Get Off the Earth Puzzle
Cartographic Curiosity, c. 1918
Get Off the Earth Puzzle Get Off the Earth Puzzle
Get Off the Earth Puzzle detail Get Off the Earth Puzzle back
Sam Loyd (1841- 1911) (designer)
Get Off the Earth Puzzle
American: c. 1918
Color printed rotating card game
5.5 inches x 4.75 inches

This cartographic curiosity is a game with a simple representation of planet Earth with generalized continents and latitude and longitude lines. The earth is set in a circular disk and rotates by a central grommet in the opening of a rectangular card. A large red arrow is printed in the center of the earth. It is a so called "vanish puzzle" in which a rearrangement of the design causes part of it to vanish, and then to reappear when put back into its original form. The disk is sometimes referred to by the antiquated word volvelle, used to describe rotating disks on various calculating devices.

To operate the game, when the red arrow is pointed to the point on the perimeter of the earth labeled "NE" 13 cartoon figures of acrobatic Chinese warriors with swords appear. When the disk is rotated counter-clockwise with the arrow pointing to the point labeled "NW" there are only 12 warriors. The illusion is accomplished by a slightly spiraling arrangement of the leaping men, combined with subtle changes to the proportions and poses.

The center of the earth is titled in bold letters “GET OFF THE EARTH PUZZLE” and text at the bottom explains its use:

The Disappearing Chinaman!
Move the world to make arrow point NE — and count 13 Chinamen
Then move arrow to NW — and there are only 12 Chinamen in view!
Which man has vanished? Where does he go?

According to the catalog accompanying an exhibit of puzzles at the Katonah Museum of Art in 2000-01, the Get Off the Earth Puzzle was an "enormously popular" novelty that first appeared in 1896. This particular example was issued as a promotional item with an advertisement on the backside for two models of New Departure coaster brakes for bicycles sold by William Deusch, Sterling, Illinois.  The advertisement states that this product was "for giving absolute control of speed and stop at the will of the rider" and promises “[w]ith either of these brakes cycling is smileful, sunny, stimulating sport." New Departure coaster brakes were introduced in 1898. Inasmuch as the advertisement mentions that the brake has been "a popular favorite of riders for twenty years," the publication of this particular version of the Get Off the Earth Puzzle was likely about 1918.

Sam Loyd was an American designer and manufacturer of puzzle games and toys, known to his contemporaries as The Puzzle King. Born in Philadelphia to a wealthy and prominent family, he was a chess prodigy and began writing and publishing chess problems in newspapers at the age of 14. By the age of 16 he was the problem editor of Chess Monthly and writer of a weekly page for Scientific American Supplement. At one point he was ranked 15th in chess in the world. While still a teen he recognized a market for mathematical puzzles as advertising cards and designed the successful Pony Puzzle, following up a few years later with his best seller, the Trick Donkeys Puzzle, which was distributed by the circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum, among others. Thereafter he headed a puzzle publishing business, while continuing to edit and write puzzles for major newspapers and magazines. He considered his Get Off the Earth Puzzle (1896) his greatest invention; the web site of the present-day Sam Loyd Company claims 20 million have been sold since 1896. Other popular titles include The Lost Man (1907) and Teddy and the Lion (1909).  After his death in 1911, his son Walter (d. 1934) continued publishing his work. In 2005, the current incarnation of the Sam Loyd Company was founded to reprint and market his puzzles as both entertaining and educational.

William Deusch, whose advertisement appears on the back of the card, was born in 1875 and died in Sterling, Illinois, in 1940.

Legend on card:  “Printed and Copyrighted by Sam Loyd.”

Condition:  Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, handling, soiling, wear, corner creases.


"Our Founder Sam Loyd." Sam Loyd. 2014. (18 December 2014).

Slocum, Jerry. "Mechanical Puzzles: Their History and Their Challenge." The Art of the Puzzle: Astounding and Confounding. New York: Katonah Museum of Art, 2000. Online at: Association of Game & Puzzle Collectors. (18 December 2014).

"The Coaster Brake: Today in History." Connecticut (18 December 2014).

"William Deusch." (18 December 2014).