Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
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.



17Apr/140

Marbled Walnut Sheet Cake

I have been an admirer of Perry McDaniel for quite some time, having come across his work through my own woodworking, and the exposure to Incra jigs. Perry works for Incra and has published books relating to the use of the Incra jigs in making repeatable precise joinery. Nowhere is that more true than in puzzle making.

I was recently fortunate enough to be able to add Perry's IPP26 puzzle the Marbled Walnut Sheet Cake to my collection.

Marbled Walnut Sheet Cake by Perry McDaniel

Marbled Walnut Sheet Cake by Perry McDaniel

This striking puzzle is classic of the dovetail work that Perry produces, with amazing accuracy, and a level of fit that makes me strive to be a better woodworker.

Measuring in at a little over 2.5" x 2" it's a rectangular cake slice made from Walnut and Maple. The figured Walnut used at the top of the slice really makes this look all the more like a chocolate sponge, and from a distance it could be easily mistaken. Without looking closely, you'll not even see the join the two walnut halves, and the dovetail on each side is near invisible.

Marbled Walnut Sheet Cake side view

Marbled Walnut Sheet Cake side view

The side view shows just how invisible that joint is. The level of accuracy that is achieved here is stunning. And it's even more impressive when you realise that this is only one of 200 copies made, and every one is made to this standard. Even with this level of accuracy, when you find out how to start opening the box, the movement is so smooth it's incredible. The measurement here is so precise that there's no gap, but equally no binding of the pieces. I really do consider this a master class in joinery! (Sorry, I'll stop gushing now).

Marbled Walnut Sheet Cake Nutrition

Marbled Walnut Sheet Cake Nutrition

Perry added a great touch by putting some nutritional information on the side of the box. It's a great touch, and really adds some character to the puzzle. I do hope that the boxes survive with the puzzle as it does add to the charm.

Getting back to the puzzle itself, on initial inspection there's not much movement, but the twin dovetail will give you a good idea of what needs to happen to open the puzzle. Turning the box around, there's a distinct rattling coming from the box. At this point there's no real indication as to whether that will be helpful or not. I had the distinct feeling that it's not. (Am I getting cynical?) After a short time exploring I found a move which would allow some movement of the puzzle, and the two halves of the cake started to slide apart. It wasn't the end though, as the sliding movement (which is so incredibly smooth) stops a little under half way, and reveals nothing about the mechanism keeping the box locked, or the source of that rattling!

Marbled Walnut Sheet Cake Open

Marbled Walnut Sheet Cake Open

I have to admit that I was rather stumped at this point for quite some time, and as with the best puzzles in my collection, when I finally found the final step required, and solved the puzzle, the realisation that the mechanism is so simple, yet stumped me, makes the Aha moment even better when it comes. Understanding how the mechanism work, it's easy to re-open it quickly, and despite saying it more than once already, the accuracy of the joints, and the silky smooth operation easily makes this one of the best made puzzles in my collection. As you can see from the photo above, the source of the rattling is pretty obvious when the puzzle is open. I'm very pleased to have added this, and would highly recommend picking up a copy if you happen to come across one.

I did pick up a copy of Perry's Incra book, and have a few of his projects planned. If I can get even half as close to the level of accuracy he is able to achieve I'll be ecstatic.



14Mar/140

Don’t Shout

Back in 2011, Phil Tomlinson came out with his first puzzle box, The Always Empty Box, which I was very pleased to be able to obtain a copy, and was really impressed with his first attempt. Well Phil has now produced his second puzzle box, the Don't Shout box, and I'm pleased to say it's every bit as good as the first.

Don't Shout by Phil Tomlinson

Don't Shout by Phil Tomlinson

Looking very similar to his first box, and being the same size, the two puzzles look great together. Measuring 3-1/4" x 3-1/2" x 5-1/4", the only external difference to the original puzzle is the addition of a stripe across the top of the box. Phil produced two options, with either a Maple stripe, or a Wenge Stripe across the centre. I opted for the Wenge, however there's no difference between the mechanisms. It's all down to personal preference, and I really like the look of Wenge.

Despite the two puzzle boxes looking the same, I'm sure I don't need to tell you that the opening mechanisms are completely different between each puzzle. Before playing with the new puzzle, I took the original out of my collection and re-opened it. I'm pleased to say that despite knowing how to open it, I'd forgotten one step, and had to spend a good five minutes to figure out how to open it again. It's still a great puzzle, and made me smile re-opening it. Putting aside the Always Empty Box, I turned my attention to the Don't Shout.

