February 13, 2012

2012 New York Puzzle Party (Part 1)

This last weekend was the 2012 New York Puzzle Party, organized by Tom Cutrofello! I had an awesome time last year, so I was really looking forward to going again. Brett Kuehner was kind enough to invite me to stay at his house again this year, along with Nick Baxter, Rob Stegmann, and Rick Eason. Nick was actually in the Boston area to visit his son at MIT, so I gave him a ride down to Brett's place in New Jersey. It was great getting a chance to chat with him about puzzles!

When we got to Brett's house, Rob was already there and we started playing around with some puzzles. The first one that caught my eye was The Brain, by Mag-Nif. It is a puzzle I'm sure many of you are familiar with, but I hadn't ever really played around with one before. The goal is to move all of the sliders to the out position.

It is a nice implementation of the classic Gray Code puzzle. If you're familiar with this group of puzzles, it isn't difficult at all, but if you're not it could take a little while to get the hang of it. It has a nice movement which makes it pretty addictive to see how fast you can solve it. Brett demonstrated, and it was impressive seeing how fast he could manipulate those sliders!

The world record is 28.3 seconds (open and closed), amazing! Brett had an extra copy which he gave me, and I've been practicing a bit today and the fastest I got was around 50 seconds opened and closed. Still pretty quick for a 170 move puzzle! It clears your mind nicely as you go, since it is mainly just muscle memory.

Up next, I was psyched to see that Rob brought a copy of one of Rocky Chiaro's latest puzzles, Its A Hardly. It is a puzzle based on the shape of an early Harley-Davidson Knucklehead engine. It is a cute little puzzle and hand-machined by Rocky out of brass.

Rob said it was easy, so I was surprised when it took me a good 10 minutes to figure out how to take the darn thing apart! Once I figured it out, I was surprised that I hadn't tried the correct move sooner. It is a bit sneaky, though!

After that, I picked up a 2011 Karakuri Club Christmas present Rob bought that I hadn't tried yet: String Box 2011 by Fumio Tsuburai. He has done a number of String Boxes in the past, all of which have a similar appearance. The string passes through the box and is tied in a bow on top. I untied the bow, but the lid was still held firmly in place.

Pulling the string left and right doesn't yield any clues, but there didn't appear to be anything else that moved. I tried a few things and eventually had it open, though I wasn't quite sure what I had done. However, with a bit more fiddling I determined what the trick was, and could reproduce it reliably. It is tricky! The other folks at the party were unable to solve it, so I was pretty pleased with myself! I'll definitely consider adding Tsuburai next year based on this one.

Brett had another Karakuri Club Christmas present that I hadn't tried: Japanese Puzzle Box Maze 7 Steps by Hiroyuki Oka. It was a beautifully crafted puzzle box that was more of a traditional box than the Karakuri Club usually produces. However, the keyways are quite a bit trickier than you'll usually find.

Unfortunately, due to the current humidity conditions, this box was open but unable to close. I got a pretty good sense of what was involved in opening it, however, since you could just remove the lid and pretend that it was there. The keyways are tough and could definitely keep the you occupied for a while if you haven't seen this type of trick before! Another nice feature is that the top and bottom panels are not simply yosegi veneers, instead they are solid. A good box, but I wasn't too disappointed that I hadn't ordered Oka's box this year.

Next I tried one of Will Strijbos' bolt puzzles, I think this is #2 but I'm not sure. It is a good sized bolt, and has a nice heft to it. Definitely a high-quality bolt puzzle!

It seems pretty impenetrable at first: the nut won't move much, and there don't seem to be any other obvious things to do. The tip of the bolt looks a bit unusual, but also doesn't seem to do anything. I figured out the solution to this one after a few minutes, and it was a bit unexpected. Pretty neat!

After that, I tried Will's Bolt Puzzle #3, which has a similar appearance to #2 except for an unusual ring around the head of the bolt. This one has been reviewed by Allard and Jeff.

I figured out the first step without too much trouble. The next step is a bit tricker, but still not too bad. I definitely liked this one! Not too hard, but fun to solve. One thing to watch out for with this one is that there are some small parts that are pretty easy to lose, so watch out for that when you're solving it.

Well that's all for this post, there's a few more puzzles for Friday night, which I'll cover in Part 2. Part 3 I will start writing about the actual puzzle party and more. Stay tuned!


  1. Another brilliant puzzling event! I look forward to the rest of your write-up on it. I've been trying to find an original copy of The Brain for a little while now. I don't like the new red/sparkly colour scheme on the new one. I'm picky like that.

  2. Thanks Oli! The Brain I got from Brett was the red/sparkly variety, but that's fine by me.

  3. I like the Brian very much.
    I would like to have one myself because I find it very fascinating. Many of us mechanical puzzle lover know that The Brain in fact has the same working principle with the nine-interlocking ring puzzle, Spin-out puzzle and Towers of Hanoi, though they are completely different by appearance.
    Would you please tell me how can I get/buy it?

  4. Thanks, MPL! Here's a few stores that sell The Brain: http://tinyurl.com/786c95d. Good luck!


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