Six Questions with David Cohen: Creator of 52 Master Pieces
Looking for some puzzling fun? David Cohen has created a site just for you! At 52masterpieces.com you will find numerous entertaining games, puzzles, and more to challenge your thinking and inspire your mind. It’s an awesome site to visit to exercise the brain and have an adventurous time.
Not only has Dr. Cohen provided puzzles from almost all possible genres, he has also included interesting facts in relation to the puzzles throughout the site’s pages. Families can work together to solve each of the pages while having fun learning as a team.
It’s like a virtual family game night. Of course, you can always enjoy them on your own too! I love visiting the site and just picking a page to work on. It helps keep the mind in shape!
I was excited to learn more about it and so asked David the following Six Questions!
Thank you, Jenny, for inviting me to participate in your Six Questions feature. Before answering your questions below, I want to once again thank my partners Steve Geller (editor) and Steven Cole (programmer) for their incredible contributions to this project. We have all enjoyed your website and we appreciate the chance to share a little more about the 52 Master Pieces backstory with your readers.
- What inspired you to create 52 Master Pieces? And is there any special reason for the number 52 other than the typical count in a deck of cards?
The biggest inspiration for 52 Master Pieces happened when I was in the first grade. My elementary school principal, Mr. Myers, would give me a puzzle every day (usually from Games magazines), and there would be two possible outcomes: either I’d feel elated if I could solve it, or I’d be convinced that the puzzle was impossible if I couldn’t. Of course, the puzzles always did have a solution, and after enough solutions were revealed, my mind was rewired to believe that all problems have solutions, even when they first seem impossible. I’ve often wished that more people could see the advantages of approaching problems this way. Hopefully 52 Master Pieces can introduce a new audience to the joy of puzzles and the benefits of outside-the-box thinking the way Mr. Myers did for me.
52 Master Pieces has been influenced by countless puzzles collected from friends, books, and puzzle-based computer games (such as Infocom games, Sierra games, and the Myst series). That said, the most direct influence for 52 Master Pieces was probably Michael Stadther’s 2004 contest book, A Treasure’s Trove. This puzzle contest had a compelling family-friendly design, in which each component was simple enough to explain to a child but still required many months for adults to solve to completion. I believe I was the first to solve two of the twelve main puzzles, and after solving my first I realized that you haven’t truly lived until you’ve woken your spouse at four in the morning to excitedly announce that you are about to fly to Iowa and drive to a state park to search for a gold token in the knothole of a tree. Unfortunately, the token was not quite where I had hoped it would be (nor was the one in Kentucky a month later…in both cases I was within inches!), so I came home empty-handed. This set the stage for a happier ending a few years later when I was able to win the U.S. grand prize (and meet the author) in an international sequel contest that Stadther created.
52 Master Pieces was inspired by these exhilarating experiences, but also by the frustrations I have encountered in other puzzle hunts. Without naming any specific contests, many of the ones I’ve attempted over the years have ultimately been disappointing for a variety of reasons. Authors have often included puzzles that required arbitrary or illogical steps which could only be solved if clues were released later. Other contests didn’t offer any opportunity for early success or any feedback for making progress, only a feeling of “what in the world am I supposed to do?”.
In an attempt to minimize these frustrations, 52 Master Pieces offers two levels of puzzle challenges. The first is a collection of favorite classic puzzles with clues and an answer key that are immediately available to everyone. The second is the hidden layer of contest puzzles which are designed to be very challenging but solvable. Even though these contest puzzles do not have immediately apparent instructions, they do follow steps that are logical and fair, with instant feedback for correct Master Piece solutions. After being shown the correct answers with explanations, children under 10 years old have been able to understand and independently reproduce the complete solutions for many of the Master Piece puzzles in the contest. We’ve had several thousand correct submissions so far from players around the world, so the contest puzzles are indeed solvable!
As far as the number “52” in our title goes, you are correct that this is based on the number of playing cards in a standard deck.
