Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
27Sep/110

Chiyo-Musubi

"When we tie up a belt or paper tape well, a knot that is called "Chiyo-Musubi" is completed. In Japan, it is said to be a lucky knot."

Chiyo Musubi

Chiyo Musubi

This fine looking box from Hiroshi Iwahara of the Karakuri Creation group is a sliding puzzle box with two hidden compartments requiring 19 moves to open both. The interesting point about this puzzle box is that the slides which conceal both hidden spaces cross one another, so the resulting mechanism is much harder to produce than a standard box. Iwahara notes that the shape of this particular knot is a Pentagon, but it is also possible to produce a Heptagon. He's not planning to make a Heptagon version as a puzzle box though.

Created back in April this year, and measuring 9.5" x 5" x 2.75" approximately, this is a big puzzle box, and it feels really solid when you're solving it. I don't exactly have small hands, and this box feels big to me when I'm working on it. I didn't do too well on my wood identification in the video, as the only thing I got right was the Walnut! So to correct that, the box is made from Walnut, Oak and Angsana, giving it the striking appearance. To look at it, you really can get the feeling that someone has taken a plank of wood and knotted it like a belt.

I borrowed this puzzle box from Derek Bosch (yes he has a good collection and has been very kind to lend me chunks of it at a time), so I'm not sure if it's just his copy or not, but the panels are fairly loose, to the point that when solving it, some of the panels would slide back to where I'd moved them from as I turned the box over in my hands. While it doesn't take away from the box, it can make it a challenge to open, as you have to be careful that panels don't slide around on their own as you move the box. Not realising that a panel slid back after you moved it preventing further progress can be a pain.

This is a really nice puzzle, and I have to admire the design, especially the ability to have pieces passing over and under each other to make a very slick puzzle. If I'm honest, it's not my favorite puzzle from Iwahara, but it's by no means a bad puzzle! It took around 10 minutes to open the box and find both hidden compartments the first time. Having gone back to it later, I can see that this could take much longer as the order you open the compartments does seem to come into play, so I may have been lucky the first time and opened them in the correct order.

Overall, a very nice puzzle and one which would certainly stand out next to other puzzle boxes, both for its size and striking contrast of woods.



23Sep/110

Cast Violon

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Hanayama Cast Puzzles

Cast Violon is yet another superb puzzle from the Hanayama Cast Series. This puzzle was originally created by Joseph L. Litle in 1965, the Cast version was adapted by Nob Yoshigahara. Puzzle Master kindly sent me this puzzle to review.

Cast Violon in the starting state.

Cast Violon in the starting state.

Nob had this to say about the puzzle.

"Patented in America in 1965, this puzzle was originally created by Joseph L. Litle. The idea to make this puzzle came to me after playing with a wooden copy built for me by my close, but now deceased friend, Tadao Muroi. The proportions have been changed considerably from the original plan in this new version. With this puzzle being styled after a violin and its strings, the word here is...'string'.

-NOB 2003-"

From the top, it's difficult to see the violin shape which gave the puzzle its name, however this side view shows things much more clearly.

Side view with the puzzle solved

Side view with the puzzle solved

I really love the aged bronzed look of this puzzle. It suits the style perfectly, and as is normal with the Cast series, it's a heavy puzzle in your hands. The pieces are all solid and well made, so there's no fear of anything breaking or bending as you play with the puzzle. It also seems to have a clear coating over the finish to protect it, which seems to be important as I'll mention later.

The body of the violin creates a maze of sorts which the broken loop runs around. The aim of the puzzle being to remove the rectangular piece with the Hanayama logo and puzzle name from the rest of the puzzle. The thinner section in the violin allows the broken loop to either be fully inside the violin or to run around the outside and it should come as no surprise that a combination of both states is required to solve the puzzle.

Have a look at my video review to see the puzzle close up and get an idea for how the puzzle moves.

