Sunday, 11 May 2014

Cutler Cube


This thing’s a beast. 

It is big. 

It is heavy.

It has 66 pieces.

11 moves to get the first piece out.

…but it’s a classic!

Bill Cutler began developing this design in the early 1960’s, with the first version seeing the light of day around 1965. It was specifically designed to be a burr that was hard to take apart, as well as put together. Another two versions followed over the next four years with the third version becoming known as “Type A” – or this particular version. (Several more versions have appeared over the years… all intended to be even harder!)
Just think about that – Bill designed this in his teens, by hand – and it’s still a classic 50 years later… little wonder he went on to become one of the best known designers around!

Bill describes the Cube as being made up of two main structures – an inner cage consisting of a standard 24-piece burr (picture 8 inter-connected 6-piece burrs at the corners of an imaginary cube; and an outer shell consisting of another 41 pieces. The two structures are locked together using a key-piece … one that takes 11 moves to remove (so not a key-piece in that sense!).

When Eric Fuller announced back in January that he’d been given permission to make a run of Cutler Cubes I immediately signalled my interest – and followed the pics as the piles and piles of pieces grew in Eric’s workshop – sadly including a large pile of mis-cut pieces that got trashed because he’d used the wrong wood. In spite of the mishap along the way, Eric duly announced that he was done and was proud of the results – so I knew it would be awesome – Eric sets himself very high standards!

I wasn’t disappointed when it arrived – it looks stunning! The original Cubes were made in walnut, oak and mahogany and Eric’s traded the latter two for ash and sapele – keeping the overall colour scheme and looks true to the original. Neat! The fit is definitely up to Eric’s usual standards … this is going to be brilliant!

As soon as you start playing with it, you realise this isn’t going to be a walk in the park – you can find a few things to move … and that movement opens up yet more movement, but then you stop dead in your tracks. Bill’s designed a bunch of dead-ends and red herrings into this brute and I’ve been caught hook, line and sinker!

I try a slightly more rigorous approach but still find myself wandering into the same blind alleys. Clearly this is going to need a serious approach, so I try putting on my puzzling hat and this time notice something “interesting” that I haven’t spotted before – it’s beautifully hidden – and then all of a sudden you know you ain’t in Kansas no more – something very unexpected happens – and that really sets the tone for the rest of the solve – you know you’re on the right track now – that’s fantastic!

After that key-piece is removed, they start coming apart thick and fast until you find yourself left with that inner cage – the 24-piece burr at the centre of the Cube – even then it isn’t trivial.

Faced with a pile of 60-odd pieces I do what every sensible puzzler would do, and drop Eric an email asking for the solution – it duly arrives along with a PDF of Bill Cutler’s original notes from 1980 – including drawings of the pieces and their positions, and quite helpfully, some additional construction notes from Eric on how he chooses to assemble them – after all he had to assemble a run of 38 of these brutes so he had to come up with a fairly repeatable process.

Even with the benefit of all these pictures, notes and instructions, I still make heavy weather of it – having the partial assembly come tumbling down a few times before I managed to get enough interlocking-ness into the structure to keep things together and then finally manage to get it all back together again… serious sense of achievement ensues.

Back in the 1960’s Bill Cutler set out to design a burr that was a challenge to take apart. Fifty years on I’d say he was pretty successful at doing that on his Cube. Eric has produced a fantastic version, true to the original with tremendous tolerances, brilliant fit and a lovely finish… an excellent puzzle to have in the collection.

9 comments:

  1. Allard, just thinking about grappling with 66 pieces is making me giddy already!

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    1. ...they break down into sets of pieces that you use at different stages of assembly - so you can work out some logic to it... but nowhere near enough for me to be able to reassemble without any help! Taking it apart is mission enough...

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  2. I have a version made by Pelikan from many years ago! I've not been brave enough to take it fully apart!

    Kevin
    Puzzlemad

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  3. all I can say, Kevin, is CHICKEN!!!
    I'd love to see Eric's cube instructions...

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  4. Mine is sitting nicely on a shelf. Looking stunning, but untouched. Not even sure with a set of instructions if I'd try it! I really should. Ok ... I'll send an email to Eric :D

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    1. Taking it apart without the instructions is definitely within your powers, Neil! :-)

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    2. It's not the taking apart the worries me... It's having an afternoon to put it back together!

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  5. Nice writeup, Allard. From time to time, I pick up mine (Jerry's version) and disassemble it. The shell pieces are no problem for reassembling after you have chosen a logical approach and determined how they interact. Much different with the central 24 pieces burr core: that one can be much more challenging to put together! Very nice puzzle!

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