Trinity, Doors & Drawers, Hellas CubeDesigned by Michael Toulouzas
Trinity Made by Pelikan; Bubinga; 3.9″ x 3.9″ x 5.5 “
Doors & Drawers Made by (Old) Pelikan/Toulouzas; Walnut, Light & Dark Oak, Katalox & Bubinga; 4.2″ x 3.7″
Hellas Cube made by (Old) Pelikan; Jatoba & Maple; 5″
Michael Toulouzas may best be known for his sd/take-apart puzzles, such as Toolbox, Vault and Fairy Door (which led in part to Ken Snache’s Puzzleduck Pastures and Tracy Clemons’ Dark Fairy Door), but his interlocking designs are perhaps just as impressive. I thought I would write about three such designs I have had the good fortune to collect and solve this year.
Trinity is as beautiful as it is unique: the goal is to wrap three identical pieces around three ornate posts attached to a base. The pieces feature extreme and somewhat odd angles and turns. The frame is crafted from a matching bubinga, a lovely and bright wood choice that highlights this puzzle’s double duty, exemplifying puzzles as art better than most. Between the curves of the lathed columns and the precisely sharp corners of the pieces, the crafting must have been difficult; it is no wonder that Pelikan only made 60 of these beauties but I do truly wonder how they somehow remain available on Puzzlemaster at the time of this writing (if you’re buying, be sure to use the discord affiliate link to PM).
I suppose I shouldn’t really be too surprised they are still available – I personally passed on it repeatedly over the last few years. But it is just so darn pretty, causing me to return to it time and again, contemplating its purchase… after a few more rave reviews from trusted puzzlers (thanks Puzzling Time) I nabbed one on PM before it was too late.
It arrived a bit smaller than I had originally expected (I checked the dimensions when ordering but had always had it in my head as being a bit bigger) but this turns out to be a smart choice. I knew the goal was to wrap the three pieces around and through the frame posts, but was not certain of what this might look like; I knew the configuration would be symmetrical, as I had seen the pics previously but declined to check it after receiving the puzzle. It wasn’t all that hard to find the correct build outside the frame; it follows a somewhat straightforward logic with perhaps not too many incorrect builds realistically possible.
The real puzzle comes when trying to take this configuration and build it around the precisely tight confines of the frame. This took me a while, requiring some puzzling skills that are not my strongest (assuming I actually have some strong ones). Eventually, I found that oh-so-perfect aha move, the pieces suddenly falling into place after fumbling frustratingly around. this puzzle is very much doable, not like some puzzles that make you wish for some extra hands; the size is pretty much perfect and it just takes some patience and logic to discover the winning movements.
And there it is: a cool and fun design so beautifully crafted that it easily earned its place Downstairs, its beauty there to be beheld by non-puzzling people and puzzlers alike.
Doors & Drawers
Doors & Drawers is another Toulouzas design crafted by Pelikan (the knobs and feet were crafted by the designer and highlight his excellent woodworking skills complementing those of Pelikan) and originally sold by Bernhard Schweitzer. D&D is completely different from Trinity but just as unique (perhaps a bit less beautiful, but that’s a big bar to beat). It begins as a take-apart puzzle, featuring three interlocking drawers confoundingly blocked further by some simple packing pieces hidden away in inconveniently devious places.
The puzzle looks like a cube sitting atop a base, raised on four angular feet, doorknobs fitted to drawers on most sides. It features subtly contrasting woods, with a walnut frame offset by light and dark oak pieces, the katalox and bubinga knobs creating a wonderful aesthetic somewhat reminiscent of an Escher drawing.
My copy was a bit tight at first and required a bit of boveda love (once I confirmed that it was, for once, not just my dumbassery) before I could begin solving it. The packing pieces complicate the disassembly of the interlocking pieces, requiring some precise orientations found after numerous false starts. Despite relatively few pieces overall, the design is more than complicated enough to allow for an assembly challenge when left mixed for a matter of weeks; it was really here where I began to fully appreciate the design as I had to reverse engineer the purpose of the off-center knobs – these turned out to be much more than ornamental, their asymmetric locations constricting assembly options and requiring some of that thinking stuff to figure out.
D&D is a fun challenge, blending interlocking assembly with a packing challenge wrapped up in an adorably surreal aesthetic that matches the excellent craftsmanship of multiple master woodworkers.
Hellas Cube seems to be a somewhat lesser known design, allowing me to pick it up on PuzzleParadise at an only slightly silly price. At 5″, it is a rather fat 3 x 3 cube, with large, 3 x 3 x 9 voxel pieces. The top and bottom feature a striped design mixed out of contrasting Jatoba and Maple woods, strongly reminiscent of the Greek flag (Hellas is the ancient name for Greece), causing the puzzle to sometimes be referred to as FlagBurr.
Michael has said that he “didn’t have the courage due to the long time and labor to make it.” Well Elijah said after making it that the many meters of sticks used would likely prevent them from making them again. Fortunately, they still took the opportunity to produce the puzzle at the direction of Bernhardt Schweitzer, which may not be as aesthetically pleasing a design as those discussed above but still displays wonderfully; to be fair, that is a very high bar to set and Hellas nonetheless makes for a strong puzzle presence, like a monument looking down on its more petite puzzling siblings.
I began pulling and pushing on the pieces until finding something that did something; the design features one or more hooks on each of the nine pieces, requiring a minimum of two moves to remove each, oftentimes more. The design is further complicated by what I can only describe as a lock that further frustrates disassembly; although this is not an overly hard challenge, it is fun, the process of discerning hook vs. lock making for an interesting puzzling experience.
Reassembly is another significant but doable challenge. The design on the top and bottom of the puzzle becomes essential, making a daunting task surmountable as we can at least put aside three of the pieces to determine which of the other pieces are on the top or bottom of the final assembly. The “lock” is no problem during assembly but its location still takes some thought (particularly if your memory is as terrible as mine); the hooks make for the real assembly challenge, with pieces similar enough to be confusing while allowing for a single, unique solution.
Michael Toulouzas has quickly become one of my favorite designers despite sadly being a challenge to collect due to his rather limited runs and releases – patience is not only a virtue when collecting puzzles, but a necessity should you hope to maintain your sanity amidst the FOMO, bonkers auctions, and ever-increasing rate of puzzle production. Most importantly, I should somewhat soon be the proud and ecstatic owner of his upcoming Xenia table: a puzzle box shaped like an ordinary (albeit shrunken) office fixture is right up my alley so I expect you may be seeing more about it on these pages (should you come looking).