Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
29Mar/121

Washer Cylinder

Some time back I reviewed Wil Strijbos' Aluminium Cylinder puzzle after being able to get a copy when he made a second run of them. I'd heard so many good things about it, I really couldn't pass up the opportunity to own one. So when he got in touch to say that the Washer Cylinder was available, a new puzzle along the same lines, I jumped at the chance to add one to my collection. What I'm going to say may be controversial, but I don't like it. Before you start shouting obscenities at me, read on to find out why.

Wil's Washer Cylinder

Wil's Washer Cylinder

The Washer Cylinder is slightly larger than the original Aluminium Cylinder, and unlike the first doesn't have a sprung top. There's a hole in the bottom as before, this time much larger than the original, but this time rather than being able to see into the puzzle, there's a small rod and a washer spinning freely around it. Not all versions have this rod, as the original prototypes had a coin in there instead. It doesn't affect the puzzle in any way, so really doesn't matter which version you have. (I'll come back to that later!) The lid spins freely, VERY freely, but other than that there's not much else to see here.

The Bottom of the Washer Cylinder

The Bottom of the Washer Cylinder

As before, the number on the 'lid' of the puzzle is the version number of the puzzle in the run Wil made, but this time, there's no accompanying mark on the main body of the puzzle. That's the first clue that this is a different beast altogether. Much like the first puzzle you can hear something rolling around in there, and you'll probably guess that it's ball bearings. Pretty much everyone I've talked to has some theory about how many BB's are in there ... and we were all wrong.

If you've played with the Aluminium Cylinder then I truly think you're at a disadvantage. You know how that works, and whether you like it or not, you're going to try the same things in the vain hope that it will help. It won't but even after reading this, and the many other reviews, you'll still try!

So why do I not like this puzzle? Well the answer is pretty simple. There is absolutely no feedback while working on the puzzle that you're doing anything right at all. The tolerances on the puzzle are so fine that you have to perform the solution exactly for it to work, otherwise, nothing will happen. Given that, I really don't find it a satisfying puzzle. The first gave you feedback, confused you as the BB's appeared and disappeared in the hole in the bottom, and delighted you when you solved it and the top popped open with a satisfying sound. For me, this puzzle has none of that.

Allard recently wrote a post about what makes a good mechanical puzzle. For me personally, getting some feedback from the puzzle that you're making some progress (even if it turns out to be negative progress) is very high on my list. If you've not read it, then I'd suggest having a look at Allard's thoughts as it was a good read!

Now I know the opinion above is not the opinion shared by the others who've reviewed it, it is my feeling, and I've always been honest in my reviews. Have a look at what Allard, Jerry, Kevin, and Oli have to say.

Now having told you why I don't like it, I do think it's a very clever puzzle. The mechanism is simple, yet deceptive and it does work flawlessly every time. Despite the instructions from Wil, I'd disagree that no force is required. There's no force required initially, but the final step may require a little force to start the opening process. It's not excessive, but having said 'no force' may lead some people not to make that final step towards opening it.

It took me a couple of days to get this open, probably 6-8 hours in total so it certainly had me stumped for a good while. When I was trying to find something to help, I managed to unscrew the rod in the base of the puzzle. On doing that I emailed Wil to check that it wasn't part of the solution and that I hadn't broken anything. Wil confirmed on both counts that I was on the wrong track and that it wasn't going to affect anything. Knowing that it wasn't an issue, I left the rod out as I hoped it would let me hear what was going on in the puzzle a bit better. It may not have helped at all, but it made me feel better! Once I had the puzzle open I decided to replace the washer with a coin as I prefer the look. (Sorry Wil!)

The washer and peg replaced by a 1 cent coin

The washer and peg replaced by a 1 cent coin

When you're putting the puzzle back to the start position, it's possible to get things stuck if you turn the puzzle over and the washer drops off the rod. Not a big problem, but something to keep in mind!

Being one of the first 20 people to be sent a copy of the puzzle from Wil, he kept in touch and I was aware of a lot of discussion around the puzzle. Wil was great at keeping in touch, and sending out updates as to when various puzzlers had solved it. As such, I was aware of a number of reports of issues being found. Sadly, given the tight tolerances, and the nature of metal on metal there were some cases where the puzzle got jammed, and as a result it was possible to open the puzzle without going through the intended solution. Wil was actively looking for input and thoughts on the puzzle, and I think he's looking at improving the design, so fingers crossed this will get better in future copies.

