January 16, 2010

My Puzzle Nemesis Vanquished!

Well those of you who have been following my blog for a while will know that I have been struggling with Dick Hess's Yak for about a year now. In fact, I wrote about it way back in my fifth blog entry (I am up to #70 now)! I bought it from Eureka on the recommendation of David, the owner, back in December of 2008. He warned me that it was quite difficult, but I figured I could handle it.

It turns out that I could not handle it, and I worked on this damn puzzle on-and-off for a year. I even bought other Dick Hess puzzles of the same variety in the hopes that they would give me some insight: first The Whale (left) in September 2009 and then Brontosaurus (below) in January 2010.

Well thanks to solving these two puzzles, I was finally able to solve The Yak! And it was every bit as satisfying as I hoped it would be. The solution is very tricky due to the many futile things that you can do while trying to solve it. I kept thinking I was discovering a key move that would help, but then it would lead to a dead end.

They are all nicely crafted puzzles: The Yak that held up very well to the many hours I spent working on it. The wire is a nice gauge that resists forcing but is still light and elegant. The finish still has a great shine to it.

While The Yak is an awesome puzzle, I'd definitely suggest trying out The Wale and/or Brontosaurus before trying this one. Even though Brontosaurus is rated a 10/10 difficulty, the same as the Yak, I found it to be quite a bit easier. I think The Whale took me about 30 minutes and Brontosaurus took me about 45 minutes.

The Whale helped me understand what the pre-solve state of this group of puzzles looked like, since there weren't very many options for how to proceed other than to discover it. This helped focus my attention and is why this puzzle is a bit easier than the others. Still, I think most people would find this fairly challenging. I wish the key move was slightly easier to execute on this one: I felt like I needed a very small amount of force at one point, but I may have not been lining it up quite right.

The Brontosaurus is quite similar to The Whale and now that I know how to solve it, I am surprised at how long it took me to figure it out. The move is not that tricky once you've done The Whale. Perhaps I wasn't focused enough or in the right frame of mind at first.

All three are related to a topological construct named Borromean Rings, where three rings are linked together but removing any one ring will unlink the remaining two. When you look at each of these three puzzles, you will notice that none of the pieces are actually linked directly: each component is linked completely around another component, much like this diagram.

This, at least for me, made these puzzles quite confounding at first. They seem to thwart you at every turn until you think logically about how to approach them. I would highly recommend all of them!

Well this entry is a little out of order: there are a few items in my backlog at the moment, but I was so thrilled to have finished it that I wanted to write it while I was still in the moment. Woo hoo!


  1. Congrats on solving the Yak!! Well Done!

    I have a Whale and a Bronto, and had similar experiences with both. I found the Whale harder (although I solved it first), and one move seems very tight, but oddly the same move always seems looser for reassembly? So maybe I am not lining it up correctly.

    I also bought a "Hippo", "Three Sisters", and "Outrageous Rings" from Dick last summer. The Hippo is similar to the ones you have. Three Sisters are a nice progressive set of three, I have solved all but the hardest one. Outrageous rings is one of the most confusing puzzles I have ever seen. I have been totally frustrated, but you might enjoy it (ask Dick if he has any more copies).

    Thanks for the tip on Booromean rings. I often get frustrated with these puzzles and give up when I am going nowhere. I am not ready for the Yak!

  2. Hm, Three Sisters sounds interesting, I'll definitely shoot him an email to see if he has any more available. I just got Unbalanced Scales and The Two Cups from Eureka. Handmade by Dick himself for a ridiculously reasonable $10 each! I'm sure they'll keep me busy for a while.

    You should give The Yak a try! Who knows, it might not be as hard for you. I am not very good with wire puzzles. Sometimes a puzzle just hits your 'blind spot' and you can be stuck for a while where others might not be. I would be interested to see how hard you find it.

  3. Well done with the 'Yak', Brian! :-)

  4. I know it has been 2 years but you seen to be the only one who has reviewed the Yak!

    I am only a fraction of the puzzler that you are and I managed to solve this in 15 minutes!!! This cannot be correct - the crucial move allowing it to be solvable required a moderate amount of force/flexing and after that it was easy. I don't want to look at the solution just yet - was this forceful move incorrect? Is the correct solution a nice sliding motion?

    Thanks got your help!

  5. Hi Kevin,

    Perhaps the fact that I wrestled with it for so long has deterred other reviewers! Congrats on solving it in 15 minutes, I think that all the wire puzzles you have worked your way through have helped you get quite good at these!

    However, there is no force required to solve this one (I think I know the move you are referring to). There is another sequence of moves that achieves the same effect but without any force. You're on the right track though!


  6. Thank you! I'll keep at it then.

    I will use it as distraction when I can't solve the orange revomaze!!!


  7. That is one awesomely difficult puzzle!! Just done it with no force whatsoever (as you said). Brilliantly designed. It has taken me about 2 weeks to correctly solve it.

    As with all of these sorts of puzzles, if there is something seemingly unnecessary in the shape then it is there for a reason. You have to use all of the odd little shapes and do some rather unexpected movements.

    Now! Having done it once and put it back together again (also not easy), can I do it again?


  8. Congrats Kevin! That sure is a tough one! Have you tried The Whale and The Brontosaurus? If not, check em out!

  9. How do you put the Whale puzzle back together? I was fiddling with it at the first diamond popped off suddenly. (no idea what I did!) The rest of the solve was easy of course. Now I can't for the life of me figure out how to put it back together. I even downloaded the solve instructions and tried to work backwards; I failed. :( Please, any help at all would be great!

  10. Hm, if the solution diagram didn't help, then I'm not sure how much I can help here. Just look carefully at the diagrams, paying particular attention to what crosses over what. Pay particular attention to steps 9-11.

  11. Got it! Doing it again, it was really that first diamond part that was hardest. Thanks! :)


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