December 20, 2011

Havana's Box #1

In the most recent update on Cubic Dissection, I purchased a new box by Eric Fuller named Havana's Box #1: The Chris. It is the first in a series of boxes, each designed to hold a cigar. It is named after Eric's local cigar bar, Havana Deluxe, and Chris is the name of the doorman there. I'm always intrigued by the idea of a series of similar-looking boxes, since it is interesting how many different mechanisms can be used to lock a box that appears the same.

This box is nicely crafted out of quartersawn Sapele, which makes for a box that will be very stable during humidity changes. The darker, striped-looking panel is a cross-grained Wenge veneer, which I think makes it look quite nice. The veneer has not been sanded as smooth as the rest of the box (probably out of necessity, due to its thinness), so the ridges in the grain of the wood can be felt and give you a nice grip when sliding the lid. Both the top and the bottom of the box have this appearance.

As a puzzle, it is not overly difficult but has a few neat little features that I enjoyed. As you open it, you will discover that there is a Free Cuba cigar inside, which seems appropriate! Even more cool is that you can get the box half-open, but not enough to remove the cigar. If it was merely empty, then you may consider it done at this point, but the fact that you can't quite get the cigar out lets you know that you're not done yet.

The locking mechanism is neat, and it takes a bit of fiddling to fully understand what's going on. It is possible to make some progress without quite knowing what you did, but a little trial and error should clear things up. I think it took me about 5 minutes to fully solve this one.

One of the panels was a bit tight when I first opened it, but it appears to have loosened up over the day that I've had it. Also, one of the locks wasn't re-engaging when it should have, allowing me to skip a step, but that problem seems to have mostly cleared itself as well! I guess this box likes my apartment!

Once you know how to solve it, there's an alternate solution that will open the box in two moves (the full solution requires about 8, depending how you count). This shortcut isn't much of an issue though, since you're highly unlikely to discover it before you find the intended solution.

Overall, Havana's Box #1 is a solid puzzle box that I'm glad to have purchased. I'm definitely looking forward to the rest of the series!

December 15, 2011

Cowboy's Hobble

Cowboy's Hobble is a simple-looking disentanglement puzzle recommended to me by George Bell. The folks at Puzzle Master were kind enough to send me a copy to review. Thanks!

Despite its simple appearance, this one is actually fairly difficult! The goal is to remove the ring. I tried a few of the obvious things and ended up going around and circles quite a bit. Each time, I ended up getting stuck on the ball at the end of the string.

Since attacking this one head-on didn't seem to be doing the trick, I started to think about the different ways that the ring could be put back on the puzzle once I had removed it. Following this path eventually led me to the solution, since the tricky-to-find move is much easier to find in reverse. Picking the puzzle up again as I write this, I still forget that blasted move and have to repeat the mental exercise to re-discover it. A sign of a good puzzle!  Definitely worthy of Puzzle Master's 9/10 difficulty rating.

No real downsides to this one as far as I'm concerned: it doesn't have much opportunity to get tangled like many disentanglement puzzles with a string component do. Overall, Cowboy's Hobble was a great disentanglement puzzle! Thanks to George for recommending it to me!

Check out Kevin's review here of Live Wire's version of this puzzle, named Ball and Ring.

December 7, 2011

Burr in Cage

Recently Jean-Baptiste Jacquin and Maurice Vigouroux created an online puzzle shop, Arteludes, where they are selling a number of puzzles that they have made. The site is in French, but they're currently working on an English version. For now, you can view it with Google translate, and that seems to work pretty well. They were kind enough to offer to send me a sample of their work, Burr in Cage. Thanks!

Burr in Cage is a design by Keiichiro Ishino, who runs the awesome Puzzle Will Be Played website. It is no wonder that he comes up with interesting designs after cataloging so many others! The puzzle is beautifully crafted by Maurice out of a number of exotic woods. I thought that the use of a variety of woods added nicely to the visual appeal of this puzzle. The fit and finish of the pieces is also very good!

I've been having puzzles shipped to my wife's office recently, since I work from home and folks have had packages stolen from my building. I don't want to take any chances! This makes me all the more delighted when she returns home when she has a new puzzle for me! I fiddled with this one for a few minutes while she was figuring out what to cook, but then set it aside to help out.

After we ate, I returned to it and managed to remove the first piece after about 5-10 minutes, not too tricky! I patted myself on the back and put it back together, since we were planning on going out swing dancing shortly. I figured that I could return to it later and complete the disassembly, since I had presumably completed the hard part already.

The following morning, I revisited the puzzle to finish taking it apart, and I was quite surprised to find that I couldn't easily do it! Usually once you remove the first piece, getting the rest of the pieces out is pretty easy now that you have more room to work with. However, this is not the case for this puzzle, much to my chagrin. I worked on it for another 45 minutes or so before I finally figured it out, phew! It is a sneaky little move that is easy to miss among all the other movements that are possible. After that, the rest comes apart pretty easily.

If I had read the description, I would have known that it was a level 4.12 puzzle, meaning that it takes 4 moves to remove the first piece and 12 moves to remove the second. They also note that the first piece is easy, and the second piece is much more difficult. It was a fun little surprise discovering this on my own though.

Getting it back together wasn't too hard, since I kept good track of where the pieces were during the disassembly. I think it would prove a bit difficult to assemble if you mixed up the pieces though, and even more so if you weren't aware of how it came apart to begin with. I ran into one minor issue with the fit: there was a slight inconsistency in the size of the holes in the cage, such that the first two pieces wouldn't fit in one of the possible orientations, but by rotating the cage to a different orientation it worked fine.

Overall, I thought this was a top notch burr, not impossible but a good level of difficulty to keep me busy for a while. The craftsmanship is quite good as well, so definitely worth checking out.

November 15, 2011

Four Color Map Puzzle

Maya Gupta of Artifact Puzzles was kind enough to send me this interesting variation on the classic jigsaw puzzle to review. Thanks!

