I wasn't fortunate enough to be able to buy one of Junichi Yananose Tornado Burr's when it was offered by either Eric Fuller however I am lucky enough to have a puzzle friend who was kind enough to let me borrow his copy to have a play.
When Brian Young made copies of this puzzle, there were only 30 copies made way back in December 2008. And when you see how it's made you'll understand why. Each piece is made from a single stick, and while it may not be apparent at first look why that's such an issue, I think it will become apparent as you read on.
The first thing that hits you about this puzzle is the scale. At 6" x 6" x 6" this is a very large burr. Brian has taken a great deal of care when finishing the ends of the burr pieces, and each is beautifully detailed, with a fit and finish that you'd expect from a master craftsman such as himself. The fact that this was part of his Craftsman line is really no surprise. The only other person I know of to have attempted this puzzle is Eric Fuller, and having seen his copy, while much smaller, it's every bit as well made!
With a modest 12 pieces in the puzzle, while it would normally be considered a significant challenge, the Tornado is a challenge in an entirely different way. This is no conventional burr puzzle. As I soon found out, no amount of pushing, pulling or tugging on any of the pieces will help you to find the 'first move' that you normally need to get a burr puzzle started. So with that done, what's left? I don't recommend blowing on it, or spinning it as you'll quickly end up dizzy and out of breath. The clue to the puzzle is in the name.
"This ingenious burr was designed by Junichi in May 2007 with "head and hands; no computer". Junichi had the idea for a multiple rotational movement but did not get to finally apply it to a puzzle until he came up with the Tornado Burr. People often ask puzzle designers "What was going on in your head to design this puzzle?" What was going on in Junichi's head when he designed the Tornado Burr? Visualising things going up and down and back and forth at the same time is one thing, but things going up and down, back and forth and around as well is quite another! Junichi says the Tornado Burr "has very eccentric movements" and challenges puzzlers to "Try your luck, and stop this fierce tornado."
Needless to say this puzzle is not solvable in any computer program that we know of.
Eccentric movements indeed! As you can see above, this puzzle has rotations, although not like any you'd have thought about before playing with this puzzle. How Junichi came up with this is beyond me. It's an insane puzzle mechanism, that simply imagining the interactions and movements entirely in your head takes a special type of mind.
Coming back to my comments about the pieces all being solid and the significance of that fact becomes apparent. For the puzzle to work, it needs dowels rather than notches in the pieces. Each of these rods was hand turned on the lathe and has to be very accurately made. Not only that but it is turned on an off centre axis, making things just a little bit scarier! Having done a lot of work on the lathe recently myself, I can truly appreciate the work that goes into making each and every one of these pieces.
At IPP27 in Australia, this puzzle received an Honourable mention. Having had the opportunity to play with one, I can see why. Despite not being a burr fan, I'd not hesitate to add one of these to my collection if it became available. The chances of that happening though may be fairly slim.
I have gone through a period in my puzzle collecting and solving where I have felt quite good about packing puzzles, so when Brian Menold over at Wood Wonders offered copies of the Blockhead puzzle designed by Bill Cutler, I couldn't pass it up, especially given his choice of woods.
Blockhead is a four piece packing puzzle which at first glance looks pretty innocent. 4 cubic pieces put into a square tray, what could be simpler? Brian has made this copy using Pear pieces in an Oak tray with Paduak splines. It's a really good looking puzzle and it's a big puzzle too. Measuring in at 4.25" x 4.25" x 1.75" the pieces are big when you're playing with them, and the whole puzzle has a really solid feel to it.
By now you'll have realised that any time I state that something is simple, it couldn't be further from the truth. Removing the pieces from the frame having up-ended it, you'll quickly realise that the nice, square, regular appearance of the blocks in the solved state was rather misleading.
As you can see, the blocks are more like the type of saw cuts I made as a child playing in my grandfathers shed, than the type of absolutely square sides that puzzle makers strive for. Not only are the pieces anything but square, but the inside walls of the tray are also not square. They are as slanted as the pieces, and will clearly play a part in getting the pieces back into the tray. So now that you understand what makes this so puzzling, it's easier to see what makes it such a good puzzle.
This isn't an overly difficult puzzle, but will provide a good solving experience and there are some parameters which will help you narrow down the possible combinations, meaning it's not out of the realms of a determined person to solve before too long.
Brian's work is superb, and each new piece I buy from him, the quality seems to be better and better. Given the prices he asks for this work, even the limited run puzzles, you'd be hard pushed to find a better copy of many of these puzzles elsewhere. Not to mention that Brian also threw a copy of a diagonal burr into the box along with my order, so there was an unexpected pleasant surprise when I opened the box.
Seems that it's been too long since I sat down and wrote about a puzzle, but somehow life seems to have got int he way of puzzling. I've been getting ready for my wedding later this year, and making a batch of puzzles to have there, but I'll write about them later. For now here's another Vinco Puzzle that's available from has mass produced line, which Puzzle Master and others carry.
It will be no surprise to any regular reader of my blog that the quality of puzzles from Vinco is high. It's surprise, and really I'm not sure why I even need to mention it but this puzzle is no exception. The fit and finish is excellent, and Vinco's choice of contrasting woods makes for a great looking puzzle. This is a fairly small puzzle measuring 2.5" x 2.5" and is made from Plum and Maple. I now have a few puzzles in my collection made from plum, and really like the rich colour from it. Despite not being the most detailed grain, it is still a beautiful wood in its own right.
