Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
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.



31Aug/123

Tetraxis at IPP 32

During the Design competition at this year's IPP I was able to play around with some of Jane and John Kostick's new designs. In total there were three new designs from Jane this year, and despite not winning any awards, they are all great to play with, and much like the Tetraxis I wrote about yesterday, have a quality that makes you want to take them apart and put them back together. A lot.

This year there were many more puzzling elements to the offerings so rather than just making the complete structure, you could spend a lot of time trying to make the other structures mentioned. First up is the 3 Layer Tetraxis array.

Kostick's 3 Layer Tetraxis array on a bronze star

Kostick's 3 Layer Tetraxis array on a bronze star

3 layer Tetraxis array

This is the largest of the three structures, measuring 4.5" when fully assembled. (Thanks Allard for the correct size) Made from a number of exotic woods including Wenge, Maple, and at a guess Bubinga and Spalted Apple, the puzzle looks stunning. Jane's top quality finish on the pieces is clear and the fit is excellent. As with the Tetraxis array I wrote about yesterday the pieces are embedded with magnets which hold the structure together, and help lead you to the solution.

I had a lot of fun playing with this puzzle. It has the initial appearance that it's much harder than it looks which may have put some people off, but it's so much fun to play with that you're really missing out if you don't.

There were seven challenges with the 61 sticks and blocks. None were overly difficult, however each creates a stunning structure which would look great in any display. Also it's worth noting that all of the first three solutions can be made at the same time.

The challenges were to use the set of 61 sticks and blocks to put together seven compositions that symmetrically surround a center:

1. Using one block and the 12 longest sticks
2. Using the 12 blocks and the 12 mid-length sticks
3. Using the 24 shortest sticks
4. Combine 1 & 2
5. Combine 1 & 3
6. Combine 2 & 3
7. Combine 1, 2 & 3

Below are a few images showing some possible combinations, but I'm not going to show all the solutions, you can work them out for yourself!

Tetraxis, outer later removed.

Tetraxis, outer later removed.

The outer 'layer' removed showing the inner structure.

Tetraxis, inner cage

Tetraxis, inner cage

The Wenge 'core' disassembled leaving the inner cage. As you can see the magnets and the lattice hold the structure together without any support.

Tetraxis core

Tetraxis core

The Inner symmetric core. I love this structure.

Tetraxis

Tetraxis

Both parts of the inner core assembled separately. If you look closely, you can see the three sticks in each plane.

Tetraxis, assembling the core inside the cage.

Tetraxis, assembling the core inside the cage.

Here you can see how the inner code is nested inside the cage.

Chamfered Cube

Chamfered Cube

Chamfered Cube

Next up is the Chamfered Cube. This much smaller structure looks exactly as the name suggests, and really stands out with the pyramid shaped indents in each side of the cube. For some reason my photos of the remaining two puzzles didn't turn out very well, so I'm having to use the competition photos from John Rausch's site.

The goal for this puzzle is to use either set of 12 sticks to hold the 8 blocks in place at the corners of a cube and then to add the other set of sticks to make a large chamfered cube, which is the shape of the small white block that can fit in the center of the arrangement. This isn't a difficult challenge as the shape of the ends of the sticks, and the blocks themselves guide you toward the correct solution. Made from Black Palm, Red Oak, and at a guess Chakte Viga it's a striking looking puzzle.

Double Duals

Double Duals

Double Duals

The third entry is Double Duals. Around the same size as the Chamfered Cube, this is another stunning looking puzzle. Made from Leopardwood, and possibly red oak (not sure on the lighter wood), this puzzle is almost an inverse construction of the previous puzzle. Rather than the sticks crossing through the centre of the structure, here they form the outer shell.

The goal of the puzzle is to make a pair of complementary arrangements such that each one contains blocks and 12 sticks symmetrically surrounding a center. Then put them together so that one is inside the other, and they both surround the block without magnets. Then repeat the entire process with each set of sticks making the opposite arrangement.

The clever part here is that as is hinted at, you can swap the sticks between the inner and outer construction. It's a clever arrangement, and really needs to be played with to be appreciated.

Other KoStick Puzzles from IPP

The competition entries weren't the only appearance of Jane's work over the weekend. It turns out that the IPP committee had arranged for Jane to make a very special little puzzle for each of the people who helped run and organise the events over the weekend. That came in the form of a tiny little Tetraxis puzzle.

Brian with his Kostick puzzle as thanks for helping

Brian with his Kostick puzzle as thanks for helping

Brian Pletcher was one of the people helping out and was given one of these beautiful little puzzles. as such I was lucky enough to be able to get a good look at it. It's not a challenging assembly, however the way the blocks have been cut, there are multiple ways to assemble the pieces.

A closeup of the Tetraxis gift made by Jane Kostick

A closeup of the Tetraxis gift made by Jane Kostick

A closeup of the Tetraxis gift made by Jane Kostick

A closeup of the Tetraxis gift made by Jane Kostick


It's a great looking puzzle, and something I'm sure the IPP organisers will be very happy to have in their collections.

There was one final puzzle from the KoStick range which I played with over the weekend, which was thanks to John Rausch pulling a tube with some of Jane's pieces out of his pocket and handing them to me. It turns out having talked with Jane that the puzzle was a 2 Layer Tetraxis array, knows as 4P1S. Now I have no idea what the code stands for, but for me it was probably the most challenging of the Tetraxis puzzles that I played with over the weekend.

