May 11, 2011

Cast Cage

Cast Cage is a similar puzzle to Cast Star, which I reviewed recently. It was introduced to Nob Yoshigahara by a Professor Bakalar of Prague, and Nob adapted it for the Hanayama Cast Puzzles series. Puzzle Master was kind enough to send me a copy of this puzzle to review. Thanks!

As with Cast Star, the goal of this one is to extricate the star shaped object. Rather than being trapped in a loop, this star is trapped in a cage, so there are four options for how to get it out rather than just two!

Each opening is irregularly shaped in a different manner, so you can take a look at figure out which one you think has the best odds of being correct, and fiddle around to see if you were right.

The quality of the construction is not bad, but compared to other Hanayama Cast Puzzles, this one feels a bit flimsier due to the thinness of the cage walls. It is still sturdy enough to withstand some abuse, but not bulletproof like Cast Star. Also, the thin metal makes the edges a bit sharp, which isn't so good for sticking your fingers into the cage to move the star around.

When I first tried this puzzle, I solved it pretty quickly with some random fiddling, but I think I just got lucky and chose the right hole first. Despite having twice as many exits, this one is actually a bit easier than Cast Star, I think because the solution isn't quite as precise (i.e. you don't need to line it up quite as well). Also, I found that the correct exit hole looks more tempting to try than the others, which is the opposite of what you'd want to make the puzzle more challenging. I tried this one out with a few friends, and they all figured it out quite quickly.

Like Cast Star, Cast Cage is not one of my favorites since there's not much of an "A-ha!" factor or an interesting movement. It works pretty much like you would expect and is more just a matter of fiddling with it until you figure it out.

May 4, 2011

The Opening Bat

I recently purchased The Opening Bat from Brian Young (a.k.a. Mr. Puzzle) after it was recommended to me by Jim Strayer. It is a bit pricey to say the least, but Jim assured me that it was well worth the money, and Brian's description on his website sounded very intriguing.

The goal of the puzzle is to "open the bat to find all you will need to play test cricket and win the holy grail." It is a sequential discovery puzzle, meaning that you will gradually discover the tools that you will need to progress through the puzzle. I really like the idea of sequential discovery puzzles, so the idea that this was one of epic scale made it quite appealing.

From the description:
Brian has been working on ideas to incorporate in this puzzle for almost a decade; the first ideas for a cricket bat puzzle were conceived when the Sir Donald Bradman 20c coin was released in Australia in 2001 and Brian thought it would make a nice cap for the handle and the space inside the bat would give him the flexibility and room required to include so many steps in the puzzle. In that time he's had many wild ideas and it seems he put them all in to this one puzzle with many, many other tools to discover to solve the three major locks and other puzzles included. When it came to actually making the puzzle they all seemed to flow from one section to another so Brian decided to leave them all in; even adding more along the way to make that happen. As far as sequential discovery puzzles go this one's on steroids!
How could I resist? Ordered the puzzle, and eagerly awaited it. Brian was putting the finishing touches on the next batch, so I had to wait a month or two for mine. Talk about delayed gratification! It was well worth it when it arrived! It arrived while I was at work, so I just unpackaged it and gazed at it for a while. I had to wait till I got home to give it a try!

When I finally got home, I set myself to the task of solving it right away. I couldn't wait to see what cleverness Brian had in store! I progressed through the first major lock fairly quickly, though there are a number of devious traps along the way, any of which could leave you puzzling for a while. It takes advantage of the way you would expect things to work to trip you up, which I liked.

This is where I hit a brick wall: I had a number of tools at my disposal, but couldn't figure out how to proceed. I had an idea of how to do it, but it didn't seem to work. Eventually I had to give up and go to bed. The next day and the day after that I didn't have much time to spend on it, but Saturday I had plenty of time. Hooray!

On Saturday, I was hanging out doing puzzles with a friend of mine, Clayton, who also enjoys puzzles, and gave it to him to play around with. After a little while, he was able to get to where I was stuck, and I told him my dilemma and how I thought it should work. After a bit of fiddling, he figured out how to proceed! It turns out that I had the right idea, but it requires a bit more force that I was able to exert, even with the aid provided.