Normally I'm not particularly interested in jigsaw puzzles, but Four Color Map Puzzle by Tara Flannery is very unique! Rather than assembling a picture, this puzzle illustrate's the Four Color Theorem:
The four color map theorem states that, given any separation of a plane into contiguous regions, producing a figure called a map, no more than four colors are required to color the regions of the map so that no two adjacent regions have the same color. Two regions are called adjacent only if they share a common boundary of non-zero length. (Wikipedia)
In other words, if you draw a bunch of dots, and non-overlapping lines connecting those dots, you will be able to color the various shapes such that no two adjacent shapes (sharing an edge) are the same color by using only four colors. Pretty neat, eh?

In addition to this neat mathematical reference, the cut-pattern of the puzzle is very unusual. It is inspired by the work of John Stokes III, a master jigsaw puzzle-artist. The pieces are such that you can't really even narrow down the number of possible orientations, since they are so irregular. Your standard jigsaw pieces can only go in one of four possible orientations. Furthermore, the edge is irregular as well, which further complicates things since you don't know when you're on the edge.

I had a good time solving this one, it is a good size (68 pieces) so I didn't get frustrated searching through the pieces. It was fun looking through all the unique shapes and trying to find pieces that matched up. The fact that no two pieces of the same color are adjacent ends up being quite helpful in narrowing down the possible set of pieces.

The beginning was a bit tricky as I had to go through a lot of pieces before finding one that would fit, but it gradually became easier as I got things in place. The complexity of the pieces frequently makes it difficult to visually tell if a piece will fit, so I often resorted to physically holding each piece in the spot I was trying to fill and rotating it, since I would often miss a correct fit otherwise. I think it took me a good 1-2 hours to solve, though I took a few breaks.

The end product is quite nice to look at, with the swirling shapes preventing your eye from resting anywhere. Quite a nice work of art! The colors are quite vivid as well. The puzzle itself is constructed out of laser-cut plywood, which gives it a very high-quality feel.

Overall, this was a fun puzzle that I was glad to get the chance to try. At first glance, the rest of Artifact Puzzles's puzzles look more like your standard jigsaw puzzles, but upon closer inspection, you'll see that they all have unusual and tricky cut-patterns. Some have special 'whimsy pieces' that echo the theme of the artwork, which I thought was cute. Definitely worth checking out if this type of puzzle is up your alley!

October 27, 2011

Log Jam

Log Jam is made by Creative Crafthouse and was designed by Vesa Timonen. It was entered in the 2002 Puzzle Design Competition under the name Lox in Box (Logs in Box). The folks at Creative Crafthouse were kind enough to send me a copy to review. Thanks!

It is quite nicely crafted out of hardwood and has a good fit and finish. Creative Crafthouse added a compartment to store one of the pieces, so it can be displayed unsolved without looking too messy, which I liked.

I had seen this puzzle before but never had a chance to give it a try. From seeing pictures, I had a few ideas for how it would probably work, but it turns out that I was way off. Unfortunately, when I was unpacking the puzzle, the solution slipped out and I caught a glimpse of it, which is pretty much all it takes. I should have been more cautious, but I do appreciate it when solutions are folded in such a way as to prevent accidental viewing!

That said, I still tried the approaches I had intended, and of course it didn't do much good. I like to think that I would have figured out the actual solution without too much trouble, but it is hard to tell. As such, I gave to my wife to see how difficult she found it, and she was able to solve it in about 10 minutes with a minor amount of encouragement. Funnily enough, she was very close to solving it, and only had to place two more pieces, and she gave up. I told her how close she was and she went back and solved it moments later. Another friend who is a fairly adept puzzle solver was also able to solve it in about 5-10 minutes, so that gives you a pretty good sense of the difficulty.

The solution itself is quite elegant and pleasing once you find it, which makes this a top rate puzzle in my book. Definitely worth checking out! Log Jam is available from Creative Crafthouse for $14.

There is another version of this puzzle called Lox in Box II that Kevin wrote about, so check that out too. It can be ordered from Sloyd along with Lox in Box if you are keen to try both for €19 each.

ThinkFun also produces a puzzle based on the same design and calls it Aha! Rec-Tangle. It uses square sticks rather than logs, which I don't think would change the puzzle much. It also has the neat feature of being able to store the pieces on one side with a cover, and the other side has the rectangular frame where you're trying to pack the pieces.

October 21, 2011

Connoisseur's Dilemma

Connoisseur's Dilemma is a cute disentanglement puzzle by Creative Crafthouse that can hold a bottle of wine hostage until solved. It was given to me by the folks at Creative Crafthouse to review. Thanks!

I have seen puzzles like this available from a number of places, but never had a chance to give one a try. I figured it probably wouldn't be too challenging since it was intended for mass-market appeal, but who knows? The craftsmanship of this one is quite good, with a nice smooth finish on the wood and good quality rope.

As you may expect, it comes disassembled to save space and so they don't need to ship it with a plastic bottle or something. The rope is conveniently adjustable for different sized bottles, but the way it came was a good length for the wine bottle I had handy.

My wife, Kellian, was kind enough to assemble it for me so I could try taking it apart. First she tried using the included paper instructions, but she found the diagrams too small and hard to follow and gave up after about 10 minutes. Luckily, they also have a great video showing you how to assemble it that is much easier to follow. With this, she was able to get the wine bottle trapped in a few minutes.

Since I have done a number of puzzles like this, I made pretty short work of it, I think it took me a minute or so. However, I would imagine that it could take less puzzle-inclined folks a good amount of time, since one of the moves is a bit un-intuitive if you haven't done a puzzle like this before! So I definitely think it would make a good gift to a somewhat patient wine-aficionado.

I'm not sure who designed this particular puzzle, but it is also available through Family Games for a similar price. Family Games also has a few other puzzles in the same vein. Here's one you can build yourself over at Instructables if you are so inclined. Creative Crafthouse has another version that is smaller (for beer bottles and such), as well as a completely different version called Connoisseur's Dilemma 2 which looks pretty interesting as well!

