The Miniature World of Allan Boardman

“My career as a puzzle designer and maker is very closely tied to my lifelong interest in woodworking,” Allan Boardman wrote in an email interview conducted in June 2014. “The marriage of these two passions came about when my father introduced me to mechanical puzzles when I was five or six years old. I was already an avid model builder, wannabe woodworker, miniature enthusiast, and very early I saw the wonderful possibilities of making my own puzzles.”

Allan Boardman (Photo courtesy Allan Boardman)

Allan Boardman

Allan is known in the mechanical puzzle community for his work producing micro or miniature puzzles, which have been made almost exclusively from wood. The smallest mechanical puzzle he ever made was a 1.5mm three-piece burr but his all-time smallest puzzle was a crossword.

“A number of years ago, I made ‘The World’s Smallest Puzzle’ for Martin Gardener – it was a two-by-two crossword puzzle etched on a very small portion of the head of a common straight pin. It could not be viewed by naked eye nor any optical microscope, only by using a scanning electron microscope – truly ridiculous.” Continue reading

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“Brass Treasure Chest” – Rocky Chiaro’s Puzzling Endeavour

Brass Treasure Chest

Brass Treasure Chest

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.” Continue reading

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Disentangling Dick Hess’s “Pendulum”

PendulumWhen I approached Richard Hess about an interview for this blog I asked if there was a particular puzzle he wanted to discuss. One of his three suggestions was Pendulum, a disentanglement that he noted was an improvement on an older design of his. The improvement? The addition of a small wooden bead.

This seemingly innocuous addition – which serves to make it an even more difficult disentanglement – is something Dick found while exploring variations on the puzzle. This style of searching for new puzzles through an extensive examination of variations on basic disentanglement structures is characteristic of Dick’s modus operandi.

This can be clearly seen in his “Compendium of Disentanglement Puzzles”, which in its current edition catalogues over 10,500 of them arranged according to the structure of the puzzle and the solution method. His interest in disentanglements can also be seen in his enviable collection of over 30,000 mechanical puzzles in which disentanglements form a large part. Continue reading

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The Sweetest Burr

Sweet Sixteen family portrait. The one in the bottom right was made by Eric Fuller from Walnut, Maple and Cherry. Photo courtesy Jack Krijnen

Sweet Sixteen family portrait. Top and left were made by Jack, bottom right was made by Eric Fuller from Walnut, Maple and Cherry

Sweet Sixteen is a level-16 eleven-piece burr from Dutch designer Jack Krijnen. After completing the burr in 2002, Jack was playing with names that related to the number 16. He looked at his daughter who was 16 years old and “Sweet Sixteen” came to mind. The name satisfied his penchant for giving his creations identities with a double meaning.

Created several years prior to the release of Burr Tools, this puzzle was designed completely by hand. While Jack’s current high-level burr designs are created through finding a starting set of pieces that seems promising and systematically adding or removing voxels till the level has increased, his older pre-Burr Tools designs began with establishing a move sequence and then determining the shapes that the pieces would need to enable those moves. Continue reading

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