Despite what I've said, I do think it's a nice puzzle, and I am happy to have one in my collection. It's beautifully made, and the work that went into it is clearly the high quality Wil always makes. Would I recommend it to someone else? No, I really don't think I would. I'd say get the original, as I personally think it's a far better puzzle.



28Mar/120

Impossible Square

Continuing on my packing puzzle challenge, the second puzzle I bought from Brilliant Puzzles was Impossible Square. Have a look at my review of Log Jam which was the first of the puzzles in that shipment. Puzzle Crafthouse also have a copy of this puzzle available.

Impossible Square

Impossible Square

Much like the Melting Block puzzle, the goal of this one is to fit the red block into the tray, so that the lid can be closed. Fortunately, the lid also doubles as a base, so until you solve it, you're not left with a badly fitting box! As is normal with this style of puzzle, at first look there seems to be little free space, and fitting that extra cube in seems nigh on impossible (hence the name).

The puzzle measures 5" x 5" x 1.25" and is very well made. The pieces are all very nicely cut and well finished. If I were nitpicking, the tray is a fraction larger than it should be, but really that's me being very picky. It certainly doesn't change the puzzle any, and there are no extra solutions as a result.

I found this puzzle fairly straight forward, and it's certainly not one of the more difficult packing puzzles I've tried. I was able to solve it in under 5 minutes, so for me I felt pretty good. As I've mentioned before, packing puzzles are not my forte, but maybe I'm getting better.

Having lent this to one of my work colleagues, he also solved it within 5 minutes, so I'll say that this isn't a hard puzzle, but it certainly is a good looking puzzle, and had the effect that it does look impossible to start with, and once solved, it's a very elegant solution. One thing which seems to help with this particular puzzle is the symmetry in the pieces. Unlike a number of other packing puzzles, having a number of identical pieces, limits the number of possible solutions, and I feel makes things easier. Really you only need to solve one corner and then the remainder are copies of that corner.

So just to show that it's possible, here's the puzzle in its solved state...

Impossible Square Solved

Impossible Square Solved

Ok, you really thought I was going to give you the solution? But that said, all pieces are in the box, but you'll have to trust me on that! The puzzle does come with a solution included on a folded sheet of paper so you're not going to accidentally see it, but I honestly don't think you'll need it. If you do, you know it's there.

This is a great little puzzle, and well worth the small price that both Brilliant Puzzles and Puzzle Crafthouse are asking for it. It may be quite simple, but it's a great puzzle to hand to new puzzlers to get them hooked!

Note Puzzle Crafthouse is the new name for Creative Crafthouse. They have a new website, which is much newer and cleaner than the old site, but don't stress, it's the same company with the same great service and puzzles

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16Mar/120

Karakuri Work Kit – Kakukaku box

As a member of the Karakuri Group, when I renewed my membership at the start of the year I decided to pick up a few of the DIY kits that they offer. After my experience with Bruce Vinney's designs I was interested to see what Karakuri Group had created, and also to better understand the mechanisms used, which is one of the goals Karakuri set when making the kits.

When I mentioned that I had the kits on one of the puzzle forums, there were requests to show how to build them, so much like I did with the previous kits I built, I decided to show the build process in full. Watch the video below to see the build, and watch the kit come to life. In the video I'll cover all the tools I use and this isn't time lapse so you can see everything in real time. I'll be doing videos for all the kits shown in the video, so check back for more soon.

As promised in the video, you'll find the instructions below, with my guide to building the box. Be aware that this is in no way a translation of the instructions!

General Kit Comments

The Karakuri group offer a reasonable number of DIY puzzle boxes which they refer to as "Work Kits". Each of the kits consist of a number of pre-cut plywood pieces, some decorative pieces (like the beautifully made acorn on the Acorn Box), and any hardware needed for the mechanism, if it's not just a straight forward sliding panel or suchlike. The kits are all perfectly cut, and of the kits I own there have been no issues with the fit or finish on any of the pieces.

Something which is worth noting about the kits is the price. They all come in at around the $25 USD mark, so in terms of affordability, these are really affordable boxes. The quality of the cuts on the pieces is excellent and the fit is as good as you will find with anything from the Karakuri group, so I'd say from that side of things, they're great value.

One thing to note is that the build instructions for the kits are in Japanese language only. Don't be put off by that however as with a little thought, and some careful study of the diagrams, you'll build the kits just fine. Failing that, have a look at my Build Instructions section below, where I have detailed the steps (in English) to build the kit.

