August 29, 2011

2011 Rochester Puzzle Picnic (Part 3)

Even after a fairly late night puzzling, I couldn't help but wake up at 8:00 with more puzzles on the brain. Jeff had gone out and grabbed some fresh bagels, which were quite tasty! We sat around for a bit in his screened-in patio while munching on bagels.

After breakfast, Jeff gave us a tour of his shop, which had progressed nicely since I had seen it last year. You can see the pipes for his cyclonic dust collection system running along the ceiling. Pretty cool! Now if only he'd start making some puzzles!

In the morning we unpacked the many puzzles that folks brought. In this photo you can see Brett and Jeff looking through the full set of 2011 Puzzle Exchange puzzles that Tanya brought! A big thanks to Tanya for lugging all these puzzles so we could get a chance to try them out.

The first one I decided to check out was called Bunch by Teijo Holmsten. I hadn't taken note of it during the exchange for some reason, but it piqued my interest here when I noticed that it appeared to be a take-apart puzzle with a hidden mechanism of some sort.

It looks like four square sticks that have been glued together, one of which is made from a dark wood. It seems locked up pretty tight, but after a bit of investigation I was able to open it. It uses a fairly common principle in this type of puzzle, which is why it didn't take me that long. This may be a fun one to try out with non-puzzlers, but it may take them a while!

Ken Irvine brought 10 different 4x4x4 cube puzzles that he designed and built himself! Since he only had a mitre saw to work with, he just used the square sticks that he could purchase from his local home-improvement store, so the fit isn't perfect, but they worked surprisingly well! On top of that, they were fun and challenging designs.

The first one I tried was called The Nagging Wife, and I think it took me about 10-15 minutes to figure out how to put it together. It takes a few moves to get it apart, so you have to work your way backwards to figure out how to assemble it in the right sequence of steps.

Here's a photo of the pieces in case you'd like to try making this one out of LiveCubes. I encouraged Ken to send his designs to Ishino's Puzzle Will Be Played website so others could check out his designs. It is a site with tons of different puzzle designs cataloged, so in combination with a set of LiveCubes a puzzler can be kept busy for quite a while!

Jeff set himself to the task of solving all of the cubes Ken brought, and ended up making it through almost all of them! It is quite impressive that they kept his attention, since Jeff admittedly doesn't usually care much for this type of puzzle. I think I solved about 5 of them, and I had a good time doing so. Each provided a different challenge, but most can be done in a reasonable amount of time because it isn't too hard to deduce what the correct assembly is. Actually assembling them is the tricky part!

At one point over the weekend, Jeff made a bunch of perfectly square sticks for Ken, so we can look forward to seeing even nicer versions of these designs soon!

Next I decided to try V's in Cube, which was Ad van der Schagt's exchange puzzle. These are two separate puzzles that each consist of four pieces and a box. The goal is to assemble the pieces inside the box into a symmetrical shape. It looked a bit similar to MMMM by Iwahiro, which I liked a lot, so I was looking forward to trying this one out.

Unfortunately, the solution ended up being pretty much the same as MMMM, though the clear box gave a nice view of the assembled shape which looked pretty cool. Despite this, I didn't much care for the boxes since they disassembled into two C-shaped halves, each containing 3 sides, rather than the standard 5-sided box with a lid. This made it a bit of a dexterity challenge getting the assembled shape inside the box. (Update: George mentioned in the comments below that there are two additional challenges that I didn't notice, which may be more unique.)

Next, I made the mistake of picking up Magnet Mania exchanged by Christopher Morgan: this puzzle proceeded to vex me for the next hour! The goal is to assemble the nine spherical magnets into a 3x3 grid that was laser-cut into a piece of wood. There were little holes for the magnets, but they were just big enough to keep the magnets from rolling out of place. If another magnet got too close, they would snap together. There was a little tool with notches cut out of either end that ended up being pretty helpful too.

I tried again and again to get the magnets placed using various techniques, but each time they would snap together, driving me slightly closer to madness. I almost gave up a number of times, but Tanya and Tyler Somer (a friend and co-worker of Tanya's) egged me on and I knew I couldn't quit.

