Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
15Sep/154

Mini Maria

Not all puzzles are pretty, and not all puzzles can be considered art, however one name stands out in the puzzle/art category. Miguel Berrocal. Born in 1933 in Malaga, Spain, died in 2006. He studied mathematics and architecture at the University of Madrid and then art in Paris and Rome before settling in Negrar, a suburb of Verona. Over his life he produced many sculptures, and works of art, many of which appeal to puzzlers due to the complex interlocking nature of the pieces which make up each sculpture.

Mini Maria by Berrocal

Mini Maria by Berrocal

I will agree, that these puzzles are not going to appeal to everyone out there. Most are rather strange and abstract looking and the price tag alone is enough to put most people off. Some of the larger sculptures out there, you may think twice about taking apart just due to the huge number of pieces and complexity of assembly. These are like burr puzzles on steroids.

Mini Maria was made in a run of 10,000 starting in 1969, and 6 of the copies were made in gold. As is common in Berrocal's work, there is a ring embedded in the design. You can see the stone setting of the ring in the image above. The puzzle is fairly small, measuting 3.25" x 1.25" x 1.5" (3" on the base). That in itself makes some of the work more impressive as there's not a lot of free space in there, and all the parts fir together very nicely.

Mini Maria by Berrocal - Corner View

Mini Maria by Berrocal - Corner View

Mini Maria by Berrocal - Back View

Mini Maria by Berrocal - Back View

It's hard to see what the sculpture is until you look at the elevated end view. If you squint, perhaps you can see a woman, lying on her back with her legs crossed and one arm across her stomach? Regardless, you'll either like or hate it, there's not much of a middle ground.

Mini Maria by Berrocal - End View

Mini Maria by Berrocal - End View

Each of Berrocal's pieces are signed and numbered as can be seen in the closeup below.

Mini Maria by Berrocal

Mini Maria by Berrocal

The puzzle itself consists of 22 pieces, and is an interlocking assembly puzzle. The disassembly process starts by pushing in a small button on the end of one of the legs which allows the first piece to pivot up and then be removed. From there on, it is a process of finding the next section which can be removed, until the entire sculpture is nothing more than an array of complicated pieces on the table in front of you.

While I generally avoid showing solutions to puzzles, I have included the full sequence to take Mini Maria apart by clicking the image below. Given that this is the type of puzzle that many people won't see a copy of, I think it's a valid reason to show everything. If you don't want to see all the steps, don't click below. Don't worry, if you don't want to see the steps, none of the other images above will show the steps if you click on them.

Mini Maria by Berrocal

Mini Maria by Berrocal

Mini Maria does have another interesting surprise hidden within her. If you click through the solution (from the image above) you'll see what I mean. There's a set of male genitalia, complete with "balls" stuffed inside Maria. Not exactly what you'd expect from a puzzle, but I think it fits with the style of the piece.

I know that Berrocal puzzles are not for everyone, but I do recommend that if you have the chance to play with one, take it. They're very interesting puzzles, and provide quite the challenge.

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria - Yes that's a bit rude

Mini Maria - Yes that's a bit rude

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria

Mini Maria



2Sep/153

Transparent Lock

I've been slowly adding to my collection of trick locks over the last few years, and first saw the Transparent Lock by Gary Foshee a couple of years back, but sadly missed out back then as they sold incredibly quickly. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow one, and solve it, and at that point I kicked myself for not being quicker off the mark in trying to get one.

When I heard from Gary himself that Wil Strijbos had some with him at IPP 35 for sale, I was pretty quick in finding Wil and asking if I could please lighten his luggage and take one off his hands.

Transparent Lock by Gary Foshee

Transparent Lock by Gary Foshee

Transparent Lock boxed with Gary's Signature

Transparent Lock boxed with Gary's Signature

The puzzle looks exactly as you'd expect for a transparent lock (or as it's also known, the Open Lock). It looks pretty simple, with a square frame, a shackle, and a few bits and pieces attached to the frame. You also get a handy hex wrench with a handle, which given that it comes with the puzzle, we can safely assume is not considered an external tool.

