July 12, 2010

Trip to Hakone

Here are all of the pictures from today.

Today was the day that we made the great migration from Osaka to Hakone. As far as I know, this is the first time that the entire puzzle party has had two different locations in one year: usually they only take a day trip to Hakone. I was really excited because trick boxes are my favorite type of puzzle, and the Karakuri Creation Group, who make awesome trick boxes, are based in Hakone.

The organizers had arranged for buses that took us to the train station where we took a bullet train to Hakone. The train was quite comfortable, but didn't feel as fast as I expected. You can't really feel the speed since the ride is so smooth.

On the train, I had the honor of sitting next to Hidekuni Tamura, a Japanese puzzle craftsman who specializes in interlocking puzzles. He lives in Tokyo and offered Kellian and I some advice on where we should go when we go to Tokyo later. He said we should check out Ginza where there are many expensive shop and Asakasa where there are famous temples.

After that, he said he would like to show me his puzzles. He dug around in his bag, and I expected him to pull out a few puzzles, but instead he pulls out a laptop and boots it up. Didn't expect that from an older gentleman!

He had a ton of pictures of puzzles he has made, including Sway Cube, Rotary Cube, and Six Block Puzzle (which I had seen at Brett's house). He also showed me his very impressive collection of Ninomiya boxes. Beautiful! I wish I could have gotten a copy of the pictures so I could post some here, but I didn't have a laptop handy to make the transfer.

When we arrived at Hakone, we were amazed by how lush and green it was. There were big mountains covered in trees on both sides of the town, and a river flowing through it. It was quite picturesque! This was taken while walking across the bridge to the main hotel. Our hotel is just past the bend in the river on the right.

Next up, was the event I was most looking forward to: the Karakuri and Secret Box Sale! There was word that there were going to be some really great boxes and the order in which you could select your purchase would be determined by lottery. There was quite a system that they had worked out:

  • From 3:00-3:30, we were allowed to walk through the area where they were selling, to figure out which boxes we wanted to try to purchase. When we exited, we were given three tickets that indicated the time at which we were allowed to re-enter the sale area to choose a box.
  • Starting at 3:30, people were allowed into the room in 10 second intervals, indicated by their ticket. Everybody lined up in order of the time that they were given. Upon entering, you could select one box, put your ticket on it, and move it to the "reserved" table (you paid for it at the end).
  • After that was done, the same process started a second time, but the order was reversed. The last person in the blue ticket phase was the first person in the pink ticket phase. In this phase, you could select one more box.
  • Finally, there was one more random phase indicated by white tickets. After that, anybody could re-enter the area to pay for the boxes they reserved and to pick out new boxes.
On the first trip through, I took photos of all of the boxes so I could figure out what I wanted most. There were a lot of good puzzles, but I was most drawn to 3 Brothers and Family by Miyamoto. They were a little expensive, but both were really beautiful looking boxes. When I exited, I picked up my number, and unfortunately I got a pretty crummy one. 

Fortunately, they had a few of each box, so I was able to get 3 Brothers on my first pass through (it was the only one left), and I got Family on my second pass through. On my final pass, I purchased New Secret Box II, which was Akio Kamei's 2010 Puzzle Design Competition entry.

Among some of the other boxes, were a bunch of new designs by the Karakuri group. They were all pretty expensive, and it is hard to tell whether it is worth getting just by the appearance, so I didn't try to get any of those. They looked nice though, particularly the Astronomical Telescope and Grand Piano.

The sale was quite well organized and fair, which prevented the kind of mad dash that you would have seen if you unleashed 100 collectors all at the same time. Good job to the organizers!

Shortly after the puzzle sale, there was the welcome banquet. This was also pretty exciting, because the Karakuri Club had prepared presents for all of the attendees, which I was of course hoping would be a box. Sure enough, it was! I haven't tried it yet, but it looks pretty nifty. I think they said it is based on the binary number system. As we entered, we selected numbers which indicated which gift bag we received. 

Certain bags contained additional gifts in addition to the binary box, including some never-before-seen boxes from the Karakuri Group! Unfortunately, I didn't get one of the special bags, but somebody at my table did, so I got to try out his box. In this photo, Yoshiaki Hirano is working on it.

It was a cylindrical box that sounded like it had a number of sticks in it. There was a small hole, and if you shook the box upside down, a stick would come out. It took us a while to figure this one out, but eventually somebody got it. I didn't find the solution to be entirely satisfactory, since there is a large degree of randomness involved.

