Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
28Oct/114

Way

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series IPP 31

Way by Dr. Volker Latussek is an interesting wooden puzzle which was entered in IPP 31 Design competition in Berlin. Not long after IPP, I was talking with Volker regarding my thoughts on the puzzle, and he offered to send me a copy to play with. Shortly after our discussion a fairly large package arrived in the mail, and there was the copy of Way that he promised me.

Way boxed

Way boxed

The goal of the puzzle is to create free standing circuits which form a single complete loop from start to finish, using the pieces noted on the challenge card. The circuit does not need to be flat on the table, and can be a three dimensional circuit. If fact, thinking upwards is needed to solve many of the challenges presented. One of the unique points of the puzzle is that there are no pegs or magnets which hold the pieces together, and each of the solutions is stable when the correct solution is found.

The first thing that struck me about this puzzle is the size. This is much larger than I was expecting from the photographs I'd seen. You'll get a feel for just how big the pieces are from the video (just excuse my gammy thumb). The pieces are all beautifully made, and perfectly smooth. Each of the oiled beech pieces has a good weight to it, and are all fairly large, even in my hands. The whole puzzle with all eighteen blocks measures 8" x 8" and each piece has a diameter of around 1.33". The puzzle comes in a heavy card box with the puzzle name on a sticker on the outside of the box. One of the challenges is even to fit all 18 pieces into the box in a continuous circuit (as opposed to just thrown in there as they normally are after playing with the puzzle).

The Sticker on the box has the subtext "a puzzle construction set", and it does live up to that claim. It certainly reminds me of the building blocks I used to play with as a child when I was at my grandfathers house, although these are significantly less beat up than those blocks were!

The puzzle comes with a challenge card with 8 different challenges on it, the first four of which are really showing you how to use the blocks, so contain a picture of the solution on the card. My biggest issue therefor is that there's only really 4 challenges provided with the puzzle to start off. For most people it's not going to take that long to work through the challenges. Visiting the website, there are now a total of 29 challenges which should keep you puzzling for quite some time, and it seems that more challenges are being added on a fairly regular basis. The most recent challenge was added on the 27th October (at the time of writing). The challenges are not all just 'build a circuit' challenges either. Some really need you to think about what you're doing by adding restrictions on the type of circuit. For example, the circuit must fit inside a 3x3 cube.

Note: New puzzle challenges are added every Thursday. Thanks to the designer for the update

Some simple solutions

Some simple solutions

As you can see from the image above, showing a few of the simpler challenges, it's possible to construct several of the solutions at the same time, and all of them are stable once complete. One of the issues I had was that the order in which you construct the solution is very important to the stability during creation. While it's true that all the solutions I have found so far are stable once complete, they're not always easy to build due to the nature of the pieces to roll. As you'll see in the video, removing one piece from the completed structure, and the whole assembly in many cases will fall down with a satisfying clunk as the pieces hit the table. While I love the fact that the solutions are all stable when built, I can't quite get past the feeling that having either the tiniest flat spot on the edges would help the puzzle greatly as the building would be less frustrating. That said, Dr. Volker is very proud of the design, and that the pieces are stable with no other aids, and I think he's right to be proud of it. Bottom line is that the way the puzzle is, there's an added dexterity element to the puzzle, which certainly adds to the challenge.

Way shows gravity who's boss

Way shows gravity who's boss

Some of the more challenging puzzles really start to look like they're defying gravity with pieces hanging outside the main mass of the puzzle creating some interesting overhangs!

Overall this is a really good puzzle, and if the challenges keep coming, then there's going to be a good reason to keep going back to it for some time to come. You can get one directly from Dr. Volker via the Way Website.



26Oct/112

When puzzles start to take over

My puzzle collection has been increasing steadily over the last few years, and as with most collections, they have managed to spread themselves around the house quite impressively. Well over the weekend, my better half decided that she'd had enough and wanted her house back. So what happens... well even with a gammy thumb, we don't get to sit and relax on our days off so we set to work.

I have had a couple of glass display cabinets which have a few of my statue's in it but have sadly been hidden at the back of the dining room for too long and needed to be brought out where they can be appreciated. We decided it was time to stop the puzzle collection from spreading all over the house, so a new glass cabinet was purchased, and it was time to re-organise.

Note: All images in this post are very large. Clicking the image will show the full size version so you can see the maximum detail possible.

