Author interviews Vol.21 juno

InterviewsAuthor round-table

Talking to juno

Juno is a male in his 30s. He is married. He is one of the operation staff of He says that he is the Nikoli staff member who loves cats most. It is only recently that he has begun to make pencil puzzles, but he is already a world renowned among mechanical puzzle creators.

NyanBazWhen you were little, did you do puzzles?

junoYes I played at putting pictures back together, and I did jigsaw puzzles and mazes, but I spent most time playing with blocks. At home, we had several different kinds of standard playing blocks. My brothers and cousins mixed them with me and did war games.

NyanBazWhat is that, war games?

junoWe divided into armies and we made bases (forts) with the play blocks. There were no rules for how to make the bases. Only we could not connect blocks of the same kind. We made the weapons attacking the base of the enemy with blocks too. They were like catapults, siege machines really.

NyanBazLike a seesaw, letting the blocks fly using leverage principles?

junoYes. I was trial and error, especially how to make a stable base.

NyanBazYou were a perfectionist from the start. From when were you doing actual puzzles?

junoI read a book an older brother had borrowed at the library. It was "Play Puzzles" by Shigeo Takagi. It influenced me greatly. There were mechanical puzzles shown in the book, and I made my own from wood.

NyanBazYou made them by yourself from the beginning? Didn't you think to buy puzzles from stores?

junoEven if they had them in the city, my hometown didn't have any because we were in the country.

NyanBazThat makes sense. What kind of puzzles did you make?

juno3D pentomino (domino shapes with 5 cubes), Gemini (2 connected 2x2x1 peace puzzle), Cube Pyramids, and there were more. A 3D pentomino has the length of one side as the thickness of the pentomino. It can be played with any number of forms, like maybe 5x4x3 rectangular.

NyanBazYou are still involved in mechanical puzzles. What kind of things do you do?

junoI participate in the International Puzzle Party for mechanical puzzle collectors. I also do a workshop as a part time lecturer at a university. There I start with telling people that when you replace the vertexes and faces of a dodecahedron it becomes an icosahedron. This is called dual relations. I comment on such concepts while having attendants really make a 3D model. In the time left over, I take it on to the introduction of mechanical puzzles. I want to convey the fun of the solid figure and the utility of the mathematics.

NyanBazAnd there is more, isn't there? You are a specialist in making bamboo-copters?

junoYes. I started that after I graduated from high school. I found a book "The bamboo-copter enthusiast" in a bookstore and I got lost in it. I made bamboo-copters every day, around 8 hours a day. Then I participated in a competition after I had been doing that for a year. My results were not good. Then, I bought books of "Airfoil Theory", "General Aeronautical Engineering", "Helicopter Design" and more, and I studied everything about bamboo-copters. For bamboo-copters, the wing design is more difficult than in a regular helicopter. Because the angle of the air passing the wing changes constantly. I participated in a competition of 1992 to show the results of my study, with a thickened wing bamboo-copter which is hard to stall. I won that championship.

NyanBazGee, are there bamboo-copter competitions. What is the attraction in bamboo-copters?

junoThere you can push the envelope. There is no doubt about who is the winner. In the bamboo-copter world, flying long, and high is all that matters. If it is well made but doesn't fly then even if it looks really splendid, it loses. I was laughed at before I flew mine, 'How is that going to fly the wings are too thin', they said, but I won the championship. A lot of bamboo-copters that looked just like mine were entered in the next competition. (laughs)

NyanBazYou have also worked at a bicycle atelier. Is than an extension of handmade construction?

junoWell, after I finished high school, I remodeled my own road racer. At first, it was only the parts I exchanged, but that soon reached the limit of what could be done. I thought that It wouldn't become an ideal bicycle unless I changed it from the basics up. I came to think that it starts from the frame and that became a job.

NyanBazDid you work in the bicycle atelier to make a bicycle for races?

junoThere is a job called frame builder (for bicycles). I intended to make my living with something other than puzzles and I decided I wanted to be a frame builder. I thought that it would have to be in Tokyo to become the number one frame builder in the world and I came to Tokyo. I saw a help-wanted ad of a bicycle magazine, and went to the bicycle shop to apply.

