Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Stacks Of Sticks

This flattish wood puzzle came to me from Brian Menold of Wood Wonders. Called the Stacks Of Sticks, it is exactly what the name says. 16 strips comprising of 4 different varieties of exotic hardwoods (Paduak, Yellowheart, Wenge and East Indian Rosewood) stacked together in four layers to make up this rather colourful little puzzle.

The puzzle measures 6.6cm square with a thickness of 1.8cm. Quality of construction is good and finished to tight tolerances. The object of the puzzle is to take apart the stack and reassemble them. As Brain rightly points out on his website, the puzzle looks simple...and yes it is. But looks are deceiving as I soon found out.

Stacks Of Sticks (left) with the 4-piece burr gift with purchase
Because of its tight construction which gives no hints whatsoever, it took a bit of playing for me to figure out how to disassemble the stack. Quite tricky I might add. Overall it is not a difficult puzzle but still provides some challenge.

One of the really plus points about the Stacks Of Sticks is that it is a good value for money puzzle at US$15. On top of that, Brian threw in a free gift (I think for first-time buyers only)...a miniature four piece burr made from two hardwoods, one of which I am pretty positive is Purpleheart. The burr is only 5.2cm cube, small and cute and well made. It also appears fairly easy to take apart. But given my lack of experience with burrs, I did not venture further to disassemble the burr fully, just sliding the pieces enough to see what each looked like.

Readers may like to check out Brian's site which sells a variety of wooden puzzles, a number of them designed by Stewart Coffin. And like the Stacks Of Sticks, they are pretty reasonably priced and affordable.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Topless Box

The Topless Box is one of Eric Fuller's recent creations. I like the name Eric has given to this puzzle. Nope!....not for the type of imagery typically associated with "topless" but rather, I find that the word "topless" describes the puzzle very well.

The Topless Box comes with a rather interesting history of how Eric came to produce this box as part of an ongoing massive project for the construction of an Apothecary style puzzle box. I guess there would be more on the latter in time to come.

Measuring 7.7cm x 7.7cm x 7.7cm, the box is made of three exotic hardwoods; Striped Quartersawn Sapele for the body itself, Quilted Maple and Paduak for the top and bottom "lids". Quality of construction and attention to detail is excellent and the box is built to very tight tolerances. Eric has also mentioned that the boxes "are designed with longevity in mind, and should function fine regardless of humidity".

As a bonus, there is also a very pleasant woody smell emanating from the woods, which even runs to your fingers after you have played with the box for a while.  The box is about the right size and fits the hands very well, so less fear of slipping and dropping and denting a corner.

Lids removed but box is still closed!
The object is of course to open the box. Well, here's the reason why its "topless". The cream coloured Quilted Maple top and bottom surfaces are actually lids that can be removed quite trick here. Underneath the Maple is a contrasting layer of Paduak which fits into the depression in the box body, when the box is fully assembled. But the box itself is still sealed at both ends by a Paduak covering. Clearly there is more that needs to be done than merely removing both lids.

I have limited experience with puzzle boxes and I would say that the Topless Box is very challenging indeed. I would not go into any details here as I do not wish to give away any secrets...let's just say that from a puzzling perspective, I don't think this box fits into the usual genres of puzzle boxes in terms of the solution. (if any reader think this statement is inaccurate, please let me know). It took me the better part of a whole evening before I figured out the mechanism and opened the box.

Overall, a very nice box puzzle with a very interesting and unique mechanism, one that was unexpected, at least for me when I saw the insides. Like all of Eric's wooden creations, I was fortunate to get an order in in-time before they ran out. Expensive but worth the money. You may also like to check out Oli's blog post for his views on this puzzle.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Ball In Cylinder Puzzle No.1

UPDATE  30 SEPT 2017 - Production of BIC#1 has ceased indefinitely. BUT Ball In Cylinder #2 is now AVAILABLE again! Please email me at to purchase.

Sometime last November, I decided to have a go at puzzle designing. While I wanted to see if I could actually come up with something that could remotely be considered a mechanical puzzle, this was also to determine if my design could actually be produced, and if so, whether it could be made out of metal.

There were three main hurdles I had to overcome:-

1. Come up with a functional mechanical puzzle design; one that actually works.
2. Source for aluminium and be able to buy it cheaply
3. Find a metal fabricator who could produce a single prototype at a reasonable cost

I already had in mind what sort of puzzle I wanted to design and with the help of MS PowerPoint (no CAD etc here) challenge No 1 was quite easily disposed off. Google proved to be very helpful and I readily located an aluminium supplier that was prepared to sell me a small quantity of rods and tubes of the required sizes cash and carry. It was finding a suitable fabricator that proved to be the most difficult of the three. While there are certainly no shortage of vendors, few if any were keen to do personal projects, instead preferring to do more profitable commercial work.

