August 10, 2010

Rochester Puzzle Picnic (Part 1)

This weekend was the Rochester Puzzle Picnic, a small get-together of puzzlers organized by Jeff Aurand that will be an annual event. I was really looking forward to it, particularly since Jeff is also a fan of puzzle boxes, so I was sure to see some neat stuff.

I took a half-day off at work on Friday so I could get there at a reasonable hour. The drive was supposed to take about 6 hours, but it took more like 7 due to traffic. I arrived at about 7:00, just in time for some puzzling!

When I arrived, Brett Kuehner, Peter Wiltshire and his wife Lesley, Jim Strayer and his wife Susan, and Jeff were sitting around, solving puzzles and playing with the Wiltshire's dog Roxy. In this photo, you can see Brett, Peter, Lesley, and Susan chuckling at Roxy, who was doing something amusing off to the right. Here's a video of Roxy being adorable, sorry for the crummy video quality:


After saying hello to everybody, I was drawn to Jeff's beautiful collection of Karakuri Creation Group boxes, which you can sort of see in the right of the above photo. The first one I picked out was Byway Secret 2 by Hiroshi Iwahara. I was interested to see how this puzzle differed from Byway Secret 4, which was Rob Jones' exchange present.

I was happy to see that it was quite a bit different. It utilized the same principle, but in a somewhat different manner. If you have tried one, you will probably make fairly short work of the other, though I found 2 to be more difficult than 4. I think this one took me 5-10 minutes. If you don't know the idea behind this series, it could take quite a bit longer. The yosegi on this one is very nice; I liked the geometric design. Very cool box!

The next box that I tried was Walk of the Ladybug, a cute puzzle by Tatuo Miyamoto. This has a really charming appearance with a little magnetic ladybug on a leaf made up of a number of beautiful exotic woods. You can open the box by navigating the ladybug in a particular manner.

After a minute or two of fiddling, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how it would eventually open, but it took several more minutes of work to actually get it to open. The mechanism is a bit unforgiving, which makes solving it pretty tricky. Nice!

This next one is a bit unusual looking: it is Soba by Hideto Satou. I checked with Jeff and was happy to find that solving this one did not involve touching the noodles. It is a fairly simple design, and Jeff thought that I would be disappointed, but it actually took me a little while to find the solution.

The lid rattles a bit, but I couldn't figure out how to unlock it. Eventually I discovered the secret, which I thought was fairly clever. I have seen this principal used in several other boxes, though they have slight differences. This one makes it a bit easier to discover the mechanism, so some may find it easy if they stumble upon it early.

This puzzle box is Hexagon by Hiroyuki Oka. I had actually done this one about a year ago when visiting Brett's house, but I don't think I noticed at the time that there was actually a second compartment! The first compartment that you discover on this one is quite large, so you would never expect  that there is another one.

However, you may notice that there is a rattling that can be heard, but no apparent reason for the rattle. The secret is held in the second compartment which actually contains a miniature 2-move secret box. Very cute! The puzzle is also very appealing visually, with the exotic wood stripes and a beautiful finish.

I was very excited when Peter Wiltshire pulled out his Trillium Box, which was Peter's entry into the 2009 puzzle design competition. He only made two copies of this box, so I was quite happy that I got the chance to see one. It is very impressive, no wonder folks keep begging him to make more!

I found this one to be pretty tricky, it took me a while to figure out how to open it. He does leave you some clues, but it took me a while to make the connection. The way it opens is simply magnificent, I really wish I could post a picture of it open, but that would spoil it for you if you get a chance to try it. Very cool!

Next I tried another box by Peter that is a bit more simple. The first thing you will probably try to do is pull on the knob, but it is just attached by a magnet. The puzzle itself is quite unforgiving: nothing appears to move and there is no obvious way to proceed.

I worked on this one for a while before discovering the solution, and was surprised to find that it was actually a twist on a common principle that I had seen used a few times before. This one, however, is different in such a way that even if you try what you would expect, it probably won't work. It is a neat idea and a nicely crafted little box.

With that one completed, I started on with some more of the Karakuri Club boxes. The next one I picked up was Star by Akio Kamei. This is a unique piece, since it is sort of a cross between a box and an assembly puzzle. It consists of five pieces, which are all identical. There is a small space inside as well. I was able to get this one open fairly quickly, but it probably took me twice as long to get it back together. You really need to get things lined up just right for it to work. The box's appearance is very appealing as well, with its unique shape and nice wood.

The next one I tried was Covered Chimney by Hiroshi Iwahara. This is yet another brilliant puzzle by Iwahara: the movement is quite unique and unexpected. It didn't take me long to figure out, but it is a very cute puzzle. I think folks who aren't as familiar with this type of puzzle may find this one to be pretty difficult. The goal is to remove the cover from the chimney to reveal the small storage space inside.

This next one is by Tajima, but I'm not sure of the name. This stumped me for a good 10-15 minutes when the lights went out! Wisely, Jeff knew that the only way he could get us to quit puzzling and eat dinner was to shut the lights off.
Jeff had prepared a delicious meal of hamburgers and hot-dogs, which had been grilled over an open wood fire. I was amazed by how much better it tasted than usual! What a treat! We dined out on Jeff's enclosed porch and talked for a while.

After a little while I started to get...the itch! I excused myself and went to grab that Tajima puzzle again. My mind couldn't rest until I had solved it, so I might as well get to it! I brought it out to the porch and worked on it for what felt like 20-30 more minutes before I finally figured it out. Phew! It was pretty tricky.

