Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
29May/121

Moeraki Games 4

The series of Moeraki games are produced by Kasimir Landowski, and are a series of sliding tile puzzles, where the object is to scramble the pieces then return them to their unscrambled state. The Moeraki 3 and 4 puzzles can be purchased from Casland Games along with versions 1-5 in electronic format.

In an interesting story, Ivan Moscovich created the same puzzles and patented their design in the US in 1985 (US patent No.4,509,756) and were licensed to Meffert Novelties in 1983. The digital versions were licensed to Sony-Online. Shortly after posting my review I was contaced by Ivan requesting that I consider removing my review as a result of the dispute over the puzzle. Since the original review I did for Moeraki 4, and re-posting this today, Ivan and Kasimir have reached an agreement around the puzzles sale and distribution, and I'm pleased to be able to once again restore the review with full consent of both Mr Moscovich and Mr Landowski!

Moeraki Games 4 (hard version)

Moeraki Games 4 (hard version)

So why Moeraki? The designer happened to stumble across a website on the Moeraki Boulders: round rocks found in New Zealand, near the village of Moeraki on the east coast of the country's South Island. The rocks are not formed from erosion but were naturally created like pearls and Kasimir thought it suited his puzzle and hence the name.

I ordered both Moeraki 3 and 4, as I like my physical puzzles, however they both come with a PC version of the game included on a CD, so you get both when buying the physical puzzle. Personally I think there's a lot to be said for being able to physically push the pieces yourself, however it's a nice bonus, and certainly helps in learning how the pieces interact before messing up such a nice looking arrangement.

Unfortunately, the electronic version is Windows PC only, so if like me you're a Mac owner you're out of luck. Fortunately, there is iOS versions available for iPhone/iPad/iPod, including standalone versions of 3 and 4 for $.99 each, and a pack including all 5 for $2.99 which I think is a great deal.

The puzzle itself measures 5.5" x 5.5" x 0.75" and is certainly a well made and solid puzzle. It comes in a clear plastic box wrapped in a cardboard sleeve (entirely in German) which holds both the puzzle, and the CD with the PC version. Sadly mine suffered some rough handling on its way to me and most of the plastic pegs inside the box which hold the puzzle in place had snapped leaving the puzzle free to bounce around inside the box. Fortunately that didn't damage the puzzle at all, so isn't a big issue.

The plastic coloured beads have a glass like quality to them and really reflect the light, giving a lot of depth to the rings. The movement of the pieces is incredibly smooth, and each ring is easily turned by pushing lightly on any one bead. The board itself has coloured inner segments which are a guide for returning the puzzle to its solved state once scrambled. Interestingly, there's no real reason why you should have to do this, as any colour could be placed at any outer section of the rings, and it certainly adds an additional challenge trying to swap the colours to a different starting position.

The playing board consists of three interlinked circles of coloured beads, which intersect at six points, meaning that moving the beads in one circle affects those in one of the other circles. Given the six points of intersection in the three rings, the interaction between rings in this version is higher which adds to the difficulty level. This is even more true when you look at the version I have where the beads in the centre are not all the same colour!

If you have a look on the website, then you'll see that the version of Moeraki 4 which is available has only four colours instead of the seven seen in my version. That's thanks to Kasimir sending me a unique hard version rather than the regular version! It is available as an option on the electronic version as a possible combination to play, but clearly Kasimir has read my blog, and knows I like a challenge! Having played around with the puzzle for a while, solving it by ignoring the colours in the centre isn't too hard, and I can normally solve it from a well shuffled board in around 8 minutes. Solving for all seven colours however is much harder and takes me around double that time. So I'd rate this as a challenging puzzle, but it's one that you will be able to solve (unlike me and the Rubiks cube).

From playing the electronic version, there are a number of different possible patterns which can be made from the same basic board, including a version where there are only two colours, and each adjacent bead is an alternating colour, and the version on the website where all centre beads are clear, rather than the three extra colours in my version. The board in the puzzle has a plug which has been glued in place during assembly to prevent the beads being removed, however it would be easy enough to make additional beads available when ordering to make these configurations possible, and be able to configure the game board for some of these options. Maybe that option could be available in future versions.

