Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
27Jun/130

Triskele

It's been a while since I managed to sit down and write anything new. Not that I don't have lots to write about, just seems that with a wedding coming up, and things being rather busy with the day job, I've not had much time. Anyway, that said, here's a nice Karakuri box to give you something to read about.
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The Triskele is a puzzle box designed by Hideaki Kawashima. It's a beautiful looking puzzle, as you'd expect from the Karakuri group, and it hides it's secrets well. I spent quite a bit of time fiddling with this one, and seeming to make absolutely no progress on it.

Triskele by Kawashima

Triskele by Kawashima

Only 25 of these were made for an exhibition that Kawashima was taking part in, so I believe from the Karakuri site, that these are reasonably rare. Kawashima notes that the mechanism is not his design, and he's not made this style of puzzle until now. So what is this you may ask?

Well it's a cube, measuring 2.8" x 2.8" x 2.8" made from Birch, Magnolia, Wenge and Oak. As you can see from the image above the panels have been selected carefully to give a stunning external appearance, and the fit is so precise that it gives no hint as to how it will open.

Sadly for me, on finding out how the box opens, it's a simple Expanding box, using the same design as Stewart Coffin's Expanding Box puzzle. It's a beautifully made copy, don't get me wrong, but from a puzzling aspect, it's certainly not a new idea. The particular copy I have been playing with is incredibly stiff, and the humidity changes, have caused it to become very challenging to open, which if you didn't know how it opened would make it near impossible to solve.

It's a good looking box, but sadly it's not new, and unless you want a very good looking but costly copy of an expanding box puzzle, I'd say leave this one alone. Go have a look at some of Vinco's versions if you're just interested in the puzzle itself.



12Feb/130

Crossex

Crossex is another co-ordinate motion puzzle from the workshop of Vinco. It's been a while since I looked at any of Vinco's co-ordinate motion puzzles, so I'm remedying that with this review. Crossex is available from Puzzlemaster, or Vinco directly.

Crossex by Vinco

Crossex by Vinco

As always, the quality of the workmanship in the puzzle is excellent. It comes shrink wrapped with a small info card which contains the solution inside a folded paper, listing the difficulty rating as 3/5. Given that this is another co-ordinate motion puzzle, it instantly gets a higher rating in my book, but don't let that put you off. Made from variegated Walnut and Maple there's a good contrast between the pieces, and despite being part of the commercial line, there is still care and attention to the orientation of the grain in the pieces to make a really pleasing puzzle. I have no idea how Vinco manages this level of quality and still mass produces these.

Crossex by Vinco, partially open

Crossex by Vinco, partially open

The cube is 2.5" cubed and expands up to 3.75" before it will collapse into a pile of pieces. As seems to be Vinco's current style, there's a rattling to be found from the inside of the puzzle, but that may or may not have much to do with its operation.

I will admit I was a little disappointed when I pulled the pieces apart on this one to find that it is identical in mechanism to the MaTRIOshka puzzle which is based on Stewart Coffin's Expanding Box Puzzle. It's a design I need to revisit after my earlier failed attempts. Given that I've learned a lot since that first attempt, and I've had a few requests to go back to the design.

If you don't yet have a copy of Stewart Coffin's expanding box puzzle, then I'd recommend this version as it's very well made, and not expensive, especially given the fit and finish of the puzzle.



6Dec/121

Cerebral Rings

The Cerebral Rings puzzle is an interesting plastic puzzle produced by Magnif. My copy came to me from Puzzle Master in the last shipment of puzzles I had arrive from them. This was a puzzle I was interested to play with as it seemed rather different than many I'd played with recently, and I hoped would be a nice change of pace.

The Cerebral Rings in their starting position

The Cerebral Rings in their starting position

The goal of the puzzle is to move the red plungers inside the circular shafts to positions where it will allow the black rings to slide apart in a coordinate motion, separating the three parts which make up the rings. Measuring 4" wide x 1.75" high the puzzle is a good size and the plastics used have been well finished to give a really glossy appearance as you can see in the photographs. All the edges are nicely chamfered and the curves used in the plungers mean that they are comfortable to press when you're playing with the puzzle. The fit of the pieces is good, making it difficult to see the seams where the three frame sections join.

