Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
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.



27Feb/121

Sun

Sun is a very interesting interlocking puzzle designed by Jos Bergmans. Two separate pieces which form almost closed loops require to be connected in such a way that the two semi-circles end up fitting together to form a completed circle, the sun.

The two pieces of the Sun

The two pieces of the Sun

The copy I have is made by Eric fuller and was offered in his most recent set of puzzles at Cubic Dissection. Made from Sapele with a Maple veneer for the sun the puzzle measures 2.6" x 3" x 3" so it's a good size and the construction is superb. Eric hand glued each joint, including a couple of triple mitre joints using a granite plate and a machinists square to ensure that every joint was at exactly at right angles, and it really shows in the finished puzzle. Attention to detail is superb. Three different wood combinations were available when Eric produced the Sun, including the inverse of my copy, Maple with a Sapele sun, and Walnut with a Maple sun. As always Eric has signed and dated the puzzle. 36 copies were made available.

Sun Partially Solved

Sun Partially Solved

The goal of the puzzle is to interleave the two pieces of the puzzle, to create one solid object where the two halves of the sun line up. Looking at the pieces, they initially seem like closed loops so joining them together at all seems impossible. With a little study though, there is one place where the two pieces will allow for an initial move to link them together, and that's where the fun starts.

Normally with this sort of rectilinear puzzle, some of the pieces have rounded edges, or parts of the edges have been taken away to allow the pieces to move past each other, such as the Cast Coil from Hanayama. This puzzle however has no corners or edges rounded, and all the moves, slides and rotations happen because there's just enough room for the pieces to move past each other, making this as close to a perfect example of this style of puzzle as is possible.

Sun in its solved state.

Sun in its solved state.

Once you have the two pieces intertwined, there's a couple of easy rotations, then you find yourself at a dead end. (At least I seem to every time I solve this puzzle!) I've solved it a good few times now, and each time I spend several minutes trying to figure out where to go next. There are a good few dead ends in the puzzle, so the challenge is fairly good. I seem to go though the same set of wrong moves at the start each time before finding that magic move and from there the solution seems to just flow, and I have it solved very quickly thereafter. I took around 20 minutes to solve this for the first time, but each time after that it still takes me 10 minutes, so I'd say is has some good replay value.

Taking the two pieces apart seems much easier than putting them together, so I'm glad that Eric shipped the puzzle in its unsolved state. It's a really fun puzzle, and very well made. I'm happy to have been able to get a copy of this for my collection.

One of the triple mitre joints

One of the triple mitre joints

As I mentioned earlier, the detail and quality of the work in this copy of the puzzle is superb. Just look at the triple mitre joint above, and you'll see what I'm talking about. Despite Eric commenting that the construction was painstaking, I think he's right to be very pleased with how these turned out!



24Feb/121

Havanas #1 & #2 – Chris and Heather

Eric Fuller recently started producing a series of Cigar Puzzle boxes, in honor of his local cigar bar Havana Deluxe. I have been lucky enough to get my hands on the first two puzzles in the series, the 'Chris', named after the doorman, and the 'Heather' named after one of the part-timers behind the bar.

Chris on the left, and Heather on the right

Chris on the left, and Heather on the right

As you can see both boxes look stunning, and as other people who have these have commented, the photo's don't really do the boxes justice. I've tried to get as close to the actual colour of the box as possible with the photographs, but I still think the actual box is better looking. (Sorry)

Havanas #1 -The Chris

Havanas #1 - The Chris

Havanas #1 - The Chris

Eric has this to say about Chris:

"One of my favorite activities is to have a big, stinky cigar after a long day in the shop...generally enjoyed at my local cigar bar, Havana Deluxe. I've been wanting to make a puzzle box that will hold a cigar for some time now. A while back I was talking to the owner about it and we decided that I would make not just one cigar box, but a series of them! Each box will named after one of the people working there. And thus was born the Havana's Puzzle Box series. This is the first box in the series...Havana's Box #1 - "The Chris"...named after the doorman.

The designs will start off fairly easy in difficulty, and get harder over the course of the series. This first box is therefore not super complicated, but it does have a nice "twist" to it as well as a sophisticated and compact locking mechanism concealed inside. The entire lockworks are contained in the endblocks, measuring 1"x1"x.45 inch. This makes the box nice and compact."

Chris is crafted from Quatersawn Sapele, and if you know anything about wood, it is most stable dimensionally when cut quartersawn. The top and bottom use cross grain Wenge veneer (have a look at my recent table project to see the face grain) to really make the box pop. The stunning contrast in the striped grain is really beautiful and Eric has used it to full effect in this box.

