February 23, 2011

2011 New York Puzzle Party (Part 1)

The weekend before last was the annual New York Puzzle Party! Brett Kuehner was kind enough to invite me to stay at his house again this year, along with a few other puzzlers: Rob Stegmann, Laurie Brokenshire, and Tanya Thompson. With all these awesome people, it was sure to be a good time!

I took a half day at work and headed down toward Brett's place a bit early because I wanted to stop by Jose Grant Jewelry to look for puzzle wedding rings. I guess I should have written that post first, but I think I'll save that entry for when I get the final ring!

I think I arrived at Brett's around 5:00, and I was very glad to have come early. It turns out that Oskar van Deventer and his wife also there, though he would be staying at Tom Cutrofello's home that night.

The first puzzle that caught my eye was this interesting geared 2x2x2 design by Bram Cohen and Oskar van Deventer. There are four "big" corners and four "little" corners. The big corners mesh with the adjacent little corners, so if you rotate one, all eight corners will rotate! However, since the big corners have more teeth, the small corners rotate faster.

If that was all there was to the puzzle, then it would be impossible to scramble it since there is only one move: everything rotates at once, so just keep rotating till you get back to the start. However, as you can see in this second photo, you can also expand the cube along any of the three axes. This causes the left and right halves (for example) to rotate independently!

If you scramble it with these moves, it becomes a challenge to get it back together. Unlike most of these fancy cubes which folks won't let you scramble because they're too hard or time consuming to solve, this one was already mixed up when I found it, so I was able to try solving it!

I was able to get all but two corners done fairly easily, but any time I would fix those two I would end up messing up two more! Eventually, I figured it out, but I'm not sure I could reproduce the feat any quicker the second time. I think if I analyzed this puzzle more, I could probably come up with some algorithms to solve it more easily, but I was having fun just playing with it. The movement was nice and smooth for a 3D printed puzzle! You can purchase it (unassembled) on Shapeways for only $130, which is pretty reasonable.

Next, I saw gleaming on the table a T3 Popplock by Rainer Popp that Rob had brought for me to try solving. Rainer makes some beautiful puzzle locks that are machined out of brass. So far, I've only had the chance to solve T4 Popplock, which was incredible! Check out my review here.

I was particularly eager to try this lock because a new puzzle blogger named Oli (Oli's Mechanical Puzzle Blog) mentioned that this was his favorite out of the three he has tried so far T2, T3, and T4 (click for his reviews). I really loved T4, so it was hard to imagine that T3 could be even better!

I found this one to be challenging! The first move wasn't too bad, but then I hit a wall. I was able to fiddle with it a bit, but nothing really seemed to be productive. After a short while, I made an observation that I thought would be critical to solving the puzzle, though I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. After setting the puzzle aside and returning to it later, I revisited this observation and discovered the next and final move! It is pretty unusual and unexpected. In all, I think it took me a good 45 minutes to solve this one.

It was good, but I have to say that T4 is still my favorite! I found T4 to be more difficult, but the solution to me was more unexpected and interesting. Both are very cool though! I'm still on the fence about buying any of these, since they're quite expensive. You can purchase T3 and T5 on PuzzleMaster, but T4 is currently sold out.

I was excited to see that Tanya had brought copies of some of ThinkFun's newest puzzles. One puzzle was Tilt, which I helped test a few months ago. It was very neat seeing how it ended up working physically, since I had worked with a software version. Full review to come soon, but the short version is that it is a great puzzle! It is for sale now on Amazon.

Amazingly, Laurie managed to plow all the way through another game Tanya brought, called Pathwords, which I had also helped test. I think this one also turned out very well! I'll be providing a review of this at some point in the future as well.

After checking out these puzzles, I tried out a puzzle that Robert brought called Diagonal Cube. It a Stewart Coffin design that George Bell created to be printed at Shapeways. You can purchase it from his Shapeways Shop here.

I thought this one would be pretty easy, your typical coordinate motion exploding cube, but this wasn't the case! All six pieces are actually different, which makes the assembly a good deal more challenging.

I worked on it for a good 20 minutes or so before I figured out the correct assembly. When I finally did figure it out, then came the challenge of actually getting the last piece in place! It required some tricky coordinate motion to maneuver it into the correct spot.

Here's a dyed version created by George. I love the way it looks with multiple colors, sort of like a harlequin pattern. It reminds me of a square juggling ball. However, since he's colored opposite pieces the same color, that would help you figure out the solution.

Definitely worth checking out for a very reasonable price (about $26). I hope George makes more Coffin designs on Shapeways!

That's all for now! Next up, I'll be writing about a beautiful puzzle by Brett's brother, and some Lego puzzles made by his son Kai! (Here's a photo Brett took of the group during dinner.)


  1. Thanks for the mention Brian! I have to say that the T4 was absolutely brilliant (and very difficult), so I can understand why it's your favourite. The main reason that the T3 is my favourite is that it's only one piece with no other tools or keys, which makes it look so simple. The last step surprised me quite a bit as well!

  2. You're welcome! I agree, they're quite close. I think I like the key with no keyhole...it is a common idea in puzzle locks but once you find the keyhole in T4 you are faced with another interesting problem! It felt more like Danlock, where upon solving a problem you are faced with a new, unexpected one.

  3. Ah, I see Rob hasn't gotten around to dying his puzzle! By the way, you don't have to use coordinate motion on a Diagonal Cube. It comes apart cleanly in two halves. For assembly, you just have to figure out the two halves and slide it together, just like a Diagonal Burr.

    Coffin puzzles that can be made in BurrTools are pretty easy to make. Those that can't ... not so easy ...

  4. Ah, that would explain why I had trouble, George! I just assumed coordinate motion was required because the pieces seemed that way.


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