Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
23Oct/120

Tritresor

Tritresor is another of Vinco's mass produced puzzles and is available from Puzzle Master. Similar to the Cubetresor I reviewed previously, this is a three piece puzzle with a rather more triangular shape than the Cubic, four piece puzzle Cubetresor.

Tritresor by Vinco.  Side View

Tritresor by Vinco. Side View

Tritresor by Vinco.  End View

Tritresor by Vinco. End View

As you can see, this is a typical Vinco styled puzzle, where the wood used is carefully chosen to best highlight the pieces, or to hide the pieces in some cases. As ever the pieces are simply finished and nothing is dyed or stained to artificially change the colours. Measuring 3" x 2.5" x 2.5" it's a good size in your hands, and the contrasting colours of woods helps to make the design really pop. (Triforce on the side anyone?)

One thing I will note on my copy is that the fit of the pieces isn't quite as exact as I have come to expect from Vinco's puzzles, even his mass produced copies. There are several places where slight misalignment of the blocks which make up the three pieces add up to a less than perfect fit. It doesn't affect the movement of the puzzle, and from the puzzle shelf, you'd never know, so really not much to complain about.

The puzzle consists of three unique pieces which must be separated to reveal a small wooden ball which you can hear rolling around, and then to restore the puzzle back to its original shape, and hide that ball back in the centre. As you can guess, there's a reasonable space in the middle of the puzzle that the ball rolls around in, and if you're not familiar with Vinco's enjoyment for putting random balls inside his hollow puzzles, you could be forgiven for thinking it's some kind of locking mechanism.

Tritresor expanded close to the point of collapse

Tritresor expanded close to the point of collapse

Taking the puzzle apart isn't too challenging, and Vinco rates it as 3/5 on his scale. Puzzle Master gives it a Level 7/10. Coordinate motion is required to separate the pieces, and return them back to their original shape. If you're not familiar with this style of puzzle, many people will avoid it as generally speaking coordinate motion puzzles require at least three hands, or several rubber bands and tape to successfully re-assemble them once they fall into a pile of pieces as you expand the original shape. In this case I'd say the Tritresor is a good starting point, as with only three pieces it's not difficult to get the pieces in place, and the tolerances are not so tight that it's frustrating to align them.

Three unique pieces

Three unique pieces

I disagree slightly with the difficulty ratings, as looking at the pieces will show that there's only one way they can go together, and the fit is such that it's not difficult to align the pieces to get the puzzle back to its original shape. Definitely more of an introduction to coordinate motion than a challenging assembly puzzle.

As ever Vinco's puzzles are well made and great to hand around to people so well worth looking at the 'Tresor' series of puzzles. Expect another review from the series soon.



18Oct/123

Cube-16

Cube-16 is another Stewart Coffin design which is an improvement on his earlier design Patio Block (STC#82). Cube-16 is numbered STC#205 in Stewart's numbering scheme and the goal is to take apart the cube, and then return it to its original state. My copy was made by John Devost, and I was lucky enough to pick up a copy when he recently offered them on Puzzle Paradise.

Cube-16

Cube-16

The external appearance of the cube is identical to the earlier Patio Block design so it would be easy to confuse the two until you pick the puzzle up. Patio Block was an eight piece non-interlocking puzzle, so without a box to hold the pieces, it would come apart easily when you tried to move it. Cube-16 on the other hand is a fully interlocking cube, so you can pick it up with no problems. Of course with it being interlocking, finding the first piece to remove can be a challenge.

I'm not aware of too many copies of this puzzle being out there, so when John Devost announced that he's made a few copies I jumped at the chance. John hadn't been making wooden puzzles for a long while, and many of us in the puzzle world thought he'd hung up his tools and given up. I'm pleased to say that it looks as though he's back, and making some great puzzles again. Welcome back John.

The puzzle itself measures just under 2" x 2" x 2", and is made from Afzelia Burl. As you can see, the appearance of this wood is stunning with beautiful waves and swirls and eyes throughout the pieces, but what you can't see is how the wood smells. This is an amazingly fragrant wood, even after it's been lacquered and polished by John. I really can't describe quite how strong it is. The best I can do is to say it's like walking into a loose leaf tea shop and smelling that sweet aroma. Yes, it's that strong. The fit on my copy is good. John mentioned that it was a little tight when he had finished making it so he shipped it with a couple of spacers marking the key piece to make sure that I didn't end up breaking anything trying to find the first move. Hopefully after a little while here in California, it will loosen up nicely and there should be no problems with the fit.

