Sunday 1 December 2013

It's a twofer - puzzling for the family and puzzling for me!

Believe it or not this is my first jigsaw!
My puzzle habit has been a source of hilarity amongst my friends and colleagues for some time! They often wonder whether the present Mrs S and I actually communicate at all and what about. Their vision is of me jingling or rattling away with something annoying and her just glaring at me constantly! Now to a certain extent this is true - she has almost no urge to participate in the puzzling but does actually sort of enjoy the notoriety I have achieved. Occasionally she has been known to solve something but if it takes more than 5 minutes then it get's handed back with a pained expression and the words "show me how it's done" and heaven help me if I try to force her to work on it for longer! If I show her a twisty puzzle then she immediately says they're all the same puzzle and definitely won't touch it.

So I had been wondering if there was any way I could turn some aspect of the puzzle habit into something we can do together. I have never held out any hope for this - even Rox can't really convince "Mr Man" to participate! In fact he only tolerates her habit (which is worse than mine) because she lets him keep "man tools" in the apartment. But I know that it is possible to have puzzling become a family affair when I spoke to my friend Andrew from Singapore (aka Bob Cubes after Bob the Builder). He has convinced his adorable family to join in with his madness and they each worked together to be the first to complete the then record-breaking 24,000 piece jigsaw and documented their achievement here (it has even been hung on the wall of their living room!) Later on they did it again with the current record holding (32,000 pieces) by Ravensberger and documented it here. This one is so huge it comes with a trolley!!

Now there was absolutely no way that I was ever going to attempt one of those monsters! Firstly I don't have the space, secondly I have cats and thirdly "she" would never participate. I also have been scarred for life when, as a child, our family did second hand 10,000 piece jigsaw. It took weeks and weeks, we had to eat on our laps because the dining table was out of commission and at the end of it all there were 3 pieces missing! In fact I have never seriously considered jigsaws much at all despite my current "try just about any puzzle" fetish. My good friend Nigel (the organiser of the Midlands puzzle parties) does do them - in fact he has been working on the 32,000 piece monster for at least 2 years! So I have been thinking that maybe I could give it a try. Then recently Mrs S made me stop cold in my tracks when she asked about doing them and I agreed wholeheartedly and even bought a jigsaw board to store and solve on. But nothing was done about it.

I have to be honest with you all from the beginning - I was recently contacted by a representative of Wentworth wooden puzzles who offered me a free puzzle for review. I had previously thought about doing jigsaws, even gotten approval from the current wife and gone as far as buying a board/tray for them but not actually gotten around to purchasing anything. I had done some idle internet surfing and nothing more because I really wasn't sure where to go.

In my discussions with the company representative I was honest that I was not sure how it would go down with you, the readers and also I said that I could only give an honest review - good or bad! This was accepted without hesitation and I duly surfed their site and picked what I thought would be a good challenge. My initial thoughts were that these had better be good because they were a serious price! Before you accuse me of selling out and going all commercial on you, let me also say that 2 weeks ago I was contacted by a member of the Nintendo PR department who offered me a puzzling game and a DS console. I turned this down because it is not what I do and not what you come here to read about. There are other games bloggers out there let them go to them. I am not going to be bought by a free toy!

Beautifully packaged
They sent me a 1000 piece puzzle from their extra difficult range and 2 weeks ago a parcel arrived. I was rather astonished at the weight and the quality of the package! This thing must have weighed over 1Kg (2.2lb). It even smelled good! The box was well made and had a good quality picture on it. Now if you are a real connoisseur then you can order these to be sent out without the picture on the box! I have no idea how you would go about solving it like that! The box contained a cloth bag which was tied at the top and inside were a whole lot of pieces. Up-ending the bag revealed why the jigsaw was so heavy! These things are made of wood! Yes it is a 3-4mm thick wooden board which has been laser cut (no burning smell either - as many of my other laser cut wooden puzzles have) and hence of very high quality - in fact this is the highest quality jigsaw I have ever seen - certainly none of these pieces will tear or get bent. The laser was ultra fine ensuring that the fit of the pieces would be extremely precise.

