No, this isn't a post about how I had a hard life growing up, or anything of that nature. I had a pretty happy childhood as it happens. Most of you will know already, that this is one of Stewart Coffin's puzzle designs, #41 in his numbering system, consisting of 10 pieces, made from 5 cubes each, which come together to form a 5x5x2 rectangle with a checkerboard pattern.
This particular copy was made by me and is made from Rosewood and Maple, with a Myrtle Burl box. It measures 3.7" x 3.7" x 1.5" for the pieces, and 4.25" x 4.25" x 1.7" in the box.
This is a pretty tough puzzle to solve, as there is only one solution where you end up with the checkerboard pattern on both bottom and top as you can see in the picture above. There are however 2,408 possible solutions if you ignore the checkerboard. So no shortage of ways to get a 5x5x2 solution! (Stewart Coffin reports that "a computer analysis by Beeler, these pieces pack into a 5 x 5 x 2 box 19,264 different ways", however Burr Tools shows just 2,408)
The following is a look at the creation of this puzzle. Hope you enjoy!
This is one of the puzzle designs that I had been looking at making for a while, since it seems no-one has made any in some time, and I don't have one in my collection. Really that's where this all started, looking to add a new puzzle to my collection, and having spent (far) too much on puzzle already this year, what better way than to make it myself.
So the puzzles that I'm making currently are all cube based, and that's where it all starts. 50 wooden cubes, 25 Rosewood, and 25 Maple is the starting point for the UC. The darker tops on some of the Maple cubes at the bottom of the picture is actually the natural wood. Since I love the look of wood, I'm not selectively removing pieces which don't look perfect. After all each puzzle is unique given the grain and natural colour of the wood, which is something I love. When I put the pieces together, I'll orient the pieces so that very little of this is visible, because I'm really aiming for the contrast between the two woods in this puzzle. If the couple I've made, only one has this distinctive colouring on some of the pieces.
This is one of the most time consuming parts of the process (currently). I have to take all 50 cubes, and put a very small bevel onto each edge of the cube. All in all it takes between 1.5-2 hours with my current method. There's been a fair old discussion in one of the puzzling forums about beveling cubes, so I'm sure I can cut this down significantly, but that's going to need a new jig, and some more tools in the shop so for now I'm stuck with what I have.
If you're interested, the checkerboard piece of wood in the pictures isn't some sort of template, it's actually what will become the base of the box that the puzzle sits in. I just happened to be working on it at the same time, hence it ended up in the pictures.
Next up I made the 10 pieces of the puzzle from those 50 cubies, and as it happens I don't have any pics of the process. I'll need to take a few from the next one I make and update this at a later point. Anyway with that done, I turned my attention to the box. I now had dimensions for the box, based on the final size of the pieces, so I took the burl I was using to the saw, and cut it to the right lengths for the box, and created a dado in the edges of two sides, to allow me to get a stronger joint for the corners.
Despite the very small contact area, wood glues are remarkably strong, and will hold the frame together with no issues. In fact, to take it apart would probably break the wood, before the glue would let go. Using blue tape, I tape the corners, (no clamping required) and that will hold the box well enough for the glue to set. I do a quick check to make sure that the corners are square, and leave it to dry, while I turn my attention to the base.
As you can see, the base is unfinished. The pencil marks were to allow me to line up each of the strips for gluing everything together. As you can see I still have some sanding to do, since there's glue and all sorts on the base. Thanks to the random oscillating hand sander I got for my birthday, it will make short work of that!
With the sanding done, I have a quick dry fit with the pieces in place to make sure everything fits as expected before gluing the base in place. Note at this point, Ive sanded the inside of the box to its final point, as it will be pretty touch to get into the corners once it's all glued together, so best do that before the final glueup.
It's probably worth pointing out at this stage, that I've spent around 3-4 hours making this box. Given that I decided I wanted a checkered base, that meant cutting thin, equally sized strips, gluing them together, then cutting them into strips once dry, flipping the strips to create the checkerboard, and re-gluing, then sanding, etc etc. All in all probably the most labor intensive part of the puzzle build, but hopefully worth it!
