Interview: Robert Abbott
Robert Abbott has been designing games, mazes and puzzles for decades. He's the inventor of Ultima, which was ChessVariant.org's Recognized Variant of the Month in 2001 (only 39 years after it was originally released). He's also the inventor of Eleusis, a card game that he considers his greatest achievement, and the author of Abbott's New Card Games.
He's also an authority on a genre of puzzle known as "mazes-with-rules" or "logic mazes," his most famous creation being Theseus and the Minotaur. He's the author of SuperMazes and Mad Mazes and has a website devoted to the subject.
We had a nice long talk with Mr. Abbott about his mazes and his history - including the unusual luck of being discovered in 1959 by a man named Martin Gardner.
Puzzle Monster: You've been designing games and puzzles a good long time. How did you get started?
Robert Abbott: I should say that I wouldn't have gotten anywhere if
Martin Gardner had not discovered me. In 1959 I sent him a letter about
my card game Eleusis. This letter was from a complete unknown, someone
with no publications or academic credentials. The majority of editors
and the majority of writers wouldn't have even read my letter. Martin
not only read my letter but he saw what was good about Eleusis. I had
mentioned that the game involved inductive reasoning, but Martin also
saw that the game could be an analogy for the scientific method. He
devoted his next Scientific American column to Eleusis, and the game
became quite popular.
PM: Besides developing games, did you have a day job?
RA: Because I wanted to invent games (or do something creative), I
didn't want a job-type job. Mostly I worked as a typist. But then I got
tired of being poor, so in 1964 I got a job as a computer programmer.
Programming was a revelation to me. It was more fun than any of my
"creative" work. The most fun I had was at the Bank of New York. A group
of us created a teleprocessing system using the 360 assembler language
and BTAM (Basic Telecommunications Access Method). We even created our
own language using the macro facilities of the 360 assembler.
Just about everything I've done since then has used programming in some
form or other. I'm now 71 years old and I can't stop programming. The
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