Not all puzzles are pretty, and not all puzzles can be considered art, however one name stands out in the puzzle/art category. Miguel Berrocal. Born in 1933 in Malaga, Spain, died in 2006. He studied mathematics and architecture at the University of Madrid and then art in Paris and Rome before settling in Negrar, a suburb of Verona. Over his life he produced many sculptures, and works of art, many of which appeal to puzzlers due to the complex interlocking nature of the pieces which make up each sculpture.
I will agree, that these puzzles are not going to appeal to everyone out there. Most are rather strange and abstract looking and the price tag alone is enough to put most people off. Some of the larger sculptures out there, you may think twice about taking apart just due to the huge number of pieces and complexity of assembly. These are like burr puzzles on steroids.
Mini Maria was made in a run of 10,000 starting in 1969, and 6 of the copies were made in gold. As is common in Berrocal's work, there is a ring embedded in the design. You can see the stone setting of the ring in the image above. The puzzle is fairly small, measuting 3.25" x 1.25" x 1.5" (3" on the base). That in itself makes some of the work more impressive as there's not a lot of free space in there, and all the parts fir together very nicely.
It's hard to see what the sculpture is until you look at the elevated end view. If you squint, perhaps you can see a woman, lying on her back with her legs crossed and one arm across her stomach? Regardless, you'll either like or hate it, there's not much of a middle ground.
Each of Berrocal's pieces are signed and numbered as can be seen in the closeup below.
The puzzle itself consists of 22 pieces, and is an interlocking assembly puzzle. The disassembly process starts by pushing in a small button on the end of one of the legs which allows the first piece to pivot up and then be removed. From there on, it is a process of finding the next section which can be removed, until the entire sculpture is nothing more than an array of complicated pieces on the table in front of you.
While I generally avoid showing solutions to puzzles, I have included the full sequence to take Mini Maria apart by clicking the image below. Given that this is the type of puzzle that many people won't see a copy of, I think it's a valid reason to show everything. If you don't want to see all the steps, don't click below. Don't worry, if you don't want to see the steps, none of the other images above will show the steps if you click on them.
Mini Maria does have another interesting surprise hidden within her. If you click through the solution (from the image above) you'll see what I mean. There's a set of male genitalia, complete with "balls" stuffed inside Maria. Not exactly what you'd expect from a puzzle, but I think it fits with the style of the piece.
I know that Berrocal puzzles are not for everyone, but I do recommend that if you have the chance to play with one, take it. They're very interesting puzzles, and provide quite the challenge.
I've been slowly adding to my collection of trick locks over the last few years, and first saw the Transparent Lock by Gary Foshee a couple of years back, but sadly missed out back then as they sold incredibly quickly. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow one, and solve it, and at that point I kicked myself for not being quicker off the mark in trying to get one.
When I heard from Gary himself that Wil Strijbos had some with him at IPP 35 for sale, I was pretty quick in finding Wil and asking if I could please lighten his luggage and take one off his hands.
The puzzle looks exactly as you'd expect for a transparent lock (or as it's also known, the Open Lock). It looks pretty simple, with a square frame, a shackle, and a few bits and pieces attached to the frame. You also get a handy hex wrench with a handle, which given that it comes with the puzzle, we can safely assume is not considered an external tool.
The puzzle comes in a fairly plain gold box, and as you can see, mine is the 2015 version of the puzzle. It's the same as the older version, so no need to try to hunt one of these down if you have the first release version. In the bottom corner is Gary's little cartoon signature, which looks uncannily like the man himself.
Made almost entirely from aluminium the puzzle has a fairly rough look to the body and the hex handle, showing lots of tool marks, while the rest of the puzzle has a polished and clean finish. It's a little disappointing, given the quality of some of the aluminium puzzles out there, and some of Gary's other work I've seen. With a little polish I'm sure the frame could be cleaned up, so it's really a small nit, but given the price of the lock, you do expect a certain level of finish.
Measuring in at 2.5" x 4.5" x 0.8" it's about a standard size for a lock, and it has a good solid feel to it. I doubt that you'd damage much other than your toes if you dropped it. Given how solid it is, it's easily a puzzle that you can pass round and let people play with, and there's really not much they can do wrong.
These are fairly limited in production because Gary has to make the shackles himself, and having talked to him about them, they're a real pain to make. Apparently they're cold forged and the process is pretty difficult to get the results he needs. Let's just say that he's not the biggest fan of making these!
Looking over the puzzle, there's a couple of fairly obvious things to try, like the screw thread at the bottom of the lock. You will also notice the hex head inside the shackle, and you'll probably make the obvious leap that it's useful, and that you should probably do something with it. Unfortunately, it's not going to be quite that easy to open the shackle, and if we're honest you wouldn't want it to be that easy.
At this point, you're probably yelling at the screen "Use the hex tool", and you'd think that would be useful. Unfortunately, Gary has very helpfully rounded over the ends of the hex tool, making it entirely useless. Of course there are things that you'll find useful, and the puzzle has much more hidden around it than you'd think at first. There's a reasonable sequence of steps to discover various tools and useful bits that will get the puzzle open.
Once you remove the shackle from the frame, you can entirely disassemble the puzzle and leave yourself with an array of parts on the table. I think this is one of the reasons I like the puzzle as much as I do, since it really lives up to its name. Once open it really is transparent.
While it's not a difficult puzzle, and took only a few minutes for me to open the first time I played with one, it is well made, and it's a fun puzzle. If you're looking for a challenge on the order of a Popplock, then you'll want to look elsewhere as I feel you will probably be disappointed.
Having been trying to get one of these for a while, and missing them at auction I'm happy to have picked one of these up. It's a great addition to my collection, and one of Gary's puzzles I'm very happy to have. Allard was able to get his hands on one of the original run, so head over here to read Allard's thoughts.
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