Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
19Jan/140

Marcel Gillen’s Little Rolling Pin

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Marcel Gillen Hidden Mazes

In the final review in my series on Marcel Gillen's hidden maze puzzles, I turn my attention to the small Rolling Pin. All of these puzzles are from pre-1994, and yet are still functioning perfectly, with no real signs of wear on the mazes. I've felt rather privileged to be able to spend time playing with these puzzles, understanding and unlocking their secrets, and have to say a huge thanks to Nick for having been able to borrow these from his collection.

Marcel Gillen Hidden Maze Puzzles

Marcel Gillen Hidden Maze Puzzles

By now the goal of the puzzle should be obvious. Remove the handle from the sleeve which forms the body of the rolling pin. There's a hidden maze carved into the handle, and a sprung pin in the sleeve which you use to navigate the maze. All sounds simple, yet I found this the most challenging of the three puzzles, all thanks to a very clever feature that Marcel added to this puzzle; one which I've not come across before in this type of puzzle.

As you can see, the puzzle this time is made up of a brass handle, with an aluminium sleeve. Being significantly smaller than its big brother the rolling pin measures in at 7" long, 2.75" diameter around the sleeve, and 1.25" around the handle. Weighing in at 930g it sits right in the middle of the three puzzles, although not by much compared to the bolt. The end of the sleeve is marked with Marcel's signature 'M G'.

Marcel Gillen's Signature

Marcel Gillen's Signature

When I started trying to solve this puzzle, I spent a lot of time going back and forth in the reset line making, quite honestly, no progress. As I've noted in the previous reviews, the puzzles are fairly straight forward to map as you can use the trap to map where the maze is; given that in all of these puzzles the pin rides atop the maze, and there are no walls to guide the pin. This proved only partially useful, as I was unable to find any way to get onto the maze.

Despite knowing better, I continued to repeat the same moves back and forth hoping for a different result, and at no point in my exploration did I find the ramp to enter the maze. Given my experience with this style of puzzle, I assumed that there was a gravity pin, or some other feature which was blocking the path to the ramp. (Ed: I should know better by now that to assume.) Trying different orientations of the puzzle didn't help. For a short time I toyed with the thought that the puzzle may be broken. Given the craftsmanship of Marcel, this seemed unlikely, so the only option left was that I was missing something.

Small Rolling Pin Solved

Small Rolling Pin Solved

And of course I was. The trick Marcel used is so simple, yet so well 'hidden' that I completely missed it for far longer than I should have. Once I had found the entry to the maze, navigating it was reasonably straight forward, until I found something new, which I hadn't been able to map previously. I have to commend Marcel on the design here. It's a very simple idea, but works incredibly well.

Once you get to this new hidden section of the maze, you'll be able to extend the handle further than was possible previously, and like the larger rolling pin, you'll find a brass pin that can be removed. Unlike it's larger brother, the pin this time has a flat end, and a rounded end, which is the key to taking the handle out of the sleeve.

The secret to the way out

The secret to the way out

The secret to the way out flipped over

The secret to the way out flipped over


When I finished solving the puzzle, and removed the core, the top of the maze was covered in a thin silver film. It seems like the issue I was having with the larger maze was also present in the smaller version. Although I didn't end up with silver hands when solving it, the friction between the sleeve and core was causing the same effect on the surface of the maze.

The maze looking a little grey

The maze looking a little grey

I think this is my favorite of the three puzzles because of the unique feature used to enter the maze. There's nothing overly complicated in there, but it is well executed, and requires the solver to not assume how the puzzle works. There's a few puzzle designs out there which could learn a lot from the relative simplicity of these puzzles. Harder is not always better, and as is proven with these puzzles, added complexity isn't needed. The more complex the mechanism, the more things can go wrong with it. Each of these puzzles still works every bit as well as it did when they were made, and I am sure will continue to do so for the next 20 years.

The amount of enjoyment I had from solving these puzzles is hard to measure, however the 'aha' moment in each of them is unquestionable, and each puts a smile on my face having solved them. If you get the chance to play with any of these, take it. You'll not be disappointed.



