Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
1Feb/140

Lee Valley Trick Bolts

One puzzle type I've not written about until now are Trick Bolts. These seemingly innocuous items look just like a screw with a bolt threaded onto it. Of course when you pick it up and try to remove the bolt you'll find it rather more stubborn than you'd think.

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

Lee Valley, who are well known for their woodworking tools also has a small number of puzzles they sell as gifts. They recently released their second set of trick bolts and with a few of my puzzling friends talking about them, I decided it was time to add a few bolts to my collection. Head over to Lee Valley to pick up your own copies. All the bolts are made in their own metal shop and measure 1.5". These are probably the smallest of the trick bolts I've seen, however the quality is excellent, and they're not expensive either.

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

In the first set, the two bolts are fairly straight forward. The large nut on this one conceals it's trick, and while this is a well known puzzle which you could make yourself, this is a very well made copy. If you have any bolts in your collection, I'd hazard a guess that you have one with this mechanism already.

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

The second of the two bolts with the much thinner nut is able to travel the length of the screw, and will spin freely in the gap at the bottom. At first look it doesn't seem like there's a way to remove the nut. This puzzle has another classic trick which Lee Valley have executed perfectly.

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

While neither of the bolts took me long to solve, they are well made, and are a great piece to hand to friends and introduce them to puzzles.

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

The second set of bolts both look identical, however have very different mechanisms. I've not seen these tricks used elsewhere and while neither slowed me down much, they were new and interesting mechanisms.

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

Trick bolts by Lee Valley

While I can't show the mechanisms of either of these without giving too much away, both of the bolts require multiple movements to remove the nut, and are well worth the investment. They may all be small, and could easily be hidden in a collection, but I wouldn't overlook any of these.



22Apr/130

Vinco’s Octahedron

Seems that it's been too long since I sat down and wrote about a puzzle, but somehow life seems to have got int he way of puzzling. I've been getting ready for my wedding later this year, and making a batch of puzzles to have there, but I'll write about them later. For now here's another Vinco Puzzle that's available from has mass produced line, which Puzzle Master and others carry.

Vinco's Octahedron showing one of the patterns made from the contrasting woods used

Vinco's Octahedron showing one of the patterns made from the contrasting woods used

It will be no surprise to any regular reader of my blog that the quality of puzzles from Vinco is high. It's surprise, and really I'm not sure why I even need to mention it but this puzzle is no exception. The fit and finish is excellent, and Vinco's choice of contrasting woods makes for a great looking puzzle. This is a fairly small puzzle measuring 2.5" x 2.5" and is made from Plum and Maple. I now have a few puzzles in my collection made from plum, and really like the rich colour from it. Despite not being the most detailed grain, it is still a beautiful wood in its own right.

Another view of the octahedron

Another view of the octahedron

As you can see from the different views, the placement of the woods makes for some interesting patterning in the solved state. It does also help when you have the pieces separate and are trying to solve the puzzle.

Four simple pieces make up the Octahedron

Four simple pieces make up the Octahedron

With only four pieces, this isn't the most challenging puzzle, and given that it's not a coordinate motion puzzle, there's no tricky balancing of pieces needed when you're trying to get it back together. Finding the correct placement for your fingers to start taking this one apart though is a real challenge but makes for a fun if short challenge.

Given that this is a small and simple puzzle, it's a great one to have in a bag to give to friends to play with, and it shouldn't keep them stuck for too long making it a great distraction. I know I've said it in the past, but you really can't go wrong with a Vinco design.



27Mar/131

It’s a Hardly

In today's world of computer controlled machinery and high-tech precision machining, there are few craftsmen left who are able to create something in metal by hand, in amazing detail and precision, and even fewer who use those skills to make puzzles. Rocky Chiaro is one such master craftsman, and I'm pleased to say that having met the man himself at IPP and spent some time talking to him about his puzzles, and playing with some of his bolts, that I now have one of his puzzles in my collection... and it won't be the last!

