Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
31Mar/131

Half-Finished Box & Ninomiya’s 7 Step Secret Box

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Karakuri Christmas Presents

Half-Finished Box

Next up from my collection of 2012 Karakuri Christmas Presents is the Half-Finished Box from Hiroshi Iwahara. Fortunately, he did finish the box, and it's just that name which isn't complete.

Half-Finished box by Hiroshi Iwahara

Half-Finished box by Hiroshi Iwahara

I love the look of this box, and the wood is particularly nice. It has an almost greenish tint, which I'd normally be happy in saying is Lignum Vitae, however the wood is listed as being Shiuri Cherry. With deep strong grain and a wonderful colour I really like it. 3.25" x 3.25" x 3.25" in size, the outer box is a good size, and each of the panels moves smoothly as you'd expect.

First Compartment

First Compartment

Sadly this isn't a totally new work, and is something of a reproduction of his 2008 Christmas present "Confetto Box". There are two compartments to find, and finding the first marked 'A' is certainly easier to find. The mechanism has been slightly modified from the original to ensure that all 6 plates move to get to the hidden area.

Second Compartment

Second Compartment

The Second compartment has been stamped in the centre of the recess. Sadly neither of the two hidden compartments are very large, as the mechanism takes up so much space around the central core. It's a nice box, and good mechanism. If you don't have a copy of the Confetto Box then this is a good one to pick up if you can. If you already have the box from 2008, then you may be disappointed by this one.


Ninomiya's 7 Step Secret Box

My fourth Christmas Present was the lottery from this year which I was lucky enough to win, so added Ninomiya's Box to my collection. With over 60 years experience making puzzle boxes, Ninomiya's work is highly sought after, and for good reason. Known for his incredible Yosegi patterns, this box is a perfect example of the skill and mastery of the art.

Ninomiya's 7 Step Secret Box

Ninomiya's 7 Step Secret Box

The photographs, really don't do this work justice. Not only is the Yosegi beautiful, and perfectly crafted, the fit and finish of the box is incredible. It is near impossible to see the seams between the panels, and what looks as though it could be a seam isn't! All four sides of the box are decorated with the Yosegi, as is the inside of the box. I have no idea how much time went into making this, but of all the boxes it is the most detailed and in some regards most impressive of the puzzles.

The Yosegi pattern on the bottom of the box

The Yosegi pattern on the bottom of the box

Measuring 3" x 4.25" x 2.25", and made mainly from Katsura, this is a seven move box (I know you'd guessed that already right!) where both sides of the box move in the process of solving the puzzle. There is a lot more work in making a box where both sides move, and the normal is that only one will move. I was even more impressed when handing the puzzle to a friend and watching him getting stuck trying to solve it. Something I hadn't realised previously is that the sequence is keyed, and there are false paths in the 7 steps, so it game me even more respect for the work done on this box.

A look at the yosegi inside the opened box

A look at the yosegi inside the opened box


Summary

As an overall summary which I think applies to all of this year's Christmas presents, none of the boxes are challenging from a puzzle perspective, and as such many people have commented that they are disappointing from that regard. I have to agree to some extent, as there have certainly been more challenging puzzles to come from the Karakuri group, however these are not the most expensive boxes made, and are as close to 'mass produced' as you really get where the quality of craftsmanship is still so high.

I was fortunate enough to win the lottery and was able to purchase Ninomiya's box, and I'm really glad I did. It's one of the stand out boxes from those I received this year. I have only one more box to review, so stay tuned for that soon.

You may also be wondering why I'm including the boxes that each of the puzzles came in in my photographs. I'm not just trying to be artistic, but actually each designer has their own box style, so even before opening the puzzle box, you know who the puzzle came from. If you're a member and not familiar with the designers boxes, then maybe this will help serve as a guide for you.



