Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
31Mar/141

The Illusion Puzzle

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.

The Illusion Puzzle by Mike Toulouzas

The Illusion Puzzle by Mike Toulouzas

The Illusion Puzzle by Mike Toulouzas

The Illusion Puzzle by Mike Toulouzas


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.

One of the pieces from the Illusion Puzzle

One of the pieces from the Illusion 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.

Two halves make a whole

Two halves make a whole

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.



14Mar/140

Don’t Shout

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.

Don't Shout by Phil Tomlinson

Don't Shout by Phil Tomlinson

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.

Puzzle Box Brothers

Puzzle Box Brothers

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.

Don't shout Open

Don't shout Open

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.



6Mar/141

Angel Box

Wil Strijbos is a well-known name in the puzzle world, with his metal puzzles being beautifully made, and highly sought after. Not only does he design and sell his own puzzles, but he seems to be able to find rare puzzles which other people, myself included, seem near impossible to find. I have no idea how he comes across some of the items, but all you need to do is to ask. When Wil announced his latest sequential discovery puzzle "The Angel Box" with a fairly long story about its creation, it sounded pretty interesting, and given enough time, one found its way to me.

The Angel Box from Wil Strijbos

The Angel Box from Wil Strijbos

If you've ordered a puzzle from Wil in the past, you'll know immediately when it arrives, as the package is always completely covered in a layer of brown packing tape. After that, there's various quantities of bubble wrap and newspaper to keep the puzzle safe. The Angel Box takes the packing one step further, and you'll find the puzzle itself wrapped in the very attractive birthday gift style box, complete with bow and gift tag.

An early birthday present

An early birthday present

Look what's inside

Look what's inside

As you've probably realised already, this is a big puzzle. At 6.25" x 4.33" x 2.75" and weighing in at a whopping 1.9Kg it's fair to call this heavy metal. Made from some pretty serious aluminium, while the puzzle isn't a solid block, it is solid. I certainly recommend puzzling with this one at the table. Not just due to the potential damage you could do from dropping the puzzle, but also due to the tools that you'll start accumulating as you work through the puzzle. The small peep-hole in the side gives a hint of the goal, to remove the Angel from the box.

Your first challenge is the padlock on the front of the box, and as you'd expect from a puzzle, the small metal tag held in the shackle doesn't contain the code you need to open the lock. That would be far too simple, and if you've read any of my other reviews of Wil's puzzles, you'll know that opening a puzzle for the first time tends not to be simple! At least the plate gives you the clue that the code is 4 digits which should make life a little easier for you.

Before too long, you should have the padlock removed, and be able to make some progress, although it may not seem helpful at first. At this stage, there's not a lot of options to progress, and as with any good sequential discovery puzzle, you'll quickly find a few tools, which in theory should be useful. Finding out what to do with the tools you've found is all part of the fun, and take heed from Wil's own guidelines, that the padlock is not needed to solve the puzzle. Don't be tempted to use parts of it in the solution. He gets very upset if you use the padlock as a tool!

Looking around the puzzle, you'll find a number of small holes scattered about, and figuring out how to use the tools you have, and the correct sequence to use what you'll find as you explore is the key to progress. There's a great sense of achievement as you discover how the mechanism interacts, and finally make the next step toward progress in solving the puzzle. That's lock #2 down.

That done, another tool will almost magically appear, and allow some fairly obvious progress toward opening the box. Lock #3 passed. Then things get interesting, and this is where I lost one of my tools. There's a little flaw in the design of the puzzle, which allows you to lose the tool you need, and potentially prevent part of the mechanism from working correctly. To my mind, it would be a fairly simple issue to fix, but for now, a little care is needed not to lose a key tool. With this part of the puzzle carefully navigated, you'll have lock #4 solved, and the goal should be in sight.

The Angel in the centre of the box is within grasp, but there's a final lock, a cage, keeping her locked away. It shouldn't take you long to get past this final lock and release the Angel. Lock #5 solved.

The Angel and her heart

The Angel and her heart

With the Angel free, you're not quite done. Freeing her heart is the last piece of the puzzle. A small note located with her will leave you with a final set of instructions... but I'll leave it for you to decide whether to call the number or not. Perhaps Google it first!

Overall The Angel Box is a nice puzzle. Far simpler than I had thought it was going to be, and it took me far less time to solve than I had perhaps hoped for a puzzle at this price. Start to finish I had the puzzle open in 10 minutes so it's certainly not a puzzle which will have you stuck for weeks. That said, my solve time may not be representative of the mileage others have had. Now my challenge is whether to display her inside her birthday box, or as the attractive aluminium puzzle that she is outside the box.



26Feb/143

Revomaze R2 – Mercury

If you've read my posts on the Revomaze puzzles, you'll know the first generation of puzzles ended with the release and solving of the Gold Puzzle. There are a few special editions out there, but for me solving the Gold, was the end of the journey on the R1 puzzles. Chris Pitt, has come out with an entirely new design of puzzle, a second generation of Revomaze puzzles, the R2's. The first in the series is Mercury.

