Saturday 10 December 2016

A double-double helping of dovetails

I’ve had a slowly growing pile of dovetail puzzles on my shelf-of-things-to-be-blogged-about for a little while now and the time has come to rectify that! So here you go – a bonus-length blog post featuring 4 fantastic puzzles!

The Sandfield Joint was, I suspect, the first of the genre – crafted by Perry McDaniel, it was Norman Sandfield’s exchange puzzle at IPP14 in Seattle. It consisted of a pair of wooden blocks (Mahogany and Padauk) apparently joined by a pair of intersecting dovetail joints – the first classic impossible dovetail? 

It’s not a super-tricky puzzle, particularly if you’ve already seen the impossible dovetail idea before, but the locking mechanism might take you a little while to figure out. Probably the simplest and most honest of the various dovetail puzzles out there… another reason why I’m inclined to believe it was the beginning of the genre... a good introduction to the series, one to give you a false sense of accomplishment! 

At the next year’s IPP in Tokyo, Robert Sandfield exchanged his Dovetail and a Half – a triangle where each side of the triangle has a dovetail joint on it… so clearly one half of a dovetail must be missing somewhere, inside? Perry McDaniel was on puzzle-crafting-duty once again and the same woods (Mahogany and Padauk) make up the opposing halves of this puzzle. 

Whereas the Sandfield Joint may be a reasonably straightforward puzzle, Dovetail and a Half is not!

My copy came from a friend and I struggled for quite a while to separate the two halves… failing miserably. When a puzzling mate came around to collect some puzzles, I gave it to him to demonstrate for me quickly, and he failed to open it as well… at the next MPP I gave it to the solver-of-all-puzzles not expecting it to remain locked together for more than a few seconds in his dextrous hands… but it would not yield to him either… had I bought a copy that had somehow become locked up? I began to have some doubts, so I did the only sensible thing and bought a second copy – one that came with a copy of the solution… which was a bit different to what we’d all assumed the solution was – and that extra step or two had totally baffled every single one of us – of course if you do the right thing on my supposedly impossibly-locked-up copy, it opens up perfectly… Perry’s tolerances remain perfect fifteen years on – it’s just the stupid puzzler who thinks he knows what he’s doing that can’t open the thing! 

Next up is Sandfield’s Cutaway Dovetail Puzzle – Robert’s 1999 exchange puzzle. From the pictures you should be able to tell that it’s form Perry McDaniel and once again uses the same woods – nice little bit of continuity in there?

At first glance, this one resembles a slightly enlarged Sandfield Joint, except that someone has taken a bandsaw to it and cut out one of the corners – leaving the inside edges significantly rougher than the rest of the puzzle. (Nice touch, that!) 

Interestingly on this puzzle, a casual shake of the puzzle reveals something rattling around inside… treasure perhaps, or just part of the locking mechanism – who knows, eh? ;-) 

The locking mechanism on this one is a wee bit different and hopes to catch the unwary who think they’ve understood the ones that have come before and know where this one’s probably heading… 

Finally in this bunch of dovetails, one that looks totally out of place – Dovetail Cherry Surprise Cake was Norman Sandfield’s IPP23 exchange in Chicago… it doesn’t take much imagination to see Perry McDaniel’s lovely creation as a mouth-watering slice of (wooden) cake. This one really stands out from the others, both in terms of its size and its complexity…

If you look carefully at the sides, you can make out a couple of dovetails which should give you a clue as to how things might come apart, but this chap has a few nasty surprises for puzzlers – there are a few distinct phases to getting into the final secret compartment to discover the hidden cherry surprise (cute touch!) – but not only that, there are some rather unusual discoveries long the way – and there’s definitely a sequential discovery aspect to it all as well… a lot of the old tricks, and some news ones are used in there – it’s not just beautiful, it is a seriously testing puzzle!

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