Don't be put off by this being veneer rather than solid wood. To have tried to create the top and bottom from crossgrain Wenge there would have been no strength to the box, and it would have snapped as soon as you looked at it, so this was a great choice.

The box measures 7.25" x 1.5" x 1.5" so holds the cigar comfortably, and in fact has a fair bit of spare space inside to hold a larger specimen. Only 40 were made and each is signed and dated as is Eric's usual custom.

Having waffled for long enough about the wood, and the reason behind the box, what is it like as a puzzle I hear you shout... Well, I really like it. At first, nothing seems to move much and as you turn it around in your hands, you'll find a small amount of movement, but not enough to be apparently useful.

A glimpse, but not enough to remove the prize

A glimpse, but not enough to remove the prize

With some more fiddling, the box starts to tease you with a glimpse of the cigar contained within, but you're not getting it out without snapping it, so more work is required. Before too much longer you should be able to fully open the box, and remove the cigar undamaged.

The Cigar free from the box

The Cigar free from the box

As the first in the series, Chris isn't too difficult to open as Eric himself commented, and is really here to give a feel for what's coming. I took around 10 minutes to open the box for the first time, but now that I understand the mechanism, I can open it in a few seconds. I love the mechanism, and even though it's entirely hidden from view once the box is open, you should be able to figure out what's going on inside those end panels. This is a great start to the series!

Have a look at what the rest of my puzzle friends are saying about Chris... Allard, Brian and Rox's thoughts.

Havanas #2 -The Heather

Havanas #2 - The Heather

Havanas #2 - The Heather

Eric has this to say about Heather:

"The second in the Havanas Box series is named the "Heather", after the one of the friendly part-timers behind the bar. It's a step up in difficulty from the first box...easy enough to get started but then a few moves in you hit a wall. The solution is fairly unique and I think it will be a lot of fun to discover. Tough to say much more about it without giving a lot away...all I can say is pay attention and the solution will match your observations."

This time, there were two options offered. The one I have is made from Quartersawn Sapele and has a Quilted Primavera veneer to the top. The quilting which looks like waves in the wood is easiest to see in the first picture in this post. The other option was with a Bleached Lacewood veneer on the top, however those sold out very quickly. There are still two of the Primavera boxes left if you're quick on Cubic Dissection (and I'd highly recommend these so don't miss out!). 45 were made in total, and they're all signed and dated.

Measuring 6.5" x 1.3" x 1.5", Heather is more petite than the doorman Chris (which is probably a good thing), and is certainly a more snug fit for the cigar contained within than Chris was.

Hitting a dead end

Hitting a dead end

As Eric mentioned, fairly quick progress is made for at least the first few moves, then you seem to end up stuck with only the tip of the cigar visible, and the handy matches that Eric has put in the box for you to light your cigar if you manage to get it out!

The Cigar free from the box

The Cigar free from the box

The mechanism is certainly unique, and Eric has disguised the next steps beautifully. I'll not say anything more about how to proceed as I really don't want to give anything away, but I really like what Eric has done with the puzzle, and think it's a fun progression from Chris. You'll certainly need to look closely, and think about what you could possibly do to successfully open this box!

Just to give a quick comparison between the boxes, here's a couple of shots showing the difference in sizes between them.

Size comparison between Chris and Heather

Size comparison between Chris and Heather

Size comparison between Chris and Heather

Size comparison between Chris and Heather


These are great puzzles, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the puzzles in the series. Keep up the great work Eric, can't wait to see what you do next.



18Sep/111

Tier Box by Eric Fuller

Tier Box is a Japanese style sliding panel puzzle box with a few unique touches, designed and made by Eric Fuller back in September 2009. The 18th marks its two year birthday, so I though it appropriate to add this review today.

The box measures 3.2" cubed and is made from Quartersawn Bubinga for the outer panels, and Quartersawn Paduak for the internal panels. Along with that there's a few magnets and some metal pins thrown in for good measure. 14 moves are required to open the box to reveal the space inside, and the same again to close it. Despite opening it fairly quickly, I must confess, it took me many more than 14 moves to close this one back up!

Eric has this to say about the box:

I am very happy with the results of this, my latest puzzle box. The design originates from a sketch I made in Chicago sometime during IPP23. It combines several ideas I have been wanting to implement in a sliding panel puzzle box. The solution requires 14 moves, but those moves are anything but straightforward and are at times downright devious. I had the pleasure of watching many puzzlers attempt to solve it during the course of IPP29, so I can say that difficulty wise it's a nice 15 minute solve for most puzzlers, with several ah-ha's to spice things up. Fully understanding the interactions between all the panels will likely take quite a bit longer.