Kakukaku Kit Review

The first of the kits I built was (as you already know from the title of this post) the Kakukaku Box. I picked this one for no other reason than liking the look of the box. Interestingly it was the last of the four that I picked, and really the only reason was that I had set a budget and this fit within that budget after having picked the three others I wanted.

The completed top and bottom of the box

The completed top and bottom of the box

As you can see from the picture above, the box itself is fairly simple. The ply is visible on the top of the box, but personally I don't think that's an issue. If you don't like having the ply exposed, you could glue some veneer onto the top panel just to make it neater. The laser cut tree certainly adds to the look of the box, and is also a clue as to the solution.

Building the kit was fairly simple. The diagrams on the build instructions are very clear, and there's nothing complicated to this kit, so I didn't have any issues building it. The video is real time, so it took about 15 minutes to put together, and would probably be quicker if you're not recording a video and talking through everything you're doing!

As far as the puzzle box itself is concerned, I'll be honest that I was a little disappointed with the box. I have two reasons for this, and at first they seem contradictory, but bear with me.

The locking mechanism is both too difficult to open, and too easy to open at the same time. If you attempt to open the box using the 'solution' provided, it can be very difficult to move the two parts of the box in the right way to get them to open. The fit is pretty good, and as such the movements need to be made very precisely to get the box open. Sadly, there is a much simpler way to open the box. If you hold the top of the box, and shake it, the bottom falls out on its own, making it far too easy!

As a kit I certainly enjoyed building it, and you will understand the mechanism once you've built the box, so it certainly meets the expectations that the Karakuri group set out to achieve. If you're thinking of buying one (or more) of these kits, I'd say that there are better boxes in terms of the end puzzle that you could get, but if you just want to add them all, then go get it!

Build Instructions

In this section I will try to give my guide to building this kit. Please note that this is in no way a translation of the Karakuri Group's instructions, but my own instructions based on having built the kit. If you have issues following my instructions, feel free to get in touch and I'll help you if I can, and update things below to clear up any confusion.

Build instructions - Click image for full size

Build instructions - Click image for full size

The instructions below match to the numbers on the diagram above.

Tools Needed

Before starting, you'll need a couple of tools.

  • Wood Glue / Elmers hobby Glue
  • Pencil
  • Ruler (or some measuring device)
  • Tape - I recommend blue painters tape
  • Glue Brush (optional)
  • Engineers Square (optional)

      Step 1 - The Locking mechanism

      First up, sort the parts from the kit into the same order as shown in the top diagram. If you feel like you need to then you can mark the piece numbers in pencil on the inside of each piece. The way the pieces are laid out in the diagram shows the inside, with the exception of piece 'B', which will be inside the box and unlikely to be seen so even if you don't remove the pencil mark, probably not an issue. In my opinion, the pieces are pretty clear so you should need to label them.

      Take Piece 'A' and lay it as shown in the diagram. The sides with the notches cut out should be at the top and right of the piece as you look at it.

      Take Piece 'B' and glue it into the centre of piece 'A'. The piece fits snugly between the wooden blocks that surround the piece, so no adjustment or fine placement is required. Make sure that the lip on piece 'B' is on the left and top as you look at the piece. This can be confirmed by the angled corners as seen in the diagram.

      Leave the top for around 10 minutes for the glue to dry (note if the glue you are using takes longer to dry, then follow the manufacturers recommendations).

      Step 2 - Top Decoration

      Once the top of the box is dry from step 1, flip the piece over so that the cut away sections are now on the top and left of the piece as you look at it.

      Using a ruler, mark the centre of the piece, making note of the cutout which will not be seen once the box is complete.

      With the centre identified, glue the tree piece to the centre as seen in the diagram.

      Step 3 - Inner Box

      Take the parts labelled 'E' in the diagram. The flat square is the base of the inner box. There are two sides with notches cut in each end, and two with no notches cut.

      Place the base in the centre and then around that the two pieces with notches in the ends above and below it, then the two without notches at either side as seen in the diagram on the right.

      You will notice that there is a grove running through the with of all of these pieces. The base will go into one of these slots, and the other is part of the locking mechanism.

      Put glue into the notches on either end of the top and bottom pieces and using a brush, spread the glue evenly into these notches. Bring all four sides together around the base as seen in the lower left diagram.

