March 29, 2011

Puzzle Master Trick Lock #5

Trick Lock #5 is the fifth in a series of five puzzle locks by Puzzle Master that they sent me to review (excluding #2 which is out of stock). Thanks, Puzzle Master! Check out the first three posts (#1, #3, #4) if you're just joining us: #1 has details on the series from a quality perspective, though I'll also be touching on that a bit here.

Trick Lock #5 has a gold bird of some sort on the face of the lock. In photos, the red mark looks like a jewel, but it appears to be a dollop of paint, which I didn't much care for. I did like the bird itself though!

It didn't take me long to solve this one, though it took a bit of fiddling afterwards to figure out precisely what I had done. There is a bit of a subtlety that I liked, that I think many may miss at first. Similar to #3, it is possible that people will miss this subtlety and not properly reset the lock to its starting position. In terms of difficulty, it is on par with #3. Most people should be able to figure this out within 3-5 minutes, maybe a bit more if this isn't their cup of tea.

Due to the aforementioned subtlety, I think this is probably my second favorite after #4. I still like #4 because it is a bit more challenging, there's just slightly more to it than there is to the others, which I enjoyed.

I brought the whole series to a party this weekend to verify my evaluation of the difficulty and to get people's thoughts on it, and generally they agreed with my ranking. #4 stumped the most people, but folks were generally able to solve the others if they spent a bit of time with them. I got a few "that's all?" reactions about #1, since the solution is fairly straightforward, though some folks with less patience had trouble with it still.

Overall, I had a good time with this series, though I don't think I personally would have bought the whole set. The price point ($30) feels a bit high given the quality and the amount of time they took me to solve. If you really like this type of puzzle, go for it, but I wouldn't put the whole set on my 'must buy' list. I did think Trick Lock #4 was quite good though, since it is a bit more challenging and has a bit more depth to it.

Thanks again to Puzzle Master for making this series of puzzle reviews possible!

March 28, 2011

Puzzle Master Trick Lock #4

Trick Lock #4 is the fourth in a series of five puzzle locks by Puzzle Master that they sent me to review (excluding #2 which is out of stock). Thanks Puzzle Master! If you're just joining us, check out the first post in the series for general information on the quality of this series of puzzles, so you don't have to keep reading similar details.

This lock looks a bit more daunting than the others, since it has a mysterious dial on the front. The dial will turn, but it doesn't seem to do anything! Mine arrived pretty tight, to the point where I couldn't really turn the dial with my bare hands, so I grabbed some pliers and worked it back and forth a bit. That loosened it up, but it is still a bit difficult to turn. I think it will continue to loosen with use.

This one is a good bit more difficult than the others, and took me the longest to solve. I've shown the series to a number of people, and this is the one that usually stumps them for a while, and a few people have just given up on it. I think what makes this one difficult is that there is more going on: the dial turning plus the keyhole can keep you busy fiddling for quite a while trying various hypotheses.

I thought the solution was pretty clever, easily my favorite among the series, but I tend to like more difficult puzzles. This is the only one that had me going for more than a minute or so, which I appreciated. Especially given the price point ($30), I'd like to be kept busy for at least a few minutes.

I think the main downside to this one is the stiffness of the dial. The edge is a bit rough so your hands will hurt a bit from gripping it, which is annoying if you spend very long on it. The folks I showed this to had similar complaints. Other than that, it is quite enjoyable!

Up next, I'll post the last review of #5 and a summary. Stay tuned!

March 25, 2011

Puzzle Master Trick Lock #3

Trick Lock #3 is the third in a series of five puzzle locks by Puzzle Master that they sent me to review (excluding #2 which is out of stock). Thanks Puzzle Master! If you're just joining us, check out the first post in the series for general information on the quality of this series of puzzles, so you don't have to keep reading similar details.

I liked the look of this lock (and the others) a bit more than #1, because it has a distinctive face. This one has a flower on the front that reminds me of fire. Not bad!

