Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
28Jun/111

Aluminium Cross by Wil Strijbos

As I mentioned previously, I was lucky enough to be able to pick up a copy of this re-run of Wil Strijbos' first ever puzzle design, the Aluminium Cross. John Devost over at Puzzle Paradise had been in touch with Wil to get a few for the US collectors, and I bought mine through John. Wil Strijbos is a fairly well known puzzle designer, creator and collector from the Netherlands. He has a huge collection of puzzles, and has been designing puzzles himself for quite some time.

Wil has a number of glass bottle puzzles (which Oli has reviewed here and Allard over here) and nut/bolt puzzles he designs and makes, but perhaps his most notable works are his aluminium puzzles. Just by looking at these puzzles, it's easy to see why, they really do look good, they're well finished and are just a little different to many other puzzles on the market today. You can read Allard's review of Wil's Aluminium puzzles over on his blog and Kevin's over on PuzzleMad. Since Wil makes these by hand, there's never a huge number of puzzles available, however he does take requests, and has a catalogue of other puzzles for you to buy while waiting on one of his puzzles.

Aluminium Cross by Wil Strijbos

Aluminium Cross by Wil Strijbos

The Aluminium Cross was created back in 1980, when Wil was invited to meet Mr James Dalgety from Pentangle Puzzles after writing to Pentangle about their puzzles. He felt that with such an invite he should create something to take with him. Back in 1980 he made only a few samples of the puzzle, and it has taken 32 years for him to make it available on a larger scale. Looking at the puzzle, it doesn't look very challenging. There are two bars of aluminium and two rods going through them, so it shouldn't be too difficult to take apart? It's at this point it's worth noting that when Wil announced the availability of this puzzle again, he showed pictures of the puzzle open and closed. That's right ... he shows the puzzle open. Anyone who is able to show you their puzzle solved, and it still be a challenge to take it apart has a good puzzle on their hands. For that reason I don't hesitate to do the same in this review and show you the same as Wil did.

Aluminium Cross by Wil Strijbos

Aluminium Cross by Wil Strijbos

Even having seen the puzzle already apart, I can confirm that there are no clues there. If anything all it does is serve to intrigue and confuse. I know having seen the images from Wil himself it just made me want one even more.

When I received the puzzle, my parents were over from Scotland on Vacation, and my Dad who is also a puzzler was quite interested as well. At first, everything is locked solid and none of the pieces will slide. Over dinner, I sat and played as we talked and gradually by twisting and turning the puzzle, first one bar moved, then after more work I could remove it. Yet more work was required to finally take the two parts of the cross apart and see how the puzzle was constructed. I will admit that I wasn't paying as much attention as I normally do when solving a puzzle given that I was enjoying dinner with my family.

To my surprise I had taken the puzzle apart in under 15 minutes. And that is where the fun started. I had to put the puzzle back to the start, so my Dad could open it. I then spent the next 40 minutes trying to work out how I had taken it apart to be able to put it back to the starting position, and ended up having to take it apart again several times to see how each of the elements interacted. My input to the dinner conversation was significantly less than it had been while I was opening the puzzle, and there were a few grunts as the puzzle eluded my attempts to reassemble it. This puzzle is just as challenging to restore to its original state as it is to take apart.

In all there are six elements to the puzzle which need to be understood to solve it. It's a great puzzle, and as a first design it makes my efforts seem fairly meagre. Having handed the puzzle to my Dad, he opened it fairly quickly, but ended up handing it back to me to put back together. I've given it to a few other friends and they have all enjoyed playing with it and agree that it's a great puzzle.

The first run of the Aluminium Cross sold out very quickly, but I know Wil has batch two ready and I have no doubt that if they continue to sell well he'll make more.

I'll be reviewing Wil's other aluminium puzzles soon, so stay tuned for more from Wil Strijbos. If you'd like to purchase any of Wil's puzzles, or find out what other puzzles he has in stock, feel free to get in touch, and I'll send you Wil's details. He currently doesn't have a website, but does maintain a mailing list with lots of info.



27Jun/110

The Strijbos Metals

Despite the slightly cryptic title, many puzzlers will already know what I'm talking about. Hailing from the Netherlands, William Strijbos is a name familiar to many puzzlers. His aluminium puzzles are probably his best known, but by no means his only puzzles. Wil also designs bolt puzzles as well as a fair share of coke and whisky bottle puzzles as well.

