In my endless pursuit to answer this question, this time I will focus on one of today's most prolific puzzle designers out there - and my favorite - Jean Claude Constantin.
The name suggests a French origin, but Constantin is in fact from Nuremberg, Germany, where he produces in his shop over 70 new designs each year; and having been a puzzle designer for so long, imagine the total number of different puzzles he's been able to make so far.
I currently own about 100 of his puzzles, so I can only dream of having, one day, all of his puzzles...and at the current rate he's making them, it's an almost impossible feat.
Anyone that's familiar with Constantin's puzzles knows what characterizes them, what makes them so appealing to puzzlers and collectors alike.
Any seasoned puzzler can spot a Constantin puzzle quite easily, as his designs always feature something new and clever in their concept.
Their presentation is very well thought-out and elegant, and despite his materials often not being top-notch (laser-cut plywood), you can always count on a high quality finished product at a very reasonable price.
Another impressive aspect about Constantin's puzzles is the diversity of designs available. Today, the majority of puzzle designers only dare to make one type of puzzle, and will perfect that craft over the years - That's the rule.
However, Jean Claude Constantin is one of the few exceptions. He can basically make any type of puzzle, from 2D/3D packing and assembly puzzles to sequential movement, wire/string, interlocking, puzzle boxes...you name it.
And yet, each puzzle will be superbly made as if it were his first-ever design, having its own personality and special features.
No matter what your collection focuses on, one thing is certain: Constantin has at least one puzzle that satisfies all your requirements.
While most of Constantin's designs are made using plywood, he also has pretty interesting puzzles made from natural wood, like the Skyline, or the Eingeengt, or the Metalwurfel, or the Brochettes, just to name a few... As you can expect, these puzzles tend to be more expensive, but considering the materials used and their level of detail, they're still quite cheaper than many other renowned craftsmen's.
Whether it's natural wood, or simply plywood, another important trait in Constantin's designs is the use of many different wood shades, sometimes combined with other materials such as metal. Since the colors are all natural and not painted, it results in a more beautiful and exquisite effect for all his puzzles.
An example of this, seen in this rather simple design, the 1 x 9, nine different wood colors are being used for the pieces plus another one for the frame. Two other gorgeous puzzles that make good use of this design philosophy are the Jahresringe and the Pentag Zigzag, both made from eight different wood colors (pieces plus frame). Even when a puzzle consists of just two wood tones, he chooses two highly contrasting colors for maximum effect, like the Tetris puzzle seen below.
Packing Puzzles are one of my favorite type of puzzles, and Constantin provides me with way more designs than I can handle, so it's always a difficult task having to choose a couple of them whenever I want to place a new order at a puzzle store.
Having been collecting puzzles for over six years now doesn't give me the time (or money) necessary to own every single packing puzzle he makes, but I believe the ones I already have are sufficient to have, at least, scratched the surface.
If Packing Puzzles are not your thing, not to worry... Constantin has something for everybody, and one of the most popular type of puzzles lately proves just that.
I'm talking about n-ary puzzles, of course, the favorite subject of experienced puzzlers that demand harder challenges and beautiful designs to go with it. N-ary puzzles are sequential movement puzzles that require a recursive solution.
The first n-ary puzzle was the Chinese Rings, invented in the 10th century. Because the solution is interpreted as having only two states (0 or 1), it's called a binary puzzle. Over the years, puzzles have evolved to ever more complex designs and today you can see ternary, quaternary, quinary...up to 15-ary (or quindenary) - this n-ary record holder belongs to Jean Claude Constantin's Generation Lock with a whopping 340,000,000+ moves. You'd need a few extra lifetimes to solve this one...
Constantin is also an authority on puzzle boxes (also known as trick boxes), another soft spot of my collection and the subject of a few personal favorites. His designs are a bit different from the traditional Japanese Puzzle Boxes, but that doesn't mean they're not as impressive.
Usually, his puzzle boxes are very well decorated and unlike their older cousins, only a couple of moves are necessary to open them. Mind you, a couple of very-difficult-to-figure-out moves.
These boxes are considered as perfect gifts for puzzle enthusiasts, since you can always hide a surprise inside (money, jewelry, or other similarly sized objects) for when that person opens the box.
Last, but not least, Trick Locks... This is yet another fascinating type of puzzles that has a wide variety of designs and concepts – a category still lacking in my collection - and there are people that devote entire collections exclusively for these puzzles.
As expected, Constantin has a very important role on the design of some of the most impressive trick locks out there.
Trick locks can have between two to hundreds of steps necessary to unlock them. Some have hidden mechanisms, where you need to use other senses besides your vision; most of them don't even need a key in order to be opened, while others need a more patient solver, since there are some locks that make a clever use of the n-ary concept, and Constantin seems to be an expert in this field.
Whether you're a veteran puzzler or you're just venturing into this fantastic hobby, having a few Constantin puzzles will go a long way to enrich your collection. After seeing so many beautiful designs by this talented puzzle designer, I can truly say that there's nothing he can't do when it comes to wooden puzzles.
What's mind-boggling is that he doesn't seem to be running out of ideas anytime soon, and for that I can hardly wait to see the next 70 or so new designs he has in store for us next year.