Neil's Puzzle Building Blog

Box with a Tree by Hiroshi Iwahara

Yet another of the Karakuri puzzle boxes on loan to me from Derek Bosch is "Box with a Tree" designed by the very talented Hiroshi Iwahara. Originally made in 2005 using Japanese Walnut and Oak as the members Christmas Present, it has been remade several times with different external plates since then. First in 2007, then again in 2011.

Box With a Tree

Box With a Tree

One thing you will note about this box is that it is very plain. There's little fancy about it, even the small tree which sits proud in the bottom corner is simple and not ornate. Some of the newer versions are made from more exotic woods, such as the latest version in Lacewood, but in general it is an unassuming puzzle box.

That plain exterior belies the complicated interior waiting for the unwary puzzler. The two end panels both move with little resistance, and there the motion mostly ends. The top with the tree will lift slightly after the end panels are slid out of the way, but there is no way the box is going to open.

With a lot of playing around, I found some strange things happen with the end panels depending on what you're doing with the box. I played around like this for a good few days, seeing no real progress toward opening the box. It always seemed that there was something preventing the top from lifting fully, and I wasn't doing anything differently enough to change that.

With insanity setting in as a result of trying the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result, I took a break from trying to open this box to try a few of the others I had on loan. When I came back to the box with a tree, I had a few different ideas, however none of them worked. I played idly for 10 minutes, only half looking at what I was doing, and, yes, you guessed it, opened the box. What had I done differently?

Clearly excited having opened this elusive mechanism, I closed the box back up and tried to repeat what I had done. And I couldn't! The box remained firmly closed. Another 10 minutes of trying everything that I could and I finally had the box open again. This time I thought I knew what I had done, so confidently closed the box back up feeling quite satisfied...

And then couldn't open it again! After another few attempts, I finally understood what I need to do to be able to open the box consistently, and I really love the mechanism. I take my hat off to Hiroshi Iwahara for designing such a clever mechanism.

So here's the kicker. The mechanism isn't visible when the box is open, and I really don't think you get any clues from seeing this puzzle box open that will help you re-open it. So much so, that I opened this box in front of a few friends, let them see the box open, then closed it and challenged them to re-open it. And they couldn't despite watching me open it in front of them.

This is a brilliant puzzle box, and probably my favourite of the boxes I was given a loan of and have opened so far. If you see this box for sale, I highly recommend adding it to your collection. Thanks again Derek for kindly lending me this puzzle.


KaraKuri Small Boxes #2, #4, #5 & #6

Continuing in my reviews of the Karakuri puzzle boxes my friend Derek Bosch gave me a loan of, is this set of Karakuri Small boxes. I previously reviewed Small box #1 which Robert Yarger kindly sent me when I purchased his Stickman #2 puzzle box from him.

I really enjoyed the first in the Small Box series so I was keen to try to solve these boxes to see where the Karakuri creation group had taken the series. With each box having a unique mechanism, yet all being less than 2" in size, there's not a lot of room to be different in there. How wrong can you be. One of the things I love as a puzzler is that I am constantly surprised when I find a clever and almost always simple mechanism which can confuse and elude the solver. These boxes are no exception.

As a note, I have listed these boxes as best I can from the information I have from the Karakuri group. I accept that they may be incorrect. If you have better information, or can verify anything below, please let me know!

Karakuri Small Box #2

Karakuri Small Box #2

The second box in the series was made back on 2004 and is made from Cherry and Katura. This is listed as KK-2-2, which the same as the original #2, mechanism, just made with a single wood rather than the original box which had a Yosegi pattern on it. There are four versions of this box in total, however the mechanism to open them is the same.

The box itself is the of the usual Karakuri quality that I've talked about before. The fit and finish are excellent, adding to the challenge as there's no obvious mechanism on show. Having tried the usual pushing and pulling on the edges of the box, I wasn't getting anywhere. So as is always helpful, I tried something different. That turned out to be the key to opening this box. It's a really simple mechanism, and is executed very well. It's not my favourite of the series, but still a fun box. Can't say much more than that without giving anything away.

Karakuri Small Box #4

Karakuri Small Box #4

Small Box #4 came out a year and a half after #1, 2 & 3 in 2005 and is made from Makore. A further version was made from Rengas in 2010.

The design of this box (and the next two) is slightly different to the previous boxes, in that it is like a small box with a bigger box 'hat'. That gives it the appearance of floating when it's sitting on a table thanks to the shadow cast from the top of the box. In each of these boxes, there is a small gap between the sides of the top and bottom of the box, which will allow the box parts to expand and contract without jamming or splitting. Even with this gap, don't expect any of the boxes to give up their secrets.

The Karakuri group has this to say about #4: "These creations were all based on Kamei’s old works. “Karakuri Small Box #4” is based on “Box with a Ribbon (P-27)”. It’s a work that is a little unkind."

The first box in this second generation of small boxes if you will, will be well known to fans of Akio Kamei. It is almost identical to his "Box with a Ribbon" but on a smaller scale, so will hold few surprises for some. I hadn't previously seen Kamei's older works so this was new to me.