While the Patio Block design was an eight piece puzzle, Cube-16 is a five piece puzzle, but that doesn't mean to say it's significantly easier than the original design. I should probably clarify 'original' here. Even Stewart's original Patio Block was inspired by an even earlier puzzle. The inspiration for the Patio Block design was a ten piece puzzle created by Toshiaki Betsumiya, and another similar puzzle which was an eight piece version by Kevin Holmes. All of these designs came out of studies to create 4x4x4 cubes with external symmetry. Stewart took those ideas and created the Patio Block, and later Cube-16.

Cube-16 Pieces

Cube-16 Pieces

Each of the five pieces are unique as is the case with many of Stewart's puzzles which adds to the challenge. That said, I wouldn't say it's that hard. I expect that most people will be able to find the solution in around half an hour making it a very approachable puzzle.

I'm glad I was able to get my hands on a copy of this puzzle, and John has suggested that it would be a good design for me to make a few copies of. I may just have to do that, although I doubt I'll have any wood which will look quite as stunning as the Afzelia Burl.



16Oct/120

Two Keys

Two Keys is a laser cut dual layer maze designed by Jean Claude Constantine. Thanks to Puzzle Master for sending me a copy of this puzzle to review. This maze puzzle will have you guiding the Steel rivet through two mazes from the start square, to the exit hole.

Two Keys by Jean Claude Constantine

Two Keys by Jean Claude Constantine

As you can see this is a plain but good looking puzzle which is accurately cut from Maple Ply and Walnut Ply, with a top frame of perspex. Overall, the puzzle measures just 4" x 2.5" x 0.5" so this is almost a pocket sized puzzle. The perspex serves little purpose other than to hold the top Maple maze in place as you navigate the steel rivet through both mazes. The puzzle is very similar in concept to several other puzzles by Jean Claude Constantine such as the Laby Box which I have reviewed previously, and many of his lock style puzzles. Many of his puzzles are based on Gray Code and this is in a similar vein.

One of the dead ends

One of the dead ends

The Lower maze which is fixed interferes with the movement of the pin as you move the upper maze requiring you to backtrack several times to get to the exit. There are a number of dead ends in the maze, however most of these are fairly obvious so should not provide much of an extra challenge.

Two Keys Solved

Two Keys Solved

Puzzle Master ranks this as a Level 5 (Easy) puzzle, and I have to agree. This shouldn't take more than a few minutes to solve, although it's a good puzzle to give to new puzzlers since it's fairly easy to solve, and you can see everything in the puzzle. With no hidden elements, most people will be able to solve this quickly before they lose interest and feel fairly good about doing so.

Two Keys Alternate Challenge

Two Keys Alternate Challenge

If you're looking for an extra challenge, then try flipping the top maze section over once you've solved, it and re-solve with the maze in as seen above. This adds a slightly different challenge, although not any tougher than the original orientation.

This is a fun puzzle, and a good distraction to sit and idly fiddle with it, moving the pin back and forth through the maze. This is an affordable introduction to many of Jean Claude Constantine's puzzles, and a good place to start if you're looking for a simple challenge.



9Oct/124

Blind Burr

One of the Top 10 Vote Getters at this years IPP design competition was the Blind Burr, designed by Gregory Benedetti and made by Maurice Vigouroux. I had the great pleasure of being able to talk to Gregory about his puzzle designs and certainly enjoyed playing with his entry in the puzzle competition, so when I had the chance to pick one up on the day of the puzzle party, I didn't hesitate.

Blind Burr by Gregory Benedetti

Blind Burr by Gregory Benedetti

Made from some beautiful slabs of purple heart, the puzzle measures 3.25" x 3.25" x 3.25". Each piece is cut from a solid chunk of purple heart, measuring a full inch thick, so the pieces are incredibly sturdy and finished to the high standard that is common for work from Maurice Vigouroux. Each of the pieces is polished to a high shine, and the ends of the pieces have been chamfered to really finish the puzzle nicely.

Limited edition number and Maurice's stamp

Limited edition number and Maurice's stamp

As you can see each puzzle was numbered in a limited edition of 50, and the number is stamped into the wood, along with Maurice's signature. There was a very interesting discussion on one of the Puzzle Forum's about what makes a puzzle Limited Edition, which showed that there are many definitions to many different people. It turns out that in this case it's limited because Maurice agreed to make 50, and no more! The reason why is fairly obvious when you start to play with the puzzle.

