Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
28Nov/116

Unhappy Childhood

No, this isn't a post about how I had a hard life growing up, or anything of that nature. I had a pretty happy childhood as it happens. Most of you will know already, that this is one of Stewart Coffin's puzzle designs, #41 in his numbering system, consisting of 10 pieces, made from 5 cubes each, which come together to form a 5x5x2 rectangle with a checkerboard pattern.

Unhappy Childhood, boxed in the unique checkerboard solution.

Unhappy Childhood, boxed in the unique checkerboard solution.

This particular copy was made by me and is made from Rosewood and Maple, with a Myrtle Burl box. It measures 3.7" x 3.7" x 1.5" for the pieces, and 4.25" x 4.25" x 1.7" in the box.

This is a pretty tough puzzle to solve, as there is only one solution where you end up with the checkerboard pattern on both bottom and top as you can see in the picture above. There are however 2,408 possible solutions if you ignore the checkerboard. So no shortage of ways to get a 5x5x2 solution! (Stewart Coffin reports that "a computer analysis by Beeler, these pieces pack into a 5 x 5 x 2 box 19,264 different ways", however Burr Tools shows just 2,408)

The following is a look at the creation of this puzzle. Hope you enjoy!

This is one of the puzzle designs that I had been looking at making for a while, since it seems no-one has made any in some time, and I don't have one in my collection. Really that's where this all started, looking to add a new puzzle to my collection, and having spent (far) too much on puzzle already this year, what better way than to make it myself.

It all starts with cubes

It all starts with cubes

So the puzzles that I'm making currently are all cube based, and that's where it all starts. 50 wooden cubes, 25 Rosewood, and 25 Maple is the starting point for the UC. The darker tops on some of the Maple cubes at the bottom of the picture is actually the natural wood. Since I love the look of wood, I'm not selectively removing pieces which don't look perfect. After all each puzzle is unique given the grain and natural colour of the wood, which is something I love. When I put the pieces together, I'll orient the pieces so that very little of this is visible, because I'm really aiming for the contrast between the two woods in this puzzle. If the couple I've made, only one has this distinctive colouring on some of the pieces.

50 Cubes to be Bevelled

50 Cubes to be Bevelled

One row done, 9 more still to do!

One row done, 9 more still to do!

Half way there!

Half way there!

Some time later, and I'm done!

Some time later, and I'm done!

This is one of the most time consuming parts of the process (currently). I have to take all 50 cubes, and put a very small bevel onto each edge of the cube. All in all it takes between 1.5-2 hours with my current method. There's been a fair old discussion in one of the puzzling forums about beveling cubes, so I'm sure I can cut this down significantly, but that's going to need a new jig, and some more tools in the shop so for now I'm stuck with what I have.

If you're interested, the checkerboard piece of wood in the pictures isn't some sort of template, it's actually what will become the base of the box that the puzzle sits in. I just happened to be working on it at the same time, hence it ended up in the pictures.

Next up I made the 10 pieces of the puzzle from those 50 cubies, and as it happens I don't have any pics of the process. I'll need to take a few from the next one I make and update this at a later point. Anyway with that done, I turned my attention to the box. I now had dimensions for the box, based on the final size of the pieces, so I took the burl I was using to the saw, and cut it to the right lengths for the box, and created a dado in the edges of two sides, to allow me to get a stronger joint for the corners.

The outside edges of the box

The outside edges of the box

Despite the very small contact area, wood glues are remarkably strong, and will hold the frame together with no issues. In fact, to take it apart would probably break the wood, before the glue would let go. Using blue tape, I tape the corners, (no clamping required) and that will hold the box well enough for the glue to set. I do a quick check to make sure that the corners are square, and leave it to dry, while I turn my attention to the base.

The unfinished base, with the sides sitting on top

The unfinished base, with the sides sitting on top

As you can see, the base is unfinished. The pencil marks were to allow me to line up each of the strips for gluing everything together. As you can see I still have some sanding to do, since there's glue and all sorts on the base. Thanks to the random oscillating hand sander I got for my birthday, it will make short work of that!

A quick dry fit before gluing the box together.

A quick dry fit before gluing the box together.

With the sanding done, I have a quick dry fit with the pieces in place to make sure everything fits as expected before gluing the base in place. Note at this point, Ive sanded the inside of the box to its final point, as it will be pretty touch to get into the corners once it's all glued together, so best do that before the final glueup.

