Don Seely, an artist and long-time customer of ours, sent us these photos of a one-off art project he did. The end product is just too attractive to not highlight here.

According to Don: “The goal was to make a precision version of the well-known, but poorly made stocking-stuffer Fifteen puzzle.” Typically made from wood, his version is made of brass, stainless steel, and polished stone.

fifteen puzzle

The Fifteen Puzzle was originally created in 1879 by a New York postmaster named Noyes Chapman. It really took off with a bang in 1880, making a craze that was unmatched until the Rubik’s Cube in 1980. Like many popular crazes, it had largely faded within six months. However, the so-called sliding puzzle and its original, the Fifteen Puzzle, remain popular to this day. Other, more complicated versions have also been invented, but the classic 4×4 grid with fifteen pieces is the original.

Don’s Fifteen Puzzle sits on a gorgeous dark green and black marble base that is 9.5″ long on each side and 1.25″ thick. The stainless steel guide rails are mounted to the base via brass screws.

Don: “I knew generally what I was after for the base. So I made a technical drawing of the dimensions and brought it to a shop that makes stone countertops with a CNC machine. We were able to find a suitable remnant to work with and in a few days I had exactly what I needed: cut, drilled, chamfered and polished.”

fifteen puzzle

Elegance and simplicity

Don: “This was built of brass and stainless steel ordered from Online Metals, the only place I could find to buy small volumes of 1.5″ square metal blanks.”

The pieces themselves are brass-stainless-brass sandwich squares, 1.5″ each side. The stainless insert makes the tabs you can see in the picture below. The tabs keep the pieces in the puzzle and allow them to easily slide.

fifteen puzzle

“The indexes are the Braille letters A-O. I chose them chose both for their elegant uniformity and their obscurity. My artwork frequently deals with jargon and niche languages. The puzzle pieces make a great ‘slide/click’ sound when they move from spot to spot. The entire project took about 100 hours over 6 weeks.”

The use of the textured Braille letters adds extra bonuses beyond the aesthetic. It provides the order for the puzzle solution, as well as texture. This texture makes it easier to slide the pieces.

fifteen puzzle

While the guide rails are held together with brass screws, the pieces themselves are glued together. The dots are a mixture of .125″ stainless balls and slightly smaller brass balls.

fifteen puzzle

Thanks for these images, Don! This is a really gorgeous piece. If you’re interested in any of Don’s other work, you can check it out on his website!

If you want to make your own DIY Fifteen Puzzle, there are plans for it here though the example is made from wood. Fortunately, it’s easy to replace those with metal.