Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
31May/112

Puzzle Delivery

After the long weekend I was surprised when a fellow puzzler, friend and workmate wandered over to my desk this morning to hand me a bag of puzzles.

Karakuri Puzzle Delivery

Karakuri Puzzle Delivery

Derek spent some of his time over the weekend going through his puzzle collection, getting ready for the upcoming Cubic Dissection auctions finding things he was looking to sell on. He was kind enough to bring this little selection to me to try to solve. These aren't going into the auction, sorry

Thanks for the loan of these puzzles Derek! Much appreciated.



31May/115

The Always Empty Box

The Always Empty Box created by Phil Tomlinson is his first puzzle box, and what a cracker it is. Phil is a cabinetmaker and woodworker with 35 years experience. He lives in Cincinnati OH, and his business is called WolfAngel Studios.

The Always Empty Box

The Always Empty Box

This is a beautifully made box crafted from Black Walnut, Curly Maple, Bloodwood, Rock Maple and Pawlownia. Opening the card box the puzzle is stored in, you are greeted with a Care, Feeding and General information booklet, with lots of info about the puzzle, and how best to look after it. This did make me chuckle, and the information is all worthwhile, especially if you're not familiar with wood puzzles. Phil did a great job here, and even before taking the box out of the box you're left with a smile on your face.

The box itself is beautifully finished as you can see from the photograph, with a wonderful satin lacquer giving the box an almost polished look. It measures 3-1/4" x 3-1/2" x 5-1/4" so is a good sized box, and really wouldn't look out of place as a work from the Karakuri Group. Yes, the quality is that good in my opinion. Phil notes that only 30 of these boxes will be made, and only 22 were sold on Puzzle Paradise, so I was lucky to be able to get one, as these sold out very quickly.

The fit of the box is very snug, the moving parts move very smoothly, but they are a tight fit, just as mentioned in the care booklet. If I were to be picky, there are a couple of gaps at some of the joins in the box, but really that's being very picky. Overall, this is a stunning looking box, and looks great beside my other wooden boxes.

Opening the box is a fun experience. Initially nothing much seems to do anything, until you find a co-ordinate motion which moves things a tiny fraction, but no more. Finding the lock to open the box the rest of the way takes a little more exploring. Once the box is opened, Phil is quite right with his description, it is always empty (except for the few wood shavings that were still inhabiting my box). I've kept those shavings for what its worth!

The final surprise is left to finding out why the box is always empty. This isn't disguised as cleverly as I have seen in other puzzle boxes, but it is a nice touch, and Phil has done a great job on the box. The magnetic catch which keeps the box empty is a nice touch.

Having given this box to a fellow puzzler, he also enjoyed opening the box, and likened it to some of the Karakuri works in terms of quality. High praise indeed.

Happy to have added this to my collection, and I'll be happy to show this one around! Great job Phil. Love the work.



27May/110

Magic Dice

Magic dice is another Puzzle Master designed and built wooden puzzle, where the object is to remove a small marble from the inside of the dice. Thanks Puzzle Master for sending me this puzzle to review.

Magic Dice by Puzzle Master

Magic Dice by Puzzle Master

The 2 4/5 inch cube is made from Rubberwood, and has countersunk holes on each side corresponding to the faces of a dice. As far as the magic part of the name goes, I have no idea where that came from. Inside the cube, a small marble is trapped, and runs along tunnels, forming a sort of simple maze. By looking through the holes in the sides, and tilting and turning the puzzle, you can navigate the marble through the maze until it can be removed through the side with the single hole, which is slightly larger than the others on the cube. The outer cube is well finished, and looks great. The inner 'maze' is a lot rougher, and the finish of the wood isn't as high as on the outside.

Getting the marble to that side is a reasonable challenge. There are no internal stops on most sides of the cube, so it's easy to have the marble run from one side of the cube to the other, without pausing anywhere in the middle. A gentle hand, and the occasional 'hop' is required to coax the marble to where you need it. There is an added challenge by not being able to see through the puzzle on all sides. Given that the holes represent a dice, there is no visibility in the centre of the puzzle on the #4 side for example.

