January 7, 2010

2009 Karakuri Club Christmas Presents

The Karakuri Creation Group is a group of puzzle box craftsmen and craftswomen who are producing some of the most interesting puzzle box designs you can find. They have an interesting business model where you can pay an annual membership fee of $120 that allows you to purchase KCG boxes at a discount and receive a free Christmas present from the craftsman of your choice. In addition, you can buy extra presents for $100 each, which is a great deal considering the high quality of KCG's boxes.

These are new designs that haven't previously been released to the public, no you have no idea what you're going to get, which is kind of fun. It is also an interesting model for the craftsmen to work in, because they have the freedom to design what they want with the preorders already in place. Of course, you can also buy directly from them without a membership.

I got three boxes this year and had them shipped to my office, since I was concerned that they might be stolen from in front of my apartment. When they arrived, I told myself that I was going to pace myself and only solve one per day.

When they arrived, I took them all out of their packaging so I could admire them. The first box that I examined was a cute little anteater by Yoko Kakuda (I had requested Ninomiya but they ran out). When I looked at it, I immediately thought to myself "man, I'm going to be really disappointed if all you have to do is ________," and sure enough that was the solution.  Oh well!

It does have a nice appearance and is very solidly built. I showed it to my girlfriend and some family members, and most of them spent about 2-3 minutes figuring it out. This surprised me, since I had immediately discovered the solution, so perhaps it isn't as easy as I thought! One aspect that I like is that box pops open when you solve it, which is kind of a nice surprise when you figure out how to do it.

The next one that I unpacked was Irregular Twin Box by Akio Kamei (picture by Jeffrey Aurand). It looks very similar to Confetto Box, which was Hiroshi Iwahara's gift last year, so I was optimistic that this would be a fun box to solve. Still, I told myself that I would wait until tomorrow to attempt it, so I set it on my desk and went back to work.

After a few moments, I thought that I would just try to slide one of the panels a bit to see if I could get anything to move. After a minute or so of fiddling, I had a pretty good idea of how the mechanism worked, but I stopped myself before completely opening the box and went back to work. A few moments later, I couldn't resist and finished opening it.

In all, it probably only took me about 2-3 minutes to solve, but the mechanism is very cool! I was quite impressed. As you would expect from Kamei, the construction is flawless and the wood has a very nice appearance. I tried this one out with my family and they also found it fairly easy, but were also very impressed by the mechanism.

The last box that I unpacked was Four Direction Drawers by Hiroshi Iwahara (picture by Jeffrey Aurand). Like the name implies, there are four drawers, one on each side of the box. There was a card that came with the puzzle saying that the objective is to open all four drawers completely.

The woods that he selected make for a very nice looking box. He alternates between light and dark wood for each level, uses a reddish wood for the drawer faces and an almost black wood for the drawer pulls. (Sorry, I can't identify wood types yet). Because of its design, it doesn't really have a front, which would make it great for a coffee table or a desk.

Again, trying to exercise restraint, I told myself that I would just fiddle with it a little bit, but I ended up discovering part of the mechanism. I stopped myself for a while, but ended up working on it again a few minutes later. After about 5-10 minutes, I had solved it, which was quite satisfying. The mechanism is very cool!

This one has a number of moves, unlike the other two, which I found more satisfying since it took a bit longer. It is also quite a bit more difficult than the other two. I tried it out on some family members over Christmas, and it took some of them 20-30 minutes to figure it out.

This one is definitely my favorite of the three, though Kamei's is a close second! Overall, I was quite satisfied with my purchases and will plan to get more next year. I do wish that the first two were a bit more challenging, but the craftsmanship was superb. Kamei's and Iwahara's boxes had very clever mechanisms as well.


  1. Iwahara's is my favorite too!

  2. I got several this year, and the only overlap with yours is the Iwahara. It was my favorite as well, although the two-stripe box by (probably) Oka is also nice. I hope to get a chance to play with the Kamei at some point, as both you and Rob have liked it.

  3. Cool! I can bring the Kamei for NYPP if you want to check it out! Oka's looked cool and so did Miyamoto's and Kawashimi's (Matt Dawson sent me pictures of his full 2009 set.)

  4. Brian: did the Karakuri group offer you a refund when they didn't have enough Ninomiya puzzles? It would be pretty bad if you requested Ninomiya and they just shipped you Kakuda instead. I'm worried since I am also a member.

  5. Actually I just joined in November, so they warned me that I might not get what I requested. In hindsight I should have tried to give them a 4th choice, since there are others that I would have preferred to Kakuda. Oh well!

  6. Wow, I'm surprised they let you join in November. I re-joined for 2009 in January. The deadline for adding additional puzzles was June. I'm glad they gave you fair warning about it - at first I thought maybe they ripped you off.

  7. Yeah, I was surprised as well! I thought that you couldn't join after the deadline, but it turns out that you can as long as you don't mind taking your chances on the request. I was really psyched that I got to participate at all. I was kicking myself for not joining earlier (I had just graduated and didn't have a job when the deadline passed). But it worked out well.

  8. Got the Kamei, Ninomiya, and Iwahara. I wondered if there was some step beyond simply opening the Kamei, but 30 minutes of fiddling didn't get me any further. I still pick it up from time to time to see if there is some other angle to it, but I think that I have solved all there is to solve. Have you found anything more? Still, a very nicely made puzzle box, perfect finish (until I accidentally dropped in on the Ninomiya, duh) and fit. The Ninomiya is another packing box, but with a different mechanism from the other one I own. I like the movement of the Iwahara. Have been trying to make a mental picture of the mechanism.

  9. Brian, how did you figure out the name and designers of the puzzles so early? The club didn't even send out the solutions (with the names and designers) until Jan 12!

  10. Hi Mark! Thanks for your comment. I was actually hoping for another compartment to Kamei's as well, since it looked like Confetto box, but I haven't been able to find anything else.

    Jeff, I just guessed which one was Kakuda's since she tends to do animals and it looks like an Anteater so I figured that was probably the name. For the other two, I had a 50/50 chance of guessing right, and I actually guessed wrong at first (since Kamei's looks Iwahara's box last year). Fortunately, when I was talking to Matt back in December, he set me straight. He is able to ID the boxes by the cardboard boxes in which they are packed. He says that they tend to use the same pattern. Interesting!

    I found the name for Iwahara's box on an instruction card that was packed with the box. And I didn't know the name of Kamei's box until I read your post a minute ago! Haven't gotten my KCG packet yet. Probably today!


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