Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
18Nov/110

Cubetresor

Cubetresor is a Vinco puzzle which I recently received from Puzzle Master to review. The goal of the puzzle is to "open" the cube, however the rattling coming from inside the puzzle hints at something clever going on inside. Given that the puzzle arrives shrink wrapped in plastic, there's no real clue as to what it could be.

Cubetresor by Vinco

Cubetresor by Vinco

As you can see this is another beautiful looking puzzle from the workshop of Vaclav Obsivac, measuring 2.5" x 2.5" x 2.5". To be honest, I've never seen anything from Vinco that's not both stunning to look at, and perfectly made. It comes as I mentioned shrink wrapped in plastic, with a small folded paper sheet showing the difficulty and an Ikea style diagram giving you the goal of the puzzle. The solution is given inside the folded paper, so don't open it if you don't want to know, but really this isn't difficult. I should mention, if you've not visited Vinco's website recently, then go have a look. He's redesigned and cleaned up the website, and is adding lots of new information about the woods he uses, and how he gets them. Well worth a read!

The Cubetresor pieces

The Cubetresor pieces

As I've mentioned with a couple of Vinco's creations, some are less puzzle and more curiosity/art. I feel that the Cubetressor fits into this category as well. Vinco's own description of the puzzle lists it at a four piece puzzle, but I'm going to revise that and say it's a five piece puzzle. You'll remember that I mentioned a rattling sound coming from the puzzle before I opened it. Well as far as I'm concerned that's the fifth piece. After all it is a piece, and it's inside the puzzle.

This isn't a difficult puzzle, and I doubt anyone will have problems in opening it. As ever it looks great, and isn't an expensive puzzle, so I'd say pick it up. If you don't want to know more, then stop reading here. If you want more info, including some spoilers, then click the link. Note: I'll show you that fifth piece, and also how it opens

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25Aug/111

Vinco’s Twisted Halfcubes & Diagra

A while back, I got in touch with Vaclav Obsivac and placed an order for several of his puzzles. Amongst those, I asked for a copy of the Twisted Half Cubes, and Diagra puzzles.

Vinco's Twisted Half Cubes in the box

Vinco's Twisted Half Cubes in the box

Vinco's Diagra in the box

Vinco's Diagra in the box

Packing the pieces back into the box is a puzzle of its own!

Packing the pieces back into the box is a puzzle of its own!

To look at, both of these puzzles look very similar. Indeed, they have the same basic idea at their root. Both puzzles have eight pieces which combine together to create solid cubes. The goal of the puzzles is to create various solid shapes with no 'legs' sticking out of the final assembly. This sounds pretty simple, but I can assure you that it's really not. In all honesty, putting the pieces back into the box provides a packing puzzle of its own, as the box is too small for all the pieces to be placed in without some level of interconnection!

All of the puzzles in this series are made from varying woods, and have been lightly waxed. No stains are used, so the natural wood is left on show, which is one of the factors that I really admire from Vinco's puzzles. As with all of the Vinco puzzles, these are made to the same high quality and tolerances that you'd expect from this master craftsman; and none are expensive at around €14 each. At that price, these are really hard to pass up.

The Halfcubes sets

The Halfcubes sets courtesy of Vinco's website

The beauty of the set of these puzzles, which includes (naming just a few) the Diagonal Halfcubes, Vidly Halfcubes, Prism Halfcubes, Two U, Cubicula, Hooked Halfcubes and Handed Halfcubes, reviewed by Kevin (where he also reviews Diagra), is that you can own all of them and they all provide a new and unique challenge. Despite the basic idea being the same, each puzzle is a new challenge, and requires a new way of thinking to solve it. The partial list is shown in the chart here, along with not only the suggested solution shapes for each puzzle, but also how many different ways each shape can be created. There's a lot of puzzling possible and that's if you only try for the suggested solutions. Click on the image to the right to see a list of many of the puzzles in the series in a more readable size.


Twisted Halfcubes

The eight pieces of the Twisted Halfcubes puzzle

The eight pieces of the Twisted Halfcubes puzzle

With the Twisted Halfcubes, the legs of the puzzles are all hook shaped, and hook around the small internal cube on another piece, linking the two puzzle pieces together in such a way that they will support each other. The differing angles at which the legs are attached make the problems more complex, as you need to find the right pieces to take the puzzle in the direction you need. In most cases, it's not possible to create a closed solution by simply adding the next piece to the previous in a sequential manner. Most closed loops need you to approach the puzzle by thinking about two halves which will rotate together into the final shape. I really like this feature as it adds an extra challenge to the puzzle space, and also limits the use of programs like Burr Tools for solving the shapes.

