October 21, 2009

Bits and Pieces Puzzle Boxes

I was looking around on the web for some affordable puzzle boxes, and read about some boxes from Bits and Pieces on Jeff Chiou's blog, MagicPuzzles. I browsed on over to Bits and Pieces to take a look at the boxes he described.

I had seen their site before, but it was hard to pick anything specific out without a recommendation since they have so many items. Jeff said Snap Latch Box was good, as was Matchbox, so I decided to purchase those. I had spoken to David from Eureka about Brass Treasure Chest, and he mentioned that he thought it was the best of the Bits and Pieces brass series, so I decided to purchase that one as well. Finally, I thought I would get Magic Money Box, since it is an often seen design that I've never played around with.

A few days later, I had my new puzzles and was ready for some wild and crazy puzzlin' fun. I started with Magic Money Box. Much to my disappointment, once I removed the plastic wrapping, a chip fell off! As I rotated the puzzle around to figure out what was up, the secret drawer slid right out! Damn! So much for an "A ha!" moment. What a shame! If the puzzle functioned correctly, I could see how it would be a pretty tricky puzzle, though it really depends on a good fit.

I was heading up to Maine to go sailing with my parents for the weekend and ran out of time on the others, so I decided to take them up to the boat with me. Sailing and puzzles, what a way to spend the weekend!

Once we got on board the boat, I set myself to solving Snap Latch Box. The finish and wood are quite nice, overall a well made puzzle. I played around with it for about 15 minutes, shaking it and trying to figure out how it could open, when I finally figured out what to do. This has a very clever mechanism that is quite satisfying once you figure it out. I couldn't help but chuckle when the box finally opened. I agree with Jeff that this is a great box for the money.

I worked on both Matchbox and Brass Box for several days, but so I don't confuse you I'll just talk about Brass Box first. I played around with this one for quite some time. Unfortunately, in wiggling the various parts, one of the legs fell off! I initially thought that this was part of the puzzle, but it turns out that it is not. Fortunately, this did not effect the operation of the puzzle at all.

I worked on this one for 3 or 4 hours when I finally figured it out. The solution is quite tricky and I'm pretty thrilled that I was even able to figure it out. It was very satisfying when the lid finally opened, but it takes quite a bit of patience.

I should mention that it is a reproduction of a puzzle designed by Rocky Chiaro, a retired machinist who makes some very cool looking puzzles out of brass. Unfortunately, his stuff is a bit expensive for me at the moment, so this reproduction fit the bill nicely. A little J.B. Weld and the leg would be as good as new!

Finally, the Matchbox: I must have spent something like 10 hours shaking and rattling this puzzle every which way. I could hear something going on inside and thought that I had figured out some moves that were making progress, but I had no luck getting the darn thing to open. I had all sorts of crazy theories about how it could open, but nothing worked. This was particularly maddening, because I was out on a boat in the middle of the ocean in Maine, so there was no help available!

When I finally got home, I asked my girlfriend to take a look at the solution and let me know if I was on the right track. She read it over and said that I had the right idea, so I kept working on it for another hour or so. Eventually, however, we determined that there was a piece missing! This really ticked me off because I had spent so long on this damn puzzle. Sure enough, when I improvised the missing piece, I solved the puzzle in no time at all. You can imagine this was quite frustrating since not only did I not have the enjoyment of successfully solving the puzzle, I also spent a ton of time on an unsolvable puzzle!

Still, the puzzle in its complete form is quite clever: I would recommend it. The one caveat is that you may want to get a third party to inspect the puzzle to make sure that it works properly before you spend 10 hours trying to solve it.

Allow me to summarize: I ordered four puzzles. One was broken, one broke after a minute or two, and one was shipped in an unsolvable state. No wonder Bits and Pieces has a crappy reputation! I wrote them an email suggesting that they replace the three puzzles and give me a $20 store credit, which I thought was pretty reasonable. They replied saying that they would ship the three puzzles to me along with a $10 store credit, and that I could keep the broken puzzles. This was fine with me, since they were all really easy to fix, so now I have two copies of each!

Overall, it was a bit of a disappointment, but I would still order from Bits and Pieces again. Their prices are so low, I can get past the low quality. Plus, they handled my dissatisfaction quite well, which is admirable. They must be accustomed to it! I will just have my girlfriend solve the puzzles using the instructions next time to make sure a broken puzzle doesn't spoil the experience for me.

9 comments:

  1. I had a similar experience with B&P where they mailed me a "Secret Sliding Box" that had been glued shut. After weeks of frustration, some nice person sent me a photo of the exact move in the process of being made, and I realized my box didn't do this move. The box is still unopened, not sure what happened to it.

    But you know B&P went out of business a few years ago. They have only been back for a year or less. I think the new management is more receptive to customer feedback. I suppose they fill a vital gap in cheap puzzles. The metal ones are a bit harder to break.

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  2. Wow glued shut, eh? That is extremely frustrating. I think after an hour or so next time I'm going to have somebody else read the instructions and make sure it works.

    Perhaps the new management will try to improve the quality of new products, though I am sure they are just going through all of their old stock at the moment.

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  3. My box wasn't glued on purpose, I don't think. The box was finished with laquer or something similar, and it just ran into the joint and froze it. Amazing they didn't test out their puzzle box before sending it out, though.

    Possibly could be fixed by an exacto knife. But I can't seem to find the box any more, my puzzle collection is a bit ... unorganized!

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  4. Hah, who knows, maybe they have a file on you, George! They must do enough volume that testing each individual box would be expensive. Quite unfortunate!

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  5. Brian, I have the same experience with B&P. Basically, they have cheap stuff with a high defect rate. However, they have great customer support, and it's cheap. I got a bunch of defective boxes, including the Akio Kamei key box (a little problem getting open), telescoping box (a little problem getting open), and heart box (scratched). Some of them they accepted returns on (they paid shipping, I think). Others they let me keep the defective version and sent me a new one or refunded my money.

    When you get a puzzle that's intact, it's really worth it. Here's an example of how mass producing something can drive its price down. Rocky Chiaro (brasspuzzlesbyrocky.com) made a small brazz puzzle box that he used to sell I think for around $200. You can get the same item at B&P for $17 ($13 on sale right now).

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  6. I recently also bought the Secret Sliding Box with exactly the same experience. I used the exacto knife and a hammer to finally get it open. B&P sent me a replacement which has the same problem. There is no way I could open it with my fingers. It really is a "SECRET" box!!! However much to their credit B&P is sending me another more expensive product. They really seemed interested in keeping me as a customer.

    Bill

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  7. Bill, I actually just got Secret Sliding box and also found the slide very hard to move. Not quite as bad as you though!

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  8. I have no clue how to open the money box. Can you help?

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  9. Sure! Send me an email using the contact me link on the right hand side of the page

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Please don't post spoilers! Thanks for commenting!

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