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How to Make a Puzzle Mug
by Delia Robinson

Below: Potter Jennifer Boyer, a studio potter in East Montpelier, Vermont, USA, demonstrates one method of making a puzzle mug.

Jennifer Boyer

DIRECTIONS- Photo Credits-- Jim Eaton

To illustrate the instructions for a Puzzle mug, Vermont potter Jennifer
Boyer made a stripped down and slightly exaggerated version so the
mechanics are more easily revealed.

click to enlargeThe mug is thrown and the rim is split, creating a Y. The two top edges
are brought up and closed together, forming a hollow tube running around the rim of the mug.



click to enlargeAfter the mug is leather hard, trim the bottom, if needed. Cut a hole in the tubular rim of the mug where you plan to attach the handle.

Set the mug aside while you prepare the handle.


click to enlargeUsing Boyer's method, the hollow handle, which will serve essentially as a drinking straw, is thrown. It could also be extruded. It is possible to pull a hollow handle by placing a flexible tube or cord in the center of the clay, leaving it there throughout the shaping of the handle, and removing it when it is time to attach thehandle to the cup. This is miserably tricky, however, so a thrown hollow handle is recommended.

To throw a hollow handle, open a bottomless pot, pushing all the clay
out into a ring. Open the ring creating a circular form with a U shape.

click to enlarge

Pull up the sides and close them, forming a hollow doughnut of clay.

click to enlargeSet it aside until it is firm enough to handle without collapsing. When firm, cut so it assumes a handle configuration.


Many old puzzle mugs have a tubular round handle, others are more more refined. To keep the hollow patent during extensive alterations to the shape, run a flexible cord or tube through the handle. This is easily pulled out when the handle is ready to be attached.

Align the handle to the cup so the top corresponds with the hole in the tube at the cup rim. Cut a hole through the cup wall at bottom of the handle. The holes should correspond in size and placement to the ends of the hollow handle.

click to enlarge

The handle will be attached over these holes after the next steps are

click to enlargeSet the handle aside and pick up the mug again. An inch or so under the lip of the mug, below the tube and beneath the spot the mouth would be placed when taking a drink, cut a little pattern of holes or a filigree. Do the same on the cup back. In the old mugs this was often very fancy and sometimes continued around the circumference of the cup.

The idea is to cause the drinker, when lifting the cup to the mouth in
the usual way, to pour the beverage down his shirt front.

click to enlargeNext, additional holes (three or four) are pierced through the outer wall of the rim tube. In deciding how to place these holes, consider that one will be used to drink through, but the others will need to be covered with fingers. The only way to drink is to cover the extra
holes in the rim. While you are working, if debris falls into the tunnels, blow it out. Puff air through the openings to make sure the tunnels have remained open, and then attach the handle.

click to enlargeYou now have a hollow tube running from the bottom interior of the mug, up the inside of the handle and around the inside of the rim. This is the path the fluid will follow when the cup is drunk from.

Decoration should be elaborate to entice the eye away from the trick.
Before glazing, plug all openings into the tubes with plasticine or wax.
Immediately after dipping the mug in glaze, blow gently on the dribble holes to clear them of glaze. Reopen the other openings by removing the plasticine and clearing away any glaze that might obstruct them.

A triple whammy puzzel mug has a frog in the bottom of the cup, a
whistling frog climbing the handle, and frog drinking spouts.

Article courtesy of Delia Robinson. © Delia Robinson

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