Twisted Half Cube, Super Cube Solution

Twisted Half Cube, Super Cube Solution

Twisted Half Cubes 'Z' Solution

Twisted Half Cubes 'Z' Solution

Vinco sets a number of possible solution shapes of which just a couple are shown above. The solution on the right shows how the pieces support themselves when placed together, so shapes where some pieces do not need to be resting against the desk are possible. I promise that there's nothing out of view of the camera holding the pieces up.

Diagra

The eight pieces of the Diagra puzzle

The eight pieces of the Diagra puzzle

Similar in design to the Twisted Halfcubes, here the hooks have been replaced by square blocks, meaning that all pieces slide into each other. The difference here to the Twisted puzzle is that coordinate motion solutions are now possible, as the pieces are no longer hooked to one another but slide together. Again, the interesting location of the 'legs' makes for some challenging goal shapes and the approach to joining the pieces together is different from the previous puzzle.

I would say that the basic shapes are easier in Diagra, and perhaps this is a more enjoyable set to play with since it's faster to put the pieces together and take them apart than it is with Twisted Halfcubes. The challenge level does step up a notch when you start looking for the coordinate motion solutions though, so don't underestimate the challenge from this one.

Diagra Super Cube solution

Diagra Super Cube solution

Diagra 'Heart" solution which required coordinate motion

Diagra 'Heart' solution - requires coordinate motion

Coordinate motion solutions in Diagra!

Coordinate motion solutions in Diagra!

As noted in the comments for the solution above on the right, a coordinate motion is required to make this shape. The image on the left shows how the three sub-units join together to make the final shape, and all slide together at the same time, with a satisfyingly smooth movement. Have a look at the very short video below to see this in action.


The beauty of these puzzles are that you're limited only by your imagination as to the shapes you can create. These make a great set of building blocks, and just playing with connecting them in different orientations is as much fun as trying to create the specific patterns on the short instruction sheet provided. I've spent a lot of time doing just this, and as such find it a great stress toy when it's a rough day at work!

You can order these puzzles directly from Vinco or through Puzzle Master, and I highly recommend any of the Halfcubes series. I will certainly be picking up more of them myself.



29Jul/110

Cube Vinco

Cube Vinco is a beautifully made puzzle from Vaclav Obsivac. This modest wooden puzzle unlike many other of Vinco's puzzles is not a coordinate motion, but rather a take apart puzzle, and is made just as well as any of the other items he sells. I got this one from Puzzle Master, for around $15, or you can get it from Vinco directly.

Cube Vinco

Cube Vinco

This is one of the smaller puzzles from Vinco at only 1 3/4" cubed. The woods used are fairly plain, however the workmanship is excellent. Each of the four pieces fits together very tightly, so that although the seams are easily visible, determining how to take this puzzle apart is not obvious.

One of the nice features of the way this puzzle is created is that most people when they pick it up will hold it such that as they pull on the sides to try to free the pieces, they will actually be holding onto both sides of the same piece, and in fact holding it even more firmly together, making separation impossible. Even when you know how the pieces go together, it takes a few tries to be able to find the correct finger hold to be able to start moving the pieces apart.

Cube Vinco Halves

Cube Vinco Halves

The puzzle is made up of four pieces, which are a set of two mirrored pairs. The only way to put the puzzle together is to create these pairs, then in turn join them together to create the finished cube.

Cube Vinco Halves

Cube Vinco Pieces

Without seeing the pieces being taken apart, this could be a difficult puzzle to put together, even with only four pieces. In fact when taking it apart, due to the very snug fit of the pieces, more often than not, the pieces fly apart in your hands (and across the room) so you're not going to see how the pieces were assembled.

Puzzle Master rates this as a Level 8/10 puzzle - Demanding, however I have to think this is a little high. While it's nicely made, quoting Stewart Coffin, "It is more of an amusement than a puzzle" ( taken from "The Puzzling World of Polyhedral Dissections"). That said, I still think this is a great puzzle to own, and at such a low price how can you resist adding it to your collection!



25May/114

Building a Matrioshka (Part 2)

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Building a MaTRIOshka

At the end of the first post on my Matrioshka build, I'd finished gluing up the 'ends' as I think of them for each of the puzzle pieces. I still hadn't cut out the centre sections (or as I'm referring to them, the bridges) that join the two ends of each puzzle piece together, and I still had a lot of sanding to do so that the pieces were all the same size. In this second part, I go through that process, and get closer to the finished puzzle.

