July 14, 2010

Hakone Puzzle Party and Awards Banquet

After getting my fill of puzzle boxes at the Karakuri Exhibit, I headed over to the puzzle party which was just starting. This was quite similar to the Osaka Puzzle Party, but there were a bunch of new tables, including one by the Karakuri Creation Group.

In this photo, you can see a demonstration that was set up in the middle of the room where a craftsman was demonstrating the precision of Japanese wood planes. He was planing off ribbons of wood that were so thin, it was incredible!

The Karakuri Creation Group's table was mobbed, since they were selling a lot of the puzzles that were new releases. They had sold a few copies at the Karakuri Box Sale two days ago, but now they had more for sale, so people were pretty eager to buy them. I had spent a good bit of money already and they were pretty expensive, so I didn't buy anything new today.

I did, however, bring the 3 Brothers box that I purchased during the Karakuri Box Sale to see if I could trade it for something different. As I mentioned a few posts ago, I got a chance to try out a different copy before I had unwrapped by own and didn't like it all that much.

I tried to see if the Karakuri folks would trade with me, but they weren't interested. Oh well! There was another table by Izumiya, the puzzle shop we visited yesterday, that had some boxes. I asked if they'd be willing to trade my 3 Brothers for Secret Base, a nice little puzzle box that won a First Prize in the 2008 design competition.

They replied that 3 Brothers was worth more than Secret Base, which I was aware of, so I asked if they'd throw in 5000 Yen, to even it out. They agreed, which I was pretty happy about, because I ended up breaking even on the deal (i.e. it would have worked out the same if I didn't buy 3 Brothers at all and just purchased Secret Base from them). Woo hoo! Plus, it was a significantly smaller puzzle, so that would be easier for me to pack.

I wandered around the puzzle party for a while, but it is less fun when you're not buying stuff, so eventually Kellian and I decided to take a little trip around Hakone before the Awards Banquet. She found that there was a neat little train that weaved through the mountains up to a different town, so we decided to ride it for a bit.

The cool thing about this train is that it goes up a pretty steep mountain, so the track is built as a number of switchbacks: as the train goes up the mountain first it goes in one direction, then it stops and goes in the other direction to proceed up the mountain. Sort of hard to explain, but here's a photo of one of the switchbacks. The train came from the right hand side (down the mountain) and would leave through the left hand side.

The trip was quite nice, though I wish we had a bit more time to explore. We had to hustle back in time for the banquet and ended up getting there about 20 minutes late. Oh well!

Unfortunately for Kellian, the banquet didn't have much for vegetarians: even the pasta had fish eggs on it! It is a bit tragic that we paid like $100 each for a meal where she can't really eat anything other than a few potatoes. This was the case for all of the banquets, unfortunately. We'll know better next time!

At the banquet, as a thanks to Edi Nagata, Jerry Slocum and Hiroshi Iwahara prested Edi with a thank-you gift: a puzzle box! I didn't get a good look at it, but I'm sure it was pretty neat. I think it is one-of-a-kind, which is very cool.

After that, Edi thanked his team which was surprisingly large. It sure does take a lot of people to pull this event off, particularly considering that there were two separate locations for the convention. That must have taken a lot of planning.

Finally, it was the moment we were all eagerly anticipating, the announcement of the winners of the design competition! Nick Baxter runs the design competition, so he went up to make the presentation of the winners.

In the design competition, there are a number of awards that are given out by a jury, as well as one award (the Puzzlers' Award) that is chosen by a vote among all attendees. This year, Nick announced that certificates would also be given to puzzles that were among the top 10 vote-getters, but that didn't get a jury prize. This was a great idea, since there are so many puzzles it is good for more of them to be recognized. I later learned that this was Stephen Chin's idea, who was quite happy that Nick had listened to his suggestion.

Top 10 Vote-Getters

1 Pinko Ringo by Stephen Chin - This was a beautiful puzzle that is a lot of fun to play with. It is based on Wayne Daniel's 10-piece Icosahedrons. It was superbly crafted from exotic woods and fits together quite nicely. It is also a fun puzzle to play with: if you know the trick, it comes apart quite easily. Otherwise, it can be pretty difficult.

