Hercules was designed by Jean Claude Constantin and produced by Bits & Pieces. They were having a sale last month, so I decided to pick one up. I wanted to try it because Rob Stegmann lists it on his "Today's Starter Kit" list of 22 puzzles. I've got about 11 of these so far and have enjoyed them all, so I was interested to see what this tray packing puzzle had in store.
I had seen it before when I was at Barry Kort's puzzle exhibit at the Museum of Science, but hadn't gotten a chance to solve it since folks were busy with it and I had many other puzzles to work on. It lends itself well to this type of use, since the pieces are metal and very sturdy. They have a nice weight to them, and the tray is made out of sturdy material as well.
After playing with this one for a bit, I was pretty sure that it utilized a common trick in tray-packing puzzles. The pieces are quite annoying, because they don't fit together nicely without leaving a lot of what seems like wasted space. I tried out a number of different things, and about 10-15 minutes later found the solution.
When I checked my solution against the solution provided by Bits and Pieces, I was surprised to find that they differed! Usually there is just one solution to this type of puzzle. Comparing the solutions, mine feels more logical/ordered while the provided solution is more haphazard. One thing I noticed was that the fit was more snug with my solution, and with the provided solution there is a bit of room for wiggle. This leads me to believe that the unintended solution is possible because the tray is slightly larger than intended, but only Jean Claude could confirm this.
I brought this one over to my family's house for Christmas, and folks really enjoyed it. My dad was vexed with it for quite a while, but eventually figured it out (he found the provided solution). My cousin Marisa, on the other hand, amazingly figured it out in about a minute (she found my solution).
As far as negatives, you can see the fly-cutter marks on some of the pieces that were created when the molds were machined. Not a huge deal, of course, but a bit sloppy. Also, I would have liked a storage space for the 5th piece, so it wouldn't have to be stored solved if you want to store it flat. This isn't much of a problem if you don't mind just laying the pieces in the tray upright.
Overall, a solid puzzle that is worth checking out if you enjoy tray packing puzzles or just want to explore this category of puzzles a bit more.
Puzzle Pod Junior
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