August 31, 2010

Box with a Tree

Another one of the puzzles that I borrowed from Jeff Chiou was Box with a Tree by Hiroshi Iwahara. Check out Jeff's entry about it on his blog.

This looked like a very interesting box, so I was quite eager to give it a try. I had the chance to try it at the Karakuri Box Exhibit, but I knew it was a fairly tricky one and didn't spend much time with it.

As you can see from Jeff's photo, it is a fairly plain looking box with a lone ornament on the lid: a black pine tree. I thought that this surely must be some kind of hint! I love how simple it looks, but the simplicity hides a tricky mechanism. The finish is nice, and the movement was good, though a bit stiff.

I noticed fairly quickly that two panels moved, but that didn't do me much good. I had a general idea for how it would open, but I couldn't figure out quite how to release the locking mechanism.

I kept thinking about the tree, and tried the only thing that I could think of that would be related to it. I kept trying in various permutations until finally it opened! However, I had no idea why that time was successful and my previous attempts were not. Quite perplexing! The mechanism is not visible when the box is open, so that really didn't help.

I shut the box and tried to open it again, and eventually I figured out the one remaining element that I was missing. Very clever! I think it took me a total of 10-15 minutes, which was pretty lucky, this could have easily taken me hours or days if I went down a different thought path. It really is quite difficult, but well worth the effort. Overall, a fine box! Thanks to Jeff for loaning it to me!

August 27, 2010

New Move Puzzle Box

Jeff Chiou of MagicPuzzles.org recently loaned me a number of puzzles, mostly boxes, from his collection. The next few entries will be about the puzzles he loaned me. The first of which is the "New Move" puzzle box by Yamanka Kumiki Works. Check out Jeff's entry about it here.

As you can see from this lovely photo by Jeff, it has a very nice yosegi pattern on the outside. I like how it doesn't really leave the eye a good place to rest, it makes it look quite dazzling.

This one appears to operate like a normal Japanese puzzle box, but after the 3rd move, it seems to lock up! I fiddled with it for a few minutes before I discovered the solution, which is pretty clever. It really takes advantage of your expectation for how a box like this should work.

Once I had solved it, I noticed that there was a rattling noise coming from somewhere, but I couldn't figure out why. After pursuing it for a few minutes, I decided that it was just a red herring and closed the box up.

A few days later, while I was at the Rochester Puzzle Picnic, I was trying out Hexagon by Hiroyuki Oka. I had seen it before at Brett's house, but decided to give it another try. I opened it after a few moments and noticed a rattling noise, didn't make anything of it. However, somebody pointed out that there was actually a second compartment if I kept looking! Sure enough, there was a second compartment that contained a tiny little puzzle box, and I vowed to never leave a mysterious rattle so lightly.

When I returned home, I revisited New Move box and the mysterious rattle. I examined it very closely and couldn't possibly imagine how an additional compartment could be hidden, since the main compartment fills the entire volume of the box. However, sure enough, there is one!

Overall, a very cool box! I checked their website, and it doesn't look like they have any quite like this available, but they have one on their products page called New Trick. Perhaps it is the same, but it is hard to tell.

August 23, 2010

Karakuri Cakes

I tried to order these cute little puzzle boxes from Karakuri Creation Group back in June before IPP, but unfortunately they were out of stock by the time I placed by order. Recently, they came back in stock, and I had been thinking about ordering some. Imagine my surprise when a few days ago, I got an email that they had just been shipped! I guess they had kept my order active and just filled it when the new stock came in. Oh well! It was a nice little surprise, and I guess I would have bought them at some point anyways.

These boxes are a continuation of the series of affordable small boxes. As with the other sets, they are all very nicely crafted, with a nice smooth finish and excellent movement. It is hard to notice any seams to help you figure these out, though they aren't too tricky.

The first is Cheese Cake (KS-1), which has two little purpleheart cubes on top of it, along with a half-circle wedge of something. There are two grooves on the top, otherwise the box is featureless. In my opinion, the appearance of this one is probably the least appealing of the set, but it is still a nice-looking little box.

