Monthly Archives: April 2009

2009 AGPC Sam Loyd Award Presented to Kagen Schaefer

At our 25th anniversary convention in Providence, Rhode Island, on 24 April 2009, the AGPC presented the Sam Loyd Award for mechanical puzzle excellence to puzzle designer Kagen Schaefer.

Kagen Schaefer with the AGPC's Sam Loyd Award, 2009Jerry Slocum presented the Sam Loyd Award to Kagen Schaefer on behalf of the AGPC. Here are Jerry’s words:

It is my great pleasure to present this year’s Sam Loyd Award to Kagen Schaefer, puzzle designer and craftsman extraordinaire.

Kagen grew up in mountainous Colorado. He attended Colorado College and received a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, with honors, in 2000.

But he was interested in puzzles long before he studied math in college. He has spent quite a bit of time drawing mazes ever since he was in kindergarten.  He used to challenge his dad to solve the mazes that he drew.  His dad would always find some slightly broken line that he did not draw accurately enough and sneak through it to solve the maze too easily.  Kagen kept trying to draw better and cleaner mazes.

He made his first puzzle box from cardboard when he was about 12 years old.  He discovered that he could use an exacto knife and school glue to make puzzle boxes with hidden moves.

He tried to practice good craftsmanship even at a very early age.  He first sold a copy of the Pinwheel Puzzle Box to a patron in 2000.  He was only making an occasional box in the school woodshop at the time, but he thought that it was cool that he could sell the puzzles that he made.  In 2002 he started to make commercial editions of his puzzles.

Kagen discovered the Karakuri Creation Group in 2004 when he visited Tokyo to attend the International Puzzle Party. Since then the Japanese style of puzzle boxes has been the most influential in his work. Akio Kamei’s work and the Karakuri Creation Group’s beautiful pieces have been a huge inspiration to him in many ways.

In the last 7 years he has designed and made thirty different puzzle boxes and three different pieces of puzzle furniture.

When I asked Kagen to pick his favorite of the thirty puzzle boxes that he has designed, he said, “It is so difficult to pick a favorite.  I like each of them for such different reasons. However, I guess that the Pinwheel box is my favorite, since it was one of my first pieces.”

When asked about his future plans, he said, “It looks like I’ll keep making puzzles.  It’s too much fun!”

Kagen’s website describes his philosophy:

“I have always loved mathematics and the visual arts. The trouble was, how do you combine the two? I attended school up through undergraduate college looking for answers. Still not content to pick one field or the other, I started making wooden boxes for enjoyment. When I graduated from college, I worked a year as an assistant professor in the mathematics department, and at the same time I worked as an assistant for the art department wood studio. At the end of the year I was asked to give a presentation of a secret opening box I had made.

So what next? I decided I had much more to learn about this art form. It seemed to me this was the most interesting way to express my ideas, and there was a lot to learn about woodworking. I spent a year learning basic skills from different sources. I apprenticed in a custom furniture shop in Los Angeles, worked in a production shop in Denver, and set up a small wood shop for a friend in the town of Marble, Colorado. In 2001, I moved to Portland, Oregon, and rented a wood studio. I spent four years in Portland learning the trade from various craftsmen hidden in unexpected places, coming across unusual exotic wood species, and creating designs and trade secrets. I could learn woodworking, but there is no place to learn how to make a secret opening box. This, I had to invent in my own way.

Over the years my work has won awards at the International Puzzle Party Design Competition, held annually. I have been published in Fine Woodworking Magazine. I am also featured on the Karakuri Creation Group web page, a renowned Japanese site for secret opening boxes. My work is collected worldwide.

Today I live in Denver, Colorado, where I have a studio. I continue to create my newest ideas from wood, and I continue to learn so much about the art of woodworking.”

For a puzzle designer and craftsman who has only been selling his puzzles for 7 years, his accomplishments are amazing:

These are his awards at IPPs:

2002 Block Box IPP 22  Puzzler’s Award & 1st Place
2003 Decorated Box IPP 23 Judges Honorable Mention Award
2004 Dodecahedron Box IPP 24  Puzzlers Award & Grand Prize (Puzzle of the Year)
2006 Maze Burr IPP 26 Puzzlers Award & Grand Prize (Puzzle of the Year)

IPP Design Competitions: 8
Puzzlers Award & Grand Prize Awards:16 Awards
Competitors 52-61/IPP of the best designers in the world such as Stewart Coffin & Akio Kamei
Kagen has won 5 of 16 top awards including 2 Puzzle of the Year Awards
Iwasawa has won              2 of 16 including 1 Puzzle of the Year Award
9 other designers               1 Award each, no other Puzzle of the Year Awards

It gives me great pleasure to present the Fourth AGPC Sam Loyd Award to  Kagen Schaefer for Bringing Art, Mathematics and Craftsmanship Together and Creating a Portfolio of World Renowned Mechanical Puzzles