Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays to all my readers. I have a very special post today from Stickman himself. I'm very proud to be able to bring you the Constellation Puzzlechest.
This beautiful chest is his latest creation, and is a one-off commissioned piece. The rest of the post comes directly from Stickman. There are various photos throughout and a video at the bottom of the page, all supplied by Stickman. I hope you enjoy this sneak peak.
The Stickman Constellation Puzzlechest is an intricate mechanical puzzle commissioned to Robert Yarger. Crafted from Leopardwood, Walnut and Amboyna, it measures a whopping 2 feet square and weighs over 65 lbs. (NOTE: If you are the person who commissioned this chest, you may not want to review the video at the bottom of the page. While it does not reveal any details of the solution, you might not want to see the position of mechanical parts.)
The chest houses a total of 16 small puzzleboxes, each of which may appear identical, but are unique in their solution. Inside each of these is a single mechanical part. It requires logical deduction to determine just where each of these must be placed in order to make the chest’s mechanism operate.
Once completed, this mechanism will operate by pushing drawers into the chest. Decorative inlays on their sides engage and rotate internal wooden gears, and pushing in one drawer will cause another one to come out of some other side (and not always the side you expect). The sequence in which puzzleboxes are pushed into different openings is key to manipulating the mechanism properly.
The patterns of celestial constellations are etched on both sides of the chest’s lid. Place gold magnetic spheres (representing stars) on the lid and magnets embedded in the mechanics below move and rotate them until they line up with these etched celestial patterns. This is not as easy as it seems though, as the operation of some components influenced output of others. Once this is accomplished, one of the two hidden drawers of this chest will open. Flipping over the lid to solve the puzzle for a second constellation will unlock another secret drawer.
Some time ago, I reviewed Stickman #2 from my own collection. My good friend Derek Bosch recently lent me another (large) box of puzzles to keep me busy, including Stickman #18, and also Stickman #23, the Perpetual Hinge Puzzle box. Watch out for a review of that one coming soon.
This beautifully made box measures 3" in diameter, and is made from a selection of exotic woods including padauk, bloodwood, monticello, cocobolo, and holly. Limited to a run of 31 puzzles, like many other Stickman puzzles, this is fairly rare, so I'm very grateful to Derek for lending me his copy.
This sphere inside a sphere does still qualify as a box, since the holly sphere in the centre is hollow. The goal of the puzzle is to open the box, removing the inner sphere from the outer cage, by rotating the inner sphere until it can be slid out of an opening in the cage.
There are a number of black pegs attached to the inner sphere which make this challenging, and even with the two peg shaped gaps in the cage, it's not always possible to move the inner sphere where you want it. This is where the hidden trick of the cage comes into play. As you may have already realised, if the ball is captured in a solid cage, there's no way it's coming out of there. The cage itself is held together with a couple of small magnets, and one quarter of the cage swings out of the way to allow the inner sphere to eventually be removed, but also to allow you to move those pegs into locations that they otherwise wouldn't be able to move to.
The pegs and gaps form a 3D maze which must be navigated to move the inner sphere into the correct orientation for it to slide out. Initially, I wasn't sure whether using the extending nature of the cage was permitted, as it seems to make the solution a little too easy, however it's not possible to move some pegs at all as there are no gaps, as you can see in the photograph below. Derek also confirmed that this wasn't cheating, and that I did need to do this to be able to solve the puzzle. I feel this makes the puzzle a little too easy if I'm honest.
I found the inner sphere to occasionally be a little stiff. Most notably, having opened the box, and removed half of the inner sphere, returning it back to its original state the re-insertion of the half was particularly tight. I'm not sure if I had changed the orientation while I had it open, but after moving the sphere around a little it soon went back to being easy to move.
Overall, this was a fairly easy puzzle box to open, taking me around 15 minutes. It's a really unique box being spherical, and I must admit that really enjoyed solving it. It's a fun puzzle to play with, and is finished to a very high standard, as seems to be the Stickman way. If you come across one of these at auction, it's well worth adding to your collection.
Some time ago I wrote about the Stickman puzzle box I'd won on a Puzzle Paradise auction. Since then the puzzle has been on a bit of a journey, and as a result I felt it was time to revisit this puzzle.
When I won the puzzle, I spent some time talking with its creator Robert Yarger, and he mentioned that it was a really solid puzzle, and he'd have no issues handing it round for people to try. Well with that in mind, I took it with me to the California Puzzle party. Unfortunately, when it was there, something went a bit wrong, and the puzzle jammed. I was able to shut the puzzle, but there was something very strange going on. Sadly, I had to put the puzzle back in my bag, and that meant no-one else was able to play with it that day.
I wrote to Robert and described what was happening. He instantly offered to take the puzzle back and see if he could figure out what had happened, even mentioning that if he couldn't fix it, he'd find a way to make things right by me. (As a fellow puzzler has mentioned, nice bloke that Stick guy!) Interestingly, this was only the third Stickman puzzle that Robert has ever had to repair, and one of those was due to an accidental high dive from a shelf. Given the number of puzzles he's made, and some of the incredibly intricate work he does, that's a pretty good recommendation of his work.
So I packed the box up, and sent it off. A few days later Robert got in touch to tell me that he had found the problem and would be able to fix it. Before I knew what was happening, Robert had the box all back together and it was back in the mail to me.
