Nobuyuki Yoshigahara: Puzzled to the end

Nobuyuki Yoshigahara: Puzzled to the end

To Nobuyuki Yoshigahara (芦ヶ原 伸之), one of the world’s best loved puzzlemasters, there was no more worthwhile way to spend his days than creating puzzles.

Nob Photo by ニコリ

If you’ve busted your brains on Rush Hour, you have him to thank. Inspired by the crammed streets of Tokyo, it is only one of his more well-known works. Hundreds of others have been published and manufactured for the enjoyment of the general public.

Fondly called ’Nob’ by his contemporaries and fans, he produced some of the most memorable mechanical puzzles in recent decades—works of art in wood, glass, plastic, paper and even cast iron. Hundreds of online puzzle games are also credited to him.

Before becoming a puzzle pioneer, he had a career in high-polymer engineering. He fell out of love with it, and went on to teach chemistry and maths. But his enthusiasm for puzzles couldn’t be contained in a classroom, and he went on to become one of the world’s favorite metagrobologists.

Yoshigahara, the puzzlecraft promoter

Yoshigahara’s many articles on puzzles came out in books, magazines and scientific journals. Since the 1970’s, his writing invited people to flex their brains with his humour and candidness. He penned as many as 17 monthly columns at one point, sometimes under the pen name ‘Utaro Pug-Ugly.’

Rush Hour puzzle Photo by Durandal7

Perhaps to encourage its readers, one of his books called out “Even you can become Einstein.”

Reaching out to ‘puzzle people’ everywhere, he established NOBNET in 1996 as the digital home of his newsletter Puzzletopia. Between this, his published work and puzzle creations, he made Japan a top destination for those in search of enigmatic amusement.

Puzzle party animal

The most devoted of puzzlers make an annual pilgrimage to the International Puzzle Party. Here, creators and enthusiasts gather to challenge, solve and share puzzles. The wiry Nobuyuki with the salt-and-pepper mustache became one of the party’s most beloved members even recruiting young puzzlers.

Once, the mathemagician surprised a group of puzzle collectors by arriving at the event bursting out of a giant Rubik’s cube. There is no account of Nob’s choice of outfit, but he was unlikely to have parted with his trademark tan newsboy cap.

The International Puzzle Party renamed its annual puzzle design competition after him in 2005, the year after his death.

International Puzzle Party Photo by pinguino

Happy puzzling forever!

In 2004, Nob passed away unexpectedly in his workspace, devoted to puzzles until the very end. He openly shared his struggle against stomach cancer, but always put his work first. He even programmed a computer to solve a complex mathematical problem just before undergoing a major surgical procedure.

After his death, pop-up puzzle parties were held in his honor, as far off from his home as London. He is called a guru and a genius by the many who miss him. Apart from being an honorary member of Mensa Japan, he received the Sam Lloyd Award for Lifetime Achievement for his great contribution to the puzzle world.

Nobuyuki Yoshigahara is remembered today for toeing the line between engineer and entertainer, and inspiring many others to happily puzzle their days away.