16Jan/140

Marcel Gillen’s Bolt #6

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Marcel Gillen Hidden Mazes

After reviewing the first of Marcel Gillen's hidden maze puzzles the rolling pin, this post will focus on one of his 'bolt' puzzles. I was lucky enough to be loaned #6 in the series.

Marcel Gillen Hidden Maze Puzzles

Marcel Gillen Hidden Maze Puzzles

The bolt is in the front right in the photo above. It certainly doesn't look like a traditional bolt puzzle such as those from Lee Valley or Wil Strijbos. The goal of the puzzle is certainly the same though; remove the ring, or nut from the bolt.

Given that this is the first of Gillen's bolt puzzles I've played with, I may have made things artificially more challenging, as this is the sixth puzzle in a series of at least 7 bolts. Each one increases in difficulty from the previous one so starting toward the end of the series may not have been the best plan.

Created from solid brass, measuring 4.5" tall with a ring diameter of 1.75" the bolt is a heavy puzzle weighing in at 777g. As I'm starting to learn from Marcel's work, the puzzle is incredibly well made, and will take quite a bit of abuse from the solver, not that I recommend you abuse your puzzles. Despite how rare these puzzles are, it really is the sort of puzzle that you can hand round without fear of it being damaged.

Having said that, I have to admit that I spent an embarrassingly long time trying to solve this puzzle. I managed to understand the basics of what was going on in the puzzle, and you've probably guessed already that there's some sort of hidden maze in the puzzle. I'd managed to 'map' the maze however there was an element in the puzzle which was preventing me from solving it, and I was too concerned about breaking the puzzle to try what I thought was needed. As a collector, I'm always concerned when solving a puzzle, especially one which is not mine, about doing something which might damage the puzzle. There are designers out there who use this knowledge against puzzlers, however Marcel is not one of those designers.

The problem I had is that the puzzle has a number of gravity pins which limit the movement of the ring. I found that it was possible to disengage the pins by holding the puzzle in a certain orientation, however I couldn't solve the puzzle from that orientation. There is more than one gravity pin in there, and they interfere at different points as you move the puzzle. The obvious way to remove this obstacle is something I had avoided due to the large mass of the brass, and my fear that I would break something. As it turns out I really shouldn't have been worried about that.

Marcel Gillen Bolt #6 Solved

Marcel Gillen Bolt #6 Solved

Having taken care of the gravity pins which were frustrating me no end, solving the rest of the puzzle was fairly quick, and took no more than around 10 minutes. The one comment I will make is that the puzzle needs a very specific orientation to solve it, which adds to the challenge. Understanding how the puzzle works, I can now repeatably solve it in under 30 seconds, and it's a very satisfying puzzle to solve.

Marcel Gillen Bolt #6 Ring view

Marcel Gillen Bolt #6 Ring view

Having removed the ring, you can see what's going on in there. The top two protrusions are a couple of the gravity pins which are present, and the protrusion on the left is a sprung pin which is used to navigate the maze which is etched into the bolt. The other element in there is a sprung ball bearing which just keeps a constant pressure against the bolt, and makes the movement of the puzzle much smoother.

I'm very happy to have had the chance to play with this puzzle, and will certainly be keeping my eyes open for any of these which become available for sale. They're so well made, and such a fun puzzle to solve, that I'd love to add them to my collection.



11Jan/144

Marcel Gillen’s Rolling Pin

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Marcel Gillen Hidden Mazes

Happy New Year to all my readers. Here's wishing all of you a great year in 2014. I hope it's a puzzling one, for all the right reasons. This year, I kick off the reviews with a set of rather special puzzles from Marcel Gillen. Over the next few posts, I'll review some of Marcel's hidden maze puzzles.

Marcel Gillen Hidden Maze Puzzles

Marcel Gillen Hidden Maze Puzzles

I'm very lucky to have been able to borrow these puzzles from a good friend who knows that I've solved all of the Revomaze puzzles, and suggested that I should play with the puzzles pictured above. He really wanted my thoughts on Marcel's puzzles, given that they predate the Revomaze by quite some time, and have very similar puzzling aspects.