Maybe I should have gone for less pieces?
Apart from the quality of the pieces, the other thing that stood out and also contributed to the very high difficulty level was the fact that a good number of the pieces are "whimsies" - odd shaped items that need to be fitted together and tessellated pieces too. Here are just a few pieces I found by just trawling through the pile for a minute or so:

Odd shapes - all made of wood
The laser cut pieces have extra cuts within them - they are not part of the jigsaw itself but are there to make the whimsy shapes more realistic - all this ensures a much more interesting experience, especially if you are doing this with your family.

So how have we gotten on with it? It has only been 10 days and we have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We are actually puzzling together (although actually I have had more time than her to play) and it is a new thing for us - it is very different from the hard core puzzling that I usually do but no less fun and would be really good for a family. I suspect that we may have bitten off more than we should have in getting the 1000 piece puzzle as it is seriously hard to do.

Is there the same frustration involved as all my other puzzles? I have to say yes but for an odd reason! You will have noticed that there is no photo of the partially completed puzzle and there is a good reason for it! The big board we have been using will sit nicely across our laps with smaller boards for sorted pieces. That way we could play in the living room in the evenings and watch some TV etc. Unfortunately someone else decided to join in and let's just say I am going to have to start again! Aaaargh! I couldn't take a photo of him and the destroyed mess because he ran off with a piece and I had to quickly put everything away and chase him down!

Looks innocent? He's guilty I say!!!!
Whilst I got this jigsaw for free, I fully expect to visit their site in 2014 and buy another one. These are seriously tough puzzles, available in multiple sizes,  the pictures are attractive and they are of incredible quality (I actually did not know jigsaws could be made this way). For me, my puzzle collection is about the puzzling/solving but it is also about the quality of the craftsmanship and I cannot fault these at all - the quality is second to none. You can even upload your own picture if you wish and have it made into a jigsaw. So if you are looking to puzzle together as a family and want something of a good quality then you cannot go wrong with In fact, their Christmas collection may actually solve a problem for you.

Now seeing as I am at the end of a week off, I thought I might give a 2 part blog post today. I have unfortunately had quite a lot of chores, DIY and paperwork to do during my week off and even had to spend a day working at the private hospital - so no real rest for the wicked! But how else can I pay for this rather expensive habit? I have managed to spend a reasonable time on some new puzzles. As well as the jigsaw, I have been working alone (Mrs S is only interested in joining me with the jigsaw) on a beautiful pair of puzzles I recently bought from Brian Menold of Wood Wonders.

Tabula Cube #1
Tabula Cube #2
I had seen when these had been announced, the designer Yavuz Demirhan, is someone I have been friends with for a while now and he announced these designs over a year ago on Facebook and I was fascinated at how different these were to all the other interlocking cubes and burrs I have seen. Yavuz is incredibly talented and has produced an enormous number of puzzles (290 in just 3 years!) and they all tend to be very interesting and challenging without being completely impossible. His puzzles have also been made by Jakub Dvorak of the New Pelikan Workshop and I have several of those too.

They look like a pair of Rubik cubes and knowing my recent fetish for twisty puzzles you might not be surprised if I had actually bought a wooden twisty! But these are actually part way between interlocking solids and burr puzzles. Brian announced some months ago that they were coming out and he accepted deposits for pre-order (of course I couldn't turn it down!) and initially they were going to be made in English Sycamore and Macassar Ebony (i.e. white cubes with black strips) but later he sent some photos and asked whether anyone would be interested a different version. The cubes I have are English Sycamore strips and Bocote cubes - I am a complete sucker for a wood with an interesting grain and jumped on it. I was not disappointed when they arrived about 2 months later - Brian has arranged the pieces so that the grain almost looks like it was taken as a cube straight out of the tree - they are stunning! In fact they are so gorgeous that Mrs S has said they can stay on display in the living room!! Cube number 2 has a stand as part of the puzzle.

