SET Interview, Part 1

A year before Imagine magazine began, back in 1992, my very first published puzzle was in the pages of the Study of Exceptional Talent Precollege Newsletter. Since Imagine ceased publication a couple of years ago, the people at SET thought that their newest members might be unaware of Knossos Games. This past January, I spoke with Carol Blackburn, a research psychologist, SET staff member, founding editor of Imagine, and longtime enthusiast of my puzzle column. The following is reprinted from the SET Precollege Newsletter with their gracious permission.

SET alumnus Tim Boester has been making puzzles for nearly as long as he can remember. He began publishing puzzles in Imagine magazine when he was in high school, and continued to do so throughout college, graduate school, and into his professional life as an educational psychologist and mathematics professor. Puzzles by Tim appeared in all but six of the 125 issues of Imagine. You can visit Tim’s wonderful online archive—a treasure trove of puzzles—which includes thoughtful explanations of how to solve his puzzles at In this spread, we showcase just a few of the puzzles he created over the years, and hear about his journey from a boy who loved puzzles to a professor who studies how students learn advanced mathematical concepts.

In this 1994 yearbook photo from his senior year at Western Reserve Academy, Tim has some of his favorite puzzles ready to hand out at a math event.

When did you start making puzzles?

My interest in making puzzles started early. I don’t know why. I remember drawing my first puzzle in kindergarten—a giant maze on packing paper. The teacher hung it on the blackboard near the door, so that my classmates could try it. Discovering graph paper soon after was a revelation. I went through reams of it in elementary and middle school. I grew up making puzzles.

For years, pencil and paper were the only tools I had. Even today, I still start by jotting down notes and sketches on graph paper. It helps me clarify my preliminary thoughts about a new puzzle idea. However, using the computerized tools we have now has definitely influenced my process in creating puzzles. For example, being able to rapidly prototype puzzles and print out several copies enables me to test different versions quickly. I can explore many more options than I could before. At times I wonder how I was able to create some puzzles as a kid when I had to do everything by hand.

Clockwise from top left: 3D Wall mazes, Woven mazes, Node mazes, Triangular mazes
Your early puzzles include a variety of beautiful, complex mazes and spatial logic problems, like the one where the chess knight must jump across a chess board with missing spaces.

Many of my early puzzles were simply variations of puzzles I had seen and liked. Creating my own puzzles inspired by ones I enjoyed helped me better understand how puzzles work and how they are constructed.

Knight Jumping Islands Puzzle 01
Knight Jumping Islands – Puzzle 1

When did you start publishing your puzzles?

I became a member of SET in eighth grade, and the summer before my junior year, I sent some puzzles with my SET Update. You and your colleagues liked them and asked to publish one in the SET Precollege Newsletter. Then you asked to print one in the very first issue of Imagine magazine, on the Creative Minds Imagine page. Then another. By volume five of Imagine, I was a regular contributor with my own column, Knossos Games.

Where did the name Knossos Games come from?

I wanted a title that communicated the long history of puzzles, but also felt modern and fun. Knossos is the city on the island of Crete where King Minos, according to Greek mythology, built the labyrinth holding the Minotaur. Knossos Games hopefully evokes the notion of puzzles inspired by this tradition.