With all the individual pieces ready, it's time to look at finishing the puzzle. The box was all sanded on the outside, and it's looking pretty good. I start off by applying a coat of thinned lacquer to all the pieces. It's 1 part lacquer, 2 parts thinner that I'm using. It gives a very thin coat, but does the job or really making the grain pop. If you compare this to the pictures of the dry fir you'll see what I mean.
Once that's dry, the puzzle gets two coats of wax. I'm using a liquid wax, Watco Satin Wax to do the job. I leave the wax for around 5-10 minutes, then wipe off any excess with a rag. This is building up a nice finish on the pieces, but there's still one more step to complete the process. That's a final buffing with some Renaissance Wax.
The final puzzle ready to be played with!
So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed the build as much as I enjoyed making it.
a DIY Puzzle Box
Bruce makes a large number of puzzle box designs, and supplies plans for you to cut your own pieces. He uses an interesting measuring system based on the thickness of the wood, so you can use any stock you have as long as you mark everything up based on thickness.
Rather than cutting all the pieces myself, I purchased the pre-cut kits to make my life easier. I didn't really feel like spending days cutting all the parts myself, not to mention that some of the pieces are pretty small, making for some challenging cuts.
The video shows the full process from start to finish, using time-lapse. Overall, it took around 2.5 hours actually working on the kit. Including time for the glue to dry, it was around 5 hours.
Overall, it's a good kit, despite the small issue I had. Since I'll be receiving some replacement parts to fix that issue, I really can't complain. If you're thinking about getting one of these, I highly recommend the kit as it's both well made, and Bruce's instructions are pretty easy to follow. There's minimal sanding needed, so pretty much anyone should be able to build on of these, and get pretty good results at the end.
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.
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!
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.
My first home built Puzzle
After the successes with creating both Square Sticks and Cubes, I had to go do something with them; and see if I could create a puzzle. I decided to make some of Stewart Coffin's designs, and having been in touch with him, he very graciously gave me permission to try to recreate any of his designs, and encouraged me to do so. With that endorsement, I was off and running. Well, almost!
I had to work out which puzzle I was going to create. There's so many to choose from that it's not an easy decision. In the end, I decided to create something that I didn't already own, so I'd be adding to my collection if it turned out to be any good. So I settled on a copy of STC #214, the Involute puzzle. The Involute is the third in a series of puzzles from Stewart Coffin, each an improvement over the predecessor.
The first was Convolution, a 4x4 interlocking cube which requires a rotation in the solution. Due to the rotation, some material needs to be removed from one of the cubes in the solution (if you have a tight fit) to allow the rotation to happen. You can read my review here. Stewart Coffin notes that given the rotation, and the nature of cubes (which don't like to be rotated when hard against one another), that this design could be improved. In his book "The Puzzling World of Polyhedral Dissections", he leaves it to the reader to see if they can find a solution to this problem.
At the same time, Stewart Coffin had already solved the problem, and created STC #198, Involution. Again a 4x4 cube with a rotation required in the solution, but this time because of the design of the dissection, no material needs to be removed from the pieces to allow the rotation. I'll not give away how this is done, as it would spoil the puzzle, but I will say it's a simple and clever solution! I was able to play with one of Scott Peterson's copies that he had made on my recent visit to see Scott, so I can say I've solved both the Convolution and Involution puzzles at this point.
The third in the series is STC #214, Involute. This is the final puzzle in the series, and is again an improvement over the Involution and Convolution. Again there is a rotation required in the puzzle, and again, no material needs to be removed for the rotation to take place. There's an extra trick in this puzzle, that I'll get to in a bit which makes it just that bit more devious.
All three puzzles in the series look identical from the outside, each having the same cross pattern on all six faces, so without knowing which puzzle you have in your hand, it could easily be any one of the three. Have I mentioned that this Coffin is a devious bloke?
Thanks to Allard and Kevin who both reviewed their copies of the Involute puzzle, I was able to model the pieces in burr tools, and from that create myself a parts list and a gluing diagram to be able to build the puzzle.
