October 27, 2011

Log Jam

Log Jam is made by Creative Crafthouse and was designed by Vesa Timonen. It was entered in the 2002 Puzzle Design Competition under the name Lox in Box (Logs in Box). The folks at Creative Crafthouse were kind enough to send me a copy to review. Thanks!

It is quite nicely crafted out of hardwood and has a good fit and finish. Creative Crafthouse added a compartment to store one of the pieces, so it can be displayed unsolved without looking too messy, which I liked.

I had seen this puzzle before but never had a chance to give it a try. From seeing pictures, I had a few ideas for how it would probably work, but it turns out that I was way off. Unfortunately, when I was unpacking the puzzle, the solution slipped out and I caught a glimpse of it, which is pretty much all it takes. I should have been more cautious, but I do appreciate it when solutions are folded in such a way as to prevent accidental viewing!

That said, I still tried the approaches I had intended, and of course it didn't do much good. I like to think that I would have figured out the actual solution without too much trouble, but it is hard to tell. As such, I gave to my wife to see how difficult she found it, and she was able to solve it in about 10 minutes with a minor amount of encouragement. Funnily enough, she was very close to solving it, and only had to place two more pieces, and she gave up. I told her how close she was and she went back and solved it moments later. Another friend who is a fairly adept puzzle solver was also able to solve it in about 5-10 minutes, so that gives you a pretty good sense of the difficulty.

The solution itself is quite elegant and pleasing once you find it, which makes this a top rate puzzle in my book. Definitely worth checking out! Log Jam is available from Creative Crafthouse for $14.

There is another version of this puzzle called Lox in Box II that Kevin wrote about, so check that out too. It can be ordered from Sloyd along with Lox in Box if you are keen to try both for €19 each.

ThinkFun also produces a puzzle based on the same design and calls it Aha! Rec-Tangle. It uses square sticks rather than logs, which I don't think would change the puzzle much. It also has the neat feature of being able to store the pieces on one side with a cover, and the other side has the rectangular frame where you're trying to pack the pieces.

October 21, 2011

Connoisseur's Dilemma

Connoisseur's Dilemma is a cute disentanglement puzzle by Creative Crafthouse that can hold a bottle of wine hostage until solved. It was given to me by the folks at Creative Crafthouse to review. Thanks!

I have seen puzzles like this available from a number of places, but never had a chance to give one a try. I figured it probably wouldn't be too challenging since it was intended for mass-market appeal, but who knows? The craftsmanship of this one is quite good, with a nice smooth finish on the wood and good quality rope.

As you may expect, it comes disassembled to save space and so they don't need to ship it with a plastic bottle or something. The rope is conveniently adjustable for different sized bottles, but the way it came was a good length for the wine bottle I had handy.

My wife, Kellian, was kind enough to assemble it for me so I could try taking it apart. First she tried using the included paper instructions, but she found the diagrams too small and hard to follow and gave up after about 10 minutes. Luckily, they also have a great video showing you how to assemble it that is much easier to follow. With this, she was able to get the wine bottle trapped in a few minutes.

Since I have done a number of puzzles like this, I made pretty short work of it, I think it took me a minute or so. However, I would imagine that it could take less puzzle-inclined folks a good amount of time, since one of the moves is a bit un-intuitive if you haven't done a puzzle like this before! So I definitely think it would make a good gift to a somewhat patient wine-aficionado.

I'm not sure who designed this particular puzzle, but it is also available through Family Games for a similar price. Family Games also has a few other puzzles in the same vein. Here's one you can build yourself over at Instructables if you are so inclined. Creative Crafthouse has another version that is smaller (for beer bottles and such), as well as a completely different version called Connoisseur's Dilemma 2 which looks pretty interesting as well!

[Update: It turns out that Fran├žois Vachon designed this puzzle. Thanks to commenter Daniel below for the information!]

Overall Connoisseur's Dilemma is a nice little puzzle that would make a great gift.

October 20, 2011

Cast ABC

Cast ABC is a level 1/6 puzzle in Hanayama's Cast Puzzles series. This particular version is branded as Puzzle Master, but it appears to be the same as the Hanayama's version, only with a different finish. The Hanayama version has a brown finish, while the Puzzle Master version is silver.

The goal of this puzzle is to separate the C piece from the AB piece. The starting position is with the C linked to the hole at the top of the A, not the position shown in the photo.

