I have been an admirer of Perry McDaniel for quite some time, having come across his work through my own woodworking, and the exposure to Incra jigs. Perry works for Incra and has published books relating to the use of the Incra jigs in making repeatable precise joinery. Nowhere is that more true than in puzzle making.
I was recently fortunate enough to be able to add Perry's IPP26 puzzle the Marbled Walnut Sheet Cake to my collection.
This striking puzzle is classic of the dovetail work that Perry produces, with amazing accuracy, and a level of fit that makes me strive to be a better woodworker.
Measuring in at a little over 2.5" x 2" it's a rectangular cake slice made from Walnut and Maple. The figured Walnut used at the top of the slice really makes this look all the more like a chocolate sponge, and from a distance it could be easily mistaken. Without looking closely, you'll not even see the join the two walnut halves, and the dovetail on each side is near invisible.
The side view shows just how invisible that joint is. The level of accuracy that is achieved here is stunning. And it's even more impressive when you realise that this is only one of 200 copies made, and every one is made to this standard. Even with this level of accuracy, when you find out how to start opening the box, the movement is so smooth it's incredible. The measurement here is so precise that there's no gap, but equally no binding of the pieces. I really do consider this a master class in joinery! (Sorry, I'll stop gushing now).
Perry added a great touch by putting some nutritional information on the side of the box. It's a great touch, and really adds some character to the puzzle. I do hope that the boxes survive with the puzzle as it does add to the charm.
Getting back to the puzzle itself, on initial inspection there's not much movement, but the twin dovetail will give you a good idea of what needs to happen to open the puzzle. Turning the box around, there's a distinct rattling coming from the box. At this point there's no real indication as to whether that will be helpful or not. I had the distinct feeling that it's not. (Am I getting cynical?) After a short time exploring I found a move which would allow some movement of the puzzle, and the two halves of the cake started to slide apart. It wasn't the end though, as the sliding movement (which is so incredibly smooth) stops a little under half way, and reveals nothing about the mechanism keeping the box locked, or the source of that rattling!
I have to admit that I was rather stumped at this point for quite some time, and as with the best puzzles in my collection, when I finally found the final step required, and solved the puzzle, the realisation that the mechanism is so simple, yet stumped me, makes the Aha moment even better when it comes. Understanding how the mechanism work, it's easy to re-open it quickly, and despite saying it more than once already, the accuracy of the joints, and the silky smooth operation easily makes this one of the best made puzzles in my collection. As you can see from the photo above, the source of the rattling is pretty obvious when the puzzle is open. I'm very pleased to have added this, and would highly recommend picking up a copy if you happen to come across one.
I did pick up a copy of Perry's Incra book, and have a few of his projects planned. If I can get even half as close to the level of accuracy he is able to achieve I'll be ecstatic.
I've reviewed a couple of Michael Toulouzas' puzzles and each time I receive a new puzzle from him, I'm stunned by the look and quality of his work. The latest piece I received is "The Illusion Puzzle", a six piece interlocking puzzle, that as Mike himself points out is not quite what it seems.
By the time I saw this puzzle, and decided that I wanted a copy, Mike had already sold through his initial run, but agreed to let me know when he had more available. It took a little time, but true to his word, he got in touch to offer me a copy. I didn't hesitate, and before too long, the box arrived from Mike.
My initial exploration didn't reveal much, and the puzzle seemed to be fairly well locked up. Of course with some careful finger placement, I found a little movement, and before I knew what had happened, I had six dissimilar pieces in my lap, and no idea where they went in relation to each other, and no real idea about the motion needed to put it back together. Guess I was going to have to truly solve this one with no hints, or reference from the solved puzzle.
Looking at the pieces, there's some interesting pyramids which stick out and really do a great job of getting the way of solving the puzzle. That said, they also give you a clue as to how each piece must be oriented in the solution, since those blocks fit into cutouts in the other pieces. With some analysis, it's possible to minimise the possible combinations and significantly reduce the permutations you need to try. Of course there's only one way that the pieces will come together, and I had many attempts where I thought I had the orientation correct to be thwarted by one of those pyramids stopping the pieces from coming together.
Despite the puzzle exploding when I took it apart, this works very similar to a Sliding Star puzzle, and two halves glide together smoothly once the pieces are in the correct orientation, and you have the correct two sub assemblies created. I can now take it apart and put it back together without it exploding, and each time marvel at the design which created such a complicated set of interactions in what looks like a simple puzzle.