The mechanism took me a little while to figure out, I think it is the most challenging of the set, but it only took me a minute or so. I was able to get the first move right away, but the second move is more difficult. The third move is pretty easy. My girlfriend, Kellian, figured this one out quicker than I did. The mechanism is quite unique, it is unlike anything I had seen before, and fairly unexpected. I think this is probably my favorite of the set for this reason.

The second box in the set is Fruit Cake (KS-2). This box has three little wedges of fruit on the top. The lid is made out of a white wood and the body is more yellow. There is a band of brown wood going along the middle, presumably some sort of tasty fruit filling.

The mechanism to this one is fairly simple, but cute. I think most folks should be able to figure this one out without too much trouble. The first move is the only tricky part, with the second one following fairly easily afterwards. I have seen the principal used once before, but in a slightly different manner.

The third box in the set is Chocolate Cake (KS-3). It has two little cinnamon stick looking things on the top, and a dark frosting. The cake is a lighter colored brown, with a white creamy filling. Hm, I could use some sweets right about now! The appearance of this one is quite appealing, I like the dark woods used.

The mechanism is similar to one of Perry McDaniel's Petite Fours, though I don't think he is the originator of this particular trick. I think that it is likely to have been used many times. It requires four moves to open, the third of which is probably the trickiest, but not by much. This one didn't take me long either, since I was familiar with the principal. Kellian found this one to be the trickiest for her. The panels on this one were a bit tight.

The fourth box in the series is Marble Cake (KS-4), which is visually my favorite of the four. It utilizes zebrawood to get the striped effect, which I think is quite nice. I'm not quite sure what the gizmo on top is, perhaps some kind of round chocolate with a shaved piece of marbled chocolate on top. This one looks the most like cake to me, though I also liked Chocolate Cake.

This one isn't too difficult, I was able to figure it out pretty quickly. There are three moves, which are about equal in difficulty. I haven't seen this exact mechanism before, but the principal is fairly common. This was Kellian's favorite mechanism of the set.

In all, I was quite happy with this set of puzzle boxes. I wasn't in awe of any of the mechanisms, like I was with the original Small Box series. Check out my entries on 1, 2, and 3 as well as 5 and 7 for details about these. I think I enjoyed those boxes more because they were generally more difficult and felt more novel. Perhaps I am just a bit more discerning now that I saw so many great boxes at IPP and RPP.

The appearance of these is quite a bit more interesting than the original Small Box series. I'm sure that folks will be drawn to try these out because of their whimsical appearance. My one worry is that the decorations will come unglued if tugged too vigorously, that's kind of the danger when including such features on a puzzle. The fact that they are decorations in some of the boxes and part of the mechanism in others will encourage folks to fiddle with them.

Still, this is a solid set of puzzles for a very reasonable price: $40 per box for Karakuri Club members. They are not yet available to the public, but I'm sure they will be soon.

August 17, 2010

Rochester Puzzle Picnic (Part 6)

After working on Kelly Snache's awesome Lost Weekend puzzle chest, I headed upstairs to try out a few more puzzles. The first one that caught my eye was Robert Yarger's Snowball Box, shown here.

I was surprised that I hadn't noticed it on the shelf earlier, since am always eager to check out Robert's work. The idea is pretty interesting: it is a puzzle box that is held together only by the six wood panels, and it can be completely disassembled. Pretty neat!

It may not look like much in the photo, but the pieces are amazingly precisely cut. The runners are pretty much as thin as you could imagine without being overly brittle. I was quite careful disassembling it for fear of damaging the delicate edges. Check out more photos here, which show it partially disassembled. You probably can't see it in the photo, but the corners look really cool. They twist together with a nice three-fold symmetry.

I think this one took me about 5-10 minutes to open, which is longer than I would have expected of what is essentially a sliding panel box with not many moves. The move sequence is pretty interesting, taking seven moves to fully open the box. I disassembled it completely, but kept track of the pieces so I could be sure of getting it back together, so I'm not sure how hard it would be if the pieces were jumbled. I would imagine it is pretty tricky!