[Update: It turns out that François Vachon designed this puzzle. Thanks to commenter Daniel below for the information!]

Overall Connoisseur's Dilemma is a nice little puzzle that would make a great gift.

October 20, 2011

Cast ABC

Cast ABC is a level 1/6 puzzle in Hanayama's Cast Puzzles series. This particular version is branded as Puzzle Master, but it appears to be the same as the Hanayama's version, only with a different finish. The Hanayama version has a brown finish, while the Puzzle Master version is silver.

The goal of this puzzle is to separate the C piece from the AB piece. The starting position is with the C linked to the hole at the top of the A, not the position shown in the photo.

It works a lot like your standard ring-with-a-gap/grooved-maze design, with an additional little hiccup: not all of the grooves are actually traversable. This makes it a tad more difficult than it would otherwise be, since you'll likely be fooled by a few of these along the way.

Despite this, I would still say it is a bit easier than Cast Bike and Cast Claw, since there are fewer tricky moves. It is nicely designed so that you'll progress along quickly for a few steps before arriving at an apparent dead end, but a bit of creative thinking will quickly get you moving again to the solution. This should come quite naturally if you have done other puzzles like this before (it took me under a minute), but I've seen people stymied by it for 10-20 minutes.

Overall, Cast ABC is a fun little puzzle that would be good to give to a novice puzzler, but more experienced puzzlers may want to skip it in favor of Cast Bike.

October 19, 2011

Redstone Box

Redstone Box (a.k.a. Melting Block) is Creative Crafthouse's version of this classic packing puzzle designed by Thomas O`Beirne. The folks at Creative Crafthouse were kind enough to send me a copy to review. Thanks!

The puzzle consists of a box with a lid, with a red block on the top serving as the handle to help slide the lid off. Inside, you'll find that the box is packed completely full. So what's the puzzle? To find room for the red block on the top of the box! The fun of this puzzle is that it seems impossible, but indeed is quite possible.

This puzzle uses a commonly used principle whereby a tiny amount of wiggle room in the initial configuration can be 'collected' (by rearranging the pieces) into one spot that is big enough to contain the target piece. Of course, even if you know the principle, this can be quite tricky in practice!

I think it took me a good 30 minutes to solve this one, which was really starting to try my patience since it seems like it shouldn't be all that hard! One thing that tripped me up a bit is that the fit of the pieces isn't quite right. In the correct orientation, they stick up a bit above the edge of the box and it takes force to get the lid on. Initially, I figured that I was wrong and tried different things, but eventually I determined that I was probably on the right track initially and it was just a snug fit. A quick glance at the solution confirmed that I was correct. Even with this in mind, it still took me a while to finish it off, the solution isn't very intuitive! As Kevin mentions in his blog entry, even after solving it once it can be a good challenge to do it again. Allard also posted a review here.

For more info, check out Creative Crafthouse's video about this puzzle here.

I would imagine that the fit issue was just a problem with my particular copy of the puzzle, and generally won't be an issue. If you do, I'm sure they would let you exchange it per their returns policy. [Update: Dave from Creative Crafthouse said that this is the first reported incident of the cover being too tight]. Aside from that issue, the quality of the puzzle is good, with a smooth finish and nicely beveled pieces. Some folks may not like that the red piece is stained rather than a natural wood color, but I think it makes it pop nicely. The stain lets the grain of the wood show through, so is much better than paint. Overall, Redstone Box is a fun puzzle that is worth checking out!

October 18, 2011

Puzzle Chest Box

Puzzle Chest Box is Creative Crafthouse's version of the classic Moroccan puzzle box. The folks at Creative Crafthouse were kind enough to send me a copy to review. Thanks!

This is quite a popular design and is frequently available in trinket markets in various countries, though the quality varies and the design may differ somewhat. The main thing that they have in common is that there is a hidden keyhole and a hidden key, and you need to find both to open the box! Sort of a simple sequential discovery puzzle if you will. I didn't actually have one of these boxes in my collection yet, so I was quite interested in checking out Creative Crafthouse's version.

It is a good sized box, measuring about 5 3/4" x 4 1/8" x 3 5/8" with a generously sized space inside. The wood is listed as "Raintree hardwood" and has a pretty good grain and finish. Other versions that I have seen online are made of Thuya wood, which seems to have a nicer appearance, though I haven't seen these in person. Jeff Chiou blogged about a Thuya wood version of this design here, which I think looks quite nice. The top and bottom panels are made to look like books, with the vertical pieces looking somewhat like the spines of smaller books.

This one actually took me a bit longer than I expected to solve, though it still probably only took me about 5 minutes. The first move was quite loose, so that move sort of happened on its own while manipulating the box. The second move was pretty easy, but then I got a bit stuck. My attention was focused on a particular area of the box based on a few clues, but it took me a little while to find it. This move was a bit tight at first, but it has loosened up. The last move (other than using the key) was pretty straightforward.

Overall, a fun little puzzle to solve due to the sequential discovery nature of the solution. I haven't tried showing it to anybody yet, but I'd imagine they'll enjoy it. It could take somebody less experienced with puzzles a bit longer, probably in the 10-20 minute range, so challenging but not impossible.

The folks at Creative Crafthouse have posted a video describing the box, with the solution towards the end (he warns you before showing the solution).

Overall, Puzzle Chest Box is a nice little puzzle box for a good price ($43 from Creative Crafthouse). I'm glad to finally have a Moroccan puzzle box in my collection!

October 17, 2011

Interlock Four

Interlock Four is a nice little four-piece puzzle designed by Stewart Coffin. This version was crafted by the folks at Creative Crafthouse, and they were kind enough to send me a copy to review. Thanks!

The four pieces assemble into a 3x3x3 cube and are serially interlocking, meaning that the pieces must be added in the correct order. This makes it somewhat more difficult, since you may need to backtrack a bit if you don't get the right order to start with.