Revomaze R2 - Mercury

Revomaze R2 - Mercury

This second series is based on the planets in the solar system, and the closest to the Sun, Mercury, is the first to be released. The series has had a difficult birth, with the company trying to raise funds to buy CNC machines to bring all the production in-house, and move away from the reliance on engineering companies to produce the limited run puzzles they wanted. To that end, "Voyager Status" was created. This was an up front payment to guarantee the price of each puzzle in the series (up to 10 puzzles) for early adopters. For that you'd receive a limited edition coin (stored inside the puzzle of course), your puzzle would be part of the initial limited edition run of 100 puzzles and would be engraved with a serial number to set it apart from other general release puzzles to be released later.

So back on the 12th March 2013, I sent Revomaze £50 of my hard-earned cash, and sealed myself a place on the voyage to the R2. At some point over the course of the next 8 months there were a few changes to what Voyager status meant, and a decision was made at Revo HQ to limit the R2 run to only the 100 puzzles from the Voyager sign-up. The result of this decision is that the puzzles would only be made to meet the Voyager demand (100 max) and no more would be produced or sold until the Voyager members have ALL of their puzzles from the entire series. So at this point, if you missed out on Voyager status, expect it to be 3 years before you get your hands on a Mercury, or any other puzzle in the series. Note that this assumes a release schedule of 3 puzzles per year.

Not long after the Voyager announcements, the option was given to the first 20 people who wanted to pay for the puzzle to receive the puzzle ahead of the main batch, and be part of a 'Beta Trial' to allow Chris to sort any issues, and make sure the puzzle worked perfectly. Since I'm always happy to help bringing a new puzzle to life, I agreed to be one of the first batch. On the 1st May 2013, I paid for my puzzle, and began the wait for the R2.

Mercury #24

Mercury #24

Background covered, I should probably start talking about the puzzle, as I'm sure that's why you're here. I received my puzzle on the 14th February 2014 and eagerly opened the package when I got home from work, to start playing with the new puzzle. My plan was to take it to the California Puzzle Party on the 15th, and let people play with it there. In fact Chris had express shipped the puzzle to me to ensure that I had it for the Puzzle Party. (Note: He'd done the same for a puzzler on the East coast, and also to some of the puzzlers in the Midlands) Before taking it to the party though I wanted to have some time to play and understand the puzzle. Foolishly, I'd hoped that I could open it before the party. I spent 2-3 hours with it on the 14th trying to understand what was going on, and start mapping out the paths inside the new maze. Most of that was just spent getting used to how different this puzzle is to the original series. It's a completely different animal that needs a very different touch to be able to solve it. And yes, I did take my wife out for dinner that night... I'm a romantic at heart.

The raw maze before it's finished

The raw maze before it's finished

The puzzle itself is made from a couple of solid blocks of aluminium and measures 4-1/8" in diameter by 1" tall. Including the knob for the draw bar the puzzle is 4-5/8" and weighs in at 800g. Now I'll be honest, despite being heavier than the original R1's, the puzzle feels lighter. Perhaps just the weight being spread over a larger diameter helps.

Unlike the R1 where the pin was in the sleeve, and the maze on the central core (or draw bar if you like) requiring you to twist, push and pull the core to navigate the maze, the R2 is a little different. The pin is attached to the draw bar, and the maze is etched onto the titanium coloured disk which rotates inside the black outer case. To navigate the maze you need to both push and pull the draw bar while simultaneously rotating the disk. This requires a lot more coordination than the original maze, and is a very different experience. Any skills you may have learned from solving an R1, will be of little use to you here.

Despite my best efforts and a very crude map, I certainly didn't solve Mercury before the Saturday puzzle party. One issue which did arise as I played with it was that the silky smooth rotation that the puzzle exhibited on the Friday night, wasn't quite as smooth by the time I arrived at the puzzle party. I wish I'd realised before going as the puzzle was mostly unusable given the amount of friction between the maze plate and the case. We required two hands on the disk to turn it in any direction, and really any chance of playing with the puzzle or solving it were gone.

Talking with Chris, he suggested WD-40 would help. Skeptical as I was, I took the can of WD-40 to the puzzle, giving it a good coating, and spin it did. The friction issues were completely resolved, and it moved better than it had when it arrived. Over the course of the next week, I didn't have a great deal of time to spend with the puzzle, but I dabbled on and off mapping as I could and trying to understand what I was 'seeing'.

Mercury during solving

Mercury during solving

Mapping the R2 is a completely different challenge to an R1. With the R1, you can think of unrolling the maze to a flat plane (since effectively that's what it is - wrapped onto a cylinder) but the R2 is already flat, and is circular. Some Polar graph paper may be useful here. Fortunately, the centre of the disk has 24 notches, and the dimples on the outer rim match to 15 degree increments. Handy for reference! I started out with regular graph paper making a very crude attempt with a compass. Let's just say it wasn't elegant, but it worked. A couple of people pointed me to that wonderful invention - the Internet - to download some polar paper, and I transferred things to there.

