December 20, 2011

Havana's Box #1

In the most recent update on Cubic Dissection, I purchased a new box by Eric Fuller named Havana's Box #1: The Chris. It is the first in a series of boxes, each designed to hold a cigar. It is named after Eric's local cigar bar, Havana Deluxe, and Chris is the name of the doorman there. I'm always intrigued by the idea of a series of similar-looking boxes, since it is interesting how many different mechanisms can be used to lock a box that appears the same.

This box is nicely crafted out of quartersawn Sapele, which makes for a box that will be very stable during humidity changes. The darker, striped-looking panel is a cross-grained Wenge veneer, which I think makes it look quite nice. The veneer has not been sanded as smooth as the rest of the box (probably out of necessity, due to its thinness), so the ridges in the grain of the wood can be felt and give you a nice grip when sliding the lid. Both the top and the bottom of the box have this appearance.

As a puzzle, it is not overly difficult but has a few neat little features that I enjoyed. As you open it, you will discover that there is a Free Cuba cigar inside, which seems appropriate! Even more cool is that you can get the box half-open, but not enough to remove the cigar. If it was merely empty, then you may consider it done at this point, but the fact that you can't quite get the cigar out lets you know that you're not done yet.

The locking mechanism is neat, and it takes a bit of fiddling to fully understand what's going on. It is possible to make some progress without quite knowing what you did, but a little trial and error should clear things up. I think it took me about 5 minutes to fully solve this one.

One of the panels was a bit tight when I first opened it, but it appears to have loosened up over the day that I've had it. Also, one of the locks wasn't re-engaging when it should have, allowing me to skip a step, but that problem seems to have mostly cleared itself as well! I guess this box likes my apartment!

Once you know how to solve it, there's an alternate solution that will open the box in two moves (the full solution requires about 8, depending how you count). This shortcut isn't much of an issue though, since you're highly unlikely to discover it before you find the intended solution.

Overall, Havana's Box #1 is a solid puzzle box that I'm glad to have purchased. I'm definitely looking forward to the rest of the series!

December 15, 2011

Cowboy's Hobble

Cowboy's Hobble is a simple-looking disentanglement puzzle recommended to me by George Bell. The folks at Puzzle Master were kind enough to send me a copy to review. Thanks!

Despite its simple appearance, this one is actually fairly difficult! The goal is to remove the ring. I tried a few of the obvious things and ended up going around and circles quite a bit. Each time, I ended up getting stuck on the ball at the end of the string.

Since attacking this one head-on didn't seem to be doing the trick, I started to think about the different ways that the ring could be put back on the puzzle once I had removed it. Following this path eventually led me to the solution, since the tricky-to-find move is much easier to find in reverse. Picking the puzzle up again as I write this, I still forget that blasted move and have to repeat the mental exercise to re-discover it. A sign of a good puzzle!  Definitely worthy of Puzzle Master's 9/10 difficulty rating.

No real downsides to this one as far as I'm concerned: it doesn't have much opportunity to get tangled like many disentanglement puzzles with a string component do. Overall, Cowboy's Hobble was a great disentanglement puzzle! Thanks to George for recommending it to me!

Check out Kevin's review here of Live Wire's version of this puzzle, named Ball and Ring.

December 7, 2011

Burr in Cage

Recently Jean-Baptiste Jacquin and Maurice Vigouroux created an online puzzle shop, Arteludes, where they are selling a number of puzzles that they have made. The site is in French, but they're currently working on an English version. For now, you can view it with Google translate, and that seems to work pretty well. They were kind enough to offer to send me a sample of their work, Burr in Cage. Thanks!

Burr in Cage is a design by Keiichiro Ishino, who runs the awesome Puzzle Will Be Played website. It is no wonder that he comes up with interesting designs after cataloging so many others! The puzzle is beautifully crafted by Maurice out of a number of exotic woods. I thought that the use of a variety of woods added nicely to the visual appeal of this puzzle. The fit and finish of the pieces is also very good!

I've been having puzzles shipped to my wife's office recently, since I work from home and folks have had packages stolen from my building. I don't want to take any chances! This makes me all the more delighted when she returns home when she has a new puzzle for me! I fiddled with this one for a few minutes while she was figuring out what to cook, but then set it aside to help out.

After we ate, I returned to it and managed to remove the first piece after about 5-10 minutes, not too tricky! I patted myself on the back and put it back together, since we were planning on going out swing dancing shortly. I figured that I could return to it later and complete the disassembly, since I had presumably completed the hard part already.

The following morning, I revisited the puzzle to finish taking it apart, and I was quite surprised to find that I couldn't easily do it! Usually once you remove the first piece, getting the rest of the pieces out is pretty easy now that you have more room to work with. However, this is not the case for this puzzle, much to my chagrin. I worked on it for another 45 minutes or so before I finally figured it out, phew! It is a sneaky little move that is easy to miss among all the other movements that are possible. After that, the rest comes apart pretty easily.

If I had read the description, I would have known that it was a level 4.12 puzzle, meaning that it takes 4 moves to remove the first piece and 12 moves to remove the second. They also note that the first piece is easy, and the second piece is much more difficult. It was a fun little surprise discovering this on my own though.

Getting it back together wasn't too hard, since I kept good track of where the pieces were during the disassembly. I think it would prove a bit difficult to assemble if you mixed up the pieces though, and even more so if you weren't aware of how it came apart to begin with. I ran into one minor issue with the fit: there was a slight inconsistency in the size of the holes in the cage, such that the first two pieces wouldn't fit in one of the possible orientations, but by rotating the cage to a different orientation it worked fine.

Overall, I thought this was a top notch burr, not impossible but a good level of difficulty to keep me busy for a while. The craftsmanship is quite good as well, so definitely worth checking out.

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