July 13, 2010

Kamei Workshop and Hakone Puzzle Hunt

All of today's photos are here.

Our hotel in Hakone was more like a traditional Japanese hotel: the floors were covered in tatami mats and we slept on futons. It was pretty fun, actually! I think if we were to go to Japan again, we would try to find more places like this. We weren't sure if we would like it, so we mainly stayed in Western hotels for the rest of the trip.

At 9:00, I headed over to the Hakone Local Museum for a workshop with Akio Kamei. In the workshop, we would be building his Small Die puzzle box using kits of parts that had been created. The class had about 50 people in it, including other puzzle box craftsmen such as Kagen Schaefer and Perry McDaniel.

The kit was nicely designed so that the box was fairly easy to assemble. There were a few spots where people got stuck, but Iwahara and the other Karakuri Creation Group craftsmen were milling around helping people out. In this photo, Iwahara is watching as Perry McDaniel is finishing up his box.

It was quite interesting being able to see the mechanism of this puzzle: I knew how to solve it, but I didn't know what the innards looked like. In my mind, the mechanism extended along the different sides of the box, but in reality it is mostly all in the bottom of the box, which is much more efficient.

Here's my completed box, it worked great! It sure is easier to make a box when somebody else cuts out all of the pieces for you in advance! I'm really glad I signed up for this workshop, it was fun hearing Kamei explain it.

After the workshop, I headed upstairs to check out the Hakone Local Museum, which had a fairly large exhibit on puzzle boxes, including many boxes by Ninomiya and Kamei.

Incredibly, Ninomiya was actually in the museum while I was there and opened up the display cases to demonstrate some of his work! I tried to get a video of it, but folks were crowding around him so I couldn't get a clear shot. I think somebody else got a better video, so post a link if you've got it!

He solved both of these two large cabinets, each of which had multiple tricks to get it completely open. I would imagine they're fairly tough as puzzles, since on a large cabinet there are plenty of places to hide the sliders. On the other hand, you probably don't need to worry about gravity pins!

After he was done demonstrating the puzzles, I went up and introduced myself in Japanese (one of the few things I can say in Japanese). He seemed quite pleased that I could speak a little bit, but unfortunately I was unable to continue the conversation. Maybe next time!

After spending some time at the the museum, it was time for the Hakone Puzzle Hunt, where we toured around to several shops in Hakone looking for puzzles. This was pretty fun, but most of the puzzles we saw were secret boxes, which have a fairly standard solution sequence (slide a slider, slide a panel, repeat). The number of moves varies, and the solutions do differ somewhat, so I purchased a 21 move secret box so I would have one in my collection.

I am more interested in trick boxes, which are unique. Only one of the shops that we visited had a good selection of these, which was Izumiya. They had a great selection of both traditional puzzle boxes, as well as trick boxes (mainly by the Karakuri Creation Group).

I had already spent quite a bit of my money on the the box sale yesterday, so I didn't feel like spending much more. They did have the display cases open so I got a chance to try out a few boxes that I hadn't seen before. Here's the display case packed full of Karakuri Creation Group boxes:

There was one box in particular that a fellow IPPer Sven Baeck pointed out as being unique. It was a good thing he mentioned it, because it doesn't look much different from the many other boxes we saw. I gave it a try, and sure enough it had a pretty cool mechanism. I would have bought it if it weren't too expensive, but I think it was $300+ which was way too much for me at this point.

They also had a copy of 3 Brothers, the puzzle I had purchased yesterday. I was glad to see that it was at about the same price. I hadn't unwrapped mine and was curious how it worked, so I played around with their copy a bit since it was unpackaged. I was a bit disappointed to find that I didn't like it very much as a puzzle, so I wondered if I could perhaps trade it to somebody tomorrow at the puzzle party for a different box.

I ended up purchasing the last of the Small Box series by the Karakuri group, which was #8. This one looks unlike the other 7 in the series. I look forward to giving it a try!

I also purchased what I thought was the last of the Cube Box series, but unfortunately I ended up purchasing the wrong one, so I have a duplicate of #3 now and am still missing #2. Oh well! It was my favorite of the four boxes in the series anyways.