Puzzle Box Brothers

Puzzle Box Brothers

Phil gave the same great puzzle documents with the box as he did on the first box, including feeding instructions for the box. It may seem silly, but it's a great touch, and really shows that Phil is putting a lot of himself into his puzzles. Very quickly you'll find that the hints of the first puzzle are present here, however it certainly doesn't act the same way. The first move is going to be fairly familiar for fans of the Japanese sliding puzzle box, but that's where the similarity ends. The next move is great, and totally unexpected. After that there's some symmetry to the solution, until the last move which will once again challenge you to find out how the box opens. That final move reminds me a lot of Phil's first box in that it was a great motion, and was easy to miss or prevent yourself from opening the puzzle due to some clumsy fingering.

Don't shout Open

Don't shout Open

Thanks Phil, you've made another great box, and I'm pleased that I have been able to add both of your boxes to my collection. They're great puzzles, and if you see one for sale, pick it up. It's unusual, and well worth a place on the puzzle shelves. There's apparently a nod to the opening mechanism in the name. I needed a small hint from Phil to understand the reference, but it is there, and it is clever.



6Mar/141

Angel Box

Wil Strijbos is a well-known name in the puzzle world, with his metal puzzles being beautifully made, and highly sought after. Not only does he design and sell his own puzzles, but he seems to be able to find rare puzzles which other people, myself included, seem near impossible to find. I have no idea how he comes across some of the items, but all you need to do is to ask. When Wil announced his latest sequential discovery puzzle "The Angel Box" with a fairly long story about its creation, it sounded pretty interesting, and given enough time, one found its way to me.

The Angel Box from Wil Strijbos

The Angel Box from Wil Strijbos

If you've ordered a puzzle from Wil in the past, you'll know immediately when it arrives, as the package is always completely covered in a layer of brown packing tape. After that, there's various quantities of bubble wrap and newspaper to keep the puzzle safe. The Angel Box takes the packing one step further, and you'll find the puzzle itself wrapped in the very attractive birthday gift style box, complete with bow and gift tag.

An early birthday present

An early birthday present

Look what's inside

Look what's inside

As you've probably realised already, this is a big puzzle. At 6.25" x 4.33" x 2.75" and weighing in at a whopping 1.9Kg it's fair to call this heavy metal. Made from some pretty serious aluminium, while the puzzle isn't a solid block, it is solid. I certainly recommend puzzling with this one at the table. Not just due to the potential damage you could do from dropping the puzzle, but also due to the tools that you'll start accumulating as you work through the puzzle. The small peep-hole in the side gives a hint of the goal, to remove the Angel from the box.

Your first challenge is the padlock on the front of the box, and as you'd expect from a puzzle, the small metal tag held in the shackle doesn't contain the code you need to open the lock. That would be far too simple, and if you've read any of my other reviews of Wil's puzzles, you'll know that opening a puzzle for the first time tends not to be simple! At least the plate gives you the clue that the code is 4 digits which should make life a little easier for you.

Before too long, you should have the padlock removed, and be able to make some progress, although it may not seem helpful at first. At this stage, there's not a lot of options to progress, and as with any good sequential discovery puzzle, you'll quickly find a few tools, which in theory should be useful. Finding out what to do with the tools you've found is all part of the fun, and take heed from Wil's own guidelines, that the padlock is not needed to solve the puzzle. Don't be tempted to use parts of it in the solution. He gets very upset if you use the padlock as a tool!

Looking around the puzzle, you'll find a number of small holes scattered about, and figuring out how to use the tools you have, and the correct sequence to use what you'll find as you explore is the key to progress. There's a great sense of achievement as you discover how the mechanism interacts, and finally make the next step toward progress in solving the puzzle. That's lock #2 down.

That done, another tool will almost magically appear, and allow some fairly obvious progress toward opening the box. Lock #3 passed. Then things get interesting, and this is where I lost one of my tools. There's a little flaw in the design of the puzzle, which allows you to lose the tool you need, and potentially prevent part of the mechanism from working correctly. To my mind, it would be a fairly simple issue to fix, but for now, a little care is needed not to lose a key tool. With this part of the puzzle carefully navigated, you'll have lock #4 solved, and the goal should be in sight.

