Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
29Feb/161

Really Bent Board Burr

It's been a while since I've sat down and shown the process of making a puzzle, mainly because I've been busy in the shop working on making puzzles, and haven't had time to write, however the Really Bent Board Burr by Derek Bosch is one that is worth writing about.

The Final puzzle

The Final puzzle

I've never owned a copy of this puzzle, and it has always intrigued me. I've talked about making copies for long enough, and now I finally have, so here's a little bit of insight to the puzzle, and the process of creating it. The puzzle was originally produced by Tom Lensch back in 2007 and the craftsmanship as you'd expect was superb. Hopefully I'm able to do it justice, but I'll let you be the judge of that.

An alternate angle

An alternate angle

Before I get into the details of making this puzzle, here's a few interesting things about the puzzle. It's hard to tell from the assembled puzzle, but this is a 6 piece puzzle, with three different types of pieces used in the construction. Each piece forms a 'Z' shape with two 'C' pieces attached to a central 'O' piece. The puzzle itself has two different solutions using the same 6 pieces. An easy and a hard solution. The easy solution is a level 10.6.1.4 while the hard is a staggering 20.2.10. In all honesty calling the easy solution easy is a joke. This is a really tough puzzle both to assemble and dis-assemble, however the final shape is well worth the time to solve. (And no, I'm not smart enough to assemble it without help!)

All six pieces that make up the RBBB

All six pieces that make up the RBBB

The pieces form a set where three of the Z's have the C's attached with the opening facing in opposite directions, two with the opening in the same direction, and the final is a mirror image of the second piece type. Given the length of the C's and the minimal gluing surface to the central structure, the joints need to be reinforced to prevent them from breaking. Equally, the end of the C's need to be reinforced to prevent them breaking too. All told there's a lot of work to producing such a puzzle, however the end result is in my opinion worth the extra effort.

Starting with square sticks

Starting with square sticks

The start of any such puzzle is with the preparation of the stock. Square sticks need to be accurately milled from the boards giving straight, consistent sticks as a starting point. For this run of puzzles, I had a selection of Maple, Walnut and Lacewood to work with. Fortunately all the stock I had was 8/4, meaning that I could create sticks that were over 1/2" in diameter, resulting in a very pleasing and not small final puzzle. Overall, each puzzle requires 12 feet of wood to make, and 2 feet of dowel to pin the pieces ensuring they are strong enough. That's a lot of wood!

You can see my cheat sheet in the image above, where I mapped out the pieces and produced a cut list for the individual sticks needed to create the final puzzle. The colouring on the pieces on my cheat sheet is partly to make seeing each piece easier, but it also helps with the wood selected for each piece, resulting in a pretty interesting final puzzle piece.

The size of each of the pieces is determined from the width of the square stock. That sets the size of a single cube, and from there the units required are 1x1, 1x2, 1x5 and 1x7. I made a set of these pieces, which are easily created my combining the smaller units, all cut from the stock I'm using to ensure their size is accurate. You can see them in one of the photos below, sitting on my saw.

Stacks of pieces.  Each stack is one puzzle

Stacks of pieces. Each stack is one puzzle

The square sticks are cut to the correct lengths for each puzzle in batches, and then stacked to create the pieces for each puzzle. In total, I cut enough pieces for 10 copies of the puzzle to be made. As I've mentioned before, once the jigs are setup to make the cuts required, the effort to create 10 copies is not significantly more than to create one, so it just makes sense to make multiple copies. I'm sure there are people out there who will be interested in a copy.

Making the C's

Making the C's

C's and O's

C's and O's

From each pile of sticks, the individual components of each individual puzzle piece are created. Since each piece consists of two C's and an O, those can be created en-mass, and then assembled into the correct puzzle piece.

Dowels glued in place and slot cut for the spline

Dowels glued in place and slot cut for the spline

Splines glued in place

Splines glued in place

After the individual components are completed, they are glued together to form the final puzzle pieces, and then holes are drilled through the O's to allow dowels to be glued into place, forming a much stronger joint between the components and helping to ensure that significant force would be needed to break the pieces. At the same time, the pieces are run across the table saw to add a flat bottomed groove in the ends of the pieces to allow a spline to be added. That spline will reinforce the ends of the C's again helping to ensure that the pieces will not break when the solver is playing with the puzzle. These ends are very weak without some additional support since there is very little gluing surface, but lots of force available given the length of the pieces.

