Introduction: The Christmas Box

About: Old Soul and endless Tinkerer. Maker of Things!

Hi all! "D" here again for a prequel of sorts. I've already done a few Instructables, The Christmas Box ll, The Christmas Machine, and a Walkthrough. But there might have been a few of you asking, "Where's the original Christmas Box? Why didn't he do that one first?"

Well there was a reason holding me back that I've finally come to grips with...

Five or so years ago, I came upon Instructables for the first time. I had been looking to make a puzzle box for my boys. Christmas was around the corner and they were going to get two special presents that deserved a classy presentation, as well as a bit of work on their part. You see, they were getting cellphones for the first time, (almost a safety device these days), and the ones they were getting were better than mine! So I felt a bit of work on their part was definitely in order. But how to do it in a positive way that would also be enjoyable and a learning experience to boot?

While scrolling through Pinterest I found a picture of an "Enigma Box" and tracked it back to Instructables. A new world opened up. I've always considered myself fairly creative but, WOW! The things I saw! LOL

And there was my problem. I went looking through all the great ideas I found and kept coming back to the Enigma Box. It was almost perfect for what I needed. I actually thought about asking if the builder would make one for me. But what fun would that be?

Once I settled on an idea and started planning things out I started feeling bad, like I was stealing his ideas. It took me awhile to get over that. After all, we all would prefer to come up with fantastic ideas on our own. And I must say we most certainly do! But I had to accept the fact that every great idea we get in life has to come from somewhere and the great people that publish their works here are proud of what they make and want to share their ideas with others.

But I still felt a bit weird putting a first Instructable out there that wasn't based on one of my own ideas.

So now that I have a few under my belt, I would like to dedicate this Instructable to "TXTCLA55" who started me down this path. You can see his great Instructable on "The Enigma Box" here. The Enigma Box

Step 1: ...Changes Are a Comin'

The box shown in the "Enigma Box" Instructable seemed to have been created as a visual aid to help explain the workings and construction of such a box, and it served its intended purpose. However, my plans required my box to serve as a presentation box as well as a springboard, or hub, for other "satellite" puzzles that my boys were to find throughout their mysterious Christmas journey. I wanted it to be more finished and more robust, and it would also have to contain a few new mechanisms and tricks not found in the original.

I wanted to make it in such a way that it would not only survive its initial use, but could go on to become a family treasure that could be displayed and remembered if future generations so chose. Hopefully they will.

Also, on the Enigma Box, the electrical components were installed throughout the lid and lower section of the box. This would not work for me as my box was already shallow in height and I needed as much room as I could squeeze out of it for the gifts. It was at this point that I realized that if I could fit all of the components needed into the lid it would wind up being a lifesaver towards saving space. And it was. Also, it would clean up the overall appearance of the work allowing the box to look more refined and sophisticated. Of course this meant I would end up having to fit 15 toggle switches, 2 snap switches, 2 pilot lights, a battery, its mount and a mercury switch onto and into an already small lid. Good times!

Step 2: I Knew I Saved It for a Reason...

I had a small box in my garage. To be honest, I think it had me. As long as I have been alive I remember that little box being there. When I was a kid I remember seeing it in my dad's dresser. After he passed it went into a closet. Growing up I would spot it in various places always with different things inside. When it was time to sell my family home I spotted it in a cardboard box in my garage. I was going to throw it out but something told me to keep it. Now I understood why I did. Now it would finally find its purpose. These pictures are not ones of my box but you get the idea. I never took a picture of the box in its original state, for the reasons I stated earlier. I never planned on giving it an Instructable.

Step 3: Groundrules...

The box was old, somewhere between vintage and antique. I had read other Instructables that had used Raspberry Pi's or Arduinos to control functions and centralize inputs and outputs on various builds. While this would have simplified things greatly and increased the things I could have made the box do, I felt it was important to stay true to the box itself. I wanted to try and keep the box as much of a period piece as I could. I wanted only to use components that would have been available at the time it was originally made, or items that had been made earlier. Things a mad inventor might have had laying around his shop from years passed.

Step 4: Switches, Switches, and More Switches!

