...Some say he dreams about new puzzles and when he wakes up in the morning there’s a working prototype in his workshop.
...Some say he can fix broken puzzles by the power of thought alone and that he once suggested that Stewart Coffin look into using rhombic dodecahedrons.
All we know is, he’s called the Stick (man)!
Robert Yarger’s latest creation has been dubbed the Milestone Puzzle – and it certainly is a milestone in so many senses:
- it celebrates a decade of Stickman Puzzles,
- passing the 1000th Stickman Puzzle produced
- it’s the 25th numbered Stickman Puzzle, and
- it’s an incredible mechanical achievement.
Rob teased us with some pics of his latest work-in-progress on the Renegade Puzzlers Forum back in February and it’s probably fair to say that it created a fair amount of interest. He showed us pictures of a half completed framework with all manner of interesting-looking gears, screws and gadgets – and a chain, made of wood(!).
Roll forward a couple of months and I’d taken Rob up on his offer of a puzzle and been tracking it’s progress from Oklahoma to Barnt Green ... en route it was intercepted by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs who duly sent me a ransom demand (or VAT invoice if you prefer) a few days ago. Yesterday I managed to get up to the Parcel Force depot to pay the ransom and get my package released ... and then I had an absolutely brilliant time exploring Rob’s latest masterpiece.
For starters, this isn’t a small puzzle – the basic premise is that you need to solve the puzzle in order to open the framework that cocoons (read: securely locks in place!) the commemorative Stickman Milestone Puzzle Book inside. The cover of the framework has the most amazing set of interconnected mechanics I’ve ever seen: the left hand side has a drive shaft with two different sorts of screw thread – one of which in turn drives a set of helical gears and the other, via a couple of sprockets, drives a chain to transfer the movement to a secondary shaft in the centre ... but the more that you examine the mechanism, the more it perplexes.
There are a couple of bits that appear to be driven at different speeds by that drive shaft – except they’re quite firmly connected ... most of the gears and other bits have a little bit of play in them, but for quite a while, I couldn’t work out what was stopping them all from moving – I could see that they were interconnected, and thanks to the open nature of the framework, you can see almost everything.
I’d poked and prodded for a while before I started investigating a bit more widely and then stumbled across what I’d been missing up to now and all of a sudden a whole new world of opportunities opened up to me and I had my first opportunity to exercise the mechanics of this beauty – and it is absolutely mesmerising watching the various gears and sliders interacting to produce some rather unusual moments in the one half, while that chain drives the secondary shaft in the other half – the mechanics are staggering – how the heck they were first conceived is well beyond me, but the skills required to implement them are truly mind-blowing.
Well, not quite – actually the book itself is a puzzle too! The spine is beautifully crafted in wood (what else, right?) and has three arms locked into it that cover the front and the back – and they are in turn joined on the right hand side by a pair of cross-pieces that are pegged together ... and it took me another little while to force myself to think of this as yet another Stickman Puzzle – after which I managed to work out how to get into it... and there is treasure within the book.
Rob and Matt Dawson have pulled together a lovely book giving the background to Rob’s journey from hobbyist to puzzle-making rock star (my phrase – I think Rob’s far too humble to refer to himself that way). It was really interesting to read about how Rob started out making puzzle boxes with a single radial-arm saw (a.k.a. widow-maker) and how he still chooses to use it for all sorts of strange, unintended jobs today. It was nice to read about his early collaboration with Eric Fuller and their Camelot period (great description, by the way!) and to get Rob’s perspective on how he designs his puzzles. One thing that really attracted me to Rob’s puzzles was the fact that they’re all so totally different from one another – it’s hard to look at one of them and see a family resemblance to any of the other puzzles he’s produced – apart from the style of the work, perhaps – so it was interesting to read that Rob has always actively avoided making anything that looks like anything else already out there in puzzle-dom, and that sort of explains it all – his work really is unique.
The second part of the book contains descriptions and pictures of every Stickman Puzzle produced to date (and even obscures the details of his Apothecary Chest drawer so as not to spoil it for any of the other participants!) including details of the production runs and even a set of high level solutions to every puzzle. After that there’s a section on some of the prototypes or ideas that haven’t quite made it out into the wild yet ... all of which shows that having reached these milestones 10/25/1000 there’s still a lot left in the tank!
Here’s hoping that Robert Yarger, aka Stickman, will carry on adding beautifully crafted highly original puzzles to this list for ages to come.
Thank you Rob – truly a Milestone Puzzle to celebrate and enjoy!
[and thanks Matt for pestering him into producing the book and then doing all the editing – great job!]