Box glueup from the top

Box glueup from the top


Box glueup from the bottom

Box glueup from the bottom

It's probably worth pointing out at this stage, that I've spent around 3-4 hours making this box. Given that I decided I wanted a checkered base, that meant cutting thin, equally sized strips, gluing them together, then cutting them into strips once dry, flipping the strips to create the checkerboard, and re-gluing, then sanding, etc etc. All in all probably the most labor intensive part of the puzzle build, but hopefully worth it!

Finishing.  First coat of thinned lacquer applied

Finishing. First coat of thinned lacquer applied

With all the individual pieces ready, it's time to look at finishing the puzzle. The box was all sanded on the outside, and it's looking pretty good. I start off by applying a coat of thinned lacquer to all the pieces. It's 1 part lacquer, 2 parts thinner that I'm using. It gives a very thin coat, but does the job or really making the grain pop. If you compare this to the pictures of the dry fir you'll see what I mean.

First Coat of Watco Satin Wax.

First Coat of Watco Satin Wax.

Second Coat of Watco Satin Wax.

Second Coat of Watco Satin Wax.

Once that's dry, the puzzle gets two coats of wax. I'm using a liquid wax, Watco Satin Wax to do the job. I leave the wax for around 5-10 minutes, then wipe off any excess with a rag. This is building up a nice finish on the pieces, but there's still one more step to complete the process. That's a final buffing with some Renaissance Wax.

The pieces, next to the finished box

The pieces, next to the finished box

A final view from the side, showing the effect of the checkered base.  The myrtle burl box almost looks like its floating.

A final view from the side, showing the effect of the checkered base. The myrtle burl box almost looks like its floating.

The final puzzle ready to be played with!

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed the build as much as I enjoyed making it.



22Nov/118

Shippers Dilemma

This is to be the first in a series of posts in the run up to Thanksgiving Day here in the US. So what better to be thankful about than new puzzles to play with?

You'll have to indulge me for a few minutes here, as this set of puzzles comes with a bit of a story. Don't worry, there's puzzles in here too! So back in June, my parents came to visit me here in California. It's the first time they've traveled since my dad went through all his Cancer operations, and it was the end of a long road for him. Both he and my mum were in need of the break, and having not seen them other than the quick trips back to Scotland for work, it was the perfect time to catch up. While they were here we had planned a bit of a road trip. None of us (either my parents or my new family) had been to the Grand Canyon or Death Valley, and since it was likely to be the last time my parents would be able to make such a long trip, we took the 2000 mile round trip in an RV.

Entrance to Calico Silver mining town

Entrance to Calico Silver mining town

While we were in Death Valley, we stopped at an old Ghost Town by the name of Calico. This is an old silver mining town which has been restored and has the tourist trap costumed inhabitants wandering around. One of the shops there was a modestly sized Puzzle shop; Calico Woodworks, selling 'old west' puzzles, including various disentanglement puzzles, tavern puzzles and wooden puzzles. I must have spent an hour in the shop (much to the dismay of the rest of the family who wanted to see the town) browsing, and talking with the owner, who had a fantastic knowledge of the puzzles she was selling.

Calico Woodworks

Calico Woodworks

As it happens, we struck up quite the little banter, and I have no doubt our discussions helped her sales for the day as the shop was packed when I left. Not long after I walked in, and I was animatedly pointing things out to Jen and my Mum, she hands me a puzzle which she calls the 'Manhood Puzzle". Clearly its something she hands to all the men as it comes with a story that if I can't solve it, she'll have to change my name to something girly. The puzzle she hands me is a nut and bolt puzzle, which as it happens I've seen before. I play along for a minute, and poke and prod at the split washer which is secured in the middle of the screw between the head and a nut which is soldered to the screw, before unscrewing the bottom section and removing the washer.

2 Piece Pyramid Puzzle

2 Piece Pyramid Puzzle

She then picks up a few other puzzles to show me, and entice me into buying. As she's off finding the puzzles, I spot a two piece pyramid puzzle sitting on the counter, and promptly solve it. (After all it was sitting there un-solved!) She comes back, spots it solved and asks if I did it. "Yes", I reply. She curses me, then proceeds to tell the story of having received it from Creative Crafthouse, spent days not being able to solve it (having received 1,000 of these), and calls them telling them their puzzle is broken. When they told her how to solve it, I believe a large chunk of pride and humble pie was swallowed!

She picks up a series of three puzzles, which for the Shippers Dilemma series. It turns out these are made by Creative Crafthouse and come both individually and as a nice set of three. As it happens, she didn't have the first in the set available, but I did end up buying the other two puzzles from here (amongst other things).

