Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
30Apr/131

Blockhead

I have gone through a period in my puzzle collecting and solving where I have felt quite good about packing puzzles, so when Brian Menold over at Wood Wonders offered copies of the Blockhead puzzle designed by Bill Cutler, I couldn't pass it up, especially given his choice of woods.

Blockhead, designed by Bill Cutler, and made by Brian Menold

Blockhead, designed by Bill Cutler, and made by Brian Menold

Blockhead is a four piece packing puzzle which at first glance looks pretty innocent. 4 cubic pieces put into a square tray, what could be simpler? Brian has made this copy using Pear pieces in an Oak tray with Paduak splines. It's a really good looking puzzle and it's a big puzzle too. Measuring in at 4.25" x 4.25" x 1.75" the pieces are big when you're playing with them, and the whole puzzle has a really solid feel to it.

By now you'll have realised that any time I state that something is simple, it couldn't be further from the truth. Removing the pieces from the frame having up-ended it, you'll quickly realise that the nice, square, regular appearance of the blocks in the solved state was rather misleading.

Blockhead pieces

Blockhead pieces

As you can see, the blocks are more like the type of saw cuts I made as a child playing in my grandfathers shed, than the type of absolutely square sides that puzzle makers strive for. Not only are the pieces anything but square, but the inside walls of the tray are also not square. They are as slanted as the pieces, and will clearly play a part in getting the pieces back into the tray. So now that you understand what makes this so puzzling, it's easier to see what makes it such a good puzzle.

This isn't an overly difficult puzzle, but will provide a good solving experience and there are some parameters which will help you narrow down the possible combinations, meaning it's not out of the realms of a determined person to solve before too long.

Brian's work is superb, and each new piece I buy from him, the quality seems to be better and better. Given the prices he asks for this work, even the limited run puzzles, you'd be hard pushed to find a better copy of many of these puzzles elsewhere. Not to mention that Brian also threw a copy of a diagonal burr into the box along with my order, so there was an unexpected pleasant surprise when I opened the box.

Allard, Kevin and Oli have both written about the Blockhead, so go read their views too.



22Apr/130

Vinco’s Octahedron

Seems that it's been too long since I sat down and wrote about a puzzle, but somehow life seems to have got int he way of puzzling. I've been getting ready for my wedding later this year, and making a batch of puzzles to have there, but I'll write about them later. For now here's another Vinco Puzzle that's available from has mass produced line, which Puzzle Master and others carry.

Vinco's Octahedron showing one of the patterns made from the contrasting woods used

Vinco's Octahedron showing one of the patterns made from the contrasting woods used

It will be no surprise to any regular reader of my blog that the quality of puzzles from Vinco is high. It's surprise, and really I'm not sure why I even need to mention it but this puzzle is no exception. The fit and finish is excellent, and Vinco's choice of contrasting woods makes for a great looking puzzle. This is a fairly small puzzle measuring 2.5" x 2.5" and is made from Plum and Maple. I now have a few puzzles in my collection made from plum, and really like the rich colour from it. Despite not being the most detailed grain, it is still a beautiful wood in its own right.

Another view of the octahedron

Another view of the octahedron

As you can see from the different views, the placement of the woods makes for some interesting patterning in the solved state. It does also help when you have the pieces separate and are trying to solve the puzzle.

Four simple pieces make up the Octahedron

Four simple pieces make up the Octahedron

With only four pieces, this isn't the most challenging puzzle, and given that it's not a coordinate motion puzzle, there's no tricky balancing of pieces needed when you're trying to get it back together. Finding the correct placement for your fingers to start taking this one apart though is a real challenge but makes for a fun if short challenge.

Given that this is a small and simple puzzle, it's a great one to have in a bag to give to friends to play with, and it shouldn't keep them stuck for too long making it a great distraction. I know I've said it in the past, but you really can't go wrong with a Vinco design.



4Apr/130

Propeller

If you've read some of my previous posts about visits to various Puzzle Parties, you'll remember me talking about puzzles designed by Roger. There are lots of my fellow bloggers have written about some of his other puzzles, and even a few have written about the Propeller puzzle. Rogers puzzles are all highly sought after, as he no longer makes new puzzles, and there's very few people out there know who he really is, but they all have one thing in common. They're tough to figure out, and in most cases the mechanisms are all amazingly straight forward, if not entirely on show.