- As of now, for the Contest part of the site, it seems all major prizes have been won, and there are only a few small prizes left to win. However, you intend to have 52MP and all the puzzling fun remain. What is your vision for site after the contest aspect of 52MP is completed?
52 Master Pieces will always be a free (and ad-free) website that offers a wide variety of puzzles for players of all ages and skill levels to enjoy. There are countless “aha!” moments just waiting for anyone who accepts the challenge. Players should note that there is a small question mark on the bottom right corner of most pages; clicking on this icon reveals hints and answers to the “surface layer” puzzles. Many of these puzzles will teach players the skills they’ll need to attempt the hidden contest puzzles later.
For those who want to try to solve the more challenging contest puzzles (the Master Pieces), we have added a “How to Solve a Master Piece” feature that explains the initial steps that were first discovered by our contest winners. While everyone is welcome to read this guide, we do recommend that all players take some time to look through the website before reading the explanations. The contest method will make more sense to those who are familiar with the general content of the website.
Even for those who understand the basic method for solving a Master Piece, solving any individual Master Piece (especially when it’s a player’s first) is a genuine accomplishment that typically requires both creative thinking and persistence. Sometime soon we intend to reveal the complete solution for one of the Masters, and eventually we’ll reveal them all. For players who have been unable to solve their first Master Piece, our hope is that once they are able to see and recreate a complete Master Piece solution, they’ll enjoy that feeling of success and will try to solve more on their own. Almost every player who has solved one Master Piece has gone on to solve at least a few more, and 33 players so far have solved all 52.
A few contest prizes are still available, thanks to the selflessness of the top four winners in the contest. These four winners were eligible to receive all 52 of the individual Master’s prizes (for being the first to solve each of the 52 individual Master Pieces). Instead, they requested that they only receive a few prizes each so that many other deserving players could be prizewinners too. So far we have awarded 49 Master’s prizes to 41 different players, with 3 of these prizes remaining. (Visit 52masterpieces.com or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional details about the contest prizes.)
Even after all the prizes are redeemed, any player who solves a Master Piece will be able to unlock a Certificate of Achievement that is unique for that specific Master.
As a bonus for mysteriouswritings.com (MW), the first MW reader who can solve all 52 Master Pieces will receive a customized, laser-etched wooden playing card, and we will donate $52 to the charity of that player’s choice.
- Out of all the various pages and challenges, I have to ask, which is your favorite type of puzzle and why?
My favorite puzzles are ones that have a simple objective, are self-contained, initially seem impossible, and later become clear after seeing things in a new and unexpected way. A few of my favorite examples from the 52 Master Pieces website are the Nine Nails puzzle on page 34, the Rope Burning Puzzle on page 16, the Disappearing / Reappearing Bar Puzzle on page 48, and the Car Tire Puzzle on page 40. For someone new to puzzles, I might suggest the Master Glassworker’s Puzzle Challenge on page 35. (Again, feel free to click the question mark on the bottom-right corner of the pages listed above to see clues and answers to these puzzles.)
We tried to follow two basic rules when selecting or creating puzzles for 52 Master Pieces. Rule #1 – Even if it’s a good puzzle, try not to include anything that’s “more work than fun.” Obviously the definition of this phrase is different for everybody, but it was a helpful guide. Rule #2 – If players can’t solve a puzzle and later learn the solution, they should want to kick themselves, not us!
- Are you surprised in any way about the participation of puzzlers in 52 Master Pieces? What are you enjoying most about offering such a site where people can visit, have fun, and challenge themselves with your puzzles?
That’s a good question – we really didn’t have any idea what level of participation to expect. None of us who worked on the project have any kind of social media presence and we had no budget for promotion or advertising, so I think we would have been happy to have a few hundred players and perhaps forty or fifty thousand page-views. The fact that the site has had over a quarter of a million page-views from thousands of players in over fifty countries far exceeded our expectations.
