Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
12Aug/113

Japanese Puzzle Box

This Japanese puzzle box by an unknown maker takes me back in my puzzling history. This was the first puzzle box I ever bought, and was on a trip to San Francisco with my family when I was finishing University around 14 years ago. This is where my fascination with puzzle boxes stems from, and it's still a box that I enjoy opening even today.

Japanese Puzzle Box

Japanese Puzzle Box

As you can see it's a standard Japanese box, with Yosegi patterns on all six sides. This box is fairly large for a Japanese puzzle box and comes in at a 5 Sun box.

So if woodworking wasn't confusing enough given that everything is measured in inches for cuts (yes I'm Scottish, and we use the metric system for everything except speed and distance - don't ask me why), and board feet for buying lumber (It's simple enough when you understand, but way to confuse someone new to woodworking), the Japanese have another system called Suns. What it actually equates to is the following:

Sun Size Size in Inches
1 Sun 1.22" (Mame)
1.5 Sun 1.83" (Mame)
2 Sun 2.44"
2.5 Sun 3.05"
3 Sun 3.66"
4 Sun 4.88"
5 Sun 6.10"
6 Sun 7.32"
7 Sun 8.54"

This particular box is a 36 move box. It's by no means the most complicated box to open as the sequence is (mostly) the same from start to finish. Once you find the sliding panels, the box follows the same sequence until the top panel slides off. Well that's mostly true. There is one sneaky move towards the end of the 36 moves where one slider actually moves back to a previous position to allow the next move to take place. This certainly caught me out the first time I tried to open it (as I threw the opening instructions away), and it catches most people I have given this box to as well.

The image below shows a closeup of the internal mechanism for this box, which I find fascinating. If you click on the picture, you'll see the full box, so if you don't want to see the full box, don't click the link. It doesn't give anything away really, but now you've been warned.

Japanese Puzzle Box open

Japanese Puzzle Box open

The amount of work which went into this box is just stunning, especially when you consider that I paid less than $30 for it. This may be a mass manufactured box, but the quality of the fit and finish is excellent. Even the slides are well hidden with no visible gaps between the pieces.

As my first box, this holds a special place in my collection, and as a fairly large box it even has useful storage space inside if you want to keep a small object away securely hidden away. Just don't use "The Big Bang Theory" method of opening it.



9Aug/119

Polyhedral Puzzles visit with Scott Peterson

As you know from my blog, I've been learning about woodworking, and taking something of a journey from puzzle solver to puzzle creator. Over the weekend, I had the great pleasure to be able to visit Scott Peterson at his home to talk about how he creates puzzles, and his journey from 2003 to now in the world of woodworking and puzzle creation.

Scott and I have been talking back and forth via email for a while now and it was great to be able to meet him in person and spend some time with his family who made Jen and I so welcome. Not to mention the great lunch they made too!. I had a great time picking Scott's brain for hints and tips on how to go about creating my ow puzzles. I really can't thank Scott enough for all the help he's given me so far. Let's hope it all pays off, and I can start creating some puzzles worthy of showing off!

When I mentioned on the Renegade forums that I was going to visit Scott, a few people asked if it would be possible to get a shop tour. Well Scott and I may have gone one better. We recorded around 40 minutes of video, and after some editing, the results are here.

I hope you enjoy the shop tour, and seeing what Scott uses to make his puzzles. We also recorded an in-depth video about the jig Scott built to cut blocks for the Stewart Coffin puzzles that so many of us are familiar with, and finally we recorded a section showing an actual cut and glue-up. (Scott is pretty sure the glue-up is going to be controversial, but if you've seen the results, I don't think you can argue! (Also as a side note, I've seen pictures of the way Stewart Coffin himself (or his kids) glued up puzzles. Enough said!)

It's worth noting that in the Jig video, the stick used to show the tool marks is African Blackwood. The photo is taken using a macro lens so this is hugely magnified to show the tool marks. The tooling marks on the African Blackwood stick show up much more than one would notice on a Maple or Cherry stick. The very dense woods make the tool marks show up much more clearly than the softer woods. This isn't an attempt to make Scott look bad! (Trust me, having seen his sticks up close, I can't believe that they are unfinished. The quality is just stunning!)

