Maurice Vigouroux: An Interview with a Mechanical Puzzle Designer

An interview with Maurice Vigouroux

No challenge is too big for Maurice Vigouroux. Be it the making of the smallest possible burr, or the assembly of a 21845 move puzzle. This French craftsman has been making puzzles for over fifty years in his workshop in Saugues, a village located in the high plateau called the Massif Central in France.

Maurice seemed to be quite surprised by this request from the Metagrobologist. He is very modest about his work. The interview that you are reading is the result of long discussions that have ended with a smile on each face and with hands full of puzzles.

During our communication with Maurice, he kept his spouse nearby him and he demonstrated us each puzzle in detail; in Burrtools or for real, using his realisations.

We hope that you’ll share the pleasure that we had.

MG: Do you recall how you were first introduced to puzzles, and what it was about them that captivated you?

MV: My sister, a teacher, offered me a tangram when I was a child. I asked her ‘Is this game meant for kids ?’ She told me to try to make figures first before discussing it again. That’s how it caught my attention.

I also remember an uncle (who would be more than 100 years old by now) who had been to agricultural school with wood as an option. He made a 6-piece burr puzzle for me being a child. A Carpenter’s Cross, as it is called in french. I used to always have it with me. I even brought it with me in the army. Unfortunately, I must have lost it during a move.

MG: When you first began to create puzzles what were those first designs like?

MV: I don’t remember when I started making puzzles. I made some 6-piece burrs when I was fifteen to sixteen years old. I fabricated my first puzzles with basic manual tools: a plane, a saw and a chisel.

It never became a job. It was a double activity to buy the wood as well as the tools in order to make better ones.

Let’s say that from 1983, having acquired my first combination machine for wood works, I started producing puzzles mainly to offer as exchanges with other collectors or manufacturers.

The first ones that I liked to make were interlocking burrs. The first wood that I used was Carolina pine. A friend who was a carpenter advised me that it was a stable wood.

And it is true. To date, the puzzles that are made of this wood have not moved and are steady and pleasant to play with.

My first sales allowed me to start buying my first exotic woods and thus to introduce colours in my puzzles.

My contacts in the puzzle world, who were very rare at that time, sent me my first books (Puzzle Craft, by Stewart Coffin, Mathematical Puzzles, by Anthony Filipiak…). I studied them for a long time and tried to reproduce the designs.

Then, my brothers offered me the book called Creative Puzzles of the World, written by van Delft and Botermans. The book was a great source of my inspiration. And that tempted me to reproduce most of the designs in wood.

I spent a lot of time on the pentominoes, or on the Japanese crystal, for example.

The Van de Poel, a complicated puzzle, caught my attention. It is a very difficult 18 piece burr. I wondered how to design a similar puzzle with 18 different pieces and no interior space. That’s how I created “Le 18 Pièces”, without the help of a software, at that time. I proceeded with trial and error, removing a voxel from one piece to add it to another.

MG: You have produced puzzles for a wide-range of designers at Arteludes. Can you tell us who you have worked with and the puzzles you enjoyed making?

MV: I enjoy very much working with designers who have now become friends. I think particularly of the French authors Gregory Benedetti and Stéphane Chomine. I also think of those to whom I have been in contact for a long time, from Jerry Slocum before having the Internet to all my current contacts.

I must also mention Jean Carle out of friendship. Jean is a great puzzle collector, who has transferred me a lot of plans, drawings and diagrams that have been a base for a lot of my productions.

MG: How did you meet Jean-Baptiste Jacquin ?

MV: I met Jean-Baptiste Jacquin in 2011 through Guillaume Largounez. He was looking for someone who could manufacture the Tiros. It was Stéphane Chomine who sent him to me.

Jean-Baptiste was present during my visit to Guillaume when I delivered him the finished puzzle. Thus, Jean-Baptiste and I got to know each other.

A Few years before, I was selling puzzles at Christmas and handicraft markets. It was not an easy way to earn money as my time was not really paid back if I count all the hours that I spent on each puzzle. However, I felt good when I was in the workshop, it is a real passion.

When Jean-Baptise saw my stock (a room full of puzzles that I had made), he got the idea to create Arteludes, and thus to share my puzzles with other amateurs.

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