November 30, 2010

Plus Puzzle

Plus Puzzle is another one of the 2010 IPP Exchange puzzles I borrowed from George Bell. It was designed and presented by Edi Nagata.

One unique feature of this puzzle that you'll notice right off the bat is that it was made out of LiveCubes (puzzle building blocks) that have been glued together. I've previously written about LiveCubes here. Some folks may not like that it is constructed this way, but it didn't really bother me. I think that Edi actually is the inventor of LiveCubes, so it is not surprising that he used them for his exchange puzzle. Since they are glued together, I was a bit concerned that they would break easily, but it ended up being pretty sturdy.

The purpose of this puzzle is to change it from the shape shown above, to the shape shown on the left. There are little nubs that fit together when it has been solved. You can sort of see the green nub in the upper left corner of the cross above.

It consists of two identical interlocked pieces, and requires a number of rotational moves to solve it (around 6-8 moves, depending how you count). It doesn't come completely apart, though the design could probably be modified somewhat to enable this. If that was done, I think it would make a great addition to Hanayama's Cast Puzzle series.

I found it moderately challenging, it took me about 10 minutes to solve. I found one of the moves to be  unintuitive in a clever way, which I think is what makes this one challenging. There is different point that I found physically difficult to navigate even when I knew the solution. You need to have the pieces lined up just right to make it happen.

It is also a bit of a challenge to get it back to the start, though of course somewhat less so if you paid attention to what you were doing in the first place. I got stuck briefly near the end, but eventually figured it out.

Overall, a nice puzzle! I like the fact that a puzzle with rotational moves like this can't be solved by a computer easily. I guess the only slight downside is the construction, but I didn't mind that much. You would certainly have to be less careful with it than if it was made out of nicely finished exotic wood! I do think it makes it a bit less compelling to play with though: I brought it to Thanksgiving at my family's house, and I think only one person attempted it (unsucessfully). Also, the 'solved' state isn't quite as satisfying as having the puzzle come apart, and it was a bit difficult to explain to a non-puzzler.

Still, it is a good puzzle that I enjoyed solving. Thanks to George for loaning it to me!

November 29, 2010

The Big 30

The Big 30 is another puzzle sent to me by Puzzle Master to review. This puzzle was designed by Allan Stein and presented as Allan's exchange puzzle at IPP 30, hence the shape. Cute, eh? I had seen this puzzle during the exchange, but hadn't gotten a chance to try it, so I was interested to see how it was.

The goal is to remove the zero from the three. As you can see in the photo, the zero is just looped around the three, with the gold chain and ball keeping it from being removed.

After a few moments of playing with this one, I had a pretty good idea of what needed to be done. Of course, sometimes knowing what needs to be done is easy and actually doing it is tough! In this case however, I was able to figure it out pretty quickly. I think it took me less than a minute.

I was interested to see how difficult other non-puzzlers would find it, and was quite surprised to find that they actually had a good deal of difficulty with it. Watching folks try to solve this one was a bit like watching somebody try to push a "pull" door, it seemed so obvious to me, but clearly it was not. Most gave up before solving it after playing around with it for a 5-10 minutes. A particular part of the solution is a bit un-intuitive, so I think that is where folks were getting hung up. A good puzzle takes advantage of these mental blocks to stump you!

The folks at Puzzle Master rate this as a 6 out of 10 difficulty, and I am inclined to agree, though perhaps it should be a 7. I think it is about the same difficulty as the last puzzle I wrote about, Panic Attack, if not slightly harder. Still, my sample size is a bit small so who knows! I think it really depends how much experience you have with this type of puzzle.

Overall, a nice little puzzle that is well designed and crafted. It was a bit too easy for my taste, but I did enjoy showing it to other folks! Thanks again to the folks at Puzzle Master for sending it to me!

November 23, 2010

Panic Attack

Panic Attack is another puzzle that I received from Puzzle Master to review. This puzzle is designed by Kirill Grebnev and manufactured by PuzzleMaster. Kirill has also designed Harmony, which won the Puzzler's Award and Jury First Prize at IPP30 in 2010, and Forest Puzzle which won an honorable mention at IPP27 in 2007.

Like all of their wire puzzles, the quality is great. The wire is a thick enough guage to be sturdy, but no so much that it is heavy. It has a nice shine to it as well.

