The hard loops of steel interlock in what might seem like an impossible tangle – but it isn't impossible. It's a three-dimensional brainteaser made of metal, the goal of which is to manipulate its multiple parts to remove the metal ring, heart, or shuttle, and there's actually more than one solution.
With a few dextrous motions and a few clanks of metal, Dennis Sucilsky manages to remove the metal ring within moments. It's nearly a no-brainer for him; he's the one who designed it, after all, along with 30 other steel creations called "tavern puzzles" which blur the line between artistic intuition and mechanical functionality.
"I'm not sure if it's our art, or our puzzles, that people like," he said.
Sucilsky is a museum-trained blacksmith who started out making 18th- and 19th-century building hardware as an apprentice at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration in the 1970s. Through his research, he discovered blacksmiths used to forge iron puzzles to amuse their friends at taverns or inns. In 1982, Sucilsky launched a modern-day collection of these puzzles based on traditional forms as well as his own original designs. Today, he operates his tavern puzzle business, Tucker-Jones House Inc., out of an East Setauket production facility where each puzzle is made and assembled by hand.
A tavern puzzle begins its life as a steel bar made of 70 percent recycled metal and 30 percent virgin material. The bars are cut to a certain length before they are bent into shapes using either air pressure or hydraulics – or the old fashioned way, by hand.
"What we can't have is any variation once we start the process," Sucilsky said.
After the puzzle is assembled, it goes through a vibratory tumbler to remove its hard edges and unify the metal's color. It's steam-cleaned and coated with an acrylic-ammonia combination to keep from rusting before it's given its final finish.
Sucilsky creates his designs out of his blacksmith's studio in the Tucker-Jones House at the corner of Ridgeway and Main – where he still houses his pump-bellowed, coal-fired forge. He used to do demonstrations at schools and historical ironwork for restoration projects, but now, his tavern puzzle collection is his full-time focus.
Sucilsky designs one new puzzle per year, which is completed no later than November. Just in time for the trade show season to start: he travels the country attending gift shows and craft shows with his tavern puzzles. He also sells through his website and in a variety of catalogs. All of his tavern puzzles retail for $22, regardless of difficulty. Stands and wall racks are available for $14.
He has a number of local fans who order his new puzzles whenever they come out. He frequently sends puzzles to customers in places like France, England, Spain, Greece, Singapore, and Canada.
Where you won't be able to find them sold, however: right here in town. Despite Three Village's historical identity and cultural awareness, Sucilsky said he has been unable to find a local outlet for his puzzles.
"We'll keep working at it," he said. "Something made in your town is more desirable than something made in China. At least when people buy our stuff it comes with a story."