Tier Box in its closed state

Tier Box in its closed state

There were only 34 copies of the box made, so I have to once again thank Derek for lending me his copy to puzzle over. It's a fun box, and very solidly built. As Eric notes himself, fully understanding the interactions of all the panels certainly does take some time. I was able to open the box without too much trouble, finding it a fairly simple progression from one step to the next. Closing however was not the same story. I probably spent around 5 minutes opening the box, and well over 20 closing it again. At one point I thought I was going to have to give it back to Derek open as it didn't look like I could figure out how to close it!

So from that experience it's a challenging little box. The panels interact in interesting ways with each other, and the only way to truly say you've solved it is in understanding all the interactions. Despite the pins being around 1/16", they really do get in the way!

Tier Box opened, showing the bright Paduak insides

Tier Box opened, showing the bright Paduak insides

One of the beautiful things about the choice of wood here is that the internals of the box being made from Paduak, are protected from UV, so have retained their beautiful Orange/Red colour which will normally fade to a dark brown if exposed to the sun. It's a nice touch to have this colour screaming at you when working on the box.

My only criticism with the mechanism is that the thin sliding panels used in the internals of the box are fairly tight. While this is normally a good thing in a puzzle box, meaning the panels don't rattle around of their own accord, I found that this worked against me when trying to close the box, as my fingers couldn't push one of the internal panels far enough to slide it to where it needed to be through the small gap left when the outer panels were positioned in the correct locations. In the end, I had to get a small tool to help.

Overall, a superb box, that adds a few surprises to a standard sliding box, and creates a satisfying puzzle.



7Sep/110

Zauberflote – Magic Flute

Eric Fuller recently offered a few new puzzles through Cubic Dissection and I picked up "Zauberflote" designed by Gregory Bendetti as well as "Stand Py Me" which I reviewed recently. Both puzzles sold out very quickly.

Zauberflote translates as "Magic Flute" and is an opera in two acts composed in 1791 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Gregory wanted to make a series of puzzles which had a link to the opera which he enjoys.

Zauberflote - Königin der Nacht pieces

Zauberflote - Königin der Nacht pieces

In a change from my usual style, I'm not showing the completed puzzle at the top of the post, but rather the pieces. I'll get to the reason why soon enough. Eric has created this 4 piece version of Zauberflote from acrylic and yellowheart, and describes it as a pocket puzzle, given that its full length is just 2.25". Gregory gave the four piece version the full name "Zauberflote - Königin der Nacht", and each of the puzzle in the series with a different number of pieces in the flute has a different sub-name. I really like the use of the acrylic here, as even when the puzzle is solved (as you'll see below) you can still see the internal burr of the wooden pieces, which is a nice touch. Eric made 45 copies of this puzzle, and they are all signed with Eric's usual squiggle.

I spent about 30 minutes working on this puzzle, and after a few false starts I found a way to get all the pieces in place and the flute shape (or possibly more of a set of pan pipes) is easy to see. When I was solving it, I started by putting the smallest piece in first, and I required a couple of rotations to get the pieces into their final location.

My solution requiring rotations

My solution requiring rotations

Feeling quite happy with myself I put the puzzle aside for a few days. When I came back to it, I opened the trusty Burr Tools and created a model of the puzzle there. Now I fully expected burr tools to be able to put the pieces in place, but I didn't expect it to be able to give me an assembly given that rotations were needed (when I solved it). To my surprise, Burr tools came back with 72 solutions and one assembly!

Solution found by Burr Tools

Solution found by Burr Tools

Burr tools notes a 14.4.2 assembly and shows that it is possible to solve the puzzle without using rotations as I had. If you look very closely at the two images, you'll see that the internal burrs are in different locations showing that clearly it's a different solution. Also Burr Tools puts the largest piece in first, although I believe it is possible to insert the pieces in any order.


So having used burr tools, I think there are more solutions than it shows, even without the rotations. I did talk with Gregory as to whether rotations were intended, and he admitted that he hadn't checked for rotations, but it wasn't cheating, since I still solved the puzzle without forcing the pieces, and had found a solution that he hadn't. The solution with rotations is much shorter at 7.1.1.2 (if my counting is correct).

Overall, this is a fun puzzle, which isn't too hard and is very nicely made by Eric.