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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Inspiration from Grandchildren - Little Kenny and Wooden Puzzles



Little Kenny by Ken IrvineHow would you like to take a journey through 20 different must-have classic puzzle designs by world-renowned puzzle designers?  Along the way, the secrets of how to make them yourself will be revealed.

Several years ago, my good friend and master craftsman, Brian Menold, informed me that he was writing the definitive book on how to make wooden puzzles and asked if I would like to contribute a design.  Even before I knew of the world-class puzzle designers that would be included, I readily agreed.  I later found out that the book included designs from Stewart Coffin, Jos Bergmans, Yavuz Demirhan, Stéphane Chomine, Primitivo Familiar Ramos, Tom Jolly, and of course Brian Menold.  The cognoscenti of puzzledom.  Fortunately, I didn’t have the pressure of knowing the other contributors beforehand.

Brian’s guidance to me was that the book, called Wooden Puzzles, was targeting entry level woodworkers and he was looking for a simple design.  I translated simple to mean a puzzle based on a cubic dissection with rectilinear moves and a fairly small form factor, i.e., no larger than a 4x4x4 cube.

At about the same time that Brian asked for my contribution, along came my first grandson, Kenny.  He is a continual source of puzzlement and wonder.  When my grandson was 4, I informed him on some random sunny afternoon that he would be starting school the following year.  He looked at me, and in no uncertain terms said, “My mom said I don’t have to go to school”.   Trying my best to realign his thinking, I told him that everyone had to go to school.  Unfazed, he peered over at me again and replied, “I don’t need to go to school.  My job is inspiration!”  Well, how do you argue with that?  Needless to say, this post is about the puzzle that was inspired by Little Kenny.

The initial version of Little Kenny that was included in Wooden Puzzles is comprised of 4 pieces in a 4x4x3 format.  Only rectilinear moves are required and the level of difficulty is 5.1.1.  I was very happy with this design and thought that it was an excellent fit for the book.  Since the book has been released, I’ve received feedback from a couple of woodworkers with Wooden Puzzles and they loved Little Kenny.

Wooden Puzzles by Brian MenoldBrian did an amazing job writing Wooden Puzzles.  Not only is it informative, but it is crammed full of pictures of puzzles, tools, jigs, and various types of wood.  The book is comprised of 4 main sections.  The first section provides an overview of tools for puzzle making, selecting wood for puzzles, and jigs for making puzzles.  The second section is the majority of the book and describes in detail how to make the 20 puzzles covered.  By the time you get through all 20, you should have a good understanding of the woodworking basics required to make these types of puzzles.  The following section provides some recommendations for taking your puzzle making to the next level.  Alas, the last section shows the solution for solving each of the puzzles covered in the book, but I know that you won’t be tempted to look.

Although Brian indicated that his book was for beginning woodworkers, I believe that it is suitable for woodworkers at all levels.  There are great little nuggets of information for everyone.  I pulled out my copy of Wooden Puzzles as I was writing this post and as I was flipping through it, I realized that it was time to read it again in preparation for making this year’s puzzle prototypes.  The book may also be of interest to puzzle collectors interested in the process of creating the puzzles that they collect.  Just don’t read the solutions to the puzzles provided in the back of the book.

Little Kenny PiecesShortly after providing the initial Little Kenny design to Brian, I decided to make a more difficult version for the upcoming IPP35.  I was able to split one of the blocks to require rotational moves in the solution, thus becoming the first puzzle in the half-cube series.  I brought my updated Little Kenny prototype to IPP35 and it was well received.  Just like my grandson, it’s small size with only 4 pieces makes it look fairly innocuous but it does have a little bite to it.  And no, the solution provided in Wooden Puzzles won’t help you with the updated version.

After IPP35, Little Kenny was produced by the world-class craftsman, Tom Lensch.  The pictures in this post are of Tom’s version made with Jatoba.  With the successful release at IPP35, I decided to enter it in the Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition the following year at IPP36 where it received the award for …. nothing!  Oh well.  It was up against some pretty stiff competition like Chain Store (Yanked My Chain - Chain Store) and Bitten Biscuits (Food For Thought - Bitten Biscuits).

You should get a copy of Wooden Puzzles.  It is available on Amazon here.  Then you can make your own copy of the original Little Kenny design.  If you want a copy of the updated half-cube version of Little Kenny, they will be available soon from Brian Menold at Wood Wonders.

10 comments:

  1. Hi, the book Wooden Puzzles is awesome! Of course I think little Kenny is awesome too!!!

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    1. Glad to hear that you love the book honey, but can I get a turn reading it before you finish?

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    2. I always learn something from reading your blog. Thanks for pointing out the difference in the two versions of Little Kenny. I had skimmed over that puzzle in Brian's book, thinking it was the the half-cube version -- which I love, by the way. -Tyler.

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    3. Glad to hear that you liked the half-cube version. Brian is in the process of providing them on Wood Wonders and I'll be interested in hearing how others like it as well. The current batch is sold out, but I believe that there will be more next month.

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  2. Brian's book is what got me started on puzzle making and designing a few years back. It's an excellent read and resource. Then I emailed Brian after I'd read it to ask questions and he was nice enough to answer a newby wood worker / puzzle maker.

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    1. That would make you a perfect example of the book's effectiveness since I can attest first hand to your puzzle making proficiency. Brian is an awesome person and I always enjoy spending time with him.

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  3. I should also add, that the half cube version of Little Kenny is what got me hooked on rotational cube designs.

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    1. That's great to hear and makes my day, even though you've quickly and greatly surpassed by puzzle designing skills. I'm more than happy to consider myself a beneficiary of your prodigious output with many of your designs in my puzzle collection.

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