October 3, 2009

Diagra and Cubicula

I was down at Eureka talking to the owner, David, one day, and he was telling me about a puzzle called Diagra from Vinco. It was in the glass cabinet, so I assumed it was pretty expensive, but I never quite understood what it was just based on looking at it. David told me that it was an assembly puzzle where you use the 9 different pieces to create different shapes. This sounded great to me, because it was multiple puzzles in one, so I decided to pick it up since it only ended up being $30.

It is a nice looking puzzle that is quite precisely made, as is typically the case with Vinco products. The finish is natural with a number of different colored woods used, which makes for a nice looking puzzle. Each of the nine pieces has a hollow area and a square nub sticking out of the side. This nub sticks into the hollow area of another piece, but it only fits in a certain way due to the angle

The tricky thing about making the various shapes is doing it in such a way so that the final piece you put in will fit with both the piece in front of it and the piece behind it. Because of this design, you end up forming a directed path that leads you through all of the cubes of each shape. I took advantage of this idea when solving it, because with all shapes there is only one path that you can take through all of the cubes once that returns to the starting point. Here is a picture of the different shapes you can make.

I had a lot of fun solving this puzzle. I think it took me about a week to solve all the different shapes. Some of them have more than one solution, but I don't really get much joy from finding multiple solutions unless there is something really unique about the different solutions.

As I mentioned in my entry about Schalenquader yesterday, my algorithm to solve this type of puzzle is quite systematic. Usually I will try things randomly for 5-10 minutes and if that approach doesn't work, I will apply a more systematic approach. Here's what I did for Diagra:
  • Organize the pieces in some manner so that you can put them in order, this helps me keep track of which ones I have tried and which ones I haven't.
  • Pick an initial piece to start with and choose a location for it within the shape that would work.
  • Pick the first piece in the order and add it to the starting piece, if this doesn't work, move on to the second piece in the order, etc.
  • If no piece works remove the last piece and try the next piece in the order.
  • If you don't find a solution with the initial piece in the starting position you selected, move the initial piece to another starting position.
Hope that makes sense! I'm curious as to how other people approach this type of puzzle. Do you do something like this or do you have a different way of doing it?

Anyways, I had a good time with this puzzle, it kept me busy for a good long time and was quite well made. The only downside is that I can't figure out how to pronounce the name in a way that doesn't make people think 'Viagra' immediately.

I enjoyed this puzzle so much that I looked on Vinco's site and found out that they had a whole series of puzzles like this. Click on the picture on the right for a full list of these puzzles and the shapes they can make. I was particularly attracted to the one named Cubicula, because it was rated as a 5+ on Vinco's difficulty scale of 1 through 5 in the instruction booklet! Also, I liked the way the puzzle looked: when two pieces are joined it looks like four layers that are joined to create a cube. Luckly, this puzzle was in stock at Eureka, so I went by and purchased it.

This one was also quite cool, the pieces fit together in a completely different way than with Diagra, so it was interesting learning how they interacted. Interestingly, unlike Diagra, some of the pieces in Cubicula are much more versatile than others, meaning they can be used in a number of situations while others had much more specific uses. My algorithm worked for this as well, though there were a lot more options so it took me quite a bit longer (depending on how lucky I got with my starting position).

Overall, I would highly recommend both of these puzzles if you enjoy assembly puzzles. They are a bit challenging though, but I'm sure you're up for it! Great value for the money and a lot of fun.

Tomorrow, I'll write about a few more Hanayamas, another by Oskar van Deventer and a simple one that can be deceptively challenging.

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