July 14, 2010

Karakuri Exhibit (Part 1)

All of today's photos are here.

Today was absolutely amazing: in the Hakone Local Museum, the Karakuri Group set up an exhibit with around 100 different puzzle boxes! Not only that, but they were all laid out on tables so we could try them out.

I hardly knew what to do with myself or where to begin, there were so many boxes that I had seen in photos, but never thought that I'd have a chance to try! Where would I even start?

I decided to start on the far end with the Kamei boxes and just work my way through all of them. I only had 3 hours, so I had to carefully decide how much time I was going to spend with each puzzle before moving on. Luckily, it wasn't crowded at all since most people were at the lectures. Kawashima and Miyamoto, two Karakuri craftsmen, were supervising the room. If I really got stuck, I asked for a hint from them so I could keep moving.

It would take quite a while to write about each of these in detail, and I'm not sure if I remember enough to do so, so I'll just be giving a sentence or two on each and skip some of them. Some of the photos are taken by Jeff Aurand, my battery died before I got all of the tables photographed since I forgot to charge my battery. He posted a ton of great photos here.

I started out in the back corner, which was all boxes by Kamei. Incredibly, there was a copy of his Apricot Box (2002), which is extremely valuable. We weren't allowed to try this one, which was too bad (but understandable!) The previous day, Kamei actually demonstrated how to open it, but I wasn't there. Jeff got some photos though!

King Crown (1997) uses the same mechanism as Pile of Disks 2. It is a nice looking box, though!  Rose-Wood (1990) is beautiful with its flowing lines: not only does it look like a rose, the way it opens is also related to a rose. It is a pleasing but simple design.

Train Engine (1997) was not one of my favorites, though I did appreciate how the mechanism incorporates the movement of a component on a real train, though it is not obvious. The inlay on the Small Frame (1996) was nice, though I found the solution to be a bit simple for my taste.

Gift Box (1983) is also nice, though the trick is quite simple. It would be a good box to use if you actually wanted to store something. There are 3 large compartments that are easy to access, since they are unlocked directly, not sequentially. Zig-Zag (1989) was really cool. It looks like a normal rectangular box, but there are two diagonal cuts that have been made through the box, around which the parts of the box can rotate. This makes it change shape in a number of interesting ways. I found this one to be a bit tricky since it opens in an unusual way.

Paper Bag (2000) is pretty neat as well. You need to manipulate the contents of the bag to reveal a hidden compartment. I wasn't able to figure this one out without help from Miyamoto. I probably would have gotten it eventually if I had more time to spend on it. There is actually a second compartment that I wasn't able to find either that Miyamoto didn't show me. I'll need to check this one out again sometime!

The next table had a mix of puzzles by Kamei and Ninomiya. In the bottom right is Trick Box with a Top (2006), which is a beautiful box that contains a top. I liked how the top is actually integrated into the mechanism, not simply placed inside the compartment as you may expect.

Skipping over five boxes, we arrive at Pentagon Box (1984), which is absolutely brilliant. I tried this one for a little while and did not succeed. Later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw somebody else solving it which kind of spoiled it for me. It is a pretty tricky one! I think it could have taken me a while. The solution is very clever. I'd love to get one of these, but the only ones I can find for sale are quite expensive. Bits and Pieces made a replica that isn't bad, but they aren't making them anymore.

Flower Stand (1992), the large striped vase, was quite striking, but it uses the same mechanism as King Crown and Pile of Disks 2. The one that I am working on in this photo is Gold Chest (1985). I was surprised that I wasn't able to solve it since I have the Bits and Pieces reproduction of it. Perhaps the mechanism was more subtle, or I didn't spend enough time on it. I wasn't able to solve Time Bomb (1985) either. Jim Strayer thought that the mechanism might have been broken, since he knew how to solve it and wasn't able to solve this version. It is a neat idea for a puzzle box though! Bottle in Rome (1998) is a cute puzzle, but not too hard to solve. There is a bit of a trap for the solver that is amusing.