The puzzle comes in a fairly plain gold box, and as you can see, mine is the 2015 version of the puzzle. It's the same as the older version, so no need to try to hunt one of these down if you have the first release version. In the bottom corner is Gary's little cartoon signature, which looks uncannily like the man himself.

Made almost entirely from aluminium the puzzle has a fairly rough look to the body and the hex handle, showing lots of tool marks, while the rest of the puzzle has a polished and clean finish. It's a little disappointing, given the quality of some of the aluminium puzzles out there, and some of Gary's other work I've seen. With a little polish I'm sure the frame could be cleaned up, so it's really a small nit, but given the price of the lock, you do expect a certain level of finish.

Measuring in at 2.5" x 4.5" x 0.8" it's about a standard size for a lock, and it has a good solid feel to it. I doubt that you'd damage much other than your toes if you dropped it. Given how solid it is, it's easily a puzzle that you can pass round and let people play with, and there's really not much they can do wrong.

These are fairly limited in production because Gary has to make the shackles himself, and having talked to him about them, they're a real pain to make. Apparently they're cold forged and the process is pretty difficult to get the results he needs. Let's just say that he's not the biggest fan of making these!

Could this be useful?

Could this be useful?

Looking over the puzzle, there's a couple of fairly obvious things to try, like the screw thread at the bottom of the lock. You will also notice the hex head inside the shackle, and you'll probably make the obvious leap that it's useful, and that you should probably do something with it. Unfortunately, it's not going to be quite that easy to open the shackle, and if we're honest you wouldn't want it to be that easy.

Gary helpfully rounded the ends

Gary helpfully rounded the ends

At this point, you're probably yelling at the screen "Use the hex tool", and you'd think that would be useful. Unfortunately, Gary has very helpfully rounded over the ends of the hex tool, making it entirely useless. Of course there are things that you'll find useful, and the puzzle has much more hidden around it than you'd think at first. There's a reasonable sequence of steps to discover various tools and useful bits that will get the puzzle open.

Once you remove the shackle from the frame, you can entirely disassemble the puzzle and leave yourself with an array of parts on the table. I think this is one of the reasons I like the puzzle as much as I do, since it really lives up to its name. Once open it really is transparent.

Finally open

Finally open

While it's not a difficult puzzle, and took only a few minutes for me to open the first time I played with one, it is well made, and it's a fun puzzle. If you're looking for a challenge on the order of a Popplock, then you'll want to look elsewhere as I feel you will probably be disappointed.

Having been trying to get one of these for a while, and missing them at auction I'm happy to have picked one of these up. It's a great addition to my collection, and one of Gary's puzzles I'm very happy to have. Allard was able to get his hands on one of the original run, so head over here to read Allard's thoughts.



11Jun/151

Revomaze Copper

This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series Revomaze

It's been quite a while since I've sat down and written anything on my blog, and I'm sure many of my readers had given up on me. I am still here, I'm still puzzling, and still making more new puzzles, so nothing has really changed. Life sometimes just gets busy, and the time to sit down and write something worthy of reading is the thing that slips through the cracks first. That said, today I'm looking at the newest puzzle to come from Revomaze, which they kindly sent me a copy to review for you. This is the Copper V1 puzzle.

The Revomaze R1 Copper

The Revomaze R1 Copper

The newer puzzles coming from Revo HQ are showing up in these nice new boxes, which give the puzzle a little extra padding during transit, and leave you with a good looking box to keep the puzzle in when you're not solving it or displaying it somewhere else. There's still a little work needs to be done on the box to prevent the core from taking a knock during transit but this is a good step forward from the old fish net and plastic bag wrapping we had seen. Much more fitting of a puzzle in this price range, and quality.

New Boxes

New Boxes

As with all the Revo puzzles I've had in the past, the initial look and feel is great. These are still high quality puzzles, made with an attention to detail. The Copper, like it's predecessors weighs in around the 600g mark and certainly put a strain on my hands again.