Given that it took several hours to create the diagrams, including the time to create the model in burr tools and so on, I'm not going to give you the whole thing. Not to mention it would spoil how to solve the puzzle (or would it - I'll come back to that thought). But the image above gives you an idea of what I created.
With the design in hand, I went off to the saw, and using the crosscut sled and my stops, I cut all the necessary cubes to make the puzzle. There's quite an array of pieces there when you see them all sitting together. Also in the picture is one jig I hadn't talked about previously. This is my cube gluing jig. It's not overly complicated, just three pieces of MDF cut and glued together to hold a 4x4 cube cut to my 3/4" stick size which has all edges at 90 degrees, and has been waxed to prevent any glue from sticking to it. I also have three 'end panels' which will distribute the clamping pressure evenly across all the blocks so as not to twist the blocks while the glue dries.
At this point I made something of a realisation. Sitting looking at this array of blocks, and my gluing diagram, gluing up one of these puzzles is hugely complicated. You're working in three dimensions gluing any number of pieces together, all of which needs to be accurate, and with no glue squeeze-out. If you thought Ikea furniture plans were Convoluted, then this is much more challenging!
Next up I placed all the pieces into the gluing jig, to match my plans. This serves a couple of purposes. Initially, it shows me how good the fit is, and also verified that my plans were correct (at least in as much that I had the correct number of pieces). The other benefit to the dry fit is that it allows me to select which pieces I want to put where in the puzzle. Looking at the grain in the wood, I can select the 'nicest' grain to be on the outside of the puzzle, or look at creating grain patterns by selecting pieces carefully from the pile. Given that this was a first ever attempt, I wasn't too concerned with the grain pattern, but I didn't entirely ignore it either.
Since this was the first glueup I'd be doing, I decided to go with gluing up two layers at a time. This meant that I didn't have to work quite as quickly to get the clamps on the jig to ensure that tight fit I was going for. Fortunately, the way the pieces go together, there is a flat surface after every second layer, which was ideal as a stopping point. I also have a smaller glue bottle, where I've decanted some of the glue from my big bottle. This small bottle has a fine nose, and is much easier to work with that the full sized bottle. Given the small amount of glue I'd need for each piece, this is the only way to work.
With all the pieces separated into layers, I was as ready as I was ever going to be to start putting this together into a puzzle. Fingers crossed!
Working reasonably quickly, I glued up the first two layers, and thanks to tips from Scott Peterson, I managed to do so with little to no glue squeeze-out. That's pretty important since any glue squeeze-out will glue blocks together that shouldn't be, making the puzzle unsolvable. You'll notice the fairly large block of wood on the top of the gluing jig in the photo on the right. That's because I only have two layers build at this point, so the puzzle is half way inside the side plates. I needed to add some height to be able to clamp the puzzle effectively.
After the glue had set, I came back and added the remaining two layers, building on the two I already had. This time, you can see that the puzzle fills all the space, and there are no extra spacers required. I then had to wait a few hours for the glue to dry properly before I could take the clamps off, and see whether I had created a puzzle or a paperweight.
They may have a been a few of the longest hours I have experienced in a long time. My fiancée was about ready to kill me, as I wanted to go take the clamps off and see what I had, she kept telling me to leave it alone. I was like a kid on Christmas morning waiting to see what presents I had. I could barely sit still! When things had been left for long enough, I was finally allowed to go take the clamps off and see what I had.
I should note at this point, that I have never solved an Involute puzzle prior to making this one. Given that rotations are required in the solution, Burr Tools can show that there is a solution, but it can't animate the assembly for you (or in my case the dissassembly), so I have no idea how to take the puzzle apart. I'm now in new territory, and given that I don't know how to take things apart, or whether the pieces are glued together correctly, and not glued to one another I know this is going to be interesting!
Since I know where the key piece is, I can remove that fairly easily, but then spend the next ten minutes pushing and pulling on various pieces hoping that something else will move in the puzzle. I can see that there is movement in the pieces, so at least it's not all glued together, but I am having real problems in finding the second move. The pictures that follow were taken by my fiancée, so are unedited as I make progress. That grin on my face is real!