Shippers Dilemma's

Shippers Dilemma's

So now that I'm done with my story, back to the puzzles at hand! The two puzzles I ended up getting are Shippers Dilemma 'Y, the middle difficulty puzzle, and Shippers Dilemma 'Z' the very hard puzzle.

Both puzzles come in their own wooden boxes, which have been routed with a number of grooves to signify the difficulty of the puzzle. It's a nice touch and means you can easily tell which puzzle you're picking up without having to leave the lids off! Also, the 'lid' is really the base, and the puzzle can be built inside it then the rest of the box slipped on top to put it away (that is if you get it back into a cube)!

Pieces for Shippers Dilemma 'Y'

Pieces for Shippers Dilemma 'Y'

The first of the two puzzles is made entirely of 'y' shaped pieces, 25 to be exact, which have to be placed together to make a 5x5x5 cube. The puzzle was designed by David Klarner and published in the Journal of Recreational Mathematics in 1970, so its not a new puzzle. Originally thought to have just 236 solutions, Burr Tools shows there to be 1264 solutions possible. Never the less, this is still a challenging puzzle, and it's unlikely you're going to solve it in 5 minutes. I think I played around for about 30 minutes to get one solution, and was happy enough with that.

There are a number of other shapes that you can make from the pieces, including a 10x5x1 rectangle from 10 pieces, and a 15x4x2 using 24/25. So lots to keep you occupied with this particular puzzle. It does come supplied with a solution sheet showing 4 possible solutions, and the other shapes you can try, so if you're struggling with the 5x5x5 then one of the others may prove easier!

The pieces of the puzzle themselves are unfinished and fairly rough. While the fit is fairly precise between pieces, there's evidence of glue on some of the pieces, and not all the small cubes are glued perfectly straight onto the longer 'base' section. That said, this isn't an expensive puzzle, and given that it's well worth the money.

Pieces for Shippers Dilemma 'Z'

Pieces for Shippers Dilemma 'Z'

The second of the two Shippers Dilemma puzzles is 'Z'. You'll not be surprised when I tell you that this puzzle is made from 25 'Z' shaped pieces (or N in pentominoes sets) which need to be made into a 5x5x5 cube. Like it's little brother there are a number of other possible solution shapes using varying numbers of pieces which are listed with the puzzle, so again plenty to keep you occupied. This is listed as a very hard puzzle, and given that there's only 4 solutions, which are provided, I can see why. Around an hour found me a solution that let me put it back in its box, and I was pretty happy with that. Burr Tools confirms that there's only 4 solutions.

This puzzle is made from a darker wood, but again, I'm not sure what sort of wood has been used. It's of a similar quality and price to the previous puzzle, so all in all good value for money and a serious challenge regardless of how many times you solve it!

I may have to puck up the first in the series, as it has a beautiful symmetry to the way the pieces fit inside, which I really liked. That's one for another day though. Funny that I traveled all the way to Death Valley to pick up my first puzzles from Creative Crafthouse, but I've not been disappointed, and will likely buy more from them in the future.

Come back tomorrow to see the other puzzles I picked up while in Death Valley!

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18Nov/110

Cubetresor

Cubetresor is a Vinco puzzle which I recently received from Puzzle Master to review. The goal of the puzzle is to "open" the cube, however the rattling coming from inside the puzzle hints at something clever going on inside. Given that the puzzle arrives shrink wrapped in plastic, there's no real clue as to what it could be.

Cubetresor by Vinco

Cubetresor by Vinco

As you can see this is another beautiful looking puzzle from the workshop of Vaclav Obsivac, measuring 2.5" x 2.5" x 2.5". To be honest, I've never seen anything from Vinco that's not both stunning to look at, and perfectly made. It comes as I mentioned shrink wrapped in plastic, with a small folded paper sheet showing the difficulty and an Ikea style diagram giving you the goal of the puzzle. The solution is given inside the folded paper, so don't open it if you don't want to know, but really this isn't difficult. I should mention, if you've not visited Vinco's website recently, then go have a look. He's redesigned and cleaned up the website, and is adding lots of new information about the woods he uses, and how he gets them. Well worth a read!

The Cubetresor pieces

The Cubetresor pieces

As I've mentioned with a couple of Vinco's creations, some are less puzzle and more curiosity/art. I feel that the Cubetressor fits into this category as well. Vinco's own description of the puzzle lists it at a four piece puzzle, but I'm going to revise that and say it's a five piece puzzle. You'll remember that I mentioned a rattling sound coming from the puzzle before I opened it. Well as far as I'm concerned that's the fifth piece. After all it is a piece, and it's inside the puzzle.

