There were three main hurdles I had to overcome:-
1. Come up with a functional mechanical puzzle design; one that actually works.
2. Source for aluminium and be able to buy it cheaply
3. Find a metal fabricator who could produce a single prototype at a reasonable cost
I already had in mind what sort of puzzle I wanted to design and with the help of MS PowerPoint (no CAD etc here) challenge No 1 was quite easily disposed off. Google proved to be very helpful and I readily located an aluminium supplier that was prepared to sell me a small quantity of rods and tubes of the required sizes cash and carry. It was finding a suitable fabricator that proved to be the most difficult of the three. While there are certainly no shortage of vendors, few if any were keen to do personal projects, instead preferring to do more profitable commercial work.
I asked and searched around quite a bit and nearly gave up this whole idea when by a stroke of luck, I was referred by an acquaintance to a small metal engineering business located only minutes away from my office. I was in luck. The proprietor, a kindly elderly gentleman, was willing to make a single unit prototype after looking at my design. It took a bit of effort to explain to him what mechanical puzzles were and what I was trying to achieve. He was rather amused and decided to go along with me. (The next time I visit him, I will remember to bring along Wil Strijbos' Lotus! I am sure this would definitely blow him away). And the price quoted was also pretty affordable. This gave me hope since making more units would lower the price.
To cut a long story short, my first puzzle produced was the RevoLUTION Ball Puzzle. I made only one copy. While the aluminium itself was easy to find, some of the parts that I needed were not, and our dear old metal fabricator (he is in his late 60s) was too busy to source them for me. I also felt the specifications needed changing, eg much larger ball bearing, less moving parts etc. Notwithstanding, I was satisfied with this first exercise of design and production. I had found a fabricator willing and capable of making metal puzzles. Apart from metal, my fabricator could also work with heavy plastic, nylon and ABS, but not wood.
During this time, I was also concurrently working on my second design, the Ball In Cylinder Puzzle (BIC). I wanted my second puzzle not only to provide a reasonable amount of challenge but also be aesthetically pleasing. Compare the BIC to the RevoLUTION Ball Puzzle physically and you will know what I mean. Inspiration was drawn from Wil Strijbos' metal puzzles and some others.
For my BIC to work properly, it had to be of a certain size. My reference point was the Revomaze and AlCyl, the latter reviewed in this blog. Anodising was expensive and out of the question, so I settled for a polished look instead. I had tried out the first and second prototypes on my friends (tho' unfortunately none were puzzlers) but the feedback was pretty positive.
|Ball In Cylinder Puzzle Prototype No 1 on the right and No 2 on the left.|
No 1 was a whopping 70% larger by volume than the No 2. Notice
also the missing etched lines at both ends of No2 which are found on the final design (top photo)
My BIC is made entirely from 6061 aluminium (I don't know what these numbers mean but mountain bikes appear to use similar aluminium as well). It measures 7.5cm tall with a diameter of 4.44cm and feels weighty in the hand.
The object of the BIC is to remove the hidden ball bearing inside the cylinder. It is classified as a sequential movement puzzle. As the BIC is my own design, I am not sure how to grade it's difficulty. Allard in his blog review states the BIC "will provide a nice little challenge" while Kevin feels it has "just the right level of difficulty". For other reviews, please see Roxanne's blog post and Oli's comments on the Revomaze Forum.
I will be producing another batch in the coming weeks, so if anyone is keen to buy one, please email me via my Profile email. The price of the BIC No.1 is GBP26.50 plus S&H (around GBP8.50 for USA and Europe with tracking no).
In the meantime, I am onto my third puzzle design and this one will go for prototyping very soon. Will let everyone know once its ready.
Update: 29 January 2013
The prototype for the new Ball In Cylinder Puzzle No.2 has been fabricated and looks good. Now undergoing testing and tweaking the specifications to make sure it works properly as intended.