January 31, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sam Loyd

Take a great game like chess and cross it with the fun of puzzles—and you might just get what is called a chess composer.

I didn't know such a job title existed, either, but apparently there are people who create chess problems for others to solve. Sam Loyd, who was born on this day in 1841, was a popular and witty chess composer. He can also be said to be a recreational mathematician.

He was obviously pretty good at chess. At one time he was one of the best chess players in the United States and #15 in the world. But he could never be truly great because he would go for complicated and fantastic layouts on the board rather than just going for the win.

Loyd was known for self-promotion—even to the point of lying about his accomplishments. For example, he claimed that he had created the 14-15 puzzle in which players slide number tiles within a frame in order to put them in numeric order—but he had nothing to do with the invention or popularization of the puzzle.

However, Loyd did create a number of popular chess problems, Tangram designs, and other sorts of puzzles or problems. One of the most famous chess problems ever is his Steinitz Gambit problem. Loyd's chess puzzles were so popular that he was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame.

Learn chess online, for free, at Chess Kids Academy. 

Here is the Think Quest chess resource, which features some interactive Chess Puzzles. 

And here are Activity Village's chess lessons. 

Try Tangrams and other math puzzles. (I love the puzzles in Simon Tatham's pack!)

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