Once the glue has dried, the dowels are trimmed with a special saw which does not mark the surface the blade rests against, and the ends of the c-pieces are rounded to both clean up the spline, and add a visual element to the puzzle pieces in the assembled state. The other advantage to doing this is that is hides any tearout that was created from cutting the groove in the ends of the pieces. Normally I will back-up the cut with another piece of wood against the back of the piece where the blade will exit. This prevents the wood fibers which are unsupported otherwise from being ripped away from the piece, however with this type of cut that is very difficult, and taping the joint is only partially successful. So from my perspective as a craftsman, this rounding is both useful and pleasing to the final puzzle piece.

Applying finish really brings out the beauty of the wood

Applying finish really brings out the beauty of the wood

At this point, the puzzle can be tested to ensure that all the pieces fit together. Unlike many other puzzles I've made there's no way to test the puzzle sooner. That means that I could have spent 10 hours making the pieces, and have nothing but scrap to show for it. Unfortunately, the pieces are so long that without all the dowels and splines, they are not strong enough to be put together into the final puzzle meaning that it's an all or nothing build. Fortunately with the experience I have gained over the last few years, the puzzles went together without issue. Only minor sanding was required in a couple of places on one of the puzzles to ensure a good fit.

With the pieces tested and fitting together, they can be final sanded up to 600 grit to ensure a smooth and tactile surface, then finish can be applied to bring out the beauty of the wood. My go-to finish for puzzles is still a thinned lacquer then the Beall Triple Buff system to really make the pieces shine.

Just a few finished puzzles

Just a few finished puzzles

That's about all there is to it. Each puzzle takes around 15 hours to make from start to finish, and I'm now very happy to have one of these excellent puzzles in my collection. They are a lot of work to make, and I'll be honest, as happy as I am to have one in my collection now, I'll not be making more of these any time soon! Hopefully the write-up was interesting, and hopefully I'll be back to writing more soon.



18Jun/140

Shake Something

In the recent batch of puzzles from Eric Fuller, Shake Something caught my eye. From a new designer, Dan Fast, this packing puzzle uses four burr pieces in a box to create an interesting challenge. It's always good to see a new designer creating puzzles which are both fun and different, and when they're made by Eric, you know they'll be well made. In this case Eric's living in the future, but it's all good.

Shake Something by Dan Fast

Shake Something by Dan Fast

Made from a Walnut box with Paduak base and internal pins, with Yellowheart and Chakte Viga pieces the puzzle looks great. 38 copies were made for sale, and all sold out quickly, as is common for Eric's puzzles. It's a good sign for Dan, and I look forward to seeing more of his designs.

The pieces have a superb contrast, and do make the solution easier. It's a good sized puzzle, measuring 2.5" x 2.5" x 2.825" making manipulation of the pieces easy. Eric mentioned that there was plenty of room inside the puzzle for wood movement, however I've found from my own copy that a couple of the pieces are rather tight. The last piece to come out, I actually believed was glued into the box by the blocks on the walls and didn't come out. As it happens, it was just an incredibly tight fit, and with a little encouragement it did come out. The pieces are all burr style pieces, and all feel solid so there's no worry about breaking anything. Equally, the pins are well attached to the box, so they're unlikely to come off without some serious abuse.

The goal of the puzzle is to remove the burr pieces and return them to their box. What makes the puzzle different is that for the most part, it's not possible to manipulate the pieces directly, but instead you need to shake, turn and jiggle the box to move the pieces. To make things more interesting, the internal blockages in the box remain hidden, meaning you can't see the interactions between the pieces, and need to carefully observe and react to the obstructions you find.

Shake Something pieces

Shake Something pieces

In total, there are 14 moves required to remove the first piece, with a total complexity of 14.2.4. I found that removing the pieces wasn't too much of a challenge, taking around 5 minutes, however I didn't pay all that much attention to how the pieces came out, and left them scrambled before trying to put them back into the box. I think this was my own folly, as I thought it was fairly straight forward when taking it apart.