I've probably mentioned before that I'm not a huge Burr puzzle fan. There's many other puzzle types out there that I get far more excited about than Burrs. So why did I make sure to get a copy of this one. And why's it called a Blind Burr .... in my experience pretty much all Burr's are blind. Well I'm not sure I can answer the second question, but I will answer the first. And the answer is pretty simple, this is no ordinary burr!

Edit: I can't answer why it's called the Blind Burr, but Greg did. Check out the comments for the answer!

Lots of movement but little progress

Lots of movement but little progress

Immediately on picking up the puzzle, you find that there are three pieces which are pretty loose, and move a fair distance. Looking at the inner part of the piece which slides out you'll see it's completely smooth, so whatever burrs exist, they are only in the top 1/3 of the piece which remains hidden in the centre of the puzzle. Of course all of this movement doesn't really help much, as there is no movement at all in the remaining three pieces. Strange and definitely not an average burr.

Despite the piece on the right in the image above leaving enough space for the top piece to slide over it, that piece won't budge. Something in there is keeping it in place and there's no real hint of movement. Time to go back to the drawing board and figure out what else can move in the puzzle.

After some feeling around, you start to see that there may be another way to make progress, and sure enough that yields a little more movement in one of the pieces, and after that the rest of the puzzle will come apart using coordinate motion. It's a really beautiful movement if not particularly difficult, and well worth the time to understand.

The pieces of the Blind burr (some details hidden)

The pieces of the Blind burr (some details hidden)

I don't want to give too much away, as the discovery of the puzzle mechanism is a joy but you can see the seven pieces which make up the puzzle, with some familiar 45 degree blocks in there which are used in the coordinate motion. That cube was a bit of a surprise!

Putting the puzzle back together is marginally trickier than taking it apart as some dexterity is required during the assembly, and despite taking it apart and putting it back together a number of times now, I still struggle a little to get the first three pieces aligned correctly.

All in all it's a great design, and rather deserving of its Top 10 vote. All of these are currently sold, but if you see one come up for sale, grab it. It really is a fun puzzle, and even for a non-Burr fan like me, you'll enjoy it.



28Sep/124

Washington Monument – IPP32 Exchange

One of the puzzles I really liked the look of while taking part in the IPP32 Puzzle Exchange was Mr Puzzle's Washington Monument. Brian's description of the puzzle when he presented it, plus the really high quality and great look of the puzzle meant this was one that I went looking for on the day of the Puzzle Party, and was lucky enough to get one (amongst a number of other puzzles from Brian's table that day!)

The Washington Monument by Mr Puzzle

The Washington Monument by Mr Puzzle

It's a good looking puzzle which sits at 5" tall and the base is 2.5" x 2.5" which makes for a good sized puzzle. The puzzle is a very close replica of the Washington monument, right down to the lightning rod in the top of the tower, and the flags surrounding the base. Made from Queensland Silver Ash for the monument and a Western Australian Jarrah base there's a good contrast between the woods, and it makes for a striking puzzle. Brian has also used this in the description of the puzzle which reads:

Washington Monument description card

Washington Monument description card

"There’s Red, While & Blue on the flags. There’s the White monument on a Red base. Can you find the other Blue?
If you keep searching you’ll find it inside the puzzle.
And we’re not referring to the use of “blue” language or going “blue” in the face (excuse our Aussie slang) with frustration.
The object of the puzzle is to unlock and open it, find the blue, close and relock it. You’ll have solved the puzzle when you can complete these two stages.
All the tools you’ll require to do the puzzle are given with the puzzle.
The puzzle we’ve presented is a representation of the Washington Monument, right down to the lightening rod in the top, which can come out, so be careful not to lose it. You’ll more than likely need it to complete the puzzle."

The monument spins freely 360 degrees on its base and you can hear a number of things moving inside the puzzle. Removing the flags, and looking into the drilled holes, you can see some metal pegs as you turn the monument, so it gives you an idea of what's going on in there, but not how you'd solve it. In order to have solved it correctly, there's two extra pieces of information that Brian gave you when the puzzle was exchanged (and now appear on his website):

"First stage:
Lock all gravity pins inside the round base of the obelisk so they do not move.
This will allow you to remove the obelisk from the base.
If you open the puzzle by chance then the gravity pins will still move freely; this is not the intended solution. The first stage is not completed until the gravity pins are locked inside the round base.

