September 30, 2011

Little Game Hunter Puzzle Box

I recently acquired the latest box by Robert "Stickman" Yarger: Little Game Hunter Puzzle Box (Stickman #24). Robert is one of my favorite puzzle box designers, so I'm always quite eager to see his latest creation!

Little Game Hunter has quite an unusual appearance with a kumiki elephant standing on top of a rectangular base. Through a combination of sliding moves, two compartments are revealed.

This puzzle has an interesting background, here's what Robert had to say about it:
The origin of this particular puzzle started years ago, but an unexpected expense required me chop off their poor little interlocking feet before they were done and merely sell them as Kumiki style puzzles.  A limited edition status was never placed on those elephants because I had always planned to eventually come back and finish them correctly, which I finally did. 
If you were fortunate enough to get one of the original elephant puzzles, then you know what a fun puzzle it is.  These particular puzzles are identical in mechanics to the originals with the exception of the added trophy stand, which now adds two secret chambers, increases its complexity by 15 moves, and provides false progression paths.  The trophy stand also comes apart, and upon solution you will find yourself with 26 individual pieces that are quite challenging to re-assemble.

These puzzles are all hand crafted from quality exotic woods and require a minimum of 25 moves to solve.  The Little Game Hunter puzzle measures 7” x 7”x 3” and comes with its own 10-page illustrated instruction booklet.  These are limited edition pieces, and only 38 of them will ever be made.
When the package arrived, I noticed the cute little detail that each of the elephants is named. Mine is named Patience (#3 of 38), which seems appropriate! As Kellian started cooking dinner, she graciously said I could go ahead and start trying to solve it. Much to my dismay, as soon as I had started I was immediately stuck. I had figured that it wouldn't be too challenging, but one of the moves near the beginning stopped me in my tracks for a good 20 minutes. After I finally figured out how to proceed, it moved along fairly rapidly.

The move sequence is generally fairly logical, but as Robert alludes to in his description, there are a few little false paths that can trip you up along the way, which I really liked. The base has an interesting movement that I enjoyed as well. I was very careful to keep track of where the pieces came from so that I wouldn't have too much trouble getting it back together. I think it ended up taking me about 30-40 minutes to get it completely apart. As you can see from Robert's photo, it has quite a few pieces!

It is at this point that Kellian's delicious dinner was ready, so I started to eat, but then I realized that I may have a really hard time getting it back together if I didn't do it right away. So I ended up working on putting it back together while I ate my dinner (being quite cautious, of course). Don't I have the most understanding wife ever?

Another 10-15 minutes later and I had the puzzle back together. Woo hoo! Following dinner, I took it apart and put it back together a few more times just so I could get the hang of it. I haven't yet tried scrambling up the pieces, but I'll probably try that at some point in the future when I have a bit of free time.

The craftsmanship is quite good, I really liked his selection of woods for the base. A few of the moves on the elephant stick a bit, I think it is due to the finish: it makes a rather disconcerting snapping noise as the piece breaks free for the first time after sitting for a bit, but there's no harm done. It does require a bit more force that I think my guests will (hopefully) want to exert, so I'd probably want to loosen it up before I hand it to somebody to solve. Perhaps my apartment is a bit too warm in the summer, it may be better in the winter.

Overall, Little Game Hunter is a fun puzzle! I really liked the unique appearance, and it took me a decent amount of time to figure it out. Also, there's some replay value, since you can try assembling it with the pieces scrambled. I'm definitely glad to have purchased one!

September 21, 2011

Lattice II

Lattice II and was designed by Frank Worrell and made by Eric Fuller. It is another one of the puzzles I purchased from Cubic Dissection during the last update. Eric describes it as building on Tom Jolly's original Lattice puzzle, but Lattice II only has two pieces rather than three. It looked pretty simple, but for only $5 I figured it was worth trying out since I was ordering some other puzzles as well.

It came disassembled, so I set myself to the task of putting it together. Based on the way the pieces looked, it was pretty easy to narrow down how they would start assembling. From there, with a slight amount of fiddling I navigated to the solution. As promised, not too tricky!

While Eric's site says it takes 27 moves, I counted 20 and confirmed it in Burr Tools. Perhaps it is a typo or I'm missing something. [Update: It turns out I was missing something, or rather the puzzle was missing something! Frank, the designer, contacted me and informed me that there is an error in one of the pieces in Eric's version, a cube missing, that results in 7 fewer moves. The intended 27-move version is definitely better: less straightforward and a few more interesting moves. The missing cube is in the far upper right hand corner of the leftmost piece in the photo. The correct piece is show below.]