One downside which I have to mention about this puzzle is that the inside of the tubes have been coated fairly heavily with a lubricant. Clearly the idea was to make the pieces move easily inside the tubes. Unfortunately, at least on my copy the amount of grease used was excessive, and then you push the red plungers inside the tubes, your fingers end up covered in grease, making for a fairly unpleasant experience when playing with the puzzle. The first thing I did when I opened the puzzle was to take a rag and clean out all that grease. Sadly even with all the grease in there to start with I found there were times when the plungers would get stuck in the tubes and require significant force to move them past the obstacle which they were stuck on, allowing full travel through the tube.

From the Manif website, the puzzle comes with the following description: "Fabled to have been found among the effects of the renowned astronomer Johannes Kepler, was an early version of the Cerebral Rings. This challenging puzzle baffles astronomers, astrologers and mathematicians alike. It was said that Kepler’s students had to master the expanding layers of the Cerebral Rings and the red plungers within, solving the puzzle in order to progress to apprenticeship. There are hundreds of possible combinations and only 8 solutions."

Personally I think Kepler would be turning in his grave at the idea that the puzzle was used as part of an apprenticeship, as the puzzle really isn't that challenging, however it makes for a good story! It is true that depending on how you count a move, there may be hundreds of combinations, and only eight solutions, but sadly once you've found one, there's really no need to find any others, as there's not enough of a difference to make it worthwhile. That said there are some nice elegant symmetrical solutions if you care to look for them.

The Rings sliding apart

The Rings sliding apart

Note: The image above does not show a solution. Ed

As you can see once you've found the correct combination, the rings slide apart passing each other in a coordinate motion which means that they do indeed expand as they come apart. The fit of the pieces is very good here, so starting the motion can be quite a challenge. Finding the correct spot to push on the pieces so that they glide past each other is not obvious, and as with many puzzles, placing your fingers so that you're not blocking the motion can be tricky.

Puzzle Master rates the puzzle as level 8/10 (Demanding) and Manif rates it 2/4. I have to say I think it's closer to the lower end of the scale but could certainly provide a good challenge if you're not paying attention. I enjoyed playing with the puzzle even if it did take a very short time for me top solve it the first time, somewhere under 5 minutes. It was a good change of pace to the other puzzles I've been playing with recently and would make a good Christmas present for the younger puzzler.

The Cerebral Rings pieces once solved

The Cerebral Rings pieces once solved

Once you've solved the puzzle everything comes apart, leaving you with the six plungers, and three black ring sections. The rings are all identical so re-assembly is fairly simple. Overall a fun distraction even though it's not an overly challenging puzzle. It is well made, and the contrasting colours will make it stand out on the puzzle shelf. Definitely one that people will pick up and have a fiddle with.



23Oct/120

Tritresor

Tritresor is another of Vinco's mass produced puzzles and is available from Puzzle Master. Similar to the Cubetresor I reviewed previously, this is a three piece puzzle with a rather more triangular shape than the Cubic, four piece puzzle Cubetresor.

Tritresor by Vinco.  Side View

Tritresor by Vinco. Side View

Tritresor by Vinco.  End View

Tritresor by Vinco. End View

As you can see, this is a typical Vinco styled puzzle, where the wood used is carefully chosen to best highlight the pieces, or to hide the pieces in some cases. As ever the pieces are simply finished and nothing is dyed or stained to artificially change the colours. Measuring 3" x 2.5" x 2.5" it's a good size in your hands, and the contrasting colours of woods helps to make the design really pop. (Triforce on the side anyone?)