The Angel in the centre of the box is within grasp, but there's a final lock, a cage, keeping her locked away. It shouldn't take you long to get past this final lock and release the Angel. Lock #5 solved.

The Angel and her heart

The Angel and her heart

With the Angel free, you're not quite done. Freeing her heart is the last piece of the puzzle. A small note located with her will leave you with a final set of instructions... but I'll leave it for you to decide whether to call the number or not. Perhaps Google it first!

Overall The Angel Box is a nice puzzle. Far simpler than I had thought it was going to be, and it took me far less time to solve than I had perhaps hoped for a puzzle at this price. Start to finish I had the puzzle open in 10 minutes so it's certainly not a puzzle which will have you stuck for weeks. That said, my solve time may not be representative of the mileage others have had. Now my challenge is whether to display her inside her birthday box, or as the attractive aluminium puzzle that she is outside the box.



3Feb/140

Havanas #3 – Mike

Seems like I've managed to get a little time free recently to play with the odd puzzle or two, and one I've been playing with on and off for quite some time is the latest puzzle box from Eric Fuller, in the form of the Havanas #3. Not only have I had time to play with a few of the puzzles in my backlog, but I even seem to have time to write about them!

Havanas #3 - 'Mike'

Havanas #3 - "Mike"

When Eric first offered these back in November of 2013, I had the choice of all three woods he'd made the puzzle in. From the choice of Birdseye Maple, Pink Ebony and Flame Maple, I opted for the Flame Maple.

No matter how hard I've tried, none of the photographs in this review do the puzzle justice. The Woods are simply stunning, and need to be handled to be appreciated. Sadly it seems there was a small error when Eric was making these, and he only had enough boxes to meet the pre-order quota of 50 boxes.

All three so far

All three so far

Measuring 1.7" x 1.9" x 6.4", this is the largest of the three Cigar boxes Eric has made so far, and given the trend, I'm not sure how large the next one is going to be. Strangely, despite this trend, the cigars inside the box haven't increased in size.

The box is made from quartersawn Sapele, which is remarkably stable, and allows Eric to make the box from fairly thin stock without worrying about the wood warping. Each box then has the fancy woods applied as thin veneer to each face. The Quilted Sapele on the sides has a fantastic appearance, and to my mind is complimented well with the Flame Maple on the top and bottom.

A few other puzzlers have already written about this puzzle, so have a look at the thoughts from Allard and Jerry.

I'm a little slower in writing about it, not because I've not been lazy, but because it's taken me this long to open it! Eric stated in the original information about the puzzle that "I've given the prototype to several friends to play with and it seems to take most of them roughly an hour to solve." Well I can say it took me several months to solve it. The first few moves are fairly simple, and won't challenge anyone who's played with a traditional Japanese puzzle box. After that, things come to a complete halt, and no further progress can be made.

Havanas #3 opened to release the cigar

Havanas #3 opened to release the cigar

Without giving too much away, there's something of a red herring in there, that threw me off for far too long. A non-puzzler would probably have opened the puzzle far faster. The final couple of moves are very well hidden, and the box gives absolutely nothing away as to how it will open.

In all honesty, this isn't my favorite of the puzzles in the Havanas series, and the first is still the best puzzle in my view. I'm looking forward to the fourth box in the series now, and just hope that I manage to open it a little easier than I did with #3.



30Jan/142

Stickman #16 – Domino Box

In my last post, I started creating the dominoes to complete the copy of Stickman #16, the Domino Box I had recently acquired. In this post, I'll finish making the dominoes and review this very tricky Stickman Puzzle Box.

Stickman #16 - The Domino Box

Stickman #16 - The Domino Box

Once the box is filled with dominoes, plus a couple of additional pieces that Stickman created to fill the space, the previous solver can shuffle the dominoes, effectively creating the starting point for the next solver. But before I get to the review itself, I still have to finish making the dominoes. If you're only interested in the review, then jump here.

The Jig to cut the centre line in the domino

The Jig to cut the centre line in the domino

I spent most of my Sunday morning putting together a new jig just to put the centre line in the dominoes. As you probably remember from the last post, I finished up having cut the spots, but still had the challenge of creating that centre line split that all dominoes have. I needed to be able to do this quickly and accurately, and also had to take into account that tearout was possible when cutting across the grain of the wood. Had I been sensible, I'd have cut the centre line before creating the bevel, making tearout a much lesser issue, since the bevel would cleanup any possible tearout.

