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Harry Eng – Master Bottle Filler (puzzlemuseum.com)
264 points by simonsquiff on June 7, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

If you want to know more about Harry Eng, the creator of these, there is a fascinating post here http://www.everything2.com/title/Harry+Eng

Incredible man.

So, HN readers, how would you get a lightbulb in a bottle?

Please don't give interviewers any ideas.

Most obvious options:

- Use a large bottle

- Use a small lightbulb

- Construct the bottle around the lightbulb

- Construct the lightbulb inside the bottle

- Cut off and replace part of the bottle; this can be done almost seamlessly

- There's no technical reason that a lightbulb needs to be made of glass, so we can make a collapsing one, and unfold it inside like a ship-in-a-bottle

Just grind it into a fine powder and pour into the bottle.


You. I like you. You're like an evolutionary algorithm satisfying a fitness function. Spirit of the problem completely ignored, but problem bloody well solved.

(S)He's really more of a wave function

I couldn't find a picture (link?), but I would just blow he bulb inside the bottle. Alternatively, use the bottle as the bulb, add filament, pump out the air, and put on the cork, but I'm not sure whether that qualifies as a lightbulb in a bottle.

Depending on the wording I would assume that the small lights in a fridge or a small flashlight or maybe even Christmas lights count. I think those should fit through many bottles pretty easy.

or a big, wide opened bottle

At what point does a bottle become a jar?

about the same time a flask becomes a beaker. As Bill Nye has taught a couple generations of kids, you know the flasK has a necK. :-)

With a pencil and a couple of rubber bands.

I see more and more everything2.com [1] in comments on HN - is it popular again?

I remember E2 as (unofficial) predecessor of Wikipedia more than ten years ago [2]. Back in the days Wikipedia also had a triva section - nowadays its forbidden [3], what a pitty. (good we still have IMDb and its trivia pages)

It's sad that Harry Eng's Wikipedia article redirects [4] to "Impossible bottle" article and Bulwersator removed the paragraph about Harry Eng two years ago [5].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everything2

[2] /. posts that made Wikipedia popular, "Everything2 Hits One Million Nodes": http://slashdot.org/story/01/03/29/2035230/everything2-hits-... , http://news.slashdot.org/story/01/03/02/1422244/nupedia-and-...

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Trivia_sections

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Eng#Harry_Eng

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Impossible_bottle&...

I didn't knew E2 before, but reading that article was almost impossible with all those nonsense internal links. I simply don't get whats going on, it's supposed to be some SEO? Awful

e2 is fairly deranged. It's not your place to head for an informative read, and "encyclopedia" would definitely not be the right word, but it's great for ideas, stimulation, not-quite-sure-if-satire, unfinished short fiction, and link chains like "geometrical" > cannon defense patterns > transhumanism > The Broken God > a cloned kitten named "cc". I think of it like /b/ for bored grad students who are into Barthelme and Jeff Noon. One of the treasures of the internet, in my book :)

Those are traditional at E2 - a quirk of that particular community. I don't think they're SEO. If done right, sometimes they make you think. Sometimes they don't even go anywhere and are still successful in that regard. Sometimes not.

Jeez the amount of time I spent on E2 in high school and college was stunning. So many open tabs as I followed those links. Even wrote an app to find the "shortest distance" between two randomly selected ideas.

Not to detract from the subject itself, but that is some shockingly bad layout and design for a site whose sole content is long-form articles. Small font on a too-dark background in an unreadably wide column - what an absolutely embarrassing UX failure.

I suspect the "plank" is actually a wood veneer glued over a set of blocks. The veneers are extremely flexible (you could roll them up) and would look like this once carefully assembled. A side view of the 'plank' would be interesting.

I was just thinking the wood could be soaking in water for a few days to get it good and mushy, compressed and shoved through the neck via clamps. The knot you could tie (or partially tie) via thin shipbuilder's pliers. I have no clever thoughts on getting a metal nut or a lightbulb through the too-small neck of the bottle though.

Perhaps the metal parts are manipulated from the outside with magnets somehow?

My thought was that they weren't an actual bolt, but magnetically attached inside the bottle.

How thick is this veneer that it is also engraved?

Wow, this makes me so curious... how does he do it?

The description of the second last one gives a quite good explanation. That, combined with a huge amount of patience and craftmanship I assume.

I may deal with the playing cards but I am still curious how to put the wood board into the bottle. :-O

There is a trick where you can wet wood for a very long time and it becomes more malleable. This lets you do things like, place a solid metal beating within a single hunk of wood.


Probably not how it was done, but is it possible to craft a bottle in such a way that the refraction index makes the content appear larger than it actually is?

This guy seems to have a pretty good idea: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7862320

Very carefully...

