Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
16May/140

2 Halves Cage 4 A

Well that's a bit of a mouthful isn't it! 2 Halves is a burr puzzle designed by Gregory Benedetti, with my copy being made by the very talented Maurice Vigouroux. Back in November 2013, this came up for sale on Puzzle Paradise with a couple of options for woods used. Seeing the Ebony cage and Bloodwood pieces, I didn't hesitate, and bought it there and then. I certainly wasn't disappointed.

2 Halves Caged 4 A by Gregory Benedetti

2 Halves Caged 4 A by Gregory Benedetti

Despite not being particularly good with Burr puzzles, this doesn't look like a burr, and the jet black Ebony surrounding the deep red of the Bloodwood makes it look imposing. That's probably a good thing, as this is not a simple puzzle. It's not a small puzzle either. Each cubie is 7/16", making it 3" x 3" x 3" overall, meaning that Maurice was working with 1" thick stock to make the burr pieces. It's a great size and manipulating the pieces inside the frame is easy given the size of the pieces. It's heavy too. Ebony is a very dense heavy wood, so this puzzle has a really solid heft to it. The fit and finish are excellent with the Ebony being polished to a reflective shine. The pieces all slide past each other perfectly, and the tolerances are spot on.

The first night I spent around 40 minutes playing around with the puzzle and managed to create some space in the cage to move the burr pieces around a little, but I hit a dead-end and couldn't see a way to progress further. There seemed to be a huge amount of space in the puzzle, but the cage was still firmly held in place, and the was no way I was sliding any of the burr pieces out of the cage.

Partially solved with pieces sticking out like a Hedgehog

Partially solved with pieces sticking out like a Hedgehog

This carried on for a few days where I'd spend 20 minutes or so each night trying to make progress and really getting nowhere. As often happens, things got busy, and the puzzle was left on a shelf for a while with pieces sticking out of the sides, looking a little like a hedgehog. Recently I had a little free time, and picked this up again, since it was sitting looking at me and I felt bad that I'd not finished it.

After about an hour, I finally managed to shuffle the burr pieces into the right locations to be able to remove one half of the cage! Progress. It was quite the achievement to have made it this far, and spurred on by my success, I carried on to remove the rest of the pieces. I thought I was past the difficult part and the remainder was going to be easy. After all, I now had a lot of space, and removing the remaining pieces should be easy!

Isn't it great when you're totally wrong. The puzzle is a level 17.14.9.5.3 puzzle. So removing the first half of the cage, I'd only finished the first 17 steps. I had another 14 to remove the first burr piece, and then another 9 to remove the second. This is one tough puzzle. I spent another 15 minutes figuring out how to move the pieces around and take that first burr piece out of the remaining cage half, but I finally got there. Let's just say I didn't do it in just 14 moves!

Six burr pieces, plus the two cage halves

Six burr pieces, plus the two cage halves

As far as value for money goes, this has been a great puzzle. I've had a lot of puzzling time out of it, and I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. This is a little worrying for me, as I've never really found much fun in playing with Burr's. Maybe I've found something else that I do enjoy after all.

The 2 Halves is certainly a different style of Burr, with the cage interacting with the burr pieces in such a way that it really adds an extra challenge. The cage itself blocks your view of the voids in the burr, making it much more difficult to see how to progress, and it also adds some structure, keeping the pieces in the right locations without needing an extra hand to prevent them from falling or rotating into a position which makes it difficult to move the next piece.

Now, I freely admit that I'm not good enough with burr's to be able to re-assemble this one on my own. It was enough of a challenge to just take it apart. Not to mention that I didn't pay any attention to how the pieces came out, or the order, so I didn't even have a reference to how to put them back.

There's only one possible assembly out of 1,844 possible orientations of the pieces in the final shape, so it could take a very long time to put this back together with trial and error. I know when I'm beaten, and turned to the trusty Burr Tools to help. Even there it took me three attempts to get the pieces entered correctly for Burr Tools to be able to solve the puzzle. I have no idea how Gregory designed this, but I have to take my hat off to him. It's a great design, and I can't recommend it enough, even if you're like me, and are not a fan of Burr's normally.



12May/144

Six Piece Cube & Little Slide Plank by Gregory Benedetti

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!

Two Co-ordinate motion puzzles from Gregory Benedetti

Two Co-ordinate motion puzzles from Gregory Benedetti

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

Little Slide Plank by Gregory Benedetti

Little Slide Plank by Gregory Benedetti

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.

Little Slide Plank opening

Little Slide Plank opening

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.

Little Slide Plank pieces

Little Slide Plank pieces

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

6 Piece Cube from Gregory Benedetti

6 Piece Cube from Gregory Benedetti

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?

6 Piece Cube opening

6 Piece Cube opening

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.

6 Piece Cube pieces

6 Piece Cube 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!



5Apr/120

Daedalus

Daedalus is one of the IPP31 Design entries from Gregory Benedetti. A simple 3x3 cube where the goal is to take the pieces apart. As an eight piece puzzle, from the outside it doesn't seem that this can be too challenging, however as is so often true, this puzzle is far from simple! I was fortunate enough to be able to buy my copy from Puzzle Paradise when Gregory offered a few for sale there after the IPP.