The description is correct, this box is a little unkind. The only movement to be found initially is that the top and bottom will move around an eighth of an inch. There's no rattle, to suggest a mechanism, and it seems solidly locked.

As ever with a puzzle box, everything is not as it seems, the answer is simple, and it does not open the way you would expect. In my mind that makes it a good puzzle. If it did what you expected, it would be easy! I spent around 20 minutes over several days playing with this box before I finally opened it . It turned out I had been close for quite some time, but didn't see how to finish opening it.

Karakuri Small Box #5

Karakuri Small Box #5

The fifth box in the series came out at the same time in 2005, and is made from Camphor wood. A second edition of this mechanism was made in 2010 from Maple, however the version Derek gave me is a Walnut version. I've not found any information about this version from the Karakuri information I have, but from the mechanism, I am convinced it's a #5.

Almost identical in shape to #4, this has a significant difference to #4. It rattles. For any seasoned puzzle box enthusiast, this is a good clue as to what is going on inside. As I expected, I was right about the mechanism in this box, and opened it on my first try. It's a fun box, and I really like this despite opening it so quickly. When someone has been stuck trying to solve it for a while, the look on their face when you open it with no effort is priceless.

The image of the opened box below has been taken very carefully to make sure I give nothing away about the mechanism of this box.

Karakuri Small Box #5 open

Karakuri Small Box #5 open

The Karakuri Creation group have this to say about the box "Even though you try to open it “in your hands”, it isn’t easy to open. You may not think you need a desk, but it sincerely is helpful to solve the puzzle.

I hadn't read the information from the Karakuri website before opening the box, but it did help in identifying which box is which as Derek couldn't tell me.

Karakuri Small Box #6

Karakuri Small Box #6

The final box in the series Derek gave me a loan of is #6. Released along with #4 and 5 in 2005, the original is made from Walnut, however the version Derek has is a much lighter wood. I can't find any information about this version, but I'm pretty sure it's the right box.

From the Karakuri group comes the following information "People who know the “Top Box” will have already understood the answer. If you don’t know, perhaps it’s difficult to open. Can you imagine the answer from the title? Maybe you need a slight skill to open it, because we made it as a small size work. Maybe you also had better use a desk. If anything, you had better play on the carpet..."

Again I'm not familiar with the Top Box, and this box stumped me for the longest time. It rattles much like #5, but the mechanism isn't the same. There's a small amount of play between the base and top the same as the other two, but nothing I did seemed to help in opening the puzzle. When you move the box around, it feels as though there are two marbles locked inside, and if you pull on the base, as you rotate the box, the marbles seem to get stuck until you release the base and they start rolling around again.

This took me a good week to open playing on and off. In all I think it took me about an hour to open this one. Even after opening it, I had little idea how the mechanism works. I really don't feel like I had an 'aha' moment with this one, and as such it's probably my least favourite of the series that I've played with.

If you're looking for a nice series of puzzle boxes which are affordable and give a good challenge, then I'd definitely recommend the small box series from the Karakuri group. They're well made and affordable boxes, that look great and could all be used to store small items like a ring. So if you want an interesting way to give that special puzzler a gift within a gift, these would be a great idea. (No hints there to my fiancée at all 😉 )


Karakuri Cube Boxes 3 & 4

As I have mentioned previously, I was given a loan of a number of Karakuri puzzle boxes from my friend Derek Bosch. I have been slowly working my way through the puzzles Derek gave me, and this is the next in the series of reviews of those boxes.

Note: This post has been modified from it's original posting to remove potential spoilers.

In 2009, the Karakuri Creation Group created a series of four small cubes. Each of these had a different opening mechanism, and were all designed to be part of the same affordable series of puzzle boxes as their Small Boxes.

Karakuri Cube Box #3

Karakuri Cube Box #3

Karakuri Cube Box #4

Karakuri Cube Box #4

All of the boxes are 2 3/4" in size, so all fit nicely in the palm of your hand. The boxes are all fairly cheap when it comes to Japanese puzzle boxes, which was another of the groups goals. At around $52 each, while these aren't the cheapest puzzle boxes you can find, they are very reasonable. Like any of the boxes from the Karakuri group, or any of their craftsmen, the fit and finish of these boxes is excellent. In all honesty, for what you pay for these boxes, you are getting a quality that is far above that of most western manufacturers.

Cube Box #3 is made from Walnut, Maple and Katsura. The Walnut and Maple give the box its contrasting external panels, as is true with the choice of woods on all the Cube boxes. The panels are all well fitted, and to look at the box, there are really no clues as to what could move, or where the mechanism is hidden. For me that is one of the signs of a well made puzzle box. Any loose fit, or gaps tend to give clues as to how to open the box. You'll not find any such clues here.