The Shop Tour:

The Coffin Jig:

Cutting and Gluing Coffin Blocks:



5Aug/110

Cast Rattle

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Hanayama Cast Puzzles

Cast Rattle is another excellent puzzle from the Hanayama Cast series of puzzles. This particular puzzle is designed by Bram Cohen. The highly chromed, clinking puzzle challenges you to separate the four joined pieces, then put them back together, before you drive your significant other insane from the rattling. Thanks to Puzzle Master for sending me this puzzle to review.


Cast Rattle by Hanayama

Cast Rattle by Hanayama

As other people have already commented in their reviews, this puzzle really lives up to its name. The four identical pieces rattle and clink with each and every touch of the puzzle, and most attempts to silence it will prove to be futile. The chromed finish is very slick, and there is very little friction between the pieces to keep them in any particular spot. Have a look at Kevin's review and Brian's review to see what they had to say about this puzzle.

If you're familiar with the cast series, then it will come as no surprise to find that the name of the puzzle, and Hanayama's name are laser etched onto one of the pieces. This puzzle is no exception and lives up to the high quality that we are familiar with from the Hanayama series. It's a solid puzzle with a good weight and excellent fit and finish. Despite its small price tag, this is a high quality puzzle.

Cast Rattle closeup

Cast Rattle closeup

At its smallest, the puzzle is around 1.5" square x 1" high. The pieces fit very loosely together which adds to its tendency to rattle, but there's really no unnecessary movement here. Moving the pieces around in relation to one another, you can see everything, making this another 'perfect' puzzle.

You may not realise it, but this puzzle is actually a burr puzzle. Don't let that put you off though. I know that many people are not a fan of burrs but this is a great puzzle and you'd be missing out if you passed it by. The loose connection of the pieces, and the ability to see all parts of the puzzle make this a rather unique burr. Nothing hidden from you and yet something keeps the pieces locked together.

With nothing hidden, it should be easy to see how it should open, right? And this is where the frustration sets in. Idly fiddling with the puzzle in your hands is unlikely to see you opening it any time soon. Tugging and pulling wildly at the pieces in the hope they will pop apart also won't yield particularly impressive results. A more structured approach (and a level surface) help in solving this one. You can see from looking at the pieces and how they connect that all you need to do is line the pieces up, and they should fall apart. The beauty is that the pieces are so accurately made, that the alignment has to be spot on for that to happen.

Cast Rattle pieces

Cast Rattle pieces

I've given this puzzle to a few different people to try to solve, and most have managed. The interesting thing is that each person approaches the puzzle differently, and as such I've witnessed a couple of solutions. The most Neanderthal solution involved holding two pieces and shaking until things fell apart, to the other end of the scale where carefully aligning pieces on a desk and gently repositioning with a pencil until the top two could lift off. Interestingly both were successful!

After I solved this for the first time, and could look closely at the pieces when I was re-assembling the puzzle, I noticed something very interesting. That led to what I consider to be a very elegant solution. Taking a couple of tooth picks and carefully placing them between the pieces, you can precisely align them, and separate the pieces with minimal effort. I wonder if this was intentional when the puzzle was designed or just luck!

The effect of such a precise construction, and low friction surface is that even when you're putting the pieces back together, almost as soon as the pieces touch, they will move out of alignment locking themselves together again.

Hanayama rates the puzzle as a level 4/6 and Puzzle Master a level 8/10 - Demanding. I have to say that these are spot on. It's a challenging puzzle and could keep you rattling away for hours if you don't look carefully at the pieces and their interaction. Even after solving it, and knowing what you have to do, this still provides a challenge every time you come back to it. I highly recommend Cast Rattle for all ages and level of puzzle solving, although I'd suggest not handing it to the baby!