As I mentioned, I've never solved the Involute before, so I had no idea how the puzzle was supposed to come apart. The key piece in the puzzle is really well hidden, and without knowing where it was I would have struggled to start, especially not knowing if the puzzle was entirely glued together at this stage. The second move is also very clever. One thing that Stewart Coffin regularly has in his designs is pieces which are created so that the average person will hold the puzzle in such a way that you will be holding the piece you need to move, effectively pushing the puzzle closed and preventing it from being opened. The Involute is no different, and has this very same trick to allow move two. The look on my face when what looked like half of the puzzle slid to the side perfectly must have been quite the picture. I think for me not only was I solving a puzzle for the first time, which always brings a smile to my face, but also it was a puzzle I had built, and seeing it work the way it is supposed to is an ever bigger achievement.
I took the puzzle fully apart, and was left with the eight individual pieces sitting on my sofa, with a huge grin on my face. I then realised that I had absolutely no idea how to put the whole thing back together! In my excitement of taking the puzzle apart, I wasn't paying any attention to how the pieces were coming apart! I then spent the next 15 minutes with my gluing diagram trying to put the puzzle back together. Remember I mentioned that having the full diagram may not help that much! I did get there, and the smile on my face seeing the puzzle back together was truly from ear to ear.
The rotation in the puzzle works perfectly, and I haven't removed any material from the rotational piece to make that move easier. The fit of the pieces is superb. It's difficult to tell individual pieces apart as you can see from the closeup above. This makes finding how the pieces come apart even more difficult that if the pieces fitted loosely together as there is no movement between the pieces. In case you're wondering, that tiny gap that looks like there's a chunk taken out of one of the pieces isn't tear-out as a result of a poor cut, but was some natural holes in the walnut. It's also worth noting here that there is no sanding done on any of the pieces, these are all straight off the saw. Many people in the puzzle community have noted that sanding reduces the accuracy of the pieces, and that a good clean cut can have every bit as good a finish as a sanded piece, perhaps better, since sanding is effectively scratching the surface.
To prove that it wasn't just a fluke and this was a one-off, I went off and created a second copy of the Involute. So what you're seeing here isn't some clever photography, but the two copies side by side.
And just to show that it works, there's a partially assembled version next to the fully solved cube.
I was really happy with the results. Over the weekend I produced two copies of the involute puzzle, and both have a very snug fit, and I'd be happy to add these to my collection. In case you're wondering, they're made from walnut with redwood corners. And not to sound like an American advert trying to get you to place an order for something you didn't want ...
But that's not all!
There's another of Stewart Coffin's designs that I've wanted to play with for a while. That's his "Half Hour Puzzle", STC #29. So I drew up the diagram for that, and made one of those too! The brilliant thing about the half hour puzzle is that even though Stewart coffin designed it to only have the cube solution, there are hundreds of possible solution shapes that can be made with the pieces. I've created a burr tools file with many of the solution shapes, so if you're interested in a copy of the file, just let me know.
So there you have it. Three puzzles in one weekend, all which I am very proud of, and is the start of hopefully great things. As Allard has put it, "One day there'll be a couple of us around who can say that we had one of the very puzzles created by someone the whole puzzling community now knows as the Juggler-guy! :-)" Maybe ... one day.
Many of you know me on a few of the forums around and about the puzzling community, and a fairly well known Puzzle Box maker, let's go with Allard's name for him and call him 'Stick guy' posted asking what I was up to. It's no secret I've bought a bunch of tools, and even started to use them to create the building blocks of puzzles, but I've never really mentioned what I was planning.
Well I answered Stick Guy's "challenge", and put up a brief summary of what I had been doing and what I was doing. You'll know if you're a regular reader that I designed a puzzle which I call Lock Cube some time back. I even prototyped it in Lego, then had it printed at Shapeways. Well at some point I'll be making it out of wood too. (At least that's the plan)
So here's where things get interesting, and when I get to the point of the title of the post. Seems like a few people out there are interested in owning a copy of my Lock Cube, when I make it.
Now at this point, many things go through my head, including a few that I can't print...
"Are you serious?"
"You really want one?"
"People want to own a puzzle I designed?"
"Is my puzzle good enough?"
"What will people think of it?"