It works a lot like your standard ring-with-a-gap/grooved-maze design, with an additional little hiccup: not all of the grooves are actually traversable. This makes it a tad more difficult than it would otherwise be, since you'll likely be fooled by a few of these along the way.

Despite this, I would still say it is a bit easier than Cast Bike and Cast Claw, since there are fewer tricky moves. It is nicely designed so that you'll progress along quickly for a few steps before arriving at an apparent dead end, but a bit of creative thinking will quickly get you moving again to the solution. This should come quite naturally if you have done other puzzles like this before (it took me under a minute), but I've seen people stymied by it for 10-20 minutes.

Overall, Cast ABC is a fun little puzzle that would be good to give to a novice puzzler, but more experienced puzzlers may want to skip it in favor of Cast Bike.

October 19, 2011

Redstone Box

Redstone Box (a.k.a. Melting Block) is Creative Crafthouse's version of this classic packing puzzle designed by Thomas O`Beirne. The folks at Creative Crafthouse were kind enough to send me a copy to review. Thanks!

The puzzle consists of a box with a lid, with a red block on the top serving as the handle to help slide the lid off. Inside, you'll find that the box is packed completely full. So what's the puzzle? To find room for the red block on the top of the box! The fun of this puzzle is that it seems impossible, but indeed is quite possible.

This puzzle uses a commonly used principle whereby a tiny amount of wiggle room in the initial configuration can be 'collected' (by rearranging the pieces) into one spot that is big enough to contain the target piece. Of course, even if you know the principle, this can be quite tricky in practice!

I think it took me a good 30 minutes to solve this one, which was really starting to try my patience since it seems like it shouldn't be all that hard! One thing that tripped me up a bit is that the fit of the pieces isn't quite right. In the correct orientation, they stick up a bit above the edge of the box and it takes force to get the lid on. Initially, I figured that I was wrong and tried different things, but eventually I determined that I was probably on the right track initially and it was just a snug fit. A quick glance at the solution confirmed that I was correct. Even with this in mind, it still took me a while to finish it off, the solution isn't very intuitive! As Kevin mentions in his blog entry, even after solving it once it can be a good challenge to do it again. Allard also posted a review here.

For more info, check out Creative Crafthouse's video about this puzzle here.

I would imagine that the fit issue was just a problem with my particular copy of the puzzle, and generally won't be an issue. If you do, I'm sure they would let you exchange it per their returns policy. [Update: Dave from Creative Crafthouse said that this is the first reported incident of the cover being too tight]. Aside from that issue, the quality of the puzzle is good, with a smooth finish and nicely beveled pieces. Some folks may not like that the red piece is stained rather than a natural wood color, but I think it makes it pop nicely. The stain lets the grain of the wood show through, so is much better than paint. Overall, Redstone Box is a fun puzzle that is worth checking out!

October 18, 2011

Puzzle Chest Box

Puzzle Chest Box is Creative Crafthouse's version of the classic Moroccan puzzle box. The folks at Creative Crafthouse were kind enough to send me a copy to review. Thanks!

This is quite a popular design and is frequently available in trinket markets in various countries, though the quality varies and the design may differ somewhat. The main thing that they have in common is that there is a hidden keyhole and a hidden key, and you need to find both to open the box! Sort of a simple sequential discovery puzzle if you will. I didn't actually have one of these boxes in my collection yet, so I was quite interested in checking out Creative Crafthouse's version.

It is a good sized box, measuring about 5 3/4" x 4 1/8" x 3 5/8" with a generously sized space inside. The wood is listed as "Raintree hardwood" and has a pretty good grain and finish. Other versions that I have seen online are made of Thuya wood, which seems to have a nicer appearance, though I haven't seen these in person. Jeff Chiou blogged about a Thuya wood version of this design here, which I think looks quite nice. The top and bottom panels are made to look like books, with the vertical pieces looking somewhat like the spines of smaller books.

This one actually took me a bit longer than I expected to solve, though it still probably only took me about 5 minutes. The first move was quite loose, so that move sort of happened on its own while manipulating the box. The second move was pretty easy, but then I got a bit stuck. My attention was focused on a particular area of the box based on a few clues, but it took me a little while to find it. This move was a bit tight at first, but it has loosened up. The last move (other than using the key) was pretty straightforward.

