Thursday, 19 January 2012

Elephant No. 109: Wooden Block Puzzle

When I was little, one of my favourite toys was a wooden block puzzle. Because there was an image on each side of the cubes in the puzzle, it was really six puzzles in one. I haven't seen one of these in years, and my own is mostly scattered to the four winds, so today I thought I'd create a mini-version of a wooden block puzzle.

I couldn't find much information on this kind of puzzle online, and I've already covered jigsaw puzzles in a previous post, so no history lesson today. A search for any kind of wooden cube or wooden block puzzle turns up various trick blocks with weird-shaped pieces. I'm not good at those, so we won't even go there.

I was actually inspired to make this puzzle when I ran across this bag of little wooden blocks in a discount store. I'm not sure what kind of craft they're meant for, but they're perfect for this particular activity.

I decided I would use twelve blocks for my puzzle, giving me a total area of 6 cm (2.4 inches) long by 4.5 cm (1.75 inches) wide.

I briefly considered painting six puzzle images, but decided against it—not only because I couldn't face painting six separate pictures today, but also because I feared the paint might drip down the sides of the blocks, mucking up whatever other images I might already have painted. And besides, my original kiddie puzzle had paper images glued onto wooden blocks, so it felt traditional.

I selected a series of elephant images I liked online, downloaded them, and sized them on my computer to approximately 6 x 4.5 cm. Rather than change the proportions of the images, I simply got them close to the right size, knowing I could cut off any extraneous bits later.

These are the six I chose:

Five the elephant pushing a stalled jeep, England.

Decorated Asian elephant in Jaipur, India.
Photo: Faraz Usmani

Asian elephant in India.
Photo: Gerry Ellis/Minden Images

Elephant polo in Jaipur, India.

Close encounter of the wild kind between elephant and
Swiss tourists at HluHluwe Game Reserve, South Africa.

Asian elephant, Jaipur, India.

To set the first image, I wrapped an elastic band around my block of blocks to hold them together as a group. I then glued on my first image which, as you can see, trails off the edges. I used simple white glue, spread thinly. Because I need to be able to slice along the edges of all of the blocks afterwards, I turned the whole thing over and weighted it down. I left it to dry for about half an hour then blasted it with a hair dryer for about five minutes. Since I have six images to deal with, this was going to be a long evening.

Once the first image was dry and bonded to the wood, I cut off the parts hanging over the edges, and sliced carefully between all blocks with a sharp-bladed craft knife. This is the trickiest part of the whole activity, in my opinion—perhaps because accuracy and fussiness are not my favourite things.

The first couple of puzzles weren't bad to cut, but once there are pictures on more than two sides of each block, things start to get a bit messy. The edges tend to catch and tear a little as they're being cut, and because it was getting late, I got tired of waiting for things to be bone dry. Bone dry is better, however, because the paper will be stronger and more rigid than if it has even the slightest feeling of damp. And I mean slight.

As you can see in the final photos, to clean this up, I'll need to smooth and re-stick some of the edges, and perhaps even touch them up with a bit of paint. Then I'll probably lacquer each block on all sides to seal it and finish it properly. I'll also either look for, or make, a small tray or box to keep all the pieces together.

I love this little puzzle. It's even a bit tricky to re-form the images—if you toss the pieces around, it's surprisingly difficult to figure out what side of the block goes with which image. I had to refer to the original photos to keep from driving myself crazy, while trying to put the two images back together for the final photos.

This was technically easy to make, if a bit fiddly, and in actual working time only took about an hour and a half. The rest of the time was filled with the excitement of watching glue dry.

Elephant Lore of the Day
The first image I used came from a story about an elephant who gave a stalled jeep in England a helping trunk.

The jeep broke down in West Midland Safari Park in April 2010, but before staffer Lawrence Bates managed to call for assistance, an elephant named Five stepped in. The eighteen-year-old elephant got behind the jeep and pushed it out of the way—and out of his enclosure.

He also decided to wash it. After spraying it with water from his trunk, he picked up a sponge and dabbed the windows and paint. Then something even more astonishing happened. According to Bob Lawrence, Director of Wildlife, "The jeep broke down again and, to our astonishment, Five came over and decided to give us a hand. He lifted the bonnet up, got the dipstick and gave it to Lawrence. When we still couldn't get it to start, he went round the back and gave us a push. I've never seen anything like this in my life—it was absolutely incredible."

Five the elephant helps push an ailing jeep out of his enclosure.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation

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