30Mar/131

Sunflower & Twin 2

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Karakuri Christmas Presents

It's about time I got round to reviewing the 2012 Karakuri Christmas presents. I think I've left it long enough that people will have been able to play with them all and not have me spoil anything. One of the really interesting things about the membership is the Christmas present(s) and not knowing what you'll get, gut in general knowing that the boxes will be unique, and made to a very high standard.

Sunflower - Tatsuo Miyamoto

First up for this years reviews is strangely, the last box I acquired. This one popped up on one of the puzzle forums with someone selling it and despite knowing it was a very simple box, I liked the look of it and decided to grab it, especially since the person selling it was asking for the same price as he'd paid for it direct from Karakuri!

Sunflower by Tatsuo Miyamoto

Sunflower by Tatsuo Miyamoto

Sunflower, designed and made by Tatsuo Miyamoto initially appears to be a fairly plain box, with a stripe of red wood across one face. The puzzle measures 7" x 7" x 7.5", made from Walnut, Keyaki, and Karin. With some initial investigation you'll find that the panel on the front will depress slightly, and the base seems to also depress. It won't take much to realise that there's a lid on the box, and removing that you see the reason the box is named Sunflower.

The Sunflower under the lid

The Sunflower under the lid

I don't want to give away any details about how the box works, other than saying that this is a simple two step box, which despite it's simplicity did put a smile on my face when I opened it for this first time, given the way the mechanism works. My only small issue with the box is that the mechanism is really loose for me. This may have been to ensure that there was enough room for wood expansion, but in my climate it's so lose that it will move on it's own. A little bit of finishing wax added at the right place has easily resolved the issue, so not a big problem, and may be easy to fix up any issues you have on your copy.


Twin 2 - Hideaki Kawashima

The second box from this year's Christmas presents and one of those I ordered myself is the Twin 2 from Hideaki Kawashima.

Twin 2 by Hideaki Kawashima

Twin 2 by Hideaki Kawashima

I have been very impressed with the style of Kawashima's boxes over the last few years, and really like the simple style of his boxes. Measuring 3" x 3" x 3" and made from three contrasting woods it's a good looking puzzle, and very similar to some of the previous works he's made. The woods used are Cherry, Maple and Katsura, which gives the puzzle striking contrast between the faces.

I'm not going to show any pictures of the puzzle open, as I feel it gives too much away, however this is a really fun puzzle to play with. As you start to investigate the movement in the panels, you'll find a what seems like a spring loaded panel which surely must me useful, and will eventually lead to a discovery on the path to solving the puzzle.

With two hidden compartments both of a reasonable size, given the outer dimensions, it's a good box, that really makes the most of the space available. Again, like the Sunflower it's not a challenging box, requiring just 6 steps to open both compartments, however it is a beautifully made box, and great to hand to new puzzle box enthusiasts as it's not too hard and will stand up to some harsh handling.


Summary

As an overall summary which I think applies to all of this year's Christmas presents, none of the boxes are challenging from a puzzle perspective, and as such many people have commented that they are disappointing from that regard. I have to agree to some extent, as there have certainly been more challenging puzzles to come from the Karakuri group, however these are not the most expensive boxes made, and are as close to 'mass produced' as you really get where the quality of craftsmanship is still so high.

You may also be wondering why I'm including the boxes that each of the puzzles came in in my photographs. I'm not just trying to be artistic, but actually each designer has their own box style, so even before opening the puzzle box, you know who the puzzle came from. If you're a member and not familiar with the designers boxes, then maybe this will help serve as a guide for you.



29Mar/130

Making a Clear Revomaze Sleeve Video

This entry is part 8 of 11 in the series Revomaze

So in case you're not subscribed to my You Tube channel, in which case you'd have missed this, I created a video showing the process of making one of the clear Revomaze Sleeves. Since I'm not taking any more orders, and will be shipping out the last of the orders I do have fairly soon, I thought you might like to see exactly what goes into making one of these, rather than just the pictures I posted in the past.

Hope you enjoy!