Another one that I couldn't resist trying was Kagen Schaefer's Maze Burr, which I had seen previously during a visit to Brett Kuehner's house. The idea is that there are a number of interchangeable grooved plates on the exterior of the box, whose movements are restricted by the plate below them with a pin sticking up through the groove. The objective is to open the box, and it can be made easier or more difficult depending on the configuration of panels you choose.

The version that I tried at NYPP was made by Tom Lensch and owned by Rob Stegmann. That version has a mechanism that allows you to bypass the lock for easily resetting the puzzle, which is a great idea. This version, a Kagen original, has no such feature, so it ended up being more of an assembly puzzle than a disassembly puzzle: you have to solve it in reverse in order to get the box shut after reconfiguring the panels.

When I first pulled it out, it was open, so I tried to figure out how to close it. I decided that I would re-configure the plates first, to choose a configuration that wouldn't take me forever. I ended up selecting a 20-move configuration, which I hoped wouldn't be too difficult.

I was surprised to find that you actually need to partially disassemble the burr frame (the black wood in the photo) in order to remove all of the plates. This was a bit tricky due to a tight fit from the humidity, but I was able to get it apart.

I had a heck of a time figuring out how the diagrams were oriented. The instructions said it was as if you had cut the box and laid it flat, but I wasn't sure if I was looking at the interior or the exterior of the box. I think it ended up being the exterior, but I'm not sure.

It took me a while, but I was able to solve the 20 move problem after about 20 minutes or so. There were a few dead ends which made it tricky: I really needed to work my  way backwards to figure out the solution. I would imagine the 116 move configuration is next to impossible! This is a very cool puzzle! No wonder it won the Puzzle of the Year in the 2006 Design Competition!

This last puzzle was one that I had my eye on throughout the day: Kagen Schaefer's Snake Box. During the International Puzzle Party, Jeff had found out that this puzzle had a second compartment that he hadn't discovered, so he was quite eager to try it when he returned home. Unfortunately, it was jammed up due to humidity so he was unable to open it.

I also wanted to look for the hidden compartment, so I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn't be able to give this one a try. As it was getting late, I decided that I would ask Jeff if he would mind if I checked to see if the box had loosened up at all. He kindly obliged, and I set my self to the task of opening it, even though I was fairly sure that it would be an impossible task.

Lo and behold, I was able to find the first piece to move! I was quite excited, since I really wanted a chance to solve this one. The mechanism is cool: you actually slide the pieces to change the configuration from the snake configuration above to this checkered configuration. Once it is in the checkered configuration, the box will open.

I'm not sure how he did it, but it is very nicely designed so that you aren't just randomly moving the pieces around, there are specific moves that are possible due to the way the pieces are configured. Usually you are moving two or three pieces that have been joined together as a unit, and sometimes the squares move individually. There are a number of dead ends, but you can't really scramble it, it is more like a maze.

I think I was able to get it open after 10 minutes or so, though the movement was quite tight at spots. Kagen crafts his puzzles to very precise tolerances, so subtle humidity changes can really effect the mechanism. I was quite psyched to get it open, and handed it over to Jeff to see if he could locate the secret compartment.

He spent a while on it, but was unable to find it and handed it back to me. I studied it for a bit and noticed some unusual features that seemed to have something to do with the mechanism for the second compartment, but I wasn't able to make any progress, though I tried for quite a while before giving up.

I recently heard from Jeff that he finally got it open: we had the right idea, but the mechanism was very tight due to the humidity. Still, it is really cool that Kagen managed to figure out how to put a second compartment in there. As you can see from the photo of the puzzle open, it doesn't look like there is any room for another compartment. This photo also shows the wooden hinges that Kagen made for this box. What a great puzzle!

That brings us to the end of an amazing day of puzzling. Here's a photo of the full group of puzzlers. In the top row we have our gracious host, Jeff Aurand, Jim Strayer, Tyler Somer, Tanya Thompson, and Kelly Snache. In the lower row is Peter Wiltshire, Rob Stegmann, yours truly - Brian Pletcher, and Brett Kuehner.

