Saturday 27 July 2013

Stickman Fulcrum Puzzlebox

Looking at the usual pictures of this box on the web gives the impression of something a lot larger than it is in real life – I’d always pictured something akin to my mom’s old sewing box, so the first time I saw one at James Dalgety’s marvellous emporium I was really surprised to see how small it was – it’s dinky!

Back in 2006 these puzzles were originally sold for just over $100 when they were described as fairly trivial puzzles by their maker, albeit puzzles that begged to be picked up and played with. Nowadays they regularly change hands for many times their original price on the specialist puzzle auction sites – but finding one that’s available remains a huge challenge. 

You’re told that there are two compartments to be discovered and you’ll discover a few panels that might slide if they weren’t connected through a series of interlinked arms that are in turn tied to sliding locks on the sides… and depending on how you start moving the panels, you either  get a tiny bit of movement or immediately block every other potential move ... or that's what it can feel like!

A bit of experimentation and you can find a pathway through the various sliding panels that will enable you to move forward until the first compartment slides open... and couple more moves and the second opens up, with the inside of the top panel revealing Rob's customary Stickman signature... good enough to sign cheques with!

Easily the dinkiest Stickman in my collection - and definitely one of the cutest.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Stickman #4 Puzzlebox

A.K.A. the Clutch Tile Puzzlebox, this is another pretty unique Stickman puzzle – one part sliding tile puzzle , with a twist, two parts secret opening puzzle box and a bonus Lee Krasnow burr thrown in for good measure… it’s one heck of a puzzle. 

Stickman Puzzlebox #4 was first offered for sale back in 2004 as a collaborative effort between Rob and Eric Fuller (and Lee Krasnow if you include the mini-burr hidden inside). Each of the four long sides of the box has a channel running the length of the side with a number of sliding tiles trapped in the channel. Those channels are interrupted in the centre by a rotating square collar – free to rotate in either direction … for as long as you like …hmmmm, therapeutic …

Examining the collar a bit more carefully, you’ll spot a pair of holes on opposite sides that should just accommodate a tile in each and provide a mechanism for moving tiles between channels – as soon as you work out how to get the tiles in there in the first place.

Once you’ve done that, and spotted the clues to which tile you might want to get where, it’s all down to working out a strategy for how you can make spaces where you need them and have the right tiles “available” to be moved into their eventual resting places…  which isn’t all that tough, except that our friendly puzzle designer has included a few double-sized tiles which severely restrict the options open to you on some channels. Think a few moves ahead and you can work around them as well, though…

…and once you’ve got everything to where you think they need to be, there’s one last little killer move to get the drawer to open… one that evaded me for quite some time! Once you’ve got the drawer open, there’s a latched cover over the top of each drawer to stop anything in the drawers getting in the way of the insides – neat!

One of the drawers has a cute little surprise in the form of a Lee Krasnow miniature laser-cut burr – mine’s a little 6-piece offset board burr – a nice little reward for having solved the puzzle. 

What else can I say – it’s a piece of Stickman history and with nine years on the clock it still looks absolutely perfect and everything works precisely as intended, but then it’s a Stickman- would you expect anything less?

Friday 19 July 2013

#2 Pencil Case

I first spotted a note about the impending #2 Pencil Case on Kagen Schaefer's website around the middle of 2011 ... at about the same time as I was ordering my Diamond Box. Kagen promised to put me down for one and said he'd be in touch when they were ready. Then things went quiet on the Pencil Case front for a while - the Diamond Box run went ahead in the interim and I've written about that one over here, and Kagen has produced some incredibly awesome pieces during that period, including the Lotus Table and the Pipe Organ Desk. If you haven't seen the video of Kagen doing a demo of how the desk works yet, you need to, now... anyway, it's not like he hasn't been busy!

