By JANET HEIM
9:05 PM CDT, April 24, 2011
WILLIAMSPORT — It’s been about 40 years since Jean Miller created C Blox, a simple four-piece wooden puzzle, but the puzzle was recently marketed and has earned not only a copyright, but pride for its creator.
Miller, 93, designed the puzzle, consisting of C-shaped pieces, in 1972 for her grandson and his preschool classmates while he and his family were living in Guatemala.
“Usually puzzles are put together in just one way. The question is, how many different ways can you put C Blox together?” Miller said.
When Miller’s son Leon was approaching retirement, he remembered his mother’s puzzle and thought it would make a good retirement project.
An Internet search led them to Maple Landmark Inc. in Middleburg, Vt., a company that specializes in wooden products. The company began making the puzzle in Vermont from rock maple, with copyright notification coming in 2008.
Miller said her excitement at receiving the copyright rivaled the time she was asked to co-author an English as a Second Language textbook for Scott Foresman.
C Blox received Dr. Toy’s Best Green Product Award of 2010.
One of her son’s mathematician friends said there are more than 1 million possible ways to put the blocks together. The purpose of the manipulative toy is to encourage creativity through experimentation.
“I want to emphasize that this is far more than a toy for young children,” Miller said.
She said she’s seen a Homewood resident use the puzzle for physical therapy and the set she has in her cottage never goes untouched when someone walks past it.
“It’s a brain teaser,” Miller said.
The Homewood of Williamsport resident grew up as a farmer’s daughter in Ohio. She earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Oberlin Conservatory of Music and eventually, a doctorate in education from the University of Alabama.
Miller’s postgraduate work was in creative thinking and English as a Second Language. She is still fascinated by watching people of all ages play with C Blox.
Miller and her husband, Ralph, were married for 60 years before his death in 2001. They had two sons.
The Millers lived in 30 places during their marriage, including Guatemala, the Philippines, Oregon and a stint with the Peace Corps in the South Pacific in 1990, before moving to Homewood 18 years ago.
Jean taught throughout their overseas stay, mainly for the American School, which is run by the U.S. State Department in 90 countries, she said.
Her son Keith Miller is director of the State Department’s Office of Overseas Schools.
Not long after Ralph’s death, Conrad “Connie” Warrington moved to Homewood and met Miller. They now share a cottage.
Miller is thrilled with the interest in C Blox, but isn’t resting on her laurels. Now she’s doing research on pre-history and studying how people learn.
“I’ve got plenty to do,” Miller said with a laugh.
C Blox are available online at www.maplelandmark.com or at Violets and More, 3217 State Line Road, Waynesboro, Pa.
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