I return to JL Puzzles for a quick follow-up to last month’s Flight Case post. As it turns out, I actually own two Smetsers items. When I purchased Flight Case, I couldn’t resist getting Leo Smetsers’ other trick “box” called The Vault. It is worthy of the name, I assure you. But before we get to that I need to provide a little snippet of information on Flight Case that I forgot to mention last time. Although produced and sold by Leo Smetsers, the Flight Case mechanism (or loading principle, as they say in the trade) was developed by fellow magician Gijs Benneheij who hails from Limburg, Netherlands. Credit where credit is due.
Now back to The Vault. I should start off by stating up front, in no uncertain terms, that The Vault is NOT a puzzle box. Unlike Flight Case, it is quit impossible to open this box from the outside once locked. So don’t rush out and buy this expecting a cool, refreshing solving challenge. Why am I reviewing it on a puzzle blog, you ask? Well, simply put, because bloggers like Jerry and my day-job boss Kevin let me get away with it. It’s as simple as that. But there is actually a puzzle element to The Vault which I will divulge at the end of the post, so read on.
The Vault is a very high quality machined aluminum box composed of four basic elements: a box frame, a half-cylinder lid, a stainless steel rod to bind them, and a diminutive padlock that secures the whole affair. The box frame is fashioned from separate front, rear, side, and bottom panels. The front and rear are anodized black while the sides and bottom are polished to a mirror finish. Four screws secure the front and rear panels. The semi-cylindrical lid is especially beautiful. It supplies the box with a cross-section appropriate to its moniker. The interior floor and walls are carpeted in velvet to prevent unwanted noise when an item is magically deposited. In the buttoned-up state it is quite hefty, considering its size, and feels very solid in the hand. It could surely be scuffed and dinged if abused, but it is not likely to ever break. All said, it is a very fine piece of work. All this beauty and craftsmanship however, does come at a price. The Vault retails for US$150.
Now, if it is not a puzzle box (i.e., not solvable) what exactly is it? In today’s parlance, it is known as a Lippincott box. This is a handy shorthand used by the magic crowd for a whole family of boxes, most of which employ similar mechanisms. The name comes from Mal Lippincott’s Quarter Go, which hit the market in 1949. Although Mal was quite successful with his product, the box and mechanism actually date back quite a bit further. From what I gather, the earliest published version of such a box is in Professor Hoffman’s 1876 Modern Magic. This audience is surely familiar with Professor Hoffman (pen name of Angelo Lewis) from his 1893 Puzzles Old and New, the bible for collectors of older puzzles. Much as we puzzlers would like to think that Hoffman was a fellow puzzle guy, it appears that magic was his first and best love. He wrote four books on magic between 1876 and 1918. Professor Hoffman can, in a certain sense, be considered the original spoiler for magic. Prior to his publications, magic was a highly secretive, well-guarded art form. That is still true today, to some extent, but after Hoffman the cat was out of the bag (excuse me, the rabbit was out of the hat). It was bound to happen at some point, of course. Today you could fill a library with books on magic.
In Modern Magic we find a nice puzzle box in the form of the Watch Box (pp. 219-220), which can be solved from the outside. As you know, Hoffman’s books are simply compendia of tricks and puzzles known at the time, so the actual “invention” of the mechanism must date even earlier, perhaps very much earlier. It seems that the Lippincott mechanism is a variation on the Watch Box, made smaller for a coin and, critically important, not openable from the outside. Although a “Lippincott” box should probably only refer to such unsolvable boxes, it seems that the term is now widely used for either internally or externally open-able boxes.
It would be the very definition of bad taste to reveal the secret of the Lippincott mechanism here, so of course I won’t. But the interested read can find plans, explanations, and how-to’s all over the interweb. For the solver, it will likely be the solvable versions that are of most interest. The renaissance puzzler, however, with an abiding interest in all puzzle-adjacent phenomena, may find it unobjectionable to own an impossible box like The Vault. As a bonus, that routine you’ve been working on with Flight Case can be used equally well with The Vault.
I promised to provide a puzzle aspect for The Vault, so here it is, simple though it be. In order to have a problem to solve, you first need to resist the urge to research The Vault, Lippincott, or anything related. Simply order The Vault and 1) figure out the mechanism (not hard for a true puzzler), and 2) figure out to vanish and reappear items. How do you do magic with a box you can’t get into? You can check your answer against the video provided by Smesters (it comes with the box). You don’t have to be a magician to figure it out, just work deductively. As for convincingly performing the vanish/reappear? That, my friends, requires practice.
OK, that concludes my short but sweet second JL Puzzles guest blog post. A warm mahalo nui loa to Jerry for once again giving me space here. I promise to review a proper puzzle next time around!