November 30, 2009

More Bits and Pieces Puzzle Boxes

Despite my earlier experience with Bits and Pieces not having very good quality products, I was happy with the way they handled my issues and decided to place another order with them. I got six boxes: Secret Chamber, The Elegant Kamei Bow Box, Secret Rectangle Box, Eclipse Box, One Panel Treasure Chest, and Secret Enigma Box. Most of them were on sale, so they were even cheaper than usual!

Of these boxes, Secret Chamber was probably my favorite and the most challenging. It is based on a design by Jean Claude Constantin and made out of walnut and pine. I like the appearance with the decorative inlaid stripes along the outside. The knobs are quite inviting and make you wonder what they could do.

This box makes quite a racket when you tilt it back and forth and the lid will lift somewhat but not all the way off. I fiddled with this one for about an hour before I finally solved it. Unfortunately, it just sort of opened: I didn't find the 'right' solution. However, upon inspecting the mechanism I thought it was quite clever. It is based on a familiar principle, but with an added touch.

I brought all of these boxes to Thanksgiving and was surprised that somebody actually figured this one out. She had the same experience that I did though: it just opened after some fairly random rattling, though I did give her a hint that probably made her rattling more effective.

Unfortunately, somebody twisted one of the knobs a bit too hard and damaged the mechanism somewhat. I don't blame B&P for this though, I think it was a case of overly aggressive solving. No worries: a bit of glue should have it working good as new. Overall, I would say that this is a fun little box and is a good deal for the money.

The Elegant Kamei Bow Box is also quite cool. It looks pretty good with the light beech wood box contrasting with the dark bow. The inlays on the corners are a nice touch too. It was designed by Akio Kamei of the Karakuri Creation Group.

This one didn't take me too long to figure out, maybe five minutes or so, but it is a nice little box. There are two compartments that are released as solve the puzzle. I think it took a total of 8 moves to open it completely. My family enjoyed this one as well at Thanksgiving and didn't find it overly challenging. The hardest part for most people was closing it back up. If you don't follow the correct sequence, you can hit a dead end. I think most observant puzzlers won't have trouble with it though.

I was concerned that the bow might be fragile and easily ripped off, but it stood up quite well to a number of people playing around with it. This one is about twice as expensive as the others, but I think it is still a good value for the money.

Secret Rectangle Box was designed by Bob Janus and made out of beech and rosewood. It is quite small, about 3 inches long and one inch tall, but packs a nice little trick. It is also quite inexpensive, which is a good thing.

This one only took me a minute or so to solve, but I still found it enjoyable. It is fairly well made and it was pretty challenging to non-puzzlers without being too difficult. Most folks were able to get it open in about five or ten minutes.

At the price, I think it is a good deal. If it was much more expensive I would probably be annoyed that it didn't keep me busy for longer, but I can't really complain about a puzzle that they're selling for $10 (and I got it on sale  for $7). Not really a must-have, but a cute little box to add to your collection. [At the moment, it doesn't look like it is on their website anymore, so I have linked to the Google cache of the product page.]

Eclipse Secret Box is a nice looking box with a fairly simple mechanism. Some might find the fact that the box is painted in some areas objectionable, but the finish is smooth and it gives it a nice contemporary look. It is sturdily made and has a felt-lined interior, which would make it a decent hiding place for some jewelry.

The solution is one that I have seen before (on a site that indiscriminately shows pictures of boxes in open positions), so I think it is probably a 'classic' design since I was unable to find the name of the designer. It didn't take me long to solve it, but the movements were nice and smooth and the overall construction of the box was quite good for a mass-produced box. Since the solution is fairly simple, it wouldn't be a bad place to store something that you want to access fairly regularly.

My family had a fairly easy time with this one. Though some who were less good at puzzles were stumped for a few minutes, most were able to open it in under a minute. I think the low price, sturdy construction, and nice appearance would be enough for me to recommend this one, but don't expect it to be particularly novel or challenging.

One Panel Treasure Chest was pretty disappointing. The appearance is decent but not great and it has a light and flimsy feel. Unlike what you would expect from the photo and the description ("maybe the included set of keys will help"), the keys were actually locked inside the box. I worked on it for about ten minutes before I decided to have my girlfriend take a look at the solution to make sure that the keys were actually supposed to be inside the box.

She confirmed that they shouldn't be needed, and I asked her if she could open it. She tried for a few minutes, and didn't have any luck. Uh oh! I took a look to see what the solution was, and sure enough it didn't work! I kept trying harder, afraid that I was going to break the box, but eventually it broke free. It was stuck shut!

Now that it wasn't stuck shut, I could see that it was a ridiculously easy box. One might accidently open it when just picking it up! I showed it to some family members at Thanksgiving, and they all found it far too easy. "Oh, that's it?" was the common reply. Don't waste your money on this one! Even at the low price, it is pretty worthless. It is a shame, because the idea isn't bad. Bits and Pieces could have improved this box quite a bit by adding magnets so that a firmer hand was required to open it.

The last one, Secret Enigma Box, was probably the most disappointing since it looked quite cool in the pictures and had a neat name. Its appearance was indeed decent when it arrived, though some of the metal inlays on the corners were marred. What was really disappointing was that there was nothing particularly enigmatic about this box. In fact, the top compartment opens immediately, there is no lock! There is a secret drawer that one might overlook, but unlocking it is quite trivial. I didn't even bother bringing this one to Thanksgiving because it was so dull. Oh well!

In all, I was fairly happy with my order: none of the puzzles were broken (though one was a bit stuck), and four out of the six I thought were good value for the money. Two were duds, but at least they were cheap duds! I'll definitely continue to buy boxes from B&P, because they're quite reasonably priced. Let me know what you think of any of the currently available ones that I haven't mentioned so far!

Next up, I'll write about a recent trip to Eureka where I got a few new Hanayama puzzles.

