Happy New Year to all my readers. Here's wishing all of you a great year in 2014. I hope it's a puzzling one, for all the right reasons. This year, I kick off the reviews with a set of rather special puzzles from Marcel Gillen. Over the next few posts, I'll review some of Marcel's hidden maze puzzles.
I'm very lucky to have been able to borrow these puzzles from a good friend who knows that I've solved all of the Revomaze puzzles, and suggested that I should play with the puzzles pictured above. He really wanted my thoughts on Marcel's puzzles, given that they predate the Revomaze by quite some time, and have very similar puzzling aspects.
This review will focus on the large rolling pin, sitting on the stand in the photo above. This is probably one of the heaviest puzzles I've played with. If you think the Revomaze is heavy, weighing in at ~600g, this is in the ultra heavyweight class. The Puzzle is solid Aluminium, and weighs in at a whopping 1714g, yes it's nearly three times heavier than a revo! One thing that I really had to get used to was working with the weight of this puzzle. It's not easy to spend a lot of time working on something quite this heavy.
End to end, the puzzle measures 15", with the main body of the pin being 7.5" long. The body of the puzzle is 2.25" in diameter, and the handle is 1.25" in diameter. On one end of the body Marcel's signature initials can been seen on either side of the handle. As you might expect, they will serve some purpose as a reference when solving the puzzle.
I first wrote about this puzzle back in June 2012 after attending a local California Puzzle Party where I didn't manage to solve it, but did make what I thought was pretty good progress. To my knowledge the puzzle hadn't been opened by its owner, however at one point it was sent back to Marcel as it had a problem and needed to be fixed. When it came back, the solution to the maze was marked on one end of the handle. Seems like Marcel needed a little help opening it. Even with those helpful markings, it still hadn't been opened. One of the requests I was given when I borrowed the puzzle was to clean off the black marker which showed the solution, so before I started playing with it again, that's exactly what I did. After all, what's the point in the puzzle if you already have the solution!
Taking on the challenge of opening this beast, I set about understanding what was going on. If you've read my comments about the puzzle previously, you'll know that there's a hidden maze which is etched into the handle of the puzzle. There's a sprung pin on the inside of the sleeve which is used to traverse the maze. (Sound familiar to anyone?) As you start the puzzle, you can feel the tension as the pin rides up onto the top of the maze, and for anyone who is familiar with the Revomaze puzzles, that familiar click is present when you take a wrong turn and drop off the maze.
Unlike the Revomaze, there's no quick reset back to the start in this puzzle, and when you make a mistake, you'll have to navigate the traps all the way back to the start of the puzzle to try again. While other maze puzzles have walls which you can rest the pin against, there's no such feature here. This is a one way trip riding on top of the walls. Think of it as one long bridge with no walls.
I should probably note that mapping the puzzle is a lot simpler than other hidden maze puzzles I've played with since you can use the traps to map the maze. By falling off, then carefully mapping the traps, you can figure out what's left. With a single way back to the start, it's much harder to map using such a method, so I do believe that this is much simpler to solve for anyone familiar with mapping techniques used for hidden maze puzzles.
After around an hour of figuring out and mapping the path, falling off many times along the way, I reached the end of the maze.
At least I assumed I had reached the end, as I was able to see the brass circle in the photo above. At this point I was a little disappointed that I was unable to remove the handle from its sleeve, to be able to see the maze, but was pretty happy that I'd made it to the end. Investigating a little more, I found that the circle was in fact a brass rod which came out of its hole...
The question now is what to do with that rod. My first thought was that if I removed it, then returned the puzzle back to its starting position, perhaps it would allow the pin to drop into the hole I'd left by removing the rod, and let me remove the maze that way. Given that Marcel is an expert designer, I assumed that he wasn't going to let me remove something from the puzzle which would lead to it ending up broken, I set the pin aside, and returned the puzzle back to its starting position, hoping that it would now allow me to remove the maze. I was wrong, but I was in for a surprise.
When I got back to the start, the core traveled a little further back that it had been able to previously, and exposed a new hole at the other end of the puzzle. It was just the right size to accept the brass rod, so that's exactly where I put it. Of course now I need to solve the puzzle again! So back to the start, I go ahead and solve the puzzle again. This time it takes me a much more respectable 15 minutes to get back to the end, but I still can't remove the handle.
After engaging the old grey matter, I realise what is going on. The brass rod is creating a bridge at the end of the puzzle allowing the pin to cross over what would otherwise be a trap, and lets me remove the handle. It took me a good few attempts to get this to work properly, but fortunately Marcel hasn't been too nasty, and has provided a ramp in the last trap of the puzzle allowing me to take as many attempts as I need to find and cross my new bridge.
