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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every now and then an opportunity arises to take a puzzle in potentia, finish it, and bring another puzzle into the world. I recently had that opportunity with one of Stickman's puzzles. At a recent auction, I was bidding on a copy of Stickman's Domino Box, and given that I'm friends with the man himself, I was talking to him about it. He happened to mention that he had a carcass of the puzzle that just needed the dominoes made for it. He even had the blocks of Ebony to make them.
The Domino Box was a joint venture between Stickman and John Devost. Stickman made the housing for the dominoes, and the extra 'bits' that for the mechanism of the puzzle, and John Devost made all the sets of Dominoes.
Turns out neither he nor John Devost had the time, or motivation to make the dominoes, so Robert offered me the chance to take that copy instead of the one I had won at auction. I'll not go into the details, but both myself, and the person I was bidding against got a great deal on the puzzle, so it was a win-win situation.
What arrived from Stickman was everything needed to make the puzzle functional. As you can see in the photo above, I received four blocks of Ebony, the carcass for the puzzle, a bag of domino templates, the special drill bit to cut the spots, and a jig to help in cutting the spots. There were also some original dominoes cut by John Devost for sizing, the interesting shaped pieces which are part of the mechanism, and the original puzzle booklet. It's quite the collection of pieces, however it was going to need some work to make it into a Stickman.
Originally, this was to be a special edition, with the Ebony Dominoes however as often happens with a run of puzzles, toward the end the last couple never quite get completed. Having everything I needed, and not having the drain of completing 25 copies of a puzzle, the motivation was there to make up the dominoes. This post will show you the process of making up the set of dominoes to turn this into a functional puzzle, and add a unique copy of the Domino Box to my collection.
Not long after I received the kit, I heard from another puzzling friend, over in the land of Oz who had heard through the puzzle grapevine that I had all the necessary 'bits' to make up a set of dominoes. He asked if it would be possible to create a set for him while I was making my own as he also had a carcass that needed the dominoes. Making two sets, isn't a lot more work than making one, so of course I agreed.
From the Ebony blocks, I had to figure out how to get the 28 domino blanks I needed from the blocks. Unlike the second set where I had a full eight foot board to work with, here I had just enough to make the dominoes. (Ed: I didn't realise just how close it was until much later)
I also had to be very careful when cutting the blocks to size, as there was some significant checking running through the entire block in two out of the four wood blanks, which would ruin a domino if the checking came through the piece. Fortunately, the block was thick enough that I could cut it and avoid the checking, to get just enough stock.
With the stock milled to the correct thickness (10mm) for the dominoes I had a set of boards, which as you can see are wider than needed for the final domino blanks. The lighter stock is Ambrosia Maple. I had picked up a beautiful board at a recent trip to the lumber store, and despite not knowing what I'd use it for at the time, I couldn't pass up such a stunning board. When I was asked to make the second set of Dominoes, this seemed like the perfect use for some of that board.
Having used the original dominoes Stickman had provided, I cut the long strips of wood to the correct width, ready for making into the domino blanks.
With my crosscut sled, I took the original domino and used that to set my stop block to allow me to quickly and accurately cut the blanks to length.
Each long stick has its end trimmed on the sled to make sure that it is absolutely 90 degrees to the long edge, and makes sure it will be parallel to the other end when cut to size. After that, it's a simple process of placing the stick against the stop block, and pushing the sled across the blade. Each domino blank is perfectly sized, with very little work needed.
Before long I had a couple of stacks of domino blanks. There was enough wood to get exactly 28 blanks from the Ebony. I had a little more of the maple stock, so I cut a number of spare dominoes just so that I had extras to test out each additional step in the process. After all, I had no room to screw up with the Ebony stock.
In the back left of the image are all the offcuts from the stock. I'll certainly not be throwing all that Ebony away. I'm sure it will make its way into another project at some point.