The objective is pretty simple: remove the yellow loop from the heart. I like puzzles that appear simple like this one: only two pieces! It reminded me a bit of Iwahiro's Dinghy, where you are also removing a flexible loop from a wire structure.

At first, it looks fairly impossible, which is always a good thing for a puzzle like this. However, there aren't very many dead ends, which made it pretty easy. I think I solved in about a minute or so. I brought it to a family gathering and some people had a much easier time with it than others. Most had the right idea, but it must be executed in the correct way. I think this is a bit easier than an 8/10, maybe closer to a 6/10, but it really depends.

As for drawbacks, the only thing I can think of is that rope is just a hair too short for my taste, but it probably varies a bit and some may actually prefer it this way. Overall, a fun puzzle that has a nice simplicity. A great design by Kirill Grebnev! Thanks again to Puzzle Master for sending it to me to review!

November 15, 2010

Meffert's Pyraminx

I'm not typically a twisty puzzle fan, but recently Puzzle Master sent me some puzzles to review, and Pyraminx was one of them! This was actually the first puzzle designed and produced by Uwe Meffert way back in the 1970's. The Pyraminx has so far sold over 90 million copies world wide, making it the second most popular puzzle in the world! 

I had seen photos of it before, but I wasn't quite sure how it rotated, so I was interested to give it a try. It is actually one of the easier twisty puzzles out there, which also appealed to me since I'm not particularly good at them.

Each of the four corners rotates independently, so those are quite simple to position. If you go down one level from a corner, it can also rotate along that axis, which consists of the corner, three edge pieces, and three middle pieces. You can't rotate a single edge, which I found myself trying to do a few times before I got the hang of how it worked.

It turns quite nicely, and has spring loaded ball bearings that lock it into place when you complete a turn. This gives it a nice clicking noise as you solve it. I was also impressed by the weight of the puzzle, which gave it a nice feel.

Since it wasn't supposed to be too tricky, I scrambled this one right away and gave it a try. After about 5-10 minutes I was able to get all but two pieces in place, but those last two vexed me. In my attempt to get them positioned properly, I managed to screw up the rest of the puzzle, so I essentially had to start over.

At first I was just trying to get one face to be all the same color, but just randomly twisting with that purpose in mind wasn't doing me much good. Eventually, I figured out a move that would bring a piece into the correct position. Interestingly, this is quite similar to a move that I learned to use on 3x3x3 cubes, but it is pretty intuitive.

Again, I got to the position where only two pieces were off, but this time in my attempt to get things in the right spot, it all came together! It was a nice little surprise, but I wasn't quite sure how I did it. In total, it took about 15-20 minutes.

Not content with not knowing how I finished it, I decided to scramble it and try again. This time, I had a more methodical approach, and was able to solve it in several minutes. It really isn't too hard because there are only six pieces that are a challenge to position: the six edge pieces. The others are either quite easy to fix, since you can just twist the corners to match up to their adjacent piece, which doesn't move when you rotate the puzzle.

I can't really think of a negative aspect of Pyraminx, it is a lot of fun! It is a good one to try if you're just getting your feet wet with twisty puzzles. If you're good at them, you may find this to be too easy, but you'll probably want it in your collection anyways. Thanks to Puzzle Master for sending me this puzzle to review!

November 13, 2010

Six Piece Cross and Icosahedron

I recently borrowed a number 2010 Puzzle Exchange puzzles from George Bell, one of was Six Piece Cross by Vaclav Obsivac (a.k.a. Vinco). It was presented by Patrick Major in the puzzle exchange at IPP 30. I don't see it on Vinco's website, but you can purchase it at Puzzle Master if you are interested.

Vinco makes some interesting puzzles, many of which operate on similar principals but have different appearances. This one has a similar operation to his Flattrick puzzle, though the appearance and mechanism are quite different.

There are six pieces, like the one shown here, that all slide together at the same time (coordinate motion) to create the shape shown above. It seems fairly straightforward, but in practice it is pretty challenging to get the pieces lined up just right to slide together.

I had done a similar puzzle before, so it only took a minute or so for me to solve, but it is definitely not easy. My girlfriend tried it out for a few minutes, and it drove her fairly batty: frequently you get very close to finishing, but the whole thing falls apart in your hands.

