For quite a while now I've been looking backwards and forwards through Shapeways for a puzzle to buy. For those of you who don't know Shapeways is a 3D printing company based in the US who give people the opportunity to see their 3D designs brought to life in a relatively short space of time. They don't specialise in puzzles, but many puzzle designers are sing them as a platform from which to sell their designs to the world. They come up with the designs, Shapeways prints them, puzzlers buy them, everyone's a winner!
The catch with 3D printing at the moment is that it is still quite expensive compared with mass produced moulded puzzles, for obvious reasons. This is why I browsed the site for so long trying to choose a puzzle to buy. I wanted a puzzle that was no only good fun, but it also had to look good, be easy to assemble and -most importantly- be affordable.
After much pondering I decided on a twisty puzzle called the Pentacle Puzzle designed by David Pitcher. It ticked all of the boxes, and looked simple enough for me to assemble myself. A little while after placing my order (a week or two) a packet showed up at the door.
Yep, that's a load of puzzle parts in some bags. Shapeways are a printing company, they don't assemble the parts for you. The M3 screws you see in the picture were also ordered separately from eBay.
Here are the different parts laid out. Normally with a puzzle of this type it would be necessary to add coloured stickers in order to make this into a puzzle. After all, without the colours there wouldn't be anything to solve.
With this puzzle however the colour parts you can see on the right have been printed in a material called 'full-colour sandstone'. They aren't printed out and then dyed afterwards to look like this, they actually come out of a printer looking like that! I find that absolutely incredible!
The main body of the puzzle is made from the standard 'black strong and flexible' plastic material, then the coloured sandstone chips can be pressed into the hollows in the black pieces. This gives the puzzle a really nice original look rather than the usual stickers, plus it gives a nice bit of extra weight to the puzzle for a quality feel.
I did have to sand down some of the colour chips with my Dremel in order to get them to fit into their black pieces, but this wasn't too much bother. I told David about it afterwards and he said he'd tweak the measurements to make assembly a bit easier on the hands.
Once all of the pieces were together I closed it up using the 12mm M3 screw I ordered ready for the arrival of this puzzle. I tightened the screw till the fit and movement of the pieces felt just right, and spent the next 10 minutes or so just turning all of the moving parts to wear them in a little bit.
Anything printed in the 'strong and flexible' material will have a rough sort of finish to it. This feels nice on the outer parts of the puzzle but also causes unnecessary friction on the inner pieces. Just by turning the pieces round a bit you will grind some of this material away, making the movements much smoother in the process. If you really wanted to you could sand it perfectly smooth, but that's down to personal taste.
Each side of the puzzle is a mirror image of the other, so I just had to pay special attention to get them all in the right places, which wasn't too difficult. And after a few minutes I ended up with a brilliant looking and fully functional puzzle!
So as my first ever order from Shapeways I am very happy! I will most definitely be ordering more in the foreseeable future. Hopefully the price will eventually come down a bit, and that will make these kinds of puzzles more available to everyone.
Check out Pitcher Puzzles for more of David's excellent designs. And also have a browse through some of the other things Shapeways has to offer. There are so many very cool designs on there, and not just for puzzles either!