The main locking mechanism for the box would require fitting as many switches as I could onto the top of the box. The switches would have to be placed in the correct positions to allow power to flow to the main locking mechanism. This wound up being fifteen single pole double throw toggle switches I found at a vintage electrical supply shop. I noticed in the Enigma Box Instructable that single pole single throw switches were used. I realized that if I used that type of switch, all that would have to be done to open the box would be to turn all the switches to the on position, completely destroying the need for a combination.

Single pole single throw switches are either on or off. If all switches were installed facing the same direction, that direction would always be on. Single pole dual throw switches have two separate outputs, one for each throw position of the switch and each leads to a different output terminal on the switch.

I guess you could say that instead of just needing six or eight switches to be placed in the correct position, all of the switches would have to be placed in the correct position, and depending on how I wired them, they could be whatever position I chose them to be. This would completely eliminate the chance of a person randomly being able to open the box. But if they did, I'd buy a lottery ticket!

(If you only have access to single output switches you could turn the switches that are not in your combination upside down in relation to the others and run the power through all of the switches in series. That way all of the switches would have to be in the correct position.)

Step 5: Switches Need Holes...

OK so I was going to use toggle switches as my lock. Well toggle switches needed holes drilled in the top of the box to mount the switches through. And it was at this point that I had my first "Holy @#$%" moment.

When I began to drill the first hole, the wood began to splinter from the top of the box. Luckily I stopped the drill in time. I contacted a friend of mine that does woodwork and he recommended using a few layers of painters tape on top of the box to keep the wood fibers in place. Please, for the love of whatever you hold holy, if you try this, make sure you use the light stick blue or green painters tape to do this work. Other types of tape will literally pull the wood right off the top of the box. If the tape gets a bit hard to remove, a few passes with a hair dryer on low heat should help remove it.

You may notice that on my box I sunk the switch holes a bit below the surface of the top. I wanted to give the box a more finished look and it seemed to do the job. The first drill bit pictured here is called a spade bit. It makes drilling these types of recesses much easier. If you can, remove the box top and use a drill press to do it. Again, much easier. Remember, if you take this step, drill very lightly and slowly. You can always drill a bit deeper, but you can't put the wood back!

Also, make sure you lay out your design and spacing for the switches in advance. Think it completely through and plot things out with a very light pencil mark. Don't forget to take into account the offset for the side panels of your box when laying out your switches. If you don't, the switches will be in the way and the box won't close. Re-check yourself as many times as you feel you need to, then, check again! Remember, this is not a video game. There are no resets or do-overs! I almost blew it myself!

Step 6: Making Things Personal...

Ok. So I had the switches in place, but it wasn't enough. I wanted to go further. I needed a way to make the box more magical and personal. One day I was rummaging through my local Michael's Store and came across a selection of small steampunkish do-dads. Among them I found two rectangular pendants that looked like they were designed specifically so that you could make your own jewelry out of them. They were perfectly flat and squared so I thought I might be able to do something with them. I decided to try to use them as a type of key to turn the box on. But, this would mean that the keys would have to be inserted in the box somehow. I was able to have a good friend mill two slots in the box's lid just the right size for the pendants to fit through. I then positioned a snap action switch next to each of the slots in such a way that the switches would be activated when each pendant (key) was inserted. I also purchased two leather necklaces and a package of craft alphabet letters and tried to artfully add them to turn the do-dads into fully functioning and personalized necklaces and keys. This would be important later!

Step 7: Wiring

Once the switches were in place, it was time to get things wired up. I decided to make the circuit form a big loop, or series circuit. A series electrical circuit forms a single path for the electrical current to flow, kind of like water through a hose. By doing things this way, not only would the switches specified in the combination need to be in one specific position (as in the Enigma Box), the remaining switches would also have to be placed in the exact opposite position. I guess you could say that instead of a certain number of switches having to be placed in the correct position, all fifteen switches would have to be placed in whatever position I chose them to be in. If just one was not set correctly, the box would not open. The power would start at the source (a nine volt battery) travel through each of the snap switches, and continue on through all fifteen toggle switches until it reached its final destination. That destination wound up being a small 6-12 volt pull action solenoid positioned in the top of the box. The pilot lights would run in parallel to this circuit and their current would follow its own path back to ground (-). This can be seen in the diagram above. Below the solenoid you can see the brass strip and its latching hole that the solenoid's plunger fits into, when closed, to keep the box locked and secure.

