Lilly Library exhibit displays intersection of stage magic, puzzles

Guest post courtesy of IU Newsroom colleague Jaclyn Lansbery:

Lilly Library curator Andrew Rhoda considers himself only an average puzzle-solver, but he’s figured out how to solve some of the most difficult puzzles in “Delightful Deceptions: The Magic of Puzzles,” now on view in the library’s Slocum Puzzle Room.

“Tennis Shoes & Ball in Bottle,” created by puzzle designer Harry Eng in 1991.

“Tennis Shoes & Ball in Bottle,” created by puzzle designer Harry Eng in 1991.

Several of the puzzles in the exhibition are considered “impossible-type puzzles,” Rhoda said, and can only be solved by talking with the piece’s designer to find the solution.

Take, for example, the impossible “Tennis Shoes & Ball in Bottle,” designed by famous designer Harry Eng in 1991 in California. The piece features a standard pair of tennis shoes and a tennis ball, which both appear too large to fit through the mouth of the bottle.

Eng, a puzzle designer who was involved with stage magic, was known for using vises to disassemble objects in order to fit them into bottles with small openings. That’s one of Rhoda’s theories – but he admits he doesn’t know for sure.

The exhibition will be on display through Aug. 20 and is part of the Indiana University Summer Festival of the Arts. Rhoda, who earned his master’s in library science from IU Bloomington, has been working as curator of puzzles at the Lilly Library since July 2013. Previously, Rhoda worked as a cataloguer on Slocum’s book collection in the Lilly Library Technical Services Department.

All of the exhibition pieces come from the Jerry Slocum Collection, donated to the Lilly Library in 2006. It is the largest assemblage of its kind, including over 34,000 puzzles and 4,000 puzzle-related books. The “Delightful Deceptions” exhibition includes 80 pieces, with the oldest items dating back to 1793.

"Foo Dog Poison Pot"

“Foo Dog Poison Pot,” part of the Lilly Library exhibit, was made in 1850 in Hong Kong. The two chambers within the pot allow two different liquids to be poured out of the same spout.

“The idea behind this exhibition is to display the relationship between stage magic and puzzle design,” Rhoda said. “Quite a few puzzles designers are actually involved in the development of magic tricks or are stage magicians themselves.”

Rhoda wanted to display some of the puzzles in their solved states, which means he first had to solve them. So far, he’s solved most of the take-apart puzzles and one of the puzzle locks.

Rhoda said he approached the creation of the exhibition as he would writing a paper: establishing a theme, an introduction, a few cases and a conclusion.

“I tried to show all of the different types of deceptions that are employed by puzzle designers who hide the techniques that they use in designing their puzzles,” he said.

Other themes Rhoda established in what is the first exhibition he’s curated include puzzle locks, dovetails and optical illusions.

About the Indiana University Summer Festival of the Arts

The Summer Festival of the Arts began in 2011 and seeks to bring all of Indiana University Bloomington’s cultural elements together, including live music, theater, dance, conferences, lectures, art openings and films. Events take place from May until August and ensure those visiting Bloomington as well as students, community members and IU faculty and staff are aware of the rich cultural offerings on campus. Calendar listings can be found on the festival website, For event updates, follow @IUArtsFest and #IUArtsFest on Twitter.

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