November 24, 2009

Puzzles from Brett

As I mentioned in my last post, Brett Kuehner very kindly gave me several puzzles when I visited his house. I have been playing around with them for the last week or so and enjoyed them very much.

The first one I tried when I got home was the Super Floppy Cube. This is a 3x1x1 twisty puzzle where you rotate the edges. Unlike a normal Floppy Cube where you can only rotate the edges 180°, on the Super Floppy Cube you can rotate an edge 90°. This enables it to form a number of interesting shapes, as you can see in the picture.

This puzzle was designed by Katsuhiko Okamoto and won the 2009 Puzzle of the Year Award (Puzzlers' Award and Jury Grand Prize) at Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition at the International Puzzle Party.

I should mention that this puzzle is actually not licensed by Okamoto, it is a knockoff made in China, which is unfortunate. Currently, legitimate versions are not for sale, though they will be produced in 2010. Brett is planning to purchase the official version when it is available, since he knows it will be of high quality and support Okamoto's continued innovation.

The mechanism of this puzzle is quite fascinating. It seems almost impossible the way that a corner cube can seemingly attach itself to any edge cube. It is a fun toy just to play around with.

As a puzzle, it is actually quite easy. Due to the fact that you can rotate an edge 90°, you can move all the corners away from an edge and rotate that edge independently. This makes it pretty easy to solve, since (at least for me) orienting the edge cubes properly is the main challenge. Even an inexperienced puzzler should have a pretty easy time with this one, which I actually think is great. It would be a good introduction to this type of puzzle without being overwhelming. You can make it a bit more challenging by not permitting yourself to use the single-edge-twist move.

A puzzle designer named Richard Gain has set up a shop, microcubology, at, a website that allows you to upload 3D models that are printed and mailed to you. In his shop, as you may guess from the name, he has a number of tiny interlocking cube puzzles. Interlocking means that the puzzle will not fall apart easily (unlike a soma cube). Since Shapeways charges based on volume (literally the volume of the model printed), these tiny cubes are quite reasonably priced. Brett gave me three of Richard Gain's puzzles: World's Smallest Puzzle Cube, Primary Gain, and Happiness Cube #20.

As you can see from the photo, World's Smallest Puzzle Cube is very small (7.5 mm across). Of course, you could make one smaller, but this is probably about as small as you would want to go to have a puzzle you don't need tweezers to assemble.

This puzzle is about as complex as you can probably get with a 3x3x3 interlocking cube, but I didn't find it too challenging. Still, it was a lot of fun playing around with such a tiny puzzle. Once I got the hang of putting it together I tried doing it with my eyes shut, it wasn't too bad! Overall, a great puzzle for the money: only $2 since it is so tiny!

Primary Gain is a bit trickier with four fairly complex pieces. It forms into a cube that could contain 8 of the tiny cubes above, to give you a sense of the size. This is still quite small at 1.6 cm per side.

This one didn't take me very long, but I enjoyed solving it. One of the pieces is pretty large and the other pieces are pretty irregularly shaped, so each of the other pieces can only really fit with the large piece in one way. I liked this, because it really cuts down on the trial and error involved.

The tricky part is getting all the pieces together at once, since they tend to get in each others' way. It takes three moves to remove the first piece, two moves to remove the second piece, and three moves to remove the third piece. This is a great little interlocking cube and the first one that Richard Gain designed (hence the name).

Happiness Cube #20 was designed by Sekoguchi Yukiyasu and reproduced by Richard Gain under a profit-sharing agreement. This one is really tough: according to Richard it is currently the most difficult cube in his collection. Well, I like a challenge!

There are six pieces, and it takes 30 moves to completely assemble it. I started out just playing around with it, trying to figure out where the different pieces go. Much like Primary Gain, since the pieces are very irregularly shaped it wasn't too hard to figure out where they went. This step took me about 15-20 minutes. The hard part is figuring out how to get them together since it takes so many moves.

I found that it wasn't too difficult to get all but one piece into place, so I did that and then imagined how the last piece would interact with the other pieces if it was present. I restricted myself to only moves that would be valid if the final piece was present. This helped me get a better understanding of how the pieces interacted.

Next, I removed a different piece and follow the same procedure. Eventually, this enabled me to discover which piece is the last to be added to the cube (and how to add it), which is usually the hardest step in this type of puzzle. Whew, what a sense of accomplishment! I think it took me over an hour, so I was quite elated when I finally solved it.

Not content to leave well enough alone, I disassembled it and assembled it a few more times to really get a good idea of how it worked. This is definitely a very cool puzzle and totally worth it for the money, only $16! Check one out if you think you can handle a high-level interlocking puzzle.

Overall, I was quite surprised by how playable these puzzles were given their size. That said, I have fairly sharp eyes and dexterous fingers, so your enjoyment of them may vary. I like the way these cubes look like something out of a science fiction movie. It seems like they should be capable of powering my time machine or something.

The fifth puzzle Brett gave me was called Triadenspass by Logika. The idea is to fit the three pieces into the hexagonal base. This looks fairly easy at first, but it is actually fairly challenging due to the irregular edges of the pieces and the base.

Each piece can be rotated and flipped for a total of four orientations. It can fit in any of these four orientations into any of the six corners of the hexagon for a total of 24 possible location/orientation combinations for the first piece.

It is easy to just try all of these combinations, but a bit tricky to keep track of which you have tried since the pieces have no identifying marks. Also, more than one of the 24 location/orientation combinations works, so you then have to see if you can get the next piece in (which can fit 8 ways).

I'm not sure how most people approach this type of puzzle, but that's how I usually do it: brute force! Still, it was a fun little puzzle to solve. I think it took me about 10-15 minutes.

This puzzle is flat and has a cover, which is nice, so it is good to take with you on the go. Also, Logika makes their puzzles out of recycled plastics, which is a good thing.