This photo was taken a bit earlier, before some folks left. The rest of us stayed up until about 2:30, working on the puzzles I just wrote about. It just seemed best to end the day with this photo!

There was a bit of puzzling the on Sunday, but mostly I slept in and revisited a few puzzles I had tried before. We did get a chance to see Jeff's amazing new woodworking shop. It was full of sweet power tools and a neat cyclonic dust collection system that you can see on the right here. Man, I'd love to get into woodworking. Someday!

A big thanks to Jeff Aurand for organizing the first Rochester Puzzle Picnic, I'll definitely be back next year! Hope that it continues for many years to come. Also, thanks to everybody who came for their excellent company, it was great meeting/seeing all of you and sharing our love of puzzles!

August 16, 2010

Rochester Puzzle Picnic (Part 5)

After Jim Strayer's talk, we hung out for a bit and Jeff Aurand started his talk about the Ten Plates puzzle. This is a puzzle designed and made by Jean-Claude Constantin which consists of plates that are to be assembled in the cubic configuration shown here. Each piece consists of five slots, some are long and some are short. A long slot must meet a short slot and visa versa.

Jeff tried to solve this puzzle for a while, but was unable to do so, so he wrote a program to help him do it! His presentation talked about his journey through this process, and was pretty interesting. It culminated in an analysis of all of the possible configurations of this puzzle, based on the 18 distinct pieces that can be created and using sets where all pieces are different. Pretty neat! Rob Stegmann has also analyzed this group puzzles, as you can see on his website here. He refers to this category as Crossed Sticks puzzles.

At the end of the presentation, Jeff drew names to find out who would get a free copy of Ten Plate, and I won! I haven't tried it yet, but I'll write about it when I do. Jeff said that Jim was able to find a few solutions manually, so it is doable without a computer. We'll see! Thanks Jeff!

As I mentioned earlier, there was the Puzzle Paradise Contest for the best made puzzle. Unlike the Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition at the International Puzzle Party which focuses on design, this competition places the emphasis on craftsmanship. There were three entries: Peter Wiltshire's Artichoke Box, Stephen Chin's La Bomba, and Brett's brother's unnamed entry.

Rob Stegmann and Jim Strayer were chosen as judges, and here is a photo of them judging away. Rob is holding the La Bomba, Jim is working on the Artichoke Box, and the unnamed entry is between them.

I actually wrote about the Artichoke Box in Part 2 and the Apple, which is similar to La Bomba, in my entry about the 2010 Puzzle Design Competition awards ceremony. I had even tried Brett's brother's entry back in February when I visited Brett's house for the New York Puzzle Party. All three were very cool!

Stephen's La Bomba won the judge's choice, since it is really a magnificent piece of craftsmanship. It really is a beautiful puzzle and it is very difficult to make. There was also a People's Choice award which went to Peter's Artichoke Box, which is quite understandable since it is a remarkable box. Congratulations to the winners!

Throughout the course of the day Peter Wiltshire and I worked on the new puzzle chest that Kelly Snache made for Jim Strayer named The Lost Week. Jim wanted to wait till he got home to try it, but he was kind enough to let us give it a try while we had a chance. Here's a photo taken by Rob.

This photo doesn't really give you the sense of the size: it is about 3 feet wide and quite heavy. The only thing that is immediately obvious is the dial on the front. The lid pulls open slightly, but won't open completely.

It is beautifully crafted out of old wood from a barn, which gives it a great antique look. It looks like something you might haul out of a pile of junk in an old attic, which contains untold mysteries. Very cool look!

Peter and I spent a while poking around at this one before we found anything at all. When we finally did start to make some progress, we got a sense for how massively complicated it was. There are some hidden clues which were helpful, but we needed a few hints from Kelly to interpret the clues and continue making headway. Even once we had a good understanding of the exterior locking mechanisms, it still took us quite a while to actually get it open. I'm not sure how long we spent on it, but I think it was something like 6 hours!