At one point I was convinced that it was impossible for a particular reason, but this observation eventually led me to the solution. I still need to check with Chris to make sure this observation was correct, maybe I just finally got the dexterity and order of the placements down, but I think I figured out something extra that I needed to do. It was still pretty tricky to do, so I didn't try doing it again. I was so happy to have finally solved this one, that I took a picture with this one solved!

After that bout with insanity, I decided to return to a type puzzle I'm more comfortable with: puzzle boxes! And this one was a doozie: a Rosewood Block Box by Kagen Schaefer! In case you're not familiar with Kagen, he makes some ridiculously cool, and very sought-after, puzzle boxes. Check out his website, but be careful not to drool on your keyboard.

Jeff was finally able to acquire this box from Kagen after a lengthy wait. It is a pretty neat idea: a combination of a sliding block puzzle and a secret box! You slide the rectangular pieces around trying to form the ebony pieces into circles. When this is done, the box will open!

I found this to be a bit more challenging than his Snake Box, which I tried at RPP last year, since there are more dead-ends. Still, it wasn't too tricky because the ebony pieces give you some direction. The original version of the box, Block Box, didn't have this feature. The original Block Box won both the Puzzler's Award and a First Prize award during the 2002 Puzzle Design Competition.

Even thought it was a bit tougher, I think I solved it in about 10-15 minutes. The pieces slid quite nicely, and I really liked the inclusion of some dead-ends to make it a bit trickier. You have to think ahead a little bit to figure out which way to go. One thing that seemed a bit off was the light-colored wood in the left hand side of the frame: some folks might like this unusual feature of the wood, but I would have preferred it to be more uniform. Still, a beautiful puzzle that I'm thrilled to have had the chance to try!

Well that's all for this post, but I'll pick back up with a few more interesting exchange puzzles tomorrow, and a very nice puzzle box that I managed to overlook on Friday.


  1. "V's in Cube" has 4 challenges, so you aren't done with it yet!

    The problem with Magnet Mania is you can solve it by luck, which provides no insight into the actual solution! I thought I had it figured out, but Chris set me straight.

  2. Ken's puzzles were surprisingly fun for me! They kept me busy most of the day on Saturday. I'm looking forward to more of his designs.

  3. Oh shoot! What were the other challenges, George?

    I think I solved Magnet Mania with more than luck, but I'll have to check with Chris to see if I had the right idea.

    Jeff, me too!

  4. Magnet mania drove me a little nuts on Sunday at the California Puzzle party, but not as much as the item from Mr Puzzle. A steel ball inside a clear box. The idea seeming to be to get the ball onto a 'spike' inside the box. No clue how you're supposed to do that!

  5. Oh, that one is good, Neil! I'll be sending another library package to Jeff at some point soon with IPP puzzles, and I can include that one.

  6. Challenge A: Put 4 red pieces in the box and close the cube. B: Put only 3 red pieces in the box so that the resulting shape will be symmetrical, and close the cube. C: Put 4 blue pieces in the box and close the cube (2 solutions). D: Put only 3 blue pieces in the box so that the resulting shape will be symmetrical, and close the cube. For all four tasks, the pieces are not allowed to even partially overlap.

  7. Ah, thanks George! Guess I should have read the packaging! Are the 3-piece solutions interesting? Perhaps it is similar to MMM which also has 3 pieces.

  8. I dunno, I can't seem to find either of the 3-piece solutions. Is there really an MMM puzzle? I thought there was only an MMMM?

    It is too bad he doesn't have a challenge that uses both red and blue pieces, but I guess they don't mix well together ...

  9. Indeed there is! The pieces to MMM are fairly similar to MMMM (in that they are still M's) but they have a little block glued to them and are a different size. Also there is no block glued to the lid of MMM. I'll bet it is the same, but who knows!

  10. Duh! I own an MMM! I guess it is the MMMM I have not seen.

  11. Nice! Let me know once you find out if the solutions are pretty much the same.


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