At first look, the exit point isn't entirely obvious, however with a little amount of playing it should become clear where you need to take the 'string' off. Puzzle master rates this as a level 6 - tricky (scale of 5-10), and Hanayama rates it as a 2 (scale of 1-6). I think it's a fair estimate of the difficulty. I was able to solve this in around 5 minutes, and was able to return the puzzle to its starting state in just a few more.

The alignment of the pieces when taking the puzzle apart and putting it back together is crucial. If you're off by a fraction, getting the pieces apart or back together becomes virtually impossible. Having said that, I've seen the pieces some apart in a number of different ways and I'm not quite sure how I managed all of them as the pieces don't seem to go back the same was I watched them come apart! Get everything just right though, and the pieces slide together seamlessly.

The scratches that have appeared on my puzzle.

The scratches that have appeared on my puzzle.

My only small gripe with the puzzle is that on my copy, the finish has started to become scratched, showing bare metal underneath. From a distance, you'd never know, and it is minor, however it's not something I expected from a Hanayama puzzle. I think the clear coating that I mentioned earlier just didn't make it onto the section of the puzzle, as there's no issues anywhere else!

Overall, this is a nice puzzle. Not tot challenging, and will be able to be solved in a reasonable time by most people who pick it up. If you're still struggling, you can download the solution here. You can't really go wrong with a Hanayama cast puzzle, and this is no different.



19Sep/110

Hadrian’s Box

a DIY Puzzle Box

Some time back, I purchased a couple of DIY puzzle boxes from BH Pen & Laser Crafts which are kits based on Bruce Viney's designs.

Bruce makes a large number of puzzle box designs, and supplies plans for you to cut your own pieces. He uses an interesting measuring system based on the thickness of the wood, so you can use any stock you have as long as you mark everything up based on thickness.

Rather than cutting all the pieces myself, I purchased the pre-cut kits to make my life easier. I didn't really feel like spending days cutting all the parts myself, not to mention that some of the pieces are pretty small, making for some challenging cuts.

The video shows the full process from start to finish, using time-lapse. Overall, it took around 2.5 hours actually working on the kit. Including time for the glue to dry, it was around 5 hours.

Overall, it's a good kit, despite the small issue I had. Since I'll be receiving some replacement parts to fix that issue, I really can't complain. If you're thinking about getting one of these, I highly recommend the kit as it's both well made, and Bruce's instructions are pretty easy to follow. There's minimal sanding needed, so pretty much anyone should be able to build on of these, and get pretty good results at the end.



18Sep/111

Tier Box by Eric Fuller

Tier Box is a Japanese style sliding panel puzzle box with a few unique touches, designed and made by Eric Fuller back in September 2009. The 18th marks its two year birthday, so I though it appropriate to add this review today.

The box measures 3.2" cubed and is made from Quartersawn Bubinga for the outer panels, and Quartersawn Paduak for the internal panels. Along with that there's a few magnets and some metal pins thrown in for good measure. 14 moves are required to open the box to reveal the space inside, and the same again to close it. Despite opening it fairly quickly, I must confess, it took me many more than 14 moves to close this one back up!

Eric has this to say about the box:

I am very happy with the results of this, my latest puzzle box. The design originates from a sketch I made in Chicago sometime during IPP23. It combines several ideas I have been wanting to implement in a sliding panel puzzle box. The solution requires 14 moves, but those moves are anything but straightforward and are at times downright devious. I had the pleasure of watching many puzzlers attempt to solve it during the course of IPP29, so I can say that difficulty wise it's a nice 15 minute solve for most puzzlers, with several ah-ha's to spice things up. Fully understanding the interactions between all the panels will likely take quite a bit longer.

Tier Box in its closed state

Tier Box in its closed state

There were only 34 copies of the box made, so I have to once again thank Derek for lending me his copy to puzzle over. It's a fun box, and very solidly built. As Eric notes himself, fully understanding the interactions of all the panels certainly does take some time. I was able to open the box without too much trouble, finding it a fairly simple progression from one step to the next. Closing however was not the same story. I probably spent around 5 minutes opening the box, and well over 20 closing it again. At one point I thought I was going to have to give it back to Derek open as it didn't look like I could figure out how to close it!