Wil's Aluminium Puzzles

The collection of Aluminium puzzles from Wil Strijbos

I recently purchased Wil's Cross puzzle from John Devost through Puzzle Paradise and at the same time had ordered Wil's Aluminium burrs and his Aluminium Cylinder directly from Wil.

I've had the Cross for a few weeks now, but at the weekend, the rest of the items arrived from Wil. As much as Wil knows about designing puzzles, he also has a good supply of packing tape, as there was no box visible on his package, it was so well covered in tape. Guess Wil was expecting rain as this one was watertight!

I'll be reviewing all of these fairly soon, so keep an eye out for that, but until then, rest assured that these are excellent puzzles, and well worth owning. If you are interested, drop me a message and I can pass on Wil's details.

If you're interested, despite the identical external appearance, the Burr on the left is the 10 move burr which is a version of the 'Piston Puzzle' by Peter Marineau and the one on the right is a version of 'Gaby Games' designed by Phillipe Dubois.

All the puzzles are incredibly high quality, and beautifully made. Well worth having in the collection. While the Burr's are not new designs, their construction from Aluminium does add to their appeal, and the fit is excellent, making them worthy of note.



24Jun/111

Oskar’s Blocks

Oskar's Blocks, also known as Oskar's Cubes is another design by Oskar Van Deventer, can be found in both wood and metal versions. This version is made by Bits and Pieces from chrome plated metal and is available from Puzzle Master. Thanks to Puzzle Master for sending me this puzzle to review.

Oskar's Blocks

Oskar's Blocks

As you can see, this is a good looking puzzle from the well known and prolific designer Oskar Van Deventer. It's a fairly small puzzle, with each of the three cubes measuring 15/16" in size, to give a fully assembled size of just under 1.5". Given that the puzzle is metal, it has a good weight for its size, and while the pieces aren't a tight fit, they do hold themselves together well enough to not fall apart when you place it on a single cube.

Oskar's Blocks

Oskar's Blocks

With only three pieces, you might be forgiven for thinking this is an easy puzzle. Puzzle Master ranks it as Level 7 - Challenging (out of 10), and I have to say it's spot on. This isn't the most challenging puzzle you'll come across but take the pieces apart, roll them across the floor, come back in half an hour, and you'll find it a challenge to put back together unless you've memorised the slots on each piece.

Oskar's Blocks Pieces

Oskar's Blocks Pieces

With each of the pieces being dissimilar, it does add to the challenge of this puzzle. Given the number of ways that each of the pieces can interact with each other, getting the first two pieces in place to allow the third to slide in and lock the puzzle together is a good challenge. I spent around 15 minutes after having scrambled the pieces, and left them for a while to put it back together. The more times you solve it, the easier it becomes, but I think that is true of many puzzles out there. The puzzle comes simply packaged from Bits and Pieces in a white cardboard box, with a solution included if you're really stuck.

Overall, this is an excellent puzzle. It's well made, solid and nicely finished. With a price tag under $15, this is well worth picking up. Despite being pocket sized, I'd advise against keeping it there given the sharp corners.



21Jun/113

Wunder Puzzle Series

In a recent sale on Cubic Dissection, Eric Fuller had a number of interesting puzzles available. I missed most of the items there, but did spot the Wunder Puzzle Series. Initially, I purchased only the #2, which was listed as the hardest of the set, but having the puzzle in my hands (and not having solved it after 2 weeks of trying) I realised that was a mistake and ordered the other two puzzles.

The Wunder Puzzle Series from Eric Fuller

The Wunder Puzzle Series from Eric Fuller

The story behind this set of puzzles is an interesting one, but rather than me try to retell it, here's what Eric has to say about the series.

"I saw a picture on facebook of an interesting variation on the classic joint puzzle...Peter Wiltshire of Canada had scored it on Ebay. I shot him a message and he was kind enough to lend me the original (shown on a white background below) so I could make some copies. When I got it in my hands, I started thinking about various different locking mechanisms that could be used, and decided to make the original plus two very different variations."

