September 1, 2017

Ali's Bolt

I've seen a fair number of bolt puzzles, and tend to enjoy them. It is always interesting to see what ideas people can come up with that fit a similar form factor. Typically, there is a bolt and some number of nuts/washers, with the goal to take it apart and put it back together.

Ali's Bolt, designed and produced by Ali Morris, just has a single nut and it doesn't want  to turn. The solution ended up being quite unique and pretty surprising. I would say it is reasonably challenging, but doable. I  think it only took me a few minutes, but could easily have taken longer if I wasn't all warmed up from a full weekend of puzzling at RPP!

Check out Jerry's review of this puzzle here. This concludes my series of entries about some of my favorite puzzles from RPP. Next up, I'll probably be writing about some puzzles I got at IPP this year!

August 31, 2017


Kenal is a puzzle designed by Alfons Eyckmans and Ken Johnson, hence the name. Peter actually had pointed it out to me at IPP, where a copy was for sale, but I ended up not purchasing it.
John Rausch generously brought a number of puzzles to RPP to give as door prizes, and Alken was one of them! He put each attendee's name in a hat, and we selected puzzles in the orders our names were drawn. This was the puzzle I wanted to pick, so I was happy that it was still available when my name came up! Thanks John!

Kenal is a puzzle box with a (mostly) trinary movement. This roughly means that each piece needs to move three steps before the next piece can be moved. So with each additional piece, the move count grows exponentially. This is quite similar in a way to Aquarius Drawer, which I wrote about yesterday.

There are two possible configurations for this puzzle, depending on how you insert the lid (the other pieces aren't removable). In one configuration, there are 135 moves, in the other there are 321. They also have another variation on this puzzle called Alken, which has 75 and 261 moves, respectively. I'm not entirely sure which is Kenal and which is Alken, so please correct me if I'm wrong!

It does break from a pure trinary pattern in a few spots, such as the beginning, but I enjoyed the way it worked. Particularly, the ending of the 135 move solution is pretty sneaky and took some thought to find. I was having some trouble with it but Ken Irvine managed to figure it out. I had the right idea, but wasn't quite able to make it happen.

One of the panels has a tendency to catch on the inner edge of the frame, so you need to lift it a little bit to get the move to happen. This can be a bit confusing if you're not entirely sure what is supposed to move at a given point. Other than that, it is quite nicely built, with a satisfying clunk after each move. Thanks again to John for bringing some puzzles to give away!

August 30, 2017

Aquarius Drawer

This is another one of Jeff's new puzzles I saw at RPP, Hiroshi Iwahara's latest design, Aquarius Drawer. The name references the fact that the box's appearance was inspired by the Aquarius zodiac symbol.

There are two drawers to be found: the first unlocks after only five moves, but the second takes sixty-one! That may sound like a lot, but the solution has a pattern to it that makes it fairly straightforward once you start to see how it works.

The movement of the drawers is very smooth, to the point where they will move on their own if you tilt the box. This can be a bit annoying if things are moving when you don't intend them to. You could potentially try to solve it just by tilting the box, I think I tried that for a few moves and it worked reasonably well, but one of the drawers didn't move as easily, so I went back to solving it the normal way.

Overall, a nice design but probably not one of my favorites of Iwahara's. It was good, but it didn't really strike me as being particularly remarkable. The easy first compartment was a nice touch, both because you get an early win and folks may overlook that there is a second compartment. It also has a nice, repetitive solution that you can just get in the groove and do, along with a very smooth movement.

August 29, 2017

Dave Rust Box #7

One of the favorites at RPP this year was a cute little box designed by Dave Rust, the 7th in his unnamed series. I should have included a coin for scale, it is only about 3 inches long.

I don't want to spoil this one by saying too much about the solution, only that it is pretty sneaky with a few surprises along the way. He was able to pack a remarkably tiny mechanism in there, which you can see once it is solved. You do need to be a bit careful putting it back together: it may try to pinch your fingers.

This is currently the only copy he has made, but he is planning to make two more copies to enter the design competition with next year. This is great news if you're attending: you can enjoy this great box!

August 28, 2017

UNLOCK! Squeek & Sausage

This is the second of two escape rooms in a box that Rob Stegmann brought to RPP: UNLOCK! Squeek & Sausage. This one had some different mechanics than I had seen before: it is almost entirely card driven with a companion app. The app tracks your time, releases hints at predetermined intervals (and upon request), and confirms answer codes.

The card mechanic works in a few ways: if you have a card that represents a room, it will have numbers hidden on it that represent various things you can find. When you find them, you grab the corresponding card number and have that item.

Also, if you want to combine two items, you take their card numbers and add them together. If the card exists, the combination is valid and the resulting card represents the result. For example, combining a key and a door will result in a new "room" card to explore.