3Aug/112

Forgotten Puzzle – The Holetite Puzzle (Buttonhole Puzzle)

Taking a trip down memory lane, I recently re-discovered, or rather remembered that I had made a puzzle a very long time ago for a Magic show I was performing. Yes, way back in my dim and distant past, I was a magician, and I performed to varying sized audiences. Moving on ...

The Holetite or Buttonhole Puzzle

The Holetite or Buttonhole Puzzle

Anyway, when I was working on new tricks for an upcoming show, I came across this puzzle in a book of magic tricks, and decided to create my own copy for use in the show. The book showed a wooden stick with a leather string. My version as you can see was slightly different.

The puzzle was created by American puzzle inventor Sam Loyd, and there is an interesting story behind it. I'll not repeat it here, as it can be found easily enough on the web, or in Jerry Slocum's book "New Book of Puzzles".

I used it in a very similar way to that described in Slocum's book, by attaching it to an unsuspecting audience member, and challenging them to remove it without breaking the chain. Throughout the show I would comment to the poor audience member that he or she still hadn't removed the item. Toward the end of my show I returned, and kindly removed the item as quickly as I'd placed it on them, normally to a laugh and applause from the audience. (Yes I was young when doing this, so a child getting one up on an adult is normally amusing.)

This is a simple enough puzzle to create, and almost anything can be used to create it, from an ice cream stick to a pencil or any rod, then a piece of string just slightly shorter than the stick it is attached to. Go ahead and make one yourself, and have fun. It's a great first puzzle to create, and will leave you laughing as you pin it on unsuspecting victims!

As a word of warning, creating if from something breakable like a pencil may see the puzzle returned to you in pieces (or with the pencil sharpened, and as a result shorter). Just as well they're cheap and easy to make.

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1Aug/113

Stickman #2 – Revisited

Some time ago I wrote about the Stickman puzzle box I'd won on a Puzzle Paradise auction. Since then the puzzle has been on a bit of a journey, and as a result I felt it was time to revisit this puzzle.

When I won the puzzle, I spent some time talking with its creator Robert Yarger, and he mentioned that it was a really solid puzzle, and he'd have no issues handing it round for people to try. Well with that in mind, I took it with me to the California Puzzle party. Unfortunately, when it was there, something went a bit wrong, and the puzzle jammed. I was able to shut the puzzle, but there was something very strange going on. Sadly, I had to put the puzzle back in my bag, and that meant no-one else was able to play with it that day.

I wrote to Robert and described what was happening. He instantly offered to take the puzzle back and see if he could figure out what had happened, even mentioning that if he couldn't fix it, he'd find a way to make things right by me. (As a fellow puzzler has mentioned, nice bloke that Stick guy!) Interestingly, this was only the third Stickman puzzle that Robert has ever had to repair, and one of those was due to an accidental high dive from a shelf. Given the number of puzzles he's made, and some of the incredibly intricate work he does, that's a pretty good recommendation of his work.

So I packed the box up, and sent it off. A few days later Robert got in touch to tell me that he had found the problem and would be able to fix it. Before I knew what was happening, Robert had the box all back together and it was back in the mail to me.

The top before repair

The top before repair

Top after repair

Top after repair

While Robert had the box, he did a little restoration on the top. As you may remember, there was a scratch on the top of the box from the original creation. Robert mentioned that it was common on his early work. Seems like he wasn't too happy about that scratch being there as he sanded the box down to remove it, then refinished the box, so now it's even better than new.

It turns out that what had happened is that on one side of the puzzle, the internal stops had broken and was now free floating inside the puzzle. For a 10 year old puzzle, it wasn't anything anyone using the puzzle had done, but just a case of old age. To fix things, the part which came free has now been replaced and a much deeper groove cut into the side to embed things firmly. No chance of that coming free again.

Here's just a few pictures from Robert's surgery. These don't give anything away. I've kept the pictures of the internals for myself. Thanks have to go out to Robert though for sending me the pictures. He certainly didn't need to show what goes on inside his puzzle!

This looks drastic, taking a mortiser to the bottom

This looks drastic, taking a mortiser to the bottom

The inside of the box

The inside of the box


 
 

Back as good as new

Back as good as new