A mercury level switch was placed inline just before the solenoid to cut power when the lid was raised to lengthen battery life.

A mercury switch is a switch that will only flow electrical current when placed in a specific orientation, or placed at a specific angle. When placed in the proper position, the small dab of mercury makes contact with the two nodes within the glass bulb and completes a path for the electrical current to flow. Different sizes and mounting types are available at electronic stores or online. The last image above is an example of this type of switch.

Step 8: Thoughts on Power

The Enigma box used LED Lights to indicate the box's state of operation. One to tell it was powered on, and a second to indicate it could be opened. The builder ran resistors in parallel with the lights so they wouldn't burn out. This was because the LED's run on far less voltage than the solenoid he used to open the box. This again is not a bad thing and it is done quite frequently in electronic devices.

I like to keep my projects simple. The fewer components I can use means that there are less of them that can fail on me later. And seeing that I seem to eat lunch with MURPHY every day, I make a point to try to keep parts and components to a minimum.

When I settled on a nine volt battery for my power supply I decided to try to keep all the powered components in the box capable of running on nine volts DC power, that way no resistors or other voltage matching components would be needed. The solenoid (I purchased mine from Adafruit) will operate on DC voltage six to twelve. The pilot lights were vintage units that are capable of having bulbs of different voltages placed within them.

Twelve volt pilot lights are available at hardware and auto part stores. The nine volt battery will power them, they will just be a bit dimmer than normal. Look for ones with low ampere values so they will not eat a lot of power. Or if you want to keep them nine volts to match the battery, you can find nine volt pilot lights online. Different sizes and types are available.

Step 9: Makin' It Nice!

The finish on my box was, shall we say, gone. The box was at least as old as me "don't ask" and needed a makeover. A few years before I started building it I found a vintage bottle of surface restorer and picked it up in case I ever needed it. It was nice using a vintage product on a vintage box. If you build your own box and want to change its look you can find similar products at home centers and antique stores. They even had the same brand as the one I used at the supermarket.

The box went through a few changes along the way. I added different corner protectors and bits and pieces of decoration. If you do a search for box corner protectors or decorative box feet, you will find there are many to choose from.

Also, I cut some balsa wood pieces to fit and wrapped them in foam. I then covered them in a bit of red holiday fabric and hot glued the rear of the pieces to hold it on. I then fit them in place hand set. I didn't want to glue them in, just in case they needed to be removed.

Step 10: Making It Sneakproof

The enigma box was built with two standard external hinges. You can just make them out in the first photo. A good choice for a prototype that was being used to create an Instructable as it was simple to install and allowed the builder to quickly move on to other more important aspects of the build. I sensed the builder was more concerned with getting his overall ideas across rather than making a final version of his work, and that's not a bad thing. Or, the box may have been found that way and he simply continued on with it to create the more creative aspects of his idea. Either way, no harm done. My box originally came fitted with an external brass piano hinge across the rear keeping the lid secure. This hinge was held in place with Phillips screws that could easily be removed by shall we say a young boy or two looking for an easy way to bypass my mysterious journey of clues and deeds. No! This box had to withstand the torture of two rabidly aggravated and frustrated young boys trying to gain access to hidden presents! So planning ahead, I removed that hinge and installed a set of heavy duty oversized hinges and secured them with tamper proof nuts and bolts. I thought of switching to a hidden internal hinge but the ones I went with looked amazing to me and increased the WOW factor of the box. I also reinforced the mounting of the solenoid and the brass strip so it could not easily be pulled open. It also helped that the little guy was pretty sturdy to start with. Its true. They don't make 'em like they used to! I also included a warning in the book they were to receive that the box was equipped with internal systems that would destroy its contents if they attempted to break into it (very Da Vinci Code right?). I thought the warning would be enough, and it was. But I did catch them brainstorming on how they might get it open in case of an emergency. Right! LOL

You might want to create a way to open your box in the event that you lose power, or the solenoid becomes jammed, or for any reason refuses to function. Once you mount the solenoid you can drill a tiny hole in the box directly in front of it, too small to be easily seen, where you can fit a very thin piece of wire, and use that wire to push the solenoid manually. (You can conceal such a hole with some type of decoration or wood putty.) You also could use tamper proof screws instead of tamper proof nuts and bolts to hold the hinges on. That way you could back them out to remove the hinges if anything went wrong. Not everyone knows where to get tamper proof screws, and they sure won't have the bit required to remove them just sitting around in a drawer somewhere. Your box would still be secure from inappropriate meddling while still having a "way out".