It had been over a year since I'd worked on a Revo R1, and the familiar sore hands and fingers were back. It's recommended to work on the puzzle in short sessions, and I can't agree more. If you've not played with one for a while, your hands are going to thank you for taking a break. Fortunately there are convenient spots in the puzzle where you can put it down and not lose progress.

The Copper is a move back to the original static maze style, such as the Blue and Green puzzles, which I and many other puzzlers really enjoyed. There's no moving sliders, or free floating ball bearings in this puzzle to confuse and confound you. Just a traditional maze, with Chris' own devilish traps and pitfalls to navigate. That said it's not all old and familiar stuff in here. There's been a couple of modifications to the pin that are going to catch the unwary puzzler, so be warned, this isn't simple by any measure.

As a regular reader you'll know I own (almost) all the available Revomaze puzzles, and have successfully opened all of them with varying solve times from a few months to a few days. They're all challenging puzzles, and all for different reasons. I enjoy the puzzles that either make me think or are just enjoyable to solve. Bronze still ranks as my favourite in the series, with Blue being a close second. The reason for those choices comes down to two things. Bronze was a significant challenge to understand the dynamic features, but wasn't so difficult to be frustrating. Blue is just a really fun puzzle. While initially difficult to understand what was going on, once you understood the principles of the puzzle, it was both repeatable, and enjoyable to solve. Now add to that the Revo Mini which is a tiny scaled version of the blue maze, and there's a lot of positives from those two designs.

The Copper claims to "Triple the fun", and I'll agree to some extent with that statement. The internals are unlike any of the static mazes to have come before, and there's certainly more in there. As far as the fun, the initial part of the puzzle contains one of my least favourite features in a hidden maze puzzle. The dreaded bridge.

Much like the Green, the bridge frustrated me more than provided fun, and Copper has that same frustration level for me. Don't take that as a negative on the puzzle as a whole, just that it's not one of my favourite challenges. The dexterity sections can be overly difficult and if you fail near the end, restarting can be quite off-putting. That said, the satisfaction when you complete it is certainly well earned.

Personalised Serial 'Number'

Personalised Serial 'Number'

Given that Chris now has many of the machines in house, personalised engraving is possible as you can see from the serial number on my puzzle. I certainly didn't request this, and it was great to have this reveal as I started working on the puzzle.

One thing of note, at least for me is the strength of the spring in the copy I have. I'm not sure if this is across the board or not, but I feel that the movement of the puzzle is quite "stiff". The power of the spring along with the modifications to the pin made the navigation more challenging than I remember. There's a lot packed into this puzzle, and with sore fingers I found it quite the task to keep making progress in a single session. Taking regular breaks is the only way to get through this one. I don't think we'll see anyone doing speed runs to get the fasted solve time in the near future. I think most will be happy to solve the puzzle, and see the work that went into the core when they're done.

If you're on the fence about getting a Copper, and want a serious challenge, without the worry of ball bearings running awry, or dynamic devices to confound, then go ahead and pick one up. There's a lot to like about this puzzle.



29Aug/141

Ring & String, or perhaps “Something memorable from IPP”?

Hi all, it's been a good few weeks since I sat down and wrote anything, but then after a fantastic three and a half weeks touring the UK, catching up with friends and family; a wonderful long weekend with the MPP crowd soaking up the fantastic hospitality of the amazingly humble and welcoming Walker household; a week of IPP and many puzzle friends old and new, all mixed in with my one year delayed Honeymoon, it's good to be back, and probably about time I put a pen to paper, or finger to keyboard.

There's a good few puzzle bloggers out there who are writing about IPP, and all the fabulous conversations and events that took place over the week, so I'm not going to give you my account of what happened. But I do suggest you go read Allard's Assessment, Rox's Ramblings, and Jerry's Journey. They're all well worth reading, and will give you a good feeling for what a fantastic time was had by all. I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again, the people in the puzzle community are an amazing group, and I'm proud and humbled to know each and every one of you, and to be able to call so many friends. Thank you.

I will give one special mention to Allard and his wife Gillian (as well as their two dogs, Ben and Jerry) for welcoming my wife and I into their home, putting us up for 4 days, feeding us, making us so welcome and at home, and not accepting a single penny in thanks. You truly are great friends, and I can't wait to return the favour at some point. Fortunately no harm came of the dogs who decided to eat some of my green packing peanuts while we were all out. The only casualty with Allard's lap when one of them decided to throw up on him. (Sorry!)

Anyway, I do want to mention one great experience from my IPP. While there Dr Colin Wright was wandering around talking to people and showing us some interesting little tricks. Colin is a Juggler, magician and specialises in Communication. I spent quite a bit of time talking to him, given that I juggle, have done my share of magic over the years, and with all this writing that I do, I have to accept that I have something to do with communication as well. (Ed: So hurry up and get to the point!)

Colin was wandering around with a length of chain around his neck, attached to it there was a steel ring. At one point as I was wandering around talking to the myriad of puzzlers Colin had a group around him, and he was doing something interesting with said ring and "string".

"Now, hold it like this ...."

As you can see, being the curious chap that I am, I wandered over and listened in to what he was saying. Before I knew it, he's turned to me, and I have the apparatus around my hand, and with a huge grin have been shown how the magic happens, and have now done it for myself. Yes, I really did have a huge grin on my face, as Colin explained what was happening, and that he had analyzed the behaviour to work out exactly how things worked, and perfected the one-handed technique. A few other people commented that they'd seen it before, and even done this before but using other grips, two hands or even a table. (Ed: But what was it ... get to the point already!)

Well when I got back from IPP, I went to the local hardware store, picked up a couple of rings, some chain and made my own copy, and one for my son. I knew he would like it, and for a couple of dollars, it's a great toy to have. Anyway, the picture above surfaced on Facebook, and I was tagged. A few comments from confused readers later, and I find myself making a video showing what we were doing. (Ed: But you've still not told us what that was.)

Rather that try to explain, I'll just leave you with the video below. I am fortunate enough to have a high-speed camera now, so I took some footage at high speed showing what happens, and put that in the video. I don't show how to do this, but it's fantastic to see what's happening.

Now, I took this to work with me to show a couple of my colleagues as I knew they would appreciate it. What happened though was entirely unexpected. Rather than asking how to do it, I was relieved of the pieces, and the team started trying to work out how to do it themselves. (I'm and engineer, and this has become a problem to be solved). For me this was fantastic. I've now seen about 4 different ways that can reproduce the result, none as elegant as what Colin showed me, and none that are nearly as reliable.

So here's a challenge. Go get yourself a solid ring, a length of chain and try this for yourself. I'd love to see how you get on in the comments!

Until next time, when I'll be back to puzzles, enjoy the video.

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22May/140

Cast O’Gear

It's been a while since I reviewed any of the Hanayama puzzles, and I have quite a few to get through, including a few of the newer puzzles. The Cast O'Gear though is one from my early puzzling that I remember solving having been given a copy by my Dad. Designed by Oskar van Deventer, and originally named Sunflower, this was entered into the IPP Design competition back in 2001 where it received an honorable mention. In 2002, Hanayama produced this version under the name Cast O'Gear.

Cast O'Gear in the starting position

Cast O'Gear in the starting position

The antiqued Bronze look of the puzzle seems to have people divided about its appearance. I personally like it. It's a fairly average size for a Hanayama puzzle, measuring in at 3" at its widest, by 3.5" tall and 1.5" deep it's a solid puzzle although not too heavy for its size. The goal is to separate the two pieces by following the step maze to the exit.

In its starting position above, there are a number of key features that help with solving the puzzle. The small triangle on one face gives both direction and orientation information about the cube. and the indents on the 'gear' allow for orientation of the gear relative to the faces of the cube. One additional piece of information not visible in the photograph, is the arm which is inside the cube has a hole in it, giving the ability to create a visual reference for each arm.

The exit to the puzzle is on the opposite face of the cube, and the cutaway on one of the arms can pass through a corresponding groove in the face of the cube, when it has been aligned correctly. There are 120 possible states that the puzzle can be in based on which arm is inside the cube, the orientation of the gear, and which of the six faces the gear arm is inside. To make things a little harder, it's not possible to transition from all faces to all other faces. The cube is designed with a number of beveled edges to allow the gear to rotate, as well as a couple of sharp edges which prevent the gear from rotating. So often you think you're on the way to the exit, and find the path blocked by a sharp corner.

Each face also has a curved cutout in the central cross, which allows the gear piece to be rotated by 90 degrees. You can only move in one particular orientation though, governed by where the cutout is, so again you find that you may want to rotate the gear in one direction, however find that path blocked.

Moving the gear around the cube

Moving the gear around the cube

With some logical thinking and planning, this shouldn't be too tough a puzzle, however it's easy enough to get lost and go round in circles, trying, and re-trying the same paths, and making little progress. It had been a long number of years since I had solved this puzzle last, and it was certainly no walk in the park. I spent a good half hour just fiddling before realising why certain moves were blocked (must have been having a slow day) and then setting about to find the correct path to the exit. By checking the orientation that the gear needed to be in to allow it to be removed from the cube, then working back through the possible rotations and moves between faces, the path was easy enough to navigate, despite needing some paper and pencil to plot the moves in reverse then execute them.

Solved, with the gear removed.

Solved, with the gear removed.

There are a minimum of 16 moves needed from the starting position to separate the two pieces (if my counting is correct), however as with any maze, you may end up taking far more moves by the time you take into account the dead ends and back tracking that is likely to end up in the solution path.

There are lots of puzzle shops where you can buy your own copy, and it's available on Puzzle Master as you might expect. If you don't have a copy, I highly recommend it, as it's a great fiddle toy, that you can spend a lot of time just moving the gear around the cube, and not really trying to solve the puzzle.



9May/142

Magic Billet Box

Back in October last year, I came across a kickstarter project for Krusen CNC offering up some interesting new options on the Magic Billet Box that Oli Reviewed years ago. I'd been on the lookout for one of these, however any time I went to the shop, they were unavailable. This seemed like a good way to finally get one of these boxes.

The Magic Billet Box in Red anodized aluminium.

The Magic Billet Box in Red anodized aluminium.

The kickstarter was offering some new options for the anodisation of the aluminium, as well as some new external patterns for the boxes. Sadly the kickstarter didn't reach its goal and was unsuccessful. That said, an offer was made for anyone who had backed the project to get a box of their choosing at the price they had backed the campaign. Seemed like a win-win. So in November, I received the box above with the "Vortex" pattern.

At 2" cubed, and having a fair heft to it, this is a solid little puzzle box. Being made from 7072 Aluminium, otherwise known as "Aircraft grade", it's a very stable metal and is great for machining. Although it's not easy to see, there's a perfect sliding dovetail that form the 'lid' of the puzzle, which thanks to a big magnet has a reassuring snap when it's slid on or off.

Unlike Oli's copy which is in black anodized aluminium, the sliding lid is a little easier to see on my copy. The black hides the seam making it near invisible, where the red makes it stand out a little more. It's not an issue, and certainly doesn't affect the puzzle, but it is worth noting.

Even the internal space in the box is a good size, having 1.75" x 1.75" x 1.5" of usable space inside. Great for storing mints on my desk. And because it's aluminium and not wood, there's no fear of whatever you put inside it staining the box, or becoming contaminated. A truly useful puzzle box.

The Magic Billet Box but it's not open

The Magic Billet Box but it's not open.

Sliding the lid off doesn't get you into the hidden space though. Wouldn't be much of a puzzle if that was the case. Instead you're greeted with another lid, recessed into the box, and no apparent way to take it off. The big magnet on the sliding lid may be a hint though.

In the style of box I ordered, simply placing the lid onto the box doesn't open the inner lid, although there is a box offered where the opening mechanism is this simple. For me there's a little extra work required. And if you try to solve this box with it sitting on the table, you'll never open it!

The Magic Billet Box opened.

The Magic Billet Box opened.

Most of you will have figured out how this works, but I'll not give away it's secrets. Instead, I suggest you go get one of these great little boxes. They're well machined, and the tolerances are spot on to make this a solid box that will last many years, and take a lot of abuse.