There were also machines, which needed to be manipulated correctly and resulted in some number that needed to be added to a card's base number to get a new card number. Finally, there were four-digit codes that you need to enter into the app, which allows you to reveal additional cards.

While this seemed like an interesting system, the actual puzzles were a bit lacking for a team of puzzle enthusiasts. In most cases, was just the hunting for hidden numbers on the room cards that slowed us down. Generally, it was pretty obvious what needed to be done to combine objects. The machines were a bit more involved, but still not very challenging.

It was also a bit tedious sorting through a randomly ordered deck of cards to find a particular number. They explicitly say you shouldn't sort them, presumably because you could guess what combinations are valid. We split the deck up, but it was still a bit of a pain.

It is nice that none of the components get destroyed in the process, so you could give it to someone else to play. Of course, you couldn't play it again yourself, because you would know the solutions.

Overall, I would say UNLOCK! Squeek & Sausage would be OK for folks with less puzzling experience, but even for those groups I would start with Think Fun's Escape the Room: Stargazer's Manor first (I haven't tried their other one yet). It just has more cool surprises with little packets that you open rather than just cards.

There are two other UNLOCK! games, The Formula and The Island of Doctor Goorse. Strangely, you can buy all three together for several dollars more than buying them separately!

August 25, 2017

Exit: The Game - The Secret Lab

Rob Stegmann brought two escape-room-in-a-box games for us to try out at RPP. We teamed up with Haym Hirsh and Neil Hutchison to give it a shot!

In case you're not familiar with the genre: escape room games were originally short video games where you clicked around, found objects, and solved puzzles to exit a room. In 2007, a Japanese publishing company named Scrap created the first live version of this, called Real Escape Game. Essentially, it is the same idea as the video game, but you're physically locked in a room with friends. I think around 3 years ago folks started producing escape rooms in a box, that try to capture the same feeling in a board game you can play at home.

Exit: The Game - The Secret Lab is mostly card-driven, with few physical components. It does come with a small 6-page booklet, and a code wheel for checking your answers. The answer-checking system worked quite well, it is very similar to Think Fun's Escape the Room series with an extra step. They made excellent use of fairly limited components, in particular packing a lot into the booklet.

I thought the puzzles were fairly good, with a moderate level of difficulty. We had a team of fairly proficient puzzlers, and we didn't need any hints and it took us a few seconds over an hour to complete. Rather than just saying "you lose" after an hour, you get a score based on your time and the number of hints you used, which I thought was nice.

One big negative of this one is that it does require that you write on and alter some components. You could mostly get around this if you had a photocopier or tracing paper handy, but that would be somewhat annoying. At this price point (currently $25 on Amazon), I wish it were re-settable so I could loan it to friends. At $15 I probably wouldn't care as much. The other negative is that there aren't really any neat physical components that you sometimes see in other games in this genre.

Overall, I would say this is pretty solid and worth playing, but I'd start with Escape the Room: Stargazer's Manor instead.

August 24, 2017


This is another new box I spotted in Jeff's collection at RPP. It is from a new Karakuri Creation Group craftsman named Yasuaki Kikuchi.

As a puzzle, this one isn't particularly challenging, but it has a couple of interesting things going on. There is a nice visual change as you solve the puzzle and there's a surprise at the end. I think most folks will solve this in a minute or two.

At the time I'm writing this, the box is still available directly from KCG. I didn't get a copy since the price is a bit high, but I enjoyed solving it.

Kikuchi didn't have a Christmas present available this year, but hopefully he will next year! I'm only getting four this year (Kamei, Iwahara, Kawashima, and Hoshino), since Miyamoto isn't doing a gift this year and and Tajima isn't in KCG anymore. So I need to add some people to my list!

August 23, 2017

Secret Box Box

Last weekend I had a great time at the Rochester Puzzle Picnic hanging out at Jeff Aurand's house with a bunch of other puzzlers. In the next few posts I'll be talking about some puzzles I enjoyed from this gathering!

The first is one that folks directed to me right away: Secret Box Box by Hideaki Kawashima. As you can see from the photo, it is quite a nice looking puzzle, and from people's comments it sounded like it would be quite tricky as well!

There are two very cool things about this box: First, it is reasonably easy to find the first six (!) compartments, but finding the seventh compartment is a lot tougher! This is where Kawashima has hidden his hanko (signature stamp); you know you're done when you find it.  Second, closing the box is significantly harder than opening it! You'll be able to get very, very close to closing it, but you can't quite get there unless you put some thought into it.

