Way back in 2011, when I was at a puzzle party here in the Bay Area, I had a play with a clever little puzzle, by Iwahiro called the ODD Puzzle. A simple three-piece packing puzzle, that was anything but simple. It's taken me three years, but I now have a copy of my own .... and I had to make it myself!
Back when I first saw the puzzle, the only copy available was a version by Philos. It was made from Beech and measured 4.7" x 4.7" x 3". The fairly plain appearance hid a superb puzzle, that was the grand prize winner at IPP28. Now it's mostly sold out everywhere you look, and no real indication of when or if it will be available again. The only place I've been able to find it is at Puzzle Sport in Germany.
I played around with the copy at Stan's and really liked the puzzle. It was clever and really needed you to spend time playing with the pieces in the box to understand just how they interacted with each other, and what movements are possible. I was unfortunate that the puzzle was sitting in its solved state when I picked it up, and it was more of a challenge to remove the pieces for me. If I'd not seen the solution I think I would have required a lot more time to understand how it would be possible to get the pieces in there. I had mostly forgotten about this puzzle which if I'm honest is rather a shame.
Fast forward three years, and I spotted a Craftsman copy of the puzzle made by Iwahiro on one of my friend's Facebook pages as his profile picture. (ed: There's a funny story there, but I'll come back to that.) Seeing that picture spurred me into hunting for a copy, and having failed, I asked a couple of my puzzle friends if anyone had a copy of the puzzle. Amusingly, the closest (geographically) to me had a copy of the puzzle, and agreed to lend it to me. A couple of days later, we met up and exchanged a few puzzles, had the obligatory play with a few new additions to each of our collections, and he left me with a copy of the ODD Puzzle, as well as a puzzle from his collection where a couple of glue joints had broken, that he asked me to fix for him.
Fairly quickly I took a host of measurements from the reference copy, and set about making a copy of my own. I really liked the look of the craftsman version with the 'core' having a different wood to the outer parts of the pieces so looking through my stock, I picked out some Lacewood and Yellowheart to make the pieces. Rather than describe the process in detail, the images below should show the highlights. (As ever, click for larger versions.)
Of course as you can see, when you're making one, it's not a lot more work to make two, or three, so I made three copies. When I was posting pictures, on my own Facebook pages during the build, I was contacted about buying copies, so I'm glad I made extra. One interesting build fact is that I pre-finished the bases before I glued up the boxes. The reason being that I was going to be unable to finish the inside of the base once the box was glued together. One benefit to pre-finishing is that the glue won't stick to the finish, so the base will be truly floating. I also pre-finished the inside walls of the box before I glued on the strips that create the gap. Again, I wasn't going to be able to get a brush inside the box to finish it to the level I wanted, so I finished it first, leaving clear areas where I was gluing up the pieces so that the glue would stick.
As a quick comparison, the pieces for both copies are identical in size, and can be interchanged between the boxes. In Iwahiro's version he has mitred joints in the box with slip feathers for strength. I used a shoulder joint on my box and didn't add splines (a.k.a. slip feathers). I did however change the way the top of the box is made, extending my slats all the way through the sides, making that joint stronger, unlike Iwahiro's version where the slats are entirely inside the box. There's not real difference, just a choice I made.
My the boxes in my copies are made from Katalox with a Chakte Viga base. I think the contrast between the dark, almost black sides with the bright orange base looks great, but then I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't.
This was the first time I'd used the Beall Wood Buff system since I bought it. Fellow puzzle maker John Devost uses it on most of the puzzles he makes, and having used it now, I can see why. The finish achieved is incredible. It's a high gloss shine, which really makes the wood look great, and gives it an amazingly smooth feel. It also means that the pieces in the ODD puzzle slide against each other with virtually no friction. That means that the slick plastic sheet added in the bottom of Iwahiro's version isn't needed in the copies I made.
One of my friends commented that the only thing missing from my copy was the slip feathers on Iwahiro's box. I joked that I'd considered adding Holly slip feathers, but in the end didn't do so. (Now I didn't mention at the time that I didn't have a jig built that would allow me to create slip feathers in a box) All I can say to that now is ...