It is a good size which gives it a nice heft, about 3 inches square and weighing about 9 ounces. The finish is quite good: it has been sanded smooth and given a nice bevel on each cube. It appears that the cubes were beveled before they were glued up, which looks great and adds to the difficulty since it is tricky to see where the glue joints are. The fit is also quite good!

As a puzzle, I didn't find it particularly challenging, but I've done a number of assemblies like this before. I think it took me about a minute to get back together after taking it apart with my eyes shut and scrambling the pieces. However, it is a good one to give to folks to get them started thinking about this type of puzzle before you get on to more complex assemblies with more pieces, or which require multiple moves to extract the first piece.

I think what made this one easy for me is that if you take a logical approach, you can quickly determine what goes where without too much trial and error. As such, it is a good puzzle for demonstrating those techniques. I showed this one to my wife to see how she would do with it, and she had a good time with it. I gave her a few tips on how I would suggest approaching it, and she solved it in about 5 minutes.

I'm sure a lot of you do this, but in case it helps somebody I'll briefly describe my approach to this type of puzzle. I start off by trying to find the biggest piece and use that as my starting point and keep it in a fixed position. Then I try to find the piece that has the fewest possible orientations relative to the starting piece and narrow down my options for the other pieces from there. Some puzzles you'll have a lot of options, or there won't be an obvious starting point, and those will take me a lot longer.

One great thing that the folks at Creative Crafthouse have done is to put up a video for each of their puzzles where they describe it. You have to be a bit careful, since there are spoilers sometimes, but usually you can see it coming or you are warned beforehand. Check out the video for this puzzle here, but be aware that he disassembles it from 0:09 to 0:26, so shut your eyes during that part if you don't want to see that. You can look again after he says "there's the last two".

Overall, I liked Interlock Four. It is reasonably priced at $15 for a sturdy and well made puzzle. Definitely worth checking out if you're into this type of puzzle or want to try your hand at an easier cube-assembly puzzle.

October 6, 2011

Cast Flag

Cast Flag is a puzzle in Hanayama's Cast Puzzle series, and was re-designed by Nob Yoshigahara based on a 19th century design. It was sent to me by the folks at Puzzle Master to review. Thanks!

This is another one that is a bit hard to understand until you actually play around with it, so I was quite interested to finally see how it worked. It consists of two pieces: an odd-shaped piece with grooves cut into it, and the "flag" which consists of two pieces that pivot together. Through this pivoting motion, you can navigate the flag out of the maze.

It isn't difficult, but makes a very good puzzle to get people's feet wet if they aren't puzzlers. It is slightly tricky though, since there are a few well-placed dead ends if you're not thinking about it. Still, most folks should be able to solve this one in just a few minutes, so Hanayama's rating of 1/6 seems appropriate. The movement of this one is quite nice, it is a fun one to do quickly once you get the hang of it.

As with most of the rest of the Cast Puzzles line, this has a nice weight in your hand and is very sturdy. The pivot-point is one spot of weakness, so if somebody is particularly prone to damaging your puzzles, it may be worth mentioning to them that the pivoting flag doesn't come apart.

Overall, Cast Flag is a solid little puzzle that I'm glad to have in my collection. Worth checking out if you like a novel movement or want a puzzle that your non-puzzler friends will enjoy, but may be worth skipping if you'd be disappointed solving it in only a minute or two.

September 30, 2011

Little Game Hunter Puzzle Box

I recently acquired the latest box by Robert "Stickman" Yarger: Little Game Hunter Puzzle Box (Stickman #24). Robert is one of my favorite puzzle box designers, so I'm always quite eager to see his latest creation!

Little Game Hunter has quite an unusual appearance with a kumiki elephant standing on top of a rectangular base. Through a combination of sliding moves, two compartments are revealed.

This puzzle has an interesting background, here's what Robert had to say about it:
The origin of this particular puzzle started years ago, but an unexpected expense required me chop off their poor little interlocking feet before they were done and merely sell them as Kumiki style puzzles.  A limited edition status was never placed on those elephants because I had always planned to eventually come back and finish them correctly, which I finally did. 
If you were fortunate enough to get one of the original elephant puzzles, then you know what a fun puzzle it is.  These particular puzzles are identical in mechanics to the originals with the exception of the added trophy stand, which now adds two secret chambers, increases its complexity by 15 moves, and provides false progression paths.  The trophy stand also comes apart, and upon solution you will find yourself with 26 individual pieces that are quite challenging to re-assemble.

These puzzles are all hand crafted from quality exotic woods and require a minimum of 25 moves to solve.  The Little Game Hunter puzzle measures 7” x 7”x 3” and comes with its own 10-page illustrated instruction booklet.  These are limited edition pieces, and only 38 of them will ever be made.
When the package arrived, I noticed the cute little detail that each of the elephants is named. Mine is named Patience (#3 of 38), which seems appropriate! As Kellian started cooking dinner, she graciously said I could go ahead and start trying to solve it. Much to my dismay, as soon as I had started I was immediately stuck. I had figured that it wouldn't be too challenging, but one of the moves near the beginning stopped me in my tracks for a good 20 minutes. After I finally figured out how to proceed, it moved along fairly rapidly.

The move sequence is generally fairly logical, but as Robert alludes to in his description, there are a few little false paths that can trip you up along the way, which I really liked. The base has an interesting movement that I enjoyed as well. I was very careful to keep track of where the pieces came from so that I wouldn't have too much trouble getting it back together. I think it ended up taking me about 30-40 minutes to get it completely apart. As you can see from Robert's photo, it has quite a few pieces!

It is at this point that Kellian's delicious dinner was ready, so I started to eat, but then I realized that I may have a really hard time getting it back together if I didn't do it right away. So I ended up working on putting it back together while I ate my dinner (being quite cautious, of course). Don't I have the most understanding wife ever?

Another 10-15 minutes later and I had the puzzle back together. Woo hoo! Following dinner, I took it apart and put it back together a few more times just so I could get the hang of it. I haven't yet tried scrambling up the pieces, but I'll probably try that at some point in the future when I have a bit of free time.

