March 28, 2010

13th Labor of Hercules

I got a new puzzle a few weeks ago from the last auction over at It is a 36 piece version Altekruse puzzle, named after its originator William Altekruse.

The original version, designed way back in 1980, consisted of 12 identical pieces. More recently, Stewart Coffin discovered that this design could be extended to make similar puzzles with 14, 24, 36, or 38 pieces. John Devost even told me that he saw a 96 piece version in Jerry McFarland's collection!

I had done the 12 and 14 piece versions with my set of LiveCubes, but I didn't have enough to make any of the larger designs. If you aren't familiar with LiveCubes, check out this entry about them, they're really cool building blocks for cubic puzzles. I really liked the way the 12 and 14 piece versions worked, they are entirely different from the way most burrs work. Rather than moving individual pieces, the whole puzzle shifts in an interesting way.

Since I liked the 12 and 14 piece versions, I was pretty psyched to see a 36 piece version for sale. It was made by Pentangle, who dubbed it The 13th Labor of Hercules, which is a pretty bad-ass name for a puzzle and quite appropriate considering the amount of effort involved in getting this thing back together.

It arrived at my office and I just admired it for a little while: it as a nice big puzzle at a little over 6 inches square. Eventually I couldn't resist the temptation to see how it worked, so I played around with it a bit, taking a few pieces out and putting them back in.

Eventually I got a bit ambitious and started taking the whole thing apart. At first I was doing so carefully, but then I threw caution to the wind and just started pulling pieces out left and right. To really solve it, I didn't want to have too much of an idea of how it came apart.

Of course, putting it back together was going to be a lot more work than I had time for at the office, so I brought it home with me. I spent a good several hours that night trying to get it back together, but didn't have any luck. I did get very close though: only four more pieces were remaining, but the problem was that I would have needed to almost completely disassemble the puzzle to get them in and I couldn't figure out how to do that and get the other pieces back in place.

I spent the next few weeks fiddling with it on an off, never quite figuring out how I could get those four pieces in without blocking something else. Finally, tonight, I had a good chunk of time to work on it and finally got it together! It was quite a relief, because that partially assembled puzzle has been taunting me for quite some time. Here's a triumphant picture of me after I finally got the last piece in. Woo hoo!

This whole group of puzzles is a lot of fun, but definitely not for the faint of heart once you get to the higher number of pieces. I can't count the number of times that I would make a move, only to hear a few pieces drop out of place. It does take a bit of dexterity to get everything in place and lined up, which is one frustrating aspect of this puzzle.

The construction and quality of this puzzle is quite good: of course the finish isn't as nice as something from John Devost or Jerry McFarland, but the notches are very accurately cut and the pieces are nice and smooth. I would definitely buy more puzzles from Pentangle.

They are located in the UK, so if you live in the US and want to save on shipping, you can buy some of Pentangle's products from Cleverwood. They are a bit more expensive than Pentangle, so you'll need to do the math and see which is cheaper with the shipping. Pentangle also sells 12 and 14 piece Altekruse puzzles under the names Holey Cross and Hybrid Puzzle, respectively.


  1. glad you liked the puzzle! Kudos for getting it back together!

  2. Wow! Congrats on the 36 piece re-assembly. However, it occurs to me that you could just as easily be holding it up before dis-assembly, (and it may still be in 36 pieces under your bed) - so we will probably need an affadavit or something before awarding the prize - (although you do look pretty genuinely triumphant.)
    Good job.

  3. Awesome Brian, after having struggled with many larger 'Altekruse' type puzzles, I can attest to the frustration level! Remind me to send you a 12 piece 'Mak-Step' LOL...

  4. I will have to try some of these out of LiveCubes. One nifty feature of Livecubes is that you can "cheat" in order to put the puzzle together, and then try to solve the (usually easier) disassembly.

  5. George, that will take a BOATLOAD of livecubes to make the 36-piece version...

  6. I was just thinking of the 12 and 14 piece versions. But if everybody wants to loan me their LiveCube supply, maybe I could make the 96 piece version!! :-)

  7. Thanks guys! Yeah, the 12 and 14 piece versions are doable with a reasonable number of cubes. It works pretty well, if I remember correctly.


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