Wired interview with puzzle-box maker Kagen Sound

Wired has posted a nice interview with Kagen Sound, a mathematician by training and self-taught woodworker who has been designing wooden puzzle boxes for over two decades. His woodworking technique is fun to watch (and I would kill for a workshop even half as organized as his) but what I really liked was the little glimpses into how he works in design elements that aren’t strictly part of the puzzle itself but work like seasoning to make the experience something magical. Things like adding wooden springs to make the box “click” as you move the pieces, geometric patterns that shift as you slide tiles, the feel of multiple parts sliding simultaneously in complimentary movements, or the joy of a clever twist to open a lid.

My wife got me a cheap but well-made knock-off of Sound’s Block Box, the 2002 award-winner he starts with in the video. Onietoiy’s knock-off is a little simpler than the original — the maze is a little different and ends in a corner instead of a more obvious central exit, and they replacing his custom hidden-hinge mechanism with simple mortise hinges — but otherwise it looks quite similar. One thing I like about this particular puzzle is that there’s an Aha! moment when you realize that sliding tiles around is isomorphic to solving a simple maze with the “hole” moving along corridors. After that it’s fairly straightforward to work your way to the solution, with just enough dead-ends to make it interesting without leaving you completely lost.