Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
18Jun/140

Shake Something

In the recent batch of puzzles from Eric Fuller, Shake Something caught my eye. From a new designer, Dan Fast, this packing puzzle uses four burr pieces in a box to create an interesting challenge. It's always good to see a new designer creating puzzles which are both fun and different, and when they're made by Eric, you know they'll be well made. In this case Eric's living in the future, but it's all good.

Shake Something by Dan Fast

Shake Something by Dan Fast

Made from a Walnut box with Paduak base and internal pins, with Yellowheart and Chakte Viga pieces the puzzle looks great. 38 copies were made for sale, and all sold out quickly, as is common for Eric's puzzles. It's a good sign for Dan, and I look forward to seeing more of his designs.

The pieces have a superb contrast, and do make the solution easier. It's a good sized puzzle, measuring 2.5" x 2.5" x 2.825" making manipulation of the pieces easy. Eric mentioned that there was plenty of room inside the puzzle for wood movement, however I've found from my own copy that a couple of the pieces are rather tight. The last piece to come out, I actually believed was glued into the box by the blocks on the walls and didn't come out. As it happens, it was just an incredibly tight fit, and with a little encouragement it did come out. The pieces are all burr style pieces, and all feel solid so there's no worry about breaking anything. Equally, the pins are well attached to the box, so they're unlikely to come off without some serious abuse.

The goal of the puzzle is to remove the burr pieces and return them to their box. What makes the puzzle different is that for the most part, it's not possible to manipulate the pieces directly, but instead you need to shake, turn and jiggle the box to move the pieces. To make things more interesting, the internal blockages in the box remain hidden, meaning you can't see the interactions between the pieces, and need to carefully observe and react to the obstructions you find.

Shake Something pieces

Shake Something pieces

In total, there are 14 moves required to remove the first piece, with a total complexity of 14.2.4. I found that removing the pieces wasn't too much of a challenge, taking around 5 minutes, however I didn't pay all that much attention to how the pieces came out, and left them scrambled before trying to put them back into the box. I think this was my own folly, as I thought it was fairly straight forward when taking it apart.

As it turns out, I had a much bigger challenge putting it back together, and it took several hours over a few nights to get it back to the starting position. As I mentioned previously, given that I have one piece which I thought was stuck in place, I was only having to worry about 3 pieces, as there was one which had to be in the right place and orientation. Still I got lots of puzzling for my money!

Shake Something's knobbly box

Shake Something's knobbly box

With all the pieces removed, you can see the blocks on the inside of the box which interact with the burr pieces, and make the puzzle both challenging, and a lot of fun. Having solved the puzzle without the need for help, I was pretty happy, so took the expected step of plugging the puzzle into Burr Tools, and seeing what it came up with. Apparently there are 1924 ways that the pieces can fit in the box, but only 3 ways to assemble the pieces. That means that if you didn't have the walls of the box glued together, there would be 1924 ways to put the pieces together, however with them glued up, only 3 of the possible combinations can be assembled into the solution. I feel pretty good having found one of the three on my own. It's certainly manageable, and I highly recommend that you give it a try before just asking Burr Tools to help.

Eric is living in the Future

Eric is living in the Future

No doubt I confused you at the start of my post, by suggesting Eric was living in the future. Looking at how he signed this box, perhaps my comment makes more sense. Apparently Eric made this in May 2015. Guess I slept well last night! (Either that or Eric has a time machine, and I'd really like to borrow it!)



4Jun/143

One Four All & All Four One!

Not long after my wife and I moved to California, she got in touch with Mr Puzzle and ordered some puzzles for me for my upcoming birthday. Yes, I knew back then she was a keeper! One of the puzzles she decided on was One Four All & All Four One! designed by Arcady Dyskin & Pantazis Houlis. Themed around the Four Musketeers, I guess the look appealed to her, and I certainly wasn't disappointed when I opened my presents!

One Four All & All Four One!

One Four All & All Four One!

This is a very simple four piece puzzle, with a frame, with the simple goal of "placing all four cubes into the rhombus frame, in such a way, that the entire structure (frame and cubes) are interlocked (i.e. there are no loose parts)." Yes, I used simple twice in that sentence. Do I even need to comment on what that means?

One Four All & All Four One! info sheet

One Four All & All Four One! info sheet


Each of the cubes is 3/4" and the frame is 3 1/2" x 3" x 1 1/8". The cubes appear to be Maple, Lacewood, and two others probably native to Australia if I know Mr Puzzle. Sadly I can't find much more information about them, suffice to say they are contrasting woods. This particular copy was used by Pantazis as his exchange puzzle at IPP30. The puzzle was also entered into the design competition at IPP30, and received a top 10 place in the judging. As you can see from the info sheet, each of the cubes has been given the designation of one of the four Musketeers. It doesn't change the puzzle any, but keeps a nice theme flowing.

