Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chugga chugga...

Well, it's not very streamlined yet, but I have successfully produced 2 full crumble sets with my die press. The board is also produced with a die, and it looks like I guessed right with the measurements for it. I gave 1/8 inch of leeway for the pieces to slide around, which would have been too little with my less-accurate hand-cut sets, but for the die-cut pieces, it's perfect. The pieces are loose enough to fit easily on the board, but not so loose that they get noticeably out of alignment.

The pieces themselves are all nearly identical, which gives me a very satisfied feeling. The die cutting process tends to make the smaller pieces pucker slightly, but I just flatten them out afterwards and they're fine.

Two problems remain before I'll be able to start actually getting them to people. The first is currently that the die press doesn't always cut fully through the material, so the cutting bed probably just needs to be raised by some small fraction of an inch. If that doesn't work, I may need to redesign the dies to have less blade on each die.

The second problem is the noise from the air compressor. Hoo boy! I thought when I decided to go for a low CFM (cubic feet per minute) I'd be getting a quieter compressor. No such luck. So now I'm contemplating building a plywood box and lining it with acoustic foam, and just running the compressor from in there. It won't be perfect, but hopefully I won't have to shout if there's company in the room.

Overall, I'm doing cartwheels. There's currently a pretty big list of people I want to give sets to, and up till now that has meant 4 hours of painstaking measuring and razor blades close to my fingers. Each of these first two die-pressed sets were made in a little over an hour, and I have the prospect of significantly reducing that time after I adjust the die press and streamline the process. If I can get it down to 20 minutes per set, I'll be doing cartwheels, somersaults, and tap dances.

I still haven't used the new sets to play games with anyone other than myself so far. Tomorrow I'm meeting some coworkers for our regular Thursday lunch-n-crumble session, so the sets'll get their first real workout. Hopefully everyone will like them as much as I do.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Crumble Rules Re-Expressed

While crumble was still being developed, my main goal was to keep a document that had all the rules expressed clearly, but not necessarily pithily or with any regard to continuity. That document eventually became what everyone had to refer to when they wanted to learn the game. And that document was a big reason why some newcomers would complain, "but it's so complicated!"

In fact, the rules of crumble are simpler than those of chess, and much, much simpler than many games available today. Recently I spent some time boiling the rules down into what I hope is a very clean, easy-to-understand page. The result can be found at

This is a much more visual document than the previous version, relying primarily on images, with a little text to help guide the way. It also attempts to present its information linearly, with as few forward dependencies as possible.

Whether this latest approach is successful or not is going to depend on the people who read it. I'm trying to get feedback from as many people as possible. So far most assessments are that it's a vast improvement over the previous version. But I plan to keep tweaking it until newcomers barely notice they're learning anything new. That's the ideal, anyway.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

DIYing Fun

I decided to handle the manufacturing myself. There just don't seem to be any companies willing to do relatively small runs at a decent price. The very best price I could find for a single run was still more than it would cost me to set up my own small manufacturing plant.

I decided to go with a die press. Up till now, I've been cutting pieces by hand with an X-Acto knife. It took several hours to make a standard set, and there was the risk of cutting myself, which thankfully has not happened yet. I considered a guillotine cutter, which Will recommended, and which could cut huge piles of pieces very quickly. But it wouldn't produce highly accurate pieces, in fact they'd be less accurate than my hand-cut sets.

I settled on the Tippmann Clicker 1500. It's relatively inexpensive, it has a nifty safety feature requiring both hands to be outside of the press during operation, and it runs on compressed air, which is just fun as well as being environmentally friendly.

The 1500 weighs about 560 lbs, and the table for it is pretty heavy too. Right now they're both sitting on the floor of my living room, an immoveable eyesore until I hire movers to set it up for me.

I'm also ordering dies for the press, from Steel Rule Die. The dies are turning out to be expensive, because of the number of different sized crumble pieces, and the small size of some of the pieces. Below a certain size I need a punch instead of a die, and punches are much more expensive than dies. The folks I've been working with have also not been the absolute best at explaining my options to me, which is a little annoying. But this company was recommended by the Tippmann people, so I'm going with them.

And that's the update. If everything goes according to schedule, I'll be making crumble sets within 3 or 4 weeks. That's when the dies get here. Wish me luck that all my research has not led me astray!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Crumbling In Public

It's been awhile since my last post - here's an update.

I registered and pointed it to the home page. So now when you tell your friends about crumble, you can say, "just check out" instead of "just check out".

The online software is continuing to improve. provides a very cool interface as well as a fairly decent computer opponent.

The manufacturer I was talking with dried up, and the next one I spoke with did the same. It's amazing how difficult it is to hire someone to cut up little pieces of cardboard. But I'm not giving up.

The cool thing that happened very recently though, is that I've started playing in public. A couple weeks ago I met up with my friend Hunter at the Chess Shop by Washington Square Park and we played for awhile, and whole bunches of people stopped and asked about it.

Then last night Hunter, Adam, Camille and I went back and played more, and even more bunches of people asked about it. Everyone had something different to say. Some people thought it was beautiful to look at, lots of people asked what the basic idea was and how to play, and most people stood around and watched, asking questions, speculating about strategy, and just generally being really cool.

It's killing me that I don't have a manufacturer though. I wish one of these places would turn out OK. Not that I expect to make bags of money from a small, one person operation, but at least the people who expressed an interest would be able to take a set home with them...