      Once all four pieces have been brought snugly together, tape the corners and check that the corners are square using an engineers square. Note: This check is not really needed as the pieces are designed to give a good square corner.

      Note: You can put tape on the corners before adding the glue. This can make the job of taping the corners easier rather than trying to get tape around the corners after they are in place.

      Leave the inner box to dry.

      Step 4 - Outer Box

      Take the top which was completed in step 2, and place it as seen in the diagram, where the cut-out sections are at the top and right of the piece as you look at it.

      Taking pieces Labelled C-1, C-2, D-1, D-2, place these around the top as seen in the diagram.

      Pieces D-2 and C-2 have a piece of wood inside the groove which ensures the pieces are correctly located in relation to the locking mechanism, and the centre of the box.

      Pieces C-1 and D-1 have no insert in the groove, and will slide freely along the length of the top.

      Apply glue into the notches on either end of pieces D-1 and D-2 and using a brush, spread the glue evenly into these notches.

      Bring all four pieces together around the top as seen in the diagram on the right, starting with pieces D-2 and C-2 which will ensure that the pieces are correctly centred.

      Once all four pieces are in place, tape the corners together and allow the top to dry. You can check the top for squareness before it is dry however as with the inner box, the pieces are designed to give a good square corner even without this check.

      Note: As before putting tape on the piece before gluing can make this easier

      Step 5 - Opening and Closing the box

      To Close the Box, place the outer box onto the Inner box and move the top Right and Up as per the green arrow in the diagram. The box is now locked.

      Top Open the box, move the outer box Down and Left as per the blue arrow in the diagram, then lift the top of the bottom. The box is now open.



7Mar/124

Log Jam

I recently put in an order for a few wooden packing puzzles since I've found a liking for them recently, after spending a long time not being very good at them. I made an order with Brilliant Puzzles who have a good selection of wooden puzzles at very affordable prices. The first of those puzzles I'll be reviewing is Log Jam, or "Log Pack" as it is known on the Brilliant Puzzles site. The puzzle has seven pieces in the tray, and an eighth in the end. The goal of the puzzle it to fit the extra log into the box, in typical packing puzzle style.

Log Jam by Vesa Timonen

Log Jam by Vesa Timonen

Designed by Vesa Timonen, this is a fairly well known puzzle design, and was entered in the IPP 22 design competition where it was known as Lox in Box. I've been looking to try it for a while, after reading Brian's review and having seen various copies of the puzzle in friends collections. The copy from Brilliant Puzzles is not expensive, and as I was ordering something for Jen, I decided to added this to my order. Creative Crafthouse also make a copy of this puzzle.

The puzzle comes sealed in shrink wrapped plastic, with the solution sheet folded and on the bottom of the puzzle. At least you can avoid accidentally seeing the solution. It's 7.5" x 2.75" x 1.25" and made from two contrasting woods. If I were to guess I'd say the wood used is rubberwood, which seems very common in the cheaper, mass produced puzzles that I have seen recently. Given the price, the quality of the pieces is what you'd expect. This isn't a high end collectors piece, but a puzzle to be played with.

The fit of the pieces is fair, and the puzzle functions exactly as it should. As nice touch, and something which seems fairly common with this design is that the extra piece has a place in the end of the puzzle for storage so that the puzzle can be kept in its unsolved state without leaving pieces stacked, or losing the piece.

When I had seen this puzzle elsewhere, I'd tried mentally solving it, so before I started I had a few ideas to try. After a few minutes I'd exhausted those, so I had to think a bit. Sorting the pieces, and then looking at what I had let me see a possible pattern, and after another few minutes of playing I had the solution. It's a very elegant solution, and well worth getting a copy to play with. The design of the pieces and the initial presentation leads you down one avenue of thinking while the actual solution is quite different. It is something that I have noticed with these 'fit the extra piece in' style puzzle that the initial presentation is often designed to start you off on the wrong path, and this is no different. Very clever.

Closeup of one of the pieces

Closeup of one of the pieces

In the solved state, the fit is not as close as I would have expected, and there's still a degree of wiggle room in the tray. Not enough that there's a different possible solution, so perhaps it's just the perfectionist in me looking for more. As you can see from the closeup of one of the logs above, the finish on the pieces is pretty rough, and the tray shows some signs of the fit and finish not being stellar. But as I mentioned earlier, this is a puzzle to be played with, and not a collectors piece, and that is reflected in the price.

For the price, this is a great puzzle, and I'm happy to have had the chance to play with it.

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