As you've probably guessed, the reason I've not written about this before now is because the puzzle is so simple. It's so simple in fact, that even with the solution printed on the other side of the card, it took me a very long time to solve. This is not just a logical challenge to understand how to interlock the pieces, but also a dexterity challenge to place all the pieces in the correct orientations within the frame. And trust me, juggling four pieces inside the frame at precise angles is anything but simple.


I don't normally talk about puzzle solutions, or show them, but in this case I feel I'm justified. Amusingly, on the solution side of the puzzle card, it states "Beware: Even knowing the solution, it is not easy, and some musketeer skill is needed!" Forget musketeer skill, a bloomin' Ninja would struggle with this one. I have no doubt that when Mr Puzzle made these, he tested the fit of each and every one of them. And I have to commend him for that as this is one infuriating puzzle. If there's an easy way to get the cubes in place I've not found it. Yes, I did solve it, and I took a photo to prove it. If you want to see it, click the link here.

It looks great, and it's one heck of a challenge. I doubt it will live on my shelves solved as it's so challenging to put together, but it is a great puzzle, and really deserves some recognition. You may struggle to find a copy, but if you spy one for sale or see it in someone's collection, don't pass it up. It is worth a crack.



2Jun/145

ODD Puzzle

Way back in 2011, when I was at a puzzle party here in the Bay Area, I had a play with a clever little puzzle, by Iwahiro called the ODD Puzzle. A simple three-piece packing puzzle, that was anything but simple. It's taken me three years, but I now have a copy of my own .... and I had to make it myself!

Odd Puzzle by Hirokazu Iwasawa (a.k.a. Iwahiro), made by TheJuggler

Odd Puzzle by Hirokazu Iwasawa (a.k.a. Iwahiro), made by TheJuggler

Back when I first saw the puzzle, the only copy available was a version by Philos. It was made from Beech and measured 4.7" x 4.7" x 3". The fairly plain appearance hid a superb puzzle, that was the grand prize winner at IPP28. Now it's mostly sold out everywhere you look, and no real indication of when or if it will be available again. The only place I've been able to find it is at Puzzle Sport in Germany.

I played around with the copy at Stan's and really liked the puzzle. It was clever and really needed you to spend time playing with the pieces in the box to understand just how they interacted with each other, and what movements are possible. I was unfortunate that the puzzle was sitting in its solved state when I picked it up, and it was more of a challenge to remove the pieces for me. If I'd not seen the solution I think I would have required a lot more time to understand how it would be possible to get the pieces in there. I had mostly forgotten about this puzzle which if I'm honest is rather a shame.

The Facebook picture that started all this.

The facebook picture that started all this.

Fast forward three years, and I spotted a Craftsman copy of the puzzle made by Iwahiro on one of my friend's Facebook pages as his profile picture. (ed: There's a funny story there, but I'll come back to that.) Seeing that picture spurred me into hunting for a copy, and having failed, I asked a couple of my puzzle friends if anyone had a copy of the puzzle. Amusingly, the closest (geographically) to me had a copy of the puzzle, and agreed to lend it to me. A couple of days later, we met up and exchanged a few puzzles, had the obligatory play with a few new additions to each of our collections, and he left me with a copy of the ODD Puzzle, as well as a puzzle from his collection where a couple of glue joints had broken, that he asked me to fix for him.

Fairly quickly I took a host of measurements from the reference copy, and set about making a copy of my own. I really liked the look of the craftsman version with the 'core' having a different wood to the outer parts of the pieces so looking through my stock, I picked out some Lacewood and Yellowheart to make the pieces. Rather than describe the process in detail, the images below should show the highlights. (As ever, click for larger versions.)

Initial glueup of the pieces

Initial glueup of the pieces

Basic blocks cut

Basic blocks cut


ODD shapes, 'O' still too thick

ODD shapes, 'O' still too thick

Boxes cut, and ready for glueup.  Base pre-finished.

Boxes cut, and ready for glueup. Base pre-finished.


Box glued up, unsanded and still no finish yet

Box glued up, unsanded and still no finish yet

Finished!

Finished!


Of course as you can see, when you're making one, it's not a lot more work to make two, or three, so I made three copies. When I was posting pictures, on my own Facebook pages during the build, I was contacted about buying copies, so I'm glad I made extra. One interesting build fact is that I pre-finished the bases before I glued up the boxes. The reason being that I was going to be unable to finish the inside of the base once the box was glued together. One benefit to pre-finishing is that the glue won't stick to the finish, so the base will be truly floating. I also pre-finished the inside walls of the box before I glued on the strips that create the gap. Again, I wasn't going to be able to get a brush inside the box to finish it to the level I wanted, so I finished it first, leaving clear areas where I was gluing up the pieces so that the glue would stick.