Puzzle Storage

Puzzle Storage

After around 6 hours on Sunday moving furniture around the dining room, which involved relocating a chunk of my DVD collection, and the Lego collection, and .... ok, you get the idea; the cabinets were freed from their corners and moved into the living room as you can see above. After some Ikea cabinetry, the new glass cabinet was put together and some of the collection relocated to its new home.

The cabinets in the photo are only a small part of the collection, but it does mean that some of the puzzles have at least been brought together and are visible, rather than piled up on top of one another on whatever spare space I could find at the time they arrived.

The figures on the left are mine, and the faeries on the right are my fiancée's. Sitting on top of the cabinet is one of my other projects. It's a robot that I've been writing code for. There's a few video's of it walking here if you're interested. So far I've not connected up the gyro's so it's all mechanical balance, and he does pretty well given that.

You might notice a certain Stickman in the bottom of the right hand cabinet. That's a 'kit' that Robert sent me to get working. There was a wee mistake when the threads were being cut so it doesn't work as intended. I'm currently in the process of reworking it and documenting what's needed to get it working. I'll be posting about that in due time, so watch this space.

Puzzle Shelves

Puzzle Shelves

More Puzzle Shelves

More Puzzle Shelves

As I mentioned, the gathering of the puzzles is only a small part of the collection. There's a few other shelves and spaces on the bookcases that have varying puzzles lying around. Not to mention other boxes with puzzles scattered around the house.

That pesky Elephant ...

That pesky Elephant ...

I'm still not quite sure how that Elephant got up there, but I'm slightly concerned that he's plotting something with the Rabbit in the Magic Hat. I suppose I was warned by its maker that I shouldn't feed it after midnight, and that they have been known to be a little rowdy ...

So with the space freed up elsewhere, there's room now for some of the Lego models I own to get a bit more space, rather than those being crammed into a corner. I have a pretty good number of kits dating back to the 1970's since I've played with and collected Lego since I was a small boy. Given that I've had a couple of people ask about some of the models, here's a quick look at a few that are out and about. There's probably around 300 kits in boxes in my garage, and varying other models dotted around, but these are probably the bigger pieces that are out and gathering dust.

Lego Models (L->R) - Space Shuttle 8480, Lego Model Team Truck 5580, Backhoe Grader 8862, Blue Fury 5541, Batmobile 7784

Lego Models (L->R) - Space Shuttle 8480, Lego Model Team Truck 5580, Backhoe Grader 8862, Blue Fury 5541, Batmobile 7784

Air Tech Claw Rig 8868

Air Tech Claw Rig 8868

Motorbike 8051

Motorbike 8051

Well hope you liked the sneak peek into some of my collection. I'll be back to the regular reviews soon as my thumb is healing nicely. Going to be a while before things are entirely back to normal, but that's what happens when thumb meets saw.

Filed under: Random Musings 2 Comments


24Oct/110

Cast Spiral

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Hanayama Cast Puzzles

Cast Spiral is another puzzle from the Hanayama Cast series, this one designed by Kennet Walker. This puzzle is similar to a number of 'Jigsaw' puzzles where a small number of apparently identical pieces are linked in a seemingly endless spiral, the goal being to separate the pieces then put them back together. Cast Spiral takes the idea one step further and rather than a 4 piece puzzle, this is a five piece version. Puzzle Master kindly sent me this copy to review. Thanks Puzzle Master!

Cast Spiral

Cast Spiral

I have a couple of different versions of this style of puzzle, and the wooden version below called Wooden Spiral can be purchased from Puzzle Master. Think Fun also produce a version in plastic called the a-ha! 4 Piece Jigsaw . Both of these puzzles work on the same principle and if you have solved either, then you'll have a good idea of how to approach the Cast Spiral.

Cast Spiral and Wooden Spiral side by side.

Cast Spiral and Wooden Spiral side by side.

Cast Spiral is a nice progression in this style of puzzle. It's a heavy puzzle, and being made from solid metal, you can be quite confident passing this to any of your friends to have a bash at solving it. (Note: No hitting or dropping of the puzzle is required to solve it.) The finish on the surface is plain, but well finished, and bears the Hanayama logo. Given that this is an older puzzle in the Cast series, originally released in 2003, the name of the puzzle isn't on there, unlike most of the newer releases. The shape of the puzzle itself is also interesting. rather than going for a plain cylinder, the pieces taper from the centre to the outside, with a slightly flattened spot in the middle, making for a rather pleasing shape, that leaves the puzzle looking as though it's floating above the table.

