Introduction: The Christmas Box 5: "The Christmas Machine": a Journey's End

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

Greetings fellow creators and hopes that all is well in our respective worlds. "D" here again and I come to you with mixed emotions on the last of my Christmas Box Projects. It appears that change and time itself have conspired against me and I find that the old saying is surely true. All things must come to an end. If you have read my first instructable "The Christmas Box Two" You already have an idea of why I started doing all this, and how my other, well, second Box turned out. If not take a look, it's not too bad. Anyway, High school, college, friends, girls and life in general have plotted against me and my boys are losing the time and desire to follow me on these holiday adventures, but I suppose that is as it should be. Memories (good ones) are the building blocks of dreams and if my constructions and little adventures have given them cause to look back on their lives and smile then they have been worth all the time and effort spent. Yes, this is an end, my final Christmas Box. But with all I've tried to accomplish, all I've tried to do, this one had to be special. A box for gifts just wouldn't do. So friends I present my final work... The Christmas Machine!

Here's hoping that you will travel with me on this final quest to show that the journey is sometimes the best part of the trip, and it is still far better to give than receive. This read might take a while. Feel free to drop off and come back to it when you have the urge and the time. I'm pretty sure it will still be here...

Step 1: A Beginning...

It all started with this brass calendar. A strange place to start, but there it was. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it but somehow I knew it was the beginning.

This time it had to be big. Bigger than a box anyway. And I had to change things up a bit. My boys are smart and I must admit it was becoming a challenge keeping their interest around the holidays.

One of the things about this project that made it so enjoyable is that it almost seemed like it was meant to happen. There were so many times that I would get stuck, or think that I would never find a certain piece or part that would fit and then WHAM something would pop up.

Often I would find things and say "I need that" I wasn't really sure why I needed it, I was just sure I did.

It's OK my wife didn't believe me either.

Step 2: A Lockbox With No Locks...

The Nature of a puzzle box is to do whatever you have to do to get inside right? Makes sense enough. This was when it came to me. I would change the game from the very start. When my boys found the machine, they found it open, the drawer was not locked in any way and there were items inside it for them to peruse and ponder. Everything on and in it was available for them to manipulate and strategize. This actually set them off a bit. I must admit it was a surprise, and not in a good way, at first.

The machine is based on a nightstand called a "Waterfall". I had seen similar styles of table before but never knew the actual name. The problem was, what to do with it, what could I make it do?

Step 3: ...I Meant to Do That!

My idea was to mount the calendar in the center on top of the nightstand surrounded by a large brass alloy casting that I had found. I was told the casting was a decorative piece that went on a wall to hide the opening when a water or steam pipe would project through the wall. I loved the way it looked except,...when I went to mount it I was off in measuring the center of the nightstand. I was a half inch too far to the left. What the @%$!!! was I gonna do now, I just started this thing and now...

Step 4: ...Get Hold of Yourself!

OK, OK, relax D. there had to be something I could do right?? I had some spare brass strips in my shop. I cut one to fit and tried to make it look like it was meant to be that way. But now I had no idea what to do with that area. I was just thinking of leaving it that way.

Step 5: The First Lock

This was the first "HEY" moment of the whole project. Being an Electrician by trade, my puzzles have tended to include at least some type of electrically based activation for a movement or mechanism {except for box 3}. This time I needed to expand on things a bit. Trying to make form follow function while keeping things as aesthetically pleasing and old school as possible, I chose to keep this project based on electro-mechanical principles. No electronics unless absolutely necessary. This made things more difficult, but a lot more fun. And seeing as I had done the same with my other boxes, this kept the original theme of my work. I decided to base this lock on the principle of electrolytic fluidity. Certain fluids conduct electricity. Some do far better than others. Somewhere along the line my boys would be given clues to formulate a fluid to act as a switch to close a circuit.

Once the electrolytic fluid formula was found it would be poured into the small copper spout at the front of the machine and would flow through the half inch copper pipe toward the rear where it would fill a small inverted brass bell and allow electrical current to flow between two pieces of copper wire that dipped into the bell. This would continue the main power circuit through the machine on its way to the next lock.

The brass filter and catch basin were found at an antique store. It is a wall mounted ash tray and match holder. The small dinner bell was cast in two pieces and I was able to unscrew the handle, drill a small hole in the tray, and refit it using small rubber washers to seal around the base. The catch basin (ash tray) would catch excess fluid if they overfilled the bell. The solid copper wire on the back acts as the path for the box's main electrical current to flow through. If you think you notice a problem with it, you most certainly do. More on that in the walkthrough.

Step 6: ...Yeah, That Fits!

OK, this is one of those happenstance-serendipity things. I bought an old Ford ampere gauge, didn't really need it. To this day I'm not sure why I even picked it up. Then a few days later I found myself buying a few antique brass drawer pulls to see if I liked any of them better than the one that originally came with the nightstand. While test fitting them my eye was drawn to a really bad watermark on the top of the nightstand. I noticed that the gauge just about covered the unsightly blemish, and so, in it went. I then noticed that one of the drawer pulls fit right over the gauge, kind of like a protective cover. Yeah, I didn't know what it would do yet but it looked great. If nothing else the gauge could show when the machine was on. Little did I know...