So from that experience it's a challenging little box. The panels interact in interesting ways with each other, and the only way to truly say you've solved it is in understanding all the interactions. Despite the pins being around 1/16", they really do get in the way!

Tier Box opened, showing the bright Paduak insides

Tier Box opened, showing the bright Paduak insides

One of the beautiful things about the choice of wood here is that the internals of the box being made from Paduak, are protected from UV, so have retained their beautiful Orange/Red colour which will normally fade to a dark brown if exposed to the sun. It's a nice touch to have this colour screaming at you when working on the box.

My only criticism with the mechanism is that the thin sliding panels used in the internals of the box are fairly tight. While this is normally a good thing in a puzzle box, meaning the panels don't rattle around of their own accord, I found that this worked against me when trying to close the box, as my fingers couldn't push one of the internal panels far enough to slide it to where it needed to be through the small gap left when the outer panels were positioned in the correct locations. In the end, I had to get a small tool to help.

Overall, a superb box, that adds a few surprises to a standard sliding box, and creates a satisfying puzzle.



16Sep/112

The Yot

... not a UFO

The Yot (or perhaps it's toY backwards?) from Hi-Q Products is a puzzle which has intrigued me for quite some time now, but I've seemed to always have another puzzle that I wanted turn up and mean that I put off getting one. Well that's no longer the case, as my recent shipment from Puzzle Master included one of these fine puzzles.


Note: Video now available in 720p HD.

The Yot is a great looking puzzle, carved from a block of aluminium and measuring 2.75" in diameter with a silver dollar trapped inside. My Silver Dollar is from 1972 so is a little older than I am. As a non American, I wasn't in the USA when these coins were in regular circulation, so it's nice to have one, and what better way to keep it than inside a puzzle? The Yot has a really good weight in your hand and the little handle on the top is well shaped giving a very tactile feel to it. There is a hole in that nub in the top of the puzzle, which may lead you to thinking it's part of the solution. If anything I think it's there to prevent a vacuum from forming between the lid and the coin, but may help to disguise the real solution.

The Yot in its box

The Yot in its box

The top of the Yot

The top of the Yot

The puzzle itself isn't terribly difficult to open, and I opened it within a few seconds of taking it out of the box for the first time. The solution is fairly common to a number of puzzles, and really given the shape is one of only a few possibilities that could be hidden in such a small puzzle. Now if you're reading this, you're probably thinking, why would I spend nearly $40 on a puzzle that I'll open so quickly? Well first off, it's a very high quality puzzle that is well made, and very precisely machined, so from that aspect, it's worth the price tag. Perhaps the real reason is that given how well made the puzzle is; the simple mechanism, works repeatedly without fail. Even the box it comes in, while simple, is still well finished and adds to the quality feel you get from the puzzle. The only caveat to that is the badly over photocopied piece of paper in the top of the box giving you info about the puzzle.

The Yot opened, and no this picture won't help you solve it.

The Yot opened, and no this picture won't help you solve it.

The real fun with the Yot is being able to open it in front of one of your friends, showing them that all you need to do is lift the top straight off, then closing the puzzle and handing it to them, and watch them struggle to open it. It does take a little practice to be able to perform the trick that is required to opening it without your audience seeing what you have done, but once you can, the look on their faces is priceless. Even better, you can hand them it in the solved state, so they can take the top off, and almost invariably, they open it, re-close it then turn it over with a smile of their face, then fail to re-open it when they turn it back around, which just leaves them more puzzled than they were to start with.

As a nice touch, it's possible to remove the coin from the Yot, and close it back up. Now the base of the removable top is visible, however the mechanism and any clue as to how the puzzle works is still hidden, so you could even pass it out like this to show that there's nothing tricky about the coin. A nice touch and a good piece of design to boot.

The Yot is also available in a collectors edition from yot.com directly where the body is 18k gold, and has an antique silver dollar trapped inside. While it's a lot more expensive than the basic version, it's a nice touch and if you're a collector it may be worth looking at. I'll be honest, without the puzzle being a little more challenging I doubt I'd consider getting the collectors version, but if you've won the lottery, then why not. Editors note: Given the price of gold today, and the solid silver dollar contained within, this may even be an investment.

