Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
3Feb/140

Havanas #3 – Mike

Seems like I've managed to get a little time free recently to play with the odd puzzle or two, and one I've been playing with on and off for quite some time is the latest puzzle box from Eric Fuller, in the form of the Havanas #3. Not only have I had time to play with a few of the puzzles in my backlog, but I even seem to have time to write about them!

Havanas #3 - 'Mike'

Havanas #3 - "Mike"

When Eric first offered these back in November of 2013, I had the choice of all three woods he'd made the puzzle in. From the choice of Birdseye Maple, Pink Ebony and Flame Maple, I opted for the Flame Maple.

No matter how hard I've tried, none of the photographs in this review do the puzzle justice. The Woods are simply stunning, and need to be handled to be appreciated. Sadly it seems there was a small error when Eric was making these, and he only had enough boxes to meet the pre-order quota of 50 boxes.

All three so far

All three so far

Measuring 1.7" x 1.9" x 6.4", this is the largest of the three Cigar boxes Eric has made so far, and given the trend, I'm not sure how large the next one is going to be. Strangely, despite this trend, the cigars inside the box haven't increased in size.

The box is made from quartersawn Sapele, which is remarkably stable, and allows Eric to make the box from fairly thin stock without worrying about the wood warping. Each box then has the fancy woods applied as thin veneer to each face. The Quilted Sapele on the sides has a fantastic appearance, and to my mind is complimented well with the Flame Maple on the top and bottom.

A few other puzzlers have already written about this puzzle, so have a look at the thoughts from Allard and Jerry.

I'm a little slower in writing about it, not because I've not been lazy, but because it's taken me this long to open it! Eric stated in the original information about the puzzle that "I've given the prototype to several friends to play with and it seems to take most of them roughly an hour to solve." Well I can say it took me several months to solve it. The first few moves are fairly simple, and won't challenge anyone who's played with a traditional Japanese puzzle box. After that, things come to a complete halt, and no further progress can be made.

Havanas #3 opened to release the cigar

Havanas #3 opened to release the cigar

Without giving too much away, there's something of a red herring in there, that threw me off for far too long. A non-puzzler would probably have opened the puzzle far faster. The final couple of moves are very well hidden, and the box gives absolutely nothing away as to how it will open.

In all honesty, this isn't my favorite of the puzzles in the Havanas series, and the first is still the best puzzle in my view. I'm looking forward to the fourth box in the series now, and just hope that I manage to open it a little easier than I did with #3.



15Sep/130

The Topless Box

I want to send a huge thank you to all my puzzling friends out there. As you know from my previous video, I got married last month and as a wedding gift, a number of my puzzle friends out there decided to get me a puzzle as a wedding gift. That puzzle was a copy of Eric Fuller's Topless Box along with a special something inside. So no pressure then as I had to open the box to get to the gift for Jen and I.

Topless Box by Eric Fuller

Topless Box by Eric Fuller

Have a look at the video review below to see a little more about the puzzle, and read on for my full review.

The Topless box is a 3" cube made from Striped Quartersawn Sapele, Quilted Maple and Paduak, not mahogany as I mentioned in the video. (Sorry Eric!) It's a stunning box to look at, and the shimmer from the Sapele as you move the box is really gorgeous. Given that it's designed to go inside the Apothecary Puzzle chest, the size was fixed based on the internal dimensions of the chest. That said, it's a great size in your hands and feels really solid.

As I mention in the video, there's a lot of magnets in this puzzle, and they're all pretty strong. You certainly have you be careful not to trap a finger in the sides, as this puzzle bites. The mechanism is very elegant, and although it has magnets in it, this isn't a puzzle which uses a pin and magnet requiring you to bang and tap the puzzle to free the lock. This is far more elegant, the only thing that banging or tapping this puzzle will get you is a sore hand.

Here's what Eric had to say about the puzzle: "The "Topless Box" is my contribution to the project. I originally was only going to make enough for the submission, but got pretty excited about the design once it was finished, and decided to make it a larger run. I've seen a fair number of boxes and this one has what I believe are some unique characteristics. Unfortunately I can't show much detail of the inside of the box without giving away the workings. I can say that the box has two lids, and neither a top nor a bottom. Figuring out how to deal with that conundrum will hopefully get you on your way..."

Top or Bottom?  Does it even matter?

Top or Bottom? Does it even matter?