Step 7: What to Do With the Calendar?

The piece that started it all, the calendar. It was nice. But it needed to do something. My original plan was to devise 12 steps for solving the Machine. Each step would be indicated by a 12 position switch inside the calendar corresponding to the 12 months of the year and the signs of the zodiac. unfortunately I couldn't fit 12 puzzles into the box itself and the entire project was becoming far too complex for the available space.

I settled for having 6 puzzles reside within the Machine itself and decided to have another six live outside in other "satellite" objects that my boys would find along the way. More on those later.

I also created char residue, or electrical arc blast marks that appear on the month of December and the date of the 25th for dramatic effect. Almost as if the surface had been purposefully defaced. Perhaps as a warning or a sign.

I modified the calendar (almost broke it is more the case) mounting a 5 position switch in its center mated to a vintage potentiometer dial face.

The rotary switch would not fit within the calendar so I had to mill out the back and add a bit of theatrical flair to hide my work. The two copper tubes carry the wiring to and from the switch to the internal craziness of wiring within the machine.

During the Quest the switch would have to be set to the proper number, 1-6, to attempt to solve that specific segment of the Machine.

Step 8: The Light Fountain

I needed six acts in total to solve the machine. It was at this point that I decided to try to do something with a spare laser pointer I had purchased as a play toy for my dog. Looking on Ebay, I noticed that small electrical relays were available that would change state (turn on and off) when its receiver sensed a signal from a laser. And the second lock or "switch" was in the making. this emitter's official name became the "Light Fountain" The base bezel is an Art Nouveau peep hole cover. This however would later be changed.

Step 9: The Light Well

At this point I started thinking, if you have a fountain then why not a Well? If I was going to make a laser beam activate a switch, how would I get the light directed to it?? where would the light go. In a story sense I mean?

It was at this point that I decided to remove the internals from the Ford Gauge and place the laser activated receiver beneath it. I made a small hole in the black paper backing just big enough for light to pass through. A few days later I was at a second hand store and found a small brass oil lamp that was missing its glass globe and thought it would make a nice miniature model of a fortified and protected Well or Cistern. I allowed the drawer pull that covered the ampere gauge to be removable and modified the oil lamp to fit in its place if it was removed. It would have to be removed for the laser beam to shoot back down into the machine to move on to the next step. It was also necessary to mill a hole in the bottom of the lamp so the laser could pass through to the switch below. More on how it would work in the walkthrough.

Step 10: The Music Box

I was going through a great little antique store not far from my home when I came upon an 1800s vintage music box. It had small record like discs that would turn and play like a 45 rpm record, but holes on the discs would ring chimes in the box to make the sounds rather than play through a speaker. I thought "wouldn't it be funny if the boys got to a certain point and music box type music began to play? Would they think that the whole machine was just a big music box? I decided that the music just might be a cool way of showing them they were on the right track in solving the mysteries of the machine. I was pretty sure they wouldn't just stop there. They didn't.

The speaker for the music box was pieced together with an explosion proof light base and other brass and copper pieces I had found over the years. It didn't seem finished. It wasn't. More on that later!

For a power supply and amp I dissected a small bluetooth speaker and wired it into the machine's internals. This way I could also change the music if I wanted to.

To my surprise I found that music box Christmas songs are available on iTunes and sound absolutely like they come straight out of an antique music box. It was Great!

Step 11: The Bread Mold

A few weeks later I was stuck as far as ideas went. Work, home, the universe itself just seemed to be against me. And then, at a salvation army store, it happened. The bread mold. I wasn't sure why, but I knew I needed it.

Step 12: Vintage Binary Switch Assembly

Wow, that was a mouthful. When I got that little bread mold home I found that it fit just about perfectly between the legs of the nightstand, although a little Dremel work was needed to fit it tightly between them. Its length lended itself to providing just enough room for eight 3 way switches, a master switch, and a lighted buzzer. If the switches were positioned incorrectly and the main switch was thrown, the buzzer would sound and the light would flash red. If the correct code was set there would be heard only the sweet sounds of music box style Christmas music heard through the speaker on the machine. Third lock/switch complete!

More on the code in the walkthrough.

Step 13: The Snowflake Switch

In one of the last pictures you might have noticed the gold snowflake cover sitting over the speaker. Its not just a cover, it's another lock, or a switch if you like, actually it's more like a key. when I placed it on the speaker, for s@#$% and giggles, I noticed that it fit snugly into the brass fingers i had mounted to the speaker. I needed to do more with it and by insulating the brass fingers from all the other metal parts and running wires to two of them I was able to use the snowflake as a kind of fuse or knife switch completing the activation circuit of the machine when it was put into place. Again, more on that in the walkthrough.

