Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
7Sep/111

A Humbling Experience

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.

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25Aug/111

Vinco’s Twisted Halfcubes & Diagra

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.

Vinco's Twisted Half Cubes in the box

Vinco's Twisted Half Cubes in the box

Vinco's Diagra in the box

Vinco's Diagra in the box

Packing the pieces back into the box is a puzzle of its own!

Packing the pieces back into the box is a puzzle of its own!

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 Halfcubes sets

The Halfcubes sets courtesy of Vinco's website

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.


Twisted Halfcubes

The eight pieces of the Twisted Halfcubes puzzle

The eight pieces of the Twisted Halfcubes puzzle

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.

Twisted Half Cube, Super Cube Solution

Twisted Half Cube, Super Cube Solution

Twisted Half Cubes 'Z' Solution

Twisted Half Cubes 'Z' Solution

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.

Diagra

The eight pieces of the Diagra puzzle

The eight pieces of the Diagra puzzle

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.

Diagra Super Cube solution

Diagra Super Cube solution

Diagra 'Heart" solution which required coordinate motion

Diagra 'Heart' solution - requires coordinate motion

Coordinate motion solutions in Diagra!

Coordinate motion solutions in Diagra!

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!

You can order these puzzles directly from Vinco or through Puzzle Master, and I highly recommend any of the Halfcubes series. I will certainly be picking up more of them myself.



25Apr/112

Building a Matrioshka (Part 1)

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Building a MaTRIOshka

I've had a bit of a break from working on my own puzzles, as work and life in general have been rather hectic meaning I've just not had the time. However over the Easter weekend, I had three whole days that I could do something puzzle related. I've still not been able to pick up some wood to get back to working on my burr cube, however I did have a lump of oak left over from the box project my oldest son wanted to make as a birthday present.

After reading Kevin's review of the Matrioshka here. I noticed that the puzzle is entirely made of triangles. Now I just happened to have a number of leftover 'scrap' that would fit the bill perfectly from the box. So I sat down with a pencil and paper to figure out how Vinco created his box, and see if I could replicate it.

Note: This project is purely for my own learning, and experience in working with wood to build puzzles, at the scale I need to be working at to create my own puzzles. This is not for sale. If you like Vinco's puzzles, please buy them, they really are great puzzles, and the craftsmanship is superb. I own several of Vinco's puzzles, and highly recommend them.

With all that said, on to the build ...

To break down how the puzzle is built, we need some good photos. Kevin happened to upload some excellent pictures, and I'll not repost them here. Go read his review and have a look if you're interested. The bottom line is that the outer shell is made of 54 idential pieces. They are equilateral triangles on the edge, with a piece length that is twice the length of the side. So, I set about creating 54 identical pieces.

The first thing was to cut the wedge shaped strips of wood which I would eventually cut to the correct length. I took out my mitre saw, and set about making the cuts. One small issue I had was that the amount of the blade in contact with the wood generated a lot of heat, which warped the strips I was cutting. As a result, I had to tape two together as they cooled to make sure the wood was going to end up straight again when I was ready to cut it to length.


With all the strips cut, I had to cut them down to the correct size for each piece. I measured one piece, cut it and checked that it was exactly right. With that done, all I had to do was clamp down a stop, put a sacrificial fence in place and start cutting. As you'll see from the photo, I used a scrap piece of wood as a zero tolerance fence to avoid chipout on the pieces I was cutting. It just saves some time later.


After about half an hour, I had a reasonable pile of pieces next to me, and it was time to do a little rough sanding before gluing up the pieces.


With the rough edges sanded down so that things were a bit neater, and all the pieces labelled to make the glue-up easier, it was time to get the clamps out. The shape of the pieces I was gluing up made things a little more challenging, but with a few of the scraps from cutting the pieces out, life was made simpler again.


It's worth noting at this point, that all these pieces are oversized. This gives me a little bit of material to work with so that I can sand and fine tune all the pieces. For this to look good, it has to have a tight(ish) fit, and the only way to do that is to make sure the pieces are all the same. Despite using the fence, and stops on the saw, not all my pieces came out to be the same size. After all, I'm still learning, and you could say that this is an ambitious project. That said, how do we learn if we don't push ourselves?