Early on I had the good fortune of meeting a couple of wonderfully supportive members of the Gathering for Gardner (G4G) Foundation, which honors the legacy of author, mathematician, and puzzle master Martin Gardner. Colm Mulcahy (G4G Vice President) and Nancy Blachman (G4G Chair) invited me to present our project at a G4G conference attended by an international community of recreational mathematicians and puzzle enthusiasts. 52MP has formed an official partnership with G4G, and we very much appreciate their efforts to help spread the word of our project. In turn, we’ve tried to use our site to generate awareness and support for their outstanding promotion of enthusiasm-based learning worldwide, such as Celebration of Mind events and the Julia Robinson Math Festival.
My favorite part of this project has been the feedback we’ve received from the players. We are very grateful to all the players who have taken the time to tell us about their favorite puzzle-solving moments, their appreciation of the overall contest design, or how they’ve shared the site with their friends or children. There are about 15-20 players in particular whose enthusiasm for the project would have made this experience worthwhile even if they were the only ones to play it.
My only disappointment with participation is that I had hoped that there would be much more online discussion of the puzzles in the contest. During the Treasure’s Trove contest, there were pages and pages of discussion on online forums filled with both good ideas and crazy theories. We created a forum but unfortunately it never gained any momentum. We may have scared some people away with official contest rules that were fairly strict about not sharing solutions before prizes were redeemed, and now that the major prizes have been awarded there is predictably less activity on the site and almost no discussion on the forum.
- You used a site, similar to the well-known Kickstarter, to help launch 52MP. How do you feel this went? Would you recommend launching products using such a service? Would you do anything differently?
We wanted to make the contest free for everyone without any ads or solicitations. When we realized that the total cost to create this project would approach $10,000, it made sense to attempt a crowdfunding campaign. We used the site StartSomeGood, which was definitely the right choice for us.
Unlike most crowdfunding sites, StartSomeGood is quite selective about the projects they promote, accepting ones that both provide a benefit to the community and have a well-defined plan of action for achieving their fundraising goals. Thanks to their help and the generosity of our supporters, we had a successful campaign that covered the cost of the prizes and most of our start-up expenses. Donations through our website from generous players have also helped us to fund this project. 52 Master Pieces is not-for-profit, and any proceeds will be given to the Gathering for Gardner Foundation.
- Are you working on any other projects or do you have plans on expanding 52 Master Pieces in the future?
I’ve been collecting original puzzle ideas for many years. All of these ideas, or as many as I could remember, were used in 52 Master Pieces (where almost every contest puzzle has a unique and unrepeated puzzle mechanism). I’m not sure that I could come up with enough new satisfying ideas for another puzzle project anytime soon after packing so many different puzzle concepts into this one. 52 Master Pieces will likely be a one-time experience without a sequel or similar companion project in the future…but anything is possible.
Jenny, thank you again for inviting me to answer your Six Questions. I can honestly say that I’ve never had such a prolonged experience of enthusiasm and joyful creativity as I did while designing 52 Master Pieces. On behalf of my partners Steve Geller and Steven Cole, thanks for helping us to share this project with your readers!
All players are welcome to contact us with any questions or comments at email@example.com.
Thank you David! I was smiling the whole way through while reading your replies!
I remember the A Treasure Trove’s days and myself going after a few of those tokens. So much fun; Congrats on your eventual WIN!
Although it is apparent you know what puzzlers enjoy from the incredible website you created, this becomes clear from your answers as well. I can relate to picking up an armchair treasure hunt book and having the thought cross my mind, ‘How in the heck can this be solved?’ It’s so nice to know that is not the case when visiting your site! I love your two rules mentioned above too!!! lol. Perfect.
And what an absolute generous gift to offer MW readers! Thank you! The challenge is on! Who might be the first to solve all 52 Master Pieces, receive an awesome prize, and have a charitable donation of choice made in honor! MW will match that $52 Charitable Donation too!
I think it’s so wonderful to have the 52 Master Pieces site to go to for challenging fun. Thanks again for keeping the puzzling spirit alive!
Visit the MW Forum to discuss and take up the Challenge of Solving all 52 Master Pieces for $52 x 2 given to charity!
And of course: