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



27May/140

Penta Beams

Oskar van Deventer has been at it again, and this is the latest (well latest published as far as I know) design from the incredible puzzle generating mind of the Dutchman. This time it's an intersection of six pentagonal sticks to form a pyramidal shape. The goal is to take the sticks apart, and put them back together again.

Penta Beams by Oskar

Penta Beams by Oskar

3D printed by Shapeways, the pieces are dyed into six bright colours (plus black and white) and have a solid feel to them. the trapped powder inside each stick really adds weight and a feeling of quality that can sometimes be lacking in Shapeways printed materials. The puzzle measures approximately 3.5" tall once assembled, with each stick being 3.5" long with a 7/8" cross-section.

The sticks just keep on holding.

The sticks just keep on holding.

The fit is perfect, and each of the sticks holds the others at the right angles all the way until the last two pieces. That certainly makes this a much more enjoyable puzzle to play with, as you don't feel like you're fighting your own fingers and wrestling with a dexterity challenge.

Six pentagonal pieces

Six pentagonal pieces

There's one key piece, followed by five notched sticks which must be removed in sequence to take the puzzle apart. While it's not trivial after the pieces are mixed up, I'd say that this is certainly an approachable puzzle for most people. Having taken it apart, and mixed the pieces, then left them alone for a while, I was able to put it back together in around 20 minutes. Now, I'm no expert in this style of assembly puzzle, but it was both fun and a good level of challenge for me.

Penta Beams is available from Oskar's Shapeways shop if you'd like a copy of your own.



29Nov/121

Cube Puzzle a.k.a. Jigsaw Cube

I've written about many cube based puzzles on my blog, including my journey into the making of a number of cube based puzzles, but so far they are all made from wood. The Cube Puzzle, or Jigsaw Cube is an eight piece metal puzzle made by Inform designs. This is the first metal cube in my collection and given that it's been sitting on my desk for long enough it's probably about time I wrote about it. I received my copy from Puzzle Master. The goal of the puzzle is to take apart the cube, and restore it to its original configuration.

Jigsaw Cube Solved

Jigsaw Cube Solved

As you can see from the photograph, the puzzle comes with a chrome stand to display it, making it a perfect object for your desk at work. The Matt finish to the puzzle pieces sets it off well against the highly polished base, and the notch cut into the top of the stand allowing the cube to be displayed either flat on the top, or balanced on one corner really adds to the effect. Measuring in at 1.5" x 1.5" 1.5" with an identical sized stand the puzzle is a reasonably good size to play with, and being solid has a good weight to it as well.

Pieces plus stand for the Jigsaw Cube

Pieces plus stand for the Jigsaw Cube

The puzzle itself consists of eight pieces with varying ridges and troughs cut into them, giving the assembled puzzle the appearance of Jigsaw puzzle pieces. There are a number of small magnets placed in the corners of a number of the pieces which help hold the puzzle in its solution shape. In my case, one of the magnets was not glued in place, so fell out when I opened the puzzle. Not a big issue, and a little CA glue soon sorted the problem out. The magnets themselves play virtually no part in the solution of the puzzle as the polarity is the same on all pieces with the exception of one corner, so any almost piece will 'stick' to any other.

Reference marks on the pieces

Reference marks on the pieces

Looking at the pieces there are two sets of identical pieces, so this greatly reduces the possible orientations that the puzzle can be put together and makes it much easier to solve. Unfortunately that's not the only drawback to this puzzle. On each piece there are a number of dots engraved on the piece. This gives an order to putting the pieces together, and are rather difficult to miss. For me this really detracts from the puzzle, and makes it almost impossible to solve it without 'cheating'. Even without looking at the included solution it is almost a given that the markings will influence any attempt you have to solve it.

Overall, this is a very well made puzzle, and looks great. For me though, the engraving really detracts from the puzzle and makes me thing this is one to pass on, unless you want a simple gift that's going to look great sitting on the desk of a puzzle enthusiast in your life. If Inform designs read this, consider removing those markings from the mold, and you'll have a much better puzzle!

For another view about this puzzle, have a look at what Oli said over here.



31Aug/123

Tetraxis at IPP 32

During the Design competition at this year's IPP I was able to play around with some of Jane and John Kostick's new designs. In total there were three new designs from Jane this year, and despite not winning any awards, they are all great to play with, and much like the Tetraxis I wrote about yesterday, have a quality that makes you want to take them apart and put them back together. A lot.

This year there were many more puzzling elements to the offerings so rather than just making the complete structure, you could spend a lot of time trying to make the other structures mentioned. First up is the 3 Layer Tetraxis array.

Kostick's 3 Layer Tetraxis array on a bronze star

Kostick's 3 Layer Tetraxis array on a bronze star

3 layer Tetraxis array

This is the largest of the three structures, measuring 4.5" when fully assembled. (Thanks Allard for the correct size) Made from a number of exotic woods including Wenge, Maple, and at a guess Bubinga and Spalted Apple, the puzzle looks stunning. Jane's top quality finish on the pieces is clear and the fit is excellent. As with the Tetraxis array I wrote about yesterday the pieces are embedded with magnets which hold the structure together, and help lead you to the solution.

I had a lot of fun playing with this puzzle. It has the initial appearance that it's much harder than it looks which may have put some people off, but it's so much fun to play with that you're really missing out if you don't.

There were seven challenges with the 61 sticks and blocks. None were overly difficult, however each creates a stunning structure which would look great in any display. Also it's worth noting that all of the first three solutions can be made at the same time.

The challenges were to use the set of 61 sticks and blocks to put together seven compositions that symmetrically surround a center:

1. Using one block and the 12 longest sticks
2. Using the 12 blocks and the 12 mid-length sticks
3. Using the 24 shortest sticks
4. Combine 1 & 2
5. Combine 1 & 3
6. Combine 2 & 3
7. Combine 1, 2 & 3

Below are a few images showing some possible combinations, but I'm not going to show all the solutions, you can work them out for yourself!

Tetraxis, outer later removed.

Tetraxis, outer later removed.

The outer 'layer' removed showing the inner structure.

Tetraxis, inner cage

Tetraxis, inner cage

The Wenge 'core' disassembled leaving the inner cage. As you can see the magnets and the lattice hold the structure together without any support.

Tetraxis core

Tetraxis core

The Inner symmetric core. I love this structure.

Tetraxis

Tetraxis

Both parts of the inner core assembled separately. If you look closely, you can see the three sticks in each plane.

Tetraxis, assembling the core inside the cage.

Tetraxis, assembling the core inside the cage.

Here you can see how the inner code is nested inside the cage.

Chamfered Cube

Chamfered Cube

Chamfered Cube

Next up is the Chamfered Cube. This much smaller structure looks exactly as the name suggests, and really stands out with the pyramid shaped indents in each side of the cube. For some reason my photos of the remaining two puzzles didn't turn out very well, so I'm having to use the competition photos from John Rausch's site.

The goal for this puzzle is to use either set of 12 sticks to hold the 8 blocks in place at the corners of a cube and then to add the other set of sticks to make a large chamfered cube, which is the shape of the small white block that can fit in the center of the arrangement. This isn't a difficult challenge as the shape of the ends of the sticks, and the blocks themselves guide you toward the correct solution. Made from Black Palm, Red Oak, and at a guess Chakte Viga it's a striking looking puzzle.

Double Duals

Double Duals

Double Duals

The third entry is Double Duals. Around the same size as the Chamfered Cube, this is another stunning looking puzzle. Made from Leopardwood, and possibly red oak (not sure on the lighter wood), this puzzle is almost an inverse construction of the previous puzzle. Rather than the sticks crossing through the centre of the structure, here they form the outer shell.

The goal of the puzzle is to make a pair of complementary arrangements such that each one contains blocks and 12 sticks symmetrically surrounding a center. Then put them together so that one is inside the other, and they both surround the block without magnets. Then repeat the entire process with each set of sticks making the opposite arrangement.

The clever part here is that as is hinted at, you can swap the sticks between the inner and outer construction. It's a clever arrangement, and really needs to be played with to be appreciated.

Other KoStick Puzzles from IPP

The competition entries weren't the only appearance of Jane's work over the weekend. It turns out that the IPP committee had arranged for Jane to make a very special little puzzle for each of the people who helped run and organise the events over the weekend. That came in the form of a tiny little Tetraxis puzzle.

Brian with his Kostick puzzle as thanks for helping

Brian with his Kostick puzzle as thanks for helping

Brian Pletcher was one of the people helping out and was given one of these beautiful little puzzles. as such I was lucky enough to be able to get a good look at it. It's not a challenging assembly, however the way the blocks have been cut, there are multiple ways to assemble the pieces.

A closeup of the Tetraxis gift made by Jane Kostick

A closeup of the Tetraxis gift made by Jane Kostick

A closeup of the Tetraxis gift made by Jane Kostick

A closeup of the Tetraxis gift made by Jane Kostick


It's a great looking puzzle, and something I'm sure the IPP organisers will be very happy to have in their collections.

There was one final puzzle from the KoStick range which I played with over the weekend, which was thanks to John Rausch pulling a tube with some of Jane's pieces out of his pocket and handing them to me. It turns out having talked with Jane that the puzzle was a 2 Layer Tetraxis array, knows as 4P1S. Now I have no idea what the code stands for, but for me it was probably the most challenging of the Tetraxis puzzles that I played with over the weekend.

Tetraix 2 layer Array 4P1S

Tetraix 2 layer Array 4P1S

The version John had was in a single wood, however when I spoke to Jane about the puzzle she mentioned that she had two versions available. Seeing the puzzle above in Mahogany with Ebony and Holly tips I was quick to buy it from Jane. The puzzle is very similar to the Chamfered Cubes puzzle however there are no corner blocks to help with the assembly. As such this is a much harder puzzle to put together and as such I found it a lot of fun.

In total there are 24 sticks, 12 long and 12 short which need to be combined to make the shape above. It may look fairly simple, but it's not as easy as it looks. Starting off, you make two sub-assemblies which you need to interlock, and then build up from there. Seeing how the first two interlock is the real challenge, and once they are in place, the rest comes together fairly quickly from there.

If I were to recommend one of the puzzles to get, it would be this last puzzle. I did!

Overall, Jane's work is incredible, and really the photos don't do it justice. It needs to be seen to be appreciated, and the movement of the pieces only really becomes magical when you have it in your hands. The wooden versions are well priced for the work that goes into them, but if you want a cheap version to be able to play with and get a feel for how the pieces interact before spending a lot of money, then I'd recommend some of the plastic versions which you can buy on their web shop.



30Aug/121

Tetraxis and Six-Axis

Wow, doesn't time fly. It's nearly the end of 2012, and I realise that I still haven't sat down and written up the Tetraxis puzzles that I received from Jane Kostick over a year ago. Worse that that, I created the video review back in October (last year)! Not only that but after being at IPP and playing with more of Jane Kostick's excellent puzzles, I've bought more from her and really need to review that too. So with all the procrastination out of the way, I hope you enjoy the review of this fine puzzle set.

Some time before IPP31 I came across Jane and John Kosticks website, and really liked the look of their puzzles. Digging around a little, I found that as well as the mass produced plastic versions of the puzzles, Jane also made some rather unique versions from wood as well. So chancing my arm, I got in touch and asked if she would make me a set.

Jane and I chatted back and forth for a while via email, and eventually agreed on some woods to use from Jane's fairly large stock, and she set about making the puzzle pieces for me. I have to admit that I really enjoyed talking with her about the puzzle itself, how the magnets were attached to the sticks, her experiences with different woods, and many other topics, including IPP. In the year that has passed since then I still talk to Jane via email occasionally and on returning from IPP 32 I threw her another email commenting both on the great puzzles that she had in the Design competition, and also a particular puzzle that John Rausch had given me to play with, but more on that later.

Unbeknown to me, fellow puzzler Allard was also having a set of Jane's sticks made and unlike me he wrote about them in a much more timely fashion.

Tetraxis

Tetraxis

My copy is a three layer puzzle with a rhombic triacontahedron in the centre, then Jane and John's Six-axis in the middle and a Ten-axis Tetraxis frame on the outside. The inner parts are made from Bubinga, Black Palm and Maple, and the outer Ten-axis is Cherry. They have trademarked the name Tetraxis, and use it to cover all of the puzzles they make including the Tetraxis Star, Tetraxis toy/puzzle, and Tetraxis magnetic sculptures in wood.

The whole structure shows the fantastic geometric relationships that are found in John's stars and really helps you to visualise the geometry in play. So many puzzles are based on the geometry here, and you'll probably recognise the shape of the six-axis Tetraxis as the same shape as Stewart Coffin's Jupiter puzzle (amongst others).

Tetraxis Bronze Star

Tetraxis Bronze Star

When I originally ordered the puzzle from Jane, things took a little longer than she would have liked due to some dull saw blades, so she ended up sending me one of her husbands Tetraxis stars (4 axis) as a little extra to say sorry for the delay. Now given that this was a custom order I really don't think it took long at all, and the craftsmanship is superb. To my mind there was no delay and really it wasn't an issue at all, so thanks for the little extra Jane, it's beautiful too.

Tenaxis Closeup

Tenaxis Closeup

The Sixaxis partially solved

The Sixaxis partially solved

Sixaxis showing the five sticks coming together

Sixaxis showing the five sticks coming together


As you can see from the closeup pictures, the fit and finish of the sticks is excellent, and Jane has even signed the pieces which on this scale is no easy task. The overall structure may be fairly large as you can see in the video, measuring 4" however each stick is just 0.25" thick on the outer Ten-axis assembly.

Tenaxis Signed

Tenaxis Signed

Sixaxis Signed

Sixaxis Signed

Putting the pieces together isn't overly challenging, and the magnets pull everything into place nicely so in terms of a challenge, this isn't the most difficult puzzle you'll play with, however it is remarkably relaxing to just start putting the pieces together and hear them snap into place. The resulting shape has a sculpture like quality which sits very proudly on my puzzle shelves, and gets a lot of attention from visitors.

Tenaxis Puzzle

Tenaxis Puzzle

The inner Rhombic Triacontrahedron

The inner Rhombic Triacontrahedron

Tetraxis layers

Tetraxis layers

It's a beautiful puzzle, and truly a work of art. This year at IPP, Jane and John had a number of new designs entered which I was fortunate enough to play with. Not only that but John Rausch had a one off puzzle Jane had made which he handed me to play with. Having talked to Jane about this puzzle after IPP, I now have a copy of that too, so come back tomorrow to read about her IPP entries and a new design that I fell in love with.



30Apr/122

Three Piece What ‘sit

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series IPP 31

At IPP 31 in Berlin George Bell exchanged his Three Piece What 'sit made by Bernhard Schweitzer in the New Pelikan workshop. The goal, and the only hints you get are to "Assemble the 3 pieces to an allside symmetrical 3D shape"

The Three Piece Whatsit Pieces

The Three Piece Whatsit Pieces

This great looking puzzle is made from Maple and Robina and measures 2.75" x 2.75" x 2.75". The three pieces are a good size in your hands and give little away about how they should be combined. Playing around you'll quickly find several ways that two of the pieces can be joined, which leave no room for the third to fall into place.

I probably spent around 10 minutes before I found the correct orientation of the first two pieces to allow the third to drop into place correctly, leaving a very pleasing solution shape. Taking it apart and photographing it for the review, it then took me around another 10 minutes to get it back to its solved state again. Since then I've taken it apart and put it back together again several more times, and I can solve it fairly reliably now. I'm sure if I left the pieces separate for a while then came back to it, it would take a little time before I could solve it again, so the level of difficulty is reasonable on this one.

Interestingly, at the at same time as George designed this puzzle, Don Charnley also designed the same puzzle, and named it Donz Q'b. The interesting thing is that the puzzles pieces are mirror images of each other. So you may find this puzzle referred to by either name, but in the end it's the same puzzle.

Solution shape of the What 'sit

Solution shape of the What 'sit

I've deliberately, not included the picture of the solved shape as part of the gallery since that's part of the challenge, but since it's readily available in a number of places on the web, if you want to see it, click on the image above to see the full shape. Overall, a fun puzzle, and highly recommended if you can get a copy.