into coops next to the water.

    puzzle games

    The puzzles were pretty varied, from magnetic to rolling balls.

    It wasn’t easy, so I finally gave up and tried another game, the “Kanuduit.” This one required me to place a large red question mark inside a puzzle of the same shape, and then maneuver a silver ball into a hole in the loop on the question mark.

    Are you kidding? I didn’t master that one, either.

    Surely, I could defeat “The Lucky Ringtail Cat”; all I had to do was to get the rings on the cat’s tail. But there was a catch: The rings had to be placed in the order of red, white and blue.


    puzzle games

    A sampling of puzzles at the auction.

    These types of games that try both your patience and resolve are called dexterity games, and they have been around a long time and still are. Truly addictive, they challenge you both physically and mentally, and the key to winning is strategy. One of the auction games, “The Moving Platform Puzzle,” included instructions on how to solve it.

    On the back of the boxes was a tongue-twister about the puzzles:

    “Popular Portable Puzzles Proving Positively Perplexing and Perpetually Pleasing Posers Presenting Persistently Provoking Problems Providing Profuse Pleasure, and Producing a Palliative or Placid Panacea to People Possessing a Propensity for Persistence, Patience, Perspicacity and Painstaking Propensities.”

    Some early dexterity puzzles date back to ancient times, and may have been used to teach eye-hand coordination to children as hunting exercises, according to an article by a member of the Association of Game Puzzle Collectors.

    By the early 19th century, these palm puzzles – as they are also called – were produced in England. They became very popular in this country around 1889 after an American named Charles M. Crandall created the game “Pigs in Clover.” The goal was to run pigs in the form of marbles around a maze into a pen in the center. Priced at 10 cents, it was instantly snapped up, becoming a favorite among not only everyday people but members of the U.S. Senate. Several of them seemed to have engaged in a “pig driving contest.”

    puzzle games

    Pinwheel, a mathematical puzzle, and The Lucky Ringtail Cat puzzle.

    The game was just as popular in European companies. Crandall filed a patent for it in February 1889, and by April, more than one million games had been sold.

    Most of the puzzles at the auction were made by R. Journet & Co. of London. The company was founded as a toy shop in 1878, and began making puzzles around 1891. It is said to be best known for its dexterity puzzles, which were sold primarily in England until 1918.

    Its market expanded to the United States when it set up a booth at the British Industrial Fair and got orders from American buyers. The years from the 1920s to the 1950s were considered the best of times for dexterity puzzles, which were not only made by the Journet company but others that copied its design.

    puzzle games

    Dice and domino games.

    The company made more than 100 games. It was sold in 1965, and the puzzles were discontinued in the 1970s around the time when portable electronic games were starting to appear. The first of them arrived in 1977 with “Mattel’s Auto Race,” followed by “Football.” One of the most popular hand-helds of all time, ‘Nintendo’s Game Boy,” was released in 1989.

    The stash at auction also included Milton Bradley and Shackman & Co. (a doll and toy-maker) games. Some of the puzzles are collectible, and if you’d like to start a collection, there are things to look for to determine age and value.

    puzzle games

    At top, Pinwheel No. 27, and “it’s knot easy.”

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