I let Clayton go ahead and keep working on the puzzle, while I went into the other room, but as he went further I was afraid even the noises were going to give something away that I didn't want to know, so he was kind enough to let me work on it again.

The next part is also quite difficult and an easy place to get stuck, but I have a pretty good instinct with these types of puzzles and was able to proceed to the second lock fairly quickly. Disengaging the second lock actually took me a while: again, I had the right idea but didn't implement it quite correctly

The last bit of the puzzle is definitely my favorite! I played around here for a while before discovering the solution, and it is quite clever! What I really liked is that you can logically figure out what is going on, which, accompanied with some intelligent guesses, will lead you to the solution. I find it immensely satisfying when I can gradually develop a picture in my mind of what is going on, formulate a solution, and then find that the picture in my mind matched what was actually happening, and that was the case with this puzzle!

Spread out over the course of four days, I think it took be about 3 hours to solve completely. It easily could take more or less than that, depending on how "lucky" you get, and how much time you spend pursuing the wrong line of thinking. My friend Clayton was also able to solve it in a pretty reasonable amount of time, probably under 2 hours with a little encouragement.

The craftsmanship is superb! The blade of the cricket bat is made from Queensland Silver Ash with the handle turned out of Tasmanian Blackwood and an original Sir Donald Bradman 20c coin embedded in the top of the handle. The Oval, and the Wickets & Bails, are made from Papua New Guinean Ebony. In addition, each puzzle contains over 20 machined metal components which make up the locks and the tools required to operate them.

There is a little peg in the oval that fits into a corresponding hole in the bat to help you prop the bat up, which is nice. I was afraid it would tip over easily, but it is reasonably stable. One issue is that the bails (the two little things on top of the wickets) are really easy to knock off if you pick up the bat from the stand. Of course, that's the whole idea of the bails in cricket, to indicate when the wickets have been hit, but it can be a bit of a nuisance if the puzzle is in a place where somebody may touch it before you can warn them. Mine will be safely in my display case!

Overall, this is an awesome puzzle! I really liked how long the solution path was and it is also quite clever. It didn't require any of the usual tipping, banging, or spinning of your typical hidden mechanism puzzle, and instead was filled with unique ideas. As far as sequential discovery puzzles go, this one will be hard to top!

May 3, 2011

Cast Star

Cast Star is a classic 19th century puzzle reproduced by Akio Kamei for Hanayama's Cast Puzzles series. Puzzle Master was kind enough to send me a copy of this puzzle to review. Thanks!

You can probably guess how this one works: you have to remove the star from the loop. The loop is in the form of a snake eating its tail, which is a nice little detail. It has a somewhat distressed copper finish, similar to Cast Flag and Cast O'Gear. Both the loop and star are quite sturdy, giving the puzzle a nice weight in your hand.

I was pretty sure I knew the general idea of how to solve this one, but actually doing it is a bit more challenging due to the number of possible permutations involved. In theory, you could inspect the puzzle to narrow down your search space, which is what a friend of mine did, but my approach was just to exhaustively try all the possible orientations for the star. Not that much fun, but at least I was sure (hopefully) to find the solution that way!

Indeed, eventually I got it out, and there was some relief in that, but no real "A-ha" moment where it all made sense. Since these types of puzzles can be just as hard (or harder!) to put back together, I kept an eye on the orientation in which it came out, and carefully put it back. Also, I made an observation that makes it easier for me to solve, should I want to do it again. This was the observation that my friend had made to solve it in the first place, so it is possible to solve somewhat strategically, though that wasn't my approach.

In terms of difficulty, I would say this one is about right at Hanayama's 3/6 rating: it certainly does take a bit of patience and thought to solve it. I think it took me a good 15 or 20 minutes, but that time could vary depending on how you go about solving it.

Overall, I wasn't a big fan of Cast Star, there are plenty more Hanayama Cast Puzzles that I found more fun than this one. I like a bit of a surprise or at least a cool mechanism, but found this one lacking on both counts. Still, it is a nicely made puzzle and nice to see Hanayama making old designs such as these available to the mass market!
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