Exploring the box and trying to move individual panels, as you may be used to from other puzzle boxes isn't going to get you far here. As I mentioned each of the mechanisms is different, and often has a twist to it. This is no exception. After around 5 minutes of investigating, I found the secret to this box, and although the mechanism is tight, it moves very smoothly, and reveals the internal chamber easily.

I've handed this round to a few friends, and most seem to be able to find the moving parts fairly easily, although even having found the initial move, the final 'open' has taken a few people another minute or two to find. For such a simple mechanism, this is well made, and well worth owning.

Cube Box #4 is made from Karin, Maple and Katsura. The wonderful rich red colour from the Karin really stands out against the maple on this box, making it a puzzle which really stands out on a shelf. One of the goals of the Cube boxes was that each box should take no more than 5 moves to open. Even with such a small number of movements, some of the boxes can still be a challenge to open. #4 comes close to the limit requiring 4 moves to open, and has a rather unique final movement.

I really like this box, as despite having a fairly 'standard' set of moves to begin opening it, the final move is rather unique. One downside to this is that there really isn't any internal space in the box. Maybe that is ok, as the puzzle is described as a cube, and not a box. I'll leave that for you to decide.

Both of these are beautifully made boxes, and with the different mechanisms, and identical external appearance, they are fun to give to friends, as they won't expect to have such different mechanisms. I highly recommend these if you get a chance to buy them, either from Karakuri directly, or from many other puzzle shops which carry the Karakuri puzzles.


Yin & Yang

Yin & Yang is another Puzzle Master metal puzzle designed by Doug Engel where the object is to separate and re-assemble the pieces. Thanks Puzzle Master for sending me this puzzle to review.

Yin Yang

Yin Yang

This is a fairly solid metal puzzle, with a reasonable weight to it. The anodised metal parts look great with the contrasting black and silver pieces, cut from solid aluminium. Rated as a Level 5 (Easy) puzzle by Puzzle Master, I have to agree. Taking this puzzle apart isn't too difficult, and putting it back to its original shape is also fairly simple as long as you work in pairs.

Yin Yang Pieces

Yin Yang Pieces

The two sets of pieces are well made, and although the fit of the assembled puzzle is loose, it does hold itself together fairly well, and looks good sitting on the puzzle shelf.

Handing this puzzle around to a few friends, it's not caused anyone any issues in being able to solve or re-assemble it, but most people like the look, and are surprised by the weight when they pick it up. This is a nice beginner puzzle, and although there may not be much in the way of re-solving, it will make a nice present for new puzzlers, or for father's day if you're still looking for something.

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Cube Box by Akio Kamei

Thanks to the kindness of fellow puzzler Derek Bosch, I have a host of new Karakuri puzzles on loan to test my puzzle solving skills. I'll be going through those puzzles and reviewing them as I go. This is the first in that series of reviews.

Note: This post has been modified from it's original posting to remove potential spoilers.

Kamei's Cube Box

Kamei's Cube Box front

Kamei's Cube Box

Kamei's Cube Box Back

This box was made as a Christmas present for Karakuri Club members in 2005 by Kamei, and has the code M-34 from the Karakuri catalogue. The box is made from Walnut, Keyaki, Rose-wood measuring just over 2" x 2" x 2".

The Karakuri information about the puzzle box says "
Kamei divided a cube into four triangular pyramids. Of course Kamei had to create a new way of opening it and the new mechanisms for this box only. At first Kamei imagined that each triangular pyramid should move radially. But Kamei gave up this design because the mechanism became too complicated. Finally Kamei decided on “Translation”.

I'm not sure how much that tells you about the box, but I always find it interesting to see how the designer describes his puzzles (or her, I'm not sexist here!)

The box itself looks great, and as with all of the Karakuri boxes that I have opened, the fit and finish of this box is excellent as you would expect from a Karakuri box. Initially there is no obvious movement from anything on the box, and no rattles to indicate a hidden mechanism. Given the way the outer panels have been designed, there's little to help you get a hold on the puzzle to start trying to move the panels. That mirror finish makes things tough.

Fortunately, the grooves between the panels are fairly deep, and allow you to get a purchase, to start checking for movement. Before too long you'll find a panel that moves, then another and another. The box expands slightly as you move each of the panels in turn, releasing the locks keeping the box closed.

Clicking the image below may show spoilers. Don't click if you don't want to see.

Kamei's Cube Box open

Kamei's Cube Box opened

After unlocking the box, it splits into two halves and in one Kamei has stamped his signature. It's a nice mechanism, and I dread to think what Kamei was trying to do originally that became too complex. One thing I have found is that putting the two halves back together to close the box is a little tricky. The fit between the sections of the puzzle is so tight and given how the panels are arranged, it's very easy to close one, which will prevent the lid from being able to be placed back onto the base.

This is a very nice box, and is typical of Kamei's work. Unfortunately, as this was a Christmas Present it is no longer available, so the only way to acquire one would be through a puzzle auction. If you get the chance I'd recommend it as it's not only a good looking puzzle, but a novel mechanism as well. Thanks again Derek for lending me this puzzle box.