This was a popular one to pass around at RPP, for the reasons I noted. Unfortunately the box is sold out from the Karakuri Creation Group, but Jim Strayer happened to check on Izumiya (a reseller) and saw that two copies were available. Of course, when I heard this I surreptitiously went for my phone to grab a copy as a few others did the same. Luckily, I managed to get the order in in time and Peter Wiltshire got the other copy. At the time this was written, it looks like it is still available from Puzzle Box World, though the price is a bit steeper. Coincidentally, while I was typing up this review, my copy arrived! Pretty quick shipping from Japan considering I ordered on Saturday. It arrived in a Secret Box Box box box.

Check out Allard's review of this puzzle as well!

August 21, 2017

2017 Puzzle Design Competition (Part 6)

Here's the last part of my write-up of the various puzzles in the design competition this year! (Photo credit to Nick Baxter)

Tagai - Shiro Tajima

Another clever design by Shiro Tajima, this box has an unusual movement you quickly discover when you start fiddling with it. It seems like you'll be able to get the box open, but can't quite find the room to do it. As with Kakoi, this is based on a Japanese character "Tagai". This one was harder than Kakoi, but still doable.

There Goes Bill - Kelly Snache

This is Kelly's box for the Jabberwockey chest. The goal is to set Bill the Lizard free from the chimney. As is often the case with Kelly's work, this box is packed with various mechanisms, knobs that turn and things to prod and pull.

I was able to make some progress, but eventually got stuck and needed to peek at the solution to make sure I was on the right track, since it felt a bit fragile. There ended up being an issue with the last step that prevented me from releasing Bill. Once the chimney is removed, you can peek inside to see what the hell is going on in there!

Threaded - Haym Hirsh

There are two goals to this puzzle, but the main goal is to make a 2x2x3 shape whose components stay together after assembly, by threading two long bolts and one short bolt through the shape.

The theme of this one was great, using actual spools of thread to create the pieces. Adding thimbles as the nuts on the threading was a nice touch too! As a puzzle, it was pretty fun to solve: doable but not too easy.

3 Pieces 9 Symmetric Shapes - Emrehan Halici

The goal is to make 9 symmetric shapes using the 3 pieces. Whew! The first few are pretty easy, but then they get more complex. I found a few but then needed to move on and didn't get a chance to come back. Pretty neat that so many symmetric shapes can be made from this set of pieces though!

Tripla - Andrei Ivanov
(Top 10 Vote Getter)

This is a nice 3-piece assembly with some very sturdy stainless steel pieces. You could give this to pretty much anybody without fear of them damaging it!

The solution itself isn't too hard, and can be arrived at logically. Still, I found it enjoyable to solve.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee - Brian Young
(Top 10 Vote Getter)

This is Brian's box for the Jabberwockey chest. The goal is to separate the two halves, Tweedledum and Tweedledee! The four nuts sometimes spin freely, and sometimes lock up on you. Puzzling!

I really enjoyed this one, the final step was particularly neat! I can't say much else without giving anything away.

2&1 - Donghoon Pee

This was an unusual puzzle: the goal is to arrange the five pieces in the grass such that all pieces of the same color, including the little shape printed in the middle of the grass, are connected.

I made a solid effort on this one, but didn't end up having any luck. It starts out easily, of course, but rapidly you find yourself outside of the grass or with no way to make things touch.

Unlawful Assembly - Goh Pit Khiam

Another interesting design by Goh Pit Khiam, try to pack the pieces flat into the box. It quickly becomes apparent what the final configuration will look like, but getting there is a bit challenging with the box blocking your way.

I usually really enjoy his puzzles, but this one felt a bit more fiddly than some of his other stuff. "The move" was pretty challenging to line up, I find it more satisfying when it just works once you know what to do.

Will You Marry Me #50 - Yael Friedman

The goal is to take apart the ring to find a hidden "diamond ring". Not too tricky, but an excellent use of the limited space that a ring presents. Particularly impressive that they were able to hide a ring inside the ring! I always wanted to see a ring that had elements of a secret box, and this is the closest I think I've seen.

XYZ Cube - Chirag Mehta

Another cubic dissection by Chirag (who also designed Ruled Cube). This one I found to be quite a bit trickier! While the dissection was interesting and it was fun to figure out, it didn't hold together when assembled.

Yo Dawg, I Herd You Like Hexominoes - Wei-Hwa Huang

Assemble the hexominoes on the mat inside the rectangle, but there are some markers on the mat to help you out, and some of the pieces are clear. Puzzling!

I stared at this one for a bit and had a few guesses about how the markings were supposed to be helpful, but didn't really have the time/desire to figure out if I was correct by trial/error.

Looking at the solution, I was pretty far off. It is quite clever, but I'm not sure if many people would be able to follow the same line of thought.

That concludes my reactions to the different puzzles in the design competition this year! There were a lot of good puzzles this year, and I was glad that we had more time than usual to work through them. Hope you enjoyed it!