Tetraix 2 layer Array 4P1S

Tetraix 2 layer Array 4P1S

The version John had was in a single wood, however when I spoke to Jane about the puzzle she mentioned that she had two versions available. Seeing the puzzle above in Mahogany with Ebony and Holly tips I was quick to buy it from Jane. The puzzle is very similar to the Chamfered Cubes puzzle however there are no corner blocks to help with the assembly. As such this is a much harder puzzle to put together and as such I found it a lot of fun.

In total there are 24 sticks, 12 long and 12 short which need to be combined to make the shape above. It may look fairly simple, but it's not as easy as it looks. Starting off, you make two sub-assemblies which you need to interlock, and then build up from there. Seeing how the first two interlock is the real challenge, and once they are in place, the rest comes together fairly quickly from there.

If I were to recommend one of the puzzles to get, it would be this last puzzle. I did!

Overall, Jane's work is incredible, and really the photos don't do it justice. It needs to be seen to be appreciated, and the movement of the pieces only really becomes magical when you have it in your hands. The wooden versions are well priced for the work that goes into them, but if you want a cheap version to be able to play with and get a feel for how the pieces interact before spending a lot of money, then I'd recommend some of the plastic versions which you can buy on their web shop.



30Aug/121

Tetraxis and Six-Axis

Wow, doesn't time fly. It's nearly the end of 2012, and I realise that I still haven't sat down and written up the Tetraxis puzzles that I received from Jane Kostick over a year ago. Worse that that, I created the video review back in October (last year)! Not only that but after being at IPP and playing with more of Jane Kostick's excellent puzzles, I've bought more from her and really need to review that too. So with all the procrastination out of the way, I hope you enjoy the review of this fine puzzle set.

Some time before IPP31 I came across Jane and John Kosticks website, and really liked the look of their puzzles. Digging around a little, I found that as well as the mass produced plastic versions of the puzzles, Jane also made some rather unique versions from wood as well. So chancing my arm, I got in touch and asked if she would make me a set.

Jane and I chatted back and forth for a while via email, and eventually agreed on some woods to use from Jane's fairly large stock, and she set about making the puzzle pieces for me. I have to admit that I really enjoyed talking with her about the puzzle itself, how the magnets were attached to the sticks, her experiences with different woods, and many other topics, including IPP. In the year that has passed since then I still talk to Jane via email occasionally and on returning from IPP 32 I threw her another email commenting both on the great puzzles that she had in the Design competition, and also a particular puzzle that John Rausch had given me to play with, but more on that later.

Unbeknown to me, fellow puzzler Allard was also having a set of Jane's sticks made and unlike me he wrote about them in a much more timely fashion.

Tetraxis

Tetraxis

My copy is a three layer puzzle with a rhombic triacontahedron in the centre, then Jane and John's Six-axis in the middle and a Ten-axis Tetraxis frame on the outside. The inner parts are made from Bubinga, Black Palm and Maple, and the outer Ten-axis is Cherry. They have trademarked the name Tetraxis, and use it to cover all of the puzzles they make including the Tetraxis Star, Tetraxis toy/puzzle, and Tetraxis magnetic sculptures in wood.

The whole structure shows the fantastic geometric relationships that are found in John's stars and really helps you to visualise the geometry in play. So many puzzles are based on the geometry here, and you'll probably recognise the shape of the six-axis Tetraxis as the same shape as Stewart Coffin's Jupiter puzzle (amongst others).

Tetraxis Bronze Star

Tetraxis Bronze Star

When I originally ordered the puzzle from Jane, things took a little longer than she would have liked due to some dull saw blades, so she ended up sending me one of her husbands Tetraxis stars (4 axis) as a little extra to say sorry for the delay. Now given that this was a custom order I really don't think it took long at all, and the craftsmanship is superb. To my mind there was no delay and really it wasn't an issue at all, so thanks for the little extra Jane, it's beautiful too.

Tenaxis Closeup

Tenaxis Closeup

The Sixaxis partially solved

The Sixaxis partially solved

Sixaxis showing the five sticks coming together

Sixaxis showing the five sticks coming together


As you can see from the closeup pictures, the fit and finish of the sticks is excellent, and Jane has even signed the pieces which on this scale is no easy task. The overall structure may be fairly large as you can see in the video, measuring 4" however each stick is just 0.25" thick on the outer Ten-axis assembly.

Tenaxis Signed

Tenaxis Signed

Sixaxis Signed

Sixaxis Signed

Putting the pieces together isn't overly challenging, and the magnets pull everything into place nicely so in terms of a challenge, this isn't the most difficult puzzle you'll play with, however it is remarkably relaxing to just start putting the pieces together and hear them snap into place. The resulting shape has a sculpture like quality which sits very proudly on my puzzle shelves, and gets a lot of attention from visitors.

Tenaxis Puzzle

Tenaxis Puzzle

The inner Rhombic Triacontrahedron

The inner Rhombic Triacontrahedron

Tetraxis layers

Tetraxis layers

It's a beautiful puzzle, and truly a work of art. This year at IPP, Jane and John had a number of new designs entered which I was fortunate enough to play with. Not only that but John Rausch had a one off puzzle Jane had made which he handed me to play with. Having talked to Jane about this puzzle after IPP, I now have a copy of that too, so come back tomorrow to read about her IPP entries and a new design that I fell in love with.