It's a Hardly

It's a Hardly

This stunning puzzle is a mechanical puzzle made to look like an early Harley Knuckle Head Motor. Now as a biker this appeals to me, and as an engineer who doesn't appreciate engines. Now granted I should apologise to Rocky as I have played with this puzzle, and I didn't polish it before taking the pictures, so it's covered in fingerprints!

Hand made with a great eye for detail, this 2" high motor is not the most challenging of the puzzles Rocky makes, but it is beautiful. Having said that, I did find the first move very quickly, but didn't get much beyond that for a while. There's plenty to poke and prod at, and a few things which hint at movement, but nothing really moves. I had a fair idea as to what should happen next but it took me far too long to actually execute it. That has to be attributed to the amazing tolerances in the puzzle. It's made so well as to give nothing away, and really is a nice puzzle to solve.

The hand engraved signature on the side of the puzzle

The hand engraved signature on the side of the puzzle

As you can see Rocky has signed his work by engraving the side of the puzzle. I really should get this polished back up to the level that it arrived in!

I don't think it will keep experienced puzzlers stumped for long, but I'm very glad to have it in my collection. As I mentioned earlier, I'll be ordering quite a few more puzzles from Rocky in the future, so keep an eye out for some thoughts here. If you're interested in Rocky's keys or bolts, then a fair few of my fellow bloggers have written about them, so go check out their pages!



19Mar/131

Get Charged

Get Charged is a trapped object puzzle made by Bits & Pieces where the object is to remove the spark plug from its wooden cage. Two steel rods prevent the plug from being removed through either side, and the plug itself is just too long to be slid out, despite the hole in the top which might make you believe otherwise. I received my copy from Puzzle Master.

Get Charged in the start position

Get Charged in the start position

Spurred on by my recent success with the quality of Akio Kamei’s Book Box which is also from Bits and Pieces, I was in high spirits that I'd have another well made puzzle. At first glance, as you can see from the picture above, it does look like a well made puzzle. Measuring 3.75" x 2.25" x 1" and sporting a shiny new spark plug, it looks like a nice puzzle.

It arrived in the usual plain white cardboard box, but when I opened that the puzzle was tightly bubble wrapped, and I was thinking that things were looking good. Sadly when I removed the bubble wrap, I was a little disappointed.

Unwrapping the packing, the spark plug was free, and one of the pins stuck in the corner of the bubble wrap.

Unwrapping the packing, the spark plug was free, and one of the pins stuck in the corner of the bubble wrap.

This is what I found when I opened the packaging. Sadly the puzzle was already in the solved state, and before I could play with it by returning it to the starting position, I had to solve it to reset it. I'm actually being a little generous with the photo here, as when I took the puzzle out of the bubble wrap, the second metal bar was stuck inside the bubble wrap and I didn't find it until I re-checked all the packing, having tried to figure out why the spark plug lifted straight out of the frame, and there were two holes which did nothing in either side of the frame. Given that this is a simple puzzle, and I pretty much knew how it was going to work before it arrive it's not that much of a problem, but it was rather a shame.

Unfortunately, that's not my only problem with this puzzle. Unlike the picture on Puzzle Master's page, the joinery here is pretty poor. Rather than the nice half mortice, we have a butt joint, which works but has no strength. Also the puzzle has been badly slathered in a red paint, and not sanded prior to painting, meaning there are lots of burrs on the inside of the frame, and some sloppy excess paint in there too. Ok, it's not an expensive puzzle I hear you cry, but it really doesn't take much more effort or cost to finish the puzzle slightly better.

Drilling straight is not easy

Drilling straight is not easy

Chipped frame after painting

Chipped frame after painting


Also the metal bar which prevents removal of the spark plug has been drilled into the frame badly, meaning that it's squint. It doesn't affect the operation of the puzzle any, however my OCD for things being straight and parallel really screams at this minor thing. You'll also see that the frame has been damaged at some point after being painted. That's just carelessness when the puzzle was being put together.

The puzzle does come with a solution sheet, however I don't think it's a particularly well written solution. I doubt you'll need it though.