On a side note, I originally referred to this project as a MaTRIOshka, however what I'm actually building is a single layer of Vin&Co's puzzle. Stewart Coffin originally referred to this assembly in "The Puzzling World of Polyhedral Dissections", which I have been reading recently as the Expanding Box puzzle. There Mr. Coffin refers to this as a curiosity more than a puzzle, but I'm going to continue on none the less with this build. It is helping me learn about puzzle creation and improve my skills, although I dare say that as with most puzzle creators early works, this will be less than impressive. The bottom line is that it is still a nice co-ordinate motion puzzle.

With 12 'ends' all glued together, I had quite a task to remove all the excess glue from the pieces, and sand them all down to a nice smooth finish. I had deliberately left the pieces slightly larger than they would be for the final glue-up, so that I had some room for cutting errors and the like. This is fairly standard, as it's easier to correct for problems with your saw being slightly off, or gluing issues when you have a little extra material to work with.

Puzzle Pieces before sanding

Puzzle Pieces before sanding - not pretty!

As you can see from one of the pieces, things weren't exactly pretty at this stage. Yes I could probably have allowed the glue to set for about 30 minutes, and then scraped off the excess, but I let things sit overnight without touching them, so I may have created more work for myself here that I needed to. You'll also note that there are apparent gaps between the individual pieces. As I mentioned, this is a learning experience, and I expected that I would have a problem like this! (Oh, and the large lump of tearout on one of the pieces is pretty obvious too.)

If you're wondering about the interesting pattern in the dry glue, this is because I'm using plastic wrap to prevent glue getting onto my clamps. It's effective at keeping the glue where it needs to be, but until I build some gluing jigs, I'm left with this sort of mess.

After a lot of sanding, and some time measuring each piece against a 'perfect' reference piece, I was left with 12 identical pieces. The puzzle has six sides, which are all identical, so this would be the basis of the finished pieces. (ok, so I only photographed 10 pieces. The other two were on my workbench.)

Sanded End Pieces

Sanded End Pieces

As yet I still hadn't cut any wood for the join between each end of the piece. I'll be honest here, I still hadn't entirely figured out how these should be cut, the angles required on the cut etc.

Some stock laminated together to give the thickness I needed

Some stock laminated together to give the thickness I needed

All I could tell from the pictures I was working from was the length of the piece, and that the base touched one side of the end and the top of the triangle touched the other side. Note: I had not started reading Stewart Coffin's book at this point which told you exactly how to make this! (Thanks Stewart) With that information on hand, I decided the best thing to do was to just go for it. I cut six rectangular blocks which were a match for the dimensions of the end of my end piece, marked the mid point on the end, and took to the band saw. (These rough cut pieces are what you see in the image above. Note that they were only true on one side, as I was cutting to a point on the other so I didn't care!)

The rectangular stock marked up for cutting to make the bridge

The rectangular stock marked up for cutting to make the bridge

As I have learned, I cut close to my lines, but didn't go over, to allow me to sand the pieces to the perfect size. You may notice from the image, that my lines are not in pencil Given the accuracy of the cuts I wanted, I used a hobby knife to make the lines. This gives a much more accurate line than pencil, since the edge is much thinner, and also helps to prevent tearout by severing the ends of the fibres if you're working across the grain. Yes, these marks are in end grain so it's not helping me here, but I though it worth mentioning.

Note: If you've not figured it out already, all the images I upload are at least twice the size you see here. Click the image to see the full size version, and to browse all images for this blog entry.

The result was six identical pieces which would form the bridge between each end of each puzzle piece. So far, so good. Now the interesting thing I found out taking this approach, and working purely from pictures, is that the piece required for the bridge is a standard triangular cross-section, the same as the rest of the pieces in the puzzle. The only difference is that the bridge is slightly taller than the end pieces. Going back to Coffin's book, this is exactly what he shows, so this was confirmation that I had this right.

The Bridge pieces ready for assembly

The Bridge pieces ready for assembly

In the next part, I'll look at tackling the problem of gluing up the final pieces and seeing if this thing actually works. On a side note, I have my copy of Vinco's Matrioshka now, and the puzzle I'm building is large enough that the Matrioshka will fit inside it. So does this mean I'm actually building a Quadrioshka?