This review will focus on the large rolling pin, sitting on the stand in the photo above. This is probably one of the heaviest puzzles I've played with. If you think the Revomaze is heavy, weighing in at ~600g, this is in the ultra heavyweight class. The Puzzle is solid Aluminium, and weighs in at a whopping 1714g, yes it's nearly three times heavier than a revo! One thing that I really had to get used to was working with the weight of this puzzle. It's not easy to spend a lot of time working on something quite this heavy.

Marcel's signature initials on the end of the sleeve

Marcel's signature initials on the end of the sleeve

End to end, the puzzle measures 15", with the main body of the pin being 7.5" long. The body of the puzzle is 2.25" in diameter, and the handle is 1.25" in diameter. On one end of the body Marcel's signature initials can been seen on either side of the handle. As you might expect, they will serve some purpose as a reference when solving the puzzle.

I first wrote about this puzzle back in June 2012 after attending a local California Puzzle Party where I didn't manage to solve it, but did make what I thought was pretty good progress. To my knowledge the puzzle hadn't been opened by its owner, however at one point it was sent back to Marcel as it had a problem and needed to be fixed. When it came back, the solution to the maze was marked on one end of the handle. Seems like Marcel needed a little help opening it. Even with those helpful markings, it still hadn't been opened. One of the requests I was given when I borrowed the puzzle was to clean off the black marker which showed the solution, so before I started playing with it again, that's exactly what I did. After all, what's the point in the puzzle if you already have the solution!

Taking on the challenge of opening this beast, I set about understanding what was going on. If you've read my comments about the puzzle previously, you'll know that there's a hidden maze which is etched into the handle of the puzzle. There's a sprung pin on the inside of the sleeve which is used to traverse the maze. (Sound familiar to anyone?) As you start the puzzle, you can feel the tension as the pin rides up onto the top of the maze, and for anyone who is familiar with the Revomaze puzzles, that familiar click is present when you take a wrong turn and drop off the maze.

Unlike the Revomaze, there's no quick reset back to the start in this puzzle, and when you make a mistake, you'll have to navigate the traps all the way back to the start of the puzzle to try again. While other maze puzzles have walls which you can rest the pin against, there's no such feature here. This is a one way trip riding on top of the walls. Think of it as one long bridge with no walls.

I should probably note that mapping the puzzle is a lot simpler than other hidden maze puzzles I've played with since you can use the traps to map the maze. By falling off, then carefully mapping the traps, you can figure out what's left. With a single way back to the start, it's much harder to map using such a method, so I do believe that this is much simpler to solve for anyone familiar with mapping techniques used for hidden maze puzzles.

After around an hour of figuring out and mapping the path, falling off many times along the way, I reached the end of the maze.

Having solved the maze once, this is the reward

Having solved the maze once, this is the reward

At least I assumed I had reached the end, as I was able to see the brass circle in the photo above. At this point I was a little disappointed that I was unable to remove the handle from its sleeve, to be able to see the maze, but was pretty happy that I'd made it to the end. Investigating a little more, I found that the circle was in fact a brass rod which came out of its hole...

The Brass rod as a prize for solving the maze once

The Brass rod as a prize for solving the maze once

The question now is what to do with that rod. My first thought was that if I removed it, then returned the puzzle back to its starting position, perhaps it would allow the pin to drop into the hole I'd left by removing the rod, and let me remove the maze that way. Given that Marcel is an expert designer, I assumed that he wasn't going to let me remove something from the puzzle which would lead to it ending up broken, I set the pin aside, and returned the puzzle back to its starting position, hoping that it would now allow me to remove the maze. I was wrong, but I was in for a surprise.

When I got back to the start, the core traveled a little further back that it had been able to previously, and exposed a new hole at the other end of the puzzle. It was just the right size to accept the brass rod, so that's exactly where I put it. Of course now I need to solve the puzzle again! So back to the start, I go ahead and solve the puzzle again. This time it takes me a much more respectable 15 minutes to get back to the end, but I still can't remove the handle.

After engaging the old grey matter, I realise what is going on. The brass rod is creating a bridge at the end of the puzzle allowing the pin to cross over what would otherwise be a trap, and lets me remove the handle. It took me a good few attempts to get this to work properly, but fortunately Marcel hasn't been too nasty, and has provided a ramp in the last trap of the puzzle allowing me to take as many attempts as I need to find and cross my new bridge.