The bottom line is that I was truly humbled by the response from quite a few people asking if I'd make a copy for them. I never expected to make more than just the one for myself, so this was a shock for me, and really left me not quite sure what to say. Quite impressive really since I've written an entire post about it!
So to everyone that has already shouted 'Me please' for a copy of a puzzle that I've not yet made from wood - Thank you.
If you want a copy, let me know. I'm not promising anything at this point, but I'll keep it in mind as I make those early copies.
A while back, I got in touch with Vaclav Obsivac and placed an order for several of his puzzles. Amongst those, I asked for a copy of the Twisted Half Cubes, and Diagra puzzles.
To look at, both of these puzzles look very similar. Indeed, they have the same basic idea at their root. Both puzzles have eight pieces which combine together to create solid cubes. The goal of the puzzles is to create various solid shapes with no 'legs' sticking out of the final assembly. This sounds pretty simple, but I can assure you that it's really not. In all honesty, putting the pieces back into the box provides a packing puzzle of its own, as the box is too small for all the pieces to be placed in without some level of interconnection!
All of the puzzles in this series are made from varying woods, and have been lightly waxed. No stains are used, so the natural wood is left on show, which is one of the factors that I really admire from Vinco's puzzles. As with all of the Vinco puzzles, these are made to the same high quality and tolerances that you'd expect from this master craftsman; and none are expensive at around €14 each. At that price, these are really hard to pass up.
The beauty of the set of these puzzles, which includes (naming just a few) the Diagonal Halfcubes, Vidly Halfcubes, Prism Halfcubes, Two U, Cubicula, Hooked Halfcubes and Handed Halfcubes, reviewed by Kevin (where he also reviews Diagra), is that you can own all of them and they all provide a new and unique challenge. Despite the basic idea being the same, each puzzle is a new challenge, and requires a new way of thinking to solve it. The partial list is shown in the chart here, along with not only the suggested solution shapes for each puzzle, but also how many different ways each shape can be created. There's a lot of puzzling possible and that's if you only try for the suggested solutions. Click on the image to the right to see a list of many of the puzzles in the series in a more readable size.
With the Twisted Halfcubes, the legs of the puzzles are all hook shaped, and hook around the small internal cube on another piece, linking the two puzzle pieces together in such a way that they will support each other. The differing angles at which the legs are attached make the problems more complex, as you need to find the right pieces to take the puzzle in the direction you need. In most cases, it's not possible to create a closed solution by simply adding the next piece to the previous in a sequential manner. Most closed loops need you to approach the puzzle by thinking about two halves which will rotate together into the final shape. I really like this feature as it adds an extra challenge to the puzzle space, and also limits the use of programs like Burr Tools for solving the shapes.
Vinco sets a number of possible solution shapes of which just a couple are shown above. The solution on the right shows how the pieces support themselves when placed together, so shapes where some pieces do not need to be resting against the desk are possible. I promise that there's nothing out of view of the camera holding the pieces up.
Similar in design to the Twisted Halfcubes, here the hooks have been replaced by square blocks, meaning that all pieces slide into each other. The difference here to the Twisted puzzle is that coordinate motion solutions are now possible, as the pieces are no longer hooked to one another but slide together. Again, the interesting location of the 'legs' makes for some challenging goal shapes and the approach to joining the pieces together is different from the previous puzzle.
I would say that the basic shapes are easier in Diagra, and perhaps this is a more enjoyable set to play with since it's faster to put the pieces together and take them apart than it is with Twisted Halfcubes. The challenge level does step up a notch when you start looking for the coordinate motion solutions though, so don't underestimate the challenge from this one.
As noted in the comments for the solution above on the right, a coordinate motion is required to make this shape. The image on the left shows how the three sub-units join together to make the final shape, and all slide together at the same time, with a satisfyingly smooth movement. Have a look at the very short video below to see this in action.
The beauty of these puzzles are that you're limited only by your imagination as to the shapes you can create. These make a great set of building blocks, and just playing with connecting them in different orientations is as much fun as trying to create the specific patterns on the short instruction sheet provided. I've spent a lot of time doing just this, and as such find it a great stress toy when it's a rough day at work!