Even once we got it 'open' we still couldn't access any of the hidden compartments, of which there are several. We surrendered at this point, since this chest could have easily sucked up the remainder of our time at the picnic, and I didn't want to be too antisocial. Plus, I doubt we would have been able to even come close to finishing it, even if we had worked all night.

In this photo, Peter is opening Feather Chest by Kelly, and I'm using my kung-fu stance to try to figure out Lost Week. In my hand you can see a little flashlight, which came in quite handy this weekend for peering into dark spots in puzzles looking for clues.

Feather Chest was also quite cool, but not nearly as complex as Lost Week. It is more usable for storage, since it actually has some fairly large compartments. In the photo, you can see a bird's nest with some eggs, which are actually part of the puzzle. Cool idea!

More puzzling to come, so stay tuned for Part 6!

August 14, 2010

Rochester Puzzle Picnic (Part 4)


After a bit of puzzling earlier in the day, Jim Strayer gave a talk named "Inquiring Minds Want to Know." In the presentation, he talked about the answers to some frequently asked questions that he gets about his puzzle collection. The best part was that he brought all of the puzzles that were his answers to the questions, so I had the chance to try them out! As you can see, they were all covered up with pillow cases, to build suspense.

Here are the questions he answered, feel free to answer some or all of them yourself in the comments below!
  • What puzzle started you off as a collector?
  • What is your most expensive puzzle?
  • What puzzle box in your collection has the most moves?
  • What puzzle in your collection has the most pieces?
  • If you only had one puzzle that you could save from certain destruction in your collection, which one would it be?
  • What is your biggest puzzle regret or missed opportunity?
  • What is your favorite puzzle?
  • What is your least favorite puzzle?
Jim actually got started collecting puzzles by collecting bandsaw boxes. These are boxes that are usually cut out of a single block of wood using a bandsaw. As an example, he brought the beautiful box shown here. It has nine compartments, the last of which is quite tricky to find!

I like boxes like this as well, they're always fun to open up and see how complex they are. They also do a great job of highlighting the beauty of the wood.

Jim's most expensive puzzle was Goliath by Miguel Berrocal. For those of you not familiar with Berrocal, his works lie at the intersection of sculpture and puzzles, and are priced to match! As you can see, it is a beatiful work. This is the most complicated of Berrocal's torsos: it is made up of 80 brass pieces and is composed of  many sub-assemblies.

A neat detail about this one that Jim was only too happy to share is that the puzzle can be assembled with either a fig leaf, a circumcised penis, or an uncircumcised penis! The unused pieces are stored inside the sculpture itself.

I started disassembling this one, but was quickly getting in over my head, so I decided to try putting it back together. It is really remarkable how all of the pieces interlock, it is beautifully crafted. I had a bit of trouble getting a piece to go back in, which made me a bit reluctant to continue the disassembly. Plus, it is a ridiculously complicated puzzle and Jim didn't bring the solution, so I didn't want to leave him with a mess.

Since this wasn't a puzzle box, and Jim loves puzzle boxes, he also decided to bring his most expensive puzzle box: Labyrinth by GarE Maxton. You can read a ton of  information about it here; GarE posts extensive information about his puzzles. They cost a fortune, so it does take some selling, I'm sure! Only five of these were made.

 It is a puzzle box that takes around 20 moves to open. I found it fairly challenging to even open it, since there are so many pieces that could move. The assembly is symmetrical, however, so once you find a move on one side you can locate it on the other side. I think it took me about 10 or 15 minutes to get it open.

The really cool thing is that the puzzle disassembles completely into 42 pieces! So it is both a puzzle box and an assembly puzzle. The first time I opened it, I removed a few pieces and then put them back and closed up the box. Later in the day, I tried it again, getting a bit more adventurous and taking about half of the pieces out before putting it back.