I asked and searched around quite a bit and nearly gave up this whole idea when by a stroke of luck, I was referred by an acquaintance to a small metal engineering business located only minutes away from my office. I was in luck. The proprietor, a kindly elderly gentleman, was willing to make a single unit prototype after looking at my design. It took a bit of effort to explain to him what mechanical puzzles were and what I was trying to achieve. He was rather amused and decided to go along with me. (The next time I visit him, I will remember to bring along Wil Strijbos' Lotus! I am sure this would definitely blow him away). And the price quoted was also pretty affordable. This gave me hope since making more units would lower the price.

To cut a long story short, my first puzzle produced was the RevoLUTION Ball Puzzle. I made only one copy. While the aluminium itself was easy to find, some of the parts that I needed were not, and our dear old metal fabricator (he is in his late 60s) was too busy to source them for me. I also felt the specifications needed changing, eg much larger ball bearing, less moving parts etc. Notwithstanding, I was satisfied with this first exercise of design and production. I had found a fabricator willing and capable of making metal puzzles. Apart from metal, my fabricator could also work with heavy plastic, nylon and ABS, but not wood.

During this time, I was also concurrently working on my second design, the Ball In Cylinder Puzzle (BIC). I wanted my second puzzle not only to provide a reasonable amount of challenge but also be aesthetically pleasing. Compare the BIC to the RevoLUTION Ball Puzzle physically and you will know what I mean. Inspiration was drawn from Wil Strijbos' metal puzzles and some others.

For my BIC to work properly, it had to be of a certain size. My reference point was the Revomaze and AlCyl, the latter reviewed in this blog. Anodising was expensive and out of the question, so I settled for a polished look instead. I had tried out the first and second prototypes on my friends (tho' unfortunately none were puzzlers) but the feedback was pretty positive.

Ball In Cylinder Puzzle Prototype No 1 on the right and No 2 on the left.
No 1 was a whopping 70% larger by volume than the No 2. Notice
also the missing etched lines at both ends of No2 which are found on the final design (top photo) 
After minor tweaks through three prototypes, I finally settled on my final design and took the plunge to order a batch of fifteen copies. The true test is really what the experts have to I sent about half of these to experienced puzzlers and bloggers in the community (including Wil Strijbos) to see what they thought of my first production puzzle. Thankfully they reported positive and encouraging comments on their blogs and I got valuable feedback. I actually sold out the remaining half within a night, after Kevin's review was posted on his blog. Unfortunately I also had to put other prospective purchasers on a wait list.

My BIC is made entirely from 6061 aluminium (I don't know what these numbers mean but mountain bikes appear to use similar aluminium as well). It measures 7.5cm tall with a diameter of 4.44cm and feels weighty in the hand.

The object of the BIC is to remove the hidden ball bearing inside the cylinder. It is classified as a sequential movement puzzle. As the BIC is my own design, I am not sure how to grade it's difficulty. Allard in his blog review states the BIC "will provide a nice little challenge" while Kevin feels it has "just the right level of difficulty". For other reviews, please see Roxanne's blog post and Oli's comments on the Revomaze Forum.

I will be producing another batch in the coming weeks, so if anyone is keen to buy one, please email me via my Profile email. The price of the BIC No.1 is GBP26.50 plus S&H (around GBP8.50 for USA and Europe with tracking no).

In the meantime, I am onto my third puzzle design and this one will go for prototyping very soon. Will let everyone know once its ready.

Update: 29 January 2013

The prototype for the new Ball In Cylinder Puzzle No.2 has been fabricated and looks good. Now undergoing testing and tweaking the specifications to make sure it works properly as intended.

Update: 11 June 2013

Ball In Cylinder No.2 first four puzzles delivered. Now to check that each puzzle works properly. Once the rest of copies produced, will make available for sale via this site.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Bolt & Washer

The Bolt & Washer puzzle was designed by Wil Strijbos. He was out of stock for quite a long time, so when it became again available recently, I snapped one up immediately.

This bolt puzzle is rather different from the rest in this genre due to its unusually large size. It measures a hefty 7.6cm long and 3.7cm wide. Made from steel, it feels heavy in the hand. Quality of construction and finish is good but don't expect it to be milled to the type of precision and tolerance as the Lotus or Cube Dovetails.

The object of the puzzle is to remove the washer from the bolt. To do this, the only obvious way is to remove the nut. The nut is also not your run-of-the-mill version as it has what appears to be a rod running through the side.

Unlike the typical bolt and nut puzzles, this one is a sequential discovery puzzle; meaning that you have to follow a number of steps in sequence with the aid of certain tools that come with the puzzle which you first need to discover.

From my perspective, there are 6-7 steps (depending on how you count) to getting the washer out. While not overly difficult, the puzzle does provide a good amount of challenge. I managed to solve mine within 15-20 minutes. The trick of the mechanism in the puzzle although pretty simple once you see it, is actually quite clever.

Overall a very nice bolt and nut puzzle with a slightly different twist. For puzzlers who like nut/bolt/washer or sequential discovery puzzles, this is a gem and definitely worth acquiring. Available directly from Wil Strijbos.
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