October 2, 2009

The Games People Play

There was another puzzle shop up in the Boston area named The Games People Play that I had been meaning to visit, so one weekend I decided to head over with my girlfriend. They are located right near Harvard square, which is convenient if you are taking the T (the snazzy name for public transit in Boston).

The shop has a good amount of space and sold a variety of games and jigsaw puzzles, but I was interested in their mechanical puzzles so I headed right to that section. They had a number of ThinkFun puzzles, some Rubik's puzzles (including Rubik's 360, I've been meaning to try that), and some Hanayama puzzles. They had a few puzzles that I hadn't seen before, including a mass-produces version of Oskar's Matchboxes, which I considered getting, but it was $30.

There was a glass cabinet with what appeared to be some limited edition stuff, but the items weren't really on display very effectively. Many of the items were in opaque cardboard boxes, so you couldn't really tell what they were unless you recognized the name.

There was one person working that day, he was sitting behind the register watching TV, so I didn't really want to bother him to open up the case and tell me what he had, since it was probably more than I wanted to spend anyways.

They had a kid-sized table where some of the graduated ThinkFun puzzles were on display, which I thought was a nice touch. My girlfriend sat down and played around with a logic puzzle called Chocolate Fix. In this puzzle you look at a 'problem' card to determine where to put the differently colored and shaped chocolates according to a set of rules. This kept her busy for a bit while I was browsing.

I headed over to the production puzzles and noticed that they had Cyclone from The Lagoon Group for sale. I had seen these being discussed on the PuzzleWorld.org forums. It was a cool looking puzzle, though I wasn't sure how interesting it would be. I figured it was worth a shot since it was only $10 or so.

I browsed around a bit more and found a cool looking wooden puzzle that was a two-layer packing puzzle named Mosaic by Family Games. Basically, it looks like tangrams or something, but each piece is glued to another piece underneath that has a different shape.The challenge is to pack all the pieces into the square frame.

The box had a magnetic closure, so I was poking around the box to see if there were instructions on different patterns to try to make. The fellow behind the register came out and asked me to stop, since the puzzle was very hard to put back together and he was afraid I was going to drop it or something. Oh well, guess I'm not spending $30 on that one!

I looked around a bit more, though I was somewhat miffed, so I didn't want to spend too much. I ended out picking out a plastic puzzle called Schalenquader (Cuboid in Cuboid), which is essentially a plastic 3d jigsaw puzzle where you cover a cuboid with another cuboid. It looked kind of cool and was cheap, so I bought that as well.

When I got home, I decided to try Schalenquader (Cuboid in Cuboid) first, since Cyclone looked like it could take a while. It was pretty much as you would expect, mostly just trial and error. the interesting thing about this one is that there were corner pieces that wrap around the corners of the inner cuboid, as you can see in the picture, which makes it a bit different than a puzzle like Snafooze, where each panel is flat.

I worked on it for about 15 minutes before I figured it out. My strategy on puzzles like this is just to start with a piece in a certain position, then try all the possible pieces that could fit in the next position, and so forth. If I hit a dead end, I backtrack and try a different piece. As you may imagine, this is somewhat tedious, which is why I probably don't enjoy these puzzles as much as some other types. Is this the way most people solve them? It seems like a systematic approach is the best way to avoid spinning your wheels unnecessarily.

I liked this puzzle for what it was, the plastic was of good quality and the pieces fit together well. My only complaint is that the pieces don't fit quite snugly enough for the puzzle to stay together on its own, they tend to fall off if you move it. Also, it is a bit of a challenge to put all the pieces back in the plastic box in which they came: perhaps this is intentional, a packing puzzle!

I tried Cyclone next: it made me a bit nervous taking all those pieces apart, but I thought I had a pretty good idea of how it went back together by studying it beforehand. So I went ahead and took it apart, then tried to put it back together.

It was fairly easy to put together since I saw the pattern before I took it apart. I think it would have been much more challenging if I just had the picture to go by. Too bad they can't really sell these disassembled, because they wouldn't look nearly as cool in their clear plastic packaging.

On the package, the instructions said that the challenge was to disassemble it and reassemble it with the marble inside, but I had no marble! Either way, I don't think it would have been any more challenging or interesting with a marble than without.

Overall, this was a pretty good puzzle, it is neat how it looks like the pieces are woven together. The pieces are made out of a thin plastic by necessity, because you need to be able to flex them to assemble them. It looks good sitting on your shelf, but not something I'll be trying again any time soon, since it is a bit fiddly getting the pieces into place.

I found this site, IQlight.com, that describes using similarly shaped plastic pieces to make lamps, which is kind of a cool idea. There are all sorts of different sized and shaped lamps you can make with these shapes. Pretty neat, eh? I'll bet they're planning to sell these as DIY kits or something, but it doesn't look like they are selling anything at this point. You can make them yourself, as is described in this forum post, if you'd like. Just don't set the house on fire!

Well, that's all for today, tomorrow I'm not sure what I'm going to post yet, but I'm sure it will be enthralling!


  1. You know posting every day like this, it seems you are an incredibly speedy puzzle solver. In less than 2 weeks, you've solved all the Hardest Hanayamas, plus a dozen easier puzzles and also built two very complex puzzle boxes. It is like you are moving at the puzzle speed of light! Tomorrow please tell us how you solved Isis in 1 day ;-)

  2. Yeah Brian, what's with that...do I need to send you a real difficult puzzle in pieces to slow you down a bit :-)

  3. Hah, yeah, George! Not only that, but I've gone through about $600 worth of puzzles in 21 days. I wish my budget was that big! At this rate, I'll be through the rest of my collection in another 30 days. Whew! Right now I'm writing about stuff I got back in April. Once I get up to present day, I'll probably only be posting every week or two.

    Heh, I know you're probably kidding, John, but feel free to send me puzzles anytime!

  4. Yeah, Games People Play usually annoys me in that they seem to feel that the customers get in their way and are happier when we're not there.

    I'd shop there much more often if I felt welcome, even though the prices are full retail. Local vendors are good, and all that.


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