As it turns out, I had a much bigger challenge putting it back together, and it took several hours over a few nights to get it back to the starting position. As I mentioned previously, given that I have one piece which I thought was stuck in place, I was only having to worry about 3 pieces, as there was one which had to be in the right place and orientation. Still I got lots of puzzling for my money!

Shake Something's knobbly box

Shake Something's knobbly box

With all the pieces removed, you can see the blocks on the inside of the box which interact with the burr pieces, and make the puzzle both challenging, and a lot of fun. Having solved the puzzle without the need for help, I was pretty happy, so took the expected step of plugging the puzzle into Burr Tools, and seeing what it came up with. Apparently there are 1924 ways that the pieces can fit in the box, but only 3 ways to assemble the pieces. That means that if you didn't have the walls of the box glued together, there would be 1924 ways to put the pieces together, however with them glued up, only 3 of the possible combinations can be assembled into the solution. I feel pretty good having found one of the three on my own. It's certainly manageable, and I highly recommend that you give it a try before just asking Burr Tools to help.

Eric is living in the Future

Eric is living in the Future

No doubt I confused you at the start of my post, by suggesting Eric was living in the future. Looking at how he signed this box, perhaps my comment makes more sense. Apparently Eric made this in May 2015. Guess I slept well last night! (Either that or Eric has a time machine, and I'd really like to borrow it!)



27May/140

Penta Beams

Oskar van Deventer has been at it again, and this is the latest (well latest published as far as I know) design from the incredible puzzle generating mind of the Dutchman. This time it's an intersection of six pentagonal sticks to form a pyramidal shape. The goal is to take the sticks apart, and put them back together again.

Penta Beams by Oskar

Penta Beams by Oskar

3D printed by Shapeways, the pieces are dyed into six bright colours (plus black and white) and have a solid feel to them. the trapped powder inside each stick really adds weight and a feeling of quality that can sometimes be lacking in Shapeways printed materials. The puzzle measures approximately 3.5" tall once assembled, with each stick being 3.5" long with a 7/8" cross-section.

The sticks just keep on holding.

The sticks just keep on holding.

The fit is perfect, and each of the sticks holds the others at the right angles all the way until the last two pieces. That certainly makes this a much more enjoyable puzzle to play with, as you don't feel like you're fighting your own fingers and wrestling with a dexterity challenge.

Six pentagonal pieces

Six pentagonal pieces

There's one key piece, followed by five notched sticks which must be removed in sequence to take the puzzle apart. While it's not trivial after the pieces are mixed up, I'd say that this is certainly an approachable puzzle for most people. Having taken it apart, and mixed the pieces, then left them alone for a while, I was able to put it back together in around 20 minutes. Now, I'm no expert in this style of assembly puzzle, but it was both fun and a good level of challenge for me.

Penta Beams is available from Oskar's Shapeways shop if you'd like a copy of your own.



16May/140

2 Halves Cage 4 A

Well that's a bit of a mouthful isn't it! 2 Halves is a burr puzzle designed by Gregory Benedetti, with my copy being made by the very talented Maurice Vigouroux. Back in November 2013, this came up for sale on Puzzle Paradise with a couple of options for woods used. Seeing the Ebony cage and Bloodwood pieces, I didn't hesitate, and bought it there and then. I certainly wasn't disappointed.

2 Halves Caged 4 A by Gregory Benedetti

2 Halves Caged 4 A by Gregory Benedetti

Despite not being particularly good with Burr puzzles, this doesn't look like a burr, and the jet black Ebony surrounding the deep red of the Bloodwood makes it look imposing. That's probably a good thing, as this is not a simple puzzle. It's not a small puzzle either. Each cubie is 7/16", making it 3" x 3" x 3" overall, meaning that Maurice was working with 1" thick stock to make the burr pieces. It's a great size and manipulating the pieces inside the frame is easy given the size of the pieces. It's heavy too. Ebony is a very dense heavy wood, so this puzzle has a really solid heft to it. The fit and finish are excellent with the Ebony being polished to a reflective shine. The pieces all slide past each other perfectly, and the tolerances are spot on.