Magic Dice Solved

The Marble removed from the puzzle

Puzzle Master rates this is a level 5 puzzle (easy) and I'd agree. It's not a tough puzzle, but can be a little frustrating as you watch the marble speed past where you wanted it to stop. I took around five minutes to remove the marble, and I suspect most people would be the same. Overall a fun puzzle, just don't expect it to keep you entertained for hours.



25May/114

Building a Matrioshka (Part 2)

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Building a MaTRIOshka

At the end of the first post on my Matrioshka build, I'd finished gluing up the 'ends' as I think of them for each of the puzzle pieces. I still hadn't cut out the centre sections (or as I'm referring to them, the bridges) that join the two ends of each puzzle piece together, and I still had a lot of sanding to do so that the pieces were all the same size. In this second part, I go through that process, and get closer to the finished puzzle.

On a side note, I originally referred to this project as a MaTRIOshka, however what I'm actually building is a single layer of Vin&Co's puzzle. Stewart Coffin originally referred to this assembly in "The Puzzling World of Polyhedral Dissections", which I have been reading recently as the Expanding Box puzzle. There Mr. Coffin refers to this as a curiosity more than a puzzle, but I'm going to continue on none the less with this build. It is helping me learn about puzzle creation and improve my skills, although I dare say that as with most puzzle creators early works, this will be less than impressive. The bottom line is that it is still a nice co-ordinate motion puzzle.

With 12 'ends' all glued together, I had quite a task to remove all the excess glue from the pieces, and sand them all down to a nice smooth finish. I had deliberately left the pieces slightly larger than they would be for the final glue-up, so that I had some room for cutting errors and the like. This is fairly standard, as it's easier to correct for problems with your saw being slightly off, or gluing issues when you have a little extra material to work with.

Puzzle Pieces before sanding

Puzzle Pieces before sanding - not pretty!

As you can see from one of the pieces, things weren't exactly pretty at this stage. Yes I could probably have allowed the glue to set for about 30 minutes, and then scraped off the excess, but I let things sit overnight without touching them, so I may have created more work for myself here that I needed to. You'll also note that there are apparent gaps between the individual pieces. As I mentioned, this is a learning experience, and I expected that I would have a problem like this! (Oh, and the large lump of tearout on one of the pieces is pretty obvious too.)

If you're wondering about the interesting pattern in the dry glue, this is because I'm using plastic wrap to prevent glue getting onto my clamps. It's effective at keeping the glue where it needs to be, but until I build some gluing jigs, I'm left with this sort of mess.

After a lot of sanding, and some time measuring each piece against a 'perfect' reference piece, I was left with 12 identical pieces. The puzzle has six sides, which are all identical, so this would be the basis of the finished pieces. (ok, so I only photographed 10 pieces. The other two were on my workbench.)

Sanded End Pieces

Sanded End Pieces

As yet I still hadn't cut any wood for the join between each end of the piece. I'll be honest here, I still hadn't entirely figured out how these should be cut, the angles required on the cut etc.

Some stock laminated together to give the thickness I needed

Some stock laminated together to give the thickness I needed

All I could tell from the pictures I was working from was the length of the piece, and that the base touched one side of the end and the top of the triangle touched the other side. Note: I had not started reading Stewart Coffin's book at this point which told you exactly how to make this! (Thanks Stewart) With that information on hand, I decided the best thing to do was to just go for it. I cut six rectangular blocks which were a match for the dimensions of the end of my end piece, marked the mid point on the end, and took to the band saw. (These rough cut pieces are what you see in the image above. Note that they were only true on one side, as I was cutting to a point on the other so I didn't care!)

The rectangular stock marked up for cutting to make the bridge

The rectangular stock marked up for cutting to make the bridge

As I have learned, I cut close to my lines, but didn't go over, to allow me to sand the pieces to the perfect size. You may notice from the image, that my lines are not in pencil Given the accuracy of the cuts I wanted, I used a hobby knife to make the lines. This gives a much more accurate line than pencil, since the edge is much thinner, and also helps to prevent tearout by severing the ends of the fibres if you're working across the grain. Yes, these marks are in end grain so it's not helping me here, but I though it worth mentioning.

Note: If you've not figured it out already, all the images I upload are at least twice the size you see here. Click the image to see the full size version, and to browse all images for this blog entry.

