June 13, 2011

Cast Starfish

Cast Starfish is the fourth in a series of six marine-themed Hanayama Cast Puzzles designed by Akio Yamamoto. Puzzle Master sent me a copy of this puzzle to review. Thanks!

Like the others in the series, it is made out of contrasting gold- and silver-colored metal. This one has a particularly unique appearance, with the bumpy texture of the starfish.

I was quite interested to see how this one would work, since it looks like your usual ring-with-a-gap type puzzle, like Cast Claw, but there are no grooves to navigate the ring through. Quite peculiar!

I played around with this one for a bit, and was pretty confused, it took me a while to discover the unique movement that is needed, and I really liked it. The first time I solved it, I didn't really fully understand it, I was more just fiddling. But with a bit more thought and practice, I saw that it had a nice logical progression, which I liked.

This one is rated a 2/6 by Hanayama, which seems about right. It is tougher than Cast Seabream and Cast Shark (both 1/6), and also more difficult than Cast Claw (2/6). I think it probably took me about 10 minutes, but folks have had a pretty tough time with it when I give this one to people.

Speaking of letting people try these puzzles, I noticed something a little alarming when I brought the series to a party yesterday: the gold color is starting to wear off! This is quite disappointing since the contrast is what makes these so visually appealing. Ah well, just something to be aware of, I definitely wouldn't stop letting people play with them because of that, but I'm a bit surprised that Hanayama would have that issue since their puzzles are generally very good quality.

Back to Cast Starfish: this is one of my favorites of the marine series due to its interesting movement and the pattern that you slowly discover. I have a great time watching folks play with this one, since there is a good "A-ha!" moment when they discover the movement, and another when they finally figure out how it comes off. Definitely worth checking out!

June 10, 2011

Always Empty Puzzle Box

I recently acquired this lovely box made by Phil Tomlinson of WolfAngel Studios. Phil is a very experienced woodworker with 35 years of experience in cabinet making and woodworking. I think this is the first puzzle box he has made for sale, so I was quite eager to check it out! It was made in a limited edition of 30. I was particularly curious about the name: how could it be "always empty"?

As you can see from the photo, the box is quite striking visually. The contrasting light and dark wood give it an interesting look, and the red inlay on the top catches the light beautifully. In the right light, it almost looks like it is hovering above the surface. (Photo by Phil)

It was quite a bit larger than I expected from the picture, about 5 inches long in the longest dimension. When I started looking at it, I was also struck by its weight: it felt quite dense, making me wonder what interesting stuff could be going on inside!

I actually had the puzzle shipped to Kellian's office, since packages have been stolen from my building before, so I was even happier to see her than usual when I picked her up that evening and she had a box waiting for me. We were headed to a swing dance, but we were a little early, so we sat in the car for a bit while I gave the box  try (and Kellian patiently read her book).

At first, I was quite stumped, I wasn't able to get anything to move! After about 5 minutes, I finally made some progress, but immediately hit a dead end again. After a bit more fiddling, I decided to give it a rest and go to the dance.

When we returned home, I started back at it, determined to figure it out before I went to bed. After a little while, in a flash of inspiration, I had an idea for how it might work and I ended up being correct. It is a cute move that I haven't seen before, though it is related in a way some other puzzles. It doesn't quite end there, there's one more move for a total of three, but I found this last move fairly quickly. The "always empty" aspect of the box is cute, though somewhat related to a classic idea. Sorry to be vague, but I don't want to go spoiling it for you!

I think it took me about 25-30 minutes to solve, which was perfect. I'm actually surprised that it took me that long, now that I know how it works I'm curious why I didn't stumble upon the solution earlier. In any case, I'm glad that I solved it the way I did, since it is much more satisfying to have an idea that proves to be correct rather than to simply succeed through random prodding and pulling.

One nit-picky note: the description of the puzzle describes it as having "a little coordinated motion", but, strictly speaking, I wouldn't describe it as coordinated motion. It does have something in common with coordinated motion puzzles, however, which is the aspect that Phil was probably referring to.

I tried this box out with my friend Clayton, who has gotten pretty good at solving puzzle boxes, and he opened it in about 5 minutes. He actually used a different method than I did, and I was surprised that I hadn't noticed it before. I was glad that I found the intended solution, since it is more fun than this alternative one.

In all, Always Empty Puzzle Box is a very nicely crafted box that I'm glad to have purchased! I'll definitely be buying more of Phil's work in the future if I can: this box sold out quickly so you'll have to move fast if you'd like to acquire his work. It will likely be sold at Puzzle Paradise, so make sure you're on the email list if you'd like to be notified when new puzzles are available there. A few other bloggers have written about this puzzle as well, so check out: Neil's Puzzle Blog and Jeff's Puzzle Blog to read more.