They're not quite finished yet, (and I'll update this when they are) but I've added the slip feathers, purely for the aesthetic of them, and rather than have them flat, I put them at an angle just to add detail.
I mentioned earlier that there was a funny story related to me making the puzzles. As I mentioned, I was prompted to make these having seen the picture on a friend's Facebook. After posting pictures of the copy I'd made, the friend who had the picture sent me a message asking if I could send him measurements of the puzzle, so he could make his own. He didn't have a copy, and seeing me making my copies kicked him into deciding he should make his own copy, since he'd been meaning to do it for a while. So, I was prompted into making a copy having seen his photo, which prompted him ... Well it amused me at least!
When it comes to co-ordinate motion puzzles, the master is generally regarded as Vinco, however Gregory Benedetti has been doing a lot of work in creating clever dissections which require co-ordinate motion. I was lucky enough to pick up a couple of his puzzles last year from Bernhard over at Puzzlewood. Seems that I've had them long enough that I should really write about them!
Gregory himself admits that he was influenced by Vinco, and his work on co-ordinate motion puzzles, which gave him the push to try to create some co-ordinate motion puzzles himself. There's a great interview by fellow blogger Saul on his blog Seeking Ariadnes Thread with Gregory if you'd like to read about Gregory's thoughts. It's a great read and I highly recommend it.
Little Slide Plank
The first, and smaller of the two puzzles is "Little Slide Plank" which is about as minimal as you can get from a co-ordinate motion puzzle. This three piece, 2x2 cube with one small void in the centre is a pretty elegant puzzle. It's only 2" cubed, made with a contrasting wood for the planks. If I were to guess, I'd say Ash for the main pieces, and Mahogany for the planks.
While many people shy away from co-ordinate motion puzzles due to the challenge of reassembling them, this is great for any level of puzzler. The unique dissection leaves you with some very interestingly shaped pieces, and while it's not difficult to take apart or re-assemble, it has that fiddle factor that makes a great puzzle. You just want to pick it up and play with it.
The pieces themselves are interesting, and all unique making this a very pleasing design. As I mentioned, it's not difficult to find the correct orientation to put the pieces back together, and unlike many co-ordinate motion puzzles, you don't need a third (or fourth) hand to get it together, nor the dexterity and precise positioning that is needed from some other puzzles in this category. Overall, I highly recommend it
6 Piece Cube
The other design from Gregory is his "6 Piece Cube". Interestingly, this cube is missing a couple of cubies, meaning it's not really a cube, but I'll not fault the design name based on that. Those missing cubies are very useful! This is the slightly larger of the two puzzles, at just under 2.5" cubed made from walnut and Maple, the contrast of the checkerboard appearance is a good look.
Being a six piece puzzle, the difficulty in this one does go up a notch. Finding the correct grip on the puzzle to allow the pieces to start sliding past each other can be challenging until you know how to hold the puzzle, as often you'll find a finger is blocking the motion you need. Remember I said those missing cubies were useful?
Once you find the correct axis, the pieces will side past each other, creating some interesting triangular geometry in the voids between pieces. As with any other co-ordinate motion, the puzzle expands in size, right up tot the point where it falls apart in your lap. My copy is very well made, with excellent tolerances. The puzzle is tight as it expands, allowing the pieces to hold onto each other until the very last fibers before they crumble into a pile of six pieces.
The pieces in this puzzle are made from two sets of congruent pieces. It's not too hard to see how the pieces go back together, however with six pieces, it takes a little longer than it does with the first puzzle. Then the real challenge starts. Once you have found the correct orientation, getting all the pieces back together is far more challenging. The puzzle needs to be expanded to near collapse to allow a piece to be inserted, and the easiest way I found was to add one piece at a time ... so I had to do this more than once, and try not to mishandle a piece and put myself right back to the start of the assembly.
It's a much more challenging puzzle, but has a great motion as it comes apart, and is achievable by most people. An experienced puzzler should have no problems, and will enjoy the interesting geometry in the puzzle. I do hope Gregory continues his exploration of the co-ordinate motions, as these two puzzles are a great start!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.