Like Eric, I can't show you anything of the inside of the puzzle, as it really would give away what's going on, and as you know I don't like giving away solutions to puzzles. The Top and Bottom are held onto the box using some pretty strong magnets, and you'll quickly realise that they just lift off, leaving you with no sign of a way into the box. Playing around you see that this doesn't open like a traditional box, and you're really going to have to think outside the box to open it.

It's not an easy box to open, and you could easily spend hours going round in circles, and getting nowhere with this one. Once you do open it, you realise just how sneaky Eric has been, and this is quite an evil little box. There's only one way it will open, and there's no way to fluke opening it!

Great box, and highly recommended if you can find one.



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.



5Jul/121

Hinged Box

During the recent Baxterweb auctions I was fortunate enough to win a couple of puzzles. Hinged Box by Eric Fuller was one of those purchases.

Hinged Box - Eric Fuller

Hinged Box - Eric Fuller

This beautiful looking puzzle is made from figured Teak, and really stands out as a great looking box. Measuring 6" x 4.25" x 4.25" it's not a small box either, so it stands out on the puzzle shelves, despite being a fairly plain 'box'. The copy I have was listed as having a long scratch on it, but it took me quite some time to find it, and given that it's underneath the finish, I'm pretty sure it's been there since the box was made. Not that I'm complaining, it certainly doesn't take away from the beauty of the box at all. Eric made this box in several woods. Have a look in the Cubic Dissection Gallery to see all the combinations which were available originally.

So why is it called the "Hinged Box"? Well this photo of the back of the box should clear things up.

Hinged Box hinges - Eric Fuller

Hinged Box hinges - Eric Fuller

The back of the box shows two small brass hinges, and hint at the way the box will open. Of course, I've had puzzles before which have visible hinges at the back, and they were entirely red herrings, designed to throw you off. In this case however the hinges are real, and when you finally solve the puzzle, the lid swings open the way you'd expect.

I had this puzzle for several weeks before I solved it. My work schedule has been hectic (hence the lack of posts here) and as such I'd pick the puzzle up and play for a few minutes at night when I got home from work, but realise I was far too tired to apply logical thought to the box. As it turns out I found most of the solution fairly quickly. Some simple investigation will reveal a number of sliding panels, and a few panels which look like they should slide but don't. More poking and prodding will get the panels which didn't move freed up, and at that point I hit a dead end. I couldn't see any more forward progress, and as such went backward and forwards with the moves I had found for several days.

One evening a few weeks ago, I was having a fairly good night puzzle wise, and I can only attribute that to having had a Sunday off for the first time in weeks as I'd solved several puzzles that had been sitting on my unsolved table. I picked the Hinged Box back up and within a minute had found the move which was eluding me and had the box open.

Hinged Box opened- Eric Fuller

Hinged Box opened - Eric Fuller

I've been careful not to give anything away as to how the box opens in the photo above, but as you can see it opens the way you expect it to given the hinges. Overall, this is a really nice puzzle, and the final move is very well hidden, and in my opinion rather unexpected. Great puzzle Eric, and I'm glad to have one in my collection.



14Jun/122

California Puzzle Party – hosted by Nick Baxter

It's been a while since I've updated the blog, as I've been pretty busy with work, and with progress on a certain puzzle I'm making, but I thought this one was worth the wait. Before I say much more, I'll give you two pictures. As ever, click them to see a larger version...

Nick Baxter's entire collection of Stewart Coffin Originals

Nick Baxter's entire collection of Stewart Coffin Originals

Nick Baxter's entire collection of Stewart Coffin Originals

Nick Baxter's entire collection of Stewart Coffin Originals

Yes, that table, measuring probably 16' long is a lifetime of work from puzzle designer, builder and inspiration to many; Stewart Coffin. In a rare occurrence, Nick who graciously invited us to a puzzle party at his house, had the entire collection out and on display for cataloging. Not only that, but he was happy to let us play with the puzzles, and for others demonstrate some really unique movements to some plain looking puzzles. To see the collection through the pictures I took really doesn't do it justice.

The video shows a scan of both sides of the table, and hopefully gives a better idea of what's there. Obviously, the larger images below show the collection in more detail, but sometimes a video is more useful. Something incredibly interesting that a few of the people who were there commented on, including Scott Peterson, who is well known for some stunning Coffin reproductions was that the size of the puzzles gets smaller as the numbers get higher. Now this may fit with how many people thing about your skills as a wood worker progress over the years. Start big, get smaller as you go, but we came to a different conclusion. When Stewart started making puzzles, he was able to get his hands on lumber in much greater thicknesses than is readily available today. So as the years go on, and the lumber gets thinner, the size of the puzzle pieces you can make gets smaller. Maybe other people out there have thoughts, but that was ours!