Leaving the blanks with their sharp edges after cutting on the saw means they're not particularly nice to handle. The sharp edges, especially on the Ebony which takes such a good edge mean that the pieces are not particularly tactile, and need a little softening. Putting a small chamfer on the edges takes the harshness from the pieces. Initially I was planning to put a roundover on the pieces, however the roundover bit I have didn't give me a pleasing result, so I decided against it. The benefit of having the spare dominoes meant I could experiment without worrying about something not working.
With the chamfers finished, it was time to make these domino blanks into dominoes. The bag of spot cutting templates I received contained all 28 blanks needed, including a double zero tile. I assume that whichever company was making the templates had issues that someone out there forgot to make a double blank, so they had to include it. I took the time to separate the templates into their groups, just to make sure I had everything I needed before starting.
Using one of the spare domino blanks I'd cut earlier, I tested the template and spot cutting drill bit to see how they worked together, and get a feeling for how to cut the spots. I added a couple of shims to make sure the blank was positioned correctly under the drill bit template. The drill bit itself is rather clever. There's a collar on the end of the bit, which drops into the hole in the template, and when you push the drill down, the rounded cutting head protrudes below the template to make the cut. The jig holds both the domino and the template in the same fixed location allowing for consistent spot placement, and no chance of spots becoming oval shaped.
The end result is well placed, consistently positioned spots which are all the same depth, with virtually no thought or skill required from the operator. I'll count that as a good thing, as it would be all to easy to ruin hours of work without the template and special bit.
After a couple of hours work with the drill, I had 56 dominoes cut. The two full sets look great, but sadly I'm not finished yet. The central divider needs to be added to each domino, and I need to make a new crosscut sled where the blade is at 45 degrees to the table in order to add that detail. I then also have the difficult choice of whether to ink the spots or not. As you can see from the original dominoes I have, the spots are accented by adding the black ink to really make them stand out. Before I make a final decision I'll test out a couple of options and see what works best.
The observant among you may have been wondering why some of the Ebony dominoes are red. When I started working the Ebony blocks, one of them had the red tint to the wood. Personally I love the red tint, and wish I had more of this wood. It will eventually oxidize back to the dark black that you can see from the outside of the original block, but I'm going to enjoy the red tint while I can!
In the next post, I'll finish up the dominoes before putting them into the puzzle, and enjoy solving it for the first time.
Back at IPP 32 in DC, I had the pleasure of playing with a puzzle box from the incredibly talented Michail Toulouzas. I was fortunate, and opened the puzzle in a few minutes, so feeling quite smug, went to close the box to leave for the next puzzler only to find that the door wouldn't shut. I realised at that point that I wanted one of these.
Returning back from IPP, I wrote to Mike, and kindly asked that if he made any more if he's consider making one for me. I was pleasantly surprised when he wrote back telling me that in fact he was making some, and he'd added me to the list!
Around a year went by and in various conversations with Mike, he assured me (and a few other puzzlers) that he'd not forgotten about us, and was still working on the puzzles. IPP was coming round again, and he had puzzles to make for Japan, so he'd delayed 'The Vault' a little while he worked on those. Now just before I'm due to get married, I get an email from Mike saying the puzzle was finished and on its way to me! Arriving just a day or two before my big day, it was a great wedding present.
The puzzle itself is 8" x 5" x 4.3" and is made from Ebony, Mahogany and Chakte Viga. Mike's attention to detail is nothing short of breathtaking, and everything down to the rivets in the hinges is beautifully finished. It's instantly recognisable as an old fashioned safe, and it feels as sturdy and solid as you'd expect and old time safe to be. Details such as the turned feet, and combination lock handle have been lovingly crafted to really make you feel like you're cracking a safe as you open it.
There is one other piece to the puzzle and that takes the form of a torch. It's sized perfectly to fit into one of those keyhole slots in the side of the puzzle, leaving your hands free to play with the knobs on the front, and able to peer into the inner workings thanks to the light provided.
After an initial inspection there's only the two knobs on the front which will do anything, and you can see quickly from peering inside what they do. The handle on the right is attached to a brass rod which will hopefully open the door, and the tumbler on the right rotates something inside. Turning that knob will reveal something useful, but that alone isn't enough to open the door. Something more is needed and it takes a little bit of experimentation to figure out how to control what's happening on the inside from the knobs on the outside. That done, you'll get a satisfying clunk, and the door will swing open.