Daedalus in Walnut

Daedalus in Walnut

Measuring in at just under 3" x 3" x 3" my copy is made from Walnut with some very interesting grain running through the cubes. Gregory made the puzzle available in a number of different woods including Marblewood and a few others. Made by Maurice Vigouroux this is a beautifully crafted puzzle with bevelled edges on each of the cubes and a mirror smooth finish to the sides of the cubes, which I've learned myself can only be achieved through very accurate cuts.

The puzzle consists of a main outer frame, with 7 moveable pieces contained within that frame. What makes this rather different to your standard 3x3 cube is that the pieces have rods and tracks embedded in them, making a maze of sorts through which the pieces must be moved in order to remove them from the puzzle. Of course this is made more challenging because the internal maze changes as you move the pieces around, since the maze is part of the pieces themselves!

Now if that wasn't hard enough, Gregory makes things more complicated (and removes the use of Burr Tools by throwing rotations into the mix too. When you find out how to move the pieces around you find that you have created enough space to allow some very interesting rotations to take place, including some that completely change the orientation (top->sides etc) of some pieces, which will either get you closer to the solution or just further lost in the maze.

Growing arms and legs to get the first piece out

Growing arms and legs to get the first piece out

The puzzle doesn't remain in a cube shape for long, and appears to grow arms and legs as you manipulate the pieces. It took me just a few seconds to find the first piece which moved, and then several minutes more before I found the second piece which would move. After this several more hours were spent sliding pieces back and forward, and exploring rotations and really trying to understand what is possible in the constraints of the pieces. Lets just say that there's plenty of dead ends, blind alleys and red herrings (yes, this puzzle is like the Tardis ... much bigger on the inside than the outside) to keep you busy. It certainly kept me busy for more than long enough. Taking 22 moves to remove the first piece it's no small challenge. In total there's 22.8.7.2.2*.1 to remove all the pieces. (* 2 pieces are removed at this point) I'd call that a challenge!

Daedalus open

Daedalus open

After several hours spent over several days, I had this puzzle open, and all the pieces out. As you can see all the pieces are unique, and other than the tracks that make up the maze, there are no internal voids when closed. Returning the puzzle back to the starting point is every bit as much of a challenge. Since it had taken me a couple of days to open this one, I had forgotten the orientation of the pieces and even which pieces came out first, so it took another few hours to get this even close to being a cube again. All in all great value.

The gaps between pieces

The gaps between pieces

One small issue in my copy is that the outer frame which forms the largest of the pieces isn't perfectly square which does mean that the pins can be seen through gaps in the cubes. While it doesn't prevent the puzzle working in any way, and certainly doesn't make things any easier, it does slightly spoil the surprise of finding out that this is not an ordinary cube, by giving that little secret away early.

Overall I really enjoyed this puzzle, and I'm very happy to have a copy. I know I'll keep going back to this one as the challenge is tough but not impossible, and the range of movement that is achieved is excellent, making you want to go back to it time and again, simply because you can't believe that some much complexity can fit into a 3x3 cube.

Thanks for this one Gregory, it's a great puzzle, and I love it.



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.



2Sep/111

Stand Py Me

Stand Py Me is a new puzzle from Gregory Benedetti. It's familiar shape is similar to Stewart Coffin's Three Piece Puzzle, however it comes as four pieces (plus the stand) not three, and every bit as challenging to solve.

Stand Py Me by Gregory Benedetti

Stand Py Me by Gregory Benedetti

This version was made by Eric Fuller, and stands at 2.75" with a Wenge frame and Zebrawood and Maple blocks to make the pyramid shape. Gregory comments that the name is a play on words; the Py, not coming from Pi (3.14159265...) but Pyramid. It's as though a Pyramid is saying "Put me on a stand". Well regardless of how it was named, it's a fun name, and really fun puzzle.

The blocks which make up the puzzle are all joined on a half face or quarter face making for some interestingly shaped pieces. The puzzle is made significantly harder by the addition of the frame. It's fairly easy to create a pyramid of the blocks outside the frame, but doing it so that the pieces are captured inside the frame is a lot tougher.

Four pieces, plus the frame.  Signed by Eric

Four pieces, plus the frame. Signed by Eric

To get all the pieces in place, you need to move them around much like a standard Burr puzzle, which leads to a 5.1.2 solution. In case you're not familiar that means 5 moves to insert the first piece, one for the second and 2 for the third. So it's a tricky puzzle, and took me around 40 minutes to solve it the first time. Now knowing how the pieces fit it takes just a few seconds, although I keep putting the pieces in 'upside down' so I don't end up with the Zebrawood pieces in the corners the way it was made to be.

Having solved it, I modeled the puzzle in Burr Tools, and it confirms the 5.1.2 difficulty, and also points out that there are 2 solutions (not including rotations) but only one assembly.

Eric made 30 copies of Gregory's design and has signed and dated them. I picked mine up at a recent Puzzle Paradise auction, although they all went very quickly. This is a really well made puzzle, and the choice of woods really shows it off well.

Interestingly, the puzzle doesn't hold itself inside the stand overly well, and wants to fall out of the gaps, meaning that you really need to turn it upside down and hang it to get it to keep its shape. Not a problem, but it is something that even Gregory admits himself.