The last puzzle that I tried was Caramel Cube Puzzle by Hanayama. While it might appear that the challenge is just to fit the caramel-colored blocks in the clear box, the actual objective is to pack them into the box such that when you shake the box, the pieces do not slide around. What is even more interesting is that you can accomplish this feat using all 15 blocks or only using 14, 13, or 12! I love puzzles with more than one challenge, since it keeps me busy puzzling for longer.

This puzzle was designed by William Strijbos of The Netherlands and won second place in the 1994 Hikimi Puzzle Competition under the name Anti-Slide (the photo on this page is a spoiler for one of  the 14 block solutions).

I was able to find the 15 and 14 block solutions without too much trouble: there are a number of different solutions that work. However the 13 and 12 block solutions have eluded me for the several days that I have been working on it. There is only one solution to the 13 block puzzle so that one will be particularly tricky to find. I'm going to keep working on this one! [Update: I found a 12 block solution! Woo hoo!]

You may be wondering about Nemesis Factor, which I mentioned that Brett loaned to me, but I'm still working on that one and will post it in its own entry.

Once again, a big thanks to Brett Kuehner for all the nifty puzzles. I had a great time working on them!

If any of you out in internet-land feel like loaning me a puzzle that you would like me to review, I'd be happy to do so. Just contact me! I still have some in my queue, but I'll be running out in a little while, depending on how productive I am.

Next up, I'll be writing about a bunch of Bits and Pieces boxes that I got. I had much better luck than last time!

November 23, 2009

Visit to Brett's House (Part 5)

Check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Another puzzle that I was excited to see was Secret Base by Hiroshi Iwahara of the Karakuri Creation Group. He also designed Acorn Box and Confetto box, which I mentioned in Part 3 and 4, respectively. Secret Base was one of the first place winners in the 2008 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition at the International Puzzle Party.

As you can see from the photo, this box looks great with a number of colorful and exotic woods. It is made from shiuri cherry, oak, zebra wood, rengas, keyaki (zelkova), and ancient katura. Each is finished beautifully and has a great depth.

I found the Iwahara's description to be pretty amusing:
The craftsman [Iwahara] often watched TV robot animation. When a bad enemy destroys the town and the peace of the people, the shutter of a secret base that is hidden under the ground opens and a robot of the justice comes out to save the peace. It was an exciting scene. The shutter is the motif of this work. There are two spaces inside.
What an interesting source of inspiration! It just goes to show that there are ideas for puzzles all around you, if you have an eye for it.

As Iwahara mentions, there are two compartments to this puzzle. The first is relatively easy to find, though the mechanism is very cool. If you'd like to see what it looks like open, check out the Karakuri section of Rob's Puzzle Page, scroll down to The Karakuri Club Christmas 2007, and click the button to open the boxes.

After the first compartment is open, you need to search for the second one. This one is a bit trickier which I think really makes this a great puzzle. Iwahara could have stopped after creating the unique mechanism for the first compartment, but the additional compartment gives it that extra bit of difficulty that I liked.

Next I decided to try Dona Dona by Shiro Tajima, since it has such an unusual appearance. I had seen it before on the Karakuri website and was curious as to how it worked.

One cool thing about this box is that it has a music box inside. You can wind it up by twisting the cow's head. To start playing the music, you pull the front and the back of the cow apart slightly. The music Dona Dona by Sholom Secunda plays while the cow's head turns slowly. Cute, eh?

Well that's not really the puzzle: the goal is to find the hidden compartment inside. I worked on this one for a little while but didn't have much luck. Brett and Rob ended up giving me the solution on this one because it required an excessive amount of force. Even knowing the solution, it was quite a challenge to get it open. I think Tajima could have used much less powerful magnets here. The puzzle itself is pretty cool, but this detail really ruins it.

At this point, we had been at Brett's house for almost five hours, so we needed to start thinking about hitting the road since I was hoping to visit a friend in Connecticut on the drive home. The last puzzle I attempted was Dovetail Jewel Box, which was Robert Sandfield's exchange gift at the 2003 International Puzzle Party. This was the last in the Sandfield's dovetail series, which I talked about a lot in this post.

As the last puzzle in the series, this one is quite clever. There a bunch of red herrings that play off of the different tricks that were used in the dovetail series: five of them, in fact! I kept thinking I was discovering something that might work, but it ended up being a red herring. Brett read me the first part of the solution, which was quite funny: it pretty much listed all the steps that I had tried and tells you to try them and then ignore them.

Eventually I did discover what I think is the first move, but unfortunately after about a half hour I didn't get any farther than that. As with many of the puzzles in this series, this is a pretty tricky. Hopefully I will have some time to attempt it again.

Well, my time at Brett's was coming to a close, so we started to get ready to leave. As we were leaving, Brett gave me six (!) puzzles: three small cube puzzles by Richard Gain, a packing puzzle by Logika, a packing puzzle by Hanayama, and a super floppy cube! I was beside myself with gratitude, these would surely give me many hours of puzzling enjoyment as well as new material for my blog. I'll be writing about the fun I had with these puzzles in an upcoming entry. Thanks Brett!

Brett also loaned me an extra copy he had of Nemesis Factor, the electronic puzzle invented by Ron Dubrens, who we met at the puzzle dinner the previous night. I was really excited about this, because it sounded like a very interesting puzzle. This one would definitely keep me busy for a while. I joked that I was going to have Kellian hold it while I was driving so I could work on it on the drive back. (Unfortunately, she didn't let me!)

Thanks again to Brett Kuehner for inviting me to his house and letting me play with all those great puzzles, as well as the puzzles he gave to me. Also a big thanks to Rob Stegmann for bringing a ton of interesting puzzles from his collection. I was completely thrilled by the whole experience and was literally grinning during the whole ride home. What an awesome trip!

November 20, 2009

Visit to Brett's House (Part 4)

Check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I'm going to lead off today's post with one of my favorite puzzles that I saw on this trip: Chopstick Box (a.k.a. Stickman #13) by Robert Yarger. I was really thrilled when Brett brought this out because I had never seen any of Yarger's incredible work in person.