As for me, my box would have no such way out. If it failed, something was getting cut! LOL!

"In for a dime, in for a dollar!"

Step 11: Box Operation

So, the opening process goes as follows...

1. Find all clues and perform all tasks necessary to gather the items and information needed to attempt to open said box. More on this later!

2. Insert the twin "keys" into the side panel of the box's lid.

This will turn on a green indicator light in the lid letting you know it is powered on.

3. Use the clues you've discovered to set the appropriate switches in their "correct" position.

4. When you see the white light. Open that box!

Step 12: ...and the Games Began

From here on I will attempt to give a short description of the things my boys did (or went through, depends on your point of view LOL) to open the box. I think I enjoyed it more than they did. But thankfully, they really did enjoy it!

Step 13: Thanksgiving

The boys received an envelope from a stranger dressed up in clothes straight out of "A Christmas Carol". I think this was the first time they used Google Translate. Translated it says "The Christmas Box arriving December 2014!"

Step 14: Wonderous Things

A week or so later they received a package in the mail containing seemingly random objects.

Step 15: Special Delivery!

A few Days later, the box was delivered in a small crate filled with straw by a performer friend of mine that I work with now and again. He was dressed in Dicken's type attire and spoke with a hi brow British accent. He asked for my boys by name, Master Macklund and Master Ian, and informed them that this crate was being gifted to them by an unknown benefactor. They were then told to cherish the magic of Christmas and never let their hearts grow too old to dream. It was quite the scene.

Step 16: The Book

Later, this book was given to the boys by Santa when they took a Christmas picture at the mall. The book was filled with the clues necessary to solve the box's riddles and puzzles. It also contained gift cards and they were told that the cards could be used to buy gifts for whoever they wished while they were shopping at the mall.

Step 17: The Antique Store

They tried and tried to make things happen with the box but nothing would work. One day I suggested we go shopping to get their minds off of it. I took them to an antique store, where I go quite a bit to look for bits and pieces, and told them to look around for something for their mom. I then asked the kind lady at the counter if she would place the pendants in one of her jewelry cases with price tags on them. When the boys saw them they came running. "Dad, there are necklaces with our names on them!" I did my best to seem shocked and agreed to purchase them, but told them not to show their Mom because they were already going to get presents for Christmas and she might get mad that we bought more. When we got home, they received a call from my performer friend and he congratulated them on finding the "Keys" he had left for them. He wished them well and told them that he hoped the keys would assist them in solving the box! It took a bit of investigating, but they finally got it! The keys were inserted and...

The Box was live!

Step 18: Puzzle 1

"The Pen is Brightier Than the Sword" is a reference to a special writing pen that they found in the objects that originally came for them. It had a small light on one end and when they shined the light on the back of the page, small boxes appeared and beside the boxes was written "cut me out", so they did. When they were young, "The Pet Shop Boys" was one of their favorite bands. I created a letter from a distant relative of ours (fictional) and when they placed the cutout page over it, the words in the cutouts read Pet Shop Boys Dancing. This was a reference to one of their favorite songs, "Domino Dancing". They ran to the random items, found the domino pendant, and put it aside. It wasn't until much later that they realized that they had to throw all of the first four switches in that row, not just the fourth one, to solve the box!

Step 19: Puzzle 2

The second page read "Half OPEN". They found some scrabble tiles among their items and arranged them to spell "OPEN". When you add up the number values of the tiles it comes out to six. And half of six is three. And yes, my wife was amazed that they got it quite quickly!

