One year ago, you were reading this on GeekDad: Model Train Puzzles
My son, age 3, is obsessed with trains. Crazy obsessed. Throwing fuel on the fire, we took him to a model train expo a few weeks ago.
A small display by The Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society caught our attention late in the day. It was a small fold-out switching layout without scenery measuring roughly 1′x5′. Not surprising that we hadn’t noticed it at first.
A toggle switch controlled the direction of the constant-speed locomotive. Each siding was only large enough to hold 1-3 freight cars. The game: to "spot" all the freight cars as quickly as possible to the sidings assigned randomly at the beginning of the game. The guy at the table called it "John Allen’s Time Saver."
Big lightbulb-over-head moment. Build motor skills during construction and operation; develop logic and planning skills; and play with model trains all at once. Simple and fun to operate for the train-obsessed, yet simultaneously a logical puzzle. In any case, sure beats running Thomas the Tank Engine around a loop for the gazillionth time.
Flash forward 2 hours. Back at home, wife and son nap as Dad googles "John Allen Time Saver." (Best results here and here.) Turns out that Timesaver is one of two great switching, er, "shunting" puzzles well-known to model railroaders. (The other is Inglenook Sidings.)
While I collect the materials for the HO-scale version (based loosely on this design), my son is happy to play the game expressed in his Brio vernacular. (The small slips of paper by each siding are Daddy’s crude drawings of the type of railroad car assigned to that siding.)