Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
27May/140

Penta Beams

Oskar van Deventer has been at it again, and this is the latest (well latest published as far as I know) design from the incredible puzzle generating mind of the Dutchman. This time it's an intersection of six pentagonal sticks to form a pyramidal shape. The goal is to take the sticks apart, and put them back together again.

Penta Beams by Oskar

Penta Beams by Oskar

3D printed by Shapeways, the pieces are dyed into six bright colours (plus black and white) and have a solid feel to them. the trapped powder inside each stick really adds weight and a feeling of quality that can sometimes be lacking in Shapeways printed materials. The puzzle measures approximately 3.5" tall once assembled, with each stick being 3.5" long with a 7/8" cross-section.

The sticks just keep on holding.

The sticks just keep on holding.

The fit is perfect, and each of the sticks holds the others at the right angles all the way until the last two pieces. That certainly makes this a much more enjoyable puzzle to play with, as you don't feel like you're fighting your own fingers and wrestling with a dexterity challenge.

Six pentagonal pieces

Six pentagonal pieces

There's one key piece, followed by five notched sticks which must be removed in sequence to take the puzzle apart. While it's not trivial after the pieces are mixed up, I'd say that this is certainly an approachable puzzle for most people. Having taken it apart, and mixed the pieces, then left them alone for a while, I was able to put it back together in around 20 minutes. Now, I'm no expert in this style of assembly puzzle, but it was both fun and a good level of challenge for me.

Penta Beams is available from Oskar's Shapeways shop if you'd like a copy of your own.



18May/140

Peppermint

I wasn't able to attend the IPP in Japan last year however given that I was getting married, I had a great excuse, and I'm not complaining about my choice of location. It did mean however that I missed out on a number of new puzzles from the IPP. Fortunately, I have a few friends who did go, and I was able to borrow some of the Japan Puzzles. Peppermint is a 3D printed puzzle designed by Scott Elliot for the Puzzle Exchange, and was digitally manufactured in colorful ABS by Bradley Rigdon at PrintTo3D according to Scott.

Peppermint.  An exchange puzzle from Scott Elliot.

Peppermint. An exchange puzzle from Scott Elliot.

You can read all about the design process for the puzzle over on Scott's blog here if you're interested. I certainly recommend it as it really shows the work that goes into refining a puzzle design. The finished puzzle measures 2.25" x 1.75", and seems like a fairly large puzzle in your hands.

Peppermint.  Unboxed.

Peppermint. Unboxed.

The puzzle consists of four pieces, which combine together into two linked sub assemblies. The outer shell doesn't move, while the sphere in the centre is free to rotate around. If you're familiar with the Cast Marble from Hanayama, then you'll have a fair idea of what's going on here. The difference is that you can only see the sphere from one side of the puzzle. On the other side is a closed dome that hides the sphere away.

Peppermint.  Taking the pieces apart

Peppermint. Taking the pieces apart.

Once you've found the right alignment of all the pieces, it will rotate apart smoothly, before coming apart into four separate pieces. Putting it back together is a simple case of reversing the process. there is a little bit of thought required to align the pieces correctly, but nothing that will stump you for long.

Peppermint.  Showing off the sub assemblies.

Peppermint. Showing off the sub assemblies.

Overall it's a fun puzzle and it looks great in the vibrant colours of the ABS plastic. I'm seeing more and more puzzles being produced by 3D printers, and the quality is really impressive. For rapid prototyping, and the ability to play with designs just hours after they are conceived is incredible. I don't see it replacing the feel and look of natural wood, but I can't deny that it's an amazing technology.



12May/144

Six Piece Cube & Little Slide Plank by Gregory Benedetti

When it comes to co-ordinate motion puzzles, the master is generally regarded as Vinco, however Gregory Benedetti has been doing a lot of work in creating clever dissections which require co-ordinate motion. I was lucky enough to pick up a couple of his puzzles last year from Bernhard over at Puzzlewood. Seems that I've had them long enough that I should really write about them!

Two Co-ordinate motion puzzles from Gregory Benedetti

Two Co-ordinate motion puzzles from Gregory Benedetti

Gregory himself admits that he was influenced by Vinco, and his work on co-ordinate motion puzzles, which gave him the push to try to create some co-ordinate motion puzzles himself. There's a great interview by fellow blogger Saul on his blog Seeking Ariadnes Thread with Gregory if you'd like to read about Gregory's thoughts. It's a great read and I highly recommend it.