It is fairly simple because there aren't many dead ends, but also because there are many moves in a row are on the same plane. This makes it easier to find the correct sequence, because you're not switching the plane in which you are thinking very often. [Update: The corrected version of this puzzle has more plane of movement switches.]

Overall, a nice, simple puzzle for a reasonable price. Unfortunately, they're all sold out currently, but since they're laser cut I would bet that Eric will consider making more if they sold well. If you'd like to get the original Lattice puzzle, there is one still for sale for only $12.

September 20, 2011

Zauberflote

Recently Eric Fuller updated his site, Cubic Dissection, with a bunch of new puzzles he had made. I had heard that he was going to update soon, so I set up my phone so it would make all sorts of a racket when the email notification came in, just in case I was sleeping when it happened. Fortunately, it was in the afternoon, so it wasn't really necessary. This might sound a bit absurd, but Eric's puzzles are known for selling out quite quickly, and I didn't want to miss anything particularly cool.

One of the puzzles I purchased was Zauberflote designed by Gregory Bendetti and made by Eric. It was offered for a very reasonable price of $20 and had a nice appearance with the combination of clear acrylic and yellowheart. I have generally stayed away from this type of burr, since they tend to be quite difficult, but Eric described this one as not too hard so I decided to give it a shot. It takes 14 moves to remove the first piece, which seemed pretty manageable.

This puzzle is one of a series of Zauberflote designs by Gregory with a similar appearance but different numbers of pieces, the one Eric made is Zauberflote - K├Ânigin der Nacht and has six pieces. Check out this link for a bunch of other designs by Gregory, including the other Zauberflote versions.

When it arrived, it was in pieces, since the main challenge is putting it together (though it may take a bit of time to get it apart as well if you don't know how to assemble it). It is pretty small at a little over two inches long, but still a fine size to play with.

I had a few ideas for how it would go together and found it quite easy to get all but the last piece in, unfortunately that last piece proved quite stubborn! I tried different arrangements of the pieces, and didn't have any luck so I set it aside for a bit and returned to it the next day.

Continuing to examine it, I felt like I had exhausted all my options. I had a pretty good idea of how the pieces should be arranged, but it seemed impossible to actually assemble them that way! After a bit of thought, I was finally able to figure it out, and I found it to be rather tricky! Perhaps I'm just a bit rusty with burrs at the moment, but it did take me a while!

It is quite a nice design by Gregory, I may try assembling some of the other Zauberflotes with my LiveCubes to see how they compare. The craftsmanship by Eric is very nice as always, the pieces fit nicely. The only flaw I noticed was two pieces that were slightly chipped on the ends, though it is hardly noticeable. Overall, a nice puzzle for a great price, so I was quite happy about it!

Read more about Zauberflote over at Neil's Puzzle Building Blog.

September 17, 2011

Gear Cube

Gear Cube is an interesting twisty puzzle that was designed by Oskar van Deventer based on an idea Bram Cohen. Puzzle Master was kind enough to send me this puzzle to review. Thanks!

Gear Cube looks a lot like a Rubik's cube, with its 3x3x3 configuration of pieces, however the pieces have gear teeth on them which makes for quite an unusual motion. Due to the gearing, you can't rotate each layer independently. Instead, the middle layer turns one quarter of a turn when you turn a face by a half turn. This means that you can't actually do a quarter turn since that would cause the middle layer to only move one-eighth of a turn, which blocks other movement.When you rotate a face, the edge pieces of the middle layer rotate as well, causing all sorts of apparent chaos.

This is probably pretty difficult to understand by reading it, so check out this video of the cube in motion by larfrtc:


As you can see from the video, it has a nice smooth motion. The edges of the gears are rounded a bit, and it has a fairly loose tension to avoid pinching your fingers like in the original 3D printed prototype, dubbed the Caution Cube, as Oskar explains in this rather humorous video:


With all that is going on with this puzzle, you would think that it would be pretty tricky, however it actually isn't too bad. I'm not all that great at twisty puzzles, but I was able to scramble and solve it in about 15-20 minutes. That was more just blundering towards the solution, however, but with a bit of practice and thought I was able to figure out how to reliably solve it.

I really like twisty puzzles that I can actually solve, so that's a big plus for me. That said, it isn't trivial to solve either, it will take a bit of thinking. Also, it just looks really cool: this is one that I really like to show to guests, though none have been patient enough to try solving it yet. Overall, Gear Cube is very nice puzzle!

There is another version of this puzzle called the Gear Cube Extreme in which four of the edge pieces do not have gears, which makes it a much harder puzzle once it gets scrambled up. I probably won't be trying this one anytime soon, but check it out if you're looking  for something more challenging!

