February 15, 2010

New York Puzzle Party (Part 1)

This weekend I went down to New York City for the New York Puzzle Party. It is a yearly event organized by Tom Cutrofello, the mechanical puzzle correspondent for Games magazine. I was really looking forward to this event, since it would be a great chance to check out some puzzles I hadn't seen and to meet other puzzle people. Best of all, I would be staying at Brett Kuehner's house where I would have have plenty of time to try some of the puzzles in his great collection! I met Brett back in the fall during the puzzle dinner in New York that he organized.

I headed straight from work to Brett's place in New Jersey, and arrived at around 9:00 after a tiring but uneventful. Rob Stegmann of Rob's Puzzle Page was staying there as well, and was there when I arrived. Shortly after I got there, Rick Eason arrived, having driven all the way from Maine.

We sat around in Brett's living room for a bit and played around with some puzzles. The first one that I tried was this puzzle by Brett's brother. It was a one-of-a-kind puzzle that Brett had posted pictures of, so I couldn't wait to take a look at it.

It looked like a solid block of wood with a square rod passing through it. One end of the rod has a pin going through it. There are four holes drilled in the center of each of the other faces. The puzzle had a nice weight to it, and the finish and details were superb! Definitely a top-notch puzzle.

Brett told me that it didn't require hitting or spinning, so I did the only other thing I could think of doing to a box with holes in it (Brett said it was ok). I tried this action in every way I could think of, and didn't have much luck. I worked on it again on Saturday and Sunday, but this one had me stumped! Definitely one I would like to spend more time with at some point.

Next up, I was thrilled to get a chance to try Fulcrum Box (AKA Stickman #11) by Robert Yarger. I had seen pictures of this one before, and thought that it would be a fun box to try. Only 35 copies were made, so it is quite cool that Brett has one.

My first impression was that it was much smaller than I anticipated. With all those complex mechanics, I expected it to be pretty large, but as you can see in the picture it is fairly small. Still, the appearance is quite striking and makes you wonder how in the world it works. The craftsmanship was good, with a nice fit and finish.

I played around with it a bit, and actually found it to be fairly challenging, which was surprising since I had heard that it wasn't very difficult. I got the first compartment open after a bit of fiddling, but the second one was a bit more stubborn. I think it took me about a half hour to get the whole thing open.

Even though the mechanism is visible, it is still pretty tricky to figure out what is going on, partly because of the complexity and partly because I wasn't sure what was fixed and what could move. I think it is brilliant to have a box with a completely visible mechanism like this, yet still have it be a challenge. Very cool!

After trying these two puzzles, Brett busted out his Karakuri collection. First up, I tried Maze5+2steps by Hiroyuki Oka. This was his 2009 Christmas present, and has a clean, simple appearance. As you can expect with all of the Karakuri Club boxes, the fit and finish is extraordinary.

There are two compartments to this box, one of which is quite small and flat, small enough for a business card. It is very easy to find this first one, but finding the other one requires navigating a fairly tricky keyway. Overall I didn't find this one to be too difficult, I think it took me a few minutes.

The cool thing about this one is that you can easily discover the first compartment, but you could spend quite a bit more time finding the second one. The trick, however, is a fairly common trick that I had seen before, which is why it didn't take too long. For somebody not familiar with trick boxes, this could potentially take a while.

Next, I tried Two Steps of Drawers by Hideto Satou, his 2008 Christmas present. This is a nice looking little puzzle with two compartments.

There is one step required to open the first drawer, and one step to open the second drawer. I didn't find either of them to be particularly challenging and solved it in about a minute. Not my favorite due to its simplicity and I didn't find the moves to be particularly novel. Still, a nice little box that is well constructed.

After that, I tried Chip by Hiroyuki Oka, his 2007 Christmas present. This is a nice little box with an simple but interesting inlay on the outside. The "Chip" on the top is made out of several pieces of wood laminated together.

I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that there is a magnet in the chip, since it is immediately obvious once you touch it. I really liked this aspect of the puzzle, since he gives you a tool to help you discover how the box might open.

This little hint makes what might be a very difficult box for a non-puzzler to solve somewhat more managable, which I thought was nice. Plus, it makes for a more self-contained experience. The mechanism is not particularly novel, but I liked the presentation and it is very well constructed.

Here's a picture of Rob trying out Pinwheel by Bram Cohen and made by Jerry McFarland. I think I underestimated the difficulty of this puzzle in my initial review: sometimes the right move just strikes you, and it happened to strike me right away on this one. A lot of the serious puzzlers I showed it to this weekend had a tough time with it. I think the only person who got it apart was Rick Eason and he gave up on getting it back together.

Next in the Karakuri box lineup, I tried Moneybox by Hideto Satou. It is a nice looking box with a little coin slot and a colorful inlay. It came with the following warning: "Please don't use paper moneys and light coins. If you use them, some trouble will happen."

Well, after a warning like that, the solution seemed fairly obvious. It didn't appear to be working at first, but eventually I was able to get the box to open after a bit of fiddling. The solution to this one is a cool idea for a puzzle box: I believe that Akio Kamei's Money Bank operates with a similar theme, though the mechanism is different. This one wasn't too hard, but it had a cool mechanism and is quite well constructed.

This next box, Covered Type Secret Box by Yoshiyuki Ninomiya, is a great box. The geometric inlay on the outside is quite striking, and it is amazingly well constructed. It is just as you would expect from an 80-year-old master of the puzzle box craft.

Three sides have the inlay (the back right side in the picture is also inlaid) and three sides do not (the bottom and back left are not). This was a fairly tricky box to solve, but it does provide a hint to the observant puzzler. Because of this, I think this was one of my favorites of the Karakuri boxes that I tried that evening.

Brett knew that I also liked Perry McDaniel's work, so he also brought out Marbled Walnut Sheet Cake by Perry McDaniel. The craftsmanship, of course, is superb: it had a nice smooth finish with perfect joints.

I like his cake-themed puzzles, they have a lightheartedness that I enjoy. On the box he lists the nutritional contents: plenty of fiber and a little bit of iron! This one is quite difficult, requiring several moves to open.

I have played around with a bunch of puzzles similar to this, so I think it only took me about ten minutes to get it open and shut, but I was unable to get it to open and shut reliably. I'm not sure if it was me or the puzzle! Still, a cool box that was quite a challenge. If you're not familiar with this type of puzzle, it could take you quite a while!

Well, at this point it was about 1:00AM and everybody was getting pretty tired. Plus, we had to get up around 7:30 tomorrow to get to NYPP on time, so we decided to head to bed. What an awesome night, and I'm sure there would be tons of puzzling goodness to come!

A big thanks to Brett for hosting us at his house and letting me try out these great puzzles, it made for a great weekend of puzzling! More to come about the rest of the weekend.


  1. hello Brian

    very well done the report about the NYPP

    thanks for the pics too


  2. Thanks, Bernhard! I'm looking forward to NYPP 2011!


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