The following day, I grew even more bold and decided to disassemble the whole thing! The trick is keeping good track of where the pieces came from. I had figured out a system that worked fairly well to maintain the orientation of the pieces, so I felt like I had it under control. Unfortunately, It jammed up about 80% of the way through the disassembly, so I was unable to finish taking it apart. Oh well! I did get it back together without too much trouble. It would be a real beast if you scrambled the pieces!

The puzzle box from his collection with the most moves is Super-Cubi by Hiroshi Iwahara. It is based on the trinary gray code and requires 324 moves to open. Now that I've done the King Cubi which requires 1536 moves to open and MMMDXLVI which requires 3546 moves to open, this doesn't seem like much, but at the time it was built it was a record.

I didn't solve this one, since I knew that I could do it and that it would probably take a while to do so. I did test out the movement, since Jim mentioned that it was the 'speed' version of this box that features a smoother movement. Indeed, it was quite a bit smoother than the King Cubi I had tried.

The one box Jim would save from certain destruction was his copy of Kamei's Rose Box, which has a nice story attached to it. If I recall correctly, he had been considering purchasing it for a hefty price, but had resisted for a while. Later, he was quite delighted to find that his wife purchased it for him on his 40th birthday, so this box has a special memory for him.

As you can see from this photo from Jim's collection, it is a really remarkable box. It is very nicely crafted with beautiful flowing lines. As a puzzle it is not at all challenging, but it is a beautiful example of woodworking.

Jim's biggest puzzle regret is passing up the chance to purchase an extremely rare 119-move secret box byYoshio Okiyama. Okiyama is deceased and is widely known as one of the great masters of the craft, so his boxes are quite valuable. Jim was in Japan before an IPP and had just spent a good sum of money at Izumia, a great shop that sells puzzles in Hakone. Before he left the shop, the owner showed him this box, which was being sold for around $2,000, which was quite a good price for it. However, since he had already spent so much money already and the IPP would be starting in several days, he decided to pass. This decision has haunted Jim to this day! In 2008, this box sold for $10,000 at auction. Check out that auction link for more photos and detailed info on this box.

Jim's favorite puzzle is the custom-crafted chest by Kelly Snache shown here, named the Dr. Jim chest. It is crafted out of century-old pine barn boards for a beautiful rustic look. It contains a total of 16 secret compartments, which are accessed by unlocking a variety of intricate locking mechanisms. Check out more info on Jim's site.  I may need to take a trip to see Jim sometime to try this one out, it sounds incredible!

Jim's least favorite puzzles are boxes that involve wooden pins, where it is impossible to figure out the way to open it without a solution. Since the pins are wooden, you can't really hear when they are shifting around, which makes it pretty annoying. Jim said that this annoyance culminated in The Ultimate Personal Box, which is made by Quagmire Puzzle Boxes. According to Jim, it is completely impossible to open unless you know the solution, which makes it a bit more like a safe than a puzzle. This box is in the left of the photo below.

Jim also brought out two puzzle boxes that are the most rare boxes in his collection, based on the number of works produced by the craftsman. They were both by Jeff Aurand, who only made a single copy of each as a gift for Jim. Very cool! One of these boxes is in the right of this photo.

The really remarkable thing about this puzzle is the beautiful wood that is used for the lid. It has such a shine and depth that I'd never seen before. Awesome! The box itself isn't particularly hard to open, but it actually took me a little while since I started off along the wrong line of thinking. Also, it is crafted so precisely that it is hard to tell where the secret lies. Very nice work!

The second of Jeff's boxes is shown here. It is actually a puzzle box that is based on Rush Hour: the goal is to move the black piece to the right, which magnetically unlocks the latch. The pieces all slide in grooves, so you can't take them out and rearrange them. The movement is quite smooth and it is beautifully crafted. What a cool idea for a puzzle box! I didn't find it too difficult, but I'm not sure what the starting position was. Perhaps it was halfway solved when I got to it. Very cool! Hopefully Jeff will be cranking out some more works soon from his beautiful new shop!