At the start of this year Kagen got back in touch and said that he was starting to get the Pencil Cases moving again so we exchanged some emails and a little PayPal and then a couple of weeks ago I received easily the best looking (#2) Pencil Case I've ever owned in my life... the curly maple literally sparkles and the finish is up to Kagen's usual levels of perfection. 

It literally is a pencil case - the main part of the top panel slides down to reveal a large compartment that even comes with a complementary pencil ... you can slide that panel all the way off, but that doesn't seem all that interesting. In the top left hand corner of the large compartment there's a hole that look suspiciously like a pencil sharpener - and indeed, master Schaefer has handily built a pencil sharpener into the box for you, after all it is a pencil case!

Paying closer attention to the top section of the box, you'll already have noticed that there's a fair amount of additional space up there, and if you wiggle the cover up at the top it'll move a little, but you'll correctly deduce that's it's currently locked in place... and keeping the secret compartment, err, secret!

You'll work it out eventually though, even if you aren't a puzzler! :-)

Once you get inside the secret compartment, you'll see a truly elegant mechanism - simple and extremely effective ... and all made in wood (OK, except the sharpener!). One little piece of that is really clever... you'll know which one I mean as soon as you see it! ;-)

It's a really cool puzzle box that masquerades as something quite ordinary - even useful... beautifully finished and a lovely addition to my little collection.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Bob's Bonkers Borg Box!

The first time I saw a Stickman # 5 Puzzlebox in the flesh was at James Dalgety's puzzle heaven. I'd read a bit about it on the Cubic Dissection Gallery pages and it sounded pretty amazing ... seeing one for real was something else entirely - it actually looks like it's from another planet - so it's not surprising that it's been nicknamed the Borg Box and that's the name that's stuck! 

Originally christened the Takeapart Puzzlebox, I'm sure that Rob's love of science fiction means that he doesn't mind (possibly even enjoys!) the name that appreciative puzzlers have bestowed on it. 

A little while back Wil introduced me to a fellow collector who had a few Stickman boxes that he might just be willing to part with - he'd managed to collect some of Rob's earlier puzzles but hadn't managed to get hold of some of the later ones and found himself reluctantly deciding that it might make sense to specialise in a smaller number of puzzle box craftsmen going forward. So it was that we found ourselves swapping a couple of emails and comparing which Stickmen we each had and which ones he might be prepared to sell - a day or two later I'd prioritised the ones I was keen to get hold of and we'd agreed on some prices and thus it came to pass that I was able to purchase four rather collectable Stickman puzzleboxes.

...and I'm sure it won't surprise you to find that the Borg Box was right at the very top of that list - that was the one that I was most keen to grab a copy of, by a country mile! 

A couple more days later and I'd managed to transfer some funds across The Channel and a large wonderfully packaged set of puzzles had arrived in Barnt Green. I've been like a kid in a candy store ever since...

The Borg Box functions like you'd expect a puzzle box to work - there are locks and sliders that interact and at some point some side panels will be released to move, a bit... move them all a bit more, sometimes in the other direction, and some more panels will move until after about 30-odd moves the top slides open.  

Up until now you could be forgiven for thinking that Rob's just been a bit eccentric in his decoration of the outside of the panels by using oddly shaped pieces of wood to disguise the sliders and the locks and latches ... but on the inside, that same "decoration" appears in mirrored form - which is a bit extreme for decorating ... and then it dawns on you that each panel is made up of a raft of interconnected and interlocking pieces - including the locking mechanisms themselves ... and from there if you perform a couple more moves, and remove a few key locking pieces, you can not only take the box apart into its constituent panels, but each of those panels then breaks down into a set of interlocking pieces... the entire box is constructed of pieces that hold together due to their shape alone - no glue (or nails or screws!) has been used to build these boxes ... that is bonkers! 

Thoroughly AWESOME, but totally BONKERS!

The Borg Box consists of 78 pieces, each of which has been cut from a single lump of wood (no gluing remember!) - that means that although the final box 'only' weighs about 4 lbs, each one started out life as a pile of wood weighing 15 lbs ... and took an average of 38 hours to build... 

