Interview: Mike Reilly
Mike Reilly is an award-winning game, toy and puzzle designer. We talked with him about how some of his better-known puzzles got developed and brought to market, how an agent earns his cut (50%!) and whether, in the end, it's all worth it.
Puzzle Monster: You've worked in the toy and game business for over 25 years. How did that begin?
Mike Reilly: I started making games, puzzles and toys when my daughter Dawn was born. I sheltered a friend’s woodworking shop in my home in Albuquerque, New Mexico and had access to tools and materials there. Soon, all my friends, and their friends, started asking me to make toys for their kids.
Piet Hein’s Soma Cube inspired me to create my own puzzles. It was made out of a bunch of cubes glued together and I thought, "I can do that!" Of course, I wanted to do it my way, so I purchased several thousand one inch wood balls and made at least a hundred ‘items’ from them. My daughter and I even barbequed on our Hibachi over some of them.
Another friend, John Bird and I started my first toy company, Rhino Games & Toys together in 1972. We presented several of my designs to Skor-Mor, then the largest wood puzzle company in America. They licensed two of my designs on sight. One was a game called ‘Archiball’ (their name for it, not mine!) and the other was a 35 ball, three-sided pyramid puzzle ‘Cannonball’ (again, their name).
They were already manufacturing ‘Cannonball’ when they sent an urgent message asking for a photo montage of how to solve it. Instead, they put all seven shapes of five balls each unassembled into a box, along with the base, and shipped it that way! They put my photo on the box with John Bird’s name beneath as the inventor. The company’s puzzle & game business, no surprise here, went tits up soon after.
While attending the Toy Show in NYC in February 1974, I presented my portfolio to Julie Cooper, Senior VP of Ideal Toy which at that time was second only to Mattel. He took the cigar out of his mouth and said, "We can’t use your stuff kid... but, we can sure use you." He offered me a job in their R&D department. I needed time to think about it. He said, "Sure. Take all the time you want... five minutes." I hesitated less than five seconds and took the job. Learned heaps in the next year, much about the toy business and tons more about playing the corporate game.
PM: How does the development process work - going from a raw concept to taking a finished product to market?
MR: Process? It’s mostly like a food blender. I love to cook. My recipe is relationships and luck. Or maybe it’s luck in relationships. That, and good produce helps. I mean product.
As far as process goes, I build most of my puzzles backwards. Maybe ‘reverse’ is a more apt word. The best way to explain this process is to take you through it step by step. In fact, with a few simple materials and some time you can build your own version of my ‘Weaver’s Puzzle.’ With patience and diligence, you can build a very difficult puzzle, and build it somewhat easily.
The illustrations here will explain and demonstrate my ‘Weaver’s Puzzle.’ The photos are of my original prototype. There is a set of directions intended as a DIY (do it yourself) project to help you make your own version of my ‘Weaver’s Puzzle.’
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5