September 15, 2009

Eureka! I've found it!

I was riding the subway one day, playing around with Cast Vortex when the fellow sitting next to me struck up a conversation. He had recognized my puzzle as a Hanayama puzzle and said how he and his roommate were both hooked on the things. He said his favorite so far was Cast O'Gear (another puzzle by Oskar van Deventer), because it had a very unique mechanism.

I told him that I had orderd Vortex online at ThinkGeek, and he mentioned that there was a great puzzle shop, Eureka Puzzles and Games, out in Coolidge Corner that sold them. This was about 10 minutes away from where I lived, so I was really psyched to hear that there was a shop so close.

The next day, I headed down to Coolidge corner to see what the shop was like. When we got there, I saw that they had the full line of Hanayama puzzles as well as a ton of other great stuff. I gazed longingly at the fancy puzzles on display behind a locked glass case (see photo). There were some Japanese puzzle boxes, a few impossible objects, some nice looking burrs, and a few puzzle locks.

The store was bustling with activity, it had a great location and a very energetic and well informed sales staff. I started talking an employee named Devin who was quite familiar with the Hanayama series. He recommended that I try Cast Chain, one of his favorites. I also picked up Cast Spiral, because it looked like an interesting design. I had trouble imagining how it could be difficult, which I figured was a good sign.

When I got home, I started with Cast Spiral first, since it was a level 5 and Cast Chain was a level 6. It is an elegant design by Kennet Walker. The 'teeth' (for lack of a better word) are tapered so that if you try to slide the pieces apart in one direction, they will not separate. This cascades down and around the circle to the last piece piece forming a cool spiral staircase pattern.

Well, after playing around with it for about 5 minutes it fell apart, much to my consternation because I didn't know what I had done. I proceeded to spend the next hour or so trying to get the damn thing back together. You would think with only 5 pieces interlocking in sequence, it wouldn't be that challenging, but I had a hell of a time doing it. Not only do you need to get the order right, you also need to know how they twist back together, which I failed to observe when they came apart. Eventually I succeeded, which was quite satisfying when all the pieces snapped back together into that nice shape.

Overall an interesting but not particularly difficult puzzle, provided you are attentive when the puzzle comes apart. I think it should probably be a level 4 rather than a level 5. It has a great weight to it and is fun to just fiddle with even after you have solved it.

Next, I turned my attention to Cast Chain (designed by Oskar van Deventer), which looked much more sinister with its dark black finish and sharp angles. There are three similar looking pieces that are interlocked in a chain, each of which has a number of dots on it (one, two, or three). To solve this puzzle, you must get the pieces in the right order, and then position them correctly to release the first piece.

After about an hour I was able to get the pieces apart, but my solution required a slight amount of force, so I checked the solution online to see if I was doing it the right way. In fact, I was not: the true solution requires zero force, so don't force it! Overall, I would say that this is a very good puzzle: the mechanics are interesting and the solution is simple and logical but not trivial to discover.

Next up: Christmas 2008 and a puzzle I've been working on for almost a year.

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