Sunday 24 February 2019

I Bought a Box by Accident

But I Am Definitely NOT Disappointed!

Last year I was perusing the IPP design competition page and immediately spotted the Hydrant puzzle. There are a few designers and craftsmen whose work is recognisable immediately and even with no written attribution, it was clear that this was the work of my friend Stephan Baumegger (his extensive work can be seen on his Facebook page, Puzzleisure. Having watched him move from burrs to turning wood and then quickly combining the two pursuits, I was delighted to see something truly gorgeous. The stated aim on the design competition page was to "Find the fire hose" and I did not pay much attention to the Slocum classification of 2.1. See here and here for more information on puzzle classification systems
In retrospect, I should have looked to see that Slocum 2.1 means:
Trick or secret opening puzzles (Japanese trick boxes, puzzle boxes, etc.)
Now as you all know, I don't collect puzzle boxes (except Stickman boxes) unless there is an additional feature to the puzzling but, in my defence, I didn't pay attention. I actually thought that the puzzle might have been one of Stephan's amazing shaped burrs like the Droid which I have so far failed to solve despite trying on and off for several years or Thor's hammer which took me quite a long time and the fabulous Tokamak which he gave me in Paris.

Thor's Hammer
Once the IPP participants had deliberated and pronounced that they really loved the Hydrant (it was one of the "Top Ten Vote Getters", I contacted Stephan to ask if he was making any more of these for sale and could I buy one? He said "Yes" and "Yes" but I would have to wait as they were going to take a while to make. The intense puzzling that was done at the IPP showed him that the mechanism needed strengthening and this was going to take some design and workshop effort. Of course, I was happy to wait for a nice and fully functioning puzzle which arrived many months later in February 2019.

I was not disappointed - it is GORGEOUS!

I played with it after taking some photos and realised that it was definitely not a burr. Apparently, Stephan had initially tried to make it as a burr aiming for the shape of the American-Darling B62-B5 Hydrant. His initial ideas produced a burr with level 29.6.4 (total 43). But he had problems building it accurately enough.

Looked impressive but did not come to fruition
Having failed to manufacture a burr but still being fixated on the American hydrant shape, Stephan moved to an alternative puzzle type and started the old fashioned way, just like his fantastic Moulin Rouge puzzle...with pencil and paper:

Cropped so as not to give anything away
Prototypes were built and sample materials sought - the critical part of this puzzle was the end...finding the firehose. The part for this needed to be surprising and special as well as critical to the function of the design. It would appear that Stephan bought a LOT of novelty English Mustard over the last year! If you've ever seen one of those trick opening jars with exploding snakes inside then you will know what is in the hydrant.

At the IPP it became apparent that some of the internal parts of the design were not strong enough to stand up to repeated solving attempts. Eventually, after discussion with Diniar Namdarian, a 3D designed and printed part was produced complete with full plastic hydrant puzzle exteriors:

They look good in plastic
But despite this now fully functional and robust model, Stephan is still primarily a wood craftsman and he really wanted to make it in wood again with the new improved mechanism. He had perfect designed and printed parts as templates and this allowed him to build the new series as he had initially dreamed but as a hybrid Hydrant. In this new series, two hidden parts are made out of wooden filament.

Simply amazing!          Taken from the Puzzleisure FB page
As soon as Stephan showed off the pictures of the new batch, I knew that I was getting something beautiful and very well made.

I realised very early on that this is not a burr - but did not think any further what it might be. There are lots of tactile pieces to play with and some move a bit, some move a lot, some wiggle ever so slightly whilst others are stuck hard. There are no external clues and pushing and pulling all available parts does not provide any real clues. Wiggling one protrusion does have an odd effect on another one but this did no more than confuse me. By pure chance I worked out the first step - it is quite simple but took me a fair while to find. At this point, I can see inside and can see.....absolutely nothing! Oh well, more fiddling blind. At this point, I realised that 2 (or even 3) parts were able to interact in an initially random way but the more I did it the more I could find a pattern and set up an image in my usually empty head. Quite a few things were happening but a crucial something was eluding me. Time for bed that night and back to it the following day. One of my few fortés is that I do tend to keep at things for a very long time. I did this here and my mental picture got better and better until I had a VERY big Aha! moment. Now I really could see inside and see something useful.

Further interaction of pieces is needed but despite seeing inside and suddenly gaining even more insight, I was still unable to go any further. At several points during this next phase, I felt that everything I needed was visible but still the solution eluded me.

Work intervened and I was only able to spend short periods on the puzzle in the evenings but that last step was impossible - had I broken anything? Keep at it you fool! Suddenly, last Thursday, I had an epiphany - how could I have missed it? Suddenly, I had found the firehose which I can confirm is a critical part of the puzzle:

Of course, I would not give anything away!
Next, I had to work out the exact sequence of steps needed to go from a complete assembled puzzle to extracting the hose. There are quite a few distinct steps which must be carried out in the correct order and very precisely over 3 distinct phases. Resetting the puzzle is fun too as you must know those steps well enough to perform them in reverse. Brilliant!

When Stephan told me that it is not a burr, I assumed that it would be a sequential discovery puzzle and I was wrong. There are no tools to be found in this. So what type of puzzle is it? I thunk about it and have to conclude that Stephan has designed, made and sold me a puzzle box! I am not disappointed about it at all - it is a fantastic puzzle. It is made out of 44 different parts and is a triumph of ingenuity. I cannot wait to see what else he comes up with.


  1. Where can I buy a fire hydrant puzzle like this?

    1. This can only be bought direct from Stephan Baumegger. I very much doubt that they are still in stock. If this is the case then the puzzle auction sites are your only option now.