The mechanism to this one is pretty unique, the box actually will slide apart in a number of different directions, but it won't come completely apart. The final move was completely different than I expected. This one is also a bit of a challenge to put back together, since things must be lined up just right. Very nice!

With that one put to rest, I headed back into the house to grab another. This time I came back with two, just in case one was easy. The first of which was Hinge, by Tatuo Miyamoto. I liked the appearance, since it resembled a commonly seen item. The contrasting wood for the screws was a nice touch.

It didn't take me long to figure this one out, maybe 2-3 minutes. It actually has two compartments, which is a nice feature. They must be opened sequentially. Overall, a nice little puzzle.

The second one was also by Miyamoto and was named Latch. This one took me a little while to figure out. I could tell that a certain piece moved in a certain way, but didn't want to force it. Sure enough, there was another move that needed to be done before the other piece could move freely.

As I was reversing the sequence to close it, it jammed up! I frantically tried to release it, but didn't have any luck. I didn't want to make matters worse by forcing something, so I handed it to Jeff to see if he could fix it. Unfortunately, he was unable to. Ack! It is every puzzler's worst nightmare, screwing up somebody else's puzzle.

I felt pretty awful, but Jim said that the exact thing had happened to his puzzle. He made the mistake of forcing it, and now it doesn't quite work as it should. He advised us to just leave it alone and send it back to the Karakuri Club to be fixed. I was quite pleased to hear that they would actually repair puzzles, and that made me feel a bit better, but still I felt pretty bad. Sorry Jeff!

Incidentally, the next day, we were telling Rob Stegmann what happened, and he actually said that there was a defect with that particular puzzle that caused it to lock up, and it required repair. Oh well, at least it wasn't just me!

Next I tried Japanese Toolbox, which is also by Miyamoto. As I started to work on this one, Jim said that he bet that I wouldn't solve this one as it was intended. Sure enough, I played around with it for a few minutes and was able to get the small drawer to pop open. But where were the tools? I heard something rattling around on the inside.

It turns out that there is a second, much more elegant solution. Unfortunately, it is very easy to bypass the intended solution and get the box open. Oh well! As you can see in the photo, the tools are pretty cute. Some of them are used in the solution, and some are just decorative. Pretty neat, but too bad that it doesn't quite work as it should.

The last puzzle that I tried before turning in for the night was Spring Box, by Akio Kamei. I was reluctant to try this one at first, since Peter Wiltshire had tried it for a while without any luck. I worked on it for what must have been 20 or 30 minutes, but was unable to crack it. At this point it was about 12:30 and everybody else had gone to bed, so I decided to turn in as well and revisit it in the morning.

What a first day, and the puzzle party hadn't even technically started! I could hardly sleep, since I was so excited for what the next day would bring.


  1. Brian,

    The unnamed box was made by Tajima. I purchased it in Japan, but do not know the name.

    Great write up - can't wait to see the rest!


  2. Thanks! The post has been updated! Hopefully I will be able to get more written today. It looks like Saturday will need to be split into two parts!

  3. the spring box is a pain! I got that one for Xmas from Kamei, and it was the only one that year I needed the solution...

  4. Yeah, that one took me a while! Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion tomorrow :)

  5. I think everyone at RPP enjoyed watching you crank through box after box. If there's ever a solving competition, I'd put my money on you.

    Thanks for pointing out that the hexagon has a hidden surprise. Somewhat embarassingly, I never noticed the rattle and had not found the second compartment and hidden box. So of course the first thing I did this morning after reading your blog was to grab the box and open up both parts. Between this and "Secret Base", I wonder how many other puzzles I own have unrevealed secrets.

  6. Hah, thanks Brett! I'm getting pretty good with boxes, but I need to work on other types of puzzles!

    That's funny that you hadn't noticed the extra compartment either. Next time I will think twice before dismissing an inexplicable rattle.

    Actually, a box that I have borrowed from Jeff Chiou has a rattling that came from the lid. I just dismissed it as a red herring to make you think that there was a gravity mechanism, but maybe I will inspect it again.

  7. My boyfriend is also a crazy puzzle person :)
    He loves crossword puzzles, puzzle hunts, and mechanical puzzles. He has a modest collection of mechanical puzzles, but his appetite for them is insatiable. How can he get himself invited to these get togethers?

    By the way, I'm a huge fan of the blog and consult it regularly for gift ideas.
    We're currently working through the nemesis factor- what fun!


  8. Hi Yael,

    Congratulations on dating a puzzler, I have heard from unbiased sources that we are quite the catch :)

    To get invited to the IPP is a bit of a challenge, you need to attend some local gatherings before you can get invited to that. For local gatherings like the one in Rochester, you just need to get in touch with some puzzlers and they'll tell you what is coming up.

    You can use the Contact Me link on the right to send me an email with where you live and I can see if I can hook you up with something. The next one I am aware of is in New York in February, but something will hopefully pop up before then.

    I'm glad that you are enjoying the blog and finding some good gift ideas! Feel free to contact me if you have questions about anything :) Nemesis Factor is an awesome one!


  9. Brian
    It was great to see you at RPP! You are an amazing puzzle solver and a joy to watch!


  10. Thanks Tanya! It was great seeing you again as well!

  11. Hi Brian !

    This is George Dvorak, chief designer inZane thingZ puzzles.
    You are invited to visit my web site at and my YouTube channel inzane thingz.



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