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Thursday, 1 September 2011

SmartEgg Visit (Hungary)

A while ago now Bernhard Schweitzer mentioned that he had come across a very interesting puzzle called the SmartEgg whilst at the Nuremberg Toy Fair earlier this year, and after seeing some photos of them I could immediately tell why he thought they were good enough to mention.
The puzzles themselves are made by a private woodworker in Hungary called András Zagyvai, and as I was going to be visiting Hungary in a couple of months I thought it would be a good idea to get in touch with András to see if he would be willing to allow me to come and see his puzzles and how he makes them. Luckily for me András and his partner Nóra are lovely people and kindly agreed to me paying them a quick visit.

The family home on the farm
András, Nóra and their two children live on a small farm about half an hours train journey from Hungary's capital Budapest (where I was staying), so I hopped on the train, called Nóra to let her know I was on the way and she said she'd meet me at the station on the other end.
When I arrived at the station I was really touched to see that the whole family had come to the station to greet me, and from there it was about a 1km drive to their home.

I absolutely loved their home! I honestly wish I could live on a little farm like this one. Definitely makes a nice change from living in the crowded city.

The SmartEgg collection
Now shortly after arriving András opened a case he had ready sitting on the dining table, and I was in awe of what was in there! I had no idea that there were this many different shapes and designs of SmartEgg! Plus they were actually bigger and quite a bit more sturdy than I expected them to be.

The designs vary from the very basic puzzle aimed at teaching small children hand-eye coordination and thinking skills all the way up to incredibly complex puzzles with three inner rotating labyrinths that have to be manipulated without being able to directly see them.


The idea of the SmartEgg is to negotiate the wooden rod (seen on the left) from the start hole all the way to the exit hole. The rod can pass all of the way through the puzzle to the other side in some designs, and because there is a ball on either end of the rod it cannot be removed unless it is either at the start or finishing points.
The solving motion on the complex multi-layered puzzles is very hard to describe, but you can see a great video on the SmartEgg site that will probably explain it better than I can anyway.



As you can see from some of these other photos some of the eggs are beautifully finished with oil to give them a really nice quality shine. Plus I believe it also makes the wood stronger as a result. Also in some of these pictures you can see some more of the internal workings, and they can get pretty complex. In most of the puzzles you can manipulate the internal labyrinth layers by rotating the two ends, but in some designs the innermost layer is not attached to either of the ends or the main body, so the only way to move it is with the stick, and as you cannot see what you are doing you will have to feel the way.

After showing me his collection of designs András offered to show me his small workshop where he creates the SmartEggs, and this was something that I was very interested to see!

I was amazed by the fact that András only uses two machines to create the eggs! One was a lathe and the other was a sort of drilling and milling rig which has a pivoting tray for moving the wood at different angles whilst drilling the holes and milling the channels.


First the wooden logs are turned into cylinders, then the holes and channels are put in. For some reason I expected that the holes and channels were done after the wood was turned into the egg shape, but in fact that is done beforehand. The channels of the labyrinth cannot be milled the full depth of the wood in one go, which is partly why it takes so long to manufacture each egg.

Each SmartEgg takes a total of around six weeks to make. Three of those weeks are spent purely on the design process, and then another three weeks are needed to actually create the egg itself.

Here are a few of the SmartEgg designs hanging up on the workshop wall. They look so simple, but I imagine the accuracy has to be spot-on in order for the puzzle to function. It's funny to think that these cardboard tube designs end up becoming those high-quality wooden puzzles I saw on the dining table.

Currently András only makes SmartEggs by custom order (which is not entirely surprising considering how long they take to make) so if you have any interest in owning one or learning more about them then get in touch via the SmartEgg site. Although be warned that due to the length of the design and manufacturing process the price per puzzle is very high. András is currently looking for a manufacturer to take over the design and start making the puzzles for mass market, but this is an ongoing process. I really hope that he finds a manufacturer soon as it would be a massive shame if these awesomely unique puzzles never reached it into most of our collections.

A huge thank you to both Nóra and András for letting me visit and for making me feel very welcome! I really appreciated the opportunity to see these brilliant puzzles.

For a few more SmartEgg photos (including a few more of the farm) check out my Flickr page.

EDIT: Now you can also check out Allard's SmartEgg Review!

2 comments:

  1. Hi Oli

    I`m so happy that you could visit Nora and Andras and that are also impressed as I was during the International Toy Fair in Nueremberg as I founbd him and his SmartEggs; his creations are real something complete new in the puzzle scenery and I hope like you that he`ll find a company which is able to make his designs for a little bit bigger market;

    regards
    Bernhard

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice post!
    What a nice surrounding to work on puzzles.

    Andras, Nora: If i ever find myself in the vicinity i will surely drop by.

    Kind regards, Ellert.

    ReplyDelete

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