The first night I spent around 40 minutes playing around with the puzzle and managed to create some space in the cage to move the burr pieces around a little, but I hit a dead-end and couldn't see a way to progress further. There seemed to be a huge amount of space in the puzzle, but the cage was still firmly held in place, and the was no way I was sliding any of the burr pieces out of the cage.

Partially solved with pieces sticking out like a Hedgehog

Partially solved with pieces sticking out like a Hedgehog

This carried on for a few days where I'd spend 20 minutes or so each night trying to make progress and really getting nowhere. As often happens, things got busy, and the puzzle was left on a shelf for a while with pieces sticking out of the sides, looking a little like a hedgehog. Recently I had a little free time, and picked this up again, since it was sitting looking at me and I felt bad that I'd not finished it.

After about an hour, I finally managed to shuffle the burr pieces into the right locations to be able to remove one half of the cage! Progress. It was quite the achievement to have made it this far, and spurred on by my success, I carried on to remove the rest of the pieces. I thought I was past the difficult part and the remainder was going to be easy. After all, I now had a lot of space, and removing the remaining pieces should be easy!

Isn't it great when you're totally wrong. The puzzle is a level 17.14.9.5.3 puzzle. So removing the first half of the cage, I'd only finished the first 17 steps. I had another 14 to remove the first burr piece, and then another 9 to remove the second. This is one tough puzzle. I spent another 15 minutes figuring out how to move the pieces around and take that first burr piece out of the remaining cage half, but I finally got there. Let's just say I didn't do it in just 14 moves!

Six burr pieces, plus the two cage halves

Six burr pieces, plus the two cage halves

As far as value for money goes, this has been a great puzzle. I've had a lot of puzzling time out of it, and I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. This is a little worrying for me, as I've never really found much fun in playing with Burr's. Maybe I've found something else that I do enjoy after all.

The 2 Halves is certainly a different style of Burr, with the cage interacting with the burr pieces in such a way that it really adds an extra challenge. The cage itself blocks your view of the voids in the burr, making it much more difficult to see how to progress, and it also adds some structure, keeping the pieces in the right locations without needing an extra hand to prevent them from falling or rotating into a position which makes it difficult to move the next piece.

Now, I freely admit that I'm not good enough with burr's to be able to re-assemble this one on my own. It was enough of a challenge to just take it apart. Not to mention that I didn't pay any attention to how the pieces came out, or the order, so I didn't even have a reference to how to put them back.

There's only one possible assembly out of 1,844 possible orientations of the pieces in the final shape, so it could take a very long time to put this back together with trial and error. I know when I'm beaten, and turned to the trusty Burr Tools to help. Even there it took me three attempts to get the pieces entered correctly for Burr Tools to be able to solve the puzzle. I have no idea how Gregory designed this, but I have to take my hat off to him. It's a great design, and I can't recommend it enough, even if you're like me, and are not a fan of Burr's normally.



30Apr/140

Rail Box

In his most recent round of puzzle offerings, Eric Fuller offered a couple of designs by Yavuz Demirhan. Being Burr type puzzles I wasn't overly interested myself (so why I picked up a copy of the Cutler Cube I'll never know), however a good puzzling friend in the UK was interested. Postage was going to cost as much as the puzzle though, so I offered to have it thrown into my box, with the offer to bring it to the UK when I'm there later this year. As a bonus, I was allowed to play with it.

Rail box by Yavuz Demirhan

Rail box by Yavuz Demirhan

As you'd expect this small puzzle is crafted to Eric's high standards and measuring in at 2.25" x 2.25" x 1/5" the pieces are a good size to manipulate through the cage, and it doesn't feel fiddly, unlike some of the smaller wood/acrylic puzzles Eric has been making recently. The cage is made from Maple, and you might be forgiven for thinking that the pieces are all the same wood. The shorter four pieces are Paduak and the longer two are Purpleheart. To be honest, the difference in colour between the pieces is not strong at all, but that certainly doesn't detract from the puzzle.

