Introduction to Uwe Meffert
By Martin Gardner
Uwe Meffert is one of the leading Rotating Puzzle Inventors / makers in the world, and now has a very attractive web-site which sponsored the Mind Sport Olympiad 2002, Puzzler Championship. I have not seen the web site due to not having a computer, but I have had the pleasure to meet Uwe Meffert in person as he visited me one weekend several years ago.
Our interest in puzzles started in two extremely opposite directions; I became interested in puzzles through researching some of the great puzzle writers and inventors such as Sam Lloyd and Henry E. Dudeney. Uwe's introduction to puzzles was more by accident. He was doing some research in early 1970 into the energy flows inside the human body and what effect if any resulted by playing with different shapes. (The mystical powers of the Pyramids was an in thing during that period) He made all of the 5 basic Polygons out of balsa wood. However, doodling with the solids for hours soon became boring to him, so Uwe cut them into symmetric slices and attached them with rubber bands to a center ball.
This is how most of his basic puzzles where born. However, after the experiment proved to be a failure, the gentle stroking of the apexes of the various wooden pieces proved to have a very stimulating relaxing effect on the mind and body, but the different shapes made no further contribution. The wooden pieces ended up in a drawer and would still be there today collecting dust if it had not been for Erno Rubik's wonderful invention, the Rubik's cube, which took the world by storm.
Meffert's friends urged him to market his puzzles, but he was reluctant at first feeling that no one would be interested in these wooden objects. Finally in early 1981 he agreed to show his puzzles to Tomy Toys of Japan (then the 3rd largest toy company in the world) Tomy liked the puzzles very much and selected the Pyraminx. Over 10 million pieces where sold through toy stores by Christmas 1981. (and 90 million within 3 years) Following this initial success, he also supplied the Impossiball to Milton Bradley and the 4x4x4 & 5x5x5 cubes to Ideal toys and their subsidiaries. Since that humble beginning Meffert and friends have come up with over 100, 3D rotational puzzles of which around 40 became commercially viable.
Uwe Meffert was born in Wernigerode in the Harts Mountains of Germany, on the 28th. of November 1939. His father is Otto Oscar Wilhelm Rudolph Meffert, a pharmacist, and his Mother Emmy Johanna Frieda Von-Vorkauf, a housewife.
He has only one brother, four years younger, a brilliant mechanical Engineer. He is married to Jing Meffert and they have three lovely children, Michelle, Andrew and Ulrich. He also has two grand children, Michaela and Zachary.
Meffert was educated in Heidelberg Germany, Geelong Australia, Bern Switzerland and several Asian Countries. He has spent most of the last 30 years in Australasia, doing extensive private research into human and animal nutrition and after his initial accidental entry into the Puzzle realm has become actively involved in education, promoting logical thinking in children. He encourages them to use their Brain more as a CPU (central processing unit) rather then for data storage, for which hard disks are much more suited and to think and solve problems by themselves in a systematic orderly process, breaking big unsolvable problems down into many little solvable challenges.
Uwe is also very involved in promoting preventive medicine, to live a longer more fully productive life. Has written several books on Nutrition & TAI-CHI CHI-GUNG, Long life Health & Beauty exercise. He enjoys bush walking, swimming, snorkeling & Tai-Chi Chi-Gung, believing in total equilibrium in all things and to use logic & reasoning to solve all problems, conflicts and disputes, rather then aggression and force which he believes is a sign of ignorance and fear.
Please do not suppose that the only function of puzzles is to entertain. Puzzles are a way of teaching mathematics. Indeed, they are the best way to teach it. Fred Hoyle, the famous British astronomer, taught mathematics at Cambridge University for twenty years. In his book Ten Faces of the Universe he states in strong terms his belief that mathematics should never be taught at all. Students must learn for them selves. How?
"By solving puzzles. The function of the teacher should be, first, to select in a wise way the material on which the puzzles are based, second, to make sure the puzzles are well-suited in difficulty to the sophistication of the student, third, to answer questions, and finally, if the teacher is capable of it, to give an occasional word of inspiration."
If you hated math at school, it wasn't because the subject is dreary but because you had dreary teachers who in turn also disliked mathematics. Uwe Meffert's Puzzlers help put the fun back into mathematics.
Martin Gardner is best known as the author of the Scientific American's Mathematical Games column, a feature popular throughout its 25 year lifespan. A philosopher of science by training, Gardner writes on a wide variety of subjects beyond recreational mathematics.
About Meffert's Puzzles
By Dr. Christoph Bandelow
I like these puzzles very, very much; I'm really crazy about these puzzles, especially the very new ones: the Meffert's Challenge, New Generation Puzzles.
There are many reasons for this. The first reason is that these puzzles resemble so much of our real world. There is the same subtle mixture of order and chaos in these puzzles as in our real world. And if you try to change one part of the puzzle it affects many other parts simultaneously: It is like the Pinatubo volcano erupting in the Philippines changing the weather in the USA.
Secondly you learn how to break a large problem into many small pieces and then solve them, one by one by thinking logically. You can even explain some difficult mathematical theories using these Puzzles. In my University in Germany, I often give a complete mathematical lecture with a Puzzle in my hand and the students love this colorful illustration of an abstract theory.
Thirdly, there are many striking analogies between Meffert's Puzzles and some fundamental principles in Science. For instance: the structure of the NGP Puzzles is exactly the same as the structure of a carbon hydrogen molecule. In the meantime we have disassembled one of these Puzzles to show the relation to the carbon hydrogen molecule in detail. Carbon hydrogen molecules are the central building blocks of all living material: One carbon atom in the center and four outer hydrogen atoms. The angles are all the same. There is no right angle (90 deg.), but the angles are all the same. Children learn 3-dimensional thinking this way.
On the other hand, there are also fantastic analogies to our macro cosmos. The Puzzles are very similar to our solar system: The squares and triangles of the Puzzle rotate around the center and around their own axes at different speeds like the planets orbit around the sun and rotate around their own axis at the same time.
If one applies the same sequence of moves again and again the Puzzle will always automatically return to the original starting position like a comet in our solar system. Children who play with these Puzzles learn to think clearly and logically. This is the best preparation for life in our stressy high tech computer age.
Dr. Christoph Bandelow is the world's leading expert on mathematical puzzles, he is the senior lecturer at the Ruhr University Mathematics Department, Germany's largest University.
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