One thing you'll find in Mercury is that it's full of curves. Actually it's full of circles! Chris claims that the design of the maze is meant to represent the cratered appearance of the planet itself, and I guess I can see that. As I mapped, I found that there was a chunk of the map which I couldn't get to , just a little clockwise of the serial number, and part around 10pm. Now knowing that nothing would be wasted in here, I knew that's where I had to get to, but finding how was proving challenging. The other very concerning aspect I discovered was a trail leading through ~25% of the maze, where everything I had was trap. This was starting to look a lot like a Green. And I hate Green.

After a good few hours trying to find how to get to these new areas, find it I did, and my fears were confirmed. The puzzle becomes a serious dexterity challenge, needing the lightest of touches, and an excellent map. To get there, is a challenging section that I am sure will cause a lot of frustration (it did for me), assuming you can find it. The entrance is very challenging to find, and needs some very careful exploration of the maze.

Given that I have one of the first copies, there's a few issues in the puzzle which Chris is already solving, as quickly as they are identified.

  • The Spring is a little light, meaning that it's possible (and even easy) to hug the walls a little tight, and as a result get to parts of the maze through a route which was not intended. That's fixed with a stronger spring in the draw bar.
  • There is a slight amount of play in the draw bar, meaning that it can rotate a fraction while you're solving. It's not a problem that affects the maze, and it certainly won't help you, but that will be tightened up in the later releases.
  • The last and biggest issue with the early release is that the pin has a fairly rounded profile as you'll see in the photo below. That means that in some areas where there are ledges in the puzzle, the pin won't stay on the ledge, without applying some pressure to the wall. That's being fixed with a different profile for the pin head.

As a result of these issues, a number of people have managed to open the maze very quickly having taken a path which was not intended. I didn't find these shorter paths, and completed the maze as intended. The benefit of having produced this short run is that Chris is learning how the puzzle is used by someone who doesn't know what's going on inside, and by the time these get into general production for the remaining 80 in the run, they will all be perfect. It was a very sensible decision by Chris, and one which I hope he is aware was the best way to launch a new design, and make sure it's exactly the way he intended.

Mercury #24 - Open

Mercury #24 - Open

From start to finish it took me around 8.5 hours to open the Mercury, and I'll be honest, it's a challenging puzzle, not for the faint of heart. It's difficult from start to finish, and darn right evil from 50% through to the end. I'd even go so far as to say that the very last few millimeters of the puzzle are Satan incarnate. This is perhaps one of the most challenging static puzzle that Chris has released to date, and to my mind is far too challenging for the first puzzle in the series. Yes, you can argue that it took me less than 10 hours to open it, so it can't be that difficult, considering how long it took me to open Silver from the R1 series, however I go back and re-solve Bronze and Silver. I never go back to Green, and I'm unlikely to want to ever go back and re-solve Mercury.


As a small aside, when the puzzle was opened, I found some small flakes of metal sitting in the case of the puzzle. Presumably from the grinding as a result of the friction between the two large plates of aluminium. It doesn't affect the puzzle, and I certainly don't see any damage to the maze, but clearly there is some wear as a result of using the puzzle.

Metal shavings in the case

Metal shavings in the case



3Feb/140

Havanas #3 – Mike

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!

Havanas #3 - 'Mike'

Havanas #3 - "Mike"

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.

All three so far

All three so far

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.

A few other puzzlers have already written about this puzzle, so have a look at the thoughts from Allard and Jerry.

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.

Havanas #3 opened to release the cigar

Havanas #3 opened to release the cigar

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.



1Feb/140

Lee Valley Trick Bolts

One puzzle type I've not written about until now are Trick Bolts. These seemingly innocuous items look just like a screw with a bolt threaded onto it. Of course when you pick it up and try to remove the bolt you'll find it rather more stubborn than you'd think.

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

Lee Valley, who are well known for their woodworking tools also has a small number of puzzles they sell as gifts. They recently released their second set of trick bolts and with a few of my puzzling friends talking about them, I decided it was time to add a few bolts to my collection. Head over to Lee Valley to pick up your own copies. All the bolts are made in their own metal shop and measure 1.5". These are probably the smallest of the trick bolts I've seen, however the quality is excellent, and they're not expensive either.

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

In the first set, the two bolts are fairly straight forward. The large nut on this one conceals it's trick, and while this is a well known puzzle which you could make yourself, this is a very well made copy. If you have any bolts in your collection, I'd hazard a guess that you have one with this mechanism already.

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

The second of the two bolts with the much thinner nut is able to travel the length of the screw, and will spin freely in the gap at the bottom. At first look it doesn't seem like there's a way to remove the nut. This puzzle has another classic trick which Lee Valley have executed perfectly.

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

While neither of the bolts took me long to solve, they are well made, and are a great piece to hand to friends and introduce them to puzzles.

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

The second set of bolts both look identical, however have very different mechanisms. I've not seen these tricks used elsewhere and while neither slowed me down much, they were new and interesting mechanisms.

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

While I can't show the mechanisms of either of these without giving too much away, both of the bolts require multiple movements to remove the nut, and are well worth the investment. They may all be small, and could easily be hidden in a collection, but I wouldn't overlook any of these.

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