This table was also filled with boxes by Kamei. One of my more amusing memories is of Kawashima demonstrating how to solve Bad Radio (1987). I can't really relate the story without giving away the solution, so skip this paragraph if you don't want to know. He indicated that I needed to hit it, so I hit it a few times and it didn't do anything. He said I wasn't doing it hard enough, but I was reluctant to hit it any harder, so I gave it to him to show me. He then put it on the floor and whacks the hell out of it with his elbow, causing the compartments to spring open. Very funny!

The Fan (1992) box is not bad, but not one of my favorites. It uses a fairly common principal, but is more amusing I think if you are Japanese. According to Kamei's description, whacking a fan against your hand is an "I got it!" gesture in Japan, which relates to the solution of this one.

Heart to Heart (1987) is a very cool one. It is the heart shaped box with the buttons. It has 8 buttons on each side, all of which must be pressed for the box to open. Because of this, it requires two people to open. Kawashima was kind enough to be my second person, which was pretty amusing.

To the right of Heart to Heart is Unclosed Drawer (1995) which is an interesting puzzle: rather than trying to open the drawers, the object is to close the drawers. If you close one, the other pops open. This one took me a little while to figure out. The next one is Box with Ribbon (1996). I have the Bits and Pieces replica of it, which is pretty much the same as the original here. It is a sneaky one!

Toaster (1998) is life-size, making for a large and heavy box. I found the solution to be somewhat un-satisfying, since it is not really related to the motion you might expect from a toaster. Also, there are a number of red-herrings which I found to be rather irritating. This is a difficult one, Miyamoto had to show me the solution.

The next two boxes are the Nonsense Box set (1984). This is less of a puzzle than a curiosity. On the first box in the set, any of the six faces can open, but only while facing downwards. This makes it quite impractical to store anything in it, which is the joke. The other box is the opposite, with only the top face opening.

The Small Box Set (2003) is pretty cute. One was particularly clever, though they're all quite nice. Not too difficult to figure out, but fun. The next box, Maze Box (1983), seemed pretty complicated so I didn't spend much time on it. Button Box (1996) was an interesting idea, sort of like a combination lock. It is interesting to think about how it works mechanically, but as a puzzle it is just trial and error.

Skipping Box with a Ribbon II (2003), Box With Key (2003) is a very cool box that I was already familiar with. I actually ended up buying it at the puzzle party later today, so I'll be doing a full entry on it at some point.

The dark box is Cassiopeia (2000), made out of wendge to give it a striking dark appearance which is appropriate. I think this one would be quite difficult to solve unless by chance, unless you knew the solution. The solution is clever and fitting though!

Letter Box D (2001) is the long box with the ribbon, and probably the most visually appealing of the four versions that Kamei has done of this box. This one has a different mechanism than A-C, though the movements are quite similar. I have the Bits and Pieces reproduction of this box, Elegant Kamei Bow Box, which I think has the same mechanism as A-C.

Wood Plane (1983) was another one that I only got partially through: there is a second compartment that I did not discover. It is a nice idea for a puzzle box, since wood planes are used in the construction of boxes. The last box on the table is Book (1983), which is easy to open, but it has an interesting trick. If you know the trick, you can make objects seem to disappear inside the box. Pretty cool!

Phew, I don't know if you're getting tired of reading this, but I'm getting tired of writing and I'm only through the third table out of eight! As you can see, there were a ton of boxes to try and I was having an awesome time. I'll post about the rest in subsequent entries.


  1. Wow! Thanks for commenting on the various boxes. I don't think I will ever be able to get my hands on most of them.

  2. Glad you're enjoying it, Jeff! I wasn't sure if it would be too dense to be worth reading. I still have 5 more tables to write about. Phew! And that doesn't even get me through noon on the 14th. Still have the puzzle party and the banquet too!


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