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Monday, 12 May 2014

Scacco F.R. Opal Puzzle Chess Set (Franco Rocco)

The problem with knowing so many other puzzle nutters (great guys and gals by the way) is that they also buy brilliant puzzles...and then show them to you. This in turn makes you want said you also go and buy them yourself. The cheek of some people! Therefore this puzzle purchase is totally not my fault, even though I am held to blame for the puzzle purchases of a few (hundred?) others.
This is the Scacco F.R. Opal Puzzle Chess Set. I know, that's quite a mouthful to say. It was designed by the Italian architect, designer and puzzle maker Franco Rocco, and I think the design kind of straddles the lines between being a sculpture, a game and a puzzle.

The original version of this puzzle was called 'Scaccomatto', made in 1977 out of solid brass, with one of the set of pieces being chrome plated. Several different versions of this chess set have followed since then, the one pictured above is the 4th regeneration of the design, and also happens to be the most affordable to date. This was brilliant since I had always loved this design from the moment I first saw it, but I resigned myself to knowing I would never be able to afford one...and now here it is!

This version is made out of cast translucent plastic (methacrylate), with a different colour for each set of pieces. Each cube is made up of seventeen pieces, that includes all of the chess pieces for one player and a sprung locking key piece which is designed to hold the cube in a fully interlocking state until it is removed. No board is included, hence the crappy looking board in the photo as it was all I had to hand.

The idea of having such a good quality puzzle design in plastic was a bit off-putting at first, but because the pieces are cast and not hollow it makes a huge difference. They have a nice weight to them, and there are no size imperfections at all. The fit is absolutely perfect.

I remember that I first came across the metal 3rd version of this puzzle at one of the earliest Midlands Puzzle Parties (MPPs). I took a cube apart and I believe it took me at least 45 minutes to get it back together again! Even though being a puzzle isn't the only thing it was designed to be it is certainly not a breeze to solve. Each chess piece is pretty irregularly shaped, and can interlock into all of the other pieces in one way or another. But every piece is also identical to the other pieces of the same type, so all pawns are identical for example.

This is an absolutely brilliant puzzle in every respect, and for the price (~£50) it is a bargain as well. If you are looking to add one to your collection then have a look at the Puzzle Museum website for more information and availability details.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Cube In A Jar

I remember that a while back I was browsing through pictures of impossible objects on the web, and I came across a Rubik's Cube in a jar. Now at the time I thought two things; 1) Wow that's pretty awesome! 2) I bet I could do that pretty easily. It turns out that both of those statements were true, it just took me quite a long time to get around to it.

The reason that it took me so long to get around to making one wasn't because of the effort involved in physically making it, it was all down to finding the right jar. I kept looking around for square jars just the right size for a cube (without too much wiggle room), but for some reason they always eluded me. This is when I turned to my old friend: eBay.

I found a square jar on eBay, checked the size was okay and placed the order, within two days it had arrived. Immediately I knew something looked wrong. It turns out (being the genius that I am) I didn't realise that most (sane) people when looking at jars aren't looking for measurements of the inner dimensions. The jar turned out to be way too small for a standard size Rubik's brand 3x3 cube.

While being a bit annoyed at myself I decided that I didn't want to waste a perfectly good jar, so I began to dig through my boxes of puzzles, and I found a cheap knock-off cube with what I can only describe as the most perfect dimensions to fit into the little jar. Lucky or what? And 30 minutes or so later I had a fully functional puzzle well and truly stuck in a glass jar.

The process is actually not very difficult, but like with many impossible objects it does require a decent bit of patience to achieve.

A great bit of fun that I'd recommend anyone with too much spare time (and a jar) on their hands to try for themselves.
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