Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
31Aug/112

Coffin’s Rosebud and Cluster Plus

Before my visit to see Scott Peterson's workshop a few weeks back, I'd been talking with Scott for a while via email. I'd introduced myself, and asked if there was any chance he could make a couple of puzzles for me, including a Rosebud, and a Peanut puzzle. I'd also mentioned that I was starting to make my own puzzles, and Scott was only too willing to help out with tips and advice, answering all my dumb questions with the sort of enthusiasm and excitement that I remember from my high school science teachers.

As it happens, Scott hasn't made a Peanut puzzle for a very long time, and he tends to make a run of puzzles then move to the next design, however he had just finished a run of Rosebud puzzles. At the time he didn't have any available, but he thought he may be able to make me one at some point. With an offer like that I duly said thank you and never thought about it again. In the time between that original email, and my visit, we'd exchanged a number of emails, mainly about woodworking, and Scott's tips to help me get started. Not long after we arranged to meet up, Scott got back to me saying he had a Rosebud available if I still wanted it, and he had a jig too. Like a bobble head on a dirt road, I instantly said 'yes please'.

Rosebud in its closed state

Rosebud in its closed state

This particular copy is made from East Indian Rosewood, and Flamewood. The strong red from the Flamewood, and its detailed grain pattern really make this an object of beauty. I must confess that the pictures don't really do it justice. The finish is glassy smooth, and the fit of the pieces is incredible. This is a tight fitting puzzle, with no visible gaps, and yet the pieces slide past one another with ease.

The Rosebud is Stewart Coffin design #39 in the AP-ART catalogue, and is one of the few three-dimensional puzzles which assembles into more than one solution shape. The image above shows the rosebud in the shape which gives it its name, and is a coordinate motion solution where all six pieces are required to move along their three-fold axis at the same time to both assemble and disassemble the puzzle. Not only is this difficult, but the manner in which they are assembled is not at all obvious and requires considerable dexterity.

Stewart himself says "A few of these puzzles were produced some years ago and sold unassembled. After sufficient time had elapsed and almost none had been solved, the customers were given the opportunity to purchase (for an outrageous price!) an assembly jig and directions. With these, it is easy. Without the jig, it can be done with patience, using tape and rubber bands. Without such aids, it has been done but borders on the impossible."

The reward for being insane enough to try this without a jig is a wonderful movement where the puzzle appears to open like the petals of a rose. It really is something which has to be seen to truly appreciate. My video review below will show you just that and give you a chance to see just how stunning the movement (and Scott's work) truly is.

As you'll see, both in the video review, and also in the photograph below, Scott's work really is outstanding. The pieces of the puzzle will expand until just the very tips are touching, and it still remains perfectly stable. Only with very precise construction can you even get close to this, and it's a testament to the years of puzzle making that Scott's copy is as good.

Rosebud opened.

Rosebud opened.

As a puzzle, without Scott's jig, I have assembled the rosebud. I didn't go down Stewart's suggested route of tape and rubber bands (as frankly I couldn't see how a rubber band would help me much) but all I'll say is it took over an hour, involved a lot of swearing, and wasn't all that fun an experience. The jig on the other hand makes things much easier, and removes the worry about expanding the puzzle just a little too far. If it does collapse then you can easily re-assemble it. I'm glad I accepted Scott's offer for the jig!

Cluster Plus

If you've watched the video review, then you'll know this already, but while I was visiting Scott, he handed me a rather special puzzle.

Cluster Plus - Shop Copy

Cluster Plus - Shop Copy

The Cluster Plus puzzle is #114 in the AP-Art catalog, and has a striking resemblance to the Cluster Buster puzzle #49. The final shape however is where the similarities end. Originally only 11 of these were made, and almost half of those were given out as tokens at IPP-17. There don't seem to be to many people have made these designs since, so that makes this copy even more special. This is one of the prototype copies Scott made with collaboration with Mark McCallum. As such, it's not a finished quality and has the pieces numbered in the centre to help with assembly. The six dissimilar pieces are joined together in sets of three pieces which require a coordinate motion, and then the two halves of the puzzle are slid together. Looking at the two halves, it's almost impossible to see how Stewart Coffin came up with this design. Even knowing how to put the pieces together, and the order I still found this a challenge.

Cluster Plus Halves

Cluster Plus Halves

When I first attempted to fully disassemble the puzzle, I split the two halves, then took only one half apart fully, leaving the other still assembled. Now, remember I have the pieces numbered as you can see above, and I've only taken one half apart. I still took over 20 minutes to get the puzzle back together.

The coordinate motion really makes it difficult to see how the pieces should come together, and add to that numerous ways that the pieces can fit together, and this is one tough puzzle. As an early copy, the co-ordinate motion on the first three pieces isn't perfect, and this was something Scott was working on. His initial idea was to leave more of the centre block - one of the standard building blocks in Coffin puzzles, and the number part in the photo in case you're not sure, with more of the central section un-sanded in the hope that this made things easier to assemble. The trick here was that the centre blocks normally have a pyramid peak. Stewart Coffin removed part of this to allow the coordinate motion which otherwise would not have been possible. In the end Scott removed more of these centre blocks as it turned out that this initial idea wasn't great.

While Scott and Mark were working on this, Mark believed that there was more than one configuration of pieces which would make up the same shape. I took up that challenge and have been trying to find an alternate configuration. So far I've not been successful, however I've not given up and I'll be sure to post if I find it.

At this point, I have a bit of a confession to make. When I was playing with the puzzle, I may have used a little too much force. I should point out that the fit here is not perfect, again since this is a shop copy, and given the nature of the puzzle, any inaccuracy is multiplied out to the end of the 'arms' which is where the fit needs to be perfect. Well when putting it back together at the end of a puzzling session, I used a little too much force, and with an impressive snap, one of the arms flew across the table, and the two halves slammed rather abruptly together. Sorry Scott!

A little bit of glue and an hour later, things were back to the way the should be and no real damage done. The glue joint had given out, but didn't damage the pieces of the puzzle fortunately so it was a simple fix.

Thanks again to Scott for both of these puzzles. There's great additions to my collection and I promise to try not to break them again!

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I was another of the lucky puzzlers who Scott was kind enough to make a Rosebud for, and it is easily one of the most prized puzzles in my collection! Plus you’re absolutely right in that absolutely no pictures can do justice to the quality and effort that went into making it. It is stunning!

  2. Thanks for finally writing about >Coffin


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