I didn't find this to be particularly challenging, though I would say that it may be slightly harder than #1. Similar to #1, it takes two steps to open, but the second step on #3 is a bit better disguised.

One downside to this one is that it is moderately likely that somebody will open it and not know exactly what they did. If this is the case, they may not know how to completely reset the puzzle to its starting position (and not know that it isn't at the starting position). Not a huge problem, but so that is something to watch out for if you are passing this one around.

Overall a solid puzzle lock. I'll do a wrap up of the whole series at the end, so hang in there for that. Next up, I'll write about #4.

March 24, 2011

Puzzle Master Trick Lock #1

Trick Lock #1 is the first in a series of five puzzle locks by Puzzle Master. They recently sent me all but #2 to review (which was out of stock). Thanks Puzzle Master!

This is a hefty lock and also fairly large, which I liked. They warn on the package that you shouldn't use it to lock up your valuables, but it does feel fairly sturdy! Of course, it probably isn't made of the same hardened construction as an actual lock, but it could deter folks somewhat.

Each comes with two keys that are on a string that goes around the shackle. This is handy, since the keys are not interchangeable. The string is long enough to reach the key into the lock, which was convenient. The quality of the string is a bit shoddy, however, so I may consider replacing it with a chain of some sort if I decide to leave these out for guests to play with.

Since the keys for the different locks are not interchangeable, you could add slightly to the difficulty by keeping all the keys on the same keyring and having the puzzler figure out which is needed for which lock. This wouldn't really be any harder than just going through each key to see which fit, but it adds an extra step.

The quality of the finish is a bit poor, with various gouges, rough edges, and other imperfections. Also, they had a bit of grime left on them from the manufacturing process, but that should wear off quickly or if I get around to rubbing them down with a paper towel or something. Given the price point ($30 each), I don't find the quality to be unacceptable, considering the complexity in producing these puzzles, but it does detract from the experience somewhat.

I found Trick Lock #1 to be the simplest of the series. It only took me a minute or so to solve, but it has a satisfying mechanism. Some folks who aren't as familiar with this type of puzzle may get caught up for a while, but if they stick with it for a bit should be able to figure it out within a reasonable amount of time. I had a non-puzzler play around with these locks tonight, and she thought this one was a bit too simple, and I'm inclined to agree.

Stay tuned, the next few posts will be about the other three locks in the series!

March 23, 2011

The Magic Hat

As is inevitably the case, there are always a few Karakuri Club Christmas Presents that I regret not having purchased. Fortunately, around March the Karakuri Club has a lottery where they sell off the remaining Christmas presents that were not purchased.

This year, Shiro Tajima created a cute box named The Magic Hat which I really liked the look of. Peter Wiltshire predicted that he would be using a rabbit motif this year, since last year was the year of the tiger and he did did a tiger theme, and this year is the year of the rabbit. Since Peter is a magician, he had hoped that Tajima would do something with a magic hat, and indeed he did!

On top of looking nice, my puzzle friends who had gotten this one seemed to enjoy it. They said that it had a unique movement, and was fairly challenging, so I was very intrigued. When I visited Brett's house for NYPP, this was one of the first puzzles I asked to try! I liked it quite a bit, and ended up being able to purchase one during the March lottery.

This is a fairly large puzzle at just over five inches high. The craftsmanship is very nice, as is the case for pretty much all of the Karakuri Club work. My rabbit has a bit of a darkness to his nose, it looks like a bruise but it is just a discoloration in the wood. Also there's a bit of tearout on the eye.

As I mentioned previously, there is a unique movement that you'll probably discover fairly quickly. However, what to do once you've discovered it is the challenge. I don't want to go into too much detail, since I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but the next move is pretty tricky. It somewhat incorporates an idea previously used by Akio Kamei, but I liked its implementation much better here since it is somewhat easier (in a good way).

At Brett's house, this one actually took me a good amount of time to solve, probably around 20 minutes or so. His version was a bit tighter than mine, so it took a bit more effort to discover the second move. I found it to be well hidden and unexpected, with an interesting trick as I mentioned before. When solved, there is also a little whimsical detail that Tajima added which I enjoyed. Very well done!