While Robert had the box, he did a little restoration on the top. As you may remember, there was a scratch on the top of the box from the original creation. Robert mentioned that it was common on his early work. Seems like he wasn't too happy about that scratch being there as he sanded the box down to remove it, then refinished the box, so now it's even better than new.
It turns out that what had happened is that on one side of the puzzle, the internal stops had broken and was now free floating inside the puzzle. For a 10 year old puzzle, it wasn't anything anyone using the puzzle had done, but just a case of old age. To fix things, the part which came free has now been replaced and a much deeper groove cut into the side to embed things firmly. No chance of that coming free again.
Here's just a few pictures from Robert's surgery. These don't give anything away. I've kept the pictures of the internals for myself. Thanks have to go out to Robert though for sending me the pictures. He certainly didn't need to show what goes on inside his puzzle!
If you read my post on the Puzzle Paradise auction, then you'll already know that I had won this puzzle, and was eagerly waiting it's arrival. Before I delve into the review, there's a few things I want to mention.
This puzzle came directly from Robert Yarger's personal collection, so I had the pleasure of talking directly with Robert about the puzzle. Robert is a great person to deal with. He was really open about the puzzle, and we have chatted back and forth since the auction finished. Not only did he send #2, but he also threw in a Karakuri small box as well for me to take to puzzle parties for anyone there to have a go at.
While we were talking, Robert mentioned that Stickman #2 was one of his favourite designs, due to the rhythm of the moves when opening it. He plays guitar as do I, and likened it to playing "Babe I'm Going to Leave You", by Zepplin. Having been able to play with it myself, I know what he means.
So the puzzle itself is a good size, at 11" x 6" x 5". And it's solid. This is not a puzzle you would be worried about passing to someone to try. One small thing to note is that one of the sliders (the one on the back of the puzzle) is a little loose, and tends to move on it's own, with the help of gravity. That does mean that for some of the moves, you need to take a little care that it doesn't move before you want it to. On the whole not a big issue, but it does mean you have to watch what you're doing.
Solving the puzzle for the first time is really nice. There's a few obvious moves, then you hit a wall. There seems to be nothing else to do, but you've not opened the box yet. After a little more exploring, you find out what to do, and get a bit further. Another 10 minutes of playing and you can remove the first hidden compartment, which reveals the second ... and third although you don't realise it at first!
Knowing that there are 4 hidden compartments in the box, you know there is more to find, but at this point nothing else will move. The final step is really clever and needs some out of the box thinking which I really like. Overall, I really enjoyed this and am very pleased to have it in my collection. Robert tells me that it can be opened in 30 seconds (all 55 moves) so I have some practice to do!
There are a couple of things that disappointed me slightly. The box comes with a small book which gives the number of the box in the series, and a little bit of background to Stickman. That's great. But The next page is the start of the solution. Now I quite happily put the book down without reading the solution, but I'd rather the solution had been sealed so you had to make the decision to read it, rather than it being a little too easy. Again, not a big issue, but something I'd rather have seen done differently.
The last thing is a little oddity, which I'll have to ask Robert about. The book tells me I have number 24/50. Stamped on the bottom of the box along with the Stickman logo is 18. I have to believe that this means it's #18 out of 50, but I'm not sure. Again not an issue but a little inconsistency.
If you get the chance to own one of these, then I'd say go for it, you'll not be disappointed. And Robert, if I'm in your neck of the woods, or you're out by me, the beer is on me.
So despite having been collecting puzzles for probably close to twenty years, and having a fair collection, it's only in the last couple of years that I've had the disposable income to be able to acquire some of the higher end puzzles on the market. Until recently I'd never tried my luck at a Puzzle Auction, and in fact I didn't know that such things existed!
That being said, at the recent Puzzle Paradise Auction for the Australian flood relief, I saw Stickman's Perpetual hinge puzzle box come up for sale. I love the design of this box, and thought I may have a chance to own one of these rare, and challenging Stickman puzzles, so I threw a bid (or two) up. Sadly, I didn't win, but I later found out it did go to a friend over on the Revomaze forums. You can read his review of the puzzle here.
Well Puzzle Paradise had another auction and guess what ... another Perpetual Hinge came up. So I tried again. I'll cut a long story short, with 30 seconds to go, I was bidding, and the price was over $1500, I wasn't the highest bidder so I gave up.
There was another box that I had been bidding on in the same auction though. It was Stickman Box #2.
So having realised that I wasn't getting the Perpetual Hinge, I went into bid mode. I was taking one of the Stickmen home, so now it was #2. I threw up a bid, and with about 30 seconds remaining, I was the high bidder. I kept refreshing, and was outbid. Damn. Ok, back to the bid page, about 20 seconds to go. Next bid ... no good, next bid, no good, next bid no good .... to hell with it, I want this... Next bid .... 10 seconds ... I'm the high bidder!
At this point, I will admit, I'm shaking a bit with the adrenaline, constantly refreshing the page .... still mine!
One more refresh, and the page states it's no longer accepting bids. I look at the description, and I'm still the high bidder! It's mine!
So look out for a review of this fine box when it gets to me in the near future.
I should point out that this box is coming directly from Robert Yarger himself, and yes I had discussed this with my fiancée who had given me permission to bid on both items!