One thing I will note on my copy is that the fit of the pieces isn't quite as exact as I have come to expect from Vinco's puzzles, even his mass produced copies. There are several places where slight misalignment of the blocks which make up the three pieces add up to a less than perfect fit. It doesn't affect the movement of the puzzle, and from the puzzle shelf, you'd never know, so really not much to complain about.

The puzzle consists of three unique pieces which must be separated to reveal a small wooden ball which you can hear rolling around, and then to restore the puzzle back to its original shape, and hide that ball back in the centre. As you can guess, there's a reasonable space in the middle of the puzzle that the ball rolls around in, and if you're not familiar with Vinco's enjoyment for putting random balls inside his hollow puzzles, you could be forgiven for thinking it's some kind of locking mechanism.

Tritresor expanded close to the point of collapse

Tritresor expanded close to the point of collapse

Taking the puzzle apart isn't too challenging, and Vinco rates it as 3/5 on his scale. Puzzle Master gives it a Level 7/10. Coordinate motion is required to separate the pieces, and return them back to their original shape. If you're not familiar with this style of puzzle, many people will avoid it as generally speaking coordinate motion puzzles require at least three hands, or several rubber bands and tape to successfully re-assemble them once they fall into a pile of pieces as you expand the original shape. In this case I'd say the Tritresor is a good starting point, as with only three pieces it's not difficult to get the pieces in place, and the tolerances are not so tight that it's frustrating to align them.

Three unique pieces

Three unique pieces

I disagree slightly with the difficulty ratings, as looking at the pieces will show that there's only one way they can go together, and the fit is such that it's not difficult to align the pieces to get the puzzle back to its original shape. Definitely more of an introduction to coordinate motion than a challenging assembly puzzle.

As ever Vinco's puzzles are well made and great to hand around to people so well worth looking at the 'Tresor' series of puzzles. Expect another review from the series soon.



9Oct/124

Blind Burr

One of the Top 10 Vote Getters at this years IPP design competition was the Blind Burr, designed by Gregory Benedetti and made by Maurice Vigouroux. I had the great pleasure of being able to talk to Gregory about his puzzle designs and certainly enjoyed playing with his entry in the puzzle competition, so when I had the chance to pick one up on the day of the puzzle party, I didn't hesitate.

Blind Burr by Gregory Benedetti

Blind Burr by Gregory Benedetti

Made from some beautiful slabs of purple heart, the puzzle measures 3.25" x 3.25" x 3.25". Each piece is cut from a solid chunk of purple heart, measuring a full inch thick, so the pieces are incredibly sturdy and finished to the high standard that is common for work from Maurice Vigouroux. Each of the pieces is polished to a high shine, and the ends of the pieces have been chamfered to really finish the puzzle nicely.

Limited edition number and Maurice's stamp

Limited edition number and Maurice's stamp

As you can see each puzzle was numbered in a limited edition of 50, and the number is stamped into the wood, along with Maurice's signature. There was a very interesting discussion on one of the Puzzle Forum's about what makes a puzzle Limited Edition, which showed that there are many definitions to many different people. It turns out that in this case it's limited because Maurice agreed to make 50, and no more! The reason why is fairly obvious when you start to play with the puzzle.

I've probably mentioned before that I'm not a huge Burr puzzle fan. There's many other puzzle types out there that I get far more excited about than Burrs. So why did I make sure to get a copy of this one. And why's it called a Blind Burr .... in my experience pretty much all Burr's are blind. Well I'm not sure I can answer the second question, but I will answer the first. And the answer is pretty simple, this is no ordinary burr!

Edit: I can't answer why it's called the Blind Burr, but Greg did. Check out the comments for the answer!

Lots of movement but little progress

Lots of movement but little progress

Immediately on picking up the puzzle, you find that there are three pieces which are pretty loose, and move a fair distance. Looking at the inner part of the piece which slides out you'll see it's completely smooth, so whatever burrs exist, they are only in the top 1/3 of the piece which remains hidden in the centre of the puzzle. Of course all of this movement doesn't really help much, as there is no movement at all in the remaining three pieces. Strange and definitely not an average burr.