There isn't much in terms of downsides to this puzzle: it seems quite sturdy, has a great appearance and construction, and a clever solution. Overall, a solid puzzle that I'm glad to have purchased. If only I had bought it before Christmas when it was about half the price! Of course, I didn't know it would be so cool at that point. I'm definitely going to purchase Tajima's puzzle next year, because next year is the year of the dragon and I am hoping that he will do something with a badass looking dragon!

March 22, 2011

Cast Coil

Cast Coil is the latest puzzle released by Hanayama and I was quite eager to give it a try since I'm a big fan of the Hanayama Cast Puzzle series. Puzzle Master sells it  and was kind enough to send me a copy to review. Thanks! It was designed by Edi Nagata who I had the pleasure of meeting in Japan last summer.

It has a distressed, aged appearance which is similar to Cast Enigma, though rather than bronze it has silver and gold tones. You can't tell from the photo, but upon playing with it briefly, you'll see that there are two pieces. I think I prefer the shiny finish over this type of finish personally, but that's a matter of taste. This type of finish feels a bit dirty, but some may like the fact that it looks like an ancient relic or something. Plus, you don't have to worry about fingerprints! It has a nice weight in your hand, though isn't quite as hefty as something like Cast H&H or Cast Marble

This one is rated a three out of six in terms of difficulty. I actually spent longer than I would have expected on this puzzle given the rating, though I feel like my mind hasn't been particularly sharp recently. Not enough puzzles! Anyways, I think it took me about 20 minutes to get this thing apart for the first time, and another 20 minutes or so to really master it to the point where I could do it reliably.

It requires a total of about seven moves to disassemble, most of which are rotational moves. People are more accustomed to linear movement, so it is the rotational aspect that makes this one difficult. Also, there are a lot of dead ends and I found it difficult to keep track of what I had done before. The pieces are practically identical, but they are different, which also plays a role in making this one challenging.

Unlike puzzles like Twist The Night Away or The Tangler (both are awesome puzzles by Tom Jolly), which are based on a proper cubic geometry that happens to have enough room for certain twisting movements, Cast Coil has some material removed to enable certain twists. This adds to the difficulty, since it moves in ways you would not expect, since it is hard to see and remember where these notches are.

The first move was a bit tight when I first started working on this puzzle, which was somewhat annoying. It took a good amount of effort to get the pieces moving, but after I made that move a few times, it loosened up. Not a big drawback but something to be aware of.

Overall, I think that Cast Coil  is a solid puzzle and would  recommend checking it out. Not one of my absolute favorites in the series, but definitely one that is worth getting.

March 16, 2011

2011 New York Puzzle Party (Part 5)

After a lovely time at the New York Puzzle Party on Saturday, I spent most of Sunday morning and afternoon at Brett Kuehner's house solving some puzzles. Rob Stegmann was there, and Ken Irvine also stopped by.

This puzzle kept my attention for a good while. It is called "The Five Minute Puzzle That May Take a Little Longer" by Andy Turner. Interesting name! I was intrigued. This puzzle was made by Eric Fuller and entered into the IPP 2009 Design Competition.

I started to type a description of the pieces, but it is a bit hard to describe. Instead, check out this photo from Rob's site. Two of the pieces are two units long, and the rest are all one unit cubes. The pegs must be in the correct orientation relative to a hole in the adjacent piece. The correct solution has no exposed holes or pegs.

The box is mainly just decorative, though it also serves the function of keeping the pieces from falling apart if somebody idly picks it up. It looks nice too!

I spent a bit of time on Saturday evening, but didn't have much luck since I was getting tired. Sunday morning I took another crack at it with renewed vigor. The interesting thing about this puzzle is that the obvious solutions don't seem to work. I sat there and tried all the permutations I could think of, but oddly none of them worked! Clearly I wasn't approaching it correctly. I tried a few things that I thought make be the trick, but they didn't work either!

