October 9, 2009

Small Boxes from Japan

When I didn't have a mechanical puzzle to work on, I was online reading about mechanical puzzles and finding plenty of great websites. One that I am sure many of you are familiar with is the Karakuri Creation Group, a group of amazing puzzle box artists in Japan. Most of their boxes are pretty expensive (at least to me, since I was accustomed to spending $12 for a Hanayama), so there wasn't much that fit within my budget.

They do have a series of small boxes that are quite affordable, however, called the Karakuri Small Box Series. These were on sale on their website for the modest price of $40, including S&H. This sounded like a great deal and I had some birthday money from my grandparents to spend, but as you've probably gathered by now, I don't like spending money without a recommendation.

I had been talking to Matt Dawson, an avid collector and designer of puzzle boxes, for a few months and asked his opinion of the series. He said that they were all good, but 1, 2, 3, and 7 were his favorites. That was all I needed to hear! I liked the idea of going through the series in sequence, so I ordered the first three.

The shipping was remarkably fast, I think it only took a few days for the package to arrive, which was good because I couldn't wait to try them. I thought it would be at least a week or two.

Since the website described #3 as easier than #1 and #2, I decided to start with #3. It came neatly wrapped in clear plastic with a slip of paper labeling it. This slip also contains the solution, so I was careful not to look at it.

They have produced multiple versions of each box, with the same mechanism but different exteriors. The one I got was KK-3-4, whose outside is made out of oak wood. The fit was amazing with a nice smooth finish on the outside. On the corner of the lid of each box is a perfect inlay with the Karakuri Creation Group logo.

As described, this box was fairly easy, but the solution is very cute. I couldn't help but chuckle a bit to myself when I discovered it. Unfortunately, I can't go into much detail without spoiling it. These puzzles are great to show to non-puzzlers, since they aren't too difficult and are a lot of fun. This is usually the first box I show them, since it is easier than the others, and usually they can get it in 3 to 5 minutes. The nice thing about this one is that you feel some sense of progress in the beginning, since two panels slide fairly easily. The final move is the coup-de-gras and trickier to find.

Next, I decided to try #2, which is crafted from cherry tree wood on the outside (KK-2-4). This one is somewhat more challenging than #3, but I was still able to solve it in a minute or two. The solution is quite playful and surprising when you discover it, which I really like. You definitely get the "Aha!" moment.

Unlike #3, this puzzle gives you no easy moves in the beginning. Once you have found the first move, you have basically solved the puzzle. However, this first move is tricky to find. The non-puzzlers that try this one tend to get a bit frustrated, since they don't have any sense of progress, but when they finally discover the solution they are all the more delighted. I think this one is my favorite of the three that I purchased.

Finally, I attempted #1, which, as you can see from the picture, has slightly different proportions. It is made from walnut (KK-1-2) and has a rich brown tone. Similar to #3, this has a few easy moves at the beginning, but the final move is the tricky one. It took me about a minute or two to solve this one, but it was a cute solution that also put a smile on my face.

In my opinion, all three boxes were thoroughly enjoyable, and I definitely plan on purchasing the rest of the series at some point. Very cool little boxes for a good price, and they are superbly made.

Tomorrow, I'll write about a cool magnetic puzzle that I purchased.

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