November 8, 2009

Beverly Puzzle Party

After I met Saul Bobroff at the mechanical puzzle event organized by Eureka, he was kind enough to invite me to a puzzle gathering that he was hosting in his home a few months later. That party was today and it was really awesome. I got to try a bunch of great puzzles and meet a number of puzzlers in the area. Chris Morgan and Tim Udall were there, both of whom I had also met at the Eureka event.

Saul has a huge collection of puzzles and laid out a selection on the table for us to play around with. Chris Morgan also brought a number of very cool puzzles from his enormous collection, so there was a ton of stuff to keep me busy.

In this picture, Saul is working on my copy of Pagoda Puzzle Box, which I wrote about in my last entry. He really liked the look of it and played around with it for a while, but didn't have much luck solving it. Chris and Tim also attempted it, but didn't solve it. It is definitely a puzzle that you need to pay close attention to when you are working on it: it is very easy to get lost and end up spinning your wheels. If you'd like a copy, you can buy one here while they are still available.

Here is a picture of the different puzzles that were laid out on the table when I arrived. A bunch more were brought out as time went on, I could hardly keep track!

It took me a while to actually start solving some puzzles, since there was so much going on. Everybody was talking about all the different puzzles, so it was easy to become distracted.

There were so many that I wanted to try, that I couldn't decide which ones I actually wanted to spend enough time with to solve them. A cornucopia of puzzles!

I started working on this nice looking framed burr puzzle by Tom Lensch. It is a design by Dic Sonneveld named Sticky Four. I thought it would be pretty simple, but I didn't have any luck with it! I was able to get a few pieces to move, but then I hit a dead end.

A little while later I saw somebody else solve it, which kind of gives away the solution. It was pretty clever. As with all of Tom's stuff, it is very nicely made with beautiful woods and a great finish.

I was immediately drawn to Pharaoh's Secret (top right), a puzzle designed by Norman Sandfield and Perry McDaniel, but didn't have much luck solving it at first. Saul noticed that I liked this type of puzzle and brought out a ton of Norman and Robert Sandfield's puzzles, all of which had the common dovetail theme and were made by Perry McDaniel.

Going from left to right and top to bottom, they are: Dovetail and a Half, Pharaoh's Secret, Dove Tangle, Bolted Dovetail, L-Bow Dovetail, and Cutaway (Double) Dovetail. Robert Stegmann has a great section of his website that details this entire series of puzzles.

Over the course of the night, I'm happy to say that I solved every one of these! Once you start to understand how they work, it gets to be a little bit easier, though they are pretty tricky puzzles.

This is a close-up of L-Bow Dovetail. It just has those two dovetail joints: how could that be possible? It is very well made with a great fit. The solution was quite tricky as well. I kept giving up on this one and going back to it before I finally solved it.

This is a close-up of Dove Tangle. It has a different number of dovetails on each side! Here you can see the sides that have one and three. The other sides have two and four (shown below), which seems impossible at first.

Also, this puzzle has a bolt going through the middle of it, so how could it slide? This one has a pretty simple solution, but the craftsmanship on it is very nice. I think this is one of the coolest looking of the bunch, though they all looked quite cool.

I think my favorites of the ones that I tried were Dovetail and a Half and Pharaoh's Secret. I liked Dovetail and Half because it was double-locked, which made it a bit trickier than the others. Pharaoh's Secret was interesting because the solution was quite a bit different than the others. It also looks very nice. It was the first one I tried, and the last one that I solved.

I was thrilled to finally get a chance to play with Simon Night-ingale's Great Escape, which I had seen plenty of pictures of from the 2009 International Puzzle Party. It won an honorable mention in the puzzle design competition, so I knew it would be pretty cool. On the right, is a picture of a friend of Saul's named Gene playing around with it.

The object of this puzzle is to put a ball bearing in one of the holes and then figure out how to get it back out. It sounds easy, but it is a bit trickier than you would expect.

I played around with it a bit, shining my flashlight through the holes to figure out what was going on. This didn't help much, but eventually I stumbled upon the solution after 5 or 10 minutes. It is quite cool and unexpected (at least for me). Definitely a cool puzzle.

On the left is a wire puzzle by John Ergatoudis and made by Jean Claude Constantin that was John's exchange puzzle in the 2001 International Puzzle Party. I didn't spend very long with this one because Chris hadn't solved it yet, which meant it would be probably take me a very long time. (Sorry the photo is funky, I tweaked the contrast on the label because it got washed out by the flash.)

I was happy to get another chance to play around with Iwahiro's MMMM puzzle, by Iwahiro. As you may recall, during the Eureka event I was stumped by this one, so I was happy to get some more time to work on it. Much to my relief, I figured it out a few minutes after I started working on it again. Guess I just needed a fresh perspective! Frequently with puzzle solving, I get into a rut and stop making progress, so the best thing is to take a break sometimes. The objective of this puzzle is to fit the four M-shaped pieces in the box and shut the lid. It has a nice solution.

Normally I am reluctant to try assembly puzzles, because usually you have to disassemble them to give them a try and feel like a jerk if you can't get it back the way it was when you started. Fortunately, somebody had disassembled Oskar's Patchwork Box and left it in pieces, so I decided to give it a try. It is beautifully made by Tom Lesch with very colorful woods. I loved the look of this puzzle and the fit was perfect.

I was surprised to find that I didn't have too hard of a time putting this one back together (right). I think it took me about five minutes. I may have gotten lucky though, sometimes if you start with the right two pieces in the right orientation by chance, the rest just falls into place fairly easily.

One that vexed me for quite some time was Cent-rale, designed by Jean Claude Constantin. The objective is to remove the nickel. To do this, you need to slide the light wooden interior to the right, so that it can be removed from the large hole.

There is some kind of locking mechanism that prevents this from happening though. I played around with this one for quite some time and ended up accidentally "solving" the puzzle several times. Still, I don't completely understand the mechanism and was unable to solve it reliably, so I don't count this one as solved.

Saul said that he had a similar experience: he tried all sorts of things and then when he set it down, it opened! Quite a tricky puzzle indeed. It is nice that the mechanism isn't exposed when you solve it, so the puzzle is not spoiled if you get lucky.

Whew, that's quite a lot of puzzles, eh? There were a ton more, but these were the ones I spent the most time with. I wish that events like this happened more often! It was a lot of fun and great to be able to try so many puzzles without spending a dime. Plus, it was fun being in the company of a bunch of other serious puzzlers and talking about puzzles. Thanks to Saul and his delightful wife Paulette for organizing this great get together and inviting us all to their home!


  1. I am so gald you liked the event - it is a favorite of mine as well.

    David (from Eureka!)

  2. Hi all,
    "Dove Tangle Box"
    I search this box!!! Who can help?

    My name is Eckbert /

    Thanks for helping!


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