In the next post, I'll continue with building the Matrioshka and think about putting each of the six pieces together that will form the final puzzle.



21Apr/110

The Ball Puzzle (Charles O. Perry)

I received my copy of "The Ball Puzzle" by the late Charles O. Perry today from PuzzleMaster. They currently have both the brass version and the perspex version for sale. Since these aren't being made any more to the best of my knowledge, they may sell fairly quickly, so if you're interested after reading the review I'd suggest picking one up as these will be limited in numbers.

The Ball Puzzle by Charles O. Perry

The Ball Puzzle by Charles O. Perry

Charles is probably best known for his mathematical scupltures which can be found throughout the USA and abroad, so owning one of his sculpture based puzzles, created by him is quite special.

The first thing that struck me about this puzzle is the size. It's a lot smaller than I thought it would be at around 1.5 inches at its widest. Even though it's small, given that this is solid brass it's still a heavy puzzle. Warning: Don't drop this on your toes!

The puzzle comes with a heavy canvas bag (the puzzle is sitting on it in the photo) and is etched with Charles' signature on the solid piece.

As you'll see from the pieces, this isn't a difficult puzzle, and it's not going to take long either to disassemble or reassemble it. I think with this, it's not the difficulty that's the interest, but rather the overall shape and weight of the puzzle that appeals. The brass is well polished and as such really reflects the light so it's going to look good on the puzzle shelf, although at such a small size, it may be easily lost amongst bigger pieces. This wouldn't be out of place hanging on your Christmas tree.

Puzzle Master ranks this as a Level 7 (Challenging) puzzle, but if I'm honest it's only a Level 2 at best. There's only really one way that the pieces go together, and it's not going to take even the newest of puzzlers long to solve it. As I mentioned though, I don't think that's really the charm of the piece. Edit: After handing this around at work today, I'm going to revise my original thoughts. This seems to be a little more difficult than I originally thought and it took a fair few people a good 10 mins to solve this. With that, I'll say it's probably a 3-4, but still not near a level 7.

One nice touch is that the solid piece has a sprung ball bearing in the centre which 'locks' the final piece in place, and adds just enough friction to stop it sliding out under it's own weight. It may not seem like much, but it's addition finishes the puzzle nicely.

If you're looking for something a little different either to add to your collection or as a gift, then I'd recommend either the brass or perspex versions. There aren't many people who'll have one of these, and they are a nice talking point sitting on the coffee table.



21Mar/110

Did I mention wood?

So a little while back I mentioned that the next step for the puzzle project was to create the puzzle in wood. Lego is great for the first prototype and to check that things are working as expected, but without glue, it's not holding together as well as I'd like.

So with my tools at the ready, I set out to create my first wooden puzzle!

Initially, I did use the band saw to cut out one of the pieces for the burr puzzle I designed, but on reflection I found that there were two things that aren't ideal. I currently have 3" x 3" cubes of Douglas Fir. The wood looks great finished, but working with it, I've found a few issues. The end grain is very hard. That means that cutting the wood isn't easy. It seems that the band saw goes through it rather quickly in one 'ring' then the next ring the blade has to work a lot harder. That means that cutting the detailed shapes I need isn't easy. The other problem is that I still need practice!

So I decided to go with a simpler basic 3 piece burr to get some practice working with the wood, and also to get practice until I can find a better wood to work with than the Douglas fir I have just now.

Sorry for the bad picture. I took this quickly with my phone, and really need to take a better picture, but at least you can see the result.

Overall, it's not a bad first attempt. The pieces are snug, and the gaps between them aren't too bad. I'm not going to win any awards, and I'm certainly not going to be selling it any time soon, but I'm happy enough as a start.

Next step is getting back to the main project and putting the puzzle together. Unfortunately, that has taken a back seat as I've had another woodworking project to take care of, which is building some raised vegetable beds for our yard. Still should be able to get back to things in the next few days.

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