Overall, I think Moeraki 4 is an excellent puzzle, very well made, and a lot of fun to play with. Now I just need to work on improving my time to solve it. I highly recommend picking up a copy from Casland Games or if you're more of a mobile puzzler, consider the iPad/iPhone/iPad version which is great value, and every bit as challenging. For €20, which includes the PC version, that's a great price.

I'll be reviewing the Moeraki 3 soon, but feel free to look at Gabriel's review until I do.



22May/124

Revomaze Silver – Dominick’s Journey

Today's review is a little special. It's not my review, but rather that of a good friend I have made through the puzzle community. Dominick has been puzzling over the Silver Revomaze for a long while now, and when he's been stuck and frustrated, I've tried to encourage him and keep him puzzling. Well on Saturday, while I was working away he pops up on chat and announces that his Silver puzzle is open. I'll be honest, having been with him on this journey for a long time, I'm every bit as excited to hear his news as I was when I opened my own Silver.

So here in Dominick's own words is his journey.

The Silver Revomaze

The Silver Revomaze

After 4 months of puzzling with the first 3 Revomazes in my set I finally arrived at Silver. Excited and terrified all at the same time I take it out of the box and get my graph paper ready to start mapping. I have been reading the forums throughout my puzzling experience so I knew what a beast this puzzle was going to be. Being new to the puzzle world and starting with a Revomaze as my first puzzle it has been a learning experience from day one. I came across Revomaze on gizmodo.com which I often read daily. Once I read about them I was totally intrigued. But at $100+ it was hard to justify the purchase at the time being a new home owner.

So like everything I do I read and read about them and researched them. I contacted Chris after seeing that the puzzles were numbered; wanting a matching set. I hadn’t heard anything back and sort of put it to the back burner. After constantly talking about these puzzles my girlfriend went to the website and ordered me the Blue puzzle. After explaining to her that I wanted the whole set and they were numbered we contacted Chris and explained to him that it was important to me to have a complete matching set.

Chris offered his sons set to me since they wanted them to all go to the same person I was the perfect customer. With that my set was on its way with Red and Orange pre-ordered! I patiently waited for my package to arrive. I knew I had to start with Blue just to get the feel and idea of these mysterious puzzles so I opened Blue and told myself I was leaving the rest sealed until I opened the previous puzzle.

A few of Dominick's puzzles

A few of Dominick's puzzles

Now lets get back to Silver. During all of this Revomaze puzzling I also got my hands on a few other types of puzzles which also helped me learn some of the possibilities in puzzle making. Between Blue, Green, and Bronze I was learning what I thought would eventually prepare me for Silver. I could not have been more wrong.

My journey through Silver was a long love hate relationship to the tune of 1 year, 7 months and 4 days! No I do not have the hours! As I started working on Silver I was going nowhere fast. I knew there were many new elements to this puzzle that I had not seen previously and I knew the nicknames for them from reading the product page but they still did not make sense. My map was showing about a quarter of the puzzle and that was it. My maps definitely were never to scale but I tried to get as close as possible. In my mind I know Chris is evil so I gave it some thought but still couldn’t wrap my head around what was going on. After experimenting with some of the things I have learned from the earlier puzzles I still had made no progress. At one point I found the what is called the “not a canyon” on the forums and was very excited to have made some progress only to find out that It was not the correct way to get there and would not help me at all. OK back to the drawing board. Ed: Shortcuts never helped anyone solve Silver

During one of my late nights of puzzling I was fiddling around and I realized something that completely blew my mind. Puzzle orientation was important! I instantly picked up the phone and texted my girlfriend! Despite this new finding it still took some time to figure out and understand what was going on. Even after successfully getting to this new area several times I still could not consistently get there. All along I was hunting for these clues that I kept reading about in the forums, none of which I ever found! At this point I was able to get to this new area and map what I could. I was feeling some different elements, which turned out to be nothing of any use. Still excited that I found this new area and was feeling all sorts of different things in there I’m completely stuck!

What the hell is going on here?
Did I break it?

Knowing that Chris is evil I knew it had to be one of his tricks but being stuck with hardly any movement I was a little concerned. I knew the puzzle was dynamic and it has always been made very clear that no force is needed to solve them but I tend to use a little more force than I need.