Iwahiro's version, next to my copy

Iwahiro's version, next to my copy

As a quick comparison, the pieces for both copies are identical in size, and can be interchanged between the boxes. In Iwahiro's version he has mitred joints in the box with slip feathers for strength. I used a shoulder joint on my box and didn't add splines (a.k.a. slip feathers). I did however change the way the top of the box is made, extending my slats all the way through the sides, making that joint stronger, unlike Iwahiro's version where the slats are entirely inside the box. There's not real difference, just a choice I made.

A look at the bottom of the puzzle made from Chakte Viga

A look at the bottom of the puzzle made from Chakte Viga

My the boxes in my copies are made from Katalox with a Chakte Viga base. I think the contrast between the dark, almost black sides with the bright orange base looks great, but then I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't.

This was the first time I'd used the Beall Wood Buff system since I bought it. Fellow puzzle maker John Devost uses it on most of the puzzles he makes, and having used it now, I can see why. The finish achieved is incredible. It's a high gloss shine, which really makes the wood look great, and gives it an amazingly smooth feel. It also means that the pieces in the ODD puzzle slide against each other with virtually no friction. That means that the slick plastic sheet added in the bottom of Iwahiro's version isn't needed in the copies I made.

One of my friends commented that the only thing missing from my copy was the slip feathers on Iwahiro's box. I joked that I'd considered adding Holly slip feathers, but in the end didn't do so. (Now I didn't mention at the time that I didn't have a jig built that would allow me to create slip feathers in a box) All I can say to that now is ...

Different wood choices, and slip feathers added

Different wood choices, and slip feathers added

They're not quite finished yet, (and I'll update this when they are) but I've added the slip feathers, purely for the aesthetic of them, and rather than have them flat, I put them at an angle just to add detail.

I mentioned earlier that there was a funny story related to me making the puzzles. As I mentioned, I was prompted to make these having seen the picture on a friend's Facebook. After posting pictures of the copy I'd made, the friend who had the picture sent me a message asking if I could send him measurements of the puzzle, so he could make his own. He didn't have a copy, and seeing me making my copies kicked him into deciding he should make his own copy, since he'd been meaning to do it for a while. So, I was prompted into making a copy having seen his photo, which prompted him ... Well it amused me at least!



16May/140

2 Halves Cage 4 A

Well that's a bit of a mouthful isn't it! 2 Halves is a burr puzzle designed by Gregory Benedetti, with my copy being made by the very talented Maurice Vigouroux. Back in November 2013, this came up for sale on Puzzle Paradise with a couple of options for woods used. Seeing the Ebony cage and Bloodwood pieces, I didn't hesitate, and bought it there and then. I certainly wasn't disappointed.

2 Halves Caged 4 A by Gregory Benedetti

2 Halves Caged 4 A by Gregory Benedetti

Despite not being particularly good with Burr puzzles, this doesn't look like a burr, and the jet black Ebony surrounding the deep red of the Bloodwood makes it look imposing. That's probably a good thing, as this is not a simple puzzle. It's not a small puzzle either. Each cubie is 7/16", making it 3" x 3" x 3" overall, meaning that Maurice was working with 1" thick stock to make the burr pieces. It's a great size and manipulating the pieces inside the frame is easy given the size of the pieces. It's heavy too. Ebony is a very dense heavy wood, so this puzzle has a really solid heft to it. The fit and finish are excellent with the Ebony being polished to a reflective shine. The pieces all slide past each other perfectly, and the tolerances are spot on.

The first night I spent around 40 minutes playing around with the puzzle and managed to create some space in the cage to move the burr pieces around a little, but I hit a dead-end and couldn't see a way to progress further. There seemed to be a huge amount of space in the puzzle, but the cage was still firmly held in place, and the was no way I was sliding any of the burr pieces out of the cage.

Partially solved with pieces sticking out like a Hedgehog

Partially solved with pieces sticking out like a Hedgehog

This carried on for a few days where I'd spend 20 minutes or so each night trying to make progress and really getting nowhere. As often happens, things got busy, and the puzzle was left on a shelf for a while with pieces sticking out of the sides, looking a little like a hedgehog. Recently I had a little free time, and picked this up again, since it was sitting looking at me and I felt bad that I'd not finished it.

After about an hour, I finally managed to shuffle the burr pieces into the right locations to be able to remove one half of the cage! Progress. It was quite the achievement to have made it this far, and spurred on by my success, I carried on to remove the rest of the pieces. I thought I was past the difficult part and the remainder was going to be easy. After all, I now had a lot of space, and removing the remaining pieces should be easy!