The craftsmanship is quite good, I really liked his selection of woods for the base. A few of the moves on the elephant stick a bit, I think it is due to the finish: it makes a rather disconcerting snapping noise as the piece breaks free for the first time after sitting for a bit, but there's no harm done. It does require a bit more force that I think my guests will (hopefully) want to exert, so I'd probably want to loosen it up before I hand it to somebody to solve. Perhaps my apartment is a bit too warm in the summer, it may be better in the winter.

Overall, Little Game Hunter is a fun puzzle! I really liked the unique appearance, and it took me a decent amount of time to figure it out. Also, there's some replay value, since you can try assembling it with the pieces scrambled. I'm definitely glad to have purchased one!

September 21, 2011

Lattice II

Lattice II and was designed by Frank Worrell and made by Eric Fuller. It is another one of the puzzles I purchased from Cubic Dissection during the last update. Eric describes it as building on Tom Jolly's original Lattice puzzle, but Lattice II only has two pieces rather than three. It looked pretty simple, but for only $5 I figured it was worth trying out since I was ordering some other puzzles as well.

It came disassembled, so I set myself to the task of putting it together. Based on the way the pieces looked, it was pretty easy to narrow down how they would start assembling. From there, with a slight amount of fiddling I navigated to the solution. As promised, not too tricky!

While Eric's site says it takes 27 moves, I counted 20 and confirmed it in Burr Tools. Perhaps it is a typo or I'm missing something. [Update: It turns out I was missing something, or rather the puzzle was missing something! Frank, the designer, contacted me and informed me that there is an error in one of the pieces in Eric's version, a cube missing, that results in 7 fewer moves. The intended 27-move version is definitely better: less straightforward and a few more interesting moves. The missing cube is in the far upper right hand corner of the leftmost piece in the photo. The correct piece is show below.]

It is fairly simple because there aren't many dead ends, but also because there are many moves in a row are on the same plane. This makes it easier to find the correct sequence, because you're not switching the plane in which you are thinking very often. [Update: The corrected version of this puzzle has more plane of movement switches.]

Overall, a nice, simple puzzle for a reasonable price. Unfortunately, they're all sold out currently, but since they're laser cut I would bet that Eric will consider making more if they sold well. If you'd like to get the original Lattice puzzle, there is one still for sale for only $12.

September 20, 2011


Recently Eric Fuller updated his site, Cubic Dissection, with a bunch of new puzzles he had made. I had heard that he was going to update soon, so I set up my phone so it would make all sorts of a racket when the email notification came in, just in case I was sleeping when it happened. Fortunately, it was in the afternoon, so it wasn't really necessary. This might sound a bit absurd, but Eric's puzzles are known for selling out quite quickly, and I didn't want to miss anything particularly cool.

One of the puzzles I purchased was Zauberflote designed by Gregory Bendetti and made by Eric. It was offered for a very reasonable price of $20 and had a nice appearance with the combination of clear acrylic and yellowheart. I have generally stayed away from this type of burr, since they tend to be quite difficult, but Eric described this one as not too hard so I decided to give it a shot. It takes 14 moves to remove the first piece, which seemed pretty manageable.

This puzzle is one of a series of Zauberflote designs by Gregory with a similar appearance but different numbers of pieces, the one Eric made is Zauberflote - Königin der Nacht and has six pieces. Check out this link for a bunch of other designs by Gregory, including the other Zauberflote versions.

When it arrived, it was in pieces, since the main challenge is putting it together (though it may take a bit of time to get it apart as well if you don't know how to assemble it). It is pretty small at a little over two inches long, but still a fine size to play with.

I had a few ideas for how it would go together and found it quite easy to get all but the last piece in, unfortunately that last piece proved quite stubborn! I tried different arrangements of the pieces, and didn't have any luck so I set it aside for a bit and returned to it the next day.

Continuing to examine it, I felt like I had exhausted all my options. I had a pretty good idea of how the pieces should be arranged, but it seemed impossible to actually assemble them that way! After a bit of thought, I was finally able to figure it out, and I found it to be rather tricky! Perhaps I'm just a bit rusty with burrs at the moment, but it did take me a while!

It is quite a nice design by Gregory, I may try assembling some of the other Zauberflotes with my LiveCubes to see how they compare. The craftsmanship by Eric is very nice as always, the pieces fit nicely. The only flaw I noticed was two pieces that were slightly chipped on the ends, though it is hardly noticeable. Overall, a nice puzzle for a great price, so I was quite happy about it!

Read more about Zauberflote over at Neil's Puzzle Building Blog.

September 17, 2011

Gear Cube

Gear Cube is an interesting twisty puzzle that was designed by Oskar van Deventer based on an idea Bram Cohen. Puzzle Master was kind enough to send me this puzzle to review. Thanks!

Gear Cube looks a lot like a Rubik's cube, with its 3x3x3 configuration of pieces, however the pieces have gear teeth on them which makes for quite an unusual motion. Due to the gearing, you can't rotate each layer independently. Instead, the middle layer turns one quarter of a turn when you turn a face by a half turn. This means that you can't actually do a quarter turn since that would cause the middle layer to only move one-eighth of a turn, which blocks other movement.When you rotate a face, the edge pieces of the middle layer rotate as well, causing all sorts of apparent chaos.

This is probably pretty difficult to understand by reading it, so check out this video of the cube in motion by larfrtc:

As you can see from the video, it has a nice smooth motion. The edges of the gears are rounded a bit, and it has a fairly loose tension to avoid pinching your fingers like in the original 3D printed prototype, dubbed the Caution Cube, as Oskar explains in this rather humorous video:

With all that is going on with this puzzle, you would think that it would be pretty tricky, however it actually isn't too bad. I'm not all that great at twisty puzzles, but I was able to scramble and solve it in about 15-20 minutes. That was more just blundering towards the solution, however, but with a bit of practice and thought I was able to figure out how to reliably solve it.