Well after some tinkering I figured out what was going on and was freed from my little padded room! This went on for weeks. Repeating the same thing over and over only to end up in the same place. Ed: We've all been there! I knew I had to do something in this area I just could not figure out what. A lot of my troubles were probably due to my poor mapping skills as I was missing something far too familiar. Months went by with no progress or even attempts to works on moving ahead. I would say to myself I should work on silver but then would never follow through.

After taking a longer break than I really wanted to I got back to working on Silver. Still making no progress. After a few nudges from several of the great friends I have made through the Revomaze forums I realized I had missed something that I was very familiar with. Feeling a little dumb for missing this I was finally making some progress after being stuck for months. I am not sure how I missed this since I was positive It was something I had tried but I carried on.

Now that I found this new area I made quick progress to the next thing that blew my mind. The “not a canyon”. Silver had nearly broken me several times at this point but now I’m thinking what the hell is this nonsense. How the hell does this even exist? Who thinks of this crazy shit! So as usual I felt around and thought about what was going on and how I’m going to get passed this seemingly impossible area. Up until this point I always knew there was a way to move forward and I was just missing something minor or not thinking. Even though there is a way to move forward the design of the puzzle; a cylinder makes it seem impossible. What’s even worse is there is no feedback in this area. So once again silver went back on the stand after months or experimenting and trying different things. At this point I had an idea of what needed to be done but just wasn’t executing it properly. Naturally my interests brought me back to the puzzle and I got to working on it again after weeks of not even picking it up.

With all the gentle nudges to try and get me thinking and on the right track I still was thinking about what I needed to do to cross the not-a-canyon all wrong. I had the idea of what I needed but still had no clue what I was looking for. So with a lot of trial and error I realized that my theories were wrong and not going to get me across.

I think the “not a canyon” was the most frustrating Revomaze experience yet. It really tests you. I'm not sure If I gave up again and took a break but I started working on it again while I had nothing better to do because I was sitting in traction several times a day for a neck injury that I have. So while I was sitting there I would puzzle away making no progress.

I guess by sheer luck one day I was trying all sorts of different methods to getting across and managed to not hear that dreaded click I had heard so many times taking the leap of faith into the “not a canyon”. At this point I really did know what to do but just couldn’t execute it properly. I didn’t really care though because I was across and thinking I got this shit! I’m across, I can see by my map that there isn’t much left to fill which meant I was getting close.

Well yes I was close but was once again so wrong. I made the mistake of crossing back to the first half of the puzzle very soon after crossing and had to start from the beginning all over. So once I made it back across I made sure I never went back! Now I’m thinking OK great I made it across and I’m spinning again but this time there is a small area that I can go in to. I finally made it in to the swamp and instantly was attacked within a half hour of being in there.

Then I found my way out of the swamp and was thinking that wasn’t so bad what is the big deal! Once again Chris blew my mind with the swamp, and after thinking a lot I realized what was going on but that was only the start. I had several theories for the swamp but most of them turned out to be wrong once again. Then one day while testing on of these theories my puzzle decided to lock up and this time I knew something was wrong.

Sending it back for repair

Sending it back for repair

After speaking to several forum members I was assured I could still solve silver despite what I was feeling. So I puzzled away but the issue only got worse. At this point I decided to contact Chris and had to send it back. The worst part about this is I had figured out what was going on in there and I was so close. While I was without silver I decided to work on my Black obsession and Red extreme. I had both of these open within a week and patiently waited for Orange and Gold to arrive.

Silver finally came back after a few weeks and I was back to puzzling. Well what do you know I couldn’t cross the canyon again and was back to where I was months ago. So I kept at it and finally got back to the swamp. Knowing what I had to do I was at it right away only to find out something was wrong once again. I spent over a month chasing a phantom issue. At this point I was extremely frustrated. I knew what needed to be done, I knew I was so close. I emailed Chris once again and continued to puzzle while waiting for his response. I even got on the phone with Justin to see if he could help me out. After consulting several people who solved Silver I ended up having to send it back again.

Sending it back for repair again!

Sending it back for repair again!

In this time I worked on Orange and solved that one while Silver was back at Revo HQ. I even learned something from Orange! I soon found out that part was missed when assembling my Silver puzzle the first time I had sent it back for repair which is why I was not experiencing the normal behavior in the swamp.