25Apr/112

Building a Matrioshka (Part 1)

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Building a MaTRIOshka

I've had a bit of a break from working on my own puzzles, as work and life in general have been rather hectic meaning I've just not had the time. However over the Easter weekend, I had three whole days that I could do something puzzle related. I've still not been able to pick up some wood to get back to working on my burr cube, however I did have a lump of oak left over from the box project my oldest son wanted to make as a birthday present.

After reading Kevin's review of the Matrioshka here. I noticed that the puzzle is entirely made of triangles. Now I just happened to have a number of leftover 'scrap' that would fit the bill perfectly from the box. So I sat down with a pencil and paper to figure out how Vinco created his box, and see if I could replicate it.

Note: This project is purely for my own learning, and experience in working with wood to build puzzles, at the scale I need to be working at to create my own puzzles. This is not for sale. If you like Vinco's puzzles, please buy them, they really are great puzzles, and the craftsmanship is superb. I own several of Vinco's puzzles, and highly recommend them.

With all that said, on to the build ...

To break down how the puzzle is built, we need some good photos. Kevin happened to upload some excellent pictures, and I'll not repost them here. Go read his review and have a look if you're interested. The bottom line is that the outer shell is made of 54 idential pieces. They are equilateral triangles on the edge, with a piece length that is twice the length of the side. So, I set about creating 54 identical pieces.

The first thing was to cut the wedge shaped strips of wood which I would eventually cut to the correct length. I took out my mitre saw, and set about making the cuts. One small issue I had was that the amount of the blade in contact with the wood generated a lot of heat, which warped the strips I was cutting. As a result, I had to tape two together as they cooled to make sure the wood was going to end up straight again when I was ready to cut it to length.


With all the strips cut, I had to cut them down to the correct size for each piece. I measured one piece, cut it and checked that it was exactly right. With that done, all I had to do was clamp down a stop, put a sacrificial fence in place and start cutting. As you'll see from the photo, I used a scrap piece of wood as a zero tolerance fence to avoid chipout on the pieces I was cutting. It just saves some time later.


After about half an hour, I had a reasonable pile of pieces next to me, and it was time to do a little rough sanding before gluing up the pieces.


With the rough edges sanded down so that things were a bit neater, and all the pieces labelled to make the glue-up easier, it was time to get the clamps out. The shape of the pieces I was gluing up made things a little more challenging, but with a few of the scraps from cutting the pieces out, life was made simpler again.


It's worth noting at this point, that all these pieces are oversized. This gives me a little bit of material to work with so that I can sand and fine tune all the pieces. For this to look good, it has to have a tight(ish) fit, and the only way to do that is to make sure the pieces are all the same. Despite using the fence, and stops on the saw, not all my pieces came out to be the same size. After all, I'm still learning, and you could say that this is an ambitious project. That said, how do we learn if we don't push ourselves?

In the next post, I'll continue with building the Matrioshka and think about putting each of the six pieces together that will form the final puzzle.



28Mar/110

Vinco Cross Box

So little has changed with the state of my own puzzle, with many other jobs needing done, I've not had the time to work on it. However here's a review of Vinco's Cross box instead.

Vinco's Cross Box in the closed position

Vinco's Cross Box in the closed position

If you're not familiar with Vinco, these are mostly wooden puzzles made by Vaclav Obsivac, who is generally regarded as the master of coordinate motion puzzles. As you can see from the photograph, the work is superb. These are beautifully made wooden puzzles, which for the most part are composites of many different woods glued together to make the puzzles. One of the things that I hear most often about these puzzles is that people think they must be very expensive. The craftsmanship is excellent, and they carry an air of quality about them. The truth is that they are not that expensive, with each piece being less than $50 on average.

Cross Box, is made from six identical pieces which require a coordinate motion to assemble and disassemble. When I first got this puzzle, it was very tight. The finish used had left the pieces very slightly tacky, and to take it apart, I had to get my fingers inside the puzzle, and pull with significant force. After it was taken apart once, the motion is much smoother, and it now almost explodes when you slide the pieces apart.

Almost opened to the point of collapse

Almost opened to the point of collapse

As you can see, when the puzzle starts to come apart, it increases significantly in size. Each piece sliding against four others to create the puzzle. This isn't particularly difficult to put together, and only took me a few minutes. The shape is fairly stable with a couple of the sides in place, and it makes it possible to work without needing a jig or rubber bands to hold everything in place as you put it back together.

Overall, I really like this piece. It's a great show piece, and when you take it apart, people seem quite amazed at just how much bigger it becomes. Well worth adding this or any other Vinco to your collection.

I bought this from PuzzleMaster who carry a selection of Vinco's puzzles.