The result was six identical pieces which would form the bridge between each end of each puzzle piece. So far, so good. Now the interesting thing I found out taking this approach, and working purely from pictures, is that the piece required for the bridge is a standard triangular cross-section, the same as the rest of the pieces in the puzzle. The only difference is that the bridge is slightly taller than the end pieces. Going back to Coffin's book, this is exactly what he shows, so this was confirmation that I had this right.

The Bridge pieces ready for assembly

The Bridge pieces ready for assembly

In the next part, I'll look at tackling the problem of gluing up the final pieces and seeing if this thing actually works. On a side note, I have my copy of Vinco's Matrioshka now, and the puzzle I'm building is large enough that the Matrioshka will fit inside it. So does this mean I'm actually building a Quadrioshka?



24May/112

Convolution

Convolution is another Stewart Coffin design, and is numbered 30 in his numbering Scheme. Originally produced in 1980 the seven dissimilar pieces can be assembled in one way, and one way only to give a 4x4x4 cube with a symmetrical pattern on all faces.

Convolution designed by Stewart Coffin made by Brian Menold

Convolution designed by Stewart Coffin made by Brian Menold

This version was made by Brian Menold over at Wood Wonders and is made entirely of Zebra Wood. The puzzle is a nice size at 1 7/8" and the choice of Zebra Wood really helps to show off the symmetry on each side. This is a very nicely made puzzle, at a very good price.

You may remember from my post about the MMMM's puzzle that I received from Brian when ordering the convolution that there were some issues in Brian's view when I was ordering. Brian normally makes the Convolution in either Oak or Poplar, and the puzzle is slightly larger. When I contacted Brian about buying a copy of Convolution from him, he got in touch to say he had a few copies in rarer hardwoods which were slightly smaller but the same price if I was interested. I thought this was a great offer, and took him up on it.

After a little back and forth conversation via email, we settled on the Zebra Wood version, however there were a few hiccups along the way which led to Brian sending me the MMMM's free. Originally when he told me about the puzzles he had, he'd looked at his Involution puzzles, as they are so similar, so it turned out he didn't have the wood combination he thought he had. He really didn't have to, and to my mind there were no issues at all. Just goes to show that Brian's a really decent guy and I highly recommend both his work and him as a person to buy from.

The seven pieces of Convolution

The seven pieces of Convolution

Getting back to the puzzle itself, this is a classic Coffin reproduction, and is well made. The pieces have a tight fit, and are simply finished with a wax, so there are no stains or other products to tarnish this beautiful wood being used. The puzzle itself creates an interlocking cube so unlike many other cubic dissections, this one doesn't need a box to hold the pieces, and isn't going to fall apart if someone bumps into it.

The fact that the pieces are interlocking also adds to the complexity of solving the puzzle. There is only one assembly, and the symmetrical pattern on each side does help with the assembly to some extent. This would be a tough puzzle if it was sent unassembled, and looking at a picture of the assembled cube isn't going to give a clue as to where certain pieces should be. This is a great design, and while it may not stand out on the puzzle shelf amongst other flashier puzzles, this is one that you really want to pick up and solve.



23May/115

California Puzzle Party (22nd May 2011)

I was very fortunate to be invited to the California Puzzle Party yesterday hosted by Stan Isaacs at his home. Having no idea what to expect, I packed up the Pagoda Puzzle boxes, and Stickman #2 and headed for Stan's house.

On arrival, the door was opened by Dick Hess, who was in town, and was one of the reasons that the puzzle party happened when it did. My fiancée Jen and I were ushered into Stan's house, and shown through to one of the back rooms which was a little larger than the hall we were standing in.

Coffin Wall

Two shelves of Coffin puzzles

Walking into the room, from floor to ceiling are shelves with books, and puzzles. One wall which had two full shelves, and many more puzzles scattered through the books, was almost entirely Stewart Coffin originals. Needless to say I picked up a good few and had a go at solving them during the day, including a Pennyhedron, Scorpious, Diagonal Cube, The Reluctant Cluster and a Hexagonal Prism.