On the bus, I was sitting with Kagen Schaefer and Markus Götz, and Markus told us about an interesting logic puzzle he heard:
One hundred prisoners will be placed in separate cells, unable to communicate. Each day, a random prisoner is brought into a room with a light. They can either turn the light on or off. At some point, a prisoner needs to declare when all of the other prisoners have been in the room with the light. If he is correct, then they all go free. If he is incorrect, they all die.
In advance, they are allowed to communicate to develop a system that ensures that they will succeed in this task. How could they do it? It could take a quite while.
After quite a bit of thinking, I was able to come up with a solution which ended up being different than the solution Markus had come up with. Here's my solution, don't read it until you've thought about it for a while!
Assign each prisoner a number. A prisoner will only turn on the light when it is his day (e.g. prisoner 52 will only be permitted to turn the light on if he is selected on day 52, 152, 252, etc.). Otherwise, the prisoner will do nothing. This will enable the next prisoner who enters the room to know who was in the room before him, make a note of it to himself, and shut the light off. Of course, this would take a while, but eventually it would work when one prisoner had 'seen' all of the others.
When I got back from the puzzle hunt, I hung out in the design competition room for a little while. I was very excited to see that the Karakuri Group had placed example copies of many of their new puzzles on a table, so I decided to give those a try.

Fruit Pafe (Parfait?) was pretty good, I liked the appearance of it and the solution is fun. One concern is the various little items along the rim of the puzzle, such as the straws. They didn't break while I was there, but I could see that potentially being an issue. I think I like the last move best. This one is of moderate difficulty.

Tako-Yaki is a cute one. The knob on the front turns, and you can flip the tako-yaki with your fingers. However, the weight of them flips them right back over again. This one was pretty cute, I solved it after a few minutes. My solution wasn't particularly graceful, so I wonder if there is a better solution that I did not find. This one was fairly difficult.

After the Rain is a nice little puzzle, though it is very easy. It is nicely crafted and has a very unique appearance compared to other puzzle boxes.

Vaulting Horse was neat, it took me a little while to figure this one out. I ended up discovering an unintended solution to this one. The intended solution is quite a bit better than what I found and is difficult to find. Quite clever, I'm not entirely sure how the mechanism works on this one.

Birdhouse was cute and of moderate difficulty. The appearance isn't quite as striking as the others, though I suppose that is appropriate since it is a birdhouse. I chuckled a bit when I found the solution to this one.

Brush the Tooth was one of my favorites. I think I would also classify it as moderately difficult. The correct solution to this one is nice and is somewhat less simple than you might expect. Unfortunately, there is an alternate solution to this one as well, though I think it is harder to find than the intended solution.

The New Year was pretty tricky. There are two moves, the first of which is easy and the second of which is pretty unintuitive which makes it difficult. This is as difficult or more difficult than Vaulting Horse.

Grand Piano was another one of my favorites. It comes with a little card that has music written on it. I'm not sure how I feel about the card, since it would be easy to lose it. It may have been better if it was laser-etched on a music-holder on the piano or something to make it more permanent. The solution is pretty clever, and has a bit of a twist that you may not expect. The twist makes this one fairly difficult.

I didn't get a picture of it, but Astronomical Telescope was another one that they had on display. The solution to this one is quite neat as well in that it is closely related to a telescope. I don't think I'm giving much away by saying that yes, you do get to look in the telescope. One issue is that putting anything in the compartment could block your view. You can still open the box, but not quite as intended. This one is not super-easy, but fairly easy.

I hope that set of mini-reviews helps you figure out what you might want to buy when they come up for sale. From what I saw during the box sale yesterday, they're all a bit expensive for my taste, so I don't think I'll be purchasing any. I think Grand Piano and Astronomical Telescope will be popular, though.

Also in the room was another copy of the 1536-move King Cubi puzzle box created by Iwahara for Jerry Slocum (see yesterday). I resisted for a while, but eventually I broke down and decided to give it a try. I had a fairly good understanding of the mechanism, since it is based on the quaternary number system. The major thing that slowed me down was that one of the panels was a bit sticky. It needed to be lined up just right or the mechanism would bind, which was a bit of a pain. Also, the panels (and box) are quite heavy, so it was physically tiring to solve.

I worked away for about 30 minutes and was able to get it open! Unlike MMMDXLVI that I wrote about yesterday, it was fairly easy to keep track of what was going on for this one since there was one fewer digit (panel) to keep track of, so I didn't need to take notes.

Man, I was pretty tired by this point, but I continued and was able to get it completely closed again. It was fun to do it to say that I've done it, but not something I'd want to do again anytime soon! Phew!


  1. Regarding the prisoner problem, if it is the prisoners who make the decision when they have all visited the room, I would say they should simply never make a decision. Then they do not need to have any strategy, and will be guaranteed to live forever, albiet in jail!

  2. Hah, that is sure a lot less risky, George!


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