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Himitsu Baku Puzzle Boxes

The Himitsu Baku is a Japanese puzzle box that is currently produced by only nine traditional craftsmen. These artisans are not responsible for creating the Yosegi-Zaiku patterns that adorn their secret boxes, but they are responsible for producing their secret box puzzles virtually alone from beginning to end. Each artisan is responsible for choosing their own wood, then allowing it to dry and curing it. Next, they are responsible for cutting all of the wood pieces and assembling them to create the challenging puzzle box. Finally, they purchase the Yosegi-Zaiku patterns in sheets, and attach them to each face on the box using the right finishing techniques. The youngest of all Himitsu Baku master craftsmen today is around sixty years old, though there are a number of apprentices who are working to learn this unique art so that the tradition can be continued even when the original craftsmen have passed on. 

The original Hakone region Himitsu Baku makers use the 'sun' system when they describe the sizes of their traditional puzzle boxes. "Sun" is a traditional unit of measure in Japan that denotes length, and a single 'sun' is about 30.3 millimeters, or approximately 1.22 inches. This system is most commonly used in order to describe the approximate sizes of the Hakone Puzzle Boxes, but the sun system is not used to describe height or width, or how large or small the inside compartment is. The sun system uses numbers ranging from 1 sun to 7 suns, with 1 sun equaling 1.22 inches, 2 suns equaling 2.44 inches, 4 suns equaling 4.88 inches, six suns equaling 7.32 inches and 7 suns amounting to 8.54 inches. Mame, or miniature boxes range from 1 to 1.5 suns, small boxes range from 2 to 3 suns, 4 sun boxes are medium sized boxes, 5 sun boxes are standard, 6 sun boxes are considered to be large sized boxes, and 7 sun boxes are 'very large'. 

These Himitsu Baku puzzle boxes are not by any means simple to make, because they depend heavily upon the presence of friction in order to work properly, and therefore require that the box is neither too tight nor too loose. As the boxes become larger and more complex, this process can become more and more difficult. If the box is too tight, then the box will not be able to open. If the box is too loose, then the person decoding the puzzle will have too easy a time to do so. The fact that wood is intrinsically unstable also makes it hard for puzzle box makers to create them. 

Himitsu Baku Japanese puzzle boxes come in a variety of different shapes, sizes, designs, difficulties and quality levels, which means all kinds of puzzle enthusiasts can explore a great many different options available to them. As more apprentices learn how to create these innovative puzzles, hopefully the Himitsu Baku tradition will continue.

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