Eventually, I had a revelation that led me to the solution, and was quite impressed. This is a very cool puzzle design. I didn't think I would like it, but I was mistaken. You really need to go through the process of solving this one to appreciate it though. It definitely took me longer than 5 minutes! Probably closer to 45 minutes.

I was pleased to try a few boxes by Kim Klobucher as well. Check out his website Kcube Designs. The first one that I tried was his 419 move box, shown here.

I had tried his MMMDXLVI box that requires 3546 moves to open while at IPP30. Check out this entry if you'd like to read about my struggle with it. The 419 move box was a piece of cake by comparison!

It has a regular pattern to it based on a trinary gray code, so it is mainly just a matter of keeping track of where you are in the pattern. It isn't too hard since you can really only go forward or backward in the pattern, but sometimes it is easy to get confused and start going the wrong direction. I think it took me a good 30 minutes or so to open and close this one, maybe a bit longer.

I really liked the appearance of this box, but I don't think it is something that I will be purchasing, since it is such a pain to open. It wouldn't be much fun to give to folks to try since it is so difficult, and I probably wouldn't repeat solving it often (if at all).

Personally, I preferred the next box that I tried "The Void", shown here. It looks quite similar, but is somewhat larger and has an interesting feature that I will attempt to describe.

Most of Kim's puzzles have a pins moving through keyways such that the keyway is just as wide as the pin, like in this small maze (source). In The Void, the pin moves through a void in the path (like a big room in the maze), and you need to find the exit on the other side. This is harder than it sounds, but I can't tell you why without spoiling some of the fun. Notice that the brass inlay on the top depicts the process of travelling through a void.

I spent a good while on this puzzle before I started to figure out what was going on: the first few moves come quite easily, but eventally you hit a dead end. Nothing that you would expect works, so it really makes you think about what is going on inside the puzzle. Eventually, I figured it out, and was quite pleased. I do hope he makes some more of these!

The last puzzle I'll write about is a clever design by Tom Jolly called The Tangler, made by Eric Fuller. This puzzle consists of two complex pieces that are intertwined: the goal is to separate them. It soon becomes obvious that the solution involves rotational moves, which are fun.

I think I spent a good 10 minutes on this one, and enjoyed solving it. At first, it seemed like only one path was possible, but then I hit a dead end. After puzzling over it for a bit, I discovered the solution. Pretty tricky, but doable in a reasonable amount of time, which I liked.

That brings me to the end of my series on my trip down to New York for the New York Puzzle Party. Thanks again to Brett Kuehner for inviting me to stay in his home, and to Tom Cutrofello for organizing the event. I'm looking forward to it again next year!

March 11, 2011

2011 New York Puzzle Party (Part 4)

After a long night of puzzling on Friday, we headed in for the puzzle party Saturday morning. Brett's car was packed pretty full with Tanya Thompson, Laurie Brokenshire, Rob Stegmann, me, and a bunch of puzzles! We didn't hit much traffic on the way in, and were soon at the puzzle party.

When I arrived, I was glad to see Daniel Deschamps and Peter Wiltshire, both of whom had come down from Canada. Daniel brought some puzzle boxes he had built using kits from Myer's Crafts based on designs by Bruce Viney, which was great: I had been wanting to try some of these designs! If you'll remember, one of the first puzzles that I made was a Bruce Viney design. Bruce has a ton of designs on his website, but unfortunately you'll need some sort of woodworking tools to build them. Most of these designs are just cut out of plywood,  so they lend themselves to laser-cutting. Myer's Crafts noticed the same thing, and started offering kits that have all the pieces laser-cut for insanely low cost! I think Bruce gets a portion of the sale as well. Pretty neat!

The first one that I tried out was Zig-Zag Box, shown here. It doesn't look like much, since it isn't finished yet. It is made out of plywood, so the best way to finish it is probably to paint it, which will hide the plys. Still, it was an interesting puzzle!

I spent a good 10 minutes on this one, and it has a pretty unique movement. Check out the link above for a video if you don't mind spoiling the solution. If you are used to more traditional puzzle boxes, this one will give you a good surprise!