This isn't a difficult puzzle, and I doubt anyone will have problems in opening it. As ever it looks great, and isn't an expensive puzzle, so I'd say pick it up. If you don't want to know more, then stop reading here. If you want more info, including some spoilers, then click the link. Note: I'll show you that fifth piece, and also how it opens

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11Nov/111

Cast Marble

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Hanayama Cast Puzzles

Cast Marble is another puzzle from the Hanayama Cast Series of puzzles this time, designed by Oskar van Deventer and Bram Cohen. The goal of the puzzle is to take apart the four pieces, and put them back together. Thanks Puzzle Master for sending me this puzzle to review.



Cast Marble

Cast Marble

As you can see this is another great looking puzzle with contrasting colours of anodised/chromed metals used for the body and the marble. At 1.5" x 1" deep it's not a large puzzle, and as Brian already pointed out in his review the darker body of the puzzle really shows fingerprints well, so if you're like me, you'll find yourself reaching for the cleaning cloth to keep it print free. Given that it's a solid metal puzzle, it has a good weight in your hands, even with the size being quite diminutive.

As we've come to expect the puzzle name, and Hanayama logo are laser etched into the top of one of the pieces, just in case you forget which puzzle you're playing with. As much as I'm joking about it, it really is a nice touch, and something I'm happy to see Hanayama doing.

Cast Marble initial movement

Cast Marble initial movement

Straight out of the familiar black and gold Hanayama packaging, you'll find that the puzzle wants to move into the position you see above. This seems to be the natural movement that you'll find when you start playing. As you might have guessed it's not going to help you to solve the puzzle, but it might let you see each of the parts a little more clearly.

The silver ball in the centre of the puzzle spins freely inside the frame pieces, and this is helped given just how smooth the finish is on the puzzle. Given the puzzles small size, and how slick the surfaces are, it does add an extra challenge to the puzzle. I found that even once I found out how to take the pieces apart, manipulating the pieces was still challenging.

Rated as 4/6 on the Hanayama scale and 8/10 by Puzzle Master (their scale starting at 5), this is a challenging little puzzle. I spent 15-20 minutes to figure out how to take it apart for the first time. When it started to come apart, the two frame sections stuck against one another as they were separating, leaving me thinking I wasn't solving it correctly. It turns out that a small adjustment to the positioning of the four pieces, and they slid apart very smoothly, with a very satisfying motion. Much like the Cast Loop puzzle, the movement of the pieces as the puzzle comes apart is almost hypnotic, and its a very graceful thing to watch come apart then slide back together.

Cast marble in pieces

Cast marble in pieces

Once you have the pieces apart, the twisted shape which leads to this unusual motion is revealed. If you take care when opening the puzzle, then re-assembly shouldn't be too difficult, but as is the case when taking it apart, precise alignment is required. I found it easier putting the pieces back together than taking them apart, mainly because it seems to need less dexterity, and also that the puzzle doesn't want to rotate in the horizontal axis around the ball (like you see in the second image).

I think this is a reasonable challenge, and will keep most people puzzled for a fair while. More seasoned puzzlers may figure this out faster, but the movement alone makes it worth adding to your collection. I highly recommend Cast Marble, and it's probably second only to Cast Loop in terms of my favorite Hanayama puzzle at this point. If you don't have this already, definitely consider picking up a copy. Oli has also written about the Cast Marble, so to read his thoughts, head over here.



3Nov/112

Birthday Puzzling

As some of you know, I celebrated my birthday last week, and the day came with some shiny new puzzles and tools thanks to my family.

Some Zebra Wood to make puzzles, and a few new tools

Some Zebra Wood to make puzzles, and a few new tools

It seems that my fiancée had been hard at work, talking to a few of my friends and figuring out what and how to get me a few puzzles and tools. Not only was I lucky enough to receive three puzzles from Mr Puzzle, but there were also some tools to help in making more puzzles myself, and three board feet of Zebra Wood to make into puzzles as well.

I have been talking about getting a small random orbit sander for quite a while now. Believe it or not, up to this point, all the sanding that Ive done, regardless of the size of the project has all been done by hand. So to get a nice palm sander plus several different grits of paper was really nice. I have a couple of biggish projects that I'm working on just now, including the charity build of two children's rocking horses, so that will come in really handy there, as well as finishing the outer surfaces on some of the puzzles I've been making.