Idle play one evening revealed to me how burr like these are as a key piece slides out (it took me a few minutes to find it) and then no other pieces can be removed. What you then have to do is slide them back and forth progressively to make room for other moves and finally a piece will come out. Initially they end up looking like this:

One piece out and several moved
I started with Tabula cube #1 which unbeknownst to me had a disassembly level The first piece was out and many pieces were moved in and out and the structure began to look increasingly unstable but not actually falling to bits until suddenly a piece fell out (where from? I had no idea!) It took a minute or so before I could move a third piece and suddenly it collapsed in pieces onto the cat who had been sleeping peacefully on me. He shot off and so did half the pieces!

Tabula Cube #1 Pieces
I then spent another hour trying to put this rather different jigsaw back together and failed! I managed to work out where all the pieces were supposed to go and Burrtools has confirmed that there is only one possible way these pieces can form a cube and also that there is only a single assembly method. After over 2 hours of multiple failures I gave in and had to make a Burrtools solution file. Even using the solution file, it is tremendously difficult to hold everything in place with only one pair of hands. It certainly slides together beautifully and so far I have not had the courage to do it again! In fact Brian has confirmed that he struggled to assemble them even with the assembly instructions in front of him.

Tabula cube 2 is level 1.6.2 (although if you include the removal of the stand it is This time I was ready for it and it did not come apart with a sudden collapse because I was being careful. I carefully arranged the pieces in order and....... still couldn't reassemble it myself! There is something very disorienting about having the cubes separated by the strips of wood. It means that things really need to be held just so or the pieces will not slide into place but it also means that you can't solve it like a burr puzzle. Burrtools to the rescue again - what would we do without Andreas' marvellous program? I love these puzzles! Mrs S is letting them stay on show and - I think I will try number 2 again to see whether I can manage it. At least in the living room I can just reach out and pick it up at a whim!

Tabula Cube #2 is a bit easier but not much!

Right!!! Let's get back to that damn jigsaw again!!!
Putting the cats in a cat basket for a couple of weeks!!! Actually they love my puzzles:

Solved them in his sleep!!!


  1. I really like the Tabula cube for their faux Rubik's cube appearance and the beautiful wood grain. They are a marvellous combination of art and puzzle. I am very interested in the high piece count jigsaw puzzles. I've always liked challenging jigsaw puzzles and it is something my spouse might also enjoy. If it was one I was going to hang afterwards, I'd look for one that is tall and narrow.

    1. I'm sure you can find something to suit Pete!

    2. Nice post Kevin. In the past I've absolutely loved jigsaw puzzles. I had no idea there was a 24K and even 32K puzzle out there. I have a 6K piece Clementoni with a beautiful picture, still in its box.

      Now, to business: more twisty puzzle posts please!!!

    3. Hi Rline,
      Get to that big puzzle and let your family join you in the fun - maybe they'll start twisty puzzling?

      As for more twisty posts - I have one or two ideas but need to let them develop. Hopefully soon.

  2. Hi Kevin,

    I've seen those Wentworth before but they are pricey! What method did you use for the puzzle? I know some people try to locate the position of the pieces within the frame by looking at the front of the box and build it up like that, but others go by the colour/pattern on the piece (in which case it's possible, but much harder, to finish it without knowing the picture). I prefer the latter cause it gives me a good way to sort the pieces and move forward. I enjoy jigsaws in the same way as board games, because they do have a social element that other puzzles do not.


    1. Hi Saul,
      They certainly are the highest quality jigsaws I've ever come across! I've never known one to be made of wood before!

      As for my system? I don't have enough experience to have one. I started with edges and then looked for pieces with recognisable pattern parts on it! If you know a better approach then I'd be very pleased to hear it.

    2. I'm not sure there can be that many different methods of solving jigsaws, but my dominant method of uses the shapes of the nodes and receptacles (not sure what the proper terms are) to home in on the right pieces as they all have a unique shape. I choose one section, find a piece and then, for example, search for the piece(s) with a "small node leaning to the left" or whatever it looks like. I have seen jigsaw puzzles where every single piece has the exact same shape... Those fall in the category of double-sided jigsaw puzzles as something I don't think I would ever try.

    3. Identical pieces? Double sided? Aaaaaargh!!!
      No thanks. You're much more systematic than me. I'll give your system a try.

  3. Kevin, great write up on the jigsaw puzzle! Hmm...I am already thinking about the personalized one!