I really like twisty puzzles that I can actually solve, so that's a big plus for me. That said, it isn't trivial to solve either, it will take a bit of thinking. Also, it just looks really cool: this is one that I really like to show to guests, though none have been patient enough to try solving it yet. Overall, Gear Cube is very nice puzzle!

There is another version of this puzzle called the Gear Cube Extreme in which four of the edge pieces do not have gears, which makes it a much harder puzzle once it gets scrambled up. I probably won't be trying this one anytime soon, but check it out if you're looking  for something more challenging!

September 15, 2011

Alles Roger

Alles Roger is one of the puzzles I acquired at the Berlin Puzzle Party about a month ago. As I mentioned in that blog post, as soon as the puzzle buying and selling began, I did a quick sweep of the room keeping an eye out for Roger puzzles (among other things) that would be snapped up quickly. I was lucky enough to find this puzzle for sale at Marcel Gillen's table and purchased it right away.

The interesting thing is that very few people know who Roger (a.k.a. RD) is, hence the moniker "The Mysterious Roger". His puzzles have always been a bit tricky to acquire, since they were produced it pretty limited quantities and only sold by a few trusted distributors. According to Bernhard Schweitzer, who knows Roger, he stopped making puzzles a few years ago to spend more time with his family.

I had been curious about this particular puzzle after having seen a picture of it on Rob's Puzzle Page, where he has a full list (I think) of Roger's puzzles. It looks so straightforward: get the ball in the upper right down to the channel at the bottom. Surely it can't be too tricky, it is probably just a matter of shaking the hell out of it in just the right way. However, when I read Oli's blog entry about being stumped by this one, it was clear that there would be more to it than that!

It is nicely machined out of aluminum with what appears to be some sort of sprayed coating to give it a matte finish. There is a plastic cover that is screwed to the top so you can see what is going on. It has a nice weight  to it as well.

When I first started working on Alles Roger, I found it pretty easy to get past the first obstacle. It takes a bit of practice, but isn't too bad. However, the next obstacle, the two larger ball bearings, is the crux of this one! In order to get the small ball to roll down, you need to tilt the puzzle toward you, however this causes the two larger ball bearings to roll slightly inward (due to the shape of their channel), blocking the path of the smaller ball. As such, it quickly goes from "how hard could it be?" to "how could it even be possible?" which I really like in a puzzle.

This is about as far as I got while at IPP, since I figured I would have plenty of time to work on it when I got home. When I got home, I spread out all my IPP puzzles on the kitchen table so I could fiddle with each of them when I had some spare time. On a few occasions I would spend some time on this one, but never with any luck.

Finally, after about a week of working on it on-and-off, I found the solution! Needless to say, I was quite thrilled! I was also happy to find that the solution is quite elegant, not random shaking as I had feared. It is quite a difficult puzzle, so I can definitely see why folks have had trouble with it.

Overall, Alles Roger is a very nice puzzle that I'm glad to have purchased. I'm very much looking forward to checking out more of his puzzles if I ever get the chance.

September 14, 2011

Cast Seahorse

Cast Seahorse is the sixth puzzle in Hanayama's Marine Series by Akio Yamamoto. Puzzle Master was kind enough to send me this puzzle to review. Thanks!

This puzzle consists of two seahorses, one gold and one silver, that are linked together. The goal is to separate them and then put them back together. If you read Yamamoto's description, he also says that you can try to "make them stand up again" after putting them together, so don't miss that part! In the assembled state, they balance in a standing position nicely, though it is a bit precarious.

This one has a nice solution that takes a number of steps to complete. There are a few dead-ends and tricky spots, which makes this one the more difficult of the marine series. However, the whole series is fairly easy, so most should be able to solve this in a reasonable amount of time. I think it took me about five minutes. I think the difficulty rating of 3 out of 6 is pretty accurate. I think Cast Seahorse  is about equal in difficulty to Cast Starfish, with Cast Reef, Cast Claw, Cast Shark, and Cast Seabream all easier in descending order of difficulty.

I like this one because it isn't immediately obvious which features are decorative and which ones are put in the way to help you or get in your way. This makes for a number of small A-ha moments as you realize that you need to rotate something out of the way or line certain things up.  The ending is pretty cute, too. Definitely worth checking out!

As I mentioned in my post about Cast Starfish, the gold color has started to wear off of all of these puzzles, since I frequently give them to folks to play with. It is particularly bad on Seahorse for some reason, to the point where it isn't really gold anymore unless you look quite closely. Perhaps my friends just have particularly abrasive hands!

In all, I really enjoyed the Hanayama Marine series! If you only want to pick up a few, I'd suggest getting Cast Starfish, Cast Seahorse, and Cast Shark. Cast Reef and Cast Claw are pretty good too, Cast Seabream is the only one I didn't like as much.

September 12, 2011

Cast Reef

Cast Reef is the fifth puzzle in the Hanayama Cast Puzzle Marine series by Akio Yamamoto. Puzzle Master was kind enough to send me this puzzle to review. Thanks!

As with the other puzzles in this series, this one is made out of contrasting gold and silver anodized metal. The gold piece looks like two fish that form a closed loop, and they are caught on the silver piece that looks like a piece of coral. It has a good weight and feels quite sturdy, despite the somewhat thin pieces.

I was interested to see the mechanics of this one, because by looking at it I couldn't quite tell how it was going to work. The solution path is a number of steps long, the beginning of which is pretty easy. There's one part in the middle that slightly tricky, but after that it is smooth sailing. I think it took me 3-4 minutes.

This one has a difficulty rating of 3 out of 6 from Hanayama, which seems about right, though maybe it is a bit easier than that. Most folks that I gave this one to were able to solve it without too much difficulty. It is perhaps slightly easier than Cast Starfish, but harder than Cast Seabream, Cast Shark, and Cast Claw.

Overall, I liked this one, but it was not one of my favorites of the series because the solution path was not quite as interesting as some of the others. Still a good one though!

