Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
29Mar/121

Washer Cylinder

Some time back I reviewed Wil Strijbos' Aluminium Cylinder puzzle after being able to get a copy when he made a second run of them. I'd heard so many good things about it, I really couldn't pass up the opportunity to own one. So when he got in touch to say that the Washer Cylinder was available, a new puzzle along the same lines, I jumped at the chance to add one to my collection. What I'm going to say may be controversial, but I don't like it. Before you start shouting obscenities at me, read on to find out why.

Wil's Washer Cylinder

Wil's Washer Cylinder

The Washer Cylinder is slightly larger than the original Aluminium Cylinder, and unlike the first doesn't have a sprung top. There's a hole in the bottom as before, this time much larger than the original, but this time rather than being able to see into the puzzle, there's a small rod and a washer spinning freely around it. Not all versions have this rod, as the original prototypes had a coin in there instead. It doesn't affect the puzzle in any way, so really doesn't matter which version you have. (I'll come back to that later!) The lid spins freely, VERY freely, but other than that there's not much else to see here.

The Bottom of the Washer Cylinder

The Bottom of the Washer Cylinder

As before, the number on the 'lid' of the puzzle is the version number of the puzzle in the run Wil made, but this time, there's no accompanying mark on the main body of the puzzle. That's the first clue that this is a different beast altogether. Much like the first puzzle you can hear something rolling around in there, and you'll probably guess that it's ball bearings. Pretty much everyone I've talked to has some theory about how many BB's are in there ... and we were all wrong.

If you've played with the Aluminium Cylinder then I truly think you're at a disadvantage. You know how that works, and whether you like it or not, you're going to try the same things in the vain hope that it will help. It won't but even after reading this, and the many other reviews, you'll still try!

So why do I not like this puzzle? Well the answer is pretty simple. There is absolutely no feedback while working on the puzzle that you're doing anything right at all. The tolerances on the puzzle are so fine that you have to perform the solution exactly for it to work, otherwise, nothing will happen. Given that, I really don't find it a satisfying puzzle. The first gave you feedback, confused you as the BB's appeared and disappeared in the hole in the bottom, and delighted you when you solved it and the top popped open with a satisfying sound. For me, this puzzle has none of that.

Allard recently wrote a post about what makes a good mechanical puzzle. For me personally, getting some feedback from the puzzle that you're making some progress (even if it turns out to be negative progress) is very high on my list. If you've not read it, then I'd suggest having a look at Allard's thoughts as it was a good read!

Now I know the opinion above is not the opinion shared by the others who've reviewed it, it is my feeling, and I've always been honest in my reviews. Have a look at what Allard, Jerry, Kevin, and Oli have to say.

Now having told you why I don't like it, I do think it's a very clever puzzle. The mechanism is simple, yet deceptive and it does work flawlessly every time. Despite the instructions from Wil, I'd disagree that no force is required. There's no force required initially, but the final step may require a little force to start the opening process. It's not excessive, but having said 'no force' may lead some people not to make that final step towards opening it.

It took me a couple of days to get this open, probably 6-8 hours in total so it certainly had me stumped for a good while. When I was trying to find something to help, I managed to unscrew the rod in the base of the puzzle. On doing that I emailed Wil to check that it wasn't part of the solution and that I hadn't broken anything. Wil confirmed on both counts that I was on the wrong track and that it wasn't going to affect anything. Knowing that it wasn't an issue, I left the rod out as I hoped it would let me hear what was going on in the puzzle a bit better. It may not have helped at all, but it made me feel better! Once I had the puzzle open I decided to replace the washer with a coin as I prefer the look. (Sorry Wil!)

The washer and peg replaced by a 1 cent coin

The washer and peg replaced by a 1 cent coin

When you're putting the puzzle back to the start position, it's possible to get things stuck if you turn the puzzle over and the washer drops off the rod. Not a big problem, but something to keep in mind!

Being one of the first 20 people to be sent a copy of the puzzle from Wil, he kept in touch and I was aware of a lot of discussion around the puzzle. Wil was great at keeping in touch, and sending out updates as to when various puzzlers had solved it. As such, I was aware of a number of reports of issues being found. Sadly, given the tight tolerances, and the nature of metal on metal there were some cases where the puzzle got jammed, and as a result it was possible to open the puzzle without going through the intended solution. Wil was actively looking for input and thoughts on the puzzle, and I think he's looking at improving the design, so fingers crossed this will get better in future copies.

Despite what I've said, I do think it's a nice puzzle, and I am happy to have one in my collection. It's beautifully made, and the work that went into it is clearly the high quality Wil always makes. Would I recommend it to someone else? No, I really don't think I would. I'd say get the original, as I personally think it's a far better puzzle.

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  1. Hi Neil,

    I appreciate the honest review. I’ve have not had the chance to try this type of puzzle but knowing that it doesn’t give any feedback makes it even more interesting to me. What I have noticed is that some puzzles solutions are just stumbled upon. In that case I feel like I’ve been cheated. Having to do a movement so exact makes the reward even better. What I gather from your review and the others I’ve seen is that there isn’t any short cuts. In the end, it makes me want to get it even more because I want to know how it works.


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