I received my puzzle after two weeks and once again had to cross the canyon, then figure out the swamp. After a lot more puzzling, I finally passed the swamp and saw the dots.

I took some advice and put it down for a few minutes to gather my composure. We had company over that night and everyone but my girlfriend thought I was nuts. They didn’t understand what I had finally done. Those dots were so close to each other but it seemed like a mile. After exhausting all options I went back in to the swamp!

I decided to put it down for the night even thought it was killing me I was so close. The next day I decided to set my mind to opening it and wasn’t going to stop until I did. Back passed the swamp I realized what I had to do but dreaded it. I finally worked up the courage to go for it and boom those dots lined up. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I instantly ran to my laptop to let Neil know and then texted my girlfriend a pic of the dots lined up.

Finally open!

Finally open!

Then of course I let the forums know and just sat there staring at it. My girlfriend texts me back no F’ing way! I promised her I’d wait until she was there to finally crack it so I sat it on my coffee table and enjoyed my moment until she was there hours later!

Silver was a long journey that nearly broke me several times. I am still in shock that it is open. It is truly an amazing piece of work and right up there with my favorite puzzle in the Revomaze collection. Due to the issues I had and some other inconsistencies I cannot say it is my favorite but it is very close. Now I know why they call it a bastard. It is a real beast to tame! I have to thank all the great friends I have made along the way that stuck with me during my journey. And special thanks to Neil for letting me post my experience on his website and putting up with my travels through silver.

Filed under: Uncategorized 4 Comments


19May/121

Secret Base 2

Secret Base 2 was Hiroshi Iwahara's 2011 Christmas Present from the Karakuri Club. I didn't have him as one of my designers last year, but I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow this box to play with.

Secret Base 2

Secret Base 2

The Secret Base 2 as you might have guessed is based on the original Secret Base puzzle which I've not played with myself, but am aware of how the mechanism works. In this case, I think that partial knowledge may have made my solving of this box more challenging!

Made from Oak, Walnut, Birch and Bubinga this puzzle measures 3.5" x 3.5" x 3" and is beautifully finished as any Karakuri box is. The mechanism is wonderfully smooth, and the first movement seems almost magical as the pieces slide past each other. It's actually a very difficult puzzle to describe without giving much away.

With my knowledge of the original Secret Base, I found the first move fairly quickly, and even the next step didn't take me long to identify. After that however I was a little stumped. The final movement is rather unexpected and quite nicely hidden.

Secret Base 2 - Partially Open

Secret Base 2 - Partially Open

I've taken the photo above very carefully to give nothing away about how this opens, but it does at least let you see the movement of the pieces. Once open, there's a reasonable sized space inside and unlike the original Secret Box, there's only one compartment to be found in this puzzle.

Overall a nice box with an interesting twist. Well worth picking up a copy.

Allard, Brian, Jeff and Michael have all written about it, so head over to their pages to find out what they thought.



15May/120

The Distorted Cube – STC #61-A

What seems like a very long time ago now, way back in August in fact, Tom Lensch offered a number of puzzles through Puzzle Paradise. At that time I picked up a copy of the Two Boxes puzzle which I wrote about some time ago, and this Stewart Coffin Design. It's taken quite a while to get round to completing all the challenges set by Stewart for the Distorted Cube, but I've finally done them all, and it's about time I wrote about it!

The Distorted Cube, STC #61-A, showing the Box, Lid and Four Pieces

The Distorted Cube, STC #61-A, showing the Box, Lid and Four Pieces

As you can see, the puzzle consists of four puzzle pieces, made from 14 edge beveled cubic blocks, which have been joined together in different ways, as well as a rather unique rectangular covered box (But I'll come back to that!) The copy I have is made by Tom Lensch, and is from a run he did in August 2011. The box is Canarywood, and the pieces are made from a rather interesting Maple called Ambrosia. Ambrosia maple comes from regular soft maple and Hard Maple trees that have been infested by the ambrosia beetle. The small beetle bores a network of tunnels and short galleries called cradles. A fungus is responsible for the blue, gray and brown streaks and decorative patch work that accompany each tunnel and adjacent wood. The streaks and patch work add a unique look to this hardwood without affecting its structural integrity

Stewart Coffin first made this puzzle in 1988 in a very limited run of about 8 puzzles, and then again in December of 1996 making around 12 copies. He described it in Puzzle Craft in the 1992 edition, and in the 1996 run produced a puzzle sheet to go with the puzzle. You can see that sheet by following the link here.