The Yot II has a different solution to the original, so I may have to pick one up and see how much different it is. It's in a larger package, so clearly there's more room in there for an additional mechanism.

If you need a few hints as to how to open the puzzle, then you can go to the Yot's website, and they have a few clues there. It's not a full solution, but really you shouldn't need it.

There are a number of other puzzlers out there have already reviewed the Yot, so have a look at Brian's review or Oli's. Jerry also has written about the Yot and the Yot II, so there's no shortage of thoughts on this puzzle.

Overall, I'd say if you're an experienced puzzler, you're not going to have a problem in opening this very quickly, but opening the puzzle in front of someone then watching their face as they fail to open it by doing "the same thing you just did" is priceless. A fun puzzle, a great coffee table item, plus a nice way to store your silver dollar. If you don't have one, it's a nice addition to a collection, and would make a very nice gift.



14Sep/110

Post IPP California Puzzle Party

I know I've been a little slow in putting this together, but for those of you waiting for it, here's my little round up of the Post IPP California Puzzle Party.

As with the last CPP, Stan Isaacs kindly opened his home to the motley crew of puzzle enthusiasts from around the Bay area and had a huge array of puzzles out and about for us to play with. Amongst those out were a complete collection of IPP31 exchange puzzles as well as my previous nemesis from the first CPP, Roger's 'Alles Roger' puzzle.

Despite my complete inability to remember names, there were a good few faces I recognised, either from the last meeting, or people who were pointed out to me. If I've forgotten you, it's not personal! In attendance were Nick Baxter, who sent me the info on the first CPP I went to. He couldn't make it to the first party so it was good to be able to meet him this time, and talk about some of the exchange puzzles, some of the IPP design entries and a few other items in my collection.

Superstrings by Richard Gain

Superstrings by Richard Gain

Derek Bosch had also taken a few hours away from his daughter to pop in and say hello. He'd brought his copy of STC's Distorted Cube made by Tom Lensch. I played around with this puzzle for a little while, and given how good a puzzle it is, when Tom listed some on Puzzle Paradise, I jumped at the chance. Derek was working on Richard Gain's Superstrings puzzle which was one of the Jury First Prize winners at IPP31. You can read Brian's review here. This is a really tough puzzle, and I can see why it won favor with the judges at IPP. Much easier to take apart than it is to put together, Richard can be rightly proud of this one.

Perplexus Epic

Perplexus Epic

Fellow blogger Jeff Chiou was also there, having brought along the Perplexus Epic, since we'd talked about that at the last CPP. As it happens, I've bought myself a copy since the last CPP (yes, review coming along with the Perplexus Rookie!) so I didn't play with it. When I arrived, Jeff was working on Alles Roger, having not opened it last time. I did spend some more time on this RD puzzle and this time I got the small ball bearing out of the puzzle. So, yes it is possible, no random shaking will not solve it, and the solution isn't quite what I was expecting!

Not sure who it was, but someone was playing with Bram Cohen's Cast Rattle at one point. Stan walked past and commented that he couldn't open it just in his hands but someone around could. Someone (I told you I was bad with names) mentioned that I could open it and Derek mentioned that Bram was at the gathering, so I was promptly introduced to him. Great to meet yet another designer, and Bram seems like such a nice guy.

Harry Nelson who I'd met the last time was also sitting in Stan's little study, and seemed to delight in handing my fiancée puzzles to see if she could solve them, much to my amusement. Jen's not really a puzzler, although she is always interested in the exotic woods that the puzzles I own come in.

At this point, you're probably wondering if I spent all my time talking or if I tried any of the puzzles. After all, why else do you go to a puzzle gathering? I did have a good rifle through the boxes of IPP exchange puzzles on Stan's desk, as well as a few people handed me to play with.