Rolling Pin maze exit

Rolling Pin maze exit

Having finally removed the handle, you can see exactly what the brass rod was doing, creating a narrow bridge, at the same height as the main maze, allowing the pin to remain compressed and move onto the outer side of the handle, freeing the maze to be seen in all its glory.

The pin used no navigate the maze inside the sleeve

The pin used no navigate the maze inside the sleeve

Looking down the inside of the sleeve you can see the maze pin in the middle of the sleeve. It's a sprung pin, fixed inside the sleeve and isn't removable. Probably a good thing as it's a fairly small part and would be easily lost. (I managed to drop the brass rod at one point, and watched it roll under the table I was sitting at. It's big enough that I found it easily, but being non-magnetic, it could have been a problem!)

My fingers after solving

My fingers after solving

Given that the puzzle is raw aluminium, it had a rather interesting side effect, in that it left my fingers rather silver. Exactly the same thing happened when I played with it at the Puzzle party so I was expecting it this time. I'm not entirely sure whether there's just some aluminium dust on the puzzle as a result of the pin rubbing against the surface, or whether the natural oils in my skin react with the aluminium. Regardless, I needed to wash my hands, and took the opportunity to clean the entire puzzle at the same time. (Ed: Don't worry, no water was used in the cleaning of this puzzle.)

Rolling Pin ramps

Rolling Pin ramps

Having a close look at the maze, you can see the ramps which are etched into the walls of the maze to allow the pin to move from the traps back up onto the level of the maze. Pictured above are the two ramps at the start of the puzzle. One from the start point to enter the maze, and one from the end of the traps back to the start of the puzzle. While I'm not going to show the entire maze here, the small section you can see shows how the puzzle works. The Pin rides on the higher area of the puzzle, and the lower cut-out sections are the traps. This is where you end up when to take a wrong turn. As you can see, the puzzle is incredibly well made, and it has stood up very well to many years of use.

Overall this is a great puzzle, with many similarities to the Revomaze puzzles. Perhaps this is closest to the Green Revomaze puzzle if I were to draw a comparison, however this puzzle does pre-date Revomaze by many years and includes the feature that the maze must be solved not once, but twice in order to truly say that the puzzle is solved and remove the core. No chance of getting lucky in opening this puzzle!

What I found to be even more impressive is how you reset the puzzle for the next person. To reset the puzzle, simply take the brass rod, and return it to the deep hole at the start of the maze, then slide the handle back into the sleeve. The maze pin simply rides onto the handle, then drops back into the maze. Navigating back to the start takes a few seconds, and the puzzle is ready to be solved again. Very clever, and so simple.

I had a lot of fun playing with the rolling pin. There's no gimmicks here, and the clever mechanism which allows the maze to be removed is very well executed and adds an extra challenge to the puzzle that I found to be very rewarding, especially after understanding what was required.

I'll review the other two puzzles soon, so stay tuned for more of the Marcel Gillen Puzzles.



23May/115

California Puzzle Party (22nd May 2011)

I was very fortunate to be invited to the California Puzzle Party yesterday hosted by Stan Isaacs at his home. Having no idea what to expect, I packed up the Pagoda Puzzle boxes, and Stickman #2 and headed for Stan's house.

On arrival, the door was opened by Dick Hess, who was in town, and was one of the reasons that the puzzle party happened when it did. My fiancée Jen and I were ushered into Stan's house, and shown through to one of the back rooms which was a little larger than the hall we were standing in.

Coffin Wall

Two shelves of Coffin puzzles

Walking into the room, from floor to ceiling are shelves with books, and puzzles. One wall which had two full shelves, and many more puzzles scattered through the books, was almost entirely Stewart Coffin originals. Needless to say I picked up a good few and had a go at solving them during the day, including a Pennyhedron, Scorpious, Diagonal Cube, The Reluctant Cluster and a Hexagonal Prism.