More seriously, note that he only claims the bottle hasn't been cut/modified, nothing about the objects within. To me, it's rather obvious that they're disassembled into pieces small enough to go in, then reassembled inside. Reassembly is the tricky part but it's not hard to see how things could be manipulated into position with string (or dental floss as he mentions), tweezers, sticks, and other tools.

There are some good videos of doing it on YouTube too.

(Also I observe that the "proprietary trade secrets" in this "industry" happen to be the complete opposite culture of the open-source/open culture/information sharing movement...)

> Our venerable curator has gone nearly blind with a magnifying glass but has failed to find any sign of breaks or glue in this plank.

So the bottom was cut open and sealed by heat then.

Or the wood is soft and compressible when wet, but returns to its original shape when it dries.

Some woods (including pine) are much more compressible than you might expect: http://www.ewpa.com/Archive/2006/aug/Paper_306.pdf

My favorite example of this is the "nail in wood block trick."

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEATei2wewY

Instructions from the patron Saint of Woodworking: http://www.woodwrightschool.com/downloadable-plans/tooth%20a...

you can bend/compress wood with steam. But look at the width of that bottle neck.

The others I looked at (playing cards, rubicks cube, ...) can be disassembled in smaller pieces that go through. That's his technique. So how do you disassemble a plank? I think it's a hollow piece of thin plywood (1 piece, no seams) that was soaked, folded up and then filled with something (resin).

In the link by simonsquiff, the artist claims he never cuts bottles. I'm inclined to believe him.

Magicians tend to not reveal their secrets, thus even if you guess right they tend to deny it.

This is actually a pretty common misconception amongst muggles. A magician's trade is to lie with action, not with words, and most magicians I know have a very strong sense of honor in this regard.

Magicians do not often reveal their secrets, and I suppose some would even lie outright if you try to out them in public (although a good magician would find a way to ask you to stop ruining everyone's fun), but when a magician voluntarily tells you how something was not done, you can usually trust him. That's doubly true for respected magicians. I think it's a big part of what makes them respected.

Also, in the case of the bottles, cutting the bottom would not only be extremely easy to detect, it would also make the whole thing worthless. A cheap scam. Magician's consider themselves artists, not scammers.

It tickles me that "eng" means "tight" / "narrow" / "cramped" in German.

> So the bottom was cut open and sealed by heat then.

Even if that's true (which it's not, according to the creator), there's no call to be so dismissive and superior about it. Seamlessly cutting and resealing a bottle is sure as hell not in my skillset, and I'd be pretty impressed by someone who could do it reliably.

If we're going to be reductionist, why skip over the obvious answer that these are all photoshops?

Just because the curator failed to find any breaks or glue doesn't mean they aren't there.

I would love to know why my comment was down voted. I'm making a fair point that nobody else has yet made, and thus I would argue that it adds value to the conversation. Sure, my comment was short but I believe it was as long as it needed to be to make the point. To clarify though, in case I was wrong on that assumption, I'm stating that simply because one can't spot any breaks doesn't mean there aren't any. Maybe Eng did a really good job of splitting the wood along the grain and piecing the wood back together once he slipped each piece inside the bottle. And then he could have finished the wood in such a manner as to hide any cracks still visible.

I'd prefer to try to riddle it out without resorting to cutting the bottle open. That would take all the fun out of it. If you had a reliable way to cut bottles and reassemble them with no telltale marks, then a single trick would explain all the different bottles. Much less interesting than if each bottle required a unique, clever solution.

Ignoring the wood for a moment, I'm focused on the padlock. Suppose it's not a real padlock. There are stripes on it which, to my eye, look like they might be corrugation. Perhaps it's hollow and can collapse like an accordion.

Edit: Or, per the description of the second-to-last bottle, the lock is broken down into parts and reassembled in the bottle.

About the stripes on the padlock, that looks like a fairly standard laminated steel padlock: http://www.masterlock.com/product_details/LaminatedPadlocks/...

Now, if you were to delaminate the lock's layers and reassemble it piece by piece inside the bottle with authentic-enough looking rivets, I can see it fitting through the neck without a problem, but I don't have an explanation for the solid piece of wood that large.

The padlock seems like the least of your worries. How the hell did the plank get in there? The only thing I can think of is the plank was split and glued back together once inside.

I think the padlock would fit if you took the shank off.

So wait. Where's his book? The one with the numbers. Did he finish it? Did any copies ever get printed?

I'm pretty sure his wife had it, last I spoke with her shortly after his death. Nowadays, it's likely his daughter might have it.

Have a lot of great memories thoroughly enjoying that book as a kid. Used to flip through it and test him through-out our sessions. Loved every minute of it.

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