Rik's Egg Balance

Rik's Egg Balance

One of the first puzzles I tried to solve was Rik's Egg Balance by Rik van Grol. This is the second year that Rik has used a laser cut egg, created from multiple layers glued together with a ball bearing inside the egg. The layers form a maze which the ball must be navigated through to get the ball bearing into the thin end of the egg, at which point it will balance on it's 'nose. Stan saw me playing with this years entry, and promptly handed me last year's entry as well, commenting that the wasn't sure which was worse! I have to agree with Stan. Both are really tricky, and even with the slot in this years entry which allows you to see the ball bearing, and some of the maze, it's still no easier!

Check me Out

Check me Out

Despite Stewart Coffin having 'retired' from making puzzles, he'd made quite a few to be used as exchange puzzles. This on called 'Check Me Out' is STC #256 as was Dave Rosetti's exchange puzzle this year. Dave was there and when he saw me playing with it asked if I'd like a copy. Both Derek and I sad yes in response, so I'll write a full review of this one soon, since I have a copy of my own. Short version, it's another devious Coffin packing puzzle. I also had a play with Stewart Coffin's 'Quintet in F', #253 in his numbering. It's similar to 'Check Me Out', with a non square tray, but the pieces are all the same. Every bit as maddening if I'm honest. I believe the trays in both puzzles are identical, and the unit sizes are the same, so I may have a go at making the 'F' pieces myself. If anyone can confirm whether the trays and pieces are the same, that would be great!

George Bell's Dice Box (image from Scott Elliot)

George Bell's Dice Box (image from Scott Elliot)

I picked up George Bell's Dice Box made by Scott Elliot on his 3D printer using live hinges. Since it was already assembled, and I'd read on Scott's Blog, that taking it apart was tricky, I didn't want to go breaking it. I would like to have a shot at this one from its flat packed state, as it's a good solid puzzle, and the design, using co-ordinate motion makes it looks like it would be fun to play with. (Scott, George - do you have any left 😉 )

While I was playing Derek and (I think Nick Baxter) were puzzling over Z-Shift. A Number of red and blue pieces of acrylic which have been glued back to back in some interesting pieces. There were a number of challenges to create heart shapes, and other such puzzles using the pieces. This seemed a little similar to 'Black or White" by Tomas Lindén and Vesa Timonen. I don't have a picture of this one. Sorry.

Four in a Frame by Markus Gotz.  Image borrowed from Rob's puzzle Page

Four in a Frame by Markus Gotz. Image borrowed from Rob's puzzle Page

Four in a Frame designed by Markus Götz, is yet another tray packing problem that I tried out. This time four very unsual pieces, with a strange shaped cut out in the tray. The tray was double sided, with an 'easy' and a 'hard' side. I didn't solve either in the time I played with the puzzle, but then tray packing puzzles aren't my strong point. I borrowed this picture from Rob's Puzzle Page so have a look there for more information and other pictures.

A few other puzzles I played with were Crazy Bottles by Jean Claude Constantin. The idea here is that it is a mechanical version of the "Three Jugs Problem". If I'm honest I didn't care much for this puzzle. The levers which were used to control the movement of the ball bearings were sticking and hard to move, and I was concerned I was going to break it. I know there were a lot of people very excited by this puzzle at IPP, and perhaps if I had the puzzle problem sheet and some time I may have liked it more. As it was I certainly didn't want to damage one of Stan's puzzles.

Triple Play Closed

Triple Play Closed

Triple Play opened

Triple Play opened

Triple Play other side

Triple Play other side

At one point I was handed a copy of "Triple Play" designed by Bill Scheckels and used as an exchange puzzle by Norton Star (I think). This is a beautifully made puzzle and is very tactile. There's no sharp edges anywhere, and it really does want you to pick it up. A fairly simple puzzle, using a hidden locking mechanism and co-ordinate motion to slide the pieces apart. I really liked the look and feel of this puzzle, even if it was fairly simple to open. There's something mesmerizing about the way the pieces move, and the use of light and dark woods.

That's it for this CPP. I had to leave reasonably early this time, otherwise I'm sure I'd have spent a lot more time at this gathering. As ever it was a good meeting, and I look forward to the next one!

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