As with all of Vinco's work, the craftsmanship is nice with perfect fit. It has a natural finish, and is constructed out of walnut and plum, though Vinco frequently uses different woods for the same puzzle.

Overall, a solid puzzle that I enjoyed. I think the one downside to this one (and this type of puzzle in general) is that the solution is a bit fiddly. It does take a fair amount of dexterity to solve it, but it is quite satisfying when the last piece pops into place and the whole thing slides together.

Another Vinco puzzle that George loaned me is called Icosahedron. This was actually Vinco's own exchange present for IPP 30.

It is a bit hard to see in the picture due to the wood grain, but it is an icosahedron as you would expect from the name. This particular one is made out of a nice dark wood, though there were other versions available.

Since he has been doing a lot of coordinate motion puzzles recently, I expected this to be a coordinate motion puzzle as well. I had fiddled with it a bit at IPP, but didn't have any luck, so I was glad that I had the opportunity to try it again.

After a minute or two of fiddling, I was able to get it to come apart. It actually consists of four pieces, though there is no coordinate motion. I don't think most will find it particularly challenging. My girlfriend was able to get it apart in a few minutes, though she had trouble getting it back together. Getting it back together is tricky, because things need to be lined up in a way you may not expect.

As a puzzle, this one didn't interest me as much. However, the craftsmanship is superb: the pieces fit together just right. This puzzle is quite a bit smaller than the previous one. It is a bit more than an inch tall, I think. It has a smoother finish, which may be a property of the wood used. Overall, a nice little puzzle.

Thanks to George Bell for loaning me these puzzles!

November 7, 2010

Cast Rattle

I had actually tried Hanayama's Cast Rattle about three months ago during July, since it was an entry into this year's puzzle design competition in which it won an honorable mention. I had only spent about ten minutes or so on it at the time, since I figured it would be available soon and I wanted to spend my time at the competition trying out puzzles that I wouldn't have the chance to try again. I just had the chance to try it out again, courtesy of Puzzle Master!

It is an interesting design by Bram Cohen that consists of four pieces that rattle around, hence the name, but stubbornly refuse to come apart. The pieces appeared identical, and it is pretty obvious that there is no hidden mechanism, so it is a bit puzzling what keeps them from coming apart.

The finish on this puzzle is nice and shiny and  it has a nice weight in your hand, as is the case with most of Hanayama's Cast series of puzzles. The fit is prefect, with no force necessary but no unnecessary slop either in the solution. That said, it does rattle around quite freely and somewhat lacks the elegant and stable resting position of something like Cast Vortex, the first puzzle I got in this series. This is really the only downside to this puzzle for me, but there's not much that could be done about it.

I started out just fiddling around with it a for a few minutes like I had done at IPP previously, and similarly didn't end up having any luck. Clearly just fiddling with it idly wasn't doing the trick, so I needed to take a more logical approach. Depending on how you slide the pieces, you can see every part of them, so I was able to take a logical approach that ended up leading me to the solution. This was quite satisfying, since there was a nice "Ah hah!" moment when I figured out what I had to do, and after a minute or so I was able to execute the solution correctly. In total, I think it took me about 10 minutes. It only took me a minute or two to get back together since I had a pretty good understanding of what I had done.

I think this would be an appealing puzzle to hand to somebody, because they can get it to move around a lot, which feels like they're making some kind of progress. However, you really have to stop and think about it to find the solution. I tried shaking the hell out of it, and that didn't work for this one, which is always a good thing.

In terms of difficulty, I would agree with Hanyama's rating of 4 out of 6, it of similar difficulty to the others with that rating such as Cast Baroq. I think most will be able to figure it out within 20-30 minutes, though I know a pretty smart fellow who spent an hour on it! It just depends when the inspiration strikes you, I think.

Overall, Cast Rattle is a solid puzzle that has a beautiful simplicity to it and a clever solution. Definitely worth picking up if you're into this type of puzzle! Thanks to PuzzleMaster for sending me a copy to review!

Note: I've recently set up an affiliate arrangement with PuzzleMaster so I get a small percentage of the sale price if you buy puzzles from them using the links I provide. They're also sending me some free puzzles to review. Of course, I honor your trust and will do my best to keep all reviews as objective as possible and continue to give you both positives and negatives for every puzzle. Thanks for reading!