That reveals a key inside the puzzle, as well as exposing the inner workings and Mike's signature. Given that you didn't need a key to open the puzzle, what possible use could you have for one now that it is open? The key is held on the back wall of the vault and can be lifted out of its slot and inspected. Seems fairly straight forward, but no use is apparent. Putting it back, you can try to shut the door, but soon find out it's not going to be that easy. Resetting the puzzle is every bit as much of a puzzle as opening it was. And that's a good thing!
Without giving too much away, that key is very useful, but as you'll soon learn there's no way you're fast enough to close that door before whatever is keeping it from closing resets itself, and any other attempt would leave you with the key not back in its original spot, neatly stowed on the back wall. There's another simple but well executed trick needed, and it's going to take some thinking outside of the box to solve it.
As you saw from the first image of the puzzle, it comes with a hefty puzzle book, describing the puzzle, and of course the solution should you need it. The other item in that first picture is the small card which has been sealed with a wax crest. That's the Puzzle Certificate, and is a beautiful touch that really finishes the whole experience. Hand written in Mike's flowing cursive it's a great little touch.
Overall I loved this puzzle, and I'm pretty happy to have one in my collection. With only 16 made, 4 in 2012 and 12 in 2013, with the last being a unique selection of woods, and was auctioned in Puzzle Paradise. There's also one special edition which mike made, #10 which will have a special locking mechanism, and be sent to the James Dalgety Puzzle museum. So if you happen to be there, look this one up!
If you want to see more of this puzzle, have a look at my video review below.
I want to send a huge thank you to all my puzzling friends out there. As you know from my previous video, I got married last month and as a wedding gift, a number of my puzzle friends out there decided to get me a puzzle as a wedding gift. That puzzle was a copy of Eric Fuller's Topless Box along with a special something inside. So no pressure then as I had to open the box to get to the gift for Jen and I.
Have a look at the video review below to see a little more about the puzzle, and read on for my full review.
The Topless box is a 3" cube made from Striped Quartersawn Sapele, Quilted Maple and Paduak, not mahogany as I mentioned in the video. (Sorry Eric!) It's a stunning box to look at, and the shimmer from the Sapele as you move the box is really gorgeous. Given that it's designed to go inside the Apothecary Puzzle chest, the size was fixed based on the internal dimensions of the chest. That said, it's a great size in your hands and feels really solid.
As I mention in the video, there's a lot of magnets in this puzzle, and they're all pretty strong. You certainly have you be careful not to trap a finger in the sides, as this puzzle bites. The mechanism is very elegant, and although it has magnets in it, this isn't a puzzle which uses a pin and magnet requiring you to bang and tap the puzzle to free the lock. This is far more elegant, the only thing that banging or tapping this puzzle will get you is a sore hand.
Here's what Eric had to say about the puzzle: "The "Topless Box" is my contribution to the project. I originally was only going to make enough for the submission, but got pretty excited about the design once it was finished, and decided to make it a larger run. I've seen a fair number of boxes and this one has what I believe are some unique characteristics. Unfortunately I can't show much detail of the inside of the box without giving away the workings. I can say that the box has two lids, and neither a top nor a bottom. Figuring out how to deal with that conundrum will hopefully get you on your way..."
Like Eric, I can't show you anything of the inside of the puzzle, as it really would give away what's going on, and as you know I don't like giving away solutions to puzzles. The Top and Bottom are held onto the box using some pretty strong magnets, and you'll quickly realise that they just lift off, leaving you with no sign of a way into the box. Playing around you see that this doesn't open like a traditional box, and you're really going to have to think outside the box to open it.
It's not an easy box to open, and you could easily spend hours going round in circles, and getting nowhere with this one. Once you do open it, you realise just how sneaky Eric has been, and this is quite an evil little box. There's only one way it will open, and there's no way to fluke opening it!
Great box, and highly recommended if you can find one.