Getting it back together also isn't too bad once you get the hang of it, but the 10 oddly shaped pieces can be a bit daunting. The puzzle has small marks to indicate the order of reassembly, which helps if you can figure out what they are indicating. Overall, a very cool puzzle and definitely worthy of recognition.

Bicone by Vinco Obsivac - This is another very nice looking puzzle, I love the pattern on the outside. It has a very unique shape, which also makes it more difficult to disassemble since it is hard to keep track of its orientation.

Like most of Vinco's recent work, this is a coordinate motion puzzle that is pretty tricky. You need to push the pieces in just the right way to get it to slide apart, but it is difficult to tell which parts are separate pieces!

With a bit of wiggling, I was able to get this one apart eventually. It slides apart nicely into four different pieces. Getting it back together is a bit tricky, since everything must be lined up just right.

Everlasting Gobstopper by Lee Krasnow - This is a really remarkably beautiful puzzle. It has been crafted out of a variety of exotic woods and is very precisely made. So precisely, in fact, that it is even difficult to figure out how to get the pieces apart, much less figure out how to re-assemble them into a particular shape.

This puzzle is based on Stewart Coffin's "Pennydoodle" puzzle, and can be assembled into a variety of shapes. However, since it is not based on cubic geometry, it is very difficult to figure out. I spent maybe 10-15 minutes on it and barely scratched the surface.

I would have liked to spend more time with this one, but I'm afraid that even with more time I probably couldn't have figured it out. This one is tough! The one downside to this puzzle for me was that the pieces are quite sharp. Each comes to a point that could do some damage if you're not careful. Still, it is an exquisite puzzle!

Latch Cube by Katsuhiko Okamoto - This is an interesting variation on a Rubik's Cube where the arrows on certain pieces indicate which rotations are possible. There is an internal racheting system that enables this. Very interesting idea that opens up a ton of new possibilities for twisty puzzles.

I didn't spend much time on this one since it looks pretty difficult and my time was limited. I didn't purchase one for myself, but might buy one at some point since they're not very expensive (around $20).

Lighthouse Puzzle by Robert Yarger - This was probably one of the puzzles that I was most excited to try out. I had the opportunity to buy one when they first came up for sale and opted not to, since they were quite pricy, so I was eager to see what I was missing out on.

As you can see from the photo, it is quite a striking puzzle. Being from New England, I love the lighthouse-inspired design. As a puzzle, it is pretty cool as well. First you need to figure out how to get the lighthouse off of its rocky base, then you need to figure out how to access its two hidden compartments.

Getting it off of the base wasn't too difficult, though I saw a number of people who didn't realize that this was the first step trying in vain to get it to open without removing it. I guess that's part of the puzzle!

Actually opening the two compartments proved quite a bit more difficult. I worked on this one on and off for about an hour and didn't have much luck. There is threading along the outside of the lighthouse, and you can turn the circular piece to move it up and down along the threads.

This system was a bit prone to jamming, which was a bit frustrating. In addition, there was an additional locking system that I was unaware of, which made it feel like things were jamming when in fact it was just the locking system engaging. It is quite a challenging and beautiful puzzle!

One Four All and All Four One by Houlis, Dyskin, Kanel-Belov, Pasternak, Estrin - This was another very interesting puzzle that needs a bit of explanation: the goal is to put the four pieces into the frame (which has no bottom) in such a way so that the pieces do not fall out when the frame is lifted.

At first, this seems like an impossible task, which makes it an appealing puzzle. I didn't spend much time with this one either. Before I got the chance, I glimpsed somebody else solving it, which kind of gives the trick away. Still, a unique and interesting puzzle!

Jury Honorable Mention

Cast Rattle by Bram Cohen - I was quite excited to see another puzzle added to the Cast Puzzles series by Hanayama. This one is a four-piece disassembly puzzle designed by Bram Cohen.