The Propeller by Roger in its startling locked position

The Propeller by Roger in its startling locked position

I've been trying to get my hands on one of Roger's puzzles for my collection for a while now, but it seems that given their rarity, and the number of collectors looking to add them to their own collections, I've been outbid each time they've come up for auction. In a recent auction however I had a little spare puzzle money and decided it was time to not be outbid. Propeller is the first of the Roger puzzles I've added to my collection, and I think it's a good puzzle to have been able to buy. I've played with a fair few Roger designs and enjoyed most of them. I think one of the reasons that this appeals to me is that it really looks like an aircraft propeller and engine, meaning that the goal is reasonably obvious to anyone picking it up.

Propeller is a great looking puzzle, made from aluminium with a textured surface finish and measuring 3.25" across the propeller, 1.75" high and 1.5" deep it's surprisingly light for its size. There's no instructions provided, as with many of Roger's puzzles, and the only hint is the double ended arrow positioned between Roger's initials to let you know what the goal is.

The Propeller by Roger viewed from the side

The Propeller by Roger viewed from the side

In it's starting state, the propeller is locked in the horizontal position. The goal unsurprisingly is to get the propeller to spin freely. When you pick the puzzle up, you'll find that there's a small amount of play to the propeller, and you'll hear some rattling from somewhere inside the puzzle. Being a fairly deep puzzle, and having various hex screws protruding from the puzzle, the obvious investigation is to try to tilt and rotate the puzzle to try to find out what is blocking the propeller from rotating. There's a lot of space in there and your mind will probably be your worst enemy as you try to figure out what's happening.

As with other puzzlers, Allard and Oli included I too managed to release the mechanism a few times through random turning and shoogling, with no real understanding of what I'd done, and like others would have the mechanism lock up every bit as quickly as I'd released it, again with no idea why.

The Propeller in full spin

The Propeller by Roger in full spin

The real challenge here is being able to repeatedly release the locking mechanism, and allow the propeller to spin freely, and know how to re-lock it. It took quite a bit of time for me to figure out exactly what was happening to the point that I could repeatedly solve the puzzle, and the mechanism is so simple once you understand what's happening that I really have to smile and tip the hat to Roger for a simple yet challenging puzzle.

This is a great example of a simply challenging puzzle that looks great, needs no explanation, and puts a smile on your face when you know how it works. I have no idea whether I'll be able to add more of Rogers puzzles to my collection, but don't pass up the chance to have an attempt at solving this one if you can.



1Apr/130

Uroboros

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Karakuri Christmas Presents

The final puzzle I received from this year's Karakuri Christmas presents is the one I was most looking forward to. Shiro Tajima's present. Some of you may know that Tajima's boxes for the last few years have been themed around the Chinese Zodiac, with last year seeing a Dragon themed puzzle, and a rabbit the year before. The thinking was that it would be likely we'd see a snake of some form for this year following his previous entries.

Uroboros by Shiro Tajima

Uroboros by Shiro Tajima

As you can see we weren't disappointed. "Uroboros is an ancient symbol of a serpent or dragon who eats his own tail, symbolizing self reflexivity. Although he must feel pain by doing so, he is in a constant state of recreating himself, thus the circular shape", we are told on the Karakuri information page. The puzzle box is perhaps the box with the most plain wood choice of all those I've reviewed so far, being made from Katsura. It is also the largest of the boxes measuring a whopping 5.5" x 4" x 2.45"

The snake wrapping around the box and eating his own tail is central to the puzzle mechanism and is well executed. There are two compartments to be found in the puzzle, and finding the first is relatively easy. There's a lot of space in there once you get the hidden compartment open, and the size of the puzzle is directly proportional to the space inside.

A closeup of the serpent's head with his jeweled eye

A closeup of the serpent's head with his jeweled eye

The second is far more challenging to find and took me a lot longer to be able to open. I do like the box despite a fairly simple exterior appearance, it has a solid mechanism, and keeps with the theme we have come to expect. Overall a really good puzzle, and I'm very glad to have it in my collection. I've already made sure that Tajima is on my craftsman list for 2013.