Second stage:
Unlock the gravity pins so they flow freely again. This allows you to lock the obelisk back in the square base.
You could find that relocking the puzzle might be more challenging than unlocking it was."

So when I first opened the puzzle, I'd not completed this first stage correctly. The pins were still lose, and I had 'got lucky' in terms of opening the puzzle. Being able to see the insides actually didn't help that much to be able to understand what I should have done, however I'd already figured out that there was something hiding inside the monument that I hadn't used so far, and clearly that was key. After another 10 minutes or so playing with the puzzle and applying some physics (no I didn't blow on it or spin it!) I had found out how the puzzle should be solved, and was left with the challenge of locking the puzzle back up again.

The mechanism is very clever and makes for a fun puzzle. I'm not sure how many people will solve it 'correctly' first time, but it certainly is a great mechanism, and very well executed. The puzzle received the 3rd Prize for the themed puzzle at IPP32, and it's deserving of that recognition, both for its iconic look and for being a genuinely good puzzle. I'd recommend getting a copy of this while there are still some available!

I'll be reviewing the other puzzles I picked up from Brian soon, as well as many more of the IPP puzzles, so keep an eye out for those soon.



24Sep/121

Brass Trasure Chest

The Brass Treasure Chest is a Rocky Chiaro design, produced by Puzzle Master. As the name suggests, this is a small Brass puzzle which is made to look like a treasure chest, and like many of Rocky's designs contains a devilish locking mechanism that will keep you puzzling for quite some time.

Brass Treasure Chest by Rocky Chiaro

Brass Treasure Chest by Rocky Chiaro

Having met Rocky Chiaro when I was at IPP, and being able to spend time talking to him at his puzzle table on the day of the Puzzle Party, it was great to see the passion he has for his puzzles, and to see just how happy he was to demonstrate his puzzles, and talk about them in general. Getting insight into why he made a puzzle the way he did, or having him show me a much better way to solve a couple of his bolt puzzles after I bungled my way through the solutions myself was superb. Currently the only one of Rocky's puzzle design's I own is the Brass Treasure Chest, and having played with a number of his puzzles now, I will have to remedy that!

The Puzzle itself is quite small, measuring 2 1/8" x 1" x 1 1/4", and has a good weight to it given that it's made from a big lump of brass. The front of the puzzle has Rocky's signature scribed into it, and if you're familiar with trick opening boxes, that can't just be coincidence, and will surely be useful when you try to solve it. The box is reasonably well made, although there are a few edges on my copy which don't line up perfectly, and there's a couple of small gaps in the seams between sections of the puzzle. You're going to have to look closely to see it, and it doesn't affect the puzzle at all, so it's not something that should put you off. And no, it's not going to help you to solve the puzzle either.

When you first start solving this puzzle, there's a couple of things you'll find fairly quickly as the first couple of steps are fairly easy to find and allow the top of the chest to rotate a small amount. After that, you hit a dead end, and that's where the really tricky part starts. Moving the puzzle around (or shaking it) will let you hear that there's a couple of loose parts in there rattling around, and figuring out how they move is key to opening the box fully. This is fairly typical of Rocky's designs so will give you a good idea of whether you're going to like his style of puzzle boxes.

Brass Treasure Chest by Rocky Chiaro opened.

Brass Treasure Chest by Rocky Chiaro opened.

After a lot of what felt like blind stumbling I finally managed to get the box open. I really didn't understand exactly what I'd done to solve the hidden mechanism, and it took quite a bit of fiddling around with the lid open to understand what I did to allow the lid to swing open freely. It's a challenging little box, but once you understand the mechanism, it can be opened quickly and repeatedly. The first time took me around 45 minutes over a couple of nights of playing and thinking in-between. No solution is provided with the puzzle, but if you need one, you can find it here.

There's a small space inside as you can see from the picture which could be used to store a very small item. That said, I'm not sure if anyone would actually store anything inside their puzzle vessels. (I know I don't)

As an introduction to Rocky's puzzles the Brass Treasure chest is a very affordable first puzzle, and although the fit and finish isn't as good as the puzzles that Rocky hand makes, it is a great puzzle for the price. As I mentioned, the mechanism is a classic design so it will give you a good idea of whether you'd enjoy his style of puzzle, before spending a lot more money on a handmade original. Having been fortunate enough to see all of Rocky's puzzles in person, I can't praise his work highly enough. Anyone who still makes all his puzzle by hand in brass, with no CNC or computer aids and is able to turn out such high quality puzzles is truly a master craftsman.