Having finally removed the handle, you can see exactly what the brass rod was doing, creating a narrow bridge, at the same height as the main maze, allowing the pin to remain compressed and move onto the outer side of the handle, freeing the maze to be seen in all its glory.
Looking down the inside of the sleeve you can see the maze pin in the middle of the sleeve. It's a sprung pin, fixed inside the sleeve and isn't removable. Probably a good thing as it's a fairly small part and would be easily lost. (I managed to drop the brass rod at one point, and watched it roll under the table I was sitting at. It's big enough that I found it easily, but being non-magnetic, it could have been a problem!)
Given that the puzzle is raw aluminium, it had a rather interesting side effect, in that it left my fingers rather silver. Exactly the same thing happened when I played with it at the Puzzle party so I was expecting it this time. I'm not entirely sure whether there's just some aluminium dust on the puzzle as a result of the pin rubbing against the surface, or whether the natural oils in my skin react with the aluminium. Regardless, I needed to wash my hands, and took the opportunity to clean the entire puzzle at the same time. (Ed: Don't worry, no water was used in the cleaning of this puzzle.)
Having a close look at the maze, you can see the ramps which are etched into the walls of the maze to allow the pin to move from the traps back up onto the level of the maze. Pictured above are the two ramps at the start of the puzzle. One from the start point to enter the maze, and one from the end of the traps back to the start of the puzzle. While I'm not going to show the entire maze here, the small section you can see shows how the puzzle works. The Pin rides on the higher area of the puzzle, and the lower cut-out sections are the traps. This is where you end up when to take a wrong turn. As you can see, the puzzle is incredibly well made, and it has stood up very well to many years of use.
Overall this is a great puzzle, with many similarities to the Revomaze puzzles. Perhaps this is closest to the Green Revomaze puzzle if I were to draw a comparison, however this puzzle does pre-date Revomaze by many years and includes the feature that the maze must be solved not once, but twice in order to truly say that the puzzle is solved and remove the core. No chance of getting lucky in opening this puzzle!
What I found to be even more impressive is how you reset the puzzle for the next person. To reset the puzzle, simply take the brass rod, and return it to the deep hole at the start of the maze, then slide the handle back into the sleeve. The maze pin simply rides onto the handle, then drops back into the maze. Navigating back to the start takes a few seconds, and the puzzle is ready to be solved again. Very clever, and so simple.
I had a lot of fun playing with the rolling pin. There's no gimmicks here, and the clever mechanism which allows the maze to be removed is very well executed and adds an extra challenge to the puzzle that I found to be very rewarding, especially after understanding what was required.
I'll review the other two puzzles soon, so stay tuned for more of the Marcel Gillen Puzzles.
After reviewing the first of Marcel Gillen's hidden maze puzzles the rolling pin, this post will focus on one of his 'bolt' puzzles. I was lucky enough to be loaned #6 in the series.
The bolt is in the front right in the photo above. It certainly doesn't look like a traditional bolt puzzle such as those from Lee Valley or Wil Strijbos. The goal of the puzzle is certainly the same though; remove the ring, or nut from the bolt.
Given that this is the first of Gillen's bolt puzzles I've played with, I may have made things artificially more challenging, as this is the sixth puzzle in a series of at least 7 bolts. Each one increases in difficulty from the previous one so starting toward the end of the series may not have been the best plan.
Created from solid brass, measuring 4.5" tall with a ring diameter of 1.75" the bolt is a heavy puzzle weighing in at 777g. As I'm starting to learn from Marcel's work, the puzzle is incredibly well made, and will take quite a bit of abuse from the solver, not that I recommend you abuse your puzzles. Despite how rare these puzzles are, it really is the sort of puzzle that you can hand round without fear of it being damaged.
Having said that, I have to admit that I spent an embarrassingly long time trying to solve this puzzle. I managed to understand the basics of what was going on in the puzzle, and you've probably guessed already that there's some sort of hidden maze in the puzzle. I'd managed to 'map' the maze however there was an element in the puzzle which was preventing me from solving it, and I was too concerned about breaking the puzzle to try what I thought was needed. As a collector, I'm always concerned when solving a puzzle, especially one which is not mine, about doing something which might damage the puzzle. There are designers out there who use this knowledge against puzzlers, however Marcel is not one of those designers.
The problem I had is that the puzzle has a number of gravity pins which limit the movement of the ring. I found that it was possible to disengage the pins by holding the puzzle in a certain orientation, however I couldn't solve the puzzle from that orientation. There is more than one gravity pin in there, and they interfere at different points as you move the puzzle. The obvious way to remove this obstacle is something I had avoided due to the large mass of the brass, and my fear that I would break something. As it turns out I really shouldn't have been worried about that.