Step 20: Puzzle 3

The last page of the book contained a letter from our fictional ancestor to his bride. It asked for a number plate from their old apartment. Again, they went and found it in the pile of things.

They struggled to figure out what to do with it. Then later on they went back to the page and noticed that on the back (drawn very lightly) were three mathematical symbols -++ 1929 1-9+2+9=3

Step 21: Acts of Giving

Along the way, their unknown benefactor asked them to give a bit back. They were told that they didn't have to do these things, but I was quite proud when they did. And yes, none of these things will change the world, but for two young boys trying to do a little good it was more than enough for me!

Step 22: OK, Now What?

Did you notice anything on the puzzle pages? In the lower corners were small dots: one, two, then three. These were clues as to which row of switches corresponded to which clue in the book. On the side of the box I added small iron brad tacks - one, two, and three. Once they matched the number of nails to the dots on the clues they figured out which switches to throw opened, and all was right with the world.

I didn't realize how much doing something like this would affect me, or how much of an adventure it could turn into for two young boys. Hopefully it, and the other Christmas adventures I have made for them {The Christmas Box ll, The Christmas Box lll, and, The Christmas Machine}, will be things they can remember throughout their grown up lives. Who knows, maybe it can start, for them, a new tradition. Check out The Christmas Box ll and the Christmas Machine here on Instructables. They're not half bad. There's even a Walkthrough!

There comes a point when you look back and say, "I wish I had done so much more with my kids."

It's very true. They're only young once, and there's so much more I wish I had done. Do something fun and crazy for your kids. If just one of you does anything because of something I've written, then it's been worth all of the writing, rewriting, and rewriting lol.

Step 23: A Place to Start

If you would like to make a similar project I'll do my best to put a basic parts and tool list together. Depending on what you choose to do you can add or take away as needed.

Forgive me, but I don't want to send you down a path with links and
retailers where I found the exact parts I used. The parts I've listed are rather common and things like the switches and decorations can be changed up to suite your own creative preferences. Instead of a Christmas Box, how about a Birthday Box. Perhaps something for Valentine's Day, or an Anniversary? Instead of toggle switches, try slide switches, or numeric code switches. Push buttons could work as well. Instead of a solenoid, try using a servo, or a linear actuator. Instead of a small box, use a suitcase or steamer trunk. The possibilities are endless. Let your box be a reflection of you.


Box of your choice-1

Nine Volt battery with mount of your choice-1

SPDT or (three way) toggle switches-as per your design

Snap action micro switches-2

Pilot lights-2

DC Solenoid 6-12 volt Pull type-1

Stranded or solid wire-as needed

Brass bar stock 1/8" by 1" by 8"

Tamper proof screws, nuts and bolts-as needed

Craft balsa wood square stock stick 1/4" by 1/4" by 1 ft.

Decorative corner protectors, feet and other embellishments-as per taste.


Screwdrivers-as needed

Drill bits-as needed

Pointed Punch

Wood craft saw

Dremel tool (optional as needed)

Thin wall socket-sized to tighten toggle switches and pilot lights onto box if needed

Green painters tape

Wire cutters

Drills or drill press- as needed

Patience, lots and lots of Patience!

Looking back on things, it would have been soooooo helpful to have had someone else there to build with. Just having someone to bounce ideas off of would have lead to far less frustration and I might have had a few good ideas suggested to me along the way. Just having a second set of eyes to double check my measurements and choices would have helped save me from myself (I almost ruined the box a few times along the way). So all things considered I would recommend it, if for no other reason than to save yourself some headaches. But as this was my first attempt at such a project, I chose to go it alone. Well, me and "TXTCLA55" anyway! You might feel the same, and either way I know that crafting such a work would be quite enjoyable and fulfilling! Give it a shot! If you do, please post your work in the comments, or "I made it" sections. I would love to see them!

Step 24: Epilogue

Thanks for reading along. This Instructable was long overdue. If anyone has used anything I've come up with in any of my Instructables to their benefit, a big thumbs up to you! Again, a big, big thanks to "TXTCLA55" for the big hunk of inspiration! We can all learn so much from each other, and we are all bigger and better together! Make something amazing! But don't just make a duplicate. Make it your Own!


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