January 24, 2011

2010 Karakuri Club Christmas Presents (Part 1)

Every year, the Karakuri Creation Group introduces a new set of puzzle boxes at Christmas time. The interesting part is that members actually pay for these boxes in advance, between January and June, having no idea what they will receive! Each box is $100, and you can choose the craftsman, but they have creative liberty to make what they'd like. If the boxes produced by the Karakuri Creation Group weren's so consistently impressive, this would be a hard model to sustain, but their boxes are conistently top-notch.

This year I ended up splurging a bit and getting six. Last year I only got three and regretted it a bit, since there were so many cool ones that I didn't end up getting. This year, I chose to get boxes from Akio Kamei, Hiroshi Iwahara, Yoshiyuki Ninomiya, Hideaki Kawashima, Hiroyuki Oka, and Tatuo Miyamoto.

I will start with Iwahara's House with Trees box (shown above) because it was the first one that I tried and it is one of my favorites this year. As you can see from the photo, it is a magnificent looking box. The different colors of wood used are very nice. I particularly liked the reddish wood used for the corners, it makes for a very unique and striking appearance.

There are four small trees on the top of the box, pointing in various directions. This is reminiscent of his Box with Tree which has a single tree on it. Iwahara provides this hint in the description: "The direction of the trees are a hint in solving the box." Pretty interesting, eh?

I found out quickly that a few things moved, but soon came to a dead end. With Box with Tree in mind, however, I was able to figure out the solution moments later. Had I not been familiar with this earlier puzzle, I think that this could have taken me much longer. The solution is interesting and makes sense when you know it, but is pretty difficult to figure out. Even more interesting is the mechanism that is involved, I would love to see a diagram of it!

I think the main downside to this one for me is that it was so easy if you know Box with Tree. I think I would have had a lot more fun/frustration if I hadn't solved that box first. As a puzzle, I actually liked it a bit more than Box with Tree, though both are cool.

In all, this is one of my favorites (if not my most favorite) of the Karakuri Club Christmas Presents this year. The solution and mechanism are interesting, and it has a great appearance. Iwahara is definitely a craftsman to keep your eye on!

Next up is the somewhat un-eloquently named "Irregular Open 4 Times Secret Box" by Yoshiyuki Ninomiya. Ninomiya is the master craftsman who taught Akio Kamei, and is in his 80's. It is quite impressive that he is even still designing and producing puzzle boxes at this point! He surely gets help from other Karakuri Creation Group craftsmen, but it is still impressive.

This year, due to Ninomiya's age, he only produced a limited number of boxes. Because of this, a lottery was held for who gets to purchase his boxes! It sounds a bit absurd, but purchasing one of his boxes for $100 is an excellent deal since he won't be making them for much longer. I was lucky enough to be able to buy one after winning the lottery, and I jumped at the opportunity.

The first thing I noticed was the beautiful yosegi patterns that decorate each side. The top is different from the bottom as well. Due to Ninomiya's superior craftsmanship, there are no visible gaps along the edges. This leads you to wonder how the box could possibly open!

After fiddling with it a bit however, I was able to open it quickly. I was disappointed to find that it is a simple 4-move secret box mechanism, no tricks! The movement is a bit stiff, but it will likely loosen up over time. I'm still happy that I purchased it because of its beauty and craftsmanship, but I wish he had added a little something more creative and puzzling. In 2011, he is not producing a Christmas present, so I'm glad that I got his 2010 present.

I'll write about the remaining four boxes this week, so stay tuned! In the meantime, check out Jeff Chiou's blog entry on the three boxes he got.

All posts in this series:
Part One (you are here)
Part Two
Part Three

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