Overall, a fun little puzzle to solve due to the sequential discovery nature of the solution. I haven't tried showing it to anybody yet, but I'd imagine they'll enjoy it. It could take somebody less experienced with puzzles a bit longer, probably in the 10-20 minute range, so challenging but not impossible.

The folks at Creative Crafthouse have posted a video describing the box, with the solution towards the end (he warns you before showing the solution).

Overall, Puzzle Chest Box is a nice little puzzle box for a good price ($43 from Creative Crafthouse). I'm glad to finally have a Moroccan puzzle box in my collection!

October 17, 2011

Interlock Four

Interlock Four is a nice little four-piece puzzle designed by Stewart Coffin. This version was crafted by the folks at Creative Crafthouse, and they were kind enough to send me a copy to review. Thanks!

The four pieces assemble into a 3x3x3 cube and are serially interlocking, meaning that the pieces must be added in the correct order. This makes it somewhat more difficult, since you may need to backtrack a bit if you don't get the right order to start with.

It is a good size which gives it a nice heft, about 3 inches square and weighing about 9 ounces. The finish is quite good: it has been sanded smooth and given a nice bevel on each cube. It appears that the cubes were beveled before they were glued up, which looks great and adds to the difficulty since it is tricky to see where the glue joints are. The fit is also quite good!

As a puzzle, I didn't find it particularly challenging, but I've done a number of assemblies like this before. I think it took me about a minute to get back together after taking it apart with my eyes shut and scrambling the pieces. However, it is a good one to give to folks to get them started thinking about this type of puzzle before you get on to more complex assemblies with more pieces, or which require multiple moves to extract the first piece.

I think what made this one easy for me is that if you take a logical approach, you can quickly determine what goes where without too much trial and error. As such, it is a good puzzle for demonstrating those techniques. I showed this one to my wife to see how she would do with it, and she had a good time with it. I gave her a few tips on how I would suggest approaching it, and she solved it in about 5 minutes.

I'm sure a lot of you do this, but in case it helps somebody I'll briefly describe my approach to this type of puzzle. I start off by trying to find the biggest piece and use that as my starting point and keep it in a fixed position. Then I try to find the piece that has the fewest possible orientations relative to the starting piece and narrow down my options for the other pieces from there. Some puzzles you'll have a lot of options, or there won't be an obvious starting point, and those will take me a lot longer.

One great thing that the folks at Creative Crafthouse have done is to put up a video for each of their puzzles where they describe it. You have to be a bit careful, since there are spoilers sometimes, but usually you can see it coming or you are warned beforehand. Check out the video for this puzzle here, but be aware that he disassembles it from 0:09 to 0:26, so shut your eyes during that part if you don't want to see that. You can look again after he says "there's the last two".

Overall, I liked Interlock Four. It is reasonably priced at $15 for a sturdy and well made puzzle. Definitely worth checking out if you're into this type of puzzle or want to try your hand at an easier cube-assembly puzzle.


October 6, 2011

Cast Flag

Cast Flag is a puzzle in Hanayama's Cast Puzzle series, and was re-designed by Nob Yoshigahara based on a 19th century design. It was sent to me by the folks at Puzzle Master to review. Thanks!

This is another one that is a bit hard to understand until you actually play around with it, so I was quite interested to finally see how it worked. It consists of two pieces: an odd-shaped piece with grooves cut into it, and the "flag" which consists of two pieces that pivot together. Through this pivoting motion, you can navigate the flag out of the maze.

It isn't difficult, but makes a very good puzzle to get people's feet wet if they aren't puzzlers. It is slightly tricky though, since there are a few well-placed dead ends if you're not thinking about it. Still, most folks should be able to solve this one in just a few minutes, so Hanayama's rating of 1/6 seems appropriate. The movement of this one is quite nice, it is a fun one to do quickly once you get the hang of it.

As with most of the rest of the Cast Puzzles line, this has a nice weight in your hand and is very sturdy. The pivot-point is one spot of weakness, so if somebody is particularly prone to damaging your puzzles, it may be worth mentioning to them that the pivoting flag doesn't come apart.

Overall, Cast Flag is a solid little puzzle that I'm glad to have in my collection. Worth checking out if you like a novel movement or want a puzzle that your non-puzzler friends will enjoy, but may be worth skipping if you'd be disappointed solving it in only a minute or two.
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