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27Mar/131

It’s a Hardly

In today's world of computer controlled machinery and high-tech precision machining, there are few craftsmen left who are able to create something in metal by hand, in amazing detail and precision, and even fewer who use those skills to make puzzles. Rocky Chiaro is one such master craftsman, and I'm pleased to say that having met the man himself at IPP and spent some time talking to him about his puzzles, and playing with some of his bolts, that I now have one of his puzzles in my collection... and it won't be the last!

It's a Hardly

It's a Hardly

This stunning puzzle is a mechanical puzzle made to look like an early Harley Knuckle Head Motor. Now as a biker this appeals to me, and as an engineer who doesn't appreciate engines. Now granted I should apologise to Rocky as I have played with this puzzle, and I didn't polish it before taking the pictures, so it's covered in fingerprints!

Hand made with a great eye for detail, this 2" high motor is not the most challenging of the puzzles Rocky makes, but it is beautiful. Having said that, I did find the first move very quickly, but didn't get much beyond that for a while. There's plenty to poke and prod at, and a few things which hint at movement, but nothing really moves. I had a fair idea as to what should happen next but it took me far too long to actually execute it. That has to be attributed to the amazing tolerances in the puzzle. It's made so well as to give nothing away, and really is a nice puzzle to solve.

The hand engraved signature on the side of the puzzle

The hand engraved signature on the side of the puzzle

As you can see Rocky has signed his work by engraving the side of the puzzle. I really should get this polished back up to the level that it arrived in!

I don't think it will keep experienced puzzlers stumped for long, but I'm very glad to have it in my collection. As I mentioned earlier, I'll be ordering quite a few more puzzles from Rocky in the future, so keep an eye out for some thoughts here. If you're interested in Rocky's keys or bolts, then a fair few of my fellow bloggers have written about them, so go check out their pages!



19Mar/131

Get Charged

Get Charged is a trapped object puzzle made by Bits & Pieces where the object is to remove the spark plug from its wooden cage. Two steel rods prevent the plug from being removed through either side, and the plug itself is just too long to be slid out, despite the hole in the top which might make you believe otherwise. I received my copy from Puzzle Master.

Get Charged in the start position

Get Charged in the start position

Spurred on by my recent success with the quality of Akio Kamei’s Book Box which is also from Bits and Pieces, I was in high spirits that I'd have another well made puzzle. At first glance, as you can see from the picture above, it does look like a well made puzzle. Measuring 3.75" x 2.25" x 1" and sporting a shiny new spark plug, it looks like a nice puzzle.

It arrived in the usual plain white cardboard box, but when I opened that the puzzle was tightly bubble wrapped, and I was thinking that things were looking good. Sadly when I removed the bubble wrap, I was a little disappointed.

Unwrapping the packing, the spark plug was free, and one of the pins stuck in the corner of the bubble wrap.

Unwrapping the packing, the spark plug was free, and one of the pins stuck in the corner of the bubble wrap.

This is what I found when I opened the packaging. Sadly the puzzle was already in the solved state, and before I could play with it by returning it to the starting position, I had to solve it to reset it. I'm actually being a little generous with the photo here, as when I took the puzzle out of the bubble wrap, the second metal bar was stuck inside the bubble wrap and I didn't find it until I re-checked all the packing, having tried to figure out why the spark plug lifted straight out of the frame, and there were two holes which did nothing in either side of the frame. Given that this is a simple puzzle, and I pretty much knew how it was going to work before it arrive it's not that much of a problem, but it was rather a shame.

Unfortunately, that's not my only problem with this puzzle. Unlike the picture on Puzzle Master's page, the joinery here is pretty poor. Rather than the nice half mortice, we have a butt joint, which works but has no strength. Also the puzzle has been badly slathered in a red paint, and not sanded prior to painting, meaning there are lots of burrs on the inside of the frame, and some sloppy excess paint in there too. Ok, it's not an expensive puzzle I hear you cry, but it really doesn't take much more effort or cost to finish the puzzle slightly better.