One last little story about these boxes - Rob reckoned that they were that hard to reassemble properly once they'd been fully disassembled that he imposed a fine charge of $50 on any puzzler who shipped a Borg Box back to Stickman-central in bits for reassembly - having seen just one panel in bits (Rich, you're a maniac!) I'd imagine that paying $50 to get one back together again might be a mighty reasonable offer! 

This box is definitely on my list of all-time favourites already.

[Thanks to those who had a hand in getting it to me... I'll be in your debt for quite some time]

Friday 12 July 2013

Double Duals

Jane Kostick entered three designs in last year's Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition and I've already written about two of them over here. I hadn't bought a copy of the third, Double Duals, at the time, but recently I managed to remedy that. 

I'd been trawling through John and Jane's website just in case there was anything new when I stumbled across a couple of interesting new things (you can see a sneak peek of one of them below) so I shot off an email to Jane to ask about some of the new designs. Her reply was the usual mine of wonderful information about the designs and how they came about, but unfortunately she went on to describe how she was in the process of moving out of the building that had been home to her woodshop for quite some time, as the owner intended re-purposing and developing the building. The upside was that she and John were in the process of building a purpose-built woodshop (and star-factory?) in their backyard - complete with an awesome looking wooden cupola - the downside was that the woodshop was currently out of commission, so she couldn't make me anything new ... however she did happen to have a couple of interesting things lying around looking for a good home ... and that's how I managed to snag a copy of Double Duals. 

Double Duals is probably a bit more puzzle-y than some of her other designs and it comes with its own poem describing the goal:

Assemble a shape that resembles a jack
and one that has traits of a box.
Hide the ebony block inside of the jack,
and then put the jack in the box.

Separate the two shapes, and invert the box.
Spread outward the sticks of the jack.
Put both shapes together around the black block
so all of the parts tightly pack.

You get a set of 24 sticks and 15 blocks ... one of the blocks in a contrasting wood has no magnets and forms the centre of the eventual structure. One set of 6 blocks are used to form the corners of an octahedron whilst one half of the sticks and the second set of sticks will be combined with the other 8 blocks forming the corners of a cube... or rather, in terms of the instructions - form a Jack-shaped structure around the black block, and then a cube shaped structure around the Jack ... putting the Jack-in-the-box!

OK, first things first: when you start with a pile of bits and the poem, it's not exactly obvious how these things are going to go together and some experimentation is definitely called for. I found that starting with one of the blocks and a few sticks I could more or less work out how the ebony block might be cradled inside a Jack-shaped structure ... and then building on that you can add pieces until you start seeing gaps being left that happen to be just perfectly shaped and sized to accommodate the final few sticks, and you realise that the triangular sticks are all flush up against the ebony block on every side...

I still find building the cube-structure on its own isn't trivial - even after several goes at it - my brain wants to put the sticks on the edges of the cube and it simply won't work that way ... whereas building the cube on the outside of the Jack is a relative doddle as the Jack shows you where to put the blocks and then joining the blocks with the sticks is a relatively straight forward exercise. 

I took my copy along to MPP11 and noticed a few of folks fiddling around with the pieces but only a couple of them actually managed to assemble the full structure properly starting from scratch - so perhaps it is a bit more puzzle-y than some of Jane's other designs after all...

A sneak peak...

The thing that really caught my eye on Jane's website was a new design called Quintetra - take a look at the video and you'll see why I was so totally hooked on it. I loved the three layers of the construction that just all look so totally different, yet fit snugly inside one another... unfortunately, Jane only had a set of the outer pieces on hand and wasn't able to make up a set of the innards before her woodshop got temporarily packed up and placed in storage ... so I have the outer shell in the mean time and hopefully when the new woodshop is up and running she'll be able to make me a set of the inside layers ... and then I'll write about this one properly, but in the mean time, here are a couple of pics to pique your interest.