Saturday 16 July 2011

Improved Hexsticks 159a

Improved Hexsticks (#159A)
A forum post from Bernhard Schweitzer of Puzzlewood fame announced the availability of some brand new wooden puzzles. These are Stewart Coffin's improved Hexsticks (#159a) which he has available in several different woods (Robinia, Padauk, Wenge and a light Walnut. After some emailing (Bernhard is very prompt with his replies - an absolute pleasure to deal with), I decided on Robinia which I have never seen before. The puzzle arrived, very well packed 6 days later. Now that's what I call service!!

The puzzle looks very similar to another puzzle I have bought - Bill Cutler's Hectix revisited. I have been saving this one up for a rainy day. Oh all right! I have actually been too frightened to dismantle it!!!

The original Hectix (Coffin design # 25) had 12 notched hexagonal bars was simultaneously invented by Bill Cutler in 1965. It had 3 solutions. It was modified by Coffin as design #159 as the Seven Piece Hexsticks with 9 standard pieces and three with an extra notch. Eight of these standard pieces were joined in pairs to make 4 Y-pieces, also an odd and a standard piece are joined as a fifth Y-piece - it had only one solution. In 2009 Bill Cutler redesigned it after an exhaustive analysis to produce a 12 piece puzzle with only one solution - the Hectix revisited.

This puzzle was designed by Coffin in 2003 - he described it as "his best version of the Hexsticks" and numbered it as #159 - the Hexstiks Improved. The construction is completely different - there are only 7 pieces to this as several of the sticks are glued together in a Y configuration (only 2 are single sticks). Don't let this lull you into a false sense of security because this is a DIFFICULT puzzle!

The first problem is to establish which pieces come out first. Now I did not realise that this was a 7 piece puzzle (I am rather dense a lot of the time and obviously hadn't read Bernhard's full description properly) I thought that this was a variation of the hexsticks original with 12 sticks. In general with this sort of puzzle the initial move can be the removal of 1 key piece (a trivial puzzle) or 3-5 pieces as a single interlocking piece (harder) or possibly a coordinated motion puzzle. I knew that I had to remove several pieces at once - but which ones? The fit of the pieces is just spot on - there is absolutely no play at all in this one and thus no way to work out what ones to pull. It also is made worse by not knowing which combination will come out. I spent more than an hour rotating and pulling/pushing on pieces (with so many identical looking pieces it is hard to keep track of what you have tried!) and eventually the "top" exploded off and fell apart in my hands - in this one there are 5 sticks (I'm not going to tell you how many actual pieces!) in a panic I put the main segment down and tried to work out how to put the top back on. I have never played with a puzzle like this before and it took me some time to work out an approach to piecing it together - after a further hour I got it back in one piece!!!

I had things to do so left it a few hours. When I came back to it, I again could not find the start point straight away! After multiple attempts it pulled apart, I took the top off and carefully memorised which pieces made it. The first part of the second half will not just slide out - it requires a rather lovely combination of slides and moves before it yields. Finally the puzzle falls completely apart! Wow - these are fabulously well made!!

Improved Hexsticks Pieces
I jumbled up all the pieces and made some tea. When I went back to it I still recalled which were the "top" parts and separated them off from the others. The remaining heap of sticks looked rather daunting, I had no real recollection of how it should fit together. There are multiple ways these pieces will fit together but none of the attempts yielded a shape that would fit the top. It took about 2 hours of on and off tries before I finally solved it. When the top goes back on it does so with a very satisfying "click" and it all locks beautifully. Subsequent attempts have got easier but I still find the first assembly really tough to get right - the final click still gives me a little buzz!!!

Having been playing with this for a few days now - I have to report that there are 2 solutions. The initial part of the assembly can be put together in 2 ways - one is fairly straight-forward and the other is quite awkward requiring a coordinate motion of three pieces to lock them together. I don't think this detracts from the puzzle at all. Enjoy searching for both solutions!

This is one absolutely fantastic puzzle! It is not particularly cheap but is well worth the money. Bernhard should have a good few more for sale and I can heartily recommend it.


  1. Bill Cutler's simultaneously design to Hectix is slightly different and is called Gamex but as far as I am aware the solve is the same as for Hectix.

  2. That is interesting - he doesn't mention that fact on his website. I got the impression that they were identical but found in different ways. There is also no mention of the different name.

  3. They are almost identical puzzles, I believe there are 3 extra notches in Stewart Coffin's Hectix than in Bill Cutler's Gamex.

  4. Kevin, you may have missed it but I had a copy of Gamex at the last MPP, made by John Devost about four years ago. It was easy to miss with all of the other puzzling goodness you can find at an MPP. I am happy to bring my Gamex to the next MPP if it is of interest.

    1. That's a great idea! I'm not sure I'll be going yet - but I'll let you know.

  5. Hmmm just realised my comment was only two years too late!