So gripes aside, this is a simple puzzle, with a fairly well known mechanism that won't keep an average puzzler stumped for long. If you're trying to introduce someone to the world of puzzles, this is a cheap way to show them this style of mechanism, and the puzzle will take some abuse, without you being too upset if it gets a little scratched up. There are better versions of this puzzle available, but depending on who you're getting it for, this may be an option for you.

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6Dec/121

Cerebral Rings

The Cerebral Rings puzzle is an interesting plastic puzzle produced by Magnif. My copy came to me from Puzzle Master in the last shipment of puzzles I had arrive from them. This was a puzzle I was interested to play with as it seemed rather different than many I'd played with recently, and I hoped would be a nice change of pace.

The Cerebral Rings in their starting position

The Cerebral Rings in their starting position

The goal of the puzzle is to move the red plungers inside the circular shafts to positions where it will allow the black rings to slide apart in a coordinate motion, separating the three parts which make up the rings. Measuring 4" wide x 1.75" high the puzzle is a good size and the plastics used have been well finished to give a really glossy appearance as you can see in the photographs. All the edges are nicely chamfered and the curves used in the plungers mean that they are comfortable to press when you're playing with the puzzle. The fit of the pieces is good, making it difficult to see the seams where the three frame sections join.

One downside which I have to mention about this puzzle is that the inside of the tubes have been coated fairly heavily with a lubricant. Clearly the idea was to make the pieces move easily inside the tubes. Unfortunately, at least on my copy the amount of grease used was excessive, and then you push the red plungers inside the tubes, your fingers end up covered in grease, making for a fairly unpleasant experience when playing with the puzzle. The first thing I did when I opened the puzzle was to take a rag and clean out all that grease. Sadly even with all the grease in there to start with I found there were times when the plungers would get stuck in the tubes and require significant force to move them past the obstacle which they were stuck on, allowing full travel through the tube.

From the Manif website, the puzzle comes with the following description: "Fabled to have been found among the effects of the renowned astronomer Johannes Kepler, was an early version of the Cerebral Rings. This challenging puzzle baffles astronomers, astrologers and mathematicians alike. It was said that Kepler’s students had to master the expanding layers of the Cerebral Rings and the red plungers within, solving the puzzle in order to progress to apprenticeship. There are hundreds of possible combinations and only 8 solutions."

Personally I think Kepler would be turning in his grave at the idea that the puzzle was used as part of an apprenticeship, as the puzzle really isn't that challenging, however it makes for a good story! It is true that depending on how you count a move, there may be hundreds of combinations, and only eight solutions, but sadly once you've found one, there's really no need to find any others, as there's not enough of a difference to make it worthwhile. That said there are some nice elegant symmetrical solutions if you care to look for them.

The Rings sliding apart

The Rings sliding apart

Note: The image above does not show a solution. Ed

As you can see once you've found the correct combination, the rings slide apart passing each other in a coordinate motion which means that they do indeed expand as they come apart. The fit of the pieces is very good here, so starting the motion can be quite a challenge. Finding the correct spot to push on the pieces so that they glide past each other is not obvious, and as with many puzzles, placing your fingers so that you're not blocking the motion can be tricky.

Puzzle Master rates the puzzle as level 8/10 (Demanding) and Manif rates it 2/4. I have to say I think it's closer to the lower end of the scale but could certainly provide a good challenge if you're not paying attention. I enjoyed playing with the puzzle even if it did take a very short time for me top solve it the first time, somewhere under 5 minutes. It was a good change of pace to the other puzzles I've been playing with recently and would make a good Christmas present for the younger puzzler.

The Cerebral Rings pieces once solved

The Cerebral Rings pieces once solved

Once you've solved the puzzle everything comes apart, leaving you with the six plungers, and three black ring sections. The rings are all identical so re-assembly is fairly simple. Overall a fun distraction even though it's not an overly challenging puzzle. It is well made, and the contrasting colours will make it stand out on the puzzle shelf. Definitely one that people will pick up and have a fiddle with.



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.

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