Having taken care of the gravity pins which were frustrating me no end, solving the rest of the puzzle was fairly quick, and took no more than around 10 minutes. The one comment I will make is that the puzzle needs a very specific orientation to solve it, which adds to the challenge. Understanding how the puzzle works, I can now repeatably solve it in under 30 seconds, and it's a very satisfying puzzle to solve.
Having removed the ring, you can see what's going on in there. The top two protrusions are a couple of the gravity pins which are present, and the protrusion on the left is a sprung pin which is used to navigate the maze which is etched into the bolt. The other element in there is a sprung ball bearing which just keeps a constant pressure against the bolt, and makes the movement of the puzzle much smoother.
I'm very happy to have had the chance to play with this puzzle, and will certainly be keeping my eyes open for any of these which become available for sale. They're so well made, and such a fun puzzle to solve, that I'd love to add them to my collection.
In the final review in my series on Marcel Gillen's hidden maze puzzles, I turn my attention to the small Rolling Pin. All of these puzzles are from pre-1994, and yet are still functioning perfectly, with no real signs of wear on the mazes. I've felt rather privileged to be able to spend time playing with these puzzles, understanding and unlocking their secrets, and have to say a huge thanks to Nick for having been able to borrow these from his collection.
By now the goal of the puzzle should be obvious. Remove the handle from the sleeve which forms the body of the rolling pin. There's a hidden maze carved into the handle, and a sprung pin in the sleeve which you use to navigate the maze. All sounds simple, yet I found this the most challenging of the three puzzles, all thanks to a very clever feature that Marcel added to this puzzle; one which I've not come across before in this type of puzzle.
As you can see, the puzzle this time is made up of a brass handle, with an aluminium sleeve. Being significantly smaller than its big brother the rolling pin measures in at 7" long, 2.75" diameter around the sleeve, and 1.25" around the handle. Weighing in at 930g it sits right in the middle of the three puzzles, although not by much compared to the bolt. The end of the sleeve is marked with Marcel's signature 'M G'.
When I started trying to solve this puzzle, I spent a lot of time going back and forth in the reset line making, quite honestly, no progress. As I've noted in the previous reviews, the puzzles are fairly straight forward to map as you can use the trap to map where the maze is; given that in all of these puzzles the pin rides atop the maze, and there are no walls to guide the pin. This proved only partially useful, as I was unable to find any way to get onto the maze.
Despite knowing better, I continued to repeat the same moves back and forth hoping for a different result, and at no point in my exploration did I find the ramp to enter the maze. Given my experience with this style of puzzle, I assumed that there was a gravity pin, or some other feature which was blocking the path to the ramp. (Ed: I should know better by now that to assume.) Trying different orientations of the puzzle didn't help. For a short time I toyed with the thought that the puzzle may be broken. Given the craftsmanship of Marcel, this seemed unlikely, so the only option left was that I was missing something.
And of course I was. The trick Marcel used is so simple, yet so well 'hidden' that I completely missed it for far longer than I should have. Once I had found the entry to the maze, navigating it was reasonably straight forward, until I found something new, which I hadn't been able to map previously. I have to commend Marcel on the design here. It's a very simple idea, but works incredibly well.
Once you get to this new hidden section of the maze, you'll be able to extend the handle further than was possible previously, and like the larger rolling pin, you'll find a brass pin that can be removed. Unlike it's larger brother, the pin this time has a flat end, and a rounded end, which is the key to taking the handle out of the sleeve.
When I finished solving the puzzle, and removed the core, the top of the maze was covered in a thin silver film. It seems like the issue I was having with the larger maze was also present in the smaller version. Although I didn't end up with silver hands when solving it, the friction between the sleeve and core was causing the same effect on the surface of the maze.
I think this is my favorite of the three puzzles because of the unique feature used to enter the maze. There's nothing overly complicated in there, but it is well executed, and requires the solver to not assume how the puzzle works. There's a few puzzle designs out there which could learn a lot from the relative simplicity of these puzzles. Harder is not always better, and as is proven with these puzzles, added complexity isn't needed. The more complex the mechanism, the more things can go wrong with it. Each of these puzzles still works every bit as well as it did when they were made, and I am sure will continue to do so for the next 20 years.
The amount of enjoyment I had from solving these puzzles is hard to measure, however the 'aha' moment in each of them is unquestionable, and each puts a smile on my face having solved them. If you get the chance to play with any of these, take it. You'll not be disappointed.
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