Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Playing With Fire - Oskar’s Matchboxes

Matchbox Puzzle by Oskar Van DeventerWhere do you keep your matches?  If you’re a puzzle collector, you keep them in Oskar’s Matchboxes.  To help you store your matches, every 5 years Eric Fuller releases a run of Oskar’s Matchboxes: 2005, 2010, 2015, and now planned for 2019.  I guess that we have a lot of impatient matchstick holders that can’t wait until next year.

If you couldn’t guess from the title, the Matchbox Puzzle was designed by Oskar van Deventer. With the new batch planned to be released soon at Cubicdissection, I decided to pull my copy out and revisit it.  The hardest part was finding it.  It was in the last box that I looked in (Have you ever really appreciated how useless some statements are?  Of course, it was in the last box I looked in.)  My version is not a work of art, lovingly crafted by the cognoscenti of wood manipulation, but the version made by Philos, which is a decent looking fully functional version.  The main difference is that the drawers of the Philos version are just solid blocks and can’t store matches.  The puzzlewillbeplayed site also illustrates the drawers as blocks with the side representing the open part of the drawer facing up in the images according to the version made by Cubicdissection.

Matchbox Puzzle PiecesThe puzzle is not that difficult and takes 5 to 10 minutes to assemble.  This is definitely an assembly puzzle, so if you receive it assembled, have someone else take it apart.  The orientation of the pieces has a certain property that makes assembly a quicker process.  No, I’m not going to tell you what that is.

The real challenge is to figure out how to put the matches in without spilling them everywhere.  Since the puzzle doesn’t come with matches, try ball bearings instead for a little more fun.  It is definitely possible to accomplish this task.  However, there are 2 solutions: one that allows you to fill the boxes as you are putting them together and one that doesn’t.  Don’t blame me for all those ball bearings rolling around on your floor.

Can you make a matchbox puzzle with more than 5 matchboxes?  I’m glad you asked – Yes.  In fact, in 2015 Eric Fuller released Matchbox Play 6, designed by Olexandre Kapkan, and consisting of 6 matchboxes.  Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to play with this version, but Cubicdissection indicates that there are multiple solutions and that it’s easier than Oskar’s original 5-piece design.  Maybe I’ll glue up some matchboxes and give it a try.

If you miss the opportunity to get a copy of Oskar’s Matchboxes from Cubicdissection, you could always get the inexpensive Philos copy from Puzzle Master.  You can find it here.


  1. It's also not that hard to make your own copy out of real matchboxes and glue - I made holiday presents for some friends a few years back with vintage match boxes bought on ebay.

    The tricky bit is that the matchboxes need to be the same size (which they often aren't) and that you might need to adjust the joins to match (!) the proportions of the boxes.

    Still, I recommend it if you want to make an inexpensive and fun gift.

    I have yet to try the same thing with MP6 - IIRC Kapkan had a couple of other designs too

    1. It's on my list of things to do. Hopefully, I'll tackle it while matchboxes are still available.

  2. The 6-piece matchbox is indeed easier, since the pieces come in mirror pairs, and the final shapes can be symmetric. In fact, I am not sure if I have ever found an asymmetric shape for the 6-piece puzzle. The same is true for the 4-piece version (acrylic, from the Netherlands). I like that I can change the shapes of these and display them differently, every so often. -Tyler

    1. I guess that 5 is the magic number then.

    2. Good one -- I see what you did there! -Tyler.