An Interview with puzzle prototyper George Miller

Puzzle Designer interviews

TheMetagrobologist consistently presents exclusive interviews articles and features every month. This month we are is excited to present an interview with George Miller, a master metagrobologist, puzzle prototyper, and designer. George has produced puzzles for puzzle designers worldwide. We hope you enjoy this interview…

George Miller discusses Making Puzzles!

MGT: Can I ask how and when you were first introduced to puzzles?

I was given a Japanese wooden interlocking puzzle in the shape of a barrel one Christmas at an early age. I then wanted all the other shapes: the sphere, the cube, the horse, and the gun.

MGT: I have read that you first bought a 3D printer in 2003 and started to immediately produce puzzles with Oskar van Deventer that previously you could only dream of. Can you tell us about this? Where did you first see your first 3D printer and what was it?

George: I dreamed of a device that could make 3-dimensional objects. I tried to envision what such a machine would look like. I thought I could build one – a sphere with holes all around and protruding rods. The sphere is opened and a lump of clay is inserted. The sphere is closed and all the rods are pressed in a precise amount calculated by a computer. The enclosing rods make the lump of clay into the desired shape. Obviously, this is an impractical machine, but I described it to a friend at a cocktail party and discovered how rude people could be.

Puzzling people! That most definitely drives me to try and create a good puzzle. George Miller

When I first learned of a machine that could form shapes using a tank of special liquid and laser beams, I looked up the nearest machine and invited myself to observe. I was shown into a display room with many printed shapes and was fascinated. I picked one up and gave it a tiny squeeze to judge the hardness. This shape immediately cracked and fell into a heap of pieces.

The proprietor sheepishly mentioned that I had picked up a $400 object. Well, I wanted to make puzzles be handled by young boys and this would never do. I later learned that MIT was licensing inkjet technology allowing 3D objects to be built layer by layer of ceramic squirted by a special ink that bound the powder into a strong, coloured stone-like object. I considered buying this marvellous device when I found myself visiting the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. I was standing at an interesting exhibit when my friend Oskar van Deventer called to me to come quickly. He was standing in front of a machine which was making plastic toys.

The toys came out of this 3D printer hard, colourful and smooth. We stood for nearly an hour watching this machine print. It broke down during our viewing and we watched a repairman fixing the machine. With the machine open we could see all the innards and we both started firing questions at the repair man about the machine. I was enthralled. Here was a living proof that dreams could come true. I decided to buy the machine on the spot. It cost as much as a new car, but, I did not need a new car but felt this machine could change my life.

Pencil Puzzle-TheMetagrobologistThis was the Dimension 3D printer by Stratasys (actually the term “3D printer” was not yet invented). I had no idea how to use this expensive machine or even what I would use it for. Fortunately, the creative mind of Oskar was already at work designing puzzles I could make with my new machines. I had to learn CAD (computer-aided design) and CAM (computer aided machining). I even had to learn how to fix the machine whine broke because I could not afford to pay the yearly maintenance fees.

MG: What was the first puzzle you produced? Was there any trial and error with the new 3D printer?

I dreamed of a device that could make 3-dimensional objects. George Miller

George: The first puzzle that Oskar sent me was the tube maze. And yes, there was much trial and error with 3D printing, not limited to just the first puzzle. I eventually had a large box of failed attempts.

MG: Although now retired, you are widely known for your puzzle Prototyping. How did this evolve?

George: Ah, I found out about the international puzzle society late in life. I had been collecting and making puzzles all of my life. I was astounded at the size of some of the collections I saw and decided on a strategy for obtaining the best collection of new puzzles. I would offer my services as a puzzle prototype to any developer for free. I would only prototype puzzles that interested me. I would keep sending prototypes until the designer was satisfied.

The designer got the final version and I kept a final version for my collection. This way my collection grew by leaps and bounds. I also kept the right to manufacture any puzzle I prototyped with a 10% royalty to the designer. Oskar was, by far, my most prolific designer. He learned a CAD program and would send me ready-to-print files of his latest creation.

This all came to a sudden halt when the company Shapeways came into being. Now designers would not have to go through a prototype, they could have their 3D prints made directly by Shapeways.

Read the rest of the interview in the pages of TheMetagrobologist Magazine Issue 4.

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