Side view of Cast Spiral and Wooden Spiral showing the spiral nature of the pieces.

Side view of Cast Spiral and Wooden Spiral showing the spiral nature of the pieces.

As you can see from the side, it looks as though there's no way to separate the five pieces of the puzzle, however as I mentioned earlier, the solution to this puzzle has its roots in the jigsaw style puzzles I've already mentioned. Unlike the wooden or plastic four piece versions, the pieces of Cast Spiral are not all identical. So just picking it up and using the trick you already know isn't going to work. You're going to have to find out how to implement the trick, which adds a little extra challenge if you're familiar with this style of puzzle.

Identical pieces?

Identical pieces?

Hanayama rates this as a Level 5/6 puzzle, and Puzzle Master a Level 9/10 - Grueling. I think it's fair to say this is a tough puzzle, however it's perhaps only a 4 in Hanayama's scale given that there's a number of tougher puzzles been released since this one. It's nice that even if you know the solution to one of the four piece puzzles, that it's not going to instantly work on the Spiral, so it may catch a few people out. If you've not come across one of these before, then it's a tough puzzle, but a fairly enjoyable one at that. If you're really stuck then you'll find a solution here.

Like the other Cast puzzles I've already reviewed, I highly recommend adding this to your collection. It's a really solid puzzle, with a nice twist in the solution. None of the cast series are overly expensive so really there's no reason not to own one!

To see what everyone else is saying about these puzzles (yes, seems everyone else has reviewed this before me), have a read of the reviews by Allard, Brian, Jerry, Kevin and Oli.



12Oct/110

Firewood

Firewood by Hiroshi Iwahara is another beautiful looking puzzle box available from the Karakuri Creation group. Living up to its name, this pile of sticks made from a number of exotic woods really does look like a bundle of firewood, wrapped with string ready to be sold.

Firewood

Firewood

The puzzle was designed for an exhibition with a "forest" theme. Created in April 2011 this is the newest box from Iwahara(at the time of writing), and is a really cute box. It's not the largest puzzle box out there, but is still a pretty good size at 5"x 4"x3.75". Sitting in your hand, the puzzle feels good, the rounding of each firewood log makes it very tactile, and you find yourself turning it round and round. Now this may be because you can't find out how to open it, as none of the logs in the centre of the puzzle seem to move and the outer logs are all glued together.

With over 10 hardwoods used in the puzzle, there's a great array of colours and textures, making this a real feast for the eyes. I know that at the very least there's Katsura, Oak, Rosewood, Zebrawood, Purpleheart, Bloodwood, Bubinga, Cherry, Black Ebony (big guess on the ebony) and Maple in there, based on my limited ability to identify woods from visual inspection. (Note: I may be entirely wrong, as there's no conformation from the Karakuri group on this, so it's all a guess)

Firewood

Firewood

I spent around 10 minutes poking and prodding the logs on this box before I found the trick, and the drawer popped open rather satisfyingly. It's not the most challenging puzzle box out there, but it does exude a charm which is hard to pass up. The 'lock' really is incredibly simple, and it makes me smile each time I close it, with the drawer pulling itself back into place, then pop it back out with the trick. Very simple, but hugely satisfying.



11Oct/119

Accidents Happen

Since I've started creating puzzles in wood, I've been learning quickly and starting to produce some puzzles that I'm very proud of. Over the weekend I started putting together a run of puzzles for a craft fair that is coming up, with the hope of selling a few puzzles there.

I had a batch of sticks cut and spent Saturday morning gluing up pieces. It's amazing just how quickly you use up the sticks you have cut so after about an hour I went to cut some more sticks. I started rough cutting some sticks from the redwood planks I have and was getting on great.

If you're a nervous reader, I'd stop reading now...

I was getting to the end of the batch, and it seems I was a little careless. When moving a piece of waste wood from the table, I got my thumb a little too close to the blade. The result, lots of blood and a good chunk taken out of my thumb.

I spent the next few hours in the emergency room where the surgeon operated on my thumb. So I now have 2 pins in my thumb and it's going to be a bit shorter than it was. I'm lucky, the saw took a clean cut through my finger, clean through the bone, but didn't sever the top of my finger and didn't hit the joint. So I have full feeling, and full motion.

It's a harsh lesson, that it only takes a second for things to go wrong. I'm going to be just fine (although in a lot of pain just now) and I'll have a nasty scar to remind me to watch where I put my fingers.