Looking around the room, it's difficult to know where to start. There is a shelf of Karakuri puzzle boxes, A Topsy Turvy mounted on the wall, various co-ordinate motion puzzles on stands and sitting on top of puzzles, and desks with assortments of puzzles littering them. As I look around in wonder, not knowing where to look, or what to pick up, Dick Hess comes over and hands me a small box and tells me it's a small memento of the day.

Outrageous Rings

A souvenir from the CA Puzzle party from Dick Hess

I'm now holding a really elegant, but what looks like overly complicated disentanglement puzzle, very much of the tavern puzzle style. Thanking Dick, I played for a few minutes without making much progress, before putting the puzzle back in its box to play with in my own time, so I could talk with the increasing number of puzzlers turning up, and try my hand at a few of the puzzles sitting out. Before doing that however, Dick had a number of puzzles of his own design with him that he was selling to anyone who wanted them. I decided to pick up his IPP28 puzzle "The Family Puzzles", "Hybrid 54 - Loop and Twister", and The Yak Puzzle.

The Family Puzzles

The Family Puzzles

Loop and Twister

Loop and Twister

The Yak Puzzle

The Yak Puzzle


Reviews of all of the puzzles from Dick Hess to follow later, when I've had time to sit down and play with all of them.

One of the tables covered in puzzles

One of the tables covered in puzzles

On top of one of the desks were a number of burr puzzles, including a maze burr. Also on show was the complete set of Wunder Puzzles from Eric Fuller. Having had no luck with #2 myself, I had a play with the original, which I was able to solve fairly quickly. The three follow a nice progression in complexity, and it certainly helps to have solved the first two before trying the third. Guess I may have to go back and pick up the other two as they are all really nice puzzles. Let's just hope Eric has a few left!

Alles Roger

Alles Roger

Also sitting on the table was a copy of Rojer's "Alles Rojer".

I have to admit, I spent quite a lot longer playing with this dexterity puzzle than I care to admit, and I did not solve it. To be fair, I felt a little better when no-one else there solved it either. Getting past the first obstacle seems fairly straight forward. To get past the second needs some sort of puzzling zen which I did not possess.

More puzzlers, and some familiar faces

More puzzlers, and some familiar faces

Things by this point were getting fairly crowded in the room I had been in as a number of other puzzlers had turned up, including Derek Bosch, Ray Stanton, Bill Darah to mention a few. Jeff Chiou from MagicPuzzles.org also walked through the door at one point, so it was nice to talk to a fellow blogger, and to meet Jeff in person, having read his blog for some time before starting my own.

Chuck's Challenge

Chuck's Challenge in iPhone

Chuck Sommerville of Chips Challenge fame also arrived at one point, sporting the same shirt as can be found in his latest came Chuck's Challenge on the iPhone. The likeness is uncanny!

Just standing talking with everyone there, and hearing about their experiences whether from designing puzzles, solving, or collecting was fascinating, at least to me. Jen on the other hand was less impressed.

As time was flying by, I was told I should really see the rest of the house, as there were many more puzzles elsewhere. And that is an understatement. Stan showed me out to "The Puzzle Room". The photos will say far more than I can (and sorry they're not better but I forgot to lift my camera and was stuck using my iPhone to take pictures) but if I thought I was lost previously ...

Standing outside the puzzle room

Standing outside the puzzle room

The Entrance to the Puzzle Room.

The Entrance to the Puzzle Room. There is virtually no free space in here

Even more shelves and boxes of puzzles.

Even more shelves and boxes of puzzles.


I could have spent weeks in this room. Boxes of puzzles from floor to ceiling (nearly 8' high), and only enough space to walk around the central stack of boxes. From talking with Stan, this is the result of 25 years of puzzle collecting. There are some amazing puzzles tucked away in this room, and I had only a short amount of time to spend, however there were Charles O. Perry puzzles in here, Hanayama Cast series, IPP puzzles going back many years, and in a random box I opened, a number of Karakuri Christmas presents including Iwahara's House with Trees box. It's an amazing insight into Stan's collection, but really I was only able to scratch the surface of what he has hidden away.

