Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
21Jan/144

Bringing another puzzle into the world

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.

The Stickman Domino Box 'kit'

The Stickman Domino Box 'kit'

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)

Some fairly deep checking

Some fairly deep checking

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.

The Stock milled to thickness

The Stock milled to thickness

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.

Cut to width, ready to create domino blanks

Cut to width, ready to create domino blanks

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.

Setting the jig to cut dominoes to length

Setting the jig to cut dominoes to length

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.

Sticks cut to perfect length

Sticks cut to perfect 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.

Two full sets of domino blanks cut

Two fulls sets of domino blanks cut

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.

All the blanks chamfered, ready for their spots

All the blanks chamfered, ready for their spots

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.

28 templates including the double blank

28 templates including the double blank

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.

Ready to cut test spots

Ready to cut test spots

First attempt at cutting spots

First attempt at cutting spots

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 results look good, time to cut them for real

The results look good, time to cut them for real

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.

Two full sets cut, but not finished yet

Two full sets cut, but not finished yet

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.



25Sep/132

The Vault

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.

The Vault

The Vault

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.

Front view of the Vault.

Front view of the Vault.

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.

Peering into the inside

Peering into the inside

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.

Puzzle Certificate

Puzzle Certificate

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.



15Sep/130

The Topless Box

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.

Topless Box by Eric Fuller

Topless Box by Eric Fuller

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..."

Top or Bottom?  Does it even matter?

Top or Bottom? Does it even matter?

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.



27Jun/130

Triskele

It's been a while since I managed to sit down and write anything new. Not that I don't have lots to write about, just seems that with a wedding coming up, and things being rather busy with the day job, I've not had much time. Anyway, that said, here's a nice Karakuri box to give you something to read about.
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The Triskele is a puzzle box designed by Hideaki Kawashima. It's a beautiful looking puzzle, as you'd expect from the Karakuri group, and it hides it's secrets well. I spent quite a bit of time fiddling with this one, and seeming to make absolutely no progress on it.

Triskele by Kawashima

Triskele by Kawashima

Only 25 of these were made for an exhibition that Kawashima was taking part in, so I believe from the Karakuri site, that these are reasonably rare. Kawashima notes that the mechanism is not his design, and he's not made this style of puzzle until now. So what is this you may ask?

Well it's a cube, measuring 2.8" x 2.8" x 2.8" made from Birch, Magnolia, Wenge and Oak. As you can see from the image above the panels have been selected carefully to give a stunning external appearance, and the fit is so precise that it gives no hint as to how it will open.

Sadly for me, on finding out how the box opens, it's a simple Expanding box, using the same design as Stewart Coffin's Expanding Box puzzle. It's a beautifully made copy, don't get me wrong, but from a puzzling aspect, it's certainly not a new idea. The particular copy I have been playing with is incredibly stiff, and the humidity changes, have caused it to become very challenging to open, which if you didn't know how it opened would make it near impossible to solve.

It's a good looking box, but sadly it's not new, and unless you want a very good looking but costly copy of an expanding box puzzle, I'd say leave this one alone. Go have a look at some of Vinco's versions if you're just interested in the puzzle itself.



5Jun/130

Cube KW2

I've written in the past about the Karakuri Cube boxes, and the small box series. This latest addition to the Cube boxes comes from Hideaki Kawashima who's one of my favorite designers currently. He describes the box as a deluxe edition of the Cube series, and having enlarged the dimensions, adding a completely new mechanism, it's a box I was looking forward to playing with.

Cube KW2

Cube KW2

As with the rest of the Cube series, the outer design should look very familiar, however each box has it's own opening mechanism, and for me is one of the charms. It's interesting to see just how many different ways to design a mechanism with the same outer structure.

The box itself is made from Cherry, Purpleheart, and Cucumber Tree. Yes, apparently you can get enough wood from a cucumber to make into a puzzle. Ok, so it's not the plant we get the green salad vegetable from, and if you want to know more, read on.

Measuring in at 2.75" x 2.75" x 2.75", it is a reasonable amount larger than the other Cube boxes, but is still a good size without being too big. Interestingly, I'd have expected the Cherry to be the outer wood along with the Purpleheart, however Cherry is used for the inside mechanism, and is only visible once the box is open. The wonderful light white wood on the outside is the Cucumber Tree. I think I'll have to keep a look out for some of this wood myself, since it's a USA native.

As a puzzle, you'll not be surprised to know that this isn't overly challenging. There's only a small number of moves to get to each of the two compartments, and while the sequence isn't massively different for each compartment, the difference is small enough that once you've opened one, you'll have no issue with the other.

Cube KW2 Opened

Cube KW2 Opened

Kawashima's mark is found on the inside of the box once opened, and it's nice to see that the designer thought about how to arrange the two internal spaces. I've seen a number of boxes with this style of solution, where the second internal space is 'upside down' when opened, meaning anything inside would fall out, or the contents of the first space need to me removed, less you tip the contents on the floor trying to get to the second space.

Overall this is a great little box, and a good simple introduction to puzzle boxes with a sensible price tag.



1Apr/130

Uroboros

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Karakuri Christmas Presents

The final puzzle I received from this year's Karakuri Christmas presents is the one I was most looking forward to. Shiro Tajima's present. Some of you may know that Tajima's boxes for the last few years have been themed around the Chinese Zodiac, with last year seeing a Dragon themed puzzle, and a rabbit the year before. The thinking was that it would be likely we'd see a snake of some form for this year following his previous entries.

Uroboros by Shiro Tajima

Uroboros by Shiro Tajima

As you can see we weren't disappointed. "Uroboros is an ancient symbol of a serpent or dragon who eats his own tail, symbolizing self reflexivity. Although he must feel pain by doing so, he is in a constant state of recreating himself, thus the circular shape", we are told on the Karakuri information page. The puzzle box is perhaps the box with the most plain wood choice of all those I've reviewed so far, being made from Katsura. It is also the largest of the boxes measuring a whopping 5.5" x 4" x 2.45"

The snake wrapping around the box and eating his own tail is central to the puzzle mechanism and is well executed. There are two compartments to be found in the puzzle, and finding the first is relatively easy. There's a lot of space in there once you get the hidden compartment open, and the size of the puzzle is directly proportional to the space inside.

A closeup of the serpent's head with his jeweled eye

A closeup of the serpent's head with his jeweled eye

The second is far more challenging to find and took me a lot longer to be able to open. I do like the box despite a fairly simple exterior appearance, it has a solid mechanism, and keeps with the theme we have come to expect. Overall a really good puzzle, and I'm very glad to have it in my collection. I've already made sure that Tajima is on my craftsman list for 2013.