Step 14: The Christmas Knight's Enigma Machine

What's a good puzzle without a little good old fashioned code breakin'. I went online and found a set of Enigma Machine type code wheels and proceeded to use them to encode some of the clues necessary to finish the machine. This would eventually become one of the six steps needed to solve the machine. The boys followed clues to find the wheels where I had hidden them in certain Arabic styled brass trinket boxes. Once they were found they had to set them in place in the proper relation to each other and in the proper order. Each gear has a different number of spokes as well as a different letter sequence so it took a while for them to figure out how to set them in place on the machine correctly. Once they were set small nailheads sitting close to the gears would indicate where to place the coded letters on the upper gear and then the solved letter would appear next to a similar nail next to the lower gear. The magnifying lens could be moved to the upper and lower gear to make things easier to read. Don't forget the miniature knight's sword, it will be important later!

Step 15: The Iris

There was one side of the Machine that was untouched, just sitting there. I still needed one more step in my adventure.

I had seen several instructables on Iris apertures but knew I would never have the time to make one myself (this project was already a year late). On ETSY I found a great builder "CNCAUTOMATIC" and he was kind enough to modify one of his existing laser cut iris aperture programs to suite my needs.

The Iris was then mounted to the left side of the machine. I modified it so the machine actually became the base for the outer mechanism, I then added a rack and pinion gear arrangement to open and close the iris. When a key (with the pinion gear mounted on the tip) was inserted into a small brass bushing next to the iris, it could then be turned opening the Iris portal.

Step 16: The Medallion

You may remember I said I installed a five position switch in the calendar right? But I said I wanted six steps in the machine itself... It came together just fine when I used a combination lock medallion USB drive for what wound up being the second lock in the machine and it was found when my boys opened the Iris. There was no need to turn the dial to position "2", it was looking right at them. The USB has four clock arm type combination settings that allow the drive to be removed and used when they are all placed in their proper positions.

Clues and other information needed to complete the Machine were installed on the drive.

Step 17: The Finche's Crystal

I wanted to add something else to the left side of the machine. A slightly different aesthetic. The family went to the Arboretum that September. They were having a mineral and precious stone exhibit and I wound up buying a crystal. I was looking around for a way to fit it to the machine but was stumped. I then came upon a decorative thermometer at Hobby Lobby. With the help of parts from it and an antique candle holder I was able to make a mount that the crystal would fit into. But then, of course, I sat on the crystal and broke it into three pieces. But fear not. It actually worked out. The boys would be tasked with healing the crystal and then fitting it into its perch. More on the story for that in the walkthrough.

Step 18: The Most Helpful Thing.....

I have to throw in a heartfelt thank you to that most helpful of creations, The BreadBoard. For those of you not familiar, the breadboard is a device that lets you make electrical connections for your projects in a quick and sometimes temporary fashion. This is quite helpful when you're really not sure of exactly what you're doing! It allows you to go back and change things with little effort and gives you a place to centralize your connections. Several breadboards were used in the machine and I must say that I literally could not have completed the machine without them. Hats off to its creator! Well done Sir, or Mam, Well done!

Step 19: The Supporting Cast!

As I said earlier, all of the puzzles and mechanaries I had originally planned for the machine would not fit into its 14.5 inch square frame. I had to literally look outside the box (OK yes, that was bad). But this actually helped me use some of the other things I had picked up over the years. Now some of them would finally find a home.

Here I will try to list some of the other things you'll see in the walkthrough and give brief descriptions of their functions.

Step 20: Main Power Supply

All electrical devices need power. The Machine's came from this repurposed signal box fitted with a jel cell 12 volt battery.

Step 21: The Carousel of Knowledge

This little guy started life as a cigar carousel. With a few modifications it became a perfect vessel in which to place written clues as well as store test tubes with necessary components for an electrolytic fluid.

Step 22: Photo Album

A place to store antiqued photos of my boys from Christmas past.

Step 23: The Mystery Box

A box delivered to our home that contained unknown wonders.

Step 24: Twin Holly Chests

Ancient miniature chests used to store small looking glasses and tools.

Step 25: Case of the Meadow Crystal

A place of safety for a broken relic.

Step 26: Tiya's Little Sewing Box

A small box from ancient Japan with secrets of its own.

Step 27: The Phantom Phone

An old phone tranciever. The wiring is missing, it couldn't work. Could it?

Step 28: The Addometer

Antique adding machine

Step 29: The Christmas Key

Every ending has a beginning!

Step 30: Flask of the Green Fairy

Ancient jade bottle holding an elixir potent enough to keep the builder from going insane. LOL

Step 31: A Place to Rest

Thank you for reading along, if you're still here that is. I started all this as a way to give a bit of adventure to the holidays, and to mix fun with acts of love and compassion, as well as to have a great way to give my boys a few of their presents each year. Again please read through "The Christmas Box Two" if you get a chance. It explains the whole story arc a bit more.

I am currently working on the actual walkthrough for the Christmas Machine as you read this, but the story itself is quite complex and I really don't want to rush through it. I will try my best to make it worth the wait. Within a week or so at the latest. so check back soon.

If anything I've put out there has made any of you do something kind or a bit "out there" for someone you love during the holidays then its been well worth the time and effort it took to write this.

This walkthrough will be much deeper into story than the one for box two. And in it I will give more information on the puzzles I used as well as some of the bits and pieces. Until then "D" signing off! Again, Check back soon...