Marcel Gillen's Chess Pieces

Marcel Gillen's Chess Pieces

Coming back into the main house, and exploring more of the puzzles sitting around I cam across a collection that most puzzlers dream of. A complete collection of Marcel Gillen's Chess Pieces. Not only were these just sitting next to the fireplace, but they were free to play with, and I couldn't resist. They are a stunning set, and really beautiful to open. I doubt I will ever own a set of these, but at least I have been able to play with them.

With the tour of "The Puzzle Room" complete, and nearly four hours having passed since I arrived, I went back to playing with a few of the other puzzles Stan had out. In the main living room, there were a number of Karakuri puzzle boxes, which I spent some time playing with, including "The Coffee Cup by Akio Kamei, and "Three-cornered deadlock" by Hideaki Kawashima. So many puzzles, it really was hard to choose what to try to solve.

The Odd Packing Puzzle by Iwahiro

The Odd Packing Puzzle by Iwahiro

One puzzle I spotted sitting was the "Odd Packing Puzzle" by Hirokazu Iwasawa (a.k.a. Iwahiro). Having read about this puzzle on Brian's Damn Puzzle Blog I had to have a go for myself. Having played with the puzzle myself, I really like the design of this puzzle. It's a good honest puzzle where everything is on show, and there's nothing hidden. There are only three pieces and the idea is to get all of them into the box as shown in the picture I took. To be able to get more than just one piece into the box, you really have to spend time understanding how the pieces can move inside the restricted space you have. And it's not obvious at first how they can all move. There are many more degrees of freedom in that tight space than you may think at first, and when you finally understand how things move, this puzzle is a joy to solve.

Ray Stanton 3 Piece Burr

Ray Stanton 3 Piece Burr

3 Piece Burr Opened

3 Piece Burr Opened

While playing with various puzzles, I picked up a three piece aluminium burr. This was an unconventionally notched burr which is only solvable using co-ordinate motion. While playing with this, Ray Stanton who happened to be talking to Jen about mobile phones at the time said he had one of his own design in the car with his having no internal voids if I wanted one. Of course I said that would be great, and gladly accepted his offer. When I asked him what he wanted for it, he shrugged it off saying he didn't want anything, "Maybe at another party" he says. Yet another case of puzzlers being a generous bunch and such a great group of people to spend time with.

Tanacube by Bill Darrah and Peter Ramussen

Tanacube by Bill Darrah and Peter Ramussen

Before leaving there was one last puzzle I spotted sitting on the table. Tanacube, by Bill Darah (who was standing next to me) was sitting on the table, and I couldn't resist trying this puzzle. For more information, go to the Tanacube webiste, for all the background. The copy Stan has is the beautiful six wood version, with tight fitting pieces, and a really solid construction. The six pairs of pieces form the cube in this very challenging puzzle. What makes it harder is that there is a unique solution in which adjacent pieces always have different colors. The state the cube was in when I got it was this unique solution, and getting it back to that state is no simple task. Another wonderful puzzle, that I am very pleased to have been able to solve.

While playing with the Tanacube, Bill pulls a bag out from a pile of things he brought, and promptly asks the room "Is there anyone who doesn't have one of these?"

Shades of Donuts by Bill Darrah

Shades of Donuts by Bill Darrah

Shades of Donuts Puzzle cards

Shades of Donuts Puzzle cards


What he's holding is his IPP exchange puzzle from IPP29, Shades of Donuts. Bill then goes on to explain that he found this puzzle in a dollar store, and decided to buy it and take it home, as the back of the box promised an interesting logic puzzle. Getting it home, he found out that there was no puzzle, just a tray of donuts, and some text on the back saying that there was a puzzle. So Bill set about creating the set of cards on the right in the photo which was the set of rules for each puzzle. In total there are 60 'challenges' on the cards making for an interesting exchange puzzle. The real work here was all the time Bill put into creating the cards, and not the physical puzzle itself. Amazingly, Bill notes that there are a number of mistakes on the original cards, from the 2009 IPP, which he submitted after finding them agreeing that working on such a puzzle at 2am is not the best idea.

I'd like to say thank you to Stan Isaacs for hosting the party, his hospitality and collection were both superb. I hope to be invited back at some point in the future as there were so many puzzles, it just isn't possible to enjoy them all in the few hours we had.