Of course, the fit and movement isn't going to be quite as nice as a Karakuri Club box, but it seems that Myer had the measurements dialed in quite well, and Daniel did a good job assembling it.

Daniel also brought Tik Tak Tok, another design by Bruce Viney and kit by Myer's Crafts. This one was nicely painted by Daniel, and also had an interesting solution.

The nine squares on the top shift around in various ways until the top unlocks. It takes 20 moves, and I found the sequence to be pretty tricky. I think it took me about 10-15 minutes to figure it out, and I don't think I could easily replicate the feat again without more practice.

One thing I would recommend if you are to build this one is to put a good bevel on the squares. You need to press on the sides of them to shift them around, and I found my fingers got a bit sore from the edges. The box itself is quite large, with a nice big compartment on the inside.

After greeting everybody, the lectures began. First up was a presentation by Wei Zhang and Peter Rasmussen about Chinese Puzzles, which was pretty interesting. The puzzle party itself was held in a the Museum of Chinese Art in New York, and they actually had a Chinese puzzle exhibit currently, so they gave some background on the various puzzles in the exhibit.

Next up, Rob Stegmann talked about a virtual puzzle he created for Halloween. You can try it out here, it is a lot of fun. In his presentation, he gave a walkthrough of the solution as well as his thoughts on the various components of the puzzle. I had tried it when he originally created it, and had a pretty hard time with it! I got all the way to the end, but the last clue really stumped me. I also needed a hint or two along the way.

The last presentation before lunch was by George Hart, who recently left his tenured position at Stony Brook University to join the team creating The Museum of Mathematics in New York. George also does some very interesting geometric sculptures. George talked about the museum, and it sounds spectacular! I'm really looking forward to seeing it, but it probably won't be for another year or more, if I remember correctly.

After those first three presentations, we had a lunch break. I headed over with some folks to get Chinese food, which seemed like a good idea given our location. Somebody suggested a place where you pay $5 to pick out 4 items from a buffet, which was quite tasty. I sat at a table with George Hart and Peter Wiltshire, it was great having a chance to speak with them.

After lunch, there was a period of puzzle buying and selling. As I expected to be the case, there wasn't a whole lot that interested me: I'm pretty focused on puzzle boxes right now, so I've been conserving my funds for those. Still, it was nice seeing all the other puzzles that people were selling.

Tim Rowett of Grand Illusions was there, and he was kind enough to give me a copy of this neat Optical Illusion Ring. If you twist it one way, it will look like the ring is growing larger, and if you twist it the other way, it will look like it is growing smaller. Check out a video at the link above, or click here to open it up directly. That's Tim in the video demonstrating it. Thanks Tim!

After the buying, selling, and trading was complete, we gathered again for two more presentations. First, Tom Cutrofello went through some of his favorite iPhone puzzle apps. He has a blog of them here, in case you have an iPhone. I don't, but it was still interesting to hear about what is out there.

Finally, we were treated to a presentation by Oskar van Deventer in which he revealed publicly for the first time ever, a 17x17x17 Rubik's cube! Here's a photo of me holding it.

His presentation walked through some of the history in cube design, and his attempts to overcome the barriers that had prevented such large order cubes from being created previously. The cube is fully functional, but the movement is quite rough due to the friction between the pieces because it was created on a 3D printer.

If instead the pieces were cast out of smooth plastic, it would probably work much better. I got the chance to turn it, but you have to be very careful to line the pieces up correctly or else something may break, which would be a huge pain to fix. As you may imagine, it took Oskar many hours to put this together! Just sorting and keeping track of the different pieces was a big task.

We all stuck around chatting for a while until the museum kicked us out. After that, we headed to dinner, which was also quite enjoyable. When we returned home to Brett's house, we still had a bit of energy for puzzling, though my mind was a bit dull after a long day. It was great talking about the events of the day with Brett and Rob while fiddling around with puzzles late into the evening.
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