Stephen Chin was at my table as well, and, upon hearing that I didn't have it, he gave me two copies that he made of the famous Button Hole Puzzle. I actually hadn't tried this puzzle before, so I was pretty psyched. He even let me try it on his shirt since I didn't have any button holes on mine.

It is a pretty devious puzzle: you can slip it on to somebody's button hole in plain sight, but it is quite a puzzle to remove it! I'm sure I'll have a good time with this one.

The banquet was nice, Kamei gave a speech welcoming everybody and telling us about the Karakuri Group members. Ninomiya, a master puzzle box craftsman, presented Jerry Slocum with a letter of thanks from the Karakuri Group thanking him for all he has done to encourage the growth of puzzle crafts in Hakone.

Jerry was also presented with a very special puzzle box by Hiroshi Iwahara. Similar to Cubi by Kamei which uses the binary system, and Super-Cubi by Iwahara which uses the trinary number system, this box uses the quaternary number system.

What this means is that each panel needs to move four units before the next panel can move one unit. For example, the first panel needs to move four units for the second panel to move one unit, and the second panel needs to move four units before the third panel can move one unit (which also requires the first panel to move 16 units, once for each of the four units moved by the first panel). As you can imagine, the number of moves quickly multiplies! This box requires just over 1000 moves to open!

After the banquet, Wei-Hwa Huang, a very good puzzle solver, solved the box over the course of 20-30 minutes. As you can see from the photo, it is quite a large box which makes it a bit cumbersome to manipulate. On certain moves, gravity moves the panel for you, which is helpful. Wei-Hwa enlisted the help of Jerry to move one of the panels to help speed things up. It was a lot of fun to watch! In the photo, Jerry is holding up the box with Wei-Hwa sitting next to him.

After the banquet, we headed over to the design competition room where I continued to work my way through the puzzles there. I had tried pretty much all of them, so after a while I decided that I wanted to work on MMMDXLVI by Kim Kloubucher (presumably). This puzzle box is based on the trinary number system and requires an absurd 3546 moves to open.

I saw Wei-Hwa open it successfully the day before, but I noticed that only the first few steps of closing it had been done. So I set myself upon returning it to the starting position. I had played around with it before, and gotten pretty confused since there are 7 panels/digits to keep track of. This time, I used my notepad to keep track of which panel was going in which direction, which helped quite a bit.

About an hour or so later, I finally finished it! My hands were aching and my eyes were a bit glazed over, but it was worth it to have (half) conquered this beast. As I was taking this photo, Nick Baxter, the fellow who organizes the design competition asks: "Brian, you didn't just return that to the original position, did you?" to which I proudly replied that I did. It turns out, he wanted to send it back to Kim solved to show him that somebody had done it! Oh well, I thought I was doing a good deed in putting it back like it started!

At this point it was about 11:30, Kellian had gone back to the hotel and I had no idea where the hotel was since I hadn't been there before. I had a map, but the map wasn't very detailed. I wandered into a hotel that was in the general area where mine was, but since I couldn't read the name it was hard to tell.

When I walked in, the lobby was dark and there was nobody at the desk. I rung the bell, and nobody came. I started to panic a bit, thinking about how I could possibly find her in a big hotel (I didn't even know the room number). As I was thinking, I noticed a guy sleeping on a couch in the lobby in the dark. I asked him in this was the Yajikita hotel, and he gestured that it was down the street a little ways.

I walked down the street, but still couldn't find it, so I stuck my head into a bar that was just closing. I asked where the hotel was in Japanese, but I didn't know even how to understand even basic directions, so that was pretty useless. A woman in a Kimono from the bar ended up walking me down the street to my hotel! How nice!

When I got there, they were waiting for me expectantly, since it is a fairly small hotel and they have a 12:00 curfew. Thankfully I arrived at 11:55, otherwise I don't know what I would have done!


  1. Brain, It sounds like you are having a fantastic time! Your prose helps bring it alive for the rest of us who could not attend - Thank you!

  2. Glad you're enjoying it, David! I had an awesome time. More posts to come!

  3. Sounds like you're having a blast. Also reminded me about the button hole puzzle I made many years ago. Must go hunt that one down and show my kids. They'll get a kick out of it!

  4. Indeed, it was a blast! I still need to figure out how to do that button hole puzzle. I should be able to find it on the web somewhere, I suppose.


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