August 11, 2010

Rochester Puzzle Picnic (Part 2)

After a wonderful night of puzzling, I woke up the next morning at about 4:30. I couldn't sleep because visions of puzzles kept dancing in my head. I tried to go back to sleep for a while, but at 6:30 I gave up and decided to get up. I went upstairs and wandered around a bit, hoping that the limited amount of sleep that I got would be enough to keep me going through a long day of puzzling.

Much to my surprise, Peter Wiltshire also got up when he heard me walking around. He also wasn't able to sleep because he was excited about the puzzle party! We sat down at one of the puzzling tables and got started puzzling.

Much to my delight, Peter pulled out a copy of Stickman #3. This is a beautiful example of Robert Yarger's work: you can't help but be drawn to the intricate assortment of gears. It is nicely finished, but has a rugged look. This also adds to the playability of the puzzle, since it looks and feels quite sturdy.

Peter informed me that it took 106 moves to open, so I knew I had my work cut out for me! Luckily my mind was working decently well for this hour of the morning, and I gradually figured out how it worked. There are three compartments that you can access, which is a bit surprising since at first you can only identify one double-ended drawer.

I'm not quite sure how long it took me to figure this one out, probably somewhere around 45 minutes. Peter gave me a hint on how to access the final compatment, which is fortunate because I don't think I would have noticed it at first. Still, I definitely didn't have the moves memorized so it would likely take me almost as long a second time. What a brilliant puzzle. I can hardly believe it sold for $120 at one point!

With that complete, I headed back to Jeff's collection of Karkuri Club boxes and picked out Parabox by Akio Kamei. The wood that it is crafted from is really gorgeous. It has an excellent finish and the fit is quite good. The name is based on the combination of "paradox" and "box" since his clue is "when you open the box, it will be locked up."

I untied the knot and removed the lid, but under the lid there is another panel that doesn't budge. I had a basic idea of how this one worked, so I tried to apply this principal in a number of different ways. I had the right idea, but it took a bit of a hint from Jim to get it figured out completely. I think it would have taken me a while if I continued un-assisted. This one is pretty tricky!

Next I tried Top Box, which is another puzzle by Kamei. It has a familiar mechanism to puzzlers, so most probably won't find this one difficult. It did take me a little while to get it open, since the principal needs a fairly vigorous application in order to release the lock.

Next, Peter pulled out a copy of his Lacewood Box that is based on a design by Bruce Viney. Bruce's website provides a number of puzzle box plans, and this one is based on Matchbox. Peter modified the design to be a cube shape, rather than a box.

He also made the clever modification of scoring the box in a number of places, which makes it quite a bit tricker to see where the sliding panels are located. It is crafted out of some very nice lacewood, and has a great movement. As a puzzle, it isn't too challenging but is fun to play with. 

I'm not sure of the name of this box or the craftsman who made it, but it was another one that Peter brought. It isn't too complicated to solve, but has an interesting solution that is somewhat unexpected. The movement is nice and smooth, and the yosegi on the top was well done. The best part is that Peter picked it up for a very reasonable price.

Next up I tried String Box, by Kamei. Peter had worked on this one for a bit and was able to get it open, but had some trouble reproducing the feat so I decided to take a crack at it.

I untied the strings, but the cover wouldn't come off. It doesn't give you much to work with, so I fiddled with it for a little while. After a bit of work, I was able to open it. The mechanism is a bit tricky to unlock, though not too bad once you get the hang of it. I liked it!

The next box that I tried was Beaulid Box by Joel Freedman and Eric Fuller. This one had intrigued me since Eric describes it as having a mechanism and solving methodology unlike any other.

I worked on it for a little while before asking for a hint, since I wasn't making any progress. Jim provided one that was pretty helpful, so I started working along that route. Unfortunately, I didn't have much luck. Without giving too much away, there is a certain feature that you are looking for to make sure you are on the right track, and I wasn't finding it.

I showed it to Jeff, who said that he actually had two copies, and one of them was broken (the second copy was a replacement sent by Eric). It looks like I grabbed the broken copy! I started working on the functional copy, and still wasn't having much luck. I knew what the idea was, but wasn't able to get it open. Oh well!

Knowing what the solution is, I think that I would have made it a bit easier or more obvious when you are on the right track. In my opinion, the mechanism is far too subtle given the fact that you need to replicate the same feat several times for it to open.

You may remember from yesterday that Spring Box had stumped me, so I decided to return to it. I worked on it for a good bit longer, maybe about 20 minutes or so. At first I was just retracing the same steps, but I was gradually developing an understanding for how the box was constructed.

Eventually I felt like I had a fairly good idea of what needed to be done, and was able to discover the secret to unlocking it. It was quite satisfying when I finally got it open!

I liked this one: it was difficult but not impossible. It helped that I had a hint about what not to do (i.e. don't hit it) since it would be easy to go down a path that is completely wrong and spend a very long time on that train of thinking.

While I was puzzling, Rob Stegmann arrived with his daughter Chelsea. He brought in some big boxes of puzzles which I was looking forward to trying out. So many puzzles, so little time. It was good to see Rob again, the last time we had met was at the New York Puzzle Party in February.

A particularly exciting guest to arrive was Kelly Snache, a puzzle box craftsman who has made some really incredible works. He has managed to remain fairly insulated from the puzzle community, so his works are very original and unlike anything else I have seen.

We all had a great time showing Kelly our favorite puzzle boxes, since he hasn't really seen any of the work that is already out there. Here's a photo of Peter showing his Trillium box to Kelly.

Kelly was also delivering his most recent work to Jim Strayer: a one-of-a-kind puzzle chest named "The Lost Week". More on this later!

Last to arrive were Tanya Thompson and Tyler Somer. Tanya does inventor relations for ThinkFun and also blogs about her experience here. Tyler is involved with ThinkFun as a consultant on design issues. Pretty cool stuff! I'm quite envious of anybody who can make a career out of puzzling!

I think it was somewhere around this point that I finally stopped to grab some breakfast. Lots more puzzling to come!

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