The Original Wunder Puzzle

The Original Wunder Puzzle, image from Cubic Dissection

As I mentioned at the start, I had only ordered #2, thinking to myself, I'm an experienced puzzler, I can solve the hardest one. At the time I couldn't justify all three, so why buy an easy puzzle, right? I'm pretty sure I'm not the only puzzler out there who things like that. (See what Allard has to say in his review given that he did the same as me)

Well I started trying to take #2 apart, and all I could make it do was one end cap would spin, and it would squeak slightly. I played on and off for around 10 minutes a night for nearly two weeks and made little progress. I did find that it was possible to get the end to 'lock' but that didn't seem to help me open the puzzle. Slightly frustrated, I'd put it back on the puzzle shelf each night, and left it until the next night.

When I was at Stan Isaacs puzzle party last month, I spotted that he had all three puzzles sitting on a desk. I picked up what turns out to be #1, and solved it fairly quickly. I didn't have attempt to open the original Wunder puzzle, but decided to order the remaining two puzzles I didn't have as I really liked the mechanism on #1.

This is where I have a gripe with the woods Eric chose. The original Wunder Puzzle was a very dark wood, with a very light wood as you can see from the photo above. It's hard to tell if the original puzzle was walnut or some other dark wood, or if the wood on one half was stained. Anyway, when Eric re-made the original mechanism, he chose a lighter bubinga and made the #1 mechanism from walnut. Personally, I think it would have been nicer to make the original in walnut, and his variation in the other woods. Yes, it's a small gripe, but I am constantly confused as to which is which!

Eric's remake of the original Wunder puzzle

Eric's remake of the original Wunder puzzle

So back to the puzzles themselves. Each of the puzzles is 1" x 3.4" long, and are really beautiful pieces. They all have very precise geometry and dimensioning, such that the parts come apart perfectly smoothly, but require you to move them in exactly the right way or they will stay firmly locked in place. Limited to 30 of each puzzle, this is a fairly small run of puzzles, and looking at the work that went into them, I can see why.

The Original Mechanism has been recreated by Eric in Carolina Ash and Bubinga (see my small gripe earlier). Looking at the joint on the side of the puzzle, there really seems like no way this can come apart. The puzzle seems almost like a solid piece which has been glued together. I can assure you that no glue was used to hold the pieces together. The locking mechanism on this puzzle is fairly simple, but fairly clever. Many people who play with it may not find how to unlock it as there are virtually no external clues, unless you have a compass handy! There are still a few available here at the time of writing if you're interested.

Wunder Puzzle #1 by Eric Fuller

Wunder Puzzle #1 by Eric Fuller

The first variation that Eric created is probably my favourite of the series. Made from Carolina Ash, Black Walnut and Sapelle, it's a much simpler mechanism that the original or #2, and for my money has the nicest movement. Most people who pick this one up will solve it, and probably fairly quickly. Don't let that put you off, this is a beautiful puzzle, and the look on someone's face when the parts separate is worth it. At the time of writing, there are still a few of these available from Cubic Dissection and I'd highly recommend it to anyone. At under $50, this is a great puzzle.

Wunder Puzzle #2 by Eric Fuller

Wunder Puzzle #2 by Eric Fuller

So back to Wunder Puzzle #2. Made from Carolina Ash and Paduak, the bright red of the Paduak really makes this puzzle stand out. It's no Wunder, given it's appearance, and the claim of being the hardest of the set, this puzzle sold out fairly quickly. Just a small side note, the Paduak version while a beautiful vibrant red colour currently, will gradually darken to a dark brown over time with exposure to light. Interestingly, the insides of the puzzle will remain that vibrant red, so you'll get a nice surprise when you open the puzzle!

After a day of doing fairly well at solving puzzles, (I'd opened the Box with a Tree, Chip and Free Dial - reviews coming soon) I decided to go back to #2. After all, I was on a roll! Well, after about 15 minutes I had it open! The mechanism on this puzzle is devilish. It's not easy to open, and very easy to relock when you're trying to open it. Eric has made a very clever variation, which takes the original a few steps further. It's a nice puzzle, but certainly not my favourite. This will keep you guessing for quite some time, until that 'Aha' moment, and things come apart.

As it happens, I did manage to open #2 before the others in the series arrived from Eric, however I am happy to have the full set. It's a nice progression of puzzles, and they look great. I'd personally say that the order of difficulty is #1, followed by Original, followed by #2.

This is a great set of puzzles, and very nice to see new life being given to what was clearly a very old puzzle. I'd highly recommend these to anyone looking for something a little different for their collection.

Note: When I was proof reading this review, I noticed something interesting. If you look closely at the Original puzzle Eric copied, and the remake, the angles used are not the same. Eric's version while similar isn't a copy of the original puzzle. If you look closely, you'll see the angles are inverted.