Here is a photo of the table full of puzzles that Jim brought. The one I haven't mentioned yet is the large structure at the back of the table that looks like a house. This was the puzzle that Jim owns with the most pieces. I'm not sure of the name or maker, but it has some ridiculous amount of pieces. The entire structure is made without any glue, and will disassemble into individual pieces of wood. I didn't disassemble this one at Jim's request, which was probably wise!

I had a good time listening to Jim's presentation, and I hope you enjoyed reading about it. We're not done yet! There will be a few more posts about the Rochester Puzzle Picnic coming up soon.

August 12, 2010

Rochester Puzzle Picnic (Part 3)

We left off in Part 2 after the last of the puzzle picnic attendees had arrived. There were going to be a few talks later in the day, but for now, on with puzzling!

This box was Peter Wiltshire's Artichoke Box, which was his entry into the Puzzle Paradise Contest, a puzzle crafting competition (more on this later). I was quite intrigued by the looks of this one and decided to give it a try.

As you can see, Peter has incorporated the scoring technique he used in his Lacewood puzzle box to creat a great effect on this one. It is a complicated pattern which makes it difficult to tell where this one came apart. It is beautifully crafted with a nice fit, which also made it hard to figure out where to start. After a bit of examination, I was quite surprised by what I saw: my conclusion was that this one would come apart in a very interesting way.

Sure enough, once I had figured it out, the way it opens is very cool. You may be able to imagine it somewhat based on the name. Here's another one where it would be great to show a photo of it open, but that would spoil it as a puzzle somewhat. With just the opening mechanism alone, it would be a very cool but easy puzzle, so Peter added a bit to make it more difficult. Overall, a very nice puzzle!

Here is a set of R.D. Rose Puzzles that Rob Stegmann brought. Each is beautifully machined out of aluminum and has a unique trick. The round and the square ones have tricks that are fairly common, but they are particularly well implemented here. The triangle has a trick that I hadn't seen before, which is pretty neat. It wasn't too hard to figure out, but was quite satisfying when you unlock it. Very cool!

Rob also brought Bi-Polar by Orb Factory, which I was quite interested to try because Rob recommends it to new collectors. I had looked for it and didn't have much luck, so I was glad to give it a try.

You will immediately notice that one of the knobs comes off magnetically, I think it is the red one. The puzzle wiggles a bit around the center, but won't come apart. I played around with this one for a little while before I discovered the solution. I wasn't sure what I had done, but upon looking at the mechanism I could see what happened.

This next puzzle is Geburt by the mysterious Roger. Nobody knows who he is, but he makes some clever and equally mysterious puzzles. Frequently, it is hard to even tell what the objective is, and this one is no exception.

Our hypothesis was that the goal is to get a small ball-bearing out of the hole in the lower part of this one. There is a bolt that is covered by the black cap that goes all the way through the metal tube. In the bolt, a hole has been drilled in which a small ball-bearing sits. Presumably, once you get the hole in the bolt lined up with the hole in the body, you can get it out.

Just now I used Google Translate to see that "Geburt" means "birth", which makes a lot of sense given our hypothesis. It also explains the bumps on the front, which may or may not have anything to do with the puzzle.

I didn't work on this one for long since I knew it would be quite difficult and there were a lot of other things I wanted to try. I would love to have spent more time with this one though!

The next puzzle I tried was Eis by Roger, also brought by Rob. This one is a bit more straightforward that the others I have seen, but it is by no means easy. Rob said it was similar to Revomaze, so I went about solving it with that in mind.

The bronze shaft moves in and out of the aluminum sleeve, similar to Revomaze. It was a bit hard to tell what was going on inside, but it felt somewhat similar. After a bit of fiddling, eventually I was able to get it apart. I think it probably took me a good 10-20 minutes though, definitely not easy! I wasn't a huge fan of this one, since its size makes it hard to grip and manipulate precisely, which is necessary to solve it. Still, it is always fun to try a Roger puzzle, since you never know what to expect!

Up next, Jim would be giving a talk about some questions he frequently gets asked about his collection and the answers. This seems like a good place for a break, so I'll continue with that in Part 4.

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!

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:

video


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.
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