NyanBazDid you go directly without an appointment or anything? That takes courage.

junoThe ordinary thing to do is to make an appointment, I knew that at the time. But they hired me because I showed a saddle I had made myself and my mechanical puzzles.

NyanBazThey liked you.

junoThey may have thought that I was an easy mark coming in through the door. (laughs) I worked there for five and a half years. I often quarreled with the people working there. They said they were number one in Japan, but really that shop was not number one in Japan.

NyanBazYou were also saying the number one earlier. Are you particular about number one?

junoSure. Yoshiyuki Nakayama who was a Japanese top triathlete has said that all except for number one get defeated. That's my belief too. I can't become the number one bicycle rider, so I aimed at being number one at making bikes.

NyanBazWell. Now you are doing work related to computers. How did you learn computer skills?

junoIn the bike shop where I worked, they had CAD to design bicycles. The parameters it used to calculate things were imperfect for an accurate design. It wasn't good enough for really good results. I tried spreadsheets, and I found that a better design was possible. I added to the memory of the computer, so we could make more complicated calculations. At that time I made up a proverb, 'If you skimp on memory you lose time'. After I left the bicycle shop I worked in a PC store and did IT-related work, so I came to know more about computers.

NyanBazLet's get back on topic. Did you make pencil puzzles before joining Nikoli?

junoWhen I was in high school there was a boom in puzzle magazines, and at that time I made pencil puzzles.

NyanBazAt that time there were so many puzzle magazines in Japan, it was in the early 1980's. What kind of puzzles did you make?

junoI did crosswords. Puzzles with personal hobbies. I read scientific magazines in those days and loved technology and cosmology. I made a crossword which I packed with words related to elementary particles. My moviegoer friend made a crossword with "Back to the future" in it and I beat that by one letter, using the 'National Space Development Agency of Japan' (14 letters in Japanese).

NyanBazAnd you started making puzzles with numbers recently?

junoYes. I joined Nikoli not to solve or make puzzles but to work with the puzzle site operation. Until then I had hardly done any pencil puzzles that used numbers. I knew Nikoli but it was not something I really paid attention to. Because I thought 3D was a lot cooler than 2D. I don't like to do all sorts of things and so make anything second rate. Therefore I cut out what is unnecessary. When I was single I didn't do cooking, I didn't have a television.

NyanBazHow did you bring yourself to make them then?

junoI wanted to know more about what was on the site and I tried to solve the problems. It was no big deal to solve them, so next I wanted to make problems that could not be solved simply, and I made some. I made Nurikabe first. Now I think that it was incredibly difficult. I showed them to Nob, the person in charge of the site. He said they didn't work. I was not understanding the thoughts of the people solving them. Even now, when I make puzzles without thinking too much, I overdo it.

NyanBazDo you still like Nurikabe?

junoYes I like Nurikabe. I think that it is easy to express an idea in Nurikabe. I want to put ideas that no one else have tried out in my puzzles. I also really like Masyu. It's great when it is necessary to decide between alternatives there. There are so many variations of the application of methods and it is easy to express something new.

NyanBazDo you have a puzzle you are not good at?

junoI'm not good at solving Hitori. I don't improve no matter how I do it. I have not made any. I'm not good at Slitherlink either. Maybe it's just my lack of experience.

NyanBazIt is a rare person who makes both pencil puzzles and mechanical puzzles. What are some common points and what are some differences?

junoOne thing they have in common is the communication between solver and author. I can't really think of any differences. I'm not sure there are any. I used to think that everyone could rotate 3D shapes in the head. That anyone could assemble interlocking puzzles in the head and could take interlocking puzzles to pieces that way too.

NyanBazIs that true? I think It is rare for people other than you to solve interlocking puzzles just in the head. (laughs) But, do you have an ideal puzzle?

junoThat would be a puzzle that stays in the mind of the solver. I want to be making stuff that no one else has thought of.

NyanBazThen the last question. Anything that you want to tell people solving your puzzles?

junoDoing puzzles is not productive. It is a special privilege that humans can use their heads for that sort of thing. Please enjoy puzzles the way you think you should.

Interviewed Jan 2009 Published on Dec 6, 2010