The series of photos which follow, show the collection. Enjoy.

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

The collection

All I can really say personally is WOW. Thank you to Stewart Coffin for creating so many unique and beautiful puzzles for us to play with, and thanks to Nick for letting us see them!

Now that you've stopped drooling, the collection of Coffin's was only one small part of the day.

There were many familiar faces present, including Bram Cohen, Alan Boardman, Abel Garcia, Scott Peterson, Derek Bosch, Marc Pawlinger, Stan Isaacs and a few faces I didn't recognise. Nick's wife was also there, and had laid on quite a spread of food including some excellent chilli to keep the puzzlers well fed throughout the afternoon.

As this was the first time I'd been to Nick's house I had a good wander around to see what puzzling delights were on show. In the puzzle room there's quite a few familiar puzzles on display. I recognised a couple of Kagen Schaefer's boxes, as well as Berrocal's and many of Eric Fuller's puzzles, plus a pretty nice collection of Marcel Gillen's work. I didn't have time to play with many of the puzzles on the shelves, but I'll come back to the Marcel Gillen puzzles...

Nick's puzzle room

Nick's puzzle room

Nick's puzzle room - Berrocal

Nick's puzzle room - Berrocal

Nick's puzzle room

Nick's puzzle room

Nick's puzzle room

Nick's puzzle room


While I was browsing the room, Nick announced that he was going to be doing a guided solve of the Host gift from IPP 17, made by Gary Foshee. Well I didn't want to miss that, having seen the Trolly Car sitting on Nick's dining room table when I walked in. It is a sequential discovery puzzle where each part of the puzzle opened reveals new tools, or parts of tools which must be combined in some clever ways to be able to get to the next part of the puzzle. The object is to remove the four passengers, whose names are inscribed in plaques at their feet. I'll do a full review of that puzzle in part two of the writeup for the Puzzle party as I took pictures throughout the disassembly, but here's a couple of quick pictures to let you see just how much is hidden in the puzzle.

The IPP17 Host Gift

The IPP17 Host Gift

The IPP17 Host Gift

The IPP17 Host Gift

IPP 17 Host Gift

IPP 17 Host Gift

After Nick had spent 20 minutes or so taking the puzzle apart, with suggestions from the collected audience, a few of us remained around the table for the assembly process to restore the puzzle to its start point, including myself, Abel and obviously Nick. As we talked the topic of the Revomaze puzzles came up and I mentioned that I'd solved all so far except the Gold, and we discussed my thoughts on the series and also Gold Specifically. Abel asked when I'd received mine as he didn't have his and we talked a bit more as Nick struggled to remember exactly where each piece came from! After he was finished, he asked me to join him in the puzzle room, which of course I did.

The Gillen Collection

The Gillen Collection

There he picks up the small Marcel Gillen rolling pin puzzle and hands it to me asking "See what you make of that". So I start playing and quickly find that there's a maze in there, and the handle of the rolling pin is what is navigating the maze. Sound familiar? Anyway, after a couple of minutes, I find that there's a sprung pin in there which rides on top of a maze, and gives a distinctive click when you fall off, forcing you to back track to the start and retry. The weight of this puzzle is significant, certainly more than that of a Revomaze Extreme. I quickly find that I can navigate the maze, and moving slowly I can feel the edges of the maze much like you can with practice on the Revomaze. Nick mentions that the larger, entirely aluminium rolling pin is even heavier when I point this out. So I must have a go of that too! The larger one took it's toll on me. I ended up with my hands silver from all the aluminium dust having spent around half an hour working on it! I believe I made it around half way though the maze as I has able to get from the start to the other end of the pin consistently before falling off. Nick who's opened the smaller puzzle from IPP13 but only made it half way in the larger says he thinks that's around half way! For those who have solved a Revomaze, these puzzles significantly predate the revomaze, but lack the 'quick reset to start' found in the earlier Revo puzzles.

I did have a play with the much smaller, and lighter Eis Puzzle which I did solve. But I'll be going back to complete these rolling pins as I'm pretty sure with a little more time I can crack both of them!

