A father’s puzzles led to innovative engineering enterprise

Joe Pieczynski stands in his Liberty Hill business where he takes on challenges, imagines a solution, and creates “extremity positioning devices” for medical purposes.  In seven years, his business has thrived into a major manufacturing and engineering design enterprise. (Photo by Dana Delgado)

Joe Pieczynski stands in his Liberty Hill business where he takes on challenges, imagines a solution, and creates “extremity positioning devices” for medical purposes. In seven years, his business has thrived into a major manufacturing and engineering design enterprise. (Photo by Dana Delgado)

By Dana Delgado

Joe Pieczynski made his mark early in life and earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records, but that was only the beginning.

His career has been chock-full of  pinnacle moments with the best yet to come.

In his twenties in 1984, the New Jersey native built a huge wooden puzzle in geometric form that eventually earned the title of World’s Largest Mechanical Puzzle — “Quest” — and a place of distinction in the renowned record books in 1998.

The puzzle was six months in the making. The aspiring artisan, who also had artwork show up on various movies including “Robocop”, turned his unheated apartment garage upside down and into a literal sawmill.

“It was brutally painful” he said, “but a labor of labor.”

It was originally constructed as an entry for an international woodworking competition as a means of expanding his portfolio.

When completed, the puzzle stood 7’4” and weighed 506 pounds and had 209 individual interlocking wooden pieces on a 36” x 24” base.  It is a masterpiece, but a monster to sovle.

“It’s not an easy puzzle to put together when all the pieces are taken off the form,” Pieczynski said.  “When put end to end, the pieces reach 330 feet. One time, a man wanted to wager $10,000 that he could put the puzzle together, but after thinking about it further, he walked away.”

Pieczynski says that he and his college age son Joseph III recently took 37 minutes to put it together.  The master puzzle maker says it really requires two people to put it together and is actually two puzzles combined. One misplaced piece could result in having to take 100 off to keep the necessary sequence.

Knowing the intricacies of his own work helps him in putting the puzzle together, but undeniably he is of a different mind.

The puzzle, however, in and of itself, has beautiful art form with its geometric splendor. It dares to mystify with its multi-dimensional shape. It was on display in a noted gallery in New Jersey and has been shown at various art shows across the country.

“I’ve always enjoyed taking things apart and putting them together,” he said. “My father would always bring home puzzles when I was a child from all his travels. It was fascinating. By high school I was a geometry wizard and decided then that I was going to build my own puzzle. I thrive on creation.”

Today, that record-setting puzzle sits in prominence in his Liberty Hill business.  The designer and builder who says he possesses a “photographic mechanical memory,” offered it to Austin Children’s Museum, The Thinkery, but curators declined the gift. He is hoping to find a suitable place so others can admire it.

Meanwhile, the puzzle has attracted  the interest of plenty of viewers on YouTube.com since it was recently posted under “World’s Largest Mechanical Puzzle.”

“The Texas Country Reporter,” a popular TV series, rolled into town to film him and his work a couple of weeks ago.

“It was a great day!” he said. “The crew and Bob Phillips (the show’s host) were wonderful, very professional.”

The feature on the World’s Largest Mechanical Puzzle and its creator is schedule to air in the spring. Since 1972, Phillips has traveled the back roads of Texas and told the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Never one to step away from a challenge, Piecyznski has put his creative genius into an inventive engineering enterprise developing a variety of “extraordinary positioning devices for medical purposes.” Some of his devices were fabricated specially for hips and knees, but he has also made some specialty pieces for cars.

“Please don’t be mistaken. I’m not a gadget guy,” he said. “I like to take on problems presented by doctors and surgeons and find a solution or improve upon the existing practice. It makes their procedures faster and easier.”

So successful and on the verge of major growth, the would-be engineer from New Jersey with the help and support of his very capable office manager Jordan Miller, is planning to expand his plant in the far northeast corner of Liberty Hill. Expansion, that is, as in ten-fold of his present 3200-sqare-foot building.

“I like intense challenges so I can prove people wrong and I’m a perfectionist,” he said. “Challenges always push my go button; although, I’m having a hard time training my dog at home.”

“By far, starting my own business was one of my biggest challenges,” Pieczynski said. “It really pushed me out of my comfort zone. But looking back, it’s the best decision I ever made.”

His business, Advanced Innovations, LLC, has been up and running for seven years but he has been in the industry for 15 years and in the trade for 40 years.

While inspired by his early childhood puzzles, training at an extraordinary industrial preparatory high school along with an apprenticeship working with tools and instruments laid the foundation that led him to his first machine shop job in 1972.  By then, he had also learned the value of working hard, which he says his dad passed on to him and which he has shared with his children.

His oldest, Jackie, is working on her Master’s Degree in Business while his youngest, Victoria “Tori,” is studying forensic science at the University of North Texas as an Air Force scholar.  Son Joseph III is an engineering student.

Pieczynski says he is “blessed and humbled” by all the things that have come his way. Although he is a native from New Jersey, he is a Houston Texan and Texas Longhorn fan but still loves his beloved Giants. When he can, he gets out and rides his motorcycle or scuba dives.

He and his wife Colette relocated to Texas following some brutal winters on the east coast.

“My wife is hypersensitive to cold temperatures and one winter she just threw her hands up and said, ‘We’ve got a get out of here,’” he recalls.

They started looking for warm weather areas with big lakes since they owned a jet-ski rental business at the time.  They almost bought a marina in Bullhead City, Arizona, but were detoured when a Texas job offer out-of-the-blue drew them to the lone star state.  After checking out the schools and having dinner at the Oasis Restaurant on Lake Travis, they moved to Central Texas.