Sunday 10 July 2011

Stewart Coffin's Involute from Wood Wonders

A few weeks ago word went around the Revomaze forums about Brian Menold's craftsmanship. His website is Wood Wonders and he has a small number of beautifully made wooden puzzles to purchase. He also visits various craft fairs and sells direct from them. I contacted him to see what he had and whether he would post to the UK. Recently his 30 year old daughter died of breast cancer and I was rather reticent about contacting him but he was a true gentleman and was pleased to hear from me and said that he was hoping to start shipping puzzles again soon. I left it a while and we resumed contact. His puzzles are hand made from various woods (including some exotic ones) and they are all very reasonably priced. I asked about 4 puzzles and he gave me a selection of woods to choose from. They arrived pretty quickly. This is the first of my reviews.

The first review, I feel, should be something fairly special. This one is the Involute puzzle - it is Stewart Coffin's design #214 and is an improvement on the Convolution cube (design #30). It is 8 pieces rather than the Convolution's 7 and is a pretty challenging puzzle. I know it is only a 4x4x4 cube so how difficult can it be? Just wait!!! It has been reviewed by Allard here. Brian offers both of them in a number of woods but he had the Involute available in Zebra wood. I do not have anything in this particular wood, in fact I have never seen it before. So after a short sojourn into Google to get an idea about the different woods then it was a no-brainer to choose this exotic one.

Brian's version is absolutely gorgeous! It is 2.5" cubed and a really good weight. It just leaps out at you as a quality piece of craftsmanship. I just admired it for a day or so before attempting it. The first move is really easy - a small piece just comes straight out! Hmm, I thought! This might be easier than expected. Stupid boy! (I'm sure I've told you all before that I'm not very bright and it's true!) I then tried to find another piece to remove and couldn't! After about 5 minutes I discovered an interesting sliding motion of multiple pieces in one go. I then was able to remove another couple of rather complex looking pieces and I started to really worry about being able to get it back together again.

At this point I bottled out, reassembled it and put it away for a day. But like the fatal call of the Siren I couldn't stay away for long! The next day I started again (and believe it or not, struggled with that 2nd move again - Doh!). After removal of those first 3 pieces there seems to be a very loose piece but I just couldn't work out how to get it out. Allard had said that Burrtools would be no use in the solution so I knew that I would need a rotation to release it but no matter how I twisted that loose piece I couldn't get it out! After a good 15-20 minutes of fiddling about - including complete reassembly to see if I had missed a key stage elsewhere, I eventually managed to do the next step. Very sneaky that Stewart Coffin!!

After this the remaining pieces separate quite easily and it all looks like this:

Involute pieces
OMG! How complex is that!!!
I had kept the pieces in assembly order and managed to get the first bit done - I got back to that sneaky section and got completely stuck! Due to the extremely irregular shapes I had lost the correct orientation of the pieces when I put them down and could not, for the life of me, work out what went where. The version that Allard had bought had coloured corners to help with positioning, but mine was uniform. I did remember the funny move required but could not see the position in which to do it. In fact, whilst searching for this position I completely lost orientation of the partially assembled puzzle too! Doh again!! It took me another 20 minutes to find the correct insertion point and continue. I was so relieved when I managed to get it back together again that I didn't dare take it apart for days afterwards.

I have now done this a good number of times and even now I don't like to mix up all the parts and not keep track of which order they came apart in. My hat is off to Stewart Coffin - this is one seriously good puzzle. It also is off to Brian, his craftsmanship is top notch. He still has some available at Wood Wonders. There is a link on his site to give to a breast cancer charity in memory of his daughter if you so wish.


  1. I read so many poorly written articles with dull content on this topic that I was pleasantly surprised by yours. It's great to know there's at least one writer that writes interesting and unique material.

  2. Thank you for saying so! I enjoy puzzles and writing so what a great way to combine them. Puzzles are supposed to be toys/recreational items - it is important that my articles include some humour too - I don't want people to get too wrapped up in the value etc, I want them to have some fun.