Also on that Gillen table was a fair collection of the Chess pieces, so I took the much better picture above since I had remembered my camera that day, unlike the last time at Stan's

I also spent a while talking to Nick about the current Black Letter labs puzzle series as Nick and I are working together with a team of Renegades solving those. At this time, our team is #2 in the overall rankings with a combined solve time for the first 4 puzzles of 3 days, and it's been a lot of fun (When we finished both artifacts 3 and 4 we were briefly in first place overall). I'll write more about that in another post though.

I had a great day and it was good to see a lot of familiar faces. Come back in a few days when I'll hopefully be able to post the rest of the writeup, including some items from Alan Boardman and his miniature puzzles, and the Trolly Car guided solution.



24Apr/120

Tom’s Square Dance

In the most recent round of puzzles from Eric Fuller, he offered a few copies of Tom's Square Dance. Sadly I was too slow this time and didn't manage to get a copy myself. Fortunately my good friend Derek did get a copy, and he happily lent me the puzzle to play with! As the name hints, this is another great puzzle design from Tom Jolly.

Tom's Square Dance in Paduak and Holly

Tom's Square Dance in Paduak and Holly

The Puzzle measures 3.3" x 3.3" x 0.75" with the 'cubes' being 0.75". The goal of the puzzle is to remove the pieces from the frame and then return them back to their original positions. One of the corner blocks is held in place with a small magnet, and once removed the rest of the blocks can be slid around inside the frame. While it may sound like there's not much to this puzzle, you soon realise that there's more to it than it first looks.

First piece signed by Eric

First piece signed by Eric

The blocks are not simple pieces, and have various bits sticking out of them so that they both slide against each other, and interact with each other allowing and preventing various pieces from moving. To make things more interesting, hidden around the frame are various blocks which also prevent the inner blocks from moving around!

Closeup of the pieces showing solid construction

Closeup of the pieces showing solid construction

Eric really went all out in making this puzzle. Offered in two different frame options, Bubinga and Paduak, with Holly pieces, the contrast looks great. Over time, the Paduak frame will change from the bright red/orange it is now to a very dark brown. The beauty of this will be that the inner frame which is hidden from the light will remain bright orange, so on solving; it will make for a very pretty reveal.

The thing that really makes this special is that the puzzle pieces are all milled from solid pieces of holly, and not layered pieces glued together. As such the pieces are very strong, and the time to create these pieces is much more labor intensive than gluing the blocks together. Eric has created the pieces such that the tabs are several thousands of an inch thinner than the grooves they run in. The precision of the pieces is really stunning, and shows the quality of Eric's work. What it leaves you with is some really beautiful pieces, where the grain flows through the entire piece, something that could only be achieved with the time Eric put into the making of the puzzle.

The Second piece removed (oh, and the pic won't help you solve it!)

The Second piece removed (oh, and the pic won't help you solve it!)

To solve the puzzle, after removing the first block, it takes 8 more moves to remove the second piece, and as Allard and Oli have already commented in their reviews, the first piece comes out in a rather unexpected manner. It's not too difficult to remove the first piece, and the second follows not too long after that. I think the reason is that the obstructions as well as hindering also mean that there's a fairly linear path to follow to removing the pieces.

All the pieces removed

All the pieces removed

Putting the pieces back into the frame once you've taken them out and jumbled them up is a far greater challenge. It took me around 5 minutes to take the pieces out, but a couple of hours to get them all back in. It's not impossible, but certainly a good challenge.

It total, the solution is listed as a 1.8.5.3.4(.2.2.3.3). The part in brackets really doesn't count as there's so much space at that point, that things just fall out! To my mind there is really only one solution however, if you plug the pieces into burr tools once you've solved it, you'll find that it reports a second solution, with a different move count 1.8.5.3.2(.3.2.3.3). Now this alternate solution is actually identical to the original, the only change is that the two identical pieces in the puzzle are placed in the puzzle in a different order. Talking to Andreas about this, he notes that the tool will try to find a short path from the current point to removing the next piece. Depending on the state of the puzzle, this may be different, really only the count to remove the first piece is accurate.

I have to admit, I really enjoyed this puzzle. I think it's around the right level between frustration, difficulty and solvability. Eric's copy is superbly made, and while I'm a little sad I didn't manage to get a copy of my own, I'm very happy to have been able to play with it thanks to the kindness of my puzzling friends.

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