August 20, 2017

2017 Puzzle Design Competition (Part 5)

Here's Part 5 of my write-up of the various puzzles in the design competition this year! (Photo credit to Nick Baxter)

The Rocking Horse Puzzle - Mike Toulouzas
(Top 10 Vote Getter)

Another beautiful puzzle by Mike Toulouzas! If you're familiar with his work, you could immediately guess it was his from the size, beautiful craftsmanship, and style. It is a sequential discovery puzzle, and the goal is to "rock the horse, and find a nice award as it rocks." Somewhat puzzling! Upon inspection, you'll notice that the horse doesn't rock initially because its feet hit the ground below the rockers.

You'll find various tools along the way, that are generally not too tricky to figure out how to use. There are also some decorative elements you find along the way, which I sort of wished had a purpose. I was a bit confused at the end, but confirmed with the solution sheet that I'd finished. I think it would have been somewhat better if the "award" was automatic once the final panel was removed and the horse was rocked.

Ruled Cube - Chirag Mehta
(Top 10 Vote Getter)

This is a great dissection of a cube. The result, when assembled, has a nice design on it (as the name implies). It isn't particularly difficult, but will take a few minutes to solve. It all comes together quite satisfyingly as well!

Sequence Logic - Jesse Born

This is a nice-looking puzzle box, that takes a little while to solve. It feels a bit like a combination lock, but you can sort of feel your way through the solution like picking a lock. It took some time and taking a few notes along the way, but I was able to solve it. It mainly takes a bit of patience.

One neat thing about this box is that it is reconfigurable, so you can change the combination required to open it.

Simplography - Péter Gál

This is a multi-challenge puzzle where you try to place the six blocks on a card, satisfying any constraints written on the card. The interesting thing is that the blocks can be placed in any orientation as long as they are within the grid.

I found even the easier puzzles to be pretty challenging. For the easier ones, you are given the count of squares that contain white and black pieces on each row and column. The more difficult puzzles omit some information, or give you greater than X or less than X rules. I didn't have any luck with those!


This one seemed simple enough: assemble the six identical pieces and a magnet to make a cube shape with a cross on each face. The pieces are identical, so it couldn't be too hard, right?

Well I spent quite a while on it and didn't have much luck! I'd get close, but that last piece would never fit. Fortunately, Jeff Aurand told me an observation that helped him, and it helped me quite a bit as well! With his observation in mind, I had it solved in a few minutes.

One issue I had with this puzzle is the strength of the magnet. It was pretty challenging to pry the pieces apart sometimes, to the extent that I had to take a break because my fingers were getting tired! Also the coating on the magnet chipped with the heavy abuse in the design competition room.

Sliding Maze - Kirill Grebnev

This is an interesting sliding piece puzzle, where the goal is to move the key piece from one corner to the other. The interesting bit is that the key piece must follow the maze, while other pieces are unconstrained.

This had the look of a puzzle that would take way more time than I wanted to put into it, but fortunately it didn't end up being too bad. There are enough 1x1 pieces that you have a decent amount of freedom, but it was still somewhat challenging figuring out what to do with the two L shaped pieces. This was Kirill's exchange puzzle this year.

Sliding Tetris - Diniar Namdarian

The goal is to remove the ball from the cage. One of the holes is larger than the rest so the ball can escape, the rest are just for poking your fingers through. I liked how it was easy to remove one side so you could reset the puzzle if needed. Also it was generously sized, so poking at the pieces wasn't too annoying.

The solution ended up being interesting and fairly logical, with some nice moves in there. Overall a pretty fun puzzle that was doable but not too easy.

Ze Super Pens - Stephen Chin

Believe it or not, these are puzzle boxes! There is a jewel hidden inside each pen, each has a different solution. I thought it was quite clever how it mostly uses the parts that are already in the pen, with a few modifications.

I was able to get the jewel out of the white pen without too much trouble, but the tan pen was a bit more involved. Pretty neat little puzzles that you could carry with you!

Sym-353 - Jerry Lo & Stanislav Knot

The goal of this one is to make a symmetrical shape by assembling the three pieces flat on the table. There are four solutions. I was able to find one of them, surprisingly, usually I'm not too good at these symmetry puzzles! The other solutions eluded me, and I didn't have time to come back and find them.

Symmetrominoes - Alexandre Muñiz

This puzzle has a number of goals: 1) Fill the tray with the pieces (warmup) 2) All pieces of the same color must have holes aligned the same way 3) Same as #2 but the pieces of each color must form connected groups 4) Same as #2 but with no two pieces of the same color may touch along an edge. (They may touch at corners.)

The first challenge, as intended, was pretty easy. getting all the holes aligned was quite a bit more challenging. I tried for a while, but always ended up with one piece that wouldn't fit!

Stay tuned for Part 6 tomorrow!