Brett had the purpleheart and leapordwood version, which I thought looked amazing. The craftsmanship on this box is superb with no visible seams on the sliders. Even when I knew which piece moved, it was hard to detect any type of seam, incredible!

I solved this one fairly quickly, but what is amazing about this puzzle is the mechanism. Since the solution is fairly simple I'm going to describe the mechanism in some detail here. I won't give the solution precisely, but it might spoil it a bit for you if you try it in the future. Highlight the text below to continue reading, otherwise just be content to know that it is very cool:

There are two chopsticks contained in the box and a small hole on one end. You can see the first chopstick, but it won't budge when you shake the box. When you find the first move, the first chopstick pops out magnetically, which is quite amusing. I did this move a few times just for the fun of it. The second chopstick is magnetically attached to the other side of the box. When you locate the second move (which is a bit of a challenge due to the great craftsmanship), it jumps across the box to the other magnet with a 'click.' This magnetic transfer is very neat.

Overall, an awesome puzzle and it sold for only $125 when originally released! Man, I wish I was collecting puzzles back then. Approximately twenty-four copies of this box were produced.

I was also very excited to finally get to see a box by Kim Klobucher of Kcube Designs. His boxes are very unique looking with interesting woods and metal inlays, as you can see from the photo. Check his website for more pictures, mine is a bit blurry.

As far as I know, all of his boxes use a similar mechanism that relies on pins and grooves. Kim makes boxes with hundreds of moves, but I think the version that Brett had was about twenty or so. Personally, I think that's probably plenty. While I've never tried a box with hundreds of moves, I would imagine that it gets somewhat tedious and repetitive after a point, but I'll reserve judgment until I give it one a try.

I worked on this one for five or ten minutes and found the first few moves, but then I got stuck. I wish I could have spent a bit longer with this one, because I would imagine that it is doable within a reasonable amount of time. However, there were about 10 Karakuri boxes waiting for me, so I decided to move on. I definitely would like to purchase one of Kim's boxes in the future though.

The next puzzle I decided to try was Karakuri Cube Box #2, since I had #1, #3, and #4 (blog entry) and was curious about how #2 compared. If you're not familiar with this series, all of the boxes look the same, but with different colored woods. It is very cool to see how many different mechanisms they can pack into boxes that look the same.

I really ended up liking #2, though it only took me a few minutes to solve it, the mechanism was nice. I liked how it is sequential unlike the other boxes in the series, where the moves do not need to be performed in a specific order. This makes it a bit more challenging to find the first move, which I liked. I think this also makes it one of the harder puzzles in the series.

Of course, coming from the Karakuri Creation Group, the craftsmanship is superb. The fit was perfect, not too tight and not too loose. Overall, a solid buy for the price.

Rob suggested that I try Brett's copy of Confetto Box by Hiroshi Iwahara next, since he thought that I would enjoy it. This box won an honorable mention in the 2009 International Puzzle Party Design Competition

It is a fairly simple looking box, but the wood has a beautiful depth to it. I liked the way that the corners came together into a sort of spiral as well. Since all the sides look identical, it was quite easy to get confused and turned around.

Here is Iwahara's description:
There are two compartments inside. The two lids are opposite each other. As you slide the four plates, the two lids can open. The first plate is quite easy to open, but you'll have to think about the second one!
I started playing around with it; the movement was nice and smooth. After playing around with it for a little while, I discovered a very unique movement that I thought might be the key to finding one of the compartments. Eventually I was able to release one of the lids to reveal a compartment with a moon symbol. I'm not sure if this is the 'hard' one, but I think that it might be because the moves required were fairly unusual.

Unfortunately, when I tried to put the box back together to find the other compartment, I couldn't get it to close up completely. I find a puzzle that won't return to its starting state to be much harder to put down than a puzzle I can't solve to begin with, so I worked on this for the better part of a half hour, probably, with no luck. I felt quite bad since I hate leaving a puzzle like this, but Brett was very nice about it. Sorry, Brett!

Despite this difficulty, this was another one of my favorite boxes during this visit. I liked the fact that there were two compartments, and enjoyed the tricky move to reach one of them. It is a very nice box!

To be continued tomorrow!

Update: Check out Part 5!

November 19, 2009

Visit to Brett's House (Part 3)

Check out Part 1 and Part 2.

After lunch, we went back to the puzzles. Here is another shot of the puzzles Rob brought. One puzzle that I didn't mention earlier was Revomaze, which is the blue cylinder in the bottom left of the photo.

I had been tempted to buy one of these for quite a while. They are fairly expensive at about $120 each, but from what I have heard they are very cool puzzles. It is a hidden maze puzzle where you are trying to navigate a maze that is hidden inside the cylinder. It is tough though, because it is possible to 'fall off' the maze and then have to return to the start.

This is really one of those puzzles that you need to experience to fully understand, which is part of why I had never bought one before. Another reason is that there are five different types (not counting the limited edition ones), so once I get one I'm probably going to end up buying the whole set, which is a lot of money.

Still, it was a very cool puzzle. The weight of it is quite nice and the mechanism is very smooth and sturdy feeling. I played around with it for a bit, but even the easiest one is supposed to be quite difficult so I didn't have much hope of solving it. I definitely want one, but there are so many other puzzles I'd like to buy, it is hard to decide which!

Revomaze will be releasing plastic versions of these puzzles for much less, which is quite tempting. Early reviews are quite favorable, so I may just hold out for these. Unfortunately, they are not identical to the metal versions, but it sounds like they may be close enough that it is worth it to save some money. We'll see!

While I was puzzling away, my girlfriend was working on a few assembly puzzles that Rob had given her to try, since she tends to be better with assembly puzzles, but unfortunately she wasn't having much luck. To be fair, they were pretty tricky!