Little Slide Plank

Little Slide Plank by Gregory Benedetti

Little Slide Plank by Gregory Benedetti

The first, and smaller of the two puzzles is "Little Slide Plank" which is about as minimal as you can get from a co-ordinate motion puzzle. This three piece, 2x2 cube with one small void in the centre is a pretty elegant puzzle. It's only 2" cubed, made with a contrasting wood for the planks. If I were to guess, I'd say Ash for the main pieces, and Mahogany for the planks.

Little Slide Plank opening

Little Slide Plank opening

While many people shy away from co-ordinate motion puzzles due to the challenge of reassembling them, this is great for any level of puzzler. The unique dissection leaves you with some very interestingly shaped pieces, and while it's not difficult to take apart or re-assemble, it has that fiddle factor that makes a great puzzle. You just want to pick it up and play with it.

Little Slide Plank pieces

Little Slide Plank pieces

The pieces themselves are interesting, and all unique making this a very pleasing design. As I mentioned, it's not difficult to find the correct orientation to put the pieces back together, and unlike many co-ordinate motion puzzles, you don't need a third (or fourth) hand to get it together, nor the dexterity and precise positioning that is needed from some other puzzles in this category. Overall, I highly recommend it


6 Piece Cube

6 Piece Cube from Gregory Benedetti

6 Piece Cube from Gregory Benedetti

The other design from Gregory is his "6 Piece Cube". Interestingly, this cube is missing a couple of cubies, meaning it's not really a cube, but I'll not fault the design name based on that. Those missing cubies are very useful! This is the slightly larger of the two puzzles, at just under 2.5" cubed made from walnut and Maple, the contrast of the checkerboard appearance is a good look.

Being a six piece puzzle, the difficulty in this one does go up a notch. Finding the correct grip on the puzzle to allow the pieces to start sliding past each other can be challenging until you know how to hold the puzzle, as often you'll find a finger is blocking the motion you need. Remember I said those missing cubies were useful?

6 Piece Cube opening

6 Piece Cube opening

Once you find the correct axis, the pieces will side past each other, creating some interesting triangular geometry in the voids between pieces. As with any other co-ordinate motion, the puzzle expands in size, right up tot the point where it falls apart in your lap. My copy is very well made, with excellent tolerances. The puzzle is tight as it expands, allowing the pieces to hold onto each other until the very last fibers before they crumble into a pile of six pieces.

6 Piece Cube pieces

6 Piece Cube pieces

The pieces in this puzzle are made from two sets of congruent pieces. It's not too hard to see how the pieces go back together, however with six pieces, it takes a little longer than it does with the first puzzle. Then the real challenge starts. Once you have found the correct orientation, getting all the pieces back together is far more challenging. The puzzle needs to be expanded to near collapse to allow a piece to be inserted, and the easiest way I found was to add one piece at a time ... so I had to do this more than once, and try not to mishandle a piece and put myself right back to the start of the assembly.

It's a much more challenging puzzle, but has a great motion as it comes apart, and is achievable by most people. An experienced puzzler should have no problems, and will enjoy the interesting geometry in the puzzle. I do hope Gregory continues his exploration of the co-ordinate motions, as these two puzzles are a great start!



7May/140

Trapped Coin by Bill Sheckels

Quite some time back, I reviewed the Caged Coin puzzle by Bill Sheckels. Not long after I reviewed it Bill got in touch to say he had a few other new puzzles that were going to be added to his Etsy shop soon, and asked if I'd be interested in any of them. They looked interesting, so of course I said yes.

Trapped Coin by Bill Sheckels

Trapped Coin by Bill Sheckels

As you can see it's a good looking puzzle. Four identical pieces hold a coin trapped in the centre. At just over 5" wide x 1/2" thick, it's a big puzzle. and bill has re-inforced the corner joints with dowel rod to ensure that they're not going to break with you play with the puzzle. Trapped in the centre is an American one dollar coin, making this the second puzzle in my collection to have a dollar coin as it's prize. I believe the woods used are Maple, Mahogany and Wenge, but that's just a guess on my part. I don't have a record of the woods used. (or even the true name of the puzzle!)

When you pick the puzzle up, there's enough flex in the pieces to make you think that there may be a way to manipulate the cage so that it will pop apart, releasing the coin. I certainly don't recommend this, as it's not the solution, and will likely damage your puzzle. There's a much more elegant solution.

Trapped Coin opened

Trapped Coin opened

The solution is pretty simple, and I doubt it will take many people long to solve it, but it's a nice object that has that look of impossibility about it that tends to draw people in. Great as a gift, and a fun puzzle to have sitting around.



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.