Phil has also created some magnificent puzzle cabinets for displaying your puzzles, and the cabinet is actually a puzzle as well! What an awesome idea. It has integrated lighting and temperature/humidity sensors. How cool is that? Check out this link for more great pictures of the cabinet. If you're interested and would like more information, contact me and I'll pass it along to Phil.

June 8, 2011

Cast Claw

Cast Claw is the third in a series of six marine-themed Hanayama Cast Puzzles designed by Akio Yamamoto. Puzzle Master sent me a copy of this puzzle to review. Thanks!

As with the rest of the marine series, this one is cast in contrasting gold and silver. In this one, a mackerel is caught in a crab's claws, and you task is to free it!

By looking at it, you may think that it similar to Cast Bike: a ring with a gap that must be navigated through slots. However, the profile of the ring is such that there is a bit of additional complexity, albeit not a ton.

This one is ranked a 2/6 on Hanayama's scale, and I found it fairly easy to solve. I think it took me about 2-3 minutes, since I'm pretty familiar with this type of puzzle. There were a few little interesting parts that slowed me down a bit, but generally it was pretty straightforward. The ending is somewhat unusual for this type of puzzle.

I would say it is slightly more difficult than previously reviewed Cast Shark and Cast Seabream, mainly because it has a somewhat longer solution. I liked it a bit more than Cast Seabream, but not as much as Cast Shark. Overall, a good little puzzle, but not one of my favorites in the series.

June 7, 2011

Cast Seabream

Cast Seabream is the second in a series of six marine-themed Hanayama Cast Puzzles designed by Akio Yamamoto. Puzzle Master sent me a copy of this puzzle to review. Thanks!

Like the rest of the series, Cast Seabream is finished in contrasting gold and silver, with a brilliant shine. It has a sturdy feel and a good weight in your hand. The two fish, a seabream and mackerel, are quite nicely sculpted as well.

Like Cast Shark, which I wrote about yesterday, this is rated a difficulty level of 1 on Hanayama's scale, which goes to six. After a bit of fiddling, this one came apart pretty easily, probably in about 3 minutes. Folks that I gave this one similarly had a pretty easy time with it.

The solution path felt pretty straightforward, there are a few obstructions, but generally it works like you would expect. As such, it wasn't one of my favorites of the series.

One annoying aspect is that there isn't really an easy-to-identify starting position, which can be problematic if you are just passing this puzzle around. Folks may leave it very close to the solution, so others will find it trivially easy. I had to check the solution to figure out where the start was, since I had forgotten.

One cool thing I found out in looking at the solution is that this puzzle will actually stand upright! You can balance the gold fish on his fin, which in fact provides three points of support. If you get the silver fish in the right spot, it will balance nicely. While it isn't super-stable, it will stay like this provided your table/shelf isn't bumped too hard, which looks pretty nice!

In all, I thought this was a good puzzle, but one that you could pass on if you're not intent on collecting the whole series.

June 6, 2011

Cast Shark

One group of Hanayama puzzles that I haven't tried yet has been the Cast Marine series: six puzzles that are all sea-themed and designed by Akio Yamamoto, the same person who designed many of my favorite Hanayama's, such as Cast Baroq, Cast Vortex, and Cast Dolce. Puzzle Master was kind enough to send me this group of puzzles to review, so I'll start off with Cast Shark.
One thing you will notice among Yamamoto's designs is that he pays quite a bit of attention to the appearance of the puzzle, which I really appreciate. Cast Shark is no exception, with a nasty shark's jaw trapping a poor fish.

The fun thing about this one is that it has a narrative to go along with it: will the fish be eaten (exit through the back) or freed (i.e. exit through the front of the teeth). The exciting tale is revealed as you solve this puzzle! This aspect easily makes this one of my favorites in the marine series.

On top of the cute narrative, the puzzle itself is pretty good: there are a number of dead ends to lead you astray, as well a unique movement that is pretty fun to do. It isn't particularly hard to solve, most should be able to get it in under 10 minutes, I think it only took me a minute or two. As such, it would be a good one to give to first-time puzzlers, particularly with the narrative.

Another thing I liked about this one is that it has a solid starting position where the pieces latch together nicely for display. Note that the starting position is not shown in the picture above, sorry!

As is the case with many curvy designs like this one, sometimes it is hard to tell if you can make a particular move, since it may just be that you don't have the pieces positioned quite right. As such, folks may be tempted to force this one, but it is quite sturdily built so it should take the abuse nicely.

In all, Cast Shark is a fun little puzzle, definitely worth checking out. Stay tuned for the rest of the marine series reviews!