At a level 18 burr, meaning there are 18 moves needed to remove the first piece, this is the sort of puzzle I wouldn't normally pick up to play with myself. Having said that I'm glad I was able to play with it. The four pieces in the centre (top) of the puzzle are identical, and the two longer pieces which run horizontally through the cage interact with the shorter pieces to create a sort of dance as you slide the pieces back and forth, up and down to create the space you need to remove the first piece.

Rail box pieces

Rail box pieces

After a little experimenting, most people should be able to find out how to create the space needed to remove the first piece. After that the rest comes apart pretty quickly. Putting the puzzle back to the solved position is simply a case of reversing the steps, but I can assure you that's easier said than done if you mix the orientation and position of the two longer pieces.

This is a great puzzle design, and certainly one that I'd recommend you have a play with. Even if you're like me and not a huge fan of Burr type puzzles, this one is accessible, and even enjoyable for the average puzzler.



9May/131

Tornado Burr

I wasn't fortunate enough to be able to buy one of Junichi Yananose Tornado Burr's when it was offered by either Eric Fuller however I am lucky enough to have a puzzle friend who was kind enough to let me borrow his copy to have a play.

Tornado Burr Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Mr Puzzle

Tornado Burr Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Mr Puzzle

When Brian Young made copies of this puzzle, there were only 30 copies made way back in December 2008. And when you see how it's made you'll understand why. Each piece is made from a single stick, and while it may not be apparent at first look why that's such an issue, I think it will become apparent as you read on.

The first thing that hits you about this puzzle is the scale. At 6" x 6" x 6" this is a very large burr. Brian has taken a great deal of care when finishing the ends of the burr pieces, and each is beautifully detailed, with a fit and finish that you'd expect from a master craftsman such as himself. The fact that this was part of his Craftsman line is really no surprise. The only other person I know of to have attempted this puzzle is Eric Fuller, and having seen his copy, while much smaller, it's every bit as well made!

Tornado Burr Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Mr Puzzle

Tornado Burr Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Mr Puzzle

With a modest 12 pieces in the puzzle, while it would normally be considered a significant challenge, the Tornado is a challenge in an entirely different way. This is no conventional burr puzzle. As I soon found out, no amount of pushing, pulling or tugging on any of the pieces will help you to find the 'first move' that you normally need to get a burr puzzle started. So with that done, what's left? I don't recommend blowing on it, or spinning it as you'll quickly end up dizzy and out of breath. The clue to the puzzle is in the name.

"This ingenious burr was designed by Junichi in May 2007 with "head and hands; no computer". Junichi had the idea for a multiple rotational movement but did not get to finally apply it to a puzzle until he came up with the Tornado Burr. People often ask puzzle designers "What was going on in your head to design this puzzle?" What was going on in Junichi's head when he designed the Tornado Burr? Visualising things going up and down and back and forth at the same time is one thing, but things going up and down, back and forth and around as well is quite another! Junichi says the Tornado Burr "has very eccentric movements" and challenges puzzlers to "Try your luck, and stop this fierce tornado."

Needless to say this puzzle is not solvable in any computer program that we know of.

Tornado Burr starting to move

Tornado Burr starting to move

Eccentric movements indeed! As you can see above, this puzzle has rotations, although not like any you'd have thought about before playing with this puzzle. How Junichi came up with this is beyond me. It's an insane puzzle mechanism, that simply imagining the interactions and movements entirely in your head takes a special type of mind.

Coming back to my comments about the pieces all being solid and the significance of that fact becomes apparent. For the puzzle to work, it needs dowels rather than notches in the pieces. Each of these rods was hand turned on the lathe and has to be very accurately made. Not only that but it is turned on an off centre axis, making things just a little bit scarier! Having done a lot of work on the lathe recently myself, I can truly appreciate the work that goes into making each and every one of these pieces.

At IPP27 in Australia, this puzzle received an Honourable mention. Having had the opportunity to play with one, I can see why. Despite not being a burr fan, I'd not hesitate to add one of these to my collection if it became available. The chances of that happening though may be fairly slim.