The puzzle consists of a number of challenges, each of which uses the pieces in a slightly different orientation, which really explores the huge number of possibilities that these four shapes can be combined. One thing I found as I moved from one challenge to the next is that human nature starts to get in the way. As you find one solution, your brain becomes fixated on that orientation, and starts to rule out other possibilities, making finding the solution to the next challenge more difficult.

Challenge #1 Solved

Challenge #1 Solved

The First challenge is to pack the four pieces into the box so that the cover placed on top of them will be flush with the top of the box. A variation of this is to first lay the cover in the bottom of the box, in which case, the puzzle assembly will be flush with the top. Just so you can tell I wasn't cheating, I went with the latter option.

Challenge #2 Solved

Challenge #2 Solved

Challenge number 2 is to place the lid into the slot at the side of the box, converting it from a rectangular box, to a cubic box. Now place the four pieces into the cubic configuration. Again the top of the assembly will be flush with the top of the box. (No, you're not allowed to have extra pieces sticking out, despite how many combinations I found where this was the case).

Challenge #3 Solved

Challenge #3 Solved

For the third challenge, the cover for the box is put to the side, and the pieces have once again to be packed into the now much larger space so that they are still flush with the sides and top/bottom of the box. This really shows just how many ways there are to make use of the space (or possibly the holes in the cubes) to pack them more or less efficiently, depending on the space you have available.

I really love the versatility of this puzzle. What seems like a simple configuration of four pieces allows a lot of different configurations, and as I found many hours of happy puzzling.

But the challenges don't stop there! If you put the box to the side, there are yet another two challenges to try to solve. (And I'm pretty sure from my playing around with the pieces that there are more that Stewart just didn't list!)

Challenge #4 Solved

Challenge #4 Solved

Challenge number 4 has us making a square pyramidal pile using all four pieces.

Challenge #5 Solved

Challenge #5 Solved

The final challenge that Stewart set is to create a triangular pyramidal pile using only three of the pieces. Of course he's not telling you which three to use. That's up to the puzzler to figure out!

Overall, this a great puzzle and I'd highly recommend picking up a copy if you see one for sale. I spent many hours playing with this over several months, and still enjoy going back and re-solving the various challenges. I may even look further into the combination of the pieces to see if there are other combinations possible, as there are certainly some combinations of the pieces which were not used in any of the original five challenges.



3May/128

The end of a long story that all started with a second of poor judgement.

Well most of my readers will know that way back in October 2011, while working on making a run of puzzles, I had a small accident, and nearly took the end of my thumb off. (Ok, so it wasn't that small, and I was damn lucky).

Well today saw the last of the pins that have been holding the bones together so that they can heal taken out, and I'm now down to just needing to get the strength back, and do lots of physio to get the muscles working again.

I think I've done pretty well, as even after the accident, I didn't stop using the saw. I completed a run of STC's Unhappy Childhoods and also a small table that Jen wanted me to make for her. So it's been a busy few months and I've not been prevented from doing anything I wanted to.

I wanted to share this with all of you, as I know there are a few people out there who are starting to look at making puzzles having read my experiences so let me share a few words of wisdom with you. No matter how quick you think you are, if something goes wrong, it will happen far too quickly for you to react. Remember when that blade is spinning, if it can cut wood, it will cut you ten times more easily. Don't do the same thing as I did and try to clear the offcut from the side of the blade while the blade is spinning, and certainly don't try to do it with your hand. Preferably, leave it alone, it's not doing any harm there, but if you must clear it, turn the saw off, and then move it. It might seem like it would take longer, but trust me, it will be much faster than the trip to the ER, and several months of healing! And one last thing, always use a push stick, to keep your hands away from that blade.

That said, my thumb is pretty much healed, and I'll be back to making puzzles again soon, as well as getting back on my motorbike, which I've sadly missed all this time.

So is this the end of the broken thumb. Well as it happens, no. After my injury, I had a lot of time to think and design, so I have a very special puzzle that I'll be making that is somewhat tied to the accident. I'll be sure to keep you all up to date as work progresses on that!

Filed under: Random Musings 8 Comments