Drilling straight is not easy

Drilling straight is not easy

Chipped frame after painting

Chipped frame after painting


Also the metal bar which prevents removal of the spark plug has been drilled into the frame badly, meaning that it's squint. It doesn't affect the operation of the puzzle any, however my OCD for things being straight and parallel really screams at this minor thing. You'll also see that the frame has been damaged at some point after being painted. That's just carelessness when the puzzle was being put together.

The puzzle does come with a solution sheet, however I don't think it's a particularly well written solution. I doubt you'll need it though.

So gripes aside, this is a simple puzzle, with a fairly well known mechanism that won't keep an average puzzler stumped for long. If you're trying to introduce someone to the world of puzzles, this is a cheap way to show them this style of mechanism, and the puzzle will take some abuse, without you being too upset if it gets a little scratched up. There are better versions of this puzzle available, but depending on who you're getting it for, this may be an option for you.

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14Mar/132

Akio Kamei’s Book Box

My favourite type of puzzle is the Puzzle Box, or trick opening box, and being a member of the Karakuri group certainly helps me get my fix of puzzle boxes. Bits & Pieces however have been known to reproduce some of the Karakuri boxes at very reasonable prices. I've mentioned some of the problems I've had with their work in previous reviews, but I had heard that their puzzle boxes were pretty well done, so when I got the chance to add a copy of the Kamei Book Box to my collection I decided to take the chance. Puzzle Master carries this puzzle if you'd like to pick one up for yourself, although they seem to be out of stock at the time of writing this review.

Bits & Pieces version of the Kamei Book Box

Bits & Pieces version of the Kamei Book Box

As you can see, this is a nice looking box. The fit and finish is very good, and there's no obvious sign of the mechanism. The puzzle measures 4.5" x 7" x 1.5", so would easily pass for a hard backed book sitting on a shelf. The Walnut cover and spine, with maple pages looks like a book and the contrasting colour of the woods used could easily fool a casual passer by that this was a real book. The finish has a nice sheen to it, and while I'd not say it was Karakuri level of craftsmanship, it is well made. The hidden drawer does slide out nearly 1/4" while the puzzle is 'locked' so you know how it will open when you find the mechanism.

The puzzle itself is not difficult, with only one move required to unlock the drawer, however it is well hidden, and the mechanism is tight so it gives nothing away as you investigate each side to try to find the hidden movement. The panels are all solid, and give little away about how the drawer will open, however that is also a clue as to hoe it will open as there are only a few panels on the box.

Looking at the edge of the book, it looks like pages of a book

Looking at the edge of the book, it looks like pages of a book

Looking at the pages of the book, the wood used really gives a great impression that there are individual pages in there, and that you could open the book and read it. I have to applaud Bits and Pieces for taking the time here and making full use of the grain in the wood to make a great looking puzzle.

Despite previous reservations, I have to admit that I am fairly happy with this puzzle and wouldn't have a problem recommending that someone pick up a copy of it for themselves. It is a simple box, so don't expect to be puzzling over it for hours, however it's an elegant Kamei design which is made very affordable, and keeps an aesthetic level that you would expect from a Karakuri box.

Note: After posting the initial review one of my puzzle friends got in touch to say that I may have missed something about this box, and in fact there was an extra secret hidden in there. This box works as a sort of magic trick where you can place something into the drawer, and make it disappear. Initially I thought that there was just a little extra play in the B&P version but it turns out I was entirely wrong.

In my mind that makes this an even better version of the box as it fully retains all the original characteristics of Kamei's design, at a great price and I'm not ashamed to say I totally missed it! I don't like to look at puzzle solutions, preferring to enjoy solving the puzzle for myself, but having gone back to look at the solution card which came with the puzzle it does not even mention this little secret, so if you have this puzzle, go give it a second look, you may just be surprised!