September 15, 2011

Alles Roger

Alles Roger is one of the puzzles I acquired at the Berlin Puzzle Party about a month ago. As I mentioned in that blog post, as soon as the puzzle buying and selling began, I did a quick sweep of the room keeping an eye out for Roger puzzles (among other things) that would be snapped up quickly. I was lucky enough to find this puzzle for sale at Marcel Gillen's table and purchased it right away.

The interesting thing is that very few people know who Roger (a.k.a. RD) is, hence the moniker "The Mysterious Roger". His puzzles have always been a bit tricky to acquire, since they were produced it pretty limited quantities and only sold by a few trusted distributors. According to Bernhard Schweitzer, who knows Roger, he stopped making puzzles a few years ago to spend more time with his family.

I had been curious about this particular puzzle after having seen a picture of it on Rob's Puzzle Page, where he has a full list (I think) of Roger's puzzles. It looks so straightforward: get the ball in the upper right down to the channel at the bottom. Surely it can't be too tricky, it is probably just a matter of shaking the hell out of it in just the right way. However, when I read Oli's blog entry about being stumped by this one, it was clear that there would be more to it than that!

It is nicely machined out of aluminum with what appears to be some sort of sprayed coating to give it a matte finish. There is a plastic cover that is screwed to the top so you can see what is going on. It has a nice weight  to it as well.

When I first started working on Alles Roger, I found it pretty easy to get past the first obstacle. It takes a bit of practice, but isn't too bad. However, the next obstacle, the two larger ball bearings, is the crux of this one! In order to get the small ball to roll down, you need to tilt the puzzle toward you, however this causes the two larger ball bearings to roll slightly inward (due to the shape of their channel), blocking the path of the smaller ball. As such, it quickly goes from "how hard could it be?" to "how could it even be possible?" which I really like in a puzzle.

This is about as far as I got while at IPP, since I figured I would have plenty of time to work on it when I got home. When I got home, I spread out all my IPP puzzles on the kitchen table so I could fiddle with each of them when I had some spare time. On a few occasions I would spend some time on this one, but never with any luck.

Finally, after about a week of working on it on-and-off, I found the solution! Needless to say, I was quite thrilled! I was also happy to find that the solution is quite elegant, not random shaking as I had feared. It is quite a difficult puzzle, so I can definitely see why folks have had trouble with it.

Overall, Alles Roger is a very nice puzzle that I'm glad to have purchased. I'm very much looking forward to checking out more of his puzzles if I ever get the chance.

September 14, 2011

Cast Seahorse

Cast Seahorse is the sixth puzzle in Hanayama's Marine Series by Akio Yamamoto. Puzzle Master was kind enough to send me this puzzle to review. Thanks!

This puzzle consists of two seahorses, one gold and one silver, that are linked together. The goal is to separate them and then put them back together. If you read Yamamoto's description, he also says that you can try to "make them stand up again" after putting them together, so don't miss that part! In the assembled state, they balance in a standing position nicely, though it is a bit precarious.

This one has a nice solution that takes a number of steps to complete. There are a few dead-ends and tricky spots, which makes this one the more difficult of the marine series. However, the whole series is fairly easy, so most should be able to solve this in a reasonable amount of time. I think it took me about five minutes. I think the difficulty rating of 3 out of 6 is pretty accurate. I think Cast Seahorse  is about equal in difficulty to Cast Starfish, with Cast Reef, Cast Claw, Cast Shark, and Cast Seabream all easier in descending order of difficulty.

I like this one because it isn't immediately obvious which features are decorative and which ones are put in the way to help you or get in your way. This makes for a number of small A-ha moments as you realize that you need to rotate something out of the way or line certain things up.  The ending is pretty cute, too. Definitely worth checking out!

As I mentioned in my post about Cast Starfish, the gold color has started to wear off of all of these puzzles, since I frequently give them to folks to play with. It is particularly bad on Seahorse for some reason, to the point where it isn't really gold anymore unless you look quite closely. Perhaps my friends just have particularly abrasive hands!

In all, I really enjoyed the Hanayama Marine series! If you only want to pick up a few, I'd suggest getting Cast Starfish, Cast Seahorse, and Cast Shark. Cast Reef and Cast Claw are pretty good too, Cast Seabream is the only one I didn't like as much.

September 12, 2011

Cast Reef

Cast Reef is the fifth puzzle in the Hanayama Cast Puzzle Marine series by Akio Yamamoto. Puzzle Master was kind enough to send me this puzzle to review. Thanks!