September 9, 2011

Wunder Puzzle Series

Jeff Chiou of recently loaned me this interesting-looking set of puzzles by Eric Fuller.They are called the Wunder Puzzle Series and there are three different mechanisms, each in a different wood. Check out Jeff's review here. I love the idea of puzzles that look the same and have different opening mechanisms, so I was looking forward to giving this set a try! The photos below are from Eric's site, Cubic Dissection.

The first in the series, made out of Bubinga, is a copy of an old design that Eric came across through Peter Wiltshire. The angles of the joint are quite unusual, making you wonder how the puzzle could possibly come apart. In addition to being a tricky joint, there is a locking mechanism that most experienced puzzlers will be familiar with. Folks who haven't done much puzzling could be stumped for a while though!

The next in the series is made out of Walnut, and has the same exterior appearance as the original. However, the mechanism is completely different! While it is pretty unusual, it is probably the easiest of the bunch since the solution reveals itself pretty quickly as you fiddle with the puzzle. Still, it has an enjoyable little A-ha! moment when you realize what is going on.

Finally, we have the Paduak version which takes the original design to the next level, requiring a number of moves to unlock the joint. I had a good early guess as to how this one would work, so it only took me a few minutes to open. However, there was one additional trick that I did not expect right at the end that slowed me down a bit. I think most will find this moderately difficult, though it definitely has the potential to stump somebody for a while! This one is my favorite of the series since it is a bit more complex than the others.

The craftsmanship of all three is superb, with an excellent fit and finish. I like the woods Eric chose, and particularly like the bright redness of the Paduak. Overall, very nice puzzles that were available for quite a reasonable price (around $50), though now they're all sold out. I'm a bit sorry to have missed them, but if I remember correctly I had just purchased some  particularly pricey puzzles when these came out, so I decided to hold off. Thanks again to Jeff for the opportunity to try them!

Check out MagicPuzles.orgAllard's Puzzling Times, Neil's Puzzle Building Blog, and Jerry's Small Puzzle Collection to read plenty more about this set of puzzles.

September 1, 2011

Lee Valley Puzzle Lock

This lovely puzzle lock was loaned to me by Jeff Chiou of, check out his review here. It is available now from Lee Valley for $79. I had seen this one before and it looked really interesting, so I was quite tempted to purchase one and was glad to have the opportunity to try one out first.

The first thing you'll notice about the Lee Valley Puzzle Lock is that it is quite massive, it weighs in at about 2 pounds, and has a solid brass body.The finish is a bit rough, but I think that's alright for a puzzle of this type, it gives it character. On the Lee Valley site, they mention that it is based on a 15th century design, so this puzzle goes quite a ways back.

It comes with three pairs of duplicate keys: one looks fairly standard but the other two look a bit unusual. I found the first step fairly quickly, as did other people who I gave this lock to. It is pretty straightforward given the various features of the lock and the tools that are available. The second step is probably my favorite part of this lock, it isn't particularly hard (maybe slightly harder than finding the first step), but it is quite fun.

The next step is pretty easy, and you may think you're done, but there's one final step to open the lock. This is probably the hardest step, but by a very thin margin since they're all pretty easy. Most folks that I gave this lock to were able to solve it in under 5 minutes, I think it only took me a minute or two, so it is not particularly difficult. However, it has a nice sequence of steps and is quite accessible to non-puzzlers, which I liked.

Overall, I really liked the Lee Valley Puzzle lock! Definitely worth checking out if you enjoy puzzle locks, as long as you won't be too disappointed if you find it easy to solve. Thanks to Jeff for loaning it to me!

August 31, 2011

2011 Rochester Puzzle Picnic (Part 5)

This is the last in a series of posts about the 2011 Rochester Puzzle Picnic! If you're just joining us, check out the other parts in the series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).

Here's a photo of Ken Irvine with Tanya's exchange puzzles. He focused his efforts on getting through some of the burrs which came disassembled. Quite a challenge! In the back corner is Ken's wife, and to the left is Tyler Somer.

Next I decided to check out a few boxes that Jim Strayer brought. The first is the Trinity Knot Box by Jean Claude Constantin (a.k.a. Einstein Box), which I had been wanting to try out since I had seen it appear on the Bits and Pieces website. It didn't look particularly nice, with the telltale look of a laser-cut box. The solution was a commonly used trick, so it is probably not worth getting this box, since there are other boxes with the same mechanism that look better.

Next up I tried an interesting looking little box with a coin sticking up through a slot. It was designed by Jean Claude Constantin and is called Munzbox. This one has a much better appearance than the previous box, with a nice reddish hue and a good finish.

Again, however, this one uses a fairly commonly used mechanism, so most experienced puzzle solvers will figure this one out pretty quickly. Still, this is a fairly nice version of a puzzle with this mechanism.

After that, I decided to try another one of the exchange puzzles that Tanya brought. This one is the Travelling Salesman Puzzle designed and exchanged by Allen Rolfs. It has a nice appearance with a wire man holding a briefcase and a bottle titled "Elixer of Life". All of the pieces are cut out of flat stainless steel, which gives the puzzle a very sturdy  feel, though the edges are a bit pointy. The briefcase is actually a flat piece that has been doubled over, so it is hollow in the center all the way up to the part that loops around the man. This allows for some rather interesting movements. You could remove it quite easily if it weren't for that pesky bottle.

I found this one to be fairly challenging since there are plenty of dead-ends that you can wander off on that you can fiddle with for a while before noticing that they don't lead anywhere. Fortunately, the body is symmetrical, so you probably don't have to bother fiddling with both sides. A cute little puzzle that I enjoyed working on.

Next, on to more puzzle boxes! Here are two boxes that Kelly Snache made and brought, the large one is called The Law of Attraction and the tiny one is called Goliath. As you can see, Goliath is quite small, though it is a fully functional puzzle box! The solution isn't particularly tricky to discover, but there is a nice bit of misdirection and a good "A-ha!" moment when you get it. A fun little puzzle!

The Law of Attraction has a fairly similar solution to a number of other boxes, but it implements this solution through a non-traditional means. On top of that, it has a really nice appearance: I really liked the inlay along the edge. It has a generously sized storage compartment too. Here's a photo of Kelly working on one of Eric Fuller's Wunder puzzles that Jeff Chiou lent to me.