Brett and Rob decided that if she was having trouble with these assembly puzzles, perhaps she should try the one piece packing puzzle by Simon Nightingale. All you have to do is put the cube into the box, so how hard could it be? She took it from Rob and tried to place the piece into the box, but it just jumped back out again, much to her surprise. We all had a good chuckle at this.

A little while later, Brett's son Kai came by and Kellian showed him the puzzle in disgust, saying how she couldn't even solve this one piece packing puzzle. She handed it to him and he solved it immediately, placing the piece directly into the box without any trouble at all. Of course, Kellian was quite surprised and amused by this, and we all laughed about it for quite a while. The timing was perfect!

Just in case you're not familiar with this puzzle, there are magnets both in the box and in the cube. Unless you know the solution, the cube will pop back up due to magnetic repulsion. This clever puzzle won the 2001 Puzzlers' Award at the International Puzzle Party Design Competition. Bits and Pieces made a replica of it that was pretty inexpensive, but it is no longer available.

At around this time, Brett started to bring out some of his collection. I had no idea what to expect, but I was thrilled when he brought out box after box of amazing puzzle boxes! I should have know he was a puzzle box nut, because Matt Dawson was the one who introduced me to him.

I started out with Acorn Box, by Hiroshi Iwahara of the Karakuri Creation Group. It was very nicely crafted with a cute little acorn on the top. I had seen this puzzle before on the Karakuri website and was interested to give it a try since Iwahara's description was intriguing:
This box opens with only one move. The cover rattles. But, the cover doesn't open even when you pull it up or turn any points of the box. It was unveiled at an exhibition that was held in Feb. 2008 by the craftsman and Mr. Ninomiya. At the exhibition, a customer who experienced Karakuri for the first time opened it very quickly, but a veteran of puzzles needed 30 minutes. This caused a lot of laughter!
This sounded interesting, because it means that the solution was probably something that is atypical for a puzzle box, so a puzzle box expert might not expect it, but was something that one might try to do if you weren't familiar with puzzle boxes. I wondered which category I fit into at this point!

I played around with it for a bit, and as Iwahara mentions, the lid rattles like it is loose, but doesn't come off. This was nice because it sort of draws you in since it feels like it is almost ready to open. This is in contrast to many boxes which appear quite impenetrable at first.

After a few minutes I figured out the trick: it is indeed pretty simple but I was quite surprised and amused when I found it. Kellian also gave it a try and was able to figure it out after a few minutes. Not too challenging, but a nice little box! It is currently available on the Karakuri website for $55 (including S&H!) which I think is a pretty good deal.

Next I decided to attempt Portable Pen Puzzle Box by Eric Fuller. I was dazzled by the beautiful wood used on the lid and thought that it might not be too challenging given its size. The box contains a pen made by John Devost.

The first few moves were simple enough, the typical way that a sliding panel puzzle box works. However, then I got stuck! I thought that the mechanism probably involved whacking the box in some manner, but I didn't want to whack it too hard because I could hear the pen bouncing around and didn't want to damage it. I would imagine that Eric probably thought of this, but it still made me nervous so I ended up giving up on this one. I hate giving up, especially when I feel like I'm close, but there were so many other puzzles to try.

So many puzzles to write about...continued tomorrow!

Update: Check out Part 4!

November 18, 2009

Visit to Brett's House (Part 2)

Check out Part 1 if you're just joining us.

Among the puzzles that Rob Stegmann brought over to Brett's was his collection of trick bolts, which Rob says are one of his favorite groups of puzzles. Rob has found a nice wooden book box that he uses to house part of his collection: he cut foam to fit the interior and keep the bolts from clanging around.

I had seen these on his website before and always thought that they would be interesting. The concept seems so simple, but he has over twenty five of them, most of which have different mechanisms!  I was quite eager to see how they worked, so I decided to tackle a few of these next.

As you can see from the photo, there were a ton of them, so Rob was kind enough to suggest a few of his favorites that weren't going to stump me for the rest of the day. I started off with One-L-Nut by Rocky Chiaro. He hand-machines each of these out of solid brass, which I love. As far as I'm concerned, there are few things more badass than machining puzzles out of metal. I would love to learn how to do this. Here is Rob's complete collection of Rocky's Trick Bolts:

One-L-Nut wasn't too difficult, but it was a nice little puzzle that was very well made (far left in above photo). The goal is to remove the nut from the bolt, but when you try to turn it it doesn't come off. Next I tried Dub-L-Nut (2nd from the left), which was quite a bit trickier. You can see it disassembled on the left, but I don't think it'll do you much good! I am quite amazed at the precision with which Rocky produces these puzzles. Very nice work!

I tried One-Wa-Sure next (third from the left), which was also quite cool. This one was about the same difficulty as One-L-Nut. I was starting to get the hang of these, so I figured it out pretty quickly. I would have loved to work my way through his whole collection, but many other puzzles awaited, so I decided to move on.

The next puzzle that I attempted was "Irmo" Box designed and made by Eric Fuller. It was one of the First Prize winners in the 2008 International Puzzle Party Design Competition, so I had seen this box many times before online and always wanted to give it a try. Jerry Slocum confirmed that this mechanism is completely unique, so I was very curious to see how it worked.

First off, Irmo Box is beautifully crafted. The wood has a great depth and color to it, and it is nicely accented by the light inlays on the edges. On the bottom, there is an inscription that would probably have helped me out a bit if I could figure out what it said. The font was a bit hard to read and with so many other puzzles to try, I didn't take the time to decipher it.

I futilely tried all the usual things that one would try when working on a puzzle box, but I wasn't optimistic because the mechanism is supposed to be different than anything else I've seen. I did discover a few moves, but was unable to make any progress. Rob kindly offered to show me how it worked, but I declined. Hopefully one day I will have the chance to solve this one for real!

Another puzzle that I knew I had to try was Kagen Schaefer's Maze Burr. This puzzle won the both the Puzzler's Award and the Grand Prize in the 2006 IPP Design Competition. It was quite exciting that I got the opportunity to give it a try! This is another puzzle that I have drooled over for quite a while.