Isn't it great when you're totally wrong. The puzzle is a level 17.14.9.5.3 puzzle. So removing the first half of the cage, I'd only finished the first 17 steps. I had another 14 to remove the first burr piece, and then another 9 to remove the second. This is one tough puzzle. I spent another 15 minutes figuring out how to move the pieces around and take that first burr piece out of the remaining cage half, but I finally got there. Let's just say I didn't do it in just 14 moves!

Six burr pieces, plus the two cage halves

Six burr pieces, plus the two cage halves

As far as value for money goes, this has been a great puzzle. I've had a lot of puzzling time out of it, and I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. This is a little worrying for me, as I've never really found much fun in playing with Burr's. Maybe I've found something else that I do enjoy after all.

The 2 Halves is certainly a different style of Burr, with the cage interacting with the burr pieces in such a way that it really adds an extra challenge. The cage itself blocks your view of the voids in the burr, making it much more difficult to see how to progress, and it also adds some structure, keeping the pieces in the right locations without needing an extra hand to prevent them from falling or rotating into a position which makes it difficult to move the next piece.

Now, I freely admit that I'm not good enough with burr's to be able to re-assemble this one on my own. It was enough of a challenge to just take it apart. Not to mention that I didn't pay any attention to how the pieces came out, or the order, so I didn't even have a reference to how to put them back.

There's only one possible assembly out of 1,844 possible orientations of the pieces in the final shape, so it could take a very long time to put this back together with trial and error. I know when I'm beaten, and turned to the trusty Burr Tools to help. Even there it took me three attempts to get the pieces entered correctly for Burr Tools to be able to solve the puzzle. I have no idea how Gregory designed this, but I have to take my hat off to him. It's a great design, and I can't recommend it enough, even if you're like me, and are not a fan of Burr's normally.



14May/140

Lunatic 3D Hidden Mazes

Way back in June 2012 when I was browsing the puzzles over at Cleverwood, I came across a puzzle called The Lunatic. At the time I was spending a lot of time with hidden maze puzzles, and this appealed to me, so I bought one. Turns out this was one of the original mazes made by Marcus Allred, who popped up on Kickstarter a little while later. I backed his first venture there too!

The original Lunatic (right) and the newer version (left)

The original Lunatic (right) and the newer version (left)

The original puzzle, made with a Purpleheart exterior is a little over 2.5" x 2.5" x 2.5", and comes with a single steel ball which you drop into one of the holes, then navigate through a blind maze, before the ball pops out the hole on the other side. It's not terribly difficult, and I'd even go so far as to say it's trivial. There's no dead ends or chances for the ball to get stuck, you can put the ball in one side, and rock the cube back and forth, and the ball will pop out. The challenge is really to understand the maze, and get the ball out in as few movements as possible. Doing that makes it a little more challenging, and more interesting as a puzzle.

The original Lunatic in Purpleheart

The original Lunatic in Purpleheart

At one point Marcus popped up on one of the puzzle forums I frequent, and we started talking about the puzzle. Apparently he finished the puzzle using Orange Oil, which helps bring out the colour of the Purpleheart. I certainly didn't know that, and I know a few other puzzle builders were interested in that process. It's looking a little dry these days, and I may have to refinish the puzzle to bring back its original luster.

The result of the Kickstarter, made from Walnut Burl

The result of the Kickstarter, made from Walnut Burl

The Maze above is the result of that first Kickstarter project, a larger, 3" maze with a Walnut Burl exterior. Marcus has certainly refined the process from that first cube, with the entry holes to the maze being both smaller and better defined. The visibility of the internal maze which is made from a much less exotic wood is minimal, and overall it looks like a more polished puzzle.

The difficulty is much the same as the original, and won't provide much of a challenge, unless you follow my suggestion to map the internal maze, and then navigate it in as few movements as possible. Still that's not the real attraction of the work Marcus is doing.

He's finding some of the most beautiful burl woods out there, and working them expertly into beautiful works of art that are also puzzles. Some of his more recent work includes using the burl itself to create the maze, and then encasing it in a clear shell. Adding two balls to the puzzle of different colours and then creating challenges to swap the locations of the balls and so forth. The challenge to work with burls like this without having the wood shatter or chip is no easy task, and Marcus has refined his techniques to produce excellent results.

His latest Kickstarter offering up some of the new designs has just been successfully funded, and I look forward to seeing what he does next. Might be time for me to pick up one of his newer puzzles, and see how far he's come.

Marcus now has a new website, so head over there if you'd like to pick up one of his puzzles. If you're looking for something which will stand out on the puzzle shelves, this may well fit the bill.



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!