Brett's son Kai had brought an interesting variation on the Super Floppy Cube, which I think is called Super Floppy Cube Plus Four, but I'm not sure.

This variation makes the puzzle a bit trickier because the added pieces tend to get in your way, so as you solve one part it tends to mess something else up. Still, it is quite possible to solve on your own without resorting to looking up algorithms online. I really like twisty puzzles that I can actually solve, so this one is good in my book!

Finally, we have a puzzle that Tyler brought called Triple Decker from Bits and Pieces. It was entered in the 2001 Puzzle Design Competition under the name Trinity and was designed by Lynn Yarbrough. I had seen photos of this one before, but didn't quite understand it, so I was glad to have had the opportunity to try it.

There are six rods, with the rods above hooked to the rods below and vice versa. You can see how the bottom rods hook around the two rods on either end of the top in the photo. If you flip it over, it looks exactly the same, so how could it possibly come apart? It seems like each piece is holding another piece in a loop. I spent a good 5 minutes or so fiddling around with this one before I figuring out the solution. It is quite clever! Even thought it is from Bits and Pieces, it actually works fairly well. The slight slop in the fit makes it trickier than it would be otherwise. Definitely worth checking out if you get the chance.

Here's a picture courtesy of Brett with all of the attendees: Jeff Aurand, Ken Irvine and his wife, Jim Strayer, Brett Kuehner, Tyler Somer, Brian Pletcher (me), Tanya's son Brandon, Kelly Snache, Brett's Son Kai, Tanya Thompson, and Brett's wife Denise.

Well, that's all I've got! I had an awesome time at the 2011 Rochester Puzzle Picnic! A big thanks to Jeff for organizing such a fun event, for feeding us and for generally being awesome! Thanks to everybody who brought puzzles, it was a pleasure seeing you all again and I'm already looking forward to the 2012 RPP!

August 30, 2011

2011 Rochester Puzzle Picnic (Part 4)

The puzzling continued throughout the day on Saturday, here you can see Jeff working on one of Ken's cube puzzles. To his right was the complete set of Hanayama puzzles that I brought. That's enough to keep someone busy for quite a while!

The next puzzle I tried was Turtles Heart designed, made, and exchanged by Yoshiyuki Kotani. It is a cute little puzzle that looks like a turtle, and the goal is to remove the cute turtle's legs. But to do this, you need to first remove his heart!

Despite being a bit morbid, it was actually a good puzzle! Diagonally opposite legs are connected (e.g. front left with back right), and you can slide them back and forth. Both leg pieces have some gaps around the center of the turtles' body, which is where the "heart" sits. The heart is a yellow semi-circular piece. The heart is thick enough that it interferes with both of the leg pieces, as well as some other fixed pieces within the turtle's body. The challenge is to navigate the heart to a hole through which you can shake it out. This is all pretty obvious when you have the puzzle in your hand, the challenge is actually doing it!

It took me about 5 minutes to solve this one, it was mainly challenging because the pieces are opaque, so it was hard to see what was possible. With a bit of fiddling, I could tell what I needed to do, and it just took a minute or two more to actually accomplish it. Putting it back together wasn't too hard, since the move sequence was fairly short and I remembered what I had done. You have to make sure you get all the way back to the start though, since otherwise it will be too easy for the next person to solve.

Next I tried Jerry Slocum's Exchange puzzle that was designed by none other than Stewart Coffin! It is a sliding piece puzzle where the pieces consist of either single round pieces or two round pieces glued together. Some of the doubles have a single circle with a red dot on it. The goal of the puzzle is to move the pieces from one dot configuration to another, and there are three challenges on the back of the paper.

I tried the easiest one, and it took me a little while, probably about 5-10 minutes. The pieces have an (intentionally) annoying way of binding, so you can't quite rotate them the way you want to until you make enough space. Contrary to a puzzle like Rush Hour where each move is along the unit grid, this puzzle requires a lot of small moves to get the pieces lined up right to enable certain rotational moves. Another cool idea by Stewart Coffin!

Next, we have Borromean Braid by Theo Geerinck. The goal of this puzzle is to create a borromean rings structure using these three bent pieces. Borromean rings are three rings that are linked in such a way so that if any one ring is removed, the other two will fall apart (known as a Brunnian Link). You may remember this topological construction from some of Dick Hess's puzzles (i.e. The Yak). I had done a number of Dick's puzzles using this construction, so I was pretty familiar with borromean rings.

Still, the puzzle provided a good challenge! At first, it seems impossible, and of course it would be if all the rings were solid. However, one of the rings comes apart. It is joined using these plastic pin joints. I would have preferred wooden dowels for the pins, but I think the flexibility of the pins may be necessary to complete the construction. I spent quite a while trying out various configurations, but I kept finding that the pieces weren't long enough. After a while, I finally discovered the correct assembly, but now was the problem of actually constructing it! The pieces need to weave together in just the right way to make it possible, and I had a bit of trouble doing it. This was a very cool idea for a puzzle!

In taking another look at Jeff's shelves of puzzle boxes, I noticed another box that I had missed before: RL by Hideaki Kawashima. This is a very large box, about 4.5 inches wide. This gives it quite a presence, and I really liked the way the dark wood was laminated together with the light wood on the exterior panels.

As a puzzle, this one is pretty challenging, particularly if you haven't seen a particular trick before. This one takes it to the next level and has a very complicated mechanism. Due to its design, it is quite easy to get disoriented and forget what was going on. A very clever box! It is currently available on the Karakuri Creation Group website for a pretty reasonable price, given the complexity of this box.

Here's a photo of a few people working intently on puzzles: Tanya is sitting down on the left and working on One Four All & All Four One, Brett's son Kai is taking a look at Tubular Burr, while Brett is busy trying to put my copy of Rosebud by Scott Peterson back together.

Well, that's all for today's post, more to come tomorrow!
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