Also among the tools was a nice hand plane. It's another tool that I didn't own and will make a nice addition to my tools. I have a very small plane for fine work, but this will help for some of the bigger projects that I have planned. Finally there's an interesting corner clamp. I have no doubt this will come in very handy for making boxes for some of the puzzles.

Three puzzles from Mr Puzzle

Three puzzles from Mr Puzzle

From the puzzle side, I had mentioned to my fiancée that I really wanted to have a proper go at Mr. Puzzle's IPP exchange puzzle from IPP 31 this year, the Houdini's Torture Cell. Well it seems that when she went looking for it, she decided it wasn't very expensive, and had a look around some of the other puzzles on the site to pick up a few puzzles for me. In the end she decided on the Cable Car from the San Francisco IPP, and One Four All & All Four One from IPP30 designed by Arcady Dyskin & Pantazis Houlis.

I'll be writing full reviews of all the puzzles once I've had a chance to play with them all so keep an eye out for them soon.



2Nov/116

Buffalo Nickel

The Buffalo Nickel is based on a puzzle design by Oskar van Deventer and was made by George Miller for IPP 20 in Los Angeles is a large burr style puzzle where the object is to fit the two burr pieces into the main body of the coin to complete the border of the coin. It takes 9.5 moves to put the three pieces together into the solved state. I'm not quite sure where the half move comes from, but I'll take George's word for it (more on that later).

The front of the Buffalo Nickel

The front of the Buffalo Nickel

The back of the Buffalo Nickel

The back of the Buffalo Nickel

This puzzle was brought to me by a friend after they visited my house recently and I showed them a few of the puzzles in my puzzle cabinets. Her daughter who was with her mentioned that they had this big coin puzzle where you had to put the two pieces into the coin and it was really hard. She had spotted it in a garage sale, and bought it as she thought it looked pretty neat. Unfortunately, she hadn't been able to solve it, and nor had her mum so it was sitting in its three pieces. Before I could say much my fiancée announces that I'll solve it for them if they bring it to me. Well, not much I can really say at this point other than, "Sure, I'll give it a go". After all how can you disappoint an 11-year-old when she's been drooling over the puzzles in the cabinets.

The puzzle promptly appears over the weekend and an excited 11-year-old hands me the puzzle and says there you go.

The three pieces of the Buffalo Nickel

The three pieces of the Buffalo Nickel

As you can see the two pieces are simple burr pieces which both interact with each other inside the puzzle and with ledges and holes inside the body of the coin. It's a big puzzle, measuring around 4" diameter, and being metal has a good weight to it.

I should point out that when I was handed this puzzle, I was at my Son's football game (American Football, not Soccer for all those back home in the UK), where I was in charge of the grill. I had just sat down to eat some lunch, so had a burger in my hand when I was given the puzzle. With an excited 11-year-old in front of me I thanked her, and said I'd try once I finished eating.

So finishing my burger, I take a look inside the body to see how much I can see, and look at how the two pieces interact. It seemed fairly straight forward, so I insert both pieces, and play around with how they interact inside the puzzle. I'm able to get the right hand piece in place fairly quickly, but it's blocking the left hand piece from falling into the correct spot. Taking the pieces out, I play around with just the left hand piece to see how it fits, and it becomes pretty clear that it has to be very carefully aligned to drop into place. The tab on the left has to fit very precisely into the body, and any small angle in the piece prevents it from being inserted.

With that knowledge, I put both pieces back into the puzzle, and have it solved a minute or so after that. All in all it took less than five minutes for me to solve.

Getting up from my seat, I take the solved puzzle to my friend and I'm greeted with "What, What, how, you ....". I just laughed and said that it was a very nice puzzle, did she mind if I took a few photos to allow me to put up a review of it.

Given that this was an IPP puzzle, the card which accompanied the puzzle for IPP 20, has the following information about the puzzle. The copy that my friend has doesn't have the card with the puzzle, or its original box.

"The Buffalo Nickel Puzzle is based on the Nine-and-a-half-Moves puzzle by M. Oskar van Deventer. It is composed of just three pieces that fit together in such a way to hide a secret compartment. Although the three pieces are flat and lie in a single plane, it takes a remarkable 9 1/2 moves to solve."

There is a very interesting article from Oskar about the puzzle, that does contain the solution (you've been warned) which you can read here if you're interested. I know I mentioned at the top that I didn't know where the half move came from, however in Oskar's article, he describes the slide and rotate which is required in the solution as a move and a half. So that explains where the half came from!

I'm very happy to have been given this puzzle to try, and it was a fun little puzzle to play with. Thanks to my friend to lending it to me. Now she has to go solve it herself as she knows it's possible now!