Despite my enjoyment of this type of puzzle, I actually only spent about 10 minutes on it and was unable to solve it. I decided that my time would be better spent on puzzles that I wouldn't have the chance to try again. This isn't available yet, but I'll definitely be buying it when it is.

Ex 3 by Hiroshi Yamamoto - This is another puzzle that needs some explanation: the goal is to assemble these three pieces into a symmetric shape. It is a very simple puzzle, with only 3 pieces made out of acrylic, but it is quite difficult.

It is an interesting variation on your usual assembly puzzle, where the goal is to make a specific shape. Here, you don't know exactly what the shape is, just that it needs to be symmetric.

I worked on this one for a little bit, but didn't spend too much time on it since this isn't a type of puzzle that I enjoy much. I peeked at the solution just to see if there was any trickery involved, and indeed there is not. The pieces can all be flat on the table and it makes a 2D symetric shape. It isn't one where the shape is the white space between the pieces or something like that.

Homage Puzzle by Simon Nightingale - This puzzle pays homage to Nob Yoshigahara's Dualock Puzzle. Visually, it looks like Dualock with the mechanism exposed. However, when you try to spin it to unlock it, the rods are actually driven towards the center rather than away as you would expect. Pretty clever!

I didn't find the actual solution to this one to be quite as interesting, unfortunately. With a bit of fiddling I was able to get it open pretty easily. Still, it is a very cool idea and is nicely crafted, which is likely why it did so well in the competition.

First Prize

Four Direction Drawer by Hiroshi Iwahara - Iwahara is a member of the Karakuri Creation Group, and this was his 2009 Christmas present, which I received. As I mentioned previously, I really like this puzzle. The goal is to open all four drawers which is pretty tricky though doable.

It is superbly crafted and a lot of fun to play with. At first, only the bottom drawer will open. After a bit of fiddling, you will discover the unique way in which the drawers are related.

This was my favorite puzzle among all of the competition entries. Very nice!

Harmony by Dmitry Pevnitskiy and Kirill Grebnev - This puzzle also won the Puzzler's Award, which means that it received the most votes among IPP invitees. As you can see, it is a visually striking puzzle. The goal is to separate the note from the treble clef.

The flowing lines of this puzzle are quite appealing, and it is nicely crafted out of brass. It didn't take me long to figure out the solution to this one: you can see how it must come off fairly easily.

My one complaint about this one is that if the vertical piece that goes through the center of the spiral gets bent off center (which it does fairly easily), some slight force is required in solving it. This threw me off a bit, as I looked for a solution that required zero force.

Still, a graceful puzzle that is sure to be appreciated by both puzzlers and non-puzzlers, since it isn't too difficult. I hope that this will be made available to public, perhaps by Hanayama! It was not available for sale at the time of the puzzle party.

Jury Grand Prize

New Secret Box II-2 by Akio Kamei - Kamei entered a very nice box this year. Not only do all of the faces of this box move, but there is also a sliding panel on each face. It takes a total 30 moves to open, though the sequence is fairly straightforward once you get the pattern.

I didn't find this one to be too hard to solve, since it progresses in a fairly logical way. It is very nicely crafted and the operation is quite smooth.

I haven't seen a box that has sliders on every face before, so I think this might be the innovation that won this puzzle the grand prize.

Phew! That is the end of all the award winners, but stay tuned for future blog entries when I'll be going through all the other design competition entries.

After the awards banquet, everybody hung around and talked for a while. It had been a long IPP, but I still didn't want it to end. After we got kicked out of the banquet hall, Kellian and I sat down in the lobby with Jim Strayer, Jeff Aurand, and Matt and chatted for a while until it was time to go to bed.

What an awesome experience! I can hardly wait until next year when the 31st International Puzzle Party will be making its way to Europe.


  1. Can you buy these anywhere? I'd love to have some of these..

  2. Hi Adi,

    Yeah, they're pretty great! You can find info on where to buy them here:


    This info isn't entirely complete though, so let me know if there are any in particular you're looking for!


Please don't post spoilers! Thanks for commenting!