Despite the piece on the right in the image above leaving enough space for the top piece to slide over it, that piece won't budge. Something in there is keeping it in place and there's no real hint of movement. Time to go back to the drawing board and figure out what else can move in the puzzle.

After some feeling around, you start to see that there may be another way to make progress, and sure enough that yields a little more movement in one of the pieces, and after that the rest of the puzzle will come apart using coordinate motion. It's a really beautiful movement if not particularly difficult, and well worth the time to understand.

The pieces of the Blind burr (some details hidden)

The pieces of the Blind burr (some details hidden)

I don't want to give too much away, as the discovery of the puzzle mechanism is a joy but you can see the seven pieces which make up the puzzle, with some familiar 45 degree blocks in there which are used in the coordinate motion. That cube was a bit of a surprise!

Putting the puzzle back together is marginally trickier than taking it apart as some dexterity is required during the assembly, and despite taking it apart and putting it back together a number of times now, I still struggle a little to get the first three pieces aligned correctly.

All in all it's a great design, and rather deserving of its Top 10 vote. All of these are currently sold, but if you see one come up for sale, grab it. It really is a fun puzzle, and even for a non-Burr fan like me, you'll enjoy it.



7Jul/120

Vinco’s Double Desk Box

Most regular readers of my blog will be familiar with Vaclav Obsivac's work. The 'Vinco' puzzles are well known as being very high quality wooden puzzles at very affordable prices. One of my puzzle friends recently moved house, and I was round visiting just before he moved. As we wandered through his garage, stocked from floor to ceiling, and wall to wall with boxes, he pulled out Vinco's Double Desk Box, which was sitting unsolved, and handed it to me saying "See if you can put that back together for me". After a challenge like that I couldn't really say no now could I? That would ruin my reputation of being able to actually solve puzzles!

Double Desk Box by Vinco, solved.

Double Desk Box by Vinco, solved.

As you can see from the photo above, I was successfully able to put the puzzle back to its original solved state, so for now I'm probably safe.

The puzzle is a four piece co-ordinate motion puzzle. As you've heard me mention in the past, co-ordinate motion puzzles are something of a signature for Vinco's puzzles, and this is another great example. The mechanism is similar to those used in other co-ordinate motion puzzles, so it will not be a huge surprise to anyone familiar with some of Vinco's other offerings. Of course the challenge with all co-ordinate motion puzzles is figuring out where to put your fingers to be able to start separating the pieces without the puzzle flying apart, leaving you with no idea how to put it back together again!

Double Desk Box by Vinco, starting to open.

Double Desk Box by Vinco, starting to open.

The box starts off measuring 3.25" x 3.25" x 3.25", but as you start to open it, it expands to over 4" before the internal pieces are no longer touching and they fall into a heap. Unfortunately I'm not sure which woods were used for this puzzle as Vinco wasn't listing the woods when he produced these puzzles. The puzzle is available from Vinco directly, or from Puzzle Master

The four pieces of the Double Desk Box

The four pieces of the Double Desk Box

As you can see above, the four pieces of the puzzle are identical, making re-assembly 'easier'. Of course with any co-ordinate motion puzzle, assembling requires the puzzle to be expanded to the point of collapse, and then carefully aligning the pieces, while hoping that you don't move anything causing it to all collapse again. With only four pieces, this is one of the easier puzzles to assemble and disassemble, however there is a reasonable degree of dexterity required, since the tolerances are up to Vinco's usual standard. (Read, very well made, and darn tricky!)

This is a good looking puzzle and not too challenging to put together. Puzzle master rates this as 9/10 (Grueling), but if I'm honest I don't think that's fair. This is much more like a 6, in my opinion. Vinco himself rates it as a 3/5 (or 6 if you include his 5+ scale). All in all a fun puzzle, which is very well made, and great to hand to beginners since you'll get it back together fairly easily if they give up.

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