People: Stan Isaacs: Life's a puzzle
Publication Date: Wednesday Jun 4, 1997

People: Stan Isaacs: Life's a puzzle

Stan Isaacs and a friend went all the way to Los Angeles for a puzzle party 15 years ago, and his life hasn't been the same since. Nor has his house. Not only are the shelves of his sitting room dedicated to three-dimensional wooden puzzles of all kinds, an entire room at the back of his house is lined with puzzles. Most of his thousands of puzzles are wooden, but an entire section is dedicated to the Rubik's cube.

Now, these cubes are not just your common primary-colored variety.

"I used to give blank ones away to artists and say 'Paint on it,'" said the 56-year-old Palo Altan. He now owns some that have pictures on all sides. This, he says, is an added dimension to the puzzle, as the puzzler is never quite sure how it should end up.

Isaacs has designed Rubik's cubes that use letters to form three-letter words and some that have different gradations of sandpaper for the blind or those who want an extra challenge: feeling their way through the intricate maneuvers of the game with their eyes closed.

But puzzles aren't the only way Isaacs, an applications program specialist at Hewlett-Packard Co., keeps himself busy.

As the leader and instructor of the Pomander Club, a social dance group that meets every Monday evening at the Masonic Temple in Palo Alto, Isaacs leads all levels of dancers through all kinds of steps: one-steps, two-steps--ragtime music is a favorite--and tangos. There's also the maxixe; the name of this dance can be found on the license plate of his car.

"When I found out I could neither play an instrument (nor) carry a tune, I discovered dancing," said Isaacs. The great discovery happened at Antioch College in Ohio in the early 1960s. His favorite partner is, of course, his wife, Karen. "I couldn't marry someone that didn't dance," he said.

Isaacs also flicks a mean yo-yo. He took first place last month in the novice division of the state yo-yoing championships. He picked up the skill in his childhood while hanging out on street corners in Silver Spring, Maryland.

One Saturday when he was a boy, he entered a competition at a movie theater. He won, but the competition wasn't the greatest. "Everybody missed the first trick, including me," Isaacs said. "But they couldn't end it that quick. In the runoffs I won."

It was his 10-year-old son, Eli, who encouraged him to enter last month's competition. Eli has been recognized for his own yo-yoing talents. In 1996 he won third place in the national under-10 division.

Other hobbies include a Lewis Carroll collection. There are books--some rare--by Carroll or about Carroll, and there are spinoffs of his work. Isaacs also has a variety of Alice in Wonderland paraphernalia, including soaps and glasses.

What's the attraction? "(Carroll) was a puzzler and a mathematician," Isaacs said.

Not a bad hero for a self-confessed math buff who thinks of almost anything as a puzzle. The steps to a dance are like the blocks in a puzzle, Isaacs said. And so are the components of the computer applications he develops all day.

"Always work it so you get paid to do what you love," he said.

--Elisabeth Traugott

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