I'll be back to making puzzles in no time, but for now things have to heal and I need to take stock.

Warning: table saws are dangerous. Handle with care!

Tagged as: 9 Comments


5Oct/115

Cast Nutcase

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Hanayama Cast Puzzles

Cast Nutcase is another puzzle in the Cast series from Hanayama designed by Oskar van Deventer. Measuring in at 1.25" diameter, by just under 2" long, the goal is to remove the small nut encased inside the hollow part of the puzzle by taking the two halves of the puzzle apart. Thanks to Puzzle Master for sending me this puzzle to review.

There is a second goal to the puzzle, but I'll talk about that later ...


Cast Nutcase in the starting position

Cast Nutcase in the starting position

As you'd expect, the puzzle comes in the standard Hanayama black and gold packaging, with the puzzle held in shrink wrapped plastic to keep it in place. The puzzle consists of 5 pieces, including the small bolt that can be seen through holes in the ends of the puzzle. The two bolts threaded onto the centre of the puzzle will spin up and down the threads and each has 'Cast' and 'Nut' engraved into opposite sides of the bolt. The familiar Hanayama logo is also engraved into the edge of the bolt.

Closeup showing the small nut trapped inside

Closeup showing the small nut trapped inside

Closeup of the engraving on the nuts

Closeup of the engraving on the nuts

The look of this puzzle is interesting as a galvanised, bronzed bolt, with some interesting patina patterning on various surfaces. It may not be the prettiest of the Hanayama puzzles, but it's by no means ugly either. Looking at the puzzle, it seems impossible, as the two nuts in the centre of the puzzle are threaded onto a seemingly full thread which extends from one end of the puzzle to the other. The only clue as to what is going on is that the thread is not made from a single piece of metal, and it split into sections. Pulling on each end of the puzzle will show that the sections are alternately connected to either end of the puzzle, so there is some hope that the parts will separate.

Rated as 6/6 by Hanayama and 10/10 - Mind Boggling by Puzzle Master. I have to agree with this rating. It's a tough puzzle and will certainly test you whether you're a seasoned puzzler or not. It took me around an hour to open this one, and even then I think I may have been a little lucky. I could certainly see it taking a lot longer to open this puzzle. You should be able to figure this one out by looking closely at how things are put together, and from that work out what's going on, but there could be a lot of trial and error before you get it opened. If you get really stuck, there's a solution here. For me, this puzzle is a little like picking a lock, and feeling your way around what's happening with little changes to the parts of the puzzle as you go.

The small nut free from it's "Nut Case"

The small nut free from it's "Nut Case"

My biggest problem with this puzzle is that the nuts don't turn smoothly on the threads if there's any misalignment at all. Given the way that the puzzle opens, and the design on the nuts, this is inherent in the design, and I don't think there's much that can be done to avoid it. Sadly, I feel that the sticking of the nuts as you turn them does detract from the overall experience, and I had several times where one of the bolts would lock up, and significant banging of the puzzle on my desk was required to get things moving again. Given that very precise alignment of the various parts is required to solve the puzzle, the stickyness does make things less enjoyable. Having solved this a number of times, keeping the threads aligned by pushing together on each end of the puzzle with one hand while turning the bolts helps however that is only useful for the first half of the solution. If things get misaligned, then it's tough to get it back in sync.

Overall this is a challenging puzzle, but I fell there's a little too much guess work and hidden trickery to make this a stand out puzzle. If you want a real challenge, then pick this one up, but if you're just looking for a fun puzzle, I'd say it's best to pass this one by.

The Case Nut Puzzle

Now, remember way back at the start, I said there was a second goal ...

The second goal for the puzzle, just to prove it's possible

The second goal for the puzzle, just to prove it's possible

If you think that the first goal is tough enough, then I'd say stay away from the second. Once you've solved it a few times, and you know what's going on, give this a shot.

Warning: this is a lot tougher!

The nuts on the puzzle are designed to go on in one orientation, so that when closed they spell "Nut Case". But it is possible to reverse the orientation so that they spell "Case Nut". The photo above proves that it's possible. Now I will say, make sure you understand how to open it normally before doing this, as all the little markers you've used to solve the puzzle in its first configuration will be of no use to you! When putting the puzzle into this second configuration, things are much tougher, so don't say I didn't warn you. I think this puzzle may just go up to 11!