Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
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!)



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.



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.