August 15, 2011

Berlin Awards Banquet (Part 1)

Finally the time had come to find out the results of the 2011 Design Competition! I had a great time trying out all of the design competition puzzles this year, and was interested to see what the judges thought of the puzzles.

Before the announcements, they served another very tasty buffet! We tried to get all of the folks from the Renegade puzzle forum together at one table, but there were too many of us! Instead we just got a picture of the whole gang. Not a bad turnout!

In the back row from left to right, we have Brett Kuehner, George Bell, Gregory Benedetti, Ronald Kint-Bruynseels, Rob Stegmann, Bernhard Schweitzer, Jim Strayer, and Brian Young. The bottom row has Stephen Chin, Mike Toulouzas, Jeff Aurand, and me.

In the puzzle design competition, there is a jury that awards the Jury Grand Prize, Jury First Prize(s), and Jury Honorable Mention(s). Puzzle party attendees also get to vote on their top five choices, and the puzzle that gets the most votes receives the Puzzlers' Award. Starting last year, they have also announced the Top 10 Vote Getters who weren't recognized with a Jury prize, which is a nice way of recognizing puzzles that a lot of puzzle party attendees liked.

Top 10 Vote Getters

Ambigram Burr was designed by Gregory Bendetti and beautifully crafted in the New Pelikan Workshop. The goal is to take it apart and re-assemble it. It looks like a normal board burr, but doesn't come apart the way you would expect. Since I don't think it spoils too much, I'll be describing generally how it comes apart, so skip the next paragraph if you don't want to know.

Rather than six pieces, it actually has four pieces that separate into two halves. Each half then twists apart quite nicely. It isn't difficult to take apart, but putting it back together can be a bit tricky due to the rotational move. The graceful thing about this puzzle is that each piece is identical, right down to the coloring, if I remember correctly.

Overall, I liked Ambigram Burr, it was really nicely made and the design has an elegance to it. The only downside for me is the simplicity, I like something a bit more challenging. That said, it did take me a bit to put it back together, it is definitely not entirely straightforward.  Particularly if you didn't see how it came apart, it could be even more challenging.

If you're interested, you can purchase it from Bernhard Schweitzer through his PuzzleWood website, if any are still available!

Next is Breakfast Egg by Vesa Timonen. The goal is to take it apart and put it back together. Vesa has designed one of my favorite Hanayama puzzles: Cast Loop, so I always am interested to see what he's up to. This particular puzzle looks like an egg, with the yellow yolk visible through a hole in the white. There is a seam that runs along the white that you can sort of see in the picture. It is a bit reminiscent of his earlier work, Tangerine, though it works differently.

I actually found this one to be pretty challenging: I thought I had the general idea but it didn't end up working like I expected! It turns out that there is a rather devious dead-end that I had been pursuing that kept me occupied for quite a while. Eventually I figured it out, I think maybe 20 minutes later. It is doable but definitely not easy.

I liked Breakfast Egg, the appearance was whimsical and it had a simple mechanism but challenging solution. The only downside I can think of is that it is a bit fiddly getting things positioned correctly. Also it would be a bit more pleasing if the pieces were smoother. The 3D printing process used here left the pieces a bit rough when they slide along one another. Overall, I really liked the simplicity of the mechanism, but it still took a while to figure out.

Next is Carpenter's Rule by Kelly Snache. It as a really nice looking puzzle box, so I was looking forward to giving this a try. I really liked the joints he used on the corners of the box, and the re-use of an old ruler for the top of the box was quite clever.

This one took me about 10 minutes to solve and was enjoyable to work through. Kelly sometimes puts clues in his puzzles, but in this case I found it more difficult figuring out what the clues were hinting at than to just approach the puzzle head-on, which is one drawback (depending on your perspective).

Particularly since I have seen a number of puzzle boxes, I prefer a box with a really unique mechanism, which was what was lacking for me in this puzzle. Still, the craftsmanship on Carpenter's Rule is very nice, and I really like his re-use of materials in his boxes: it gives it a great rustic look! Also, there are some cute surprises hidden inside, which is also a nice touch.

Curly Cube by Vladimir Krasnoukhov is one that I had seen for sale at Puzzle Master, but hadn't gotten around to trying yet. I thought I had a pretty good idea of how it worked, since it looks similar to George Hart's 3-piece Screw-Together Cubes. However, it is completely different!

The way this one works is fundamentally similar to a number of other puzzles out there, but the way it looks is quite unique. This appearance also makes it a bit trickier to get back together than you might first expect. Still, I didn't find this one to be too challenging.

I think the most impressive aspect is that they were able to craft this puzzle out of wood! While it doesn't have the snuggest fit due to being mass-produced, the tolerances are fairly good and the angles of the cuts look pretty tricky!

Overall, Curly Cube is solid little puzzle available for an affordable price. I don't think most puzzlers will find it to be very challenging, but it is a cute novelty item that particularly non-puzzlers will enjoy for its simplicity and appearance.

Drunken Dancing Fraulein by Stephen Chin is a very unique-looking puzzle. It is a bit hard to tell in the photo, but it is a top that is sitting on a stand. The goal is to take apart the top to find a diamond inside. It is crafted out of a solid piece of wood with very little waste. There is a whistle on the top, and three trapped rings around the spindle. Due to the trapped rings it wobbles when you spin it, hence the name Drunken Dancing Fraulein (a.k.a. Drunken Dancing Ballerina).

With all that is going on in this puzzle, it feels like there are a number of places to start, however I found that I reached a dead-end fairly quickly with each path I took. After a few minutes, I found the way to proceed: it isn't particularly difficult but could definitely keep you thinking for a bit. After this first revelation, I found the rest to be pretty straightforward, but satisfying.

Stephen later told me about an interesting physical principal that is at work in this puzzle, which I found quite interesting. Unfortunately, I can't really say anything about it without giving a hint about the solution! There is another cute thing about this puzzle that you don't really discover until you start solving it.

Here's a photo of Stephen coming back from receiving his award. I really thought Drunken Dancing Fraulein was a great puzzle, with an interesting and unique mechanism that was challenging but not impossible to solve. The only downside I can think of is that it is possible on some copies of this puzzle to get a particular piece stuck, and it can be a bit of a challenge to get it back out again. You'll know what I'm talking about if you get to that point in the puzzle. That said, you don't need to risk getting a piece stuck in order to solve the puzzle, so if you're about to do that, don't bother! If you do get it stuck and are having trouble getting it out again, feel free to contact me for a tip that Stephen gave me.

Finally, we have Tornado by Pantazis Houlis, Arcady Dyskin, Alexei Kanel-Belov, Elena Pasternak, and Yuri Estrin. The goal of this puzzle is the same as their entry last year One Four All and All Four One: place all four pieces inside the  frame in such a way that no piece is loose.

I found this one to be a bit simpler than last year's challenge, perhaps since it has a somewhat similar trick. I don't think it took me much more than five or ten minutes to figure this one out. The solution has a nice appearance, and finding it could prove pretty challenging if you haven't seen a puzzle like this before. No real drawbacks to this one other than the fact that it is a bit similar to last year's puzzle. Perhaps it would have been a bit easier to manipulate if the pieces were somewhat larger.

Ok, that's all of the Top 10 Vote Getters! Congratulations to all these great puzzles! I was planning on getting through all of the award winners tonight, but it is getting late and I've got to head out, so look for the rest tomorrow!

1 comment:

  1. Love reading these! Working my way backwards through your blog posts and enjoying the vicarious experience


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