Given that I didn't do that (live and learn!) I had to create a crosscut sled, with the blade angled at 45 degrees to the table. This allowed me to cut using the corner of the blade, and create the desired effect. Although it may look like the blade is inside the jig in the picture above, it's actually 1/64" above the plane of the jig. Just enough to cut the shallow groove I need.

Adjusting the stop to get a perfect cut

Adjusting the stop to get a perfect cut

The first attempt, I had my stop block slightly off, so the cut was fractionally too wide and left a hill in the centre of the domino. A quick adjustment of the stop block, and the test domino looked good. The benefit of having the stop and this jig is that the cuts are repeatable, and very quick to make. It takes less than 10 seconds per domino.

The finished Ebony Dominoes

The finished Ebony Dominoes

Half an hour later, I had two full sets of dominoes finished. Now of course there's some final sanding and finish to be applied, but the dominoes themselves are complete, and could be used in the puzzle at this point. It took two days over two weekends to make the two sets of dominoes and was time well spent in my mind. There's another Stickman puzzle (two in fact) which are now complete and will hopefully allow these excellent puzzles to be enjoyed by many more people.

Stickman #16 - The Domino Box, complete and ready to puzzle

Stickman #16 - The Domino Box, complete and ready to puzzle

So with all the work I put in to completing this puzzle, was it worth it, and is the puzzle any good?

The puzzle measures 6" x 6" x 2", and has enough space to store a regular set of 6 spot dominoes (that's 28 if you weren't sure), as well as a few additional shapes just to make things interesting. Made from Walnut and Monticello it's a sturdy box, which with all the ornate work on the top and bottom makes it a great looking puzzle.

The Base of the box

The Base of the box

With the Stickman logo on the top, the Domino and Devost on the bottom to signify that the dominoes were made by John Devost, this stands out on the puzzle shelves. Of course in my case, the dominoes were made by me, and this is the only set of dominoes in the run of boxes to be made from Ebony. I was very lucky to get the Ebony blocks from John through Stickman, so this is the wood which was intended to be with this box. I'm incredibly happy that some of the Ebony has the amazing red tint to it. Sadly, over time this will oxidse into the dark rich black that is normally associated with Ebony, but for now I'm going to enjoy this wonderful hue.

I think this probably qualifies as one of the simplest mechanisms in a Stickman Puzzle that I've come across. If we break it down to the bare minimum, it's a box, with a sliding lid, and two blocks glued to the inside. Don't read that the wrong way, the craftsmanship in this puzzle is everything you'd expect from a master craftsman like Stickman, and given the CNC work, it's one of the more ornate puzzles he's produced.

It's up to the puzzler to insert the dominoes into the box, in any orientation he desires along with the additional pieces, close the lid, and then shift a few of the dominoes around to lock the puzzle. The challenge is then to return the dominoes to their original position which leaves a small gap at each corner on the front of the puzzle, allowing it to be opened.

Front of the box showing the solved state, and the open mechanism

Front of the box showing the solved state, and the open mechanism

The Upper image shows the gaps which have to be created. Looking through the two outer holes in the box, there's a gap in the middle layer of tiles. The top two reddish bricks at the top are the two which are glued to the frame and make the locking mechanism. Once those spaces are clear, the front can be slid down, allowing the top to slide part way out, allowing access to the dominoes.

The opened box, allowing access to the dominoes

The opened box, allowing access to the dominoes

In terms of the difficulty, this is a very challenging puzzle. Those holes which are all around the box look huge until you try to move a domino inside the box, and realise that the gaps are not as large or as helpful as you might like. I found myself often tapping the side of the box against my palm to cause a domino to slide where I needed it. Moving dominoes between layers is especially tricky, and it's not had to create a state inside the box that will take a lot of time to solve. Even Stickman himself admits that he found himself locked out of the box for hours.

The opened box, allowing access to the dominoes

The opened box, allowing access to the dominoes

I really like this puzzle box, and it doesn't hurt that once you solve it, you can go ahead and make use of the dominoes inside. I'm very pleased to have been able to turn this into a working puzzle and I hope this will give more puzzle enthusiasts a chance to play with another Stickman design.