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17Jun/111

Cast Loop

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Hanayama Cast Puzzles

Cast Loop is the second newest puzzle in the Hanayama Cast series of puzzles, designed by Finnish puzzle designer Vesa Timonen based on an original puzzle ring he created for his girlfriend. It is available from Puzzle Master along with many more puzzles from the Hanayama cast series. The object of the puzzle is to create a closed loop. Thanks Puzzle master for sending me this puzzle to review.

Cast Loop

Cast Loop

The puzzle is packed in the standard Hanayama black and gold packaging, and is held in the box in the position seen above. By shipping it this way, you're not given any clues as to how to solve the puzzle, as separating the pieces doesn't show you how to solve it. If anything it may mislead you, and trick you into not seeing the solution. Quite a clever way to package the puzzle. It also ships with a leather thong, so that once solved, the puzzle can be worn as a necklace. It does hold together well, so this would be a possibility, but we'll get to that.

This is a great looking puzzle, with the chrome plated finish really making the puzzle stand out. The puzzle is around 2 3/4" in diameter so sits nicely in your hand, and being a cast puzzle has a solid weight to it. This really feels like a high quality puzzle.

Cast Loop Magnets

Cast Loop Magnets

Taking the puzzle apart, you're left with what looks like two mirror image pieces. The magnets on the angled ends are strong enough to hold the puzzle pieces firmly together, so there's no worries about the puzzle accidentally coming apart once solved unless you want it to. To that end I think it would be possible to wear the puzzle as jewellery, just don't expect to see me wearing it any time soon.

Cast Loop Symmetry

Cast Loop Symmetry

One of the things I love about this puzzle is the symmetry when solving it. Even though there are minimal moves needed, the puzzle looks great throughout. This is listed as an easy puzzle both by Hanayama where it is a 1 on their scale (1-5) and 5 on Puzzle Masters scale (5-10). It is an easy puzzle, but the beauty is that it is designed in such a way that you need to really think about what you're doing to be able to solve it. The obvious way to combine the pieces won't get you a solid loop.

Knowing how to solve the puzzle, I found myself idly playing with it, opening and closing the loop without really looking at it. Sitting in long meetings at work, it gave my hands something to do rather than just spinning my pen.

Cast Loop Solved

Cast Loop Solved

This is a stunning puzzle, and is one you really should have in your collection. If you don't already, then go buy this, you'll not regret it!

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10Jun/110

X Marks the Spot

X Marks the spot is Puzzle Masters version of the Duallock Cross Puzzle invented by Nobuyuki Yoshigahara. Thanks Puzzle Master for sending me this puzzle to review.

X Marks the Spot

X Marks the Spot

The Object of the puzzle is to remove the cross from its wooden cage, something that at first glance seems impossible. The 'X' seems firmly fixed together, and there is no way that the arms can be removed through the wooden square without breaking one or the other. This illusion adds to the beauty of this type of puzzle, as it is seemingly impossible to solve.

The puzzle is approximately 8" long for the cross section and 3" high at the central loop which the 'X' sits inside. The difference between the Puzzle Master version and the original is that Puzzle Master have added the Wooden square around the main puzzle, for an added challenge. I have seen other versions of this where a steel hoop is in place of the wooden square, as well as the originals with no central element. The addition of the square does not change the solution, but it makes the re-assembly slightly more difficult. The square is held together with glue and brad nails, so it's not the most elegant joinery, but it creates a solid puzzle, and ensures that the square isn't going to fall apart.

All sorts of possible solutions will 'spin' through your mind as you try to come up with a way to remove the cross from its cage. Picking up the puzzle, you'll notice that something rattles inside, giving a clue as to the hidden mechanism that makes solving this puzzle possible.

X Marks the Spot opened

X Marks the Spot opened

Puzzle Master ranks this as a Level 6 - Tricky puzzle. If you don't know the solution, then I'd say this is about right. It's a great puzzle to leave lying on the coffee table or your desk, and let the idle passer by pick it up and play. Very few will find the solution without having some knowledge of this style of puzzle. The solution is very simple which I think adds to the appeal of this puzzle.

Puzzle Masters version is a solid puzzle for a good price. If you don't have a version of the Duallock cross puzzle in your collection, this is as good as any to own. A version is also available from Wood Wonders, without the extra loop.

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