If you like this type of interlocking polyhedral puzzle, I highly recommend The Illusion, or any of Mike's work, if you can get a copy.
Back in 2011, Phil Tomlinson came out with his first puzzle box, The Always Empty Box, which I was very pleased to be able to obtain a copy, and was really impressed with his first attempt. Well Phil has now produced his second puzzle box, the Don't Shout box, and I'm pleased to say it's every bit as good as the first.
Looking very similar to his first box, and being the same size, the two puzzles look great together. Measuring 3-1/4" x 3-1/2" x 5-1/4", the only external difference to the original puzzle is the addition of a stripe across the top of the box. Phil produced two options, with either a Maple stripe, or a Wenge Stripe across the centre. I opted for the Wenge, however there's no difference between the mechanisms. It's all down to personal preference, and I really like the look of Wenge.
Despite the two puzzle boxes looking the same, I'm sure I don't need to tell you that the opening mechanisms are completely different between each puzzle. Before playing with the new puzzle, I took the original out of my collection and re-opened it. I'm pleased to say that despite knowing how to open it, I'd forgotten one step, and had to spend a good five minutes to figure out how to open it again. It's still a great puzzle, and made me smile re-opening it. Putting aside the Always Empty Box, I turned my attention to the Don't Shout.
Phil gave the same great puzzle documents with the box as he did on the first box, including feeding instructions for the box. It may seem silly, but it's a great touch, and really shows that Phil is putting a lot of himself into his puzzles. Very quickly you'll find that the hints of the first puzzle are present here, however it certainly doesn't act the same way. The first move is going to be fairly familiar for fans of the Japanese sliding puzzle box, but that's where the similarity ends. The next move is great, and totally unexpected. After that there's some symmetry to the solution, until the last move which will once again challenge you to find out how the box opens. That final move reminds me a lot of Phil's first box in that it was a great motion, and was easy to miss or prevent yourself from opening the puzzle due to some clumsy fingering.
Thanks Phil, you've made another great box, and I'm pleased that I have been able to add both of your boxes to my collection. They're great puzzles, and if you see one for sale, pick it up. It's unusual, and well worth a place on the puzzle shelves. There's apparently a nod to the opening mechanism in the name. I needed a small hint from Phil to understand the reference, but it is there, and it is clever.
Seems like I've managed to get a little time free recently to play with the odd puzzle or two, and one I've been playing with on and off for quite some time is the latest puzzle box from Eric Fuller, in the form of the Havanas #3. Not only have I had time to play with a few of the puzzles in my backlog, but I even seem to have time to write about them!
When Eric first offered these back in November of 2013, I had the choice of all three woods he'd made the puzzle in. From the choice of Birdseye Maple, Pink Ebony and Flame Maple, I opted for the Flame Maple.
No matter how hard I've tried, none of the photographs in this review do the puzzle justice. The Woods are simply stunning, and need to be handled to be appreciated. Sadly it seems there was a small error when Eric was making these, and he only had enough boxes to meet the pre-order quota of 50 boxes.
Measuring 1.7" x 1.9" x 6.4", this is the largest of the three Cigar boxes Eric has made so far, and given the trend, I'm not sure how large the next one is going to be. Strangely, despite this trend, the cigars inside the box haven't increased in size.
The box is made from quartersawn Sapele, which is remarkably stable, and allows Eric to make the box from fairly thin stock without worrying about the wood warping. Each box then has the fancy woods applied as thin veneer to each face. The Quilted Sapele on the sides has a fantastic appearance, and to my mind is complimented well with the Flame Maple on the top and bottom.
I'm a little slower in writing about it, not because I've not been lazy, but because it's taken me this long to open it! Eric stated in the original information about the puzzle that "I've given the prototype to several friends to play with and it seems to take most of them roughly an hour to solve." Well I can say it took me several months to solve it. The first few moves are fairly simple, and won't challenge anyone who's played with a traditional Japanese puzzle box. After that, things come to a complete halt, and no further progress can be made.
Without giving too much away, there's something of a red herring in there, that threw me off for far too long. A non-puzzler would probably have opened the puzzle far faster. The final couple of moves are very well hidden, and the box gives absolutely nothing away as to how it will open.
In all honesty, this isn't my favorite of the puzzles in the Havanas series, and the first is still the best puzzle in my view. I'm looking forward to the fourth box in the series now, and just hope that I manage to open it a little easier than I did with #3.