As you can see from the different views, the placement of the woods makes for some interesting patterning in the solved state. It does also help when you have the pieces separate and are trying to solve the puzzle.
With only four pieces, this isn't the most challenging puzzle, and given that it's not a coordinate motion puzzle, there's no tricky balancing of pieces needed when you're trying to get it back together. Finding the correct placement for your fingers to start taking this one apart though is a real challenge but makes for a fun if short challenge.
Given that this is a small and simple puzzle, it's a great one to have in a bag to give to friends to play with, and it shouldn't keep them stuck for too long making it a great distraction. I know I've said it in the past, but you really can't go wrong with a Vinco design.
The final puzzle I received from this year's Karakuri Christmas presents is the one I was most looking forward to. Shiro Tajima's present. Some of you may know that Tajima's boxes for the last few years have been themed around the Chinese Zodiac, with last year seeing a Dragon themed puzzle, and a rabbit the year before. The thinking was that it would be likely we'd see a snake of some form for this year following his previous entries.
As you can see we weren't disappointed. "Uroboros is an ancient symbol of a serpent or dragon who eats his own tail, symbolizing self reflexivity. Although he must feel pain by doing so, he is in a constant state of recreating himself, thus the circular shape", we are told on the Karakuri information page. The puzzle box is perhaps the box with the most plain wood choice of all those I've reviewed so far, being made from Katsura. It is also the largest of the boxes measuring a whopping 5.5" x 4" x 2.45"
The snake wrapping around the box and eating his own tail is central to the puzzle mechanism and is well executed. There are two compartments to be found in the puzzle, and finding the first is relatively easy. There's a lot of space in there once you get the hidden compartment open, and the size of the puzzle is directly proportional to the space inside.
The second is far more challenging to find and took me a lot longer to be able to open. I do like the box despite a fairly simple exterior appearance, it has a solid mechanism, and keeps with the theme we have come to expect. Overall a really good puzzle, and I'm very glad to have it in my collection. I've already made sure that Tajima is on my craftsman list for 2013.
Next up from my collection of 2012 Karakuri Christmas Presents is the Half-Finished Box from Hiroshi Iwahara. Fortunately, he did finish the box, and it's just that name which isn't complete.
I love the look of this box, and the wood is particularly nice. It has an almost greenish tint, which I'd normally be happy in saying is Lignum Vitae, however the wood is listed as being Shiuri Cherry. With deep strong grain and a wonderful colour I really like it. 3.25" x 3.25" x 3.25" in size, the outer box is a good size, and each of the panels moves smoothly as you'd expect.
Sadly this isn't a totally new work, and is something of a reproduction of his 2008 Christmas present "Confetto Box". There are two compartments to find, and finding the first marked 'A' is certainly easier to find. The mechanism has been slightly modified from the original to ensure that all 6 plates move to get to the hidden area.
The Second compartment has been stamped in the centre of the recess. Sadly neither of the two hidden compartments are very large, as the mechanism takes up so much space around the central core. It's a nice box, and good mechanism. If you don't have a copy of the Confetto Box then this is a good one to pick up if you can. If you already have the box from 2008, then you may be disappointed by this one.
Ninomiya's 7 Step Secret Box
My fourth Christmas Present was the lottery from this year which I was lucky enough to win, so added Ninomiya's Box to my collection. With over 60 years experience making puzzle boxes, Ninomiya's work is highly sought after, and for good reason. Known for his incredible Yosegi patterns, this box is a perfect example of the skill and mastery of the art.
The photographs, really don't do this work justice. Not only is the Yosegi beautiful, and perfectly crafted, the fit and finish of the box is incredible. It is near impossible to see the seams between the panels, and what looks as though it could be a seam isn't! All four sides of the box are decorated with the Yosegi, as is the inside of the box. I have no idea how much time went into making this, but of all the boxes it is the most detailed and in some regards most impressive of the puzzles.
Measuring 3" x 4.25" x 2.25", and made mainly from Katsura, this is a seven move box (I know you'd guessed that already right!) where both sides of the box move in the process of solving the puzzle. There is a lot more work in making a box where both sides move, and the normal is that only one will move. I was even more impressed when handing the puzzle to a friend and watching him getting stuck trying to solve it. Something I hadn't realised previously is that the sequence is keyed, and there are false paths in the 7 steps, so it game me even more respect for the work done on this box.
As an overall summary which I think applies to all of this year's Christmas presents, none of the boxes are challenging from a puzzle perspective, and as such many people have commented that they are disappointing from that regard. I have to agree to some extent, as there have certainly been more challenging puzzles to come from the Karakuri group, however these are not the most expensive boxes made, and are as close to 'mass produced' as you really get where the quality of craftsmanship is still so high.
I was fortunate enough to win the lottery and was able to purchase Ninomiya's box, and I'm really glad I did. It's one of the stand out boxes from those I received this year. I have only one more box to review, so stay tuned for that soon.
You may also be wondering why I'm including the boxes that each of the puzzles came in in my photographs. I'm not just trying to be artistic, but actually each designer has their own box style, so even before opening the puzzle box, you know who the puzzle came from. If you're a member and not familiar with the designers boxes, then maybe this will help serve as a guide for you.