Brass Treasure Chest is a small secret opening box from retired machinist-cum-puzzle designer Rocky Chiaro. Made from brass and requiring a complicated series of moves to manipulate the internal mechanism and free the lid, it is the result of a lifetime spent in metalwork coupled with a strong interest in mechanical objects.
The story of how Rocky made his first puzzle is an interesting one and explains why over the years he has continued to produce his puzzles in brass with a hand-fed milling machine.
It was 1950 and Rocky was stationed at the submarine base in Pearl Harbour as a Machinery Repairman with the Navy. As practice, he machined eight one-inch cubes, working on them till they fit together to make a single larger cube. Rocky explains, “I did not know until 30 years later that I could put a pin through it on a stand. Another 10 or 12 years later I ran across an ad in a magazine saying ‘Puzzles Wanted’. I sold the puzzle to the person and he wanted to know the name. I had made copies from Plexiglass so I called it Perplexity. I still make and sell it.”
Rocky was in the Navy from 1948 to 1952 and afterwards got a job as a machinist at the Colorado Fuel & Iron steel mill. He worked there until his retirement in 1995 at which point he devoted his time to making and selling his brass puzzles.
Brass Treasure Chest is one of a number of Rocky’s puzzles that have been mass-produced by Bits and Pieces. Others include The Golf Ball, Double Nut, Roc-key, ABL, Pool Table and JAX. Although Bits and Pieces has produced a number of secret opening boxes over the years, Brass Treasure Chest holds the distinction of being the only one it ever made in metal.
Brass Treasure Chest is the name given to this puzzle by Bits and Pieces. It was changed from Rocky’s original title – which as he explains below is linked to the date he completed it – for marketing reasons. Nancy Alliegro, the company’s Vice President of Merchandise explains that this was more suited to the average customer who is not a hardcore puzzle collector.
According to Nancy, the puzzle is not currently in their line-up as it became too costly to make in brass or even with alloys due to metal prices going up over the years – in addition to the fact that it is a very intricate puzzle to produce.
In July 2014, I spoke to Rocky via email to find out more about this puzzle’s history. (Editor’s note: the interview contains solution spoilers)
Saul Symonds: Most of your puzzles are made by yourself in your workshop, can you tell me about your collaboration with Bits and Pieces and how it came about?
Rocky Chiaro: The Puzzle that is on the market called Treasure Chest was designed and made by me. It is called En-Deavor. I finished it the day that the space program Endeavour was launched the first time. After En-Deavor was on the market Bits and Pieces contacted me and we signed a contract for them to make and market it. They called it Brass Treasure Chest.
SS: Before this puzzle was mass-produced were you selling it yourself?
SS: This was in the early days of the Internet, did you already have an online site?
SS: So what channels were you selling through?
RC: Mostly by word-of-mouth
SS: Why did you hyphenate the name between “En” and “Deavour”? You’ve done this with other puzzle box names such as Chic-Ago.
RC: Just to make the name unique to my style
SS: Can you walk me through the early steps of this puzzle’s creation. For example, did you start with the idea of making a trick opening box, or perhaps a sequence of locking moves?
RC: The design process I guess would be my hobby. When I decide to make a puzzle box or any other puzzle I think of what I want it to do. At this point I don’t how it will work or what it will look like. I knew that I wanted to make a box that had legs and a lid. For this puzzle I decided it has to have a leg that turns and a lid that will swing open. That is my problem to solve.
SS: How long did it take from setting the challenge of creating a box with a turning leg and swinging lid to having a finished prototype of the puzzle?
RC: It will take me as long as months to design a puzzle.
SS: Did you start with the sequence already in mind or did it develop over a number of prototypes?
RC: In solving my problem I had to work out the sequence of how to connect the leg to the lid. In this case it involves a ball bearing and three pins to get to the lid.
SS: Did you sketch it out on paper or just play with different parts from a design sequence you had in your head?
RC: Yes on paper and on the machine to find a way to make it. I make a lot of scrap trying things. The leg that turns does not turn till you turn the box upside down to move a pin, then to one end to move another pin so the ball will come out of the leg so the leg will turn a nut out of the lid so it will swing open.
SS: What were the considerations for determining the size of this puzzle? I am assuming the weight of the finished puzzle is one as it is milled from brass?
RC: The size of the puzzle has a lot to do with the size of stock that is on the market to fit what I want to make. And for size the smaller the better.
SS: What are the unique challenges or difficulties of producing brass puzzle boxes, compared to say brass trick bolts?
RC: I don’t find any different challenges between any puzzles in the design.
SS: What are the reasons you make your puzzles in brass instead of other metals, such as aluminium?
RC: Brass is so much easier to work with than aluminium. I love machine work and for my hobby brass machines easy, polishes great and is easy on my machining tools.
SS: You have made several other brass trick-opening boxes can you tell me about these?
RC: The first Box that I made was Lee-Box. It is an end over end to open and close. Bloom-Box is a manipulation thing. I made it for a French Magic performer Mane Gayton Bloom. My favourite is Chic-ago. In that one that you press a leg among other things.
SS: Do you remember the first puzzle you played with?
RC: The first puzzle that I remember is a nail puzzle that came from the Colorado Fuel & Iron steel mill.
SS: How old where you when you played with this puzzle?
SS: Did you interests in puzzles immediately develop from the experience of playing with this nail puzzle?
RC: No, but it may have opened up my interest in mechanical things. I never was a puzzle person. My hobby is making a mechanical problem and then try to make it.
Brass Treasure Chest is still available for purchase from Canadian distributor Puzzle Master Inc.