August 14, 2010

Rochester Puzzle Picnic (Part 4)

After a bit of puzzling earlier in the day, Jim Strayer gave a talk named "Inquiring Minds Want to Know." In the presentation, he talked about the answers to some frequently asked questions that he gets about his puzzle collection. The best part was that he brought all of the puzzles that were his answers to the questions, so I had the chance to try them out! As you can see, they were all covered up with pillow cases, to build suspense.

Here are the questions he answered, feel free to answer some or all of them yourself in the comments below!
  • What puzzle started you off as a collector?
  • What is your most expensive puzzle?
  • What puzzle box in your collection has the most moves?
  • What puzzle in your collection has the most pieces?
  • If you only had one puzzle that you could save from certain destruction in your collection, which one would it be?
  • What is your biggest puzzle regret or missed opportunity?
  • What is your favorite puzzle?
  • What is your least favorite puzzle?
Jim actually got started collecting puzzles by collecting bandsaw boxes. These are boxes that are usually cut out of a single block of wood using a bandsaw. As an example, he brought the beautiful box shown here. It has nine compartments, the last of which is quite tricky to find!

I like boxes like this as well, they're always fun to open up and see how complex they are. They also do a great job of highlighting the beauty of the wood.

Jim's most expensive puzzle was Goliath by Miguel Berrocal. For those of you not familiar with Berrocal, his works lie at the intersection of sculpture and puzzles, and are priced to match! As you can see, it is a beatiful work. This is the most complicated of Berrocal's torsos: it is made up of 80 brass pieces and is composed of  many sub-assemblies.

A neat detail about this one that Jim was only too happy to share is that the puzzle can be assembled with either a fig leaf, a circumcised penis, or an uncircumcised penis! The unused pieces are stored inside the sculpture itself.

I started disassembling this one, but was quickly getting in over my head, so I decided to try putting it back together. It is really remarkable how all of the pieces interlock, it is beautifully crafted. I had a bit of trouble getting a piece to go back in, which made me a bit reluctant to continue the disassembly. Plus, it is a ridiculously complicated puzzle and Jim didn't bring the solution, so I didn't want to leave him with a mess.

Since this wasn't a puzzle box, and Jim loves puzzle boxes, he also decided to bring his most expensive puzzle box: Labyrinth by GarE Maxton. You can read a ton of  information about it here; GarE posts extensive information about his puzzles. They cost a fortune, so it does take some selling, I'm sure! Only five of these were made.

 It is a puzzle box that takes around 20 moves to open. I found it fairly challenging to even open it, since there are so many pieces that could move. The assembly is symmetrical, however, so once you find a move on one side you can locate it on the other side. I think it took me about 10 or 15 minutes to get it open.

The really cool thing is that the puzzle disassembles completely into 42 pieces! So it is both a puzzle box and an assembly puzzle. The first time I opened it, I removed a few pieces and then put them back and closed up the box. Later in the day, I tried it again, getting a bit more adventurous and taking about half of the pieces out before putting it back.

The following day, I grew even more bold and decided to disassemble the whole thing! The trick is keeping good track of where the pieces came from. I had figured out a system that worked fairly well to maintain the orientation of the pieces, so I felt like I had it under control. Unfortunately, It jammed up about 80% of the way through the disassembly, so I was unable to finish taking it apart. Oh well! I did get it back together without too much trouble. It would be a real beast if you scrambled the pieces!

The puzzle box from his collection with the most moves is Super-Cubi by Hiroshi Iwahara. It is based on the trinary gray code and requires 324 moves to open. Now that I've done the King Cubi which requires 1536 moves to open and MMMDXLVI which requires 3546 moves to open, this doesn't seem like much, but at the time it was built it was a record.

I didn't solve this one, since I knew that I could do it and that it would probably take a while to do so. I did test out the movement, since Jim mentioned that it was the 'speed' version of this box that features a smoother movement. Indeed, it was quite a bit smoother than the King Cubi I had tried.

The one box Jim would save from certain destruction was his copy of Kamei's Rose Box, which has a nice story attached to it. If I recall correctly, he had been considering purchasing it for a hefty price, but had resisted for a while. Later, he was quite delighted to find that his wife purchased it for him on his 40th birthday, so this box has a special memory for him.

As you can see from this photo from Jim's collection, it is a really remarkable box. It is very nicely crafted with beautiful flowing lines. As a puzzle it is not at all challenging, but it is a beautiful example of woodworking.

Jim's biggest puzzle regret is passing up the chance to purchase an extremely rare 119-move secret box byYoshio Okiyama. Okiyama is deceased and is widely known as one of the great masters of the craft, so his boxes are quite valuable. Jim was in Japan before an IPP and had just spent a good sum of money at Izumia, a great shop that sells puzzles in Hakone. Before he left the shop, the owner showed him this box, which was being sold for around $2,000, which was quite a good price for it. However, since he had already spent so much money already and the IPP would be starting in several days, he decided to pass. This decision has haunted Jim to this day! In 2008, this box sold for $10,000 at auction. Check out that auction link for more photos and detailed info on this box.

Jim's favorite puzzle is the custom-crafted chest by Kelly Snache shown here, named the Dr. Jim chest. It is crafted out of century-old pine barn boards for a beautiful rustic look. It contains a total of 16 secret compartments, which are accessed by unlocking a variety of intricate locking mechanisms. Check out more info on Jim's site.  I may need to take a trip to see Jim sometime to try this one out, it sounds incredible!

Jim's least favorite puzzles are boxes that involve wooden pins, where it is impossible to figure out the way to open it without a solution. Since the pins are wooden, you can't really hear when they are shifting around, which makes it pretty annoying. Jim said that this annoyance culminated in The Ultimate Personal Box, which is made by Quagmire Puzzle Boxes. According to Jim, it is completely impossible to open unless you know the solution, which makes it a bit more like a safe than a puzzle. This box is in the left of the photo below.

Jim also brought out two puzzle boxes that are the most rare boxes in his collection, based on the number of works produced by the craftsman. They were both by Jeff Aurand, who only made a single copy of each as a gift for Jim. Very cool! One of these boxes is in the right of this photo.

The really remarkable thing about this puzzle is the beautiful wood that is used for the lid. It has such a shine and depth that I'd never seen before. Awesome! The box itself isn't particularly hard to open, but it actually took me a little while since I started off along the wrong line of thinking. Also, it is crafted so precisely that it is hard to tell where the secret lies. Very nice work!

The second of Jeff's boxes is shown here. It is actually a puzzle box that is based on Rush Hour: the goal is to move the black piece to the right, which magnetically unlocks the latch. The pieces all slide in grooves, so you can't take them out and rearrange them. The movement is quite smooth and it is beautifully crafted. What a cool idea for a puzzle box! I didn't find it too difficult, but I'm not sure what the starting position was. Perhaps it was halfway solved when I got to it. Very cool! Hopefully Jeff will be cranking out some more works soon from his beautiful new shop!

Here is a photo of the table full of puzzles that Jim brought. The one I haven't mentioned yet is the large structure at the back of the table that looks like a house. This was the puzzle that Jim owns with the most pieces. I'm not sure of the name or maker, but it has some ridiculous amount of pieces. The entire structure is made without any glue, and will disassemble into individual pieces of wood. I didn't disassemble this one at Jim's request, which was probably wise!

I had a good time listening to Jim's presentation, and I hope you enjoyed reading about it. We're not done yet! There will be a few more posts about the Rochester Puzzle Picnic coming up soon.

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