Looking around the room, it's difficult to know where to start. There is a shelf of Karakuri puzzle boxes, A Topsy Turvy mounted on the wall, various co-ordinate motion puzzles on stands and sitting on top of puzzles, and desks with assortments of puzzles littering them. As I look around in wonder, not knowing where to look, or what to pick up, Dick Hess comes over and hands me a small box and tells me it's a small memento of the day.

Outrageous Rings

A souvenir from the CA Puzzle party from Dick Hess

I'm now holding a really elegant, but what looks like overly complicated disentanglement puzzle, very much of the tavern puzzle style. Thanking Dick, I played for a few minutes without making much progress, before putting the puzzle back in its box to play with in my own time, so I could talk with the increasing number of puzzlers turning up, and try my hand at a few of the puzzles sitting out. Before doing that however, Dick had a number of puzzles of his own design with him that he was selling to anyone who wanted them. I decided to pick up his IPP28 puzzle "The Family Puzzles", "Hybrid 54 - Loop and Twister", and The Yak Puzzle.

The Family Puzzles

The Family Puzzles

Loop and Twister

Loop and Twister

The Yak Puzzle

The Yak Puzzle


Reviews of all of the puzzles from Dick Hess to follow later, when I've had time to sit down and play with all of them.

One of the tables covered in puzzles

One of the tables covered in puzzles

On top of one of the desks were a number of burr puzzles, including a maze burr. Also on show was the complete set of Wunder Puzzles from Eric Fuller. Having had no luck with #2 myself, I had a play with the original, which I was able to solve fairly quickly. The three follow a nice progression in complexity, and it certainly helps to have solved the first two before trying the third. Guess I may have to go back and pick up the other two as they are all really nice puzzles. Let's just hope Eric has a few left!

Alles Roger

Alles Roger

Also sitting on the table was a copy of Rojer's "Alles Rojer".

I have to admit, I spent quite a lot longer playing with this dexterity puzzle than I care to admit, and I did not solve it. To be fair, I felt a little better when no-one else there solved it either. Getting past the first obstacle seems fairly straight forward. To get past the second needs some sort of puzzling zen which I did not possess.

More puzzlers, and some familiar faces

More puzzlers, and some familiar faces

Things by this point were getting fairly crowded in the room I had been in as a number of other puzzlers had turned up, including Derek Bosch, Ray Stanton, Bill Darah to mention a few. Jeff Chiou from MagicPuzzles.org also walked through the door at one point, so it was nice to talk to a fellow blogger, and to meet Jeff in person, having read his blog for some time before starting my own.

Chuck's Challenge

Chuck's Challenge in iPhone

Chuck Sommerville of Chips Challenge fame also arrived at one point, sporting the same shirt as can be found in his latest came Chuck's Challenge on the iPhone. The likeness is uncanny!

Just standing talking with everyone there, and hearing about their experiences whether from designing puzzles, solving, or collecting was fascinating, at least to me. Jen on the other hand was less impressed.

As time was flying by, I was told I should really see the rest of the house, as there were many more puzzles elsewhere. And that is an understatement. Stan showed me out to "The Puzzle Room". The photos will say far more than I can (and sorry they're not better but I forgot to lift my camera and was stuck using my iPhone to take pictures) but if I thought I was lost previously ...

Standing outside the puzzle room

Standing outside the puzzle room

The Entrance to the Puzzle Room.

The Entrance to the Puzzle Room. There is virtually no free space in here

Even more shelves and boxes of puzzles.

Even more shelves and boxes of puzzles.


I could have spent weeks in this room. Boxes of puzzles from floor to ceiling (nearly 8' high), and only enough space to walk around the central stack of boxes. From talking with Stan, this is the result of 25 years of puzzle collecting. There are some amazing puzzles tucked away in this room, and I had only a short amount of time to spend, however there were Charles O. Perry puzzles in here, Hanayama Cast series, IPP puzzles going back many years, and in a random box I opened, a number of Karakuri Christmas presents including Iwahara's House with Trees box. It's an amazing insight into Stan's collection, but really I was only able to scratch the surface of what he has hidden away.

