Andrew Gurvey is director of real estate for Habitat for Humanity in Atlanta. In addition, he runs his own law practice, has fun with his three daughters, repairs mid-century trucks, does major construction on his home, maintains an organic garden and raises chickens. Most unusual, however, is his vast 3D puzzle collection.
Gurvey’s first collectible 3D puzzles, featuring precise craftsmanship and design, were purchased in Israel in 1996 in a shop on Ben Yehuda Street. Eventually, he connected with other collectors, craftsmen and enthusiasts around the world and now owns more than 100 puzzles. Some are carved from exotic woods like purpleheart, padauk or wedge. The most collectible are made by the same persons who designed them. Gurvey’s collection represent many prominent creators. Here he talks about two of his favorites, both puzzle-making giants.
The late Philippe Dubois, whose creations intrigued Gurvey in 1996, became his favorite puzzle maker. DuBois was an Israeli engineer who also designed puzzles under the name Gaby Games. Gurvey found more Dubois wood puzzles in auctions, including “Halley,” made of 30 notched mahogany sticks in the shape of a dodecahedron.
“The majority of my puzzles are by Stewart Coffin, considered the world’s best designer of interlocking polyhedral puzzles,” Gurvey said. “Some of Coffin’s simplest (but deceptively tricky) puzzles are only a few pieces, where the goal is to fit them into a shallow tray. I recently purchased Sphinx, design 156-A. It is 12 dissimilar pieces out of five different woods. Most puzzles will come apart by pushing a piece here or there; but I’ve been working on this one, and so far nothing has moved. It’s the most expensive puzzle I’ve bought, so I’m inclined to handle it gently,” Gurvey said.
“Coffin sometimes crafted only one or two of a design; in some, a lot of money and time went into their creation and materials. Overdrive (#117) by Stewart Coffin is so tricky to assemble manually that Stewart created an assembly jig to help. Reportedly, only five were made.”
Crown of Thorns
Gurvey is fascinated by puzzles that come apart or together in a unique way. His most unusual puzzles are a couple, called Crown of Thorns. Each is 144 almost identical pieces interlocking to form a ring. They are sometimes called Twisted Torus. Their origin is yeast rings, used by brewers to make beer and ale. They are art: unusual and beautiful wooden assemblages.
Multiple Polyhedral Puzzles
“I admire challenging ‘burr puzzles,’ which have six or more interlocking pieces,” he said. “Some take as many as 10 moves just to remove the first piece, then another six to remove the second piece. It’s equally challenging to reassemble it. I have one that I still can’t put back together.”
Gurvey finds puzzles everywhere, including auctions in California and the Netherlands, and even at an Atlanta mathematics convention. The 40th International Puzzle Party, scheduled for Israel this year, was cancelled. A puzzle’s monetary value depends on supply, demand and quality. Rare puzzles can sell at auction for several thousand dollars, and values rise as craftsmen retire or demand increases from new collectors. For now, Gurvey does not consider his puzzles an investment, but he concedes, “Someday I may sell select puzzles. Only time will tell.”