As with the other puzzles in this series, this one is made out of contrasting gold and silver anodized metal. The gold piece looks like two fish that form a closed loop, and they are caught on the silver piece that looks like a piece of coral. It has a good weight and feels quite sturdy, despite the somewhat thin pieces.

I was interested to see the mechanics of this one, because by looking at it I couldn't quite tell how it was going to work. The solution path is a number of steps long, the beginning of which is pretty easy. There's one part in the middle that slightly tricky, but after that it is smooth sailing. I think it took me 3-4 minutes.

This one has a difficulty rating of 3 out of 6 from Hanayama, which seems about right, though maybe it is a bit easier than that. Most folks that I gave this one to were able to solve it without too much difficulty. It is perhaps slightly easier than Cast Starfish, but harder than Cast Seabream, Cast Shark, and Cast Claw.

Overall, I liked this one, but it was not one of my favorites of the series because the solution path was not quite as interesting as some of the others. Still a good one though!

September 9, 2011

Wunder Puzzle Series

Jeff Chiou of MagicPuzzles.org recently loaned me this interesting-looking set of puzzles by Eric Fuller.They are called the Wunder Puzzle Series and there are three different mechanisms, each in a different wood. Check out Jeff's review here. I love the idea of puzzles that look the same and have different opening mechanisms, so I was looking forward to giving this set a try! The photos below are from Eric's site, Cubic Dissection.

The first in the series, made out of Bubinga, is a copy of an old design that Eric came across through Peter Wiltshire. The angles of the joint are quite unusual, making you wonder how the puzzle could possibly come apart. In addition to being a tricky joint, there is a locking mechanism that most experienced puzzlers will be familiar with. Folks who haven't done much puzzling could be stumped for a while though!

The next in the series is made out of Walnut, and has the same exterior appearance as the original. However, the mechanism is completely different! While it is pretty unusual, it is probably the easiest of the bunch since the solution reveals itself pretty quickly as you fiddle with the puzzle. Still, it has an enjoyable little A-ha! moment when you realize what is going on.

Finally, we have the Paduak version which takes the original design to the next level, requiring a number of moves to unlock the joint. I had a good early guess as to how this one would work, so it only took me a few minutes to open. However, there was one additional trick that I did not expect right at the end that slowed me down a bit. I think most will find this moderately difficult, though it definitely has the potential to stump somebody for a while! This one is my favorite of the series since it is a bit more complex than the others.

The craftsmanship of all three is superb, with an excellent fit and finish. I like the woods Eric chose, and particularly like the bright redness of the Paduak. Overall, very nice puzzles that were available for quite a reasonable price (around $50), though now they're all sold out. I'm a bit sorry to have missed them, but if I remember correctly I had just purchased some  particularly pricey puzzles when these came out, so I decided to hold off. Thanks again to Jeff for the opportunity to try them!

Check out MagicPuzles.orgAllard's Puzzling Times, Neil's Puzzle Building Blog, and Jerry's Small Puzzle Collection to read plenty more about this set of puzzles.

September 1, 2011

Lee Valley Puzzle Lock

This lovely puzzle lock was loaned to me by Jeff Chiou of MagicPuzzles.org, check out his review here. It is available now from Lee Valley for $79. I had seen this one before and it looked really interesting, so I was quite tempted to purchase one and was glad to have the opportunity to try one out first.

The first thing you'll notice about the Lee Valley Puzzle Lock is that it is quite massive, it weighs in at about 2 pounds, and has a solid brass body.The finish is a bit rough, but I think that's alright for a puzzle of this type, it gives it character. On the Lee Valley site, they mention that it is based on a 15th century design, so this puzzle goes quite a ways back.

It comes with three pairs of duplicate keys: one looks fairly standard but the other two look a bit unusual. I found the first step fairly quickly, as did other people who I gave this lock to. It is pretty straightforward given the various features of the lock and the tools that are available. The second step is probably my favorite part of this lock, it isn't particularly hard (maybe slightly harder than finding the first step), but it is quite fun.

The next step is pretty easy, and you may think you're done, but there's one final step to open the lock. This is probably the hardest step, but by a very thin margin since they're all pretty easy. Most folks that I gave this lock to were able to solve it in under 5 minutes, I think it only took me a minute or two, so it is not particularly difficult. However, it has a nice sequence of steps and is quite accessible to non-puzzlers, which I liked.

Overall, I really liked the Lee Valley Puzzle lock! Definitely worth checking out if you enjoy puzzle locks, as long as you won't be too disappointed if you find it easy to solve. Thanks to Jeff for loaning it to me!
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