Marcel Gillen's Chess Pieces

Marcel Gillen's Chess Pieces

Coming back into the main house, and exploring more of the puzzles sitting around I cam across a collection that most puzzlers dream of. A complete collection of Marcel Gillen's Chess Pieces. Not only were these just sitting next to the fireplace, but they were free to play with, and I couldn't resist. They are a stunning set, and really beautiful to open. I doubt I will ever own a set of these, but at least I have been able to play with them.

With the tour of "The Puzzle Room" complete, and nearly four hours having passed since I arrived, I went back to playing with a few of the other puzzles Stan had out. In the main living room, there were a number of Karakuri puzzle boxes, which I spent some time playing with, including "The Coffee Cup by Akio Kamei, and "Three-cornered deadlock" by Hideaki Kawashima. So many puzzles, it really was hard to choose what to try to solve.

The Odd Packing Puzzle by Iwahiro

The Odd Packing Puzzle by Iwahiro

One puzzle I spotted sitting was the "Odd Packing Puzzle" by Hirokazu Iwasawa (a.k.a. Iwahiro). Having read about this puzzle on Brian's Damn Puzzle Blog I had to have a go for myself. Having played with the puzzle myself, I really like the design of this puzzle. It's a good honest puzzle where everything is on show, and there's nothing hidden. There are only three pieces and the idea is to get all of them into the box as shown in the picture I took. To be able to get more than just one piece into the box, you really have to spend time understanding how the pieces can move inside the restricted space you have. And it's not obvious at first how they can all move. There are many more degrees of freedom in that tight space than you may think at first, and when you finally understand how things move, this puzzle is a joy to solve.

Ray Stanton 3 Piece Burr

Ray Stanton 3 Piece Burr

3 Piece Burr Opened

3 Piece Burr Opened

While playing with various puzzles, I picked up a three piece aluminium burr. This was an unconventionally notched burr which is only solvable using co-ordinate motion. While playing with this, Ray Stanton who happened to be talking to Jen about mobile phones at the time said he had one of his own design in the car with his having no internal voids if I wanted one. Of course I said that would be great, and gladly accepted his offer. When I asked him what he wanted for it, he shrugged it off saying he didn't want anything, "Maybe at another party" he says. Yet another case of puzzlers being a generous bunch and such a great group of people to spend time with.

Tanacube by Bill Darrah and Peter Ramussen

Tanacube by Bill Darrah and Peter Ramussen

Before leaving there was one last puzzle I spotted sitting on the table. Tanacube, by Bill Darah (who was standing next to me) was sitting on the table, and I couldn't resist trying this puzzle. For more information, go to the Tanacube webiste, for all the background. The copy Stan has is the beautiful six wood version, with tight fitting pieces, and a really solid construction. The six pairs of pieces form the cube in this very challenging puzzle. What makes it harder is that there is a unique solution in which adjacent pieces always have different colors. The state the cube was in when I got it was this unique solution, and getting it back to that state is no simple task. Another wonderful puzzle, that I am very pleased to have been able to solve.

While playing with the Tanacube, Bill pulls a bag out from a pile of things he brought, and promptly asks the room "Is there anyone who doesn't have one of these?"

Shades of Donuts by Bill Darrah

Shades of Donuts by Bill Darrah

Shades of Donuts Puzzle cards

Shades of Donuts Puzzle cards


What he's holding is his IPP exchange puzzle from IPP29, Shades of Donuts. Bill then goes on to explain that he found this puzzle in a dollar store, and decided to buy it and take it home, as the back of the box promised an interesting logic puzzle. Getting it home, he found out that there was no puzzle, just a tray of donuts, and some text on the back saying that there was a puzzle. So Bill set about creating the set of cards on the right in the photo which was the set of rules for each puzzle. In total there are 60 'challenges' on the cards making for an interesting exchange puzzle. The real work here was all the time Bill put into creating the cards, and not the physical puzzle itself. Amazingly, Bill notes that there are a number of mistakes on the original cards, from the 2009 IPP, which he submitted after finding them agreeing that working on such a puzzle at 2am is not the best idea.

I'd like to say thank you to Stan Isaacs for hosting the party, his hospitality and collection were both superb. I hope to be invited back at some point in the future as there were so many puzzles, it just isn't possible to enjoy them all in the few hours we had.