The cool thing about this box is that the movement of each face of the cube is controlled by the 'runes' carved on the plates on the outside. After taking the box apart, you can rearrange the plates in a ton of different ways to make a new puzzle with a different solution.

Another very cool thing about this puzzle is that the black frame completely disassembles, so it is both a burr and a box in some sense. Definitely check out Kagen's site for more info and pictures of this puzzle. Very cool!

Ok, enough raving, on to my experience with the puzzle. I had a great time trying to figure this one out. Rob said that it was currently configured in its default configuration. I shifted the panels around and started to figure out how the different pieces interacted. Before seeing it, I didn't really understand the mechanics of how the panels slid, so it was great being able to try it firsthand.

I think it took me about 15 or 20 minutes, but I was able to remove one of the rune panels and open the box, which was quite satisfying. It is very well made and definitely a joy to work on. My only gripe is that the fit was a bit loose: this made it easy to accidentally make a move (or undo a move you just made), because the panels could slide under their own weight. Overall, though, this is an awesome puzzle that I would buy in a minute if it was ever on sale for a reasonable price (fat chance).

I think it was about at this time that Brett was kind enough to whip up some lunch for us, which was great. I was barely able to tear myself away from the puzzles, but I figured I could use the brain fuel!

Continued tomorrow!

Update: Check out Part 3!

November 17, 2009

Visit to Brett's House (Part 1)

They day after the puzzle dinner, Brett was kind enough to invite me to his home, which was on my drive back, the following day to check out his collection. Brett told me that Rob Stegmann would also be there with a bunch of puzzles from his collection. As you can imagine, I was very excited. So excited, in fact, that I dragged my poor girlfriend out of New York at 11:00 in the morning so I could get an early start puzzling.

On the drive, I was eagerly watching the ETA on my GPS and counting down the minutes till when we would arrive at Brett's house. When we got there, I could barely contain my glee at the amazing feast of puzzlement that Rob had laid out on Brett's dining room table. Akio Kamei, Eric Fuller, Stewart Coffin, Rocky Chiaro, and even a Berrocal! I recognized them from all the pictures on Rob's site, and here they were! I hardly knew where to begin!

I sat down at the table completely dumbfounded for a moment. I couldn't decide which of these amazing puzzles I would try first. I decided to start with some of the puzzle boxes by Akio Kamei, since I love puzzle boxes and he is one of the best puzzle box artists around. I started with Cube Box II, which is on the left in this photo.

It was flawlessly crafted and looked very nice. It took me a little while, but eventually I started to figure out how the panels slid. Similar to the less expensive small boxes, the best approach on these was just to try sliding everything in every direction that it could slide. This box was tricky because every outside surface moves, so it became tricky to hold it without inadvertently closing it back up again. Finally, I managed to carefully pull it apart. I admired the amazing precision with which it was crafted, it was very elegantly designed both inside and out.

Next, I tried Cube Box I, which is similar but has a somewhat different mechanism. Since it is similar, I'm not going to go into detail, but suffice it to say that this is also a very nice box.

After that, I tried Twin Box 3, shown on the right, which was also created by Akio Kamei. This one was a bit larger than the previous two and had a nice weight to it. The craftsmanship was superb with nice light inlays on the dark exterior panels. The mechanism to this box was very interesting: the panels slide, but not in the typical way. It was only moderately challenging, but I really enjoyed the way the mechanism worked.

After trying these three great puzzle boxes, I briefly tried Impossible Lock by Rainer Popp. I think I discovered the first move, but quickly realized that this would probably take me all day (and more) to solve, so reluctantly abandoned it.

Brett brought out a small lock from PuzzleMaster called Broken Heart. I fiddled around with it for a bit and was amused to find that what I hypothesized was the first move on Impossible Lock was the solution to Broken Heart. Not too tricky, but it could stump you for a while if you didn't think of it. Definitely good value for the money.

When I walked in, I knew that I couldn't leave without taking a look at Miguel Berrocal's Portrait de Michele, so I decided to try that next. Berrocal is a Spanish sculptor born in 1933 who was known for his puzzle sculptures. Portraite de Michele is a sculpture in his limited edition 'mini' series.

I took it apart very carefully, laying the pieces down in the same orientation that I took them out. I also kept them in order so I wouldn't get confused. I was intrigued to find that it didn't come apart as easily as I expected. Once the base was unlocked, the pieces came apart in a specific order, sometimes requiring one or two sliding moves to release it.

The eye of Michele is actually revealed to be the "stone" of a ring that is hidden within the sculpture that is released about half way through the disassembly. You can see the ring in this picture that shows the pieces disassembled (from Rob's site).

Even keeping careful track of how I took it apart, it was a bit tricky putting it back together. A few times a piece wouldn't fit like I expected and I started to worry, but eventually I figured it out. I hate not leaving puzzles the way I started!

I would imagine that it would be quite challenging to assemble after scrambling the pieces. In addition to being an interesting puzzle, it is quite nicely made and a beautiful sculpture. It had a great weight to it and was beautifully polished.

There are a bunch more puzzles that I saw, so I'm going to have to continue this entry tomorrow since it is getting late. Stay tuned!

Update: Check out Part 2!

November 16, 2009

New York Puzzle Dinner

This weekend I headed down to New York for a puzzle collector's get-together that was organized by Brett Kuehner. I was really looking forward to this event because I knew it would be a great opportunity to meet some fellow puzzlers, talk about puzzles, and try a bunch of puzzles that I probably wouldn't have had the chance to try otherwise. I was particularly psyched to meet Rob Stegmann, since I refer to his site, Rob's Puzzle Page, on almost a daily basis.

We met up at Telephone Bar & Grill at 6:00. I was a bit early since I didn't want to miss a minute of the puzzling action. Rob and Brett were both there and introduced themselves. We had a nice long table in a room in the back of the restaurant that would be perfect for our purposes.

Lots of other people came, I think it was something like 15 or 20 total. I tend to get pretty absorbed in the puzzles so I didn't get a good count. George Hart was there: he has designed a number of very cool geometric assembly puzzles (check out his site). Tom Cutrofello was also there, who is the Mechanical Puzzles Correspondent for Games Magazine. He also has a puzzle blog here. I also met Ron Dubrens, who designed Rubik's Rabbit (a.k.a. Rubik's Hat), Nemesis Factor, and Tickle-me Elmo (not a puzzle). There were a bunch of other puzzlers there, but I didn't catch everybody's name. So if you are one of those people, sorry for not mentioning you!

Brett had brought a number of twisty puzzles, including a Super Floppy Cube (left), an Edge-turning Void Cube, a Gigaminx, a 3x3x4, a 2x2x3, and a number of others. I picked up the super floppy cube because I had seen it before and was really curious to see its mechanism. It is like a 1x1x3 Rubik's cube, but unlike a normal Floppy Cube where all you can do is rotate the edges 180 degrees, on the Super Floppy Cube you can rotate them 90 degrees to create all sorts of interesting shapes.

I toyed around with this for a bit, but decided that I didn't want to mess it up. Brett said it wasn't particularly hard and said to go ahead and scramble it, but there was too much other stuff that I wanted to check out. Plus, I am a bit afraid of twisty puzzles (check out Facing My Twisty Puzzle Demons).

Next, Rob handed me Schraubenwuerful, which is a puzzle by the mysterious Roger. "Roger" has designed a number of very unique puzzles, but nobody knows who he is. As Rob told me, one of the most perplexing things about Roger's puzzles is that there are no instructions: you just have to figure out what to do. This one, Rob speculates, involves screwing all the bolts into the metal block.

I played with this one a good portion of the night and had zero luck with it. I could tell that the bolts were interacting with each other in some way, but I couldn't get anything to move from its starting position other than one bolt that freely screwed into the block. I kept putting it down and picking it back up again: it was surprisingly addictive for a puzzle that I was making no progress on. I think this is one that I would need to spend a few weeks working on.

There was also a Rubik's Touch Cube that someone brought (I forget who), which was pretty interesting. I had recently read George Bell's review of it on, so it was interesting to see one in person. I definitely agreed with his assessment that it was a bit awkward to manipulate. You rotate the cube by swiping you finger across the slice that you want to rotate, but you can only do this on what is currently the top face of the cube. Given the huge number of things that could be done with the computer inside this device, it was quite unfortunate that they didn't pack some more puzzles into it, particularly at its hefty price tag. I won't be buying one of these, but it was nice to see it. As you can see, it looks quite cool in the dark.

Tom Cutrofellow had recently purchased a number of puzzles from Allan Boardman, who was downsizing his collection. He brought a few of these new puzzles, one of which was this cool little box shown on the left. It was handed to me upside-down, so I thought it was supposed to look like a lego block or something, which is why I took the picture this way. I later realized that these were supposed to be legs.

It is a puzzle box, but Tom didn't know the name of the box or designer. I played around with this one for a bit without much luck. Later I saw that a fellow named Derek across the table had solved it, so I decided to give it another try. This time I was able to solve it, which was quite a relief since I hadn't been very successful in solvingthings this evening. The solution was simple but it took me a while to find it. It was a nice little box!

Rob handed me a tray packing puzzle by William Waite called Diamond Teaser. The object is to put all four pieces into the tray in such a way that the holes are symmetric (there are not enough pieces to fill it entirely). I worked on this one for about 10 or 15 minutes, but couldn't figure out how to get the holes in a symmetric pattern and gave up for a bit. Derek tried it for a while and also didn't have any luck. Tom decided to give it a try and figured it out, but unfortunately I glanced over and saw the solution as he did it. It is quite clever!

George Hart brought a few of his 3D-printed puzzles, which were quite neat. There was a set of three puzzles, two of which are shown to the left, that consist of a cube dissected along a spiral cut. The first cube was divided into two spiral pieces, the second into three pieces, and the third into four pieces!

I solved all three, and I think the three piece one was is my favorite. It is the colorful one on the left hand side of the picture. You would think that they would be pretty easy to put these back together, but the three and four piece ones were a little tricky at first. You can read more about the two-piece version on his website here.

There were a ton of other puzzles, but unfortunately I can't remember them all. Thanks to everybody for all the great puzzles they brought and a big thanks to Brett for organizing this fantastic event! I had an awesome time!

Rob was kind enough to give me a copy of a hexagonal packing puzzle he created, so as soon as I got back to the hotel I gave it a try. What, you thought I would have had enough after more than three hours of puzzling? Not a chance!

The objective of this puzzle is to make a hexagon and then a star. I worked on making the hexagon it for about a half hour, but I didn't have much luck. I really need to work on assembly puzzles, so this one will be good practice for me.

Rob also gave me a little cube assembly puzzle reminiscent of Snafooz that was made out of erasers. I was able to get that one figured out pretty quickly. A nice little puzzle for 99 cents. Thanks for the puzzles, Rob!

In my next entry, I'll write about my trip to Brett's house on Sunday where I got to see even more of Brett and Rob's collections. (It was awesome!)

November 8, 2009

Beverly Puzzle Party

After I met Saul Bobroff at the mechanical puzzle event organized by Eureka, he was kind enough to invite me to a puzzle gathering that he was hosting in his home a few months later. That party was today and it was really awesome. I got to try a bunch of great puzzles and meet a number of puzzlers in the area. Chris Morgan and Tim Udall were there, both of whom I had also met at the Eureka event.

Saul has a huge collection of puzzles and laid out a selection on the table for us to play around with. Chris Morgan also brought a number of very cool puzzles from his enormous collection, so there was a ton of stuff to keep me busy.

In this picture, Saul is working on my copy of Pagoda Puzzle Box, which I wrote about in my last entry. He really liked the look of it and played around with it for a while, but didn't have much luck solving it. Chris and Tim also attempted it, but didn't solve it. It is definitely a puzzle that you need to pay close attention to when you are working on it: it is very easy to get lost and end up spinning your wheels. If you'd like a copy, you can buy one here while they are still available.

Here is a picture of the different puzzles that were laid out on the table when I arrived. A bunch more were brought out as time went on, I could hardly keep track!

It took me a while to actually start solving some puzzles, since there was so much going on. Everybody was talking about all the different puzzles, so it was easy to become distracted.

There were so many that I wanted to try, that I couldn't decide which ones I actually wanted to spend enough time with to solve them. A cornucopia of puzzles!

I started working on this nice looking framed burr puzzle by Tom Lensch. It is a design by Dic Sonneveld named Sticky Four. I thought it would be pretty simple, but I didn't have any luck with it! I was able to get a few pieces to move, but then I hit a dead end.

A little while later I saw somebody else solve it, which kind of gives away the solution. It was pretty clever. As with all of Tom's stuff, it is very nicely made with beautiful woods and a great finish.

I was immediately drawn to Pharaoh's Secret (top right), a puzzle designed by Norman Sandfield and Perry McDaniel, but didn't have much luck solving it at first. Saul noticed that I liked this type of puzzle and brought out a ton of Norman and Robert Sandfield's puzzles, all of which had the common dovetail theme and were made by Perry McDaniel.

Going from left to right and top to bottom, they are: Dovetail and a Half, Pharaoh's Secret, Dove Tangle, Bolted Dovetail, L-Bow Dovetail, and Cutaway (Double) Dovetail. Robert Stegmann has a great section of his website that details this entire series of puzzles.

Over the course of the night, I'm happy to say that I solved every one of these! Once you start to understand how they work, it gets to be a little bit easier, though they are pretty tricky puzzles.

This is a close-up of L-Bow Dovetail. It just has those two dovetail joints: how could that be possible? It is very well made with a great fit. The solution was quite tricky as well. I kept giving up on this one and going back to it before I finally solved it.

This is a close-up of Dove Tangle. It has a different number of dovetails on each side! Here you can see the sides that have one and three. The other sides have two and four (shown below), which seems impossible at first.

Also, this puzzle has a bolt going through the middle of it, so how could it slide? This one has a pretty simple solution, but the craftsmanship on it is very nice. I think this is one of the coolest looking of the bunch, though they all looked quite cool.

I think my favorites of the ones that I tried were Dovetail and a Half and Pharaoh's Secret. I liked Dovetail and Half because it was double-locked, which made it a bit trickier than the others. Pharaoh's Secret was interesting because the solution was quite a bit different than the others. It also looks very nice. It was the first one I tried, and the last one that I solved.

I was thrilled to finally get a chance to play with Simon Night-ingale's Great Escape, which I had seen plenty of pictures of from the 2009 International Puzzle Party. It won an honorable mention in the puzzle design competition, so I knew it would be pretty cool. On the right, is a picture of a friend of Saul's named Gene playing around with it.

The object of this puzzle is to put a ball bearing in one of the holes and then figure out how to get it back out. It sounds easy, but it is a bit trickier than you would expect.

I played around with it a bit, shining my flashlight through the holes to figure out what was going on. This didn't help much, but eventually I stumbled upon the solution after 5 or 10 minutes. It is quite cool and unexpected (at least for me). Definitely a cool puzzle.

On the left is a wire puzzle by John Ergatoudis and made by Jean Claude Constantin that was John's exchange puzzle in the 2001 International Puzzle Party. I didn't spend very long with this one because Chris hadn't solved it yet, which meant it would be probably take me a very long time. (Sorry the photo is funky, I tweaked the contrast on the label because it got washed out by the flash.)

I was happy to get another chance to play around with Iwahiro's MMMM puzzle, by Iwahiro. As you may recall, during the Eureka event I was stumped by this one, so I was happy to get some more time to work on it. Much to my relief, I figured it out a few minutes after I started working on it again. Guess I just needed a fresh perspective! Frequently with puzzle solving, I get into a rut and stop making progress, so the best thing is to take a break sometimes. The objective of this puzzle is to fit the four M-shaped pieces in the box and shut the lid. It has a nice solution.

Normally I am reluctant to try assembly puzzles, because usually you have to disassemble them to give them a try and feel like a jerk if you can't get it back the way it was when you started. Fortunately, somebody had disassembled Oskar's Patchwork Box and left it in pieces, so I decided to give it a try. It is beautifully made by Tom Lesch with very colorful woods. I loved the look of this puzzle and the fit was perfect.

I was surprised to find that I didn't have too hard of a time putting this one back together (right). I think it took me about five minutes. I may have gotten lucky though, sometimes if you start with the right two pieces in the right orientation by chance, the rest just falls into place fairly easily.

One that vexed me for quite some time was Cent-rale, designed by Jean Claude Constantin. The objective is to remove the nickel. To do this, you need to slide the light wooden interior to the right, so that it can be removed from the large hole.

There is some kind of locking mechanism that prevents this from happening though. I played around with this one for quite some time and ended up accidentally "solving" the puzzle several times. Still, I don't completely understand the mechanism and was unable to solve it reliably, so I don't count this one as solved.

Saul said that he had a similar experience: he tried all sorts of things and then when he set it down, it opened! Quite a tricky puzzle indeed. It is nice that the mechanism isn't exposed when you solve it, so the puzzle is not spoiled if you get lucky.

Whew, that's quite a lot of puzzles, eh? There were a ton more, but these were the ones I spent the most time with. I wish that events like this happened more often! It was a lot of fun and great to be able to try so many puzzles without spending